My first trip to Beijing was in 1994 when I traveled with my brother, parents and grandparents. It was Easter break and I remember it being interesting and very different from Hong Kong, where we were living. I still have mental snap shots of an armada of bikes, Mao suits, Peking duck, walking through the Forbidden City and up to Baihai Park where we ran into an epically bad public toilet that Grandpa never really recovered from (I will upload the picture once I have a copy).
The next time I returned to the Capital was in 2004 with my CSB/SJU study abroad group. Returning to China and Asia was exhilarating. Like a good tourist I returned to the sites taking this picture at Baihai Park. Memories include Yanjing Beer on the street, being mauled by a stone lion, attempting to use my Mandarin speaking skills, and lots of good food to eat (because the most of the group had not mastered their chopsticks) – it was a lot of fun being back in Asia.
I was recently in Beijing for work and had some time to reacquaint myself with the tourist parts of town. The city had changed significantly. Gone were the drab, old, coal soot stained buildings, replaced with modern and abstract buildings designs stand tall against the solid brilliant blue sky. Gone were the massive bike jams from the nineties replaced a painfully endless amount of traffic jams. Even Mao suites have been replaced with Gucci, Armani and every other European luxury brand name.
All these modernizations left me wondering where the old Beijing had gone. I agree that it is the right of the citizens of the Beijing to enjoy all the comforts enjoyed in the West. I agree that the city has made tremendous improvements in an unbelievably short period of time. This is one of the reasons I enjoy living in China is the pace of transformation that is occurring here. Where else can you see a city completely reinvent its image in only ten years?
It wasn’t until I walked across Tiananmen Square, past the Forbidden City, past Hutongs and finally reached Baihai park that I connected memories from my previous trips. Maybe it was the Tai chi, maybe it was because this was where I was attacked by a stone lion or maybe it was the conversation I had with Mr. Song (see above) about his daily three hour training sessions in the park. Whatever it was, something clicked and all three of the trips connected.
One of the many reasons I enjoy living in China is that we are experiencing cultural transformation, physically and socially, that is happening with unprecedented speed. It can be frustrating when the Chengdu government suddenly decides to tear up a major traffic artery that you need to use to get across town, but when the blue pieces of sheet metal are removed, that part of town is usually better off. We live our lives under a canopy of cranes with massive buildings adding one floor a week to thirty or forty story buildings; in fact it was strange driving through Minnesota last Christmas and not having construction happening everywhere, all at once and all the time.
Yet I also really appreciate it when I find things that remind me of the China from my previous adventures. If I look hard enough I can usually find it. It is nice to know it is still there, but it is also interesting to see what changes are ahead.