I didn’t know what to expect from China, but I was not prepared for the fact that many areas develop faster than tourist guides can keep up. And however unrealistic, I had hoped that there still was time to see the old China, the occasional Mao suit, those masses of people on bikes, and more traditional neighborhoods.
But it was too late, at least in the areas I visited. China is already way ahead of itself and people like me, who have the grainy video of Tiananmen Square burnt on our retinas. There are very few people on bikes. They’re all in cars, just like the rest of the developed world. The Mao suits are replaced by North Face jackets and the many street markets by chain stores and luxury outlets.
My trip started in Beijing, which is a megalopolis but remarkable easy to navigate with public transportation and on foot. You can still see the odd tube house and street stalls selling fried scorpions. But for me, the city felt strangely western, perhaps somewhat confused. Highlights were the Temple of Heaven and the Forbidden City.
Tiananmen Square, underground. Security measures in and around the square complex are extraordinary.
Feeble attempt on subversion, Tianmen Square.
Temple of Heaven
Perhaps my favorite part of Beijing, the Temple of Heaven area is located in a park where ordinary Beijinger’s go to relax, play, dance and assemble. The groups who come together here would be dispersed quickly in places like in Tiananmen Square, where there’s a palpable sense of nervousness.
Writing with water on a dusty surface, Temple of Heaven.
In and Around Beijing
Fried scorpions are commonplace in many countries but its the first time I’ve seen fried seahorses…
The Forbidden City
Beijing to Nanjing
From Beijing, I took the morning bullet train to Nanjing (formerly known as Nanking, and the Japanese massacre during WW2). The trains mind-numbing speed took me almost 1000 km before lunch. Like Japan, China has an incredible rail network and system built up around mass-transit. Train stations are like modern airports and the services available are nothing short of massive.
Typical dusty landscape exiting Beijing at 300km/h.
Occasionally interrupted by strange developments in the, seemingly, middle of nowhere…
Card game, Nanjing.
Located on China’s central coast, Shanghai with its 15 million residents is China’s biggest city and financial heart. The Huangpu River divides the city from Pudong with its famous skyline with the Oriental Pearl TV Tower (the odd tower with the sphere). Pudong is the commercial center and designated as a Pilot Free Trade Zone, essentially the Wall Street of China. On the other side of the river, the Bund the long waterfront promenade lined with colonial-era buildings. Though there are small remnants of what may be described as more traditional Chinese culture, Shanghai is, to me, virtually indistinguishable from the Western cities it seeks to emulate.
Pudong from The Bund.
A curious display of over-grandparenting… Every day hopeful grandparents show up in People’s Square park with umbrellas and vital stats of their grandsons (printed on a sheet of paper attached to the umbrella) to find a companion for their lonely off-offspring.
Tai-chi by the river, Shanghai.
Guilin (South West China)
What my guidebook described as a sleepy old Western Chinese town turned out to be a huge city. The most exciting areas are outside the city, and I ended up on a Li River ferry to Yangshuo, about 100km downriver.
Fishing by Cormorant. A strange practice where the bird has a string around the neck while diving for fish. Once it resurfaces, the owner dislodges the prey and, I guess, is rewarded. Seems like an uneven exchange…
A huge city of nearly 10 million people, is, like Shanghai, very Western in appearance, from huge high rises to Starbucks. The more interesting parts of the city are the famed market and the treaty port.