Paradoxes

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I’ve been back from China for about 6 days now, and although the jet lag is over, the desire to share all I experienced lingers strongly. It’s hard to get a handle on it, and put words to the many things I saw. I should have kept a diary — it’s quite a blur now, and I’m afraid I’m forgetting some impressions and insights already. Looking at the photos is bringing some things back, though!

Intricate crafstmanship on anything ancient; this is a fountain in the courtyard at the Lama Temple.

Land of Paradoxes
Beijing struck me as a city of paradoxes: modern alongside ancient, narrow back streets leading to wide, fast-flowing freeways, thousands of bicycles and a few double-decked buses, modern, fashionable people and wrinkly elders, wonderfully fresh food and plastic packaging, skyscrapers and little green parks, miles and miles of hedges along the highway meridians. The only thing with no paradox is people everywhere! There are people performing jobs that we would never think of in Canada, such as bathroom attendant and freeway-edge landscapers, and a lot more garbage-pickers than we have. It seems to me that the combination of the communist government and huge population means that they can get an awful lot done in a short period of time — like building a subway — by mobilizing all those people.

Communism and capitalism collide in China. Or perhaps I should say “co-exist.” While the government is communist, which involves controlling the people and industry, the country is also capitalist. It’s kind of strange. Or not… there are glossy shopping centres, malls, restaurants, you-name-it, just like you might see in any city in North America. The air quality is very poor; reports from before the Olympics were not exaggerated. The picture above shows the International Terminal building, just before our plane landed, and the sky was orange. Not to be judgmental; The biggest Canadian cities, with one-fifth the number of people living in them, have their share of smog too – only everyone in Beijing calls it “fog.” There’s no question it’s not fog – the relative humidity was nowhere near 100%. And there was a yellow dust on all the parked cars in the mornings!

I mentioned the subway… here’s a picture of the new subway, built for the

New Beijing subway

Olympics. It’s pretty snazzy, with glass all along the subway tunnel, to prevent people from jumping (or falling) in front of the train. Sounds good, doesn’t it? Well, they didn’t account for the crowds and pushing, because people have died when they were pushed so much and caught between those double-doors. Both sets close, train starts moving… it’s not pretty. I thought maybe they had sensors installed so the train couldn’t move if there was anyone trapped, but our Beijing friends said nope, they didn’t think of that. Or maybe just thought it would never happen. There was one occasion when we were the last people to try and squish on a train, so we decided to wait for the next one. It was equally crowded, but at least we were first to get on.

In addition to parking lots for cars, there were bicycle parking areas too! I didn’t see any underground parkades, nor did I see any above ground parkades. I guess they don’t need them yet; owning a vehicle is expensive, and the average person simply can’t afford one. Foreigners with good jobs probably could, but then they’d have to get a Beijing driver’s license… a daunting thought! Lots of people take cabs, public transit, walk or ride bicycles, or a variation on a bicycle! I saw quite a few converted into a cart with lots of cargo tied on, and I also saw strange three-wheeled trucks, with one in the front and two and an almost-normal box in the back. Narrower, maybe. There were a few different mini-vans, some narrower than ours, and not even one single pick-up truck. 🙂

View from the 23rd floor, towards a shopping centre
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