Looking back at Beijing

Well, the whole "follow me as I tour my way through China" plan didn't exactly work out as planned. Sorry 'bout that. Funny thing about government censorship. It's not really a big deal for most of us. Yet when it affects something you care about, the insidiousness proves irksome.

So instead I'll now embark on a recap of my ten days in Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong. Ten days isn't much time at all to get acquainted with such a vast and fascinating new place. I did, however, pay close attention and what I've got to work through in my own writing might offer a bit of perspective for others who are also trying to assess  the world's increasingly eastward tilt. Or at least I'll get a bit of what I'd intended to say out there, and do the ol' end around on those short-sighted Chinese censors. That'll show 'em.

For today, look to Bejing. Cooler than freon city. The run-up to the Olympics in 2008 turned over the landscape to historic dimensions. From what I heard repeatedly, residents are still trying to assess just how many changes occurred. Whole neighborhoods were razed for aesthetic considerations. The high gloss buffed onto Beijing for that brief fortnight has mostly dulled into a collection of so-so venues in an otherwise roiling landscape of growth and renewal. Walking around the Bird's Nest (the main Olympics stadium venue) a day after strolling through the Forbidden City put obvious bookends on the new and old for me. As it surely has for millions of others. Still, I was more struck by the contrasts between the meandering alleys (called hutongs) and the luxury goods retailers. Where else can you see people burning trash in the gutter alongside the same street where you can go window shop for Ferraris and Lambourghinis? The contrasts abound. One evening I passed by a bustling Starbucks nestled into the same lakeside strolling district in the Houhai neighborhood where I got solicited repeatedly with the catch phrase of "lady bar", just before wandering the dimly lit hutongs looking for a place appropriately called No Name Bar. Whipsawed forward and back between eras, it all works. Add in countless bits of unintended street theatre, deep deep history and a feeling of being surrounded but completely safe. I know I saw little more than a passing moment when I was in Beijing. A tripwire moment that I'll look to for years to come for when I started paying serious attention to the new edge being cut there.

For tomorrow, I'll touch on what I saw still in the north of China, but outside of Beijing. Along with elements seen as a part of my tour - the reason for my being there, in the first place.