北京

Beijing is huge, and humid, and amazing.

Arriving on the train, there’s enormous high-rise apartment blocks everywhere, and in the centre, lots of glass and steel. There’s also Olympics logos and branding (and merchandise!) everywhere. Bizzarely, despite this high-rise grandeur, the centre is actually still quite open, since the combined space created by the Forbidden City, Tianamen square and the moderately-proportioned nearby buildings means there’s no sense of crowding (comapred to, say, Bangkok or Manhattan). Of course it’s easy to be moderately proportioned given the scale of the space – buildings that would otherwise loom fit naturally alongside the wide streets.

In contrast to the high-rise glass and chrome, the traditional hutongs are essentially single-storey, full of traditional courtyard based houses. From the outside, strolling along narrow streets and even narrower alleys, it’s hard to tell what an area is like – some of the houses have been refurbished with every modern convenience, others are little changed from a century ago. The strangest aspect was that having finally awoken to the cultural1 value of the hutongs, the area closest to Tianamen square was being rapidly gentrified and rebuilt, with pavements, relaid streets and new brickwork.

One major annoyance – none of the cash machines seem to like my bank card, despite all proudly displaying the Visa logo. Some reject the card quickly, others go through considerable clicking and whirring before aborting the transaction.

  1. i.e, lucrative touristic []
Posted Tuesday, July 1st, 2008 under travel.

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