I was fortunate enough to visit Beijing in October, and I was told many times how much I’d hate it: too polluted, too crowded, too noisy. What no one ever said was what could be found in the gap between the extremes.
For every glare there was a smile; people spat next to my shoes and some bowed after we bumped into each other; many stared at my height and pale skin while a few connected with me for a short moment.
The hotel was right smack in the middle of the Forbidden City, where gorgeous parks are filled with old people moving slowly through Tai Chi positions, bordered by jam-packed streets where you can easily get killed if you don’t check to your right, left, up, down, back and front, and then do it all over again fifteen times.
Hutongs can still be seen, if one looks hard enough. But what you cannot miss are the countless condos built for the rich citizens, the government funded museums and new constructions pushing the struggling poor people away to the countryside to be forgotten. Misery meets prosperity, and it’s very hard to watch.
Every damn time I stepped into a taxi, I felt dizzy and nauseated. At first, I blamed the erratic drivers, but then I realized when driving down a street, racing up one of the 6 ring roads or getting stuck in the middle of traffic, I was breathing in so much pollution, it made me ill.
So what did I find between the gap? People who work hard to survive, a population that endures a lot and doesn’t get much in return, a country on the verge of imploding when the rest of the world isn’t ready. In the land of contrasts, I got curious as to what makes the heart of the city beat, which I think I found…
Toa chie, good people.