Got back tonight from Beijing. Flew over the north pole and took only 12 hours or so, got three seats to myself so was able to sleep – which was good except now it’s 3 am and I’m wide awake. Landed at 4:30 and made it home and to a dinner at the Ritz by 6:15, just a few minutes late, what a schedule.
Walking around Chicago tonight, I had the impression that it’s a bit slow and sleepy – how funny is that? Coming from the action of Beijing, that’s how I felt. Very interesting. I didn’t like China the first time I went and I didn’t like it at the beginning of this trip but near the end began to really get into it. I don’t like that the people are standoffish, and are not too interested in speaking with you or helping you out if you are lost. I found they don’t really help one another out either as strangers as I watched a taxi driver of mine ask around and get ignored by several passerby. But it was so action packed and once you did find some nice people, they were great – also a huge impact is when you make even a small attempt at speaking Mandarin to them – they light up and smile – and then jabber away unintelligably (to me anyways) and are much more engaging. The Forbidden City was spectacular as the largest palace in the world. Also the many winding tight alleys called “Hutongs” throughout Beijing were very cool – all with open shops selling about anything you could want, the oldest around 900 years. Yummy street food being cooked before your eyes, meat that’s been sitting out for days it seems. Then you walk out of those onto a street with the most modern of buses and cars, Mercedes, jeeps, bikes, rickshaws, and skyscrapers and traffic and people, it a crazy culture and contrast. Lots of new buildings going up – but many Hutongs being destroyed. China is making a point of breaking with its past it seems, and coming into the world a strong modern power. It’s interesting that the government owns all the property, not good for the many poor folks that get booted out when a new building goes up, but great for progress.
I went out one night to the bars section of town – they have paid karaoke people singing at most every place, so semi-live entertainment. Pretty fun, pretty different. In the Sanlitun area I went you get accosted every 3 steps for “ladies”. Similar to Thailand. Apparently there is a more chilled out area I tried to go to but with the lack of communication my cabbie took me to Sanlitun as he made drinking motions the whole ride there.
I had a delicious Peking duck dinner last night at a very fancy restaurant specializing in it – I’ll post my videos later. They restaurant had at least four floors of diners – and huge rooms on each, all packed with patrons. The duck was yum.
The Chinese in Beijing seemed more alive and vibrant than the ones in Shenyang. In Shenyang there was next to nothing to do, and the people seemed sullen. Plus the air was exhaust-smelling all the time, everywhere. Beijing was great by comparison, though still polluted. Not near as bad though. I was struck by the modernity of Beijing – big wide avenues, three and four lanes wide, highways, the works.
It will be interesting tomorrow going downtown chicago – lots of white faces will be different I’m sure, I’m used to ebing in a sea of asians. In Shenyang I don’t think I saw more than a handful of other white faces in the week I was there. Beijing there were a bunch at the hostel and walking around.
The Great Wall was amazing. I did a 10k hike on it with a big group. So incredible, snaking up and down these mountain sides. What a piece of work. The funny thing is apparently it was never all that effective at keeping the Mongolians and others out. The Mongolians would just bribe a guard or two, and they’d let them through.