"Ni Hao Beijing!" Beijing by mafi_moya
Beijing Travel Guide: 6,296 reviews and 15,868 photos
As the plane descended, my first impression of Beijing was, "what an incredibly ugly city!" Below was row after row of dull grey tower blocks, a city of concrete and pollution. On the drive into the city my thoughts changed to "what an incredibly cold and ugly city!" It was mid-winter, well below zero and I swear that the spittle that Chinese people love to hurl around so much froze before it even hit the ground. The city looked even less attractive than it had done from the air. Now people from the north of England are quite at home in cold, ugly, industrial cities, but I’d prefer not to travel thousands of miles to see the Asian equivalent of Birmingham!
But fortunately I was here on work rather than holiday and I was forced to stick around. After a week or so I was growing quite fond of the place. And after a month in Beijing I was completely hooked and it has since become one of my favourite cities in the world! So why the dramatic transformation?
Beijing in summer and in winter are two very different cities - I've only ever been in winter and now can't imagine the city any other way than icy cold, the Forbidden City covered in snow, the wind howling around the Great Wall, walking on top of thickly frozen Kunming Lake... and a bowl of piping hot beef noodle soup to warm you up in the morning!
The city has so much character if you stay long enough to look for it. My first Beijing 'moment' was stumbling out of a bar in Sanlitun at 11pm and walking past an outdoors ballroom dancing session - ages 20 to 70 all wrapped up in furs to combat the sub-zero temperatures and waltzing to an antique record player in the pitch-black darkness in the middle of the street! Wander round the old streets and you'll find elderly men flying home-made kites and practicing their calligraphy by painting on the pavement. You'll see little old ladies, wrapped up in hats and scarves and visibly shivering, keeping fit on the outdoor community exercise machines that line dozens of hutong street corners - everything from lifting weights to crawling along the monkey bars!
Beijing is a definite ‘grower’ and the only way to really appreciate the place is to slowly immerse yourself in the everyday life of its inhabitants. The 1960’s suburban monstrosities that pitted me so against the city when I arrived are indeed eyesores, but the old city has its own unique beauty, and I hardly need to mention the wonderful sights of the Forbidden City and the ancient palaces. The longer you spend here the more you’ll like it. And the food is delicious!
The famous traditional hutong districts probably won't be there much longer, but Beijing is a city steeped in thousands of years of history - from the tourist haunts of the Summer Palace to wandering the old antique markets and the 20th century political significance of Tiananmen Square.
But equally obvious to the visitor is that Beijing is very much a city of the future. Barely a day goes by without new buildings springing up, and old ones being replaced. Capitalism has been embraced, for better or worse, and the speed at which Beijing is changing is breathtaking. The inevitable environmental and social consequences are all too clear - the city is at times unbearably polluted and in danger of having its soul ripped out by the developers. But whatever your views on this, it's impossible not to be overwhelmed by the eager industriousness and the limitless energy and lust for perfection and progress of most of the younger generations.
If you want to see what the future holds in store for the world – negative, positive and everything in between - then Beijing is a fascinating place to visit right now.
Kunming is the enormous lake that dominates the grounds of the Summer Palace. In the winter it freezes over and despite... more travel advice
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