Our first week in China was certainly a whirlwind experience. Thankfully everyone arrived in Beijing safely but not without a few delays with some flights. Our schedule was quite busy over the first few days, but it has been a very rewarding experience.
From our first full day in China, we began to get a serious appreciation for just how deep Chinese history runs. When walking around the Forbidden City it starts to redefine what “old” really means. Seeing the tremendous complex, which was built over 14 years beginning in 1406, is an amazing experience. While at first glance you can see the buildings are very ornate and highly regarded. However, once you start learning about Chinese history you can begin to see some details that can easily be missed. For example, in Chinese culture 1, 3, 5, 7, & 9 are all considered male numbers with the higher numbers being stronger. Also, according to Chinese lore there are nine children of the dragon.
After knowing this and looking around the city, you can see that each of the main buildings has a number of dragon children on the roofs. The significance of the building can be determined by the number of children lined up. The most significant buildings have 9 while lesser buildings only may have 3. However, they were always in male numbers. All of these buildings were also positioned on the “meridian line” of the city so that the emperor would always travel along the center of Beijing while in the Forbidden City. The Forbidden City is also symmetrical around the meridian line showing that it was truly the most important part of the city. While this may seem to be an ancient idea, the Olympic Village built for the 2008 Beijing Olympics was positioned along the meridian line and was positioned roughly symmetrical as well.
By learning about the history of the Forbidden City it can easily be seen just how ancient Chinese culture is prevalent in modern China. Below our hotel in Beijing was a luxury mall with Louis Vuitton, Prada, and Tag Heuer stores which made it seem as if we are still in the United States. However, it remains important to remember that despite the modern feeling of the city, China is still a developing country and has a unique culture that must be respected.
During our first few days in Beijing, we were treated to a number of amazing banquets with a number of guests. Despite the different guests at each dinner the routine and tradition is very much the same. During one of our sightseeing days our tour guide mentioned that we “ate lunch very fast.” This was something that was foreign to him since in China a meal is a time to socialize and is something that should not be rushed. During our time here we have gained a significant appreciation for the culture of the Chinese and the challenges that are faced by foreigners who may not understand these values.
Late last week we traveled to Shanghai via a high-speed rail, a trip that took us slightly less than five hours. For reference, Beijing to Shanghai is roughly the distance from Indianapolis to Tampa. We had a couple days of sightseeing and business meetings before starting our consulting project this week.