Pop­ping the ‘Bei­jing bub­ble’

Global Times – Metro Beijing - - TWO CENTS - By Andy Pe­na­fuerte III

On the first day of the Spring Fes­ti­val in 2017, I joined a stu­den­tor­ga­nized trip to Nuan­quan, an old vil­lage in He­bei Prov­ince. I thought it was a per­fect jaunt, given that I had wanted to see how lo­cals cel­e­brate this im­por­tant hol­i­day. The trip was cheap – 320 yuan ($50). It af­forded me a one-night stay in a de­cent lo­cal ho­tel, travel in­sur­ance and a ticket to a tra­di­tional per­for­mance called dashuhua.

There were about 30 adults, mostly for­eign ex­change stu­dents or stu­dents study­ing Chi­nese. On the bus, I heard some of them were ex­cited to see the vil­lage and oth­ers asked their part­ners to take “In­sta­grammable” pho­tos and Mo­ments-wor­thy videos.

A good four-hour drive took us to Nuan­quan, and when we ar­rived around noon­time, the ex­cite­ment turned into dis­ap­point­ment. “This place is hor­ri­ble,” I heard one woman telling her com­pan­ion. The park­ing lot that over­looked the plain coun­try­side was sim­ply full of trash.

Our stu­dent guide tried to ap­pease the dis­mayed cou­ple, but even she couldn’t ex­plain why the place was dirty. While walk­ing to­ward the town cen­ter, more rub­bish wel­comed us. There were no de­cent toi­lets, and even the “great” restau­rants our guide rec­om­mended pale in com­par­i­son to the lo­cal din­ing places in a reg­u­lar Bei­jing hu­tong.

In short, the town lacked the lux­ury many of my fel­low trav­el­ers were ac­cus­tomed to in their Bei­jing bub­ble. Their frus­tra­tion soon turned into fre­quent swear­ing.

While I was eat­ing with some tourists, the WeChat thread of our tour group swelled with an­gry mes­sages from sev­eral stu­dents, with one woman say­ing that she wanted to be taken to a train sta­tion right away to go back to Bei­jing.

Yes, the town might be unattrac­tive and the guide might have failed to prop­erly or­ga­nize the tour, but I al­ways be­lieve that tourists should be pre­pared for any­thing. In this case, their van­ity and capri­cious­ness made me so livid that I wanted to re­spond to the group chat. But I re­al­ized they were just a nui­sance and they shouldn’t af­fect my travel ex­pe­ri­ence.

Un­til the evening be­fore the dashuhua per­for­mance, all I could hear were com­plaints from the for­eign stu­dents. I guess it was only me and a few oth­ers who en­joyed the raw­ness of the coun­try­side. Nuan­quan showed me the ru­ral China that not many bother to see. Af­ter all, the town has yet to ex­pe­ri­ence the ur­ban­iza­tion hap­pen­ing in ma­jor cities in the coun­try. Un­til then, we need to set­tle for open toi­lets and out­door din­ers.

At the town theater, our tour group had a van­tage point to see dashuhua, in which leather­clad per­form­ers sprin­kle molten iron to mimic a fire­works dis­play. Peo­ple in an­cient times melted cheap iron be­cause they couldn’t af­ford gun­pow­der to cel­e­brate the Spring Fes­ti­val and to ward off evil spir­its.

I thought the show was spec­tac­u­lar. But what wowed me the most was that most of my fel­low trav­el­ers looked amazed and happy. No com­plaints at all. Maybe they were daz­zled by the shin­ing dis­play? But maybe the show made them re­al­ize that there’s still some­thing amaz­ing left in a vil­lage oth­er­wise not suit­able for so­cial me­dia post­ing.

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