August 31, 2006

Beijing impressions

So, it's 6:30 in the morning and I'm stuck at my hostel. Great start of the day. There's been a mistake in the booking of my tour to the Great Wall so while I'm online trying to figure out how else I can get there before I leave for Xi'an tonight, I might as well update you.

Out of all the Asian cities I've been to, Beijing so far is least appealing to me. It's muggy, chaotic (and although usually I quite like chaos here it doesn't seem to work the same way) and doesn't really seem to have a 'vibe'. Or in any case, I'm not feeling it.

Not to say that I'm not enjoying it here - it is amazing how everything is geared towards 2008... Half of the town is under construction, half of the temples/palaces etc. are up in scaffolding. The sights are still pretty impressive. And I have to admit that I actually like the non-renovated parts of eg. the Forbidden City much better than the gaudy red and gold newly redone buildings.

Yesterday I spent the day with an American friend who has been living her since about three months. I know him from Tokyo, and it was very interesting to hear him about how he is now enjoying life here. In some respects it can be so the same (total inefficiency comes to mind), but it's also clear that even though Tokyo doesn't strike me as a environment-conscious city maybe it is after all. He also showed me around his campus, and I got to talk to a couple of his friends walking around one of the local markets (new toy to make friends on the trains here: mahjong in travel format!) and having a huge meal of Beijing Duck. Yumm.

My hostel is at the beginning of a big hutong, one of the old-city-parts of Beijing. Many people still live here but (in preparation of 2008, of course) apparently they're quite rapidly being torn down and replaced with modern concrete. The morning that I arrived - and couldn't find the hostel - a rikshaw (sp?) ended up taking me here: through proper hutong-early morning life. Quite an introduction to Beijing and China.

Somehow I had vaguely imagined Beijing to be similar to other big Asian cities; maybe not Tokyo but at least Seoul. Every new corner I turn, I'm reminded that it is still a long way off from that. If this city is planning to be ready for the huge event that is the Olympics, or if this city wants to actually physically resemble the number 2 world economy it has a lot of work ahead! One example is the subway system. There used to be only two lines and only recently a third line was finished. On the first two you get a paper ticket which old ladies at the gate tear for you (like museum entrance tickets). When you transfer from one of these to the new line, you hand in your paper ticket for a magnetic ticket (handed to you by an old Chinese lady). And then you proceed to the automatic gates which have magnetic card readers to enter... Within two years there should be 15 lines, should be quite a difference!

Well, I'm off to see how else I can get to the wall. Am leaving for a new city tonight - Xi'an which I'm really looking forward to. Everyone is raving about it, and I'm staying with another friend so it should be a good weekend. More from there!


Erik said...

Sounds good. Indeed, Beijing misses some "vibe" does it? The good thing about that is that people are also a bit relaxed, in contrast to for example Shanghai, which is a madhouse. And if you dig deeper, there is is still plenty to do in Beijing, but I am sure Timmy has told you about that as well.

I am also planning to go to Xian in the fall, looking forward to hear your comments

oprechtbeleefdkeihard said...

excellent english, dude! hope you'll like what comes better
pieter bas

Cookie time said...

hee sweetie, good to hear you're enjoying yourself and got some friends around! Keep us updated!!

Jules said...

So did you make it to the Great Wall?

I must admit, i am not a fan of Beijing. I just don't get the vibe either.

However, I love, love, love Shanghai. There's a real energy in the air there that Beijing just doesn't have - like you can actually feel the city pulsing.

machiruda said...

Well, Xi'an so far is pretty cool. Walked around all day in the rain, but it's quite a nice city. Great food as well! Off to the terracotta warriors tomorrow, and heading into the desert on Sunday...

Jules, went to my third choice of Great Wall location: Badaling. Very impressive though, despite the hordes of tourists.