Sunday, April 15, 2007
Beijing was even more overwhelming than Hong Kong in the sense that it was so huge! There were so many people, so many roadways, buildings, bikes- the sprawl of the city seemed uncontrollable, kind of like an expanding Los Angeles on a grander scale. Hong Kong, like New York, is compact and dense, with everything and everyone constantly coming into contact with eachother, a dizzying rush of neon, traffic, and people of different colors and lifestyles. The last time I was in Beijing, I was only 10 years old, so this was an entirely different Beijing, and of course, viewed through "adult" eyes. I was also pleasantly surprised to see that China had "western-style" toilets- one thing that Japan still hasn't integrated into its system!
With China, it was a bit disorderly, chaotic, and yet, it all seemed to work. Beijing is not a walkable city with these HUGE intersections and boulevards, cars and bikes and scooters and pedestrians all scrambling to get across. There wasn't any sense of graciousness as in, "no, please, you go ahead" but rather a "get the hell out of my way or else you WILL get killed" mentality- everyone was fending for themselves. This did explain to me the annoying practice of the old Chinese grandmas in the New York and San Francisco subways who push themselves into the cars with little thought for other passengers!!
It is a constantly changing, evolving city of extremes, modern versus traditional, construction versu de- construction , vast versus cozy, expensive versus cheap. People wore everything from colorful, stylish clothes (lots of RED- yay!!!) and then there were people in traditional Mao jackets and simple peasant clothes. There were shiny bright cars whizzing by creaky rattling bicycles. Some places were mobbed with people and others where we were the only souls around. Even the weather was extreme- one day it was bleak and dreary gray, the next day it was gorgeous and springlike!
Paul (and consequently me) was constantly getting stared at (openly, rude double, triple, quadruple takes). For a city with so many tourists and foreigners, I was shocked at this. However, we did our best to shrug off the pushy street vendors, occasional homeless beggar, and ignore the ubiquitous spitting and urinating in public places.
We were amused by the "game" of bargaining everywhere, but shocked by the level of corruption that we faced daily from the selling of fake goods, DVD's, electronics, handbags, sunglasses, etc. to the cab drivers "not carrying change" to the scams of the factories paying tour guides commissions to take them there. We were constantly on guard in the fear / shame of "getting taken". With all the construction work going on in the city, we probably only saw 5% of the workers EVER doing ANY work. Usually they were sitting on the side of the street, smoking cigarettes, and STARING at passerbys.
We managed to get by in most places with our combined (but extremely limited) knowledge of Mandarin. Apparently, the exotic sounding "Bu Wei" beer is "Budweiser". In some places, beer was less than $1USD!