Thursday, September 10, 2009

Beijing is Ma Ma Hu Hu

Tonight we leave Beijing, after being here for the past 5 days. As I mentioned, we've been staying with Mimi's friend Maya, who is very cool and has been a great host. After much deliberation, I have decided that Beijing is a pretty cool city, but I much prefer Shanghai. If Shanghai is the New York of China, then Beijing is perhaps the bastard stepchild of Los Angeles and Washington DC. While Shanghai is definitely my kind of town -- a place I would be eager to return to -- Beijing is ma ma hu hu, or as we say in English: so-so.

While the urban structure of Shanghai is convoluted and labyrinthine, Beijing is laid out on a huge, systematic grid. Like Los Angeles, it seems that it takes at least an hour to get anywhere in Beijing. It's super spread out, and there are plenty of traffic jams to go around. While Shanghai has narrow, busy streets, Beijing has broad avenues that form rings around the Forbidden City, which is found at the center of the city. You can also feel the government presence more in Beijing. There are government buildings strewn around the city, not to mention the countless embassies.

People here say that much of Beijing's new vibe can be attributed to the 2008 Olympic Games. The Chinese government invested vast amounts into public infrastructure and made a concerted effort to "clean up" the city. So while Shanghai remains under constant construction, most of the urban modernization in Beijing has already taken place. It is true that Beijing is an efficient city, but there is just something lacking here.

To put it more bluntly, Beijing is kind of boring. It may true that there are infinitely more museums and "sight-seeing" destinations in Beijing, but in terms of street food and culture, not to mention the overall vibe and pace of the city, Beijing is tepid. It's just too laid back for a city that claims to be a major cosmopolitan metropolis. That being said, I have had a really fun time here, and got to experience one of the most marvelous structures ever created by man: the Great Wall.

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