China is absolutely breathtaking. The rightly named Yonghe temple is literally a “palace of peace and harmony”. It’s so serene to just listen to the lull of hymns and take in the burning incense. And the Great Wall is not a wonder of the world without a reason, amazing structure of man. But this post is about a less talked about part of town
Every day after sundown near the Jinsong Subway stop, a group of elderly women dances to the beat of a distant drum. Each of them has a shocking pink and green paper fan in their hand as they rehearse their choreographed routine. A more adventurous soul sings in a shrill voice. They say it’s not over till the fat lady sings, but the journey’s just begun for me.
China. Words fail me right now. It’s so different from anything I’ve ever experienced. I’m still breathing it all in (though breathing literally is sometimes a problem in the dusty streets). As I walked the allies in a part of Chaoyang district today, I was distinctly reminded of Pindi. The paths are covered in a thin layer of smut, and sometimes there is a strong stench in the air. It’s a mix of Diesel, raw plastic and the ugly side of side of nature. On busy Monday mornings like today, there’s a sea of people on every mode of transport imaginable. Angry rickshaws honk their way through people; buses speed through as people try to shove their way on board in the sweltering heat; And still more people on motor bikes whirring through crowds with their silencers off. Basically, a population of 1.3 Billion is no joke. Cities like Beijing are sprawling because they are centers of urbanization. The contrast between tiny, over-crowded shops with the pristine aluminum and glass of modern skyscrapers is awe-inspiring. The parts in Beijing I’ve seen so far are so extreme: A beautiful Tiffany’s store not too far from tacky neon signs; street vendors selling fake MP3 players not a few blocks away from a really fancy mall; beat up rickshaws parked up against dusty BMWs…The Viva Mall seems like Fitzgerald’s luxurious East Egg crammed up against a Valley of Ashes. It’s like Boston’s Prudential Center inside, with a ZARA, Puma, Sephora etc. complete with an international food court.
The city starts closing at around 11pm in most places. Yet while you may find it hard to get authentic Chinese food so late at night, there are 24hr KFC and MacDonalds at literally every corner. The KFC here even serves boiled rice with curry to cater to a broader audience. But at the end of the day it’s a choice between budding consumerism with standardized food and prices, or the authentic culture of the area that is slowly getting drowned under a sea of material goods.