East meets West...

Trip Start Mar 16, 2004
1
59
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Trip End Apr 02, 2005


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Sunday, March 6, 2005

East meets West.
New meets Old.
Two days in Beijing
and I'm already sold.

Beijing is big. Beijing is dirty. Beijing is ancient. Beijing is awesome. Beijing is really, really Chinese with a huge international presence. Like Rome, Beijing has a history that hypnotizes and haunts. Like Moscow, Beijing is an imperial capital, a showcase of power and strength. Like Berlin, Beijing is changing before our eyes as Capitalism creeps in through Communism's cracks. Like New York, Beijing is a cultural melting pot, where all nationalities can find their niche.

Seldom have I been so moved by a city as I am right now by Beijing. Throughout its history, and records show the city dating back to 1100 B.C., Beijing has wielded tremendous influence over the Chinese people and the world. Walking around in Beijing today, it is immediately obvious that what happens here will tremendously influence the world from here on out. Mark my words...keep an eye on Beijing!

Some interesting observations I have made over the past two days: while motor scooters own the streets of Taipei, bicycles reign in Beijing. I'm not talking fancy road bikes, here; I'm talking your grandfather's old-fashioned, no-frills, one-geared, wide-seat clunkers. It's not as cold as I expected. I was prepared for sub-zero temps, but I got high 30's. Not to mention it's been clear and sunny everyday. The police are even more conspicuous than in Hangzhou and they're not particularly friendly. Scowling and ornery, they cops take their jobs very seriously, and that does not include taking pictures for or with giddy tourists. People spit in public as frequently and as zealously as they did in Hangzhou. Beijingers smoke like it's going out of style, and ventilation is quite poor in most public places. This is a city that would benefit greatly from a smoking ban. Beijingers don't stare at me or ask to take my picture. Foreigners of all kinds are plentiful here, so I'm nothing special again (wink!). It is impossible to exchange Taiwanese dollars for Renminbi in Beijing. I tried two banks and a hotel and was vehemently rejected, despite my insistence that the money was from "the other China."

As for sightseeing, I have so far seen the Forbidden City, where the Ming and Qing Emperors lived with their tens of thousands of servants, eunuchs, and concubines, Tiananmen Square, the largest public square in the world (99 acres) and scene of the 1989 violent crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators, Wangfujing Street, home to the upper crust of society during the Ming and Qing dynasties, now a popular shopping boulevard and pedestrian zone, the Mao Zedong Mausoleum, where one can gaze upon Mao's preserved body through a glass coffin (I didn't actually go in, because I've seen Lenin in Red Square, and I figure if you've seen one dead dictator lying in state, you've seen them all), the imperial gardens in Jinshan and Beihai Parks, where the Emperors would stroll and overlook the city, and the Houtongs, ancient housing networks joined by alleys and courtyards where people began living during the Ming and Qing dynasties and still live today. I will provide more details about each of these sites when I upload the pictures later on.

As for company in Beijing, I am staying with Kim, a friend from DC, and her two lovely roommates Shirin and Natalie. They have all been living in Beijing for some time now and have been enthusiastic and gracious hosts. Their love of Beijing is contagious. Their love of Chinese food is even more contagious. They have introduced me to such specialties as Peking Duck and duck noodle soup. I have eaten duck every day, and I don't plan to stop.

There are still two days left and lots more of Beijing for me to see, so I will leave you now and get seeing. Pictures to come when I get back to Taipei and have more than a few seconds to sit in front of the computer. Cheers!
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