My first business trip to Beijing in its most inhospitable climate and polluted environments was not as challenging as I thought it would be.
Amongst the expected challenges were:
- Dealing with pollution
- Dealing with the language problem
- Being a vegetarian
- Not having a working phone
So, really the biggest challenge was the language problem. Living in Delhi prepared me well for the pollution but it did get to me on the 3rd day as I developed a persistent headache.
I found two really good vegetarian restaurants near Hotel Wenjin thanks to www.happycow.net . I had better food than I have had in Tokyo. This was just great surprise. Not having a working phone was ok since I was always with someone who had a phone. Plus, I could use facetime audio to connect with people. The worst unexpected thing was the stench of sweat and rot in early morning commuter metro and even in taxis. I was surprised that none of my chinese co workers were put off by it or even mentioned it. It was just unbearable. I would have preferred a 1 hour walk to being in that train or the taxi.
So, what did I think of Beijing… I can’t say I like it a lot. It really is too difficult to be alone here and navigate without having any help from waiters, people on the street or metro officials. I felt it was a lot like Delhi or Mumbai in terms of complexity. There is some glitz and modernization but it hides a stoic committment to tradition. The lack of attention to detail was apparent in construction and in design in general. I kept comparing it to Tokyo. Tokyo, though busy is so much cleaner and the attention to detail is simply outstanding, probably better than any in the world. The Japanese people seem nicer. Language is less of any issue and getting around is easier.
Of course, people here, as you get to know them, are just as nice but a stranger seems less open and less comfortable being approached.
I did see the sunrise screens at Tienanmen square right around the time this hoax was doing the rounds on facebook. I also saw the Mutianyu part of the great wall of China. It was great but definitely not worth going to again. Shared bus rides are the cheapest way to get there. You do have to endure a “cultural” visit to a jade factory in this trip so you do the “typical your time or your money” trade off.