New Year's resolution: Adapt to the new decade

By Chinese American Girl in Beijing
0 CommentsPrint E-mail, January 6, 2011
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This past weekend, the world bid farewell to 2010 and welcomed in a new decade. The one thing that crosses everyone's mind at this time of the year is: what are my New Year's resolutions? As we all seek to improve ourselves, we discover that change requires a dedication to delayed gratification that most of us can't manage, and if we are able to change, it is often short-lived or superficial. I couldn't help but reflect on mankind's obsession with change as I celebrated New Years Eve. The concept was ubiquitous that night. This change, however, did not necessarily involve an ephemeral sense of self-improvement. Rather, it involved transformation. All around me were young adults who had decided to change their appearance and behavior in an attempt to penetrate a different culture and to conform to some intangible standard of acceptability.

My friends and I began our night with numbingly delicious Sichuan food that quickly made us forget about the below-freezing temperatures outside. Our waiters were very courteous, and one made a conscious effort to reply to all of our requests with an enthusiastic and high-pitched, "OK!" Even though we always asked our questions in Chinese, he would only respond in simple and broken English. This is quite a common occurrence in Beijing. Westerners assume locals will be the best Mandarin teachers, and locals look at Westerners as their English teachers. The result is a mix of Chinglish and a game of charades with neither party being able to improve their language skills. Fortunately, in most cases, we are able to get across our main points.

After dinner, we went in search for the elusive "awesome new year's party." We had heard through various expat publications that a club called Punk in Sanlitun would be the place to be for the countdown. Eager to get out of the cold, we decided to stop by. Ten minutes after checking in our coats, we decided that the Tsingtao and French crepes we had for dessert had been more hip and happening than the party at this bar. Despite the techno playing in the background, I would describe the atmosphere as "mellow awkwardness." Foreigners and locals pretending to enjoy their cigarettes and overpriced drinks, but obviously a little bored and unsure of what to do next – dare to dance to techno (a difficult feat for most) or ask the DJ to change the music. It seemed that no matter what age we are or what country we happen to be in, we still retain the same desire to conform.

We moved on to the Worker's Stadium, a place littered with popular nightclubs. While not usually my scene, I thought it would be fun to go dancing with friends to release stress and frustration from 2010. I was happy to discover that the club we chose was not as sketchy as I had anticipated, and the DJ actually played good music. While my friends and I danced in a protective circle, I couldn't help but notice that here in Beijing, those in my generation have morphed into strange creatures that cultural anthropologists will be studying in the next decade. Those of us from the West are trying to adopt more Eastern traditions: music, language, culture, while young Chinese men and women were dancing away to the top hits from the West and dying their hair various shades of yellow and brown. Perhaps this is a greater global trend of "flattening" (to use Thomas Friedman's term) the cultural world.

Yet, this type of "flattening" felt eerier than Friedman's more economic-focused analysis. All over Beijing, Chinese women's coiffures have been transformed by outrageous perms, bright highlights, subtle brunette colors, and sun-bleached blonde. As these young girls choose the "Western look," my peers in the States have chosen darker shades of hair dye and have decided to burn their hair daily with straightening irons. Girls are not the only ones desperately trying to fit into the new cultural generation. At one point in the evening, one young man kept trying to dance with each person in my group, and as we laughed as our guy friend pushed us away from this strange guy, I couldn't help but think that perhaps the stranger was attempting to imitate the foreign guys in the club (inappropriate dancing with girls they did not know).

Perhaps I am overanalyzing from one night of partying in Beijing, but one would have to be quite oblivious to ignore this very obvious trend – physical and behavioral adaptation as a response to cultural exchange. As a young woman living in this time of accelerated transformation, I realize that learning to adapt within this phenomenon is essential to my social survival. After all, it has positive effects (cross-cultural understanding) and can bring about humorous encounters (unique cab experiences). My taxi driver at the end of the night, learning that I was from the States, decided to continue the new years party for me by playing Linkin Park and Jay Sean on the way home.

The author is a Chinese American who currently works and lives in Beijing.

Opinion articles reflect the views of their authors, not necessarily those of


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