beijing, october 1999
I got to visit Beijing for a few days, on a business trip.
The first thing that hit me was the air pollution. Thick, nasty smog covered the city, reportedly due to heavy coal-burning industries in the region. Despite the number of bicycles in the streets, everywhere in the city the air reeked of exhaust fumes.
My work was on the 7th floor of these fancy high-tech office buildings. Right across the street were decrepit, crumbling apartments and a junk yard. The growing gap between rich and poor was tangible. My stereotyped expectations of "Communist China" were blown by finding a Starbucks on the ground floor. Tasted just like in the USA too. Red taxis and little white minivans dominated the roads, with pedestrians and bicycles weaving indiscriminately among them. A nearby street was explained as "food street" and it had dozens of good restaurants - although the places were drab and cheap looking by US standards, the food was amazing. I don't know what these were called, but there were incredibly delicious. Sweet mochi, with sweet dark sesame filling, rolled in light sesame and deep-fried. Fantastic architectural quirks, like this beautiful ornate detail over an ordinary tollbooth. I went and saw many of the historical places like the Tien-Tan complex. Why take photos when a post card has a nicer picture? Because the places were so dramatic that i couldn't help myself.