China's Capital

Beijing Travel Blog

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Peering through the smog with the help of morning light, I found myself greatly disappointed with Beijing

I had arrived the night before in time to check into my hotel,  The Great Wall Sheraton Hotel (only moderate recommendation).  The night had already set in, so I quickly grabbed dinner behind the hotel at a local restaurant and went to bed.

Upon the morning, I had jumped out of bed to look upon the city through my hotel window, only to find a gray, damp facade of this sprawling capital.  There was an endless flow of cars below and an even more relentless river of people, hurrying to work. 

Beijing is a huge metropolis with 12 million people, bigger than New York City (8 mil) or Hong Kong (6.
Horseback riding in Beijing countryside
9 mil).  But sophisticated, it is not.  I find this city in a constant expansion of chaos.  Buildings are going up left and right without congruency and thought.  While there are concentrations of areas, the northwest part of the city is known as the "tech" center and the eastern side is the business district, the characteristic and landscape of the city never ceases to change from highways, buildings, vehicles, and lots of people. 

Beijing is surrounded by 5 "ring roads" (or highways).  They act as the arteries of the city and is constantly suffering from poor circulation - at times, more like heart failure with traffic at a complete hault.  With so much traffic, it exacerbates the already polluted air from the by-production of factories throughout the region.  Luckily I wasn't there during the late fall and winter months when the northern winds carry huge amounts of sand from the north due to over deforestation, bringing, I heard, a rust-colored blanket upon the entire city.
The Great Wall

There are a few "famous" landmarks in Beijing.  The Kempinski Hotel, China World, and Kerry Centre all tout the luxuries of the Western world.  You can find the finest French and Italian designer boutiques there, accompanied by the well-connected Chinese buisnessowners and government officials spending great amounts of money without batting an eye.  What you will find less and less are the hutongs and their charming traditional housing and shops, which obviously are being torn down to make way for more bland business buildings!

I was completely surprised by the number of Bentleys on the road and the extreme riches of the certain few juxtapose to the poor majority.  Could this be "communist" China?  Perhaps, this travel journal is not a place for political or social discussion, but I, for one, was completely not ready to see Beijng as it is.  I wanted to see China and its capital, full of history and culture.  What I found was that even the Forbidden City had an element of commercialization with Starbucks inside its walls and an American Express logo on the plaque of a temple's description.

Perhaps, I went with the preconceived notion of what I WANTED China to be, rather than let myself to experience it as it is.  But I think there is still an undercurrent of traditional China - only you need to get out of Beijing to see it.  

I had a wonderful time horseback riding in the countryside.  Driving about an hour away from Beijing, we went to visit a farmer, who now runs a horseback riding operation.  Not only did he provide horses for our party of four, he opened up his house to us for a fantastic lunch with barbeque lamb and vegetables. 

The Great Wall (via the Mu Tian Wu entry) allowed me to experience the grand history of China without the distraction of crowds (which you will unavoidably find at the Badaling entry).

Last, I still found great and warm people when I dug deeper.  While Beijingers may seem cold and blunt at first, they inevitably warm up to you as you stumble with your Mandarin and try to speak to them about their city.  Conversely from my feelings about Beijing, they are immensely proud of the changes that has taken place and are excited about their future.
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Horseback riding in Beijing countr…
Horseback riding in Beijing count…
The Great Wall
The Great Wall
12,231 km (7,600 miles) traveled
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photo by: Deats