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Taking a dip in Beijing’s melting pot

Sim Singh Photos: Courtesy of Sim Singh
It is a convenient habit to try to fit every new person we meet into a certain category. After all, this is the easiest way to store and recall information, especially when we are asked to process novel ideas and adapt to changes at a pace faster than ever in today’s China. Indian. Developer? Traveler. Soul-searching backpacker? Party-goer. Pretentious foreigner gone wild in Beijing? And yet, 30 minutes into the conversation, you are more curious than ever and still have failed to put Sim Singh into one of your neat little boxes.
So you realize, with a slight bit of irritation easily dismissed by excitement, that this is one of those cases where you must forsake those boxes and start fresh on the road to understanding and befriend this Beijing newcomer.
Sim chats with an air of playful confidence and an occasional mischievous twinkle in his eyes. His lively spirit is offset by a certain grounded fullness resulting in what I can only describe as energetic peace. For the past year and a half, he has been an independent traveler, moving his way through various countries in South America, Africa, Southeast Asia, and East Asia. This exploration was put on halt about six months ago when he decided to prolong his stay in Beijing for an indefinite period of time.
Why Beijing?
Prior to setting up camp in China’s capital, Sim had conquered Mount Qomolangma and fell in love with Tokyo, which he describes as his “favorite city in the world.” Out of so many places that he has visited, Beijing seemed a curious choice for a world traveler to become attached to.
“People here are very open to making new friends,” he explained. “The scene is much more fluid than in other cities. In other places, once you’re in a certain circle, it’s much harder to mingle with other circles. In Beijing, it’s just so fluid. “China is a crazy place. It’s fascinating!” Sim spoke candidly, his tone emphatic but not pushy, with bits of humor always sprinkling with colorful curses. He described Beijing as “grungy,” using the term in a loving, endearing way. Strangely, these mannerisms closely resemble how the Chinese describe born-and-raised Beijingers. Perhaps Sim adopting Beijing as a home should not come as much of a surprise after all.
“Beijing is more international than other cities in Asia,” he continued. “There is just more openness and familiarity with diversity.”
Sim was born in India, raised in Australia, and lived and worked in the United States. Multiculturalism and fluidity of identity are deeply engrained in him, clearly shown in the fact that his accent does not give a clue of where he is from. Only when he hits words like “all,” “audience,” and “program,” will you hear a slight Australian drawl.
“Should I fake an Indian accent to make this harder for you?” He joked when I asked to record our conversation.
People accustomed to multiculturalism often see China as a homogeneous society. Sim did too, until he arrived in Beijing.
“[Diversity] was the biggest shock to my system coming here. When I grew up in Australia I was very ignorant. [We thought] Chinese people were just ‘Chinese.’ And then I came here and realized, that’s RETARDED. Northern Chinese, Southern Chinese, Eastern Chinese… people are just massively different here [from region to region]. Also, the Australian or U.S. stereotypes of Chinese men being petite are only based on small selections of Chinese immigrants in those countries. They’re simply not true. They’re tall and well built. It’s like going to India and saying everyone is just one type. That’s crazy. And that’s what I like about Beijing. It’s a fluid melting pot.”

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