People say that everyone who comes to Beijing immediately LOVES it or HATES it. This is yet another contrast, one of feelings, that represents the nature of the city. It is a city of contrasts. It is a city of controversy. But after all, it is a city that evokes strong feelings and unforgettable experiences.
I personally fall in the category of the people who LOVE Beijing. I love it for many reasons… One of those is precisely the contrasts. They are many and they make each and every day an adventure.
Modern vs. Authentic
Beijing is one universe comprised of many small worlds. Some of them are from the past and some seem to have come from the future… Yet, they are all interconnected, tangled and co-exist in a mutually dependent reality.
In one day… No! In one short walk, you can pass through a tiny alley of small gray houses built seemingly 100 years ago with their neighborhood communal outside bathrooms. You see old people in their pajamas, sitting on their tiny wooden chairs playing mahjong; a young mother holding her baby and chatting with the neighbor. Then you see a man standing with his shirt lifted and his belly hanging out to cool off from the summer heat. Common reality appearing to have come from a far away village actually happens in the heart of Beijing.
You come out of that tiny alley, this hutong stuck in the past, and you immediately see a modern building with outstanding architecture towering over that hutong you just past. A building that looks like a space ship which has just landed on the side of the road – the absolute latest of architectural genius.
You try to cross the street and you see the latest Bentley model, right next to it a family of four riding an electric scooter (yep – all of them on the same scooter) and an old man in his bike cart loaded with a pile of cardboard boxes bigger than the Bentley itself.
Keep walking and you’ll run into a historic building… A temple or a palace from the Ming or Qing dynasty, proudly displaying its royal colors and reminding us of the long history and cultural heritage of China.
That is the incredible mix of realities Beijing combines into one outstanding city. You always feel the authentic China, the historic China and the modern China all in one.
Concrete vs. Green
Everyone who comes to Beijing expects to see a big concrete city, filled with buildings and squares and more buildings… Here’s the surprise! It is actually a very green city! Of course, the parks are incredible. Built in the traditional Chinese landscape with bridges, gazebos, gardens and flowers. That’s not all! There are many trees along the streets, malls, and neighborhoods. Beautiful roses accompany you on the sides of the roads and highways. There are even indications of the trees’ age… People are constantly taking care of the landscape. That makes it such a picturesque city! Yes, there is a lot of concrete but the combination with the vegetation makes it all look wonderful.
Stillness vs. Change
This contrast is the most interesting to me. The stillness of authenticity and tradition in the old hutongs, at the parks where people gather to play Chinese chess, dance and sing, practice tai chi… On the other hand the constant speed of change, the growth of the city, the closing and opening of businesses, the complete overhaul of entire areas overnight. The co-existence of the two states of mind and states of being is so amazing that one may wonder… Would this change with the generations? Hopefully not! Hopefully it will remain the incredible puzzle of contrasts it is now.
The contrasts are even more wonderful to observe after you understand more about the culture and heritage of China. Here are a variety of classes you can take in Beijing to immerse in the local way of life, art and being: Classes & Activities for Expats