WWU - Being Selfish

Is it okay to be selfish? And what does that word even mean? What does being selfish look like? First, I think many people have varying definitions of the word, including me. So based on my opinion, I think being selfish is ok. I firmly believe the most important person in your life should be you. I understand that people say when you have a kid, you’ll love it more than you’ve loved anything in your entire life. I’m not at that point yet, so I’m my first priority.

I’ve thought about being selfish for a long time since being in Beijing. Here, in China’s capital, many people are selfish, as reflected in their public behavior. People seem to have tunnel-vision while making their way through the streets, solely focused on their destination. People bump into each other, stare at their phone while walking, and completely disregard that the right side goes up and the left goes down. I know it’s a challenging concept, but somehow, those in the capital haven’t figured out a way to follow the simple rules of being a decent human being in public. As evidence of this, babies and young children still poop and pee wherever they see fit, because hey, if they’ve got to go, everyone else should just accept that. People on scooters and bikes cross the street despite red lights, causing the turning cars to pile-up because wherever they need to be is more important than everyone else. The old man who smokes in my gym locker room RIGHT in front of the no-smoking sign, after being repeatedly told not to, because there's nothing like a cig after a good workout. Perhaps I’m blowing these incidents out of proportion, but if you have 20 million people all making small selfish decisions, you come to find the inefficient, overcrowded, and tension-filled city of Beijing. 

I think this selfish attitude of individuals in China is a large reason why the country is still developing. The country functions in a top-down approach, and as a foreigner here, it’s hard to feel a sense of unity, like everyone is working towards a common goal. There is a sense of nationalism, but it feels manufactured and largely based on the Japanese invasion in the 1930s. My point being, there isn’t a common vein of respect among the public. This can be seen by people spitting inside, making their way through public spaces haphazardly, and not lining up. This might be a small thing, but I think it speaks volumes to the amount of respect you have for your fellow citizens. 

China loves to play the victim, and people often discuss where the ‘hate’ for China comes from. It’s hard not to jump in and say, “You bring it upon yourselves.” There are many incidents of Chinese tourists abroad being selfish, such as carving their name into an ancient artifact, or destroying a shrimp buffet in Thailand. And then they wonder why other countries look down on Chinese people? My point is, if Chinese people can’t respect other Chinese people in China, how can they expect other people to respect them?

After coming back to China and telling people about Japan, the first thing everyone was said, “Tokyo is so clean, right?!” For a city with hardly any garbage cans, the cleanliness stems back to the respect Japanese people have for public spaces. They take pride in keeping their city clean, not only for themselves, but also for anyone who might visit. This is an attitude that is largely missing in Beijing. Trash is thrown on the street because disposing of it is more important to the individual than keeping the city streets clean. I've said this for a long time, but I believe Beijing is the way it is because so many people move here from other cities and provinces. When they come to Beijing, their attitude is, "It's not my city, my people don't live here, so if I act rude, or engage in poor behavior, why should that bother me?" There are almost no activities or events that brings Beijing together. The only thing I can think of are the Beijing Guoan games, but then again, the only thing  the entire crowd shouts in unison is "Dumb cunt", not the most positive bonding experience. 

Beijing is a challenging city to live in, and I feel myself becoming more negative about my outlook from being here. Yes, I'm aware that I alone am in charge of my perception of the world, but I think environment is a big influence on the way we see the world. However, and with no intention other than to gripe, I am tired of these poorly educated individuals who continue to treat the city as their personal dumpster and other people as non-existent. The challenge with these problems is the behavior stems from an ingrained belief, which is immensely difficult to change. If we take the selfish behavior of traffic for instance, what more can be done? The government has worked to establish laws, issued fines using cameras, sent out police to work at each traffic intersection, but the behavior still continues. Red lights are still a suggestion here. 

With that said, I have hope for the city. I think slowly, over the course of many years, younger generations of Chinese will realize that the current pattern of behavior is unsustainable and a shift will happen. However, in terms of my own dreams and plans, I hope I'm not here when that happens. 


Degen Hill

This is my travel blog and writing portfolio covering my life in China and my trips around the world, including the food, experiences, people, culture, history, and architecture. Living in Beijing has been an adventure, so here's some insight into one of the world's biggest cities.

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