Although it is one of the biggest countries and holds the biggest population of the world, China has never fascinated me. Living so close to it though gives me no excuses to not visit it, only a 2 hour flight from Seoul.
So here I am, in the city that is meant to be one of the most populated, most polluted, has the worst air quality, host of the 2008 summer Olympics, and home to one of the greatest civilizations that has influenced mankind far and wide: Beijing.
I assumed that much of East Asia would be similar, since Japan didn’t seem like too much of change from Korea. With China I’ve been proven wrong. The streets are wide and there are massive buildings, all with the Chinese flags basically every 100 meters. The apartments don’t look exactly like communist blocks, but are close enough minus some of the washed pink paint.
This is home to the world’s largest square. And it’s not just the square that’s large, it seems that whatever the Chinese do, they do it BIG. That is also the first impression as you enter terminal 3 of the Beijing international airport which is also considered one of the biggest in the world.
The high rises aren’t as tall so you don’t feel flooded in a sea of buildings the way you do in Seoul. And the wide streets give you the illusion that perhaps Beijing isn’t so populated, but then you get on the subway and that vision is shattered.
I have a feeling things may have been slightly different if I had come here before the Olympics, like the subways which only consisted of 3 lines and now due to the games have been extended and developed into 8 or so. The city had a big clean up in order to save face in front of the world and they did a good job. You would never step into Beijing thinking it to be a developing country but once you wander the streets and examine how most of the locals live, you realize that this is another society where the rich seem to be getting richer while the poor, poorer.
Things are cheap cheap in Beijing, but what everyone says is true: EVERYONE is looking to rip you off if they can. It’s not that they mean to, it seems that’s the only thing they know in order to survive. And tourists, like in all developing countries, mean money in China as well. My first experience of this ever is when I took a cab to the hostel and the driver charged me basically 4 times what I really would have to pay. In the end what I paid is basically about $12, but it should have cost me about $3.
Lesson learned: don’t be so vulnerable and always bargain (ugh, I hate this part!).
The Chinese folk still seem to be taken by foreigners. I get stares on the subway but nothing unpleasant. I’m back to being in a world where I can not communicate at all. It seems that majority of the locals do not know any English, and even if they do, with their accent it’s basically impossible for me to understand.
It’s going to be an interesting week filled with authentic Chinese food, new friends, fun adventures and a great start to the new year.