Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Beijing is really growing on me

After spectacular Shanghai, I imagined Beijing to be a massive whirlwind of people and culture. A clash of new versus old. I was surprised to find things much more laid back and slow-paced than expected. And where were all people? I was expecting to be jammed in by people on the footpath, but instead was met by wide open spaces and traffic that was manageable. None of the claustrophobia of walking around the Old Quarter of Hanoi or the mayhem of traffic in Saigon.

Central Beijing is unlike any other large city I've been to. Because the center of Beijing is the culturally-vital Forbidden City, the government decided no tall buildings should be built anywhere within a few kilometers. And what the Chinese government wants, the Chinese government gets. This means that all the big commercial and financial institutions are located out where the suburbs might be in other cities. It's feels like an inside-out city.
Strolling around the center feels like a casual stroll through lots of older single story residential areas and small tea houses and shops, with the only large impressive buildings being culturally-significant ones or government buildings. It makes Beijing feel much smaller than it really is.
After feeling a little disappointed initially, this really started to grow on me and by the time It was time to leave, I felt like I was only just starting to hit my stride. I felt like I hardly saw any of the major tourist draw cards, although I think I did see a lot of the real Beijing, and met some really interesting people along the way.
I met some doctors in Beijing for a conference, got a guided tour of the Hutongs (inner city residential alleys dating back as far as the 13th century) from some Chinese students on holiday, chatted with a dude who built a very cool mini-chopper motorbike from scratch for 3000RMB (AU$450), and had dinner with a fascinating Cuban man who is a museum curator in Mexico city.
I also tried some fantastic food in Beijing including bullfrog, jellyfish, snake, red bean sorbet, and some kind of internal organs from a goat. Sometimes it was best to close my eyes before eating, but the food was always delicious. I drew the line at stuffed whole turtle, goose head soup (shown with heads floating in it), spewed pork (i hope that was a typo) and curdled blood soup.

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