There is something about Beijing… something in the air, you can almost taste it… wait, you can taste it, it IS the air. My nose and throat itch with every breath, and when you go inside to get away from it everybody is smoking. Even in supposedly non-smoking places like this internet cafe (the no smoking sign is right in front of me and the guy next to me is a chimney while he blows guys away playing Counterstrike). I was surprised to learn that we arrived on the tail end of a national holiday here and the air pollution is actually lower than normal due to reduced production. Just imagine what it would normally be like… We aren’t really experiencing culture shock, just more like pulmonary shock. I’m really looking forward to getting up into Tibet… even if the air is thinner at least it should be cleaner (not so much when we get into Kathmandu I guess).
Other than that it’s really been a great couple of days. We arrived yesterday afternoon, caught the bus into town which conveniently happened to stop right by our hotel. After we checked in we went on a walk looking for sections of the Great Wall inside the city that we had just driven by on the bus. It’s pretty spectacular to see these almost 600 year old fortifications still standing against the backdrop of this huge, rapidly growing city. That’s the other thing you notice right away, there is construction everywhere. We don’t understand how they’re possibly going to finish it all before the Olympics, but it would be interesting to watch the pace of these buildings going up all around. We’ve learned that there are over 3000 buildings under construction 24 hours a day. Somebody somewhere should be setting up a time lapse camera to watch Beijing grow at a daily rate. After our walk we napped for a while and caught up with our jet lag. Then we grabbed some dinner and went back to bed early.
Today we started early at the Dirt Market (Panjaiyuan) where we met up with a friend of a friend who showed us around and helped us try to bargain. Then the three of us went to Houhai for lunch and a walk around the lake. After lunch our friend had to head home (she was actually off to Shanghai to go back to work tomorrow) so Kim and I were on our own again to head to the Summer Palace which was amazing. The palace complex is basically a huge park in the city, and again an impressive contrast between the old and the new city skyrocketing up in the background.
We’re resting up tonight as we meet up with the group we are heading to Tibet with tomorrow and going out to the Great Wall with them for the day.