On the way to Tunis via London – I’m currently writing this from Hackney, East London – I was most pleased to squeeze in a stop in Beijing.
In two months I’ll be spending another couple of days there, but this time I literally surprised myself by checking it out while in transit. After last visiting in 2004, I attempted to leave the airport with no visa for around 5 hours, and found success. Within half an hour of getting off the plane I was taking the train to Dongzhimen and on to Yonghegong, hoping the authorities would be none the wiser as to the pro video camera in my hand luggage. I somehow managed to skip past the seemingly compulsory x-ray in customs, and am not sure if a journalist would have been welcome sans Visa.
Needless to say the city seems to have changed a lot since 2004 – no prizes for noticing that – but I couldn’t help but be in awe of the colossal airport and smooth, affordable (well, for tourists like me) express train into the city – compare that with London’s effort which comes in at around $US30.
Here’s the train (I love how the gopro camera captures sunlight pretty well)
Following this I met up with two wandering pals who used to call Sydney home, and they took me for an early morning donkey sandwich and yoghurt in a Hutong on the edge of the city centre. With the trendy looking bars (still shut) and street art/paste ups, it was clearly in the throngs of some serious gentrification. The narrative I’ve been exposed to by The Media is that these cute ‘burbs of Biejing are being torn down for brutal functionalist apartment blocks – but it was nice to see them being kept on in this part of town at least.
We then had a quick espresso and Tsing Tao beer (it was well past 10.30am by this point) and watched the electric scooters whiz by, then the electric buses, before discussing how whatever Western nations say in defence of not taking serious action on C02 emissions, China does seem to be making some considerable efforts on alternatives to fossil fuels. Well, maybe the electric scooters and electric bus are powered by electricity from coal power stations, but for the mean time it’s keeping pollution from the middle of the city, which has to be a good thing; last time I was in China I left more than one town in a coughing fit. Alas, the morning came to an end with me unfortunately adding to the smog by jumping in a cab back to the airport, looking forward to heading back in June.