Finally past the Great Firewall and belatedly posting pics from my week in Beijing, the cultural and political capital of the People’s Republic of China.
The last time I properly visited the Mainland capital was 4 years ago. Back then, my stylish friend who was living there at the time introduced me to 798, the arts district. I must have forgotten how far out of the city it was or the traffic situation has gotten a LOT WORSE, because it took forever to get there and was impossible to find a cab back from on a Thursday afternoon. Anyway, among the many shops there was this one in particular with a wall of ukeleles.
For the week I spent in Beijing, I stayed with a friend who lives in a hutong. Hutongs are basically shacks in back alleyways that look really dilapidated from the outside, but many of which have been beautifully renovated on the inside as residences. Despite being the epitome of old-school Chinese, the feeling of community in the hutong was not unlike being part of an extended family. On one jetlagged late-night after completely missing my dinner plans by taking a “nap” at 6pm, I grabbed a chuan-r dinner by myself (skewers of meat, usually advertised as lamb or chicken, but probably cat or dog) with drinks and fried bread and seafood for a grand total of 56 RMB or approximately $9 USD. Not wanting coins for change, I handed the waitress 60 kuai and walked out. About 5 minutes later I hear breathless panting behind me – she had come after me to hand me the equivalent of 65 cents in change. “Hope to see you tomorrow” she smiled and walked off. Definitely not the typical mainland Chinese city attitude.
Although I can speak Chinese proficiently, having a notebook for the week was crucial to communicating with people. Especially since my VPN drained my phone battery and google maps is basically useless in China anyways. Writing characters for addresses made getting around so much less painful. Thanks Mom for sending me to Chinese school all those Saturday mornings!
While I prepared for PM2.5 with N95 masks and even brought a box over from Hong Kong for my China hosts as a thank you gift, the skies were “APEC blue” for the week. In light of the conference, the government shut down factories and created a holiday so locals would leave and decongest the city a bit. As a result, pollution wasn’t a problem (ostensibly) and traffic was bearable. I picked a great week to be in Beijing, albeit not representative of typical living conditions there. Let’s hope the next time I’m back there’s some important international meeting going on again!