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.
It’s hard to try and understand the complexity of this culture that is not only at the other end of the world, but that has such different principles from my own.
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.
I still can’t believe I made it home, with all the bicycles, scooters, cars and tourist busses trying really hard to get a piece of me.
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.
And some mornings, away from the crazy-busy streets, it got difficult to see the landmarks.
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.
November 7th, 2011 at 8:38 am
Wonderful read Anne, and really eye opening. Thanks for sharing (nice photos too. Makes me realise just how the same and different it is there).
November 7th, 2011 at 8:49 am
It made me see how humans are alike, but don’t act/react the same…very surreal experience. Thanks for reading:)
November 7th, 2011 at 8:57 am
No problems – I always read 🙂
I know what you mean though about the reactions being different. I experienced that in Greece years ago, back then it was such a different culture, but then there would be really obvious similarities. Still, it’s all good material for writing I suppose – new reactions, new characteristics.
November 7th, 2011 at 9:32 am
Wow, such an eye opening journey. I’ve heard about the pollution in that country before. For the Olympic games they were worried about the high levels.
November 7th, 2011 at 9:34 am
Some days are clear with blue skies then the others, the smog decends to the ground, yellow and thick. It felt so good to be breathing fresh, clean air when I landed back home!
November 7th, 2011 at 9:55 am
I’ve known many folks who’ve gone to China either for travel or to teach and they all say the same thing. It’s beautiful, insane, utterly alien and the people made their stay there as wonderful as it was. There’s just something about China it would seem 🙂
Lovely post, fab pictures! I am still super green! That image of the old folk gracefully moving through their Tai Chi positions… Tai Chi is so beautiful and restful to watch. But killer to do!
November 7th, 2011 at 10:00 am
I want to go back, see Hong Kong and other parts of Asia – it’s just so mysterious, it gets under your skin.
November 7th, 2011 at 10:22 am
What a trip! The thing about travel is you see things through different eyes for a little while afterwards. Sometimes it can change you forever. My husband was born in Hong Kong so HK/China is someplace we want to go…when the kids are older. Thanks for sharing your experiences and pics.
November 7th, 2011 at 10:35 am
Yes, do go when your kids will be able to remember the trip, it’s well worth it:)
November 7th, 2011 at 10:27 am
Hi Anne; I was in Beijing two years ago and just couldn’t believe the miles and miles of skyscrapers. Such an enormous city that’s changing so fast.
November 7th, 2011 at 10:37 am
It’s so huge!!! The size of buildings, blocks, crowds…crazy.
November 7th, 2011 at 10:38 am
Really enjoyed your post. China is one of those countries, like Japan, that I’d love to go to one day. The amount of pollution in beijing is quite scary though.
November 7th, 2011 at 10:52 am
It’s unbelievable – the smog is thick and goes from ground up…but it’s a must, though. Beijing, not the smog:)
November 7th, 2011 at 10:49 am
I love your pictures and observations. I’m not surprised that it got under your skin. Will you be posting more pictures? I’m greedy for more!
November 7th, 2011 at 10:53 am
Heck yeah, Genius. I’m posting about my impressions on every Monday of November. Next week: The Arts.
November 7th, 2011 at 12:19 pm
My company has a lot of suppliers and offices in China, but more up by Hong Kong, and Shenzhen. I’ve never been over, but I get to hear about it from my co-workers who do go 😉
I love that photo of the little alley leading to the homes. The tapestry of the warrior is beautiful. It of course reminded me a little of my time in Japan (all good memories). Looking forward to hearing more!
November 7th, 2011 at 12:30 pm
DD – you HAVE to go, it’s really an inspiring country:)
November 7th, 2011 at 12:53 pm
Oh, I’m so jealous right now. Not of the crowds and smog, of course. Those I can do without, but China is definitely on my list of places to visit.
November 7th, 2011 at 1:04 pm
Go in the winter, otherwise you’ll face the crowds and smog!! But yes, do go, it’s worth seeing from up close:)
November 7th, 2011 at 1:38 pm
Its not on my to do list, I’m a picky eater. lol. But thoroughly enjoyed your photos and your viewpoint. Lovely. Looking forward to next weeks post. 🙂
November 9th, 2011 at 4:09 pm
Can’t beat me, Tams, I went vegan over there – and the food was deliscious!!
November 8th, 2011 at 10:49 pm
What a beautiful post, and an insightful glimpse into a world few of us ever get to see. I’m so heartsick over the poverty stricken. I would love to hear more about the Forbidden City, and why it’s called that.
Thanks for sharing your experience, and the amazing pictures!
November 9th, 2011 at 4:11 pm
It was forbidden to commoners, I think…only the Emperor, his family, friends and bunch of guards were allowed inside its walls.
November 8th, 2011 at 10:55 pm
Hello, Anne. Thanks for the eye-opening post. Very interesting perspective.
November 9th, 2011 at 4:11 pm
It was very eye-opening over there, let me tell you!
November 11th, 2011 at 12:28 pm
An amazing experience Anne, and one you certainly will never forget.
Now you’re back home, and have recovered from the wonder and the shock, I was wondering if you think it has changed you, or your writing, and if so how? *must ask Anne more questions* 😉