Thursday, April 26, 2007

Beijingin' Around

Beijing is to Shanghai as Chicago is to New York: both are fabulous, but one is less international than the other. What is lost in local scope is made up for in local charm. In Beijing's case, this is an increase in the number of street vendors, rickshaws and, well, pollution.

As much as I love Shanghai, Beijing is distinctly more "Chinese." I only was able to stay for four days last weekend, but in that nibble of time, I saw a robust local music and art scene, saluted more red flags (hey, don't judge), heard the thick regional accent (try adding an "r" sound at the end of every other vowel) and was bombarded by a blitzkrieg of Beijing 2008 Olympics merch and countdowns.

The rumors are true - there are ads everywhere instructing locals to be polite. The pollution is heinous (think skin breakouts, yellow water and crowds EVERYWHERE). Beijing people seem much taller than their Southern counterparts and there are loads of people trying to scam the waiguoren (foreigners). There was blatant racism at times (against a Chinese friend of mine...don't really know what the motive is behind that) and Mao's portrait still watches over the city.

In spite of all this, I fell in love. We wandered through alleyways and found a bizarre Muslim-Chinese fusion restaurant, complete with belly dancers and old men jamming the night away. The tiled roofs and symmetrical communist buildings side-by-side charm and amaze. Our hostel had a shrine on the first floor and enough local color to be blinding.

If you make it to Beijing, the Forbidden City is worth seeing, but the Summer Palace is what really entranced me. Tienanmen Square is a must. Don't miss out on Peking duck or Beijing Opera, they're both famous for a reason.

This weekend and next week = Golden Week (a.k.a Spring Break!) I'm off to Sichuan and Hainin...details to follow.