Thursday, July 24, 2008

An Adventure in Beijing

So, I traveled to Beijing this past weekend to see friends and experience first-hand the feverish Olympic atmosphere.


I was lucky because the Yale Club of Beijing was having a BBQ for alumni and students that very weekend. Eating free food, seeing old friends and meeting new people - three of my favorite things in life.

The Yale Club booked a rooftop bar called Kokomo in the Sanlitun neighborhood. The sun was out (a very rare event in Beijing), the food was good, the drinks were flowing, the company was fun.

I also met up with a few good friends and teachers from my last summer in Beijing. That was probably the most fun part of the weekend. Chatting and eating with them really brought back some good memories of some really great times we've had together.

One of my favorite places in Beijing is the 798 Art District. It's a place where young and hip artists can put up galleries with some really great works.

The gallery that really caught my attention this time was one where they displayed traditional Chinese landscape paintings.

Well... from afar anyways. When I first glanced at it, it didn't seem so unique. I've come across many such works, with it's really oriental mountains and trees with a typical temple somewhere. However, when I took a second glance, it was actually quite different.

What had appeared as beautiful green mountains were actually piles of dirt and rock covered with a green wrap. What had appeared as morning fog and clouds were actually smoke and dust blowing from the factories. The lakes looked beautiful far away but was actually extremely polluted up-close. What was this artist trying to say about the current state of China? Hmmm...

Here's another set:

Beijing's Facelift

It is as if the entire city went to a plastic surgeon and got a face lift. The city has changed so much from my trip last summer!

The most obvious difference is the landscape of the city. For example, last year, the piece of land in front of the university where I stayed at was all shacks and small restaurants. The sidewalk was filled with locals and college students streaming in and out. There were fruit and vegetable carts, soup carts, and carts selling items I can't even describe. Furthermore, you would only have to walk a block further to eat at the jiaozi stand, where you can order 10 dumplings for 3 kuai (>50 cents).

Fast forward to this summer: the area in front of the university has been cleared out. There is a very nice and modern high-rise in place of the shacks. The sidewalks have been completely rebuilt. The carts? All gone. The jiaozi stand? Shut down.

Now, multiply that by a gazillion and you have Beijing.

The change is more than just visual though. You can feel it. The atmosphere is suffocating. The feeling comes from the city looking too... sterile and clean. It's just not like Beijing. I'm not talking about the trash on the sidewalks, but more of the previously mentioned small family businesses that use to crowd the streets. Also, the addition of a million security officers throughout the city doesn't help. You see them everywhere (so carry around your passport)!

Furthermore, the addition of countless new and absurd regulations might have contributed to this starchy mood. For example, you have to be a student at a college to be allowed on campus. For me, that means I could not step foot on any of the colleges in Beijing because I didn't possess a student ID. This made things really difficult because I had planned on staying with a friend who is studying at Beijing Language University (I had to lie every night to the guard to get in. Bad.).

The stadiums built for the 08 Olympics are pretty sweet. I haven't seen anything like the Bird's Nest or the Swimming Cube. Amazing works of architecture.

The atmosphere isn't that great though. The reason? It is (surprise!) the extreme security measures. Ordinary public was not allowed to get close to the stadiums, which is ironic because many of the Olympic architects had the theme of "openness" in mind.

The government really screwed up on this one.

They decided that cars with even-numbered license plates would drive one day and those with odd numbered license plates would drive the next. I thought this was a great idea. It would get rid of the infamous traffic jams in Beijing and, even better, help out our environment.

However, then, Beijing decided to also close down almost 1/3 of its major roadways and designate a lane on the remainder just for Olympic-affiliated cars. Talking to the taxi drivers I met, these regulations have made the traffic situation worse than ever. Taxis are forced to take detours on small roads that were never suited for high traffic volume. On two lane roads, one lane would be jammed as far as the eye could see while the other is completely empty (because the Olympics were still 20 days away!). Every once in a while, while I would still be crawling or not moving at all, I would see a car just fly past me on the Olympic lane, nothing in his way to stop him. Hate.

In the name of security, Beijing has closed down some of its best clubs. Vix, Mix, Propaganda... the list goes on.

What are foreigners going to do at night?

Getting back to Shanghai
My friends and I missed the train. Seriously. It was a terrible experience.

An hour before the train was to depart, we tried to get a taxi. However, no one would take us! Why? Dunno...

So we thought about the subway. However, the stop at the railroad station was shut down for security (see a trend here?) precautions. So, we ended up taking the subway to the nearest stop and run (with all our luggage) to the railroad station. Hot, tired, sweaty, and sore... all for not.

We ran around for another while trying to figure out who to contact and what to do to get out of Beijing. Somehow, we ended up on the last train out. On hard seats. The train was extremely uncomfortable, but it was taking us back to Shanghai!

1 comment:

devon said...

wow that must be tireing