the new, Olympic-friendly city
When I thought of Beijing, I thought of dirt, tacky souvenirs, and red and yellow EVERYWHERE. I was partially right with the color scheme, but everything else was way off.
The Lonely Planet guide suggested we hit the Souvenir Market for kitsch, such as Chairman Mao watches, or the Little Red Book, but upon closer inspection, the whole area was replaced with big buildings with shops such as Nike and Adidas.
Huh?! Communist China?!
As you looked around the city, there were more Western restaurants and shops than I had seen in Korea; Outback, Gucci, Hooters, Pizza Hut, the aforementioned Nike and Adidas, etc. I came to Beijing expecting the workers' paradise, with propaganda all around the city (my only other Communist country experience was Vietnam) but the reality was much different. All of the dirt, the tack, the feel of China has, I suppose, been disappearing for years. Of course, the Olympics have sped up this process quite a bit. It's all been swept under the rug for the benefit of the people who won't be boycotting the Olympics and will focus their attention on Beijing.
This isn't to say I didn't enjoy myself...at times, it's nice to travel to a place where it's not...hard. Taking a 15-hour night train from Hanoi to Danang while hungover and sharing the rattling compartment with a Russian family who speaks very little English? HARD. Taking a Greyhound bus nearly 36 hours from Indiana to Florida with what seems like half of the list of America's Most Wanted? HARD. Trying to enjoy your drink in an outdoor bar, but constantly having to pick up your feet so that they don't get in the way of the hordes of mice? Under the right conditions, not so bad, but still...HARD.
Beijing was not hard. The most difficult part was trying to get 6 people rounded up and on the way to the monuments (which by the way, Chantal...thanks AGAIN for doing all of that pretty much singlehandedly). Don't speak Chinese in Beijing? No problem. Many things are printed in English and there are handy guidebooks and cards with the Chinese characters in them. Don't have to take crowded public transportation because between 6 people, cabs seem to be the easiest way. I liked Beijing a lot more than I expected to, and the visit has sparked the desire to see MORE of China.
And of course, dear readers, what you've all been waiting for: pictures. These were taken around Beijing...well...obviously.
To be continued with more pictures.