10/01/2013

Beijing

I know it's been a long time now, and that most people are just waiting to read about and see pictures of Mongolia, where I am now, but that will have to wait. For now, I'll fill you in with what happened during the Chinese part of the trip. I couldn't really update this weblog before because of the Great Firewall of China, and later on because I was travelling the steppes of Mongolia. It is my intention to go back to the original plan of posting weekly (or so).

At the airport in Vientiane, my first impression of the Chinese was quite bad. They were very obnoxious and loud, shouting at each other in the waiting room, elbowing their way past others while their children ran and screamed freely through the rows of benches. I feared for my sanity during the 7 hour flight ahead. Surprisingly, once inside the airplane, everyone fell dead silent, children included, and not a peep was heard until we landed. Then they became loud and annoying again, but I was very thankful for this strange, temporary, airborne politeness. The food offered during the flight was, as usual, horrible. But the seats were comfortable and time went by really fast.

Having spent my childhood and youth in São Paulo, I was brought up with a very unique point of view. Cities like Berlin, Paris or London, which are considered big, seemed tiny to me. But not Beijing. For the first time in my life, I arrived somewhere and was struck by the thought "Wow, this is a fucking huge city!". I imagine only a few other places may give rise to such a feeling - New York, Tokyo and Mexico City. Thus, I am compelled to make comparisons between the only two 20+ million population cities I have seen. Unlike São Paulo, Beijing is 'civilized'. The streets are clean, though the air is heavily polluted, and I haven't seen any violence during my whole stay. There are many subway lines - all very clean, modern, air conditined and well located. The ticket prices are amazing; 2 Yuan for a subway ride, 1 yuan for the bus. That sounds like a dream compared to prices in São Paulo (current prices there are equivalent to 7.80 yuan for both subway and bus tickets - much more expensive for a much crappier service).

Rush hour is inevitably a bad experience, but fortunately nothing compared to the experiences you can get in São Paulo. Alas, people are also very rude and impractical when it comes to organizing the flow on the subway - instead of waiting for people to leave the train, everyone tries to board it as soon as the doors open. I can't understand this absurd behaviour, which I used to blame on Brasilian 'culture'.

The city is quite interesting, with a great mixture of broad avenues and very narrow alleys, of modern skyscrapers and traditional eastern architecture. Tiananmen square is as impressive as I expected it to be, and I must confess that the "Forbidden City" was even grander than I could have imagined. Kudos to the communists for chasing the Emperor out and turning the Forbidden City into a huge museum. Shame on them for charging so much for the entrance, though, and making people pay extra to see the treasure room, the clock room, etc.


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The food is, obviously, an amazing experience. Cheap or expensive, traditional or modern, Chinese or international, it doesn't matter - it is always good, and always comes in vast quantities. I had a hard time finishing plates at first, but eventually got used to the huge mounds of food served by the restaurants. I have to admit though, that I have said "no" to some "exotic" dishes. We all have limits, and I draw the line before eating pork stomach or sheep penis. Thank you very much, but no. On a positive note, I have found chicken heart barbecue, something I missed so much (very common in Brasil).

As for the communist/capitalist subject I often write about, being in Beijing was a bit disappointing. Though it is a country controlled by the communist party, I'm sure this is beyond any 'capitalist dreams'. All the big brands are there, with their flashy signs and immense posters. McDonalds, KFC, Prada, Louis Vuitton, etc. But the local stores, with Chinese-made products, were also not bad at all. In a way, I had the impression that they export the crap away with those very 'competitive prices', and keep the quality stuff for themselves. The "Silk Market" was a building with cheap stores of all kinds of products in several floors. There I found all the Brazilians that I had not seen during my whole Asian journey; they seemed to be in ecstasy, in a shopping frenzy like I have seldom seen. I overheard young and old ladies alike bursting with joy about the prices and quality of bags, purses, shoes and all that jazz.

As usual, my luck led the way, bringing me to unexpected and delightful places. I met and befriended very interesting locals and expats, found an 'abandoned house' to live in and had a great time. There's much more I can write about my stay in Beijing, but I'll leave that for next week, in which I'll also post pictures of my trip to the Great Wall.

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