Tuesday, 20 December 2011


Since I'm now on holiday back in (not very) sunny old Blighty, I thought I'd take the time to describe some of my travels from earlier this year. First off is the visit I made to Beijing as part of a business trip in June.

I'd last visited the city when my parents came to visit China in 2005 when, to say the least, my impressions of the city had been somewhat mixed. Whilst I had enjoyed my visit to the museums and the Forbidden City - which was then still in a slight state of disrepair but also a wonderful oasis of quiet in the city - I had found the pollution and politicised atmosphere of the city a bit oppressive compared to, say, Shanghai.

Fast-forwarding six years to the post-Olympics age the city had changed in some ways but not in others. The politicised atmosphere of the capital is still there, the pollution is seemingly worse (at least to my totally untrained eyes), but the new construction in the city has led to obvious benefits in terms of improved transportation, if not always in terms of aesthetics.

However, once business was concluded, my experience of the city this time was rather more laid back. Without the rush to take in all the sights, I was first able to spend an enjoyable lunch with a fellow former Nanjingtonian, and then an evening enjoying the peaceful vibe down at edge of lake Houhai - very touristy for sure, but as a tourist I could hardly complain.

After that, as well as after several misadventures with taxi drivers who did not seem to know the first thing about their city's layout, I met up with some friends at Nearby The Tree, a Beijing expat bar, and whiled away the hours until quite late shooting pool and drinking Belgian beers with the owner. I got on to my flight back to Poland over a stunningly beautiful Siberia the next day hung-over but contented.

So has my experience sold me on Beijing? I'm afraid I'm still something of a sceptic - the pollution is still a bit of a problem for me, but I can see myself being converted.

[Picture: The Beijing skyline as seen from my hotel window]


Ji Xiang said...

Haha, Beijing's taxi drivers are indeed often clueless about the city. I wonder if it is because it is so big. The surprising thing is that most of them are local Beijingers if you ask.

When it comes to the "politicized" atmosphere, I think that is only true for tourists who spend their time in the center, especially around Tiananmen. If you live in Beijing and only go to Tiananmen about twice a year, you don't particularly feel any more politicization then anywhere else.

I prefer it to the "businessized" atmosphere of Shanghai for sure.

Gilman Grundy said...

Yup. All so-called Beijingers, but none of them seemed to know the street I was talking about. I asked a taxi driver who had previously been a bus driver and who definitely did know her way around why this is and she said it was because the turn-over in taxi drivers is so quick.