Beijing was originally called Peking and then the name changed to Beijing, only to be changed again and reverted back. It has an interesting history of name change with the change in the political scenario.
Our first glimpse through the aircraft window revealed a rather brown and desolate looking landscape. We were arriving there towards the end of winter season with temperature hovering around 3 degrees centigrade (at 11.30 in the morning and below – degrees in the night) and hence the flowers were not in bloom. The winter is rather severe in most parts of China specially in Beijing and the surrounding areas. My heart sank a little without the usual greenery that one is used to seeing in India.
The airport was huge and modern. One of the first things that caught my eyes was that almost all of the officials/employees at the airport be it custom or otherwise were young Chinese people. The signage were in both in Chinese and in English and we had no problem in managing our way through the airport. The officials were helpful and polite but unsmiling.
I also noticed that we were perhaps the only two “brown” people who arrived at Beijing among many “whites” from the west. All the other Indians (read people from Punjab) were on their way to Canada through another 12 hour long journey.
Our guide was already waiting for us at the airport with transport. She was bubbly, talkative, spoke good working English and wore bright cloths.
The car jumped onto the highway from the airport and all we could see were huge expressways with six lanes speeding under the wheel, with little or no landscape around us. The roads were super excellent, well maintained and managed remotely with very few traffic signals or police.
As the car entered the city, I could not help but feel extremely impressed by the presence of impressive towering buildings all around us. The hotel (Kapok Wangfujing) was situated in downtown Beijing again with four lane roads, surrounded by tall office buildings or hotels.
The guide, her name was Catherine, kept talking to us about the important buildings in the city, the history of Beijing and the significance of some of the important landmarks of the city.
Accordingly to her suggestion, we went to watch the Beijing acrobatics show and to tell you the truth, I was rather disappointed. This is not a statement of a “die hard” nationalistic person but I have seen better with our own Kalaripayattu artists from Kerala. Below is a picture from the show where the acrobat keeps piling on chair after chair and shows many acrobatic skills on the higher and higher pile.
Our trip to and from the acrobatic show was by the bus and by Beijing Metro. It gave us an excellent peek into the daily lives of an Bijinger (if one can call them that, 🙂 ) The office time metro was as packed as the suburban trains of Amchi Mumbai and we just had to be in the right place to be pushed in or pushed out.
The city is squeaky clean or at least the areas where we lived – during the day we kept seeing people with brooms and trays, continuously sweeping the streets clean. However, don’t feel bad. Are the Chinese like us in some ways? oh yes, they spit as much as we do, but much less in Beijing than other cities. 🙂
From the time I landed in China, I started getting a major complex about my size as almost all the women were petite, slim and oh, so well dressed. They were smartly dressed in their very colourful western attire and immaculately made up. Sometimes, it seemed as though we were in the middle of a fashion show and I am not joking here. 🙂
After the show we wondered around the streets a bit, braving the biting cold.
However, the piece de resistance was reserved for the evening. There was a finger food pavilion that opens up every evening in front of the hotel for the locals as well as for the tourists. However, the tourists do more of the marveling while the locals have their fill. Why? Well, the finger food mostly consisted of deep fried beetles, scorpions, snakes and other exotic snacks, ably supported by many kinds of pork, beef, mushrooms, seaweeds, bird eggs and noodles. We tried out the noodles, the eggs, the mushrooms and some of the pork snacks. Can’t say they were yummy, but interesting alright. Below is a glimpse of the food pavilion with some of exotic staff on display. Take your pick!
The shops come alive in the evenings and looks a bit like a desi fare that opens up right in the middle of a very modern surroundings. That perhaps is the interesting thing about China, they have progressed far and wide as compared to us in terms of infrastructure, industry, economy but have retained their culture through food and language a great deal more than we have.
Later, in the evening, we simply enjoyed walking around in that cold evening, speaking (at least trying to as their English speaking skill is zero to pathetic) to people, watching what others were eating and wondering at the sheer variety of things that were unfolding in front of us.
More on Beijing in my next post. Do let me know what you thought of this post and share.