Monday, January 01, 2007

Beijing - Plus ca change..... Part I

Arriving back in Beijing after more than a year I was struck by how much has changed and how much has stayed the same.

What’s the same – thank God:

• Our friend Jack’s great smile and shy charm – that’s him at the left with Marie-Paul and Laurent the other night at Ho Hai.

• The pork and shrimp dumplings at Din Tai Fun – where we saw Jackie Chan making his escape after dinner into a very large Rolls.

• The fruit and vegetable market in our area which just reopened – new stalls, lighting and Kenny G (ok not a good thing!)

• Our fruit lady at the front door recognizing us immediately – we got big smiles, Dragon Fruit, mangosteens and a few freebees.

•Taxis are still relatively cheap and the drivers amusingly unpredictable: after having Julie, Laurent’s barber, explain to one driver on the cell how to get to her new salon he handed the phone back and refused to take us. The next driver was more than happy to and accompanied the journey with a running commentary on – we assume – the weather, other drivers, the traffic and probably dumb foreigners.

• That very distinct Beijing accent – think the rolled Rs of a Scot speaking Mandarin through a mouthful of mashed potatoes.

• Laurent’s bargain skills.

• The delight people take in their dogs.

• The smile on the face of a People's Army Guard in front of an Embassy when you say “Hello. How are you?” They are so proud to be able to reply in English. In their great coats and fur hats they bear a strong resemblance to the Wicked Witch’s bodyguards in the Wizard of Oz. Yohetho... yeho!

What’s the same – Please God let it change!

• The irritatingly aggressive salespeople at Youshaw – grabbing, chasing, yelling Hello and still trying to get 1050 yuan for a 50 yuan item.

• The gentle sound of people horking on the street and in stores, and the resulting deposits on the sidewalks.

• The old hutongs and 70s apartments being torn down for developments, many of which seem to run out of money and stand half-completed. Ok the hutongs BOO! Those Soviet-style apartments - Yey!

• The aggressive beggars’ mafia that hangs around the foreign areas – you never see a local being approached and a Chinese colleague says that though there are, sadly, thousands of deserving poor in Beijing they aren’t it.

• The smell of charcoal and brown coal during the winter months – it’s the major source of heat and polution.

I’m just glad to see that the positive seems to outweigh the negative.

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