No Lines Anywhere!
This may sound counterintuitive, the only queues I've seen are in locations where queuing protocol is STRICTLY enforced (read: where people are actually herded by physical obstacles). Everywhere else, it's every man for himself. At first, I found it annoying when I'd be standing right in front of a ticket counter(for instance, the subway), money in hand, only to be jostled out of the way by someone who wanted their ticket a little more than I did. Once I embraced the Zen of "no lines", I started to LOVE it. No more waiting in line at airports, ticket counters, etc. All you have to do is rush to the front and push your way through. This applies for buses, subways, taxis, ticket counters, airline boarding gates and food stalls. It helped to have a HUGE hubbie who could push anyone out of the way with his shoulders!
Not having to listen to everyone's asinine conversations all the time
This isn't unique to China. It really applies to any place I visit that has a non-romance or germanic language. There is something freeing about not having a damn clue what anyone is saying around you. When a language resembles one I am familiar with, I find myself listening to conversations instead of taking in my surroundings. I didn't have to worry about that there.
Street Food (and street vendors)
While similar to cheap food, I'm putting street food in its own category. This is simply because it is a completely different breed of street food than the food carts in Philly or New York. You can create a whole meal by stopping off at a few carts or store fronts. Get your dumplings at one place, kabob veggies at another, a drink at a third, some pastries for desert and you have the best of all worlds. When it gets warm out, tiny chairs and tables are set up on the street and people eat and drink with their friends. I would LOVE if there were places with free outdoor seating that didn't care if you brought food from other restaurants back in the states.
Beijing is a gigantic city. I literally had the choice of four supermarkets within close walking distance. I had the option to go to about eight salons. There must have been a dozen or more "Tea, Wine and Cigarette" stores within a kilometer radius of our building and probably just as many fruit stands on the street. We've got a KTV (Karaoke) within a few minutes of our front door and probably a few dozen restaurants. I know this is indicative of any large city, but Beijing feels particularly varied.
Many of the things I've been posting about mention the relatively low costs. Shopping is no exception. Seasonal foods cost next to nothing when they are in season. I could walk out my front door and out the alley and approach a lady with a cart attached to the back of her bicycle and buy my weight in fresh fruit and veggies for pennies!
But what was REALLY cool is the clothes markets. If you are okay with knock-offs, you can be armani-clad for a few dollars. My husband and I had four leather and suede jackets tailored for each of us. I bought countless silk textiles and T-shirts for hubbie and don't even get me started on handbags!
Though this also relates to money, I loved the different bargaining culture in Beijing. In the US, there are very few times in which one can bargain. Best I can tell, excepting business negotiations, in professional settings, it is limited to real estate and automobile purchases. I also had joyful afternoon bargaining at the dirt markets and peddlers' markets.
In Beijing, bargaining is a way of life. The only places you DON'T bargain are department stores or supermarkets. Individual free standing stores are almost always up for it. Especially street stands and vendors, but also clothes stores and more! If a price is too high, offer less. If the vendor is offended, that is the end of the conversation. More likely, he'll feign offense and when you start to walk away, he'll lower his price.
My Building Complex Had 4,000 Residents
Wikipedia says that Beijing has roughly 7,000 inhabitants per square Km. We lived in one building in a complex that had 4 towers. By our estimates, each tower had roughly 1,000 residents - assuming 90% of units full and 3.3 residents per unit (one child and some grandparents - an average urban Chinese household). There are 4,000 people living in the square 1/4 Km that is our "compound". No wonder we had our own gym with a swimming pool, supermarket, movie theatre, dry cleaner, clothing shops(women & children), coffee shop, restaurants, bowling alley, DVD store, night club and three salons.
China is one of the oldest civilizations on earth. It has a way of doing things that is very different to other parts of the globe. I was able to take a look at different areas of Chinese culture and find out how to interact within this culture. It is an amazing city!