I’m sure most of you have been to Chinatown in your city many, many times. For a lot of people, including myself, picking delicious dishes from dim sum carts is a neat way to jumpstart a Saturday morning. Packed with people and street vendors, Chinatown is charmingly unique and always fun to stroll along.
Despite geographical distance, most Chinatowns across the world bear great similarities – the classic gate, the bright red signs pointing to the plentiful Chinese restaurants on both sides of the street, and the distinct smell coming from seafood markets nearby. In a way, Chinatown functions very much like a franchise.
Ironically, Chinatown does not exist in China for obvious reasons. However, based on my personal experience as a recent Beijing resident, Beijing has equally interesting cultural districts to offer, including ‘America town’.
As China becomes a new land of opportunities, people from all over the world are heading daily to big cities in China. FOPs (Fresh of the Plane) have become the new FOBs (Fresh of the Boat) and foreigners become your friendly guy/girl next door.
Since Beijing is now a popular destination for eager Mandarin learners, the city’s university campus area, known as Wudaokou (吾道口), has also transformed to be a mini-America town. Obviously Mandarin learners come from various locations around the world, but since most of my foreign friends in Beijing are from America, I will specifically talk about the America town phenomenon.
While people generally associate Chinatown with Chinese food, America town in Beijing has less emphasis on the food culture but more so on general lifestyle. Chinatown tends to have a clear geographical boundary with the red gate that marks its entrance but America town does not follow this rigid physical ‘area’ concept. The American-ness in this so-called America town is quite subtle. For instance, on Wudaokou’s streets you can easily spot those ‘I-don’t-know-what-I’m-doing’ amateur bikers. When dining in a Wudaokou restaurant, you are more likely to be sitting next to a table of American students enjoying some hot pot while conversing in Chinese. When I visited my friend’s dorm, who is currently part of an American-based Mandarin language program, I felt as if I was back at my own alma mater, with people playing flip cup and beer pong, listening to the blasting Lady Gaga’s Bad Romance and drinking beer on a Friday night. The only real difference between an American college dorm and my friend’s Beijing dorm was that these students spoke Chinese and drank Tsingdao instead of Bud Light.
As one flies to Beijing in the hope of immersing oneself in a Chinese environment, he/she ends up finding himself/herself in this fascinating hybrid between a Chinese and American college town – a true cross-cultural experience in a globalized world.
So the next time you happen to be in Beijing and feel like blasting Miley Cyrus’ Party in the USA to the fullest, simply hop on a subway to Wudaokou. America town is calling for you.
Photo credit: Davidyuweb