I know that the driving in any country is crazy, but there are a few things which I think make this particular city unique. One is that as of ten years ago there were virtually no vehicles and only bikes. This means that 1) most people have learned how to drive in the last ten years or less and are new drivers and 2) they drive their cars the way they used to drive their bikes! Its quite terrifying trying to cross the street as a pedestrian with children trying to dodge bikes and cars going all directions across what looks like a big Amercian freeway. Its also interesting to have the boys without carseats in a car in this kind of traffic. MPI would not approve! Of course they like it!
For its size and reputation, Beijing is actually more environmentally conscious than most people think. Everyone uses cloth bags and use of plastic bags is looked down upon. Most people do not have clothes dryers and hang their laundry. Less than half the population drives and most bike or use public transportation. When we rode the bus a few days ago it cost us 4 Mao (a few cents Canadian). They also have a system of prohibiting cars with licence plates ending in certain numbers from driving on certain days.
It is interesting to note from a nutritional stand point what sort of quantities things are sold in. Canada and the US sell flour and sugar in 10kg bags, while here, our sugar bag is about the size of a small bag of chips and the flour is sold in 2 kgs or so (which is the biggest I've seen it). Salt is sold in a bag that Canadians might use for a small bag of candy. Oil, meanwhile is sold in bulk!
Our apartment does not have an oven. Apparently it is extremely uncommon to have one. We hummed and hawed about purchasing a toaster/convection oven. The decision was made when we realized that we would otherwise have to fry or microwave everything we ate. So I ventured out to a department store yesterday to purchase a toaster oven, fully realizing that I had no tools to communicate with the sales people except my expressive face and hands.
Unfortunately it is not as easy as picking something up and bringing it to the counter to pay. You have to find someone to write a receipt for you first, then you bring the receipt to the counter and pay for it, then return to the salesperson who gives you the item. Doing all this with no communication was interesting. At one point I had 3 salesgirls gathered around me talking to me loudly and slowly, trying to make me understand. You can imagine that I felt like quite a goofball, smiling and shaking my head, pointing to the object and waving my money! But the job was done and we have a toaster oven! We roasted a small chicken in it yesterday and it smelled great!