Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Beijing

A note from the seat of the central government. Beijing is more interesting from a tourist perspective than Shanghai, though I have only been able to see things from a taxi en route to meetings. The buildings in Beijing are different: the layout is typically large and low, with buildings occupying a whole city block. The city has a feel of strong growth as well, but more planned and orderly. The feeling is less international and more distinctly Chinese. The air in Beijing was decidedly cleaner than Shanghai.

Private business is everywhere, but so are government offices. The government employees I met were extraordinarily smart, serious, but also very friendly. I saw little difference in form or function from what you might expect in the US. The more I travel, the more I learn that despite our differences, people everywhere are people: same basic concerns, same basic desires, not always the same perspectives on everything.

The food in China is amazing. Two evenings ago, I had traditional peking duck from a hickory wood fired oven. Most of the food I've had has been delicious, but the duck was just awesome.

As you drive by Tiananmen Square, you can see the new opera house, which is set to open shortly. Opposite the square is the smiling portrait of a benevolent looking Chairman Mao. The city is also a city of contrasts: as you drive past Mao, you also drive past a mini-Rodeo drive, replete with shops for Swiss watch brands that routinely sell for over 20,000 USD. Another striking statement on how much things have changed here.

The red government buildings are another study in how things have changed: does the red represent communism or prosperity and good fortune? Both or neither?

I write from Hong Kong, now administered by the Chinese government, yet under a completely different system. I have talked with Hong Kong natives who describe the arrangement as a family reunion, where earlier concerns have largely been put to rest. Again, not what I might have expected as an outsider and the different systems are another interesting contrast in China.

The excitement over the olympics is infectious. I picked up some souvenirs for the 2008 games at the airport. I have never traveled to the olympics before, but being in Beijing during the games may be worth the effort.

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