After a week in Beijing, we’re ready to hit the road. We’ve stayed in a nice hotel (Mark got a great deal on Expedia) and it’s been relaxing. Tomorrow morning, though, we’ll be on a train to Mongolia. That will definitely feel like we’re on an adventure; Mongolia is not the kind of place you go on a two week vacation. It’s a 30-hour train ride, and then we’re planning on spending five days there – three in Ulan Bator, the capital, and two nights out in a gur, the Mongolian equivalent of a yurt.
Before leaving, though, some random thoughts on Beijing:
- The traffic! It’s not just that there are so many cars, but this is one city that is really not friendly to pedestrians. You can be in the crosswalk with a walk sign, and cars will cut you off without a second thought. I’ve seen little old ladies struggling to get across the street and drivers don’t give them an inch.
- Go one direction from our hotel and in a couple blocks you can go into a Gap or Apple store. Go the other direction and in a couple blocks you’re at a Rolls Royce dealership, followed by a Maserati/Ferrari dealer and a Mercedes and a BMW and not long after that an Aston Martin dealer. Mao’s face may be plastered all over the city, but this is not his China anymore. Still, for all those changes, it’s still the case that the best food you can get is in the alleys – the “hutongs” of Beijing. Yesterday we had breakfast for $3 and lunch for $13. Today’s breakfast was just under $2. We loved it, and we haven’t gotten sick (yet)!
- Sure, there are a lot of young people in Beijing, but there are a lot of old people, too, weathered faces and failing bodies. And when you think of what they’ve seen. Someone just my father’s age would have experienced Chiang Kaishek, the Rape of Nanjing, Mao’s victory in the civil war, the Great Leap Forward, the Cultural Revolution, Nixon’s visit, Deng Xiaoping’s rise and fall and rise and fall and final rise to the top, the return of Hong Kong, and now decades of economic growth that western economist said couldn’t be sustained. Actually, they still say it can’t be sustained. Presumably if you say it long enough, eventually you’ll be right.
- While Mark didn’t mention it in his post below, Lefty loved the Great Wall. After literally centuries of his … people? … carrying supplies to support the troops on the wall, he was quite pleased to be carried up there in style.
All in all a great visit. It turns out you there’s a lot to see in Beijing, and lots we didn’t get to do. And this is just one city – imagine what you could do if you had years to travel the world and could come back to spend months here. Hmmm…