Bejing: the increasingly modern city

Beijing Travel Blog

 › entry 6 of 7 › view all entries

The first world I could  use to describe Bejing is the word I believe that the Chinese government is hoping to promote:  modern.  Everywhere I look there are skyscrapers, windows gleaming, surrounded by manicured lawns and specially designed gardens.  There are tea shops and Chinese restuarants mixed with Starbucks, McDonald's, and Baskin Robins. The cars crowd the streets and the bicycles crowd their lanes and the people crowd the subways.

I visit the city at an especially interesting moment right before the olympic games are held here.  I am staying with a friend from college, Leigh, who has had the opportunity to live here through many of the changes that the government is implementing for the olympic games.  On my first day here, on the way to her workplace, Leigh explained to me that the subway, like many things, has been renovated for the benefit of the games.  In fact, the Chinese government has spent more money preparing for the games than all of the hosts of the modern olympics put together.  There are now special policepeople with red banners on their chests who stand at every doorway to the subway to try to herd the Bejing-ren (people from Bejing) into an organized line so that a pushing crowd can be avoided and the appearance of complete order promoted.  As the electronic ads flash outside of the subway windows an announcement comes on in both English and Chinese.  In English the announcement says something like "The next stop is Chaoyangmen.  Please collect your belongings and get ready to alight from the subway.  Thank you."  In Chinese the announcement says basically the same thing, but it adds "Please do not spit." 

In addition to the subway changes, the government has planned to drastically reduce the pollution during the olympics.  At first, the pollution in Bejing wasn't apparent to me.  The sky was blue upon my arrival, but it only remained that way for a few days.  Yesterday a particularly thick smog settled on the city and took on a yellowish tint.  The government is able to clear the pollution, when it gets this bad, through shooting Nitrous-oxide into the atmosphere so that it rains.  For the olympics, the government will shut down many factories and limit driving so that only even-numbered license plates drive on even-numbered days and vice-versa with odd-numbered license plates.

Finally, I have seen few beggars since arriving.  Apparently, there used to be a lot more, but recently they have been cleared from the subway stations and overpasses where they usually gather and moved.  However, China has had tremendous growth in the past few years and in Bejing, it is apparent that there are many jobs and a large middle class. 

As a contrast to this middle class, admist the high-rises, there are small alleyways, Hu Tongs, where much of the workingclass lives.  These alleyways are comprised of connected one-story gray structures with red doorways which house restauarants, shops, and residences.  As if to emphasize the contrast in wealth, some middleclass and wealthy Chinese have started to buy the structures to make trendy and expensive restaurants in Hu Tongs, capitalizing on their traditional appearance.

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photo by: Deats