If Shanghai is the cosmopolitan sipping sophisticated sex in the city gal then Beijing is the lovely, refined and dignified older aunt who is on the verge perhaps of one too many face-lifts.
Forced to make American analogies I would say that Beijing is to Shanghai as Washington D.C. is to Manhattan. With her wide streets, foreign embassies and rich history Beijing is the beautiful seat of government of the People’s Republic of China. She has a history that dates back over 5000 years surviving the turbulent upheavals of governmental changes, dynasties and the uprising of her populace.
Formerly the home to Emperors secluded behind the massive walls of the Forbidden City and currently home to Party Leaders and diplomats from around the world this is a city that struggles to maintain a sense of the past while forging headlong into the 21st century. The magnificent walls that once surrounded the city were leveled to make room for wide boulevards to accommodate the ever increasing traffic. Whole city blocks were reduced to rubble for the sake of expansion and to allow the skyscrapers to soar. Charming hutong (narrow alleyways which crisscross the city creating communities of one-story dwellings and historic courtyard homes) once housing millions of local Beijiners are being swept away at an alarming rate. The 2008 Olympics was the kiss of death to a whole way of life in Beijing as the city raced to modernize and update herself. A nip here, a tuck there.
This city is immense. Ask anyone how long it will take to get somewhere and you get one of two answers; half an hour (if the place is close) or one hour (a little further away). Looking at the map is no help at all as everything appears fairly close. The traffic is murder even with current driving restrictions for private cars. Lane markers and traffic lights are treated more as suggestions than actual rules.
World attention that the Olympics placed on Beijing brought to light the air quality of the city. She is the chain smoking matron surrounded by a constant haze. You literally can not see the sky. A certain grayness overlays a vibrant color palate which is akin to looking at an overly painted woman through a puff of smoke.
This is a city of greats. Great Empires, The Great Wall of China and home to the Great Pandas. It is also a city of simplicity. The simplicity of people trying to survive in a world that is changing too quickly. The average person works extremely hard to make it in the big city. While this is true in most cities here it is often done with out the benefit of indoor plumbing at home. A true contrast to the old and new ways.
I like it here. There is a feel about the place. Coming from country with such a short history I marvel at the shear ancientness of this city. My hope is that the powers that be will know when to stop when it comes to modernization.
Like any great woman of a certain age the laugh lines and crows feet add to her beauty, tell the tale of a life lived. To erase all evidence of age is to create a face that looks like everyone else’s. A little work here and there I can agree to. I am all for better public transportation and restroom facilities. Restrain however is the mark of great taste. This great lady deserves to be allowed to age gracefully.
Beijing – Simply Gluten Free
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