Yesterday, I met some interesting people. The first was a guitarist named Zhanqiang. I’m not sure how, but somehow Peter, an English guy I know from the hostel, met him yesterday. It’s a little amazing, since Zhanqiang and Peter are both incapable of speaking Each other’s languages. They both played a bit for everybody at the hostel yesterday, and it was pretty fun. Everybody fed song requests through me, i.e. “something from a Chinese ethnic minority” or “something you wrote yourself”, I translated them and passed them along to Zhanqiang. The guy’s guitar playing and singing are both pretty impressive!

He’s only 18, and he came to Beijing from another province with basically nothing but his guitar and his clothes. When I asked why he came to Beijing, he told me that it’s “the city where people chase dreams”. He’s been making enough money to support himself as a busker in the underground walkways around the city, living in a super cheap 370RMB/month hostel, writing music at night, and looking for places where he can perform. Talk about guts!

Later last night, I went out to a bar to see if I could find a good spot for watching the World Cup final. The place I stumbled on was almost deserted. I almost walked out after one look at the place, but it was starting to rain, so I decided to get a drink and wait it out. Oh am I glad I did! The bartender there was one of the most gregarious Chinese guys I’ve ever met in my life. He’s about my age, and he can talk a blue streak! The guy seemed to have a passion for all things related to politics and economics. After finding out I was from Taiwan, he proceeded to run one set of theories about Taiwan’s political scene after another by me. Then he started talking about various economic policies of different provincial governments across China. Really quickly, in a really “Beijing” accent. Next, he was interested in the educational systems in Taiwan and in the US. How much were the schools subsidized? How about colleges? How much freedom did students have in choosing their courses and areas of concentration at each level?

It was fascinating listening to this guy. He was living proof that all the stories I’ve heard from Taiwanese people and from westerners about the Chinese in general, or Beijingers in particular, were bullshit. This guy was no mindless automaton, that parrots whatever the CCP says. No. He was someone who thinks, really thinks, about how governments, economies and societies work. And while he might not try to publish his ideas in local media, it wasn’t like he was trying to keep his head down in fear of the the state, either. He spoke his mind.

After the game started, a couple more people came into the bar. One in particular, was really interesting. She was from Harbin, and she was working in the tourism industry in Beijing. The fascinating thing about her was that she had completely circumvented the normal system. Instead of going to high school, she opted to work part time and continue her education through self study and self testing (自考). She quickly learned a lot about the tourism industry and managed to achieve a level of English skills that’s pretty rare on the mainland. Her spoken English certainly isn’t as good as some of my Taiwanese friends, such as JT, but it was passable, and the amount of literature she’s read is impressive. Now, she works two and a half weeks a month and earns far more than her former classmates who did go to high school and then college. In her spare time, she’s picking up some computer skills. People like her used to be fairly common in the US, but in today’s world they’d face some pretty significant discrimination unless they really hit it big. For a non-conformist, such as myself, I found her story heartwarming.

After the game, she gave me her number and offered to show me around the Forbidden palace tomorrow. Good deal! Then, I went back to the hostel and revelled with the others who had also just finished watching the World Cup. I’m starting to feel like I fit in with the British/Aussie group I met earlier a bit better, too.