Beijing: The Western City of the East

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From the first time I stepped off the plane in India in 2004, my senses were immediately bombarded with information that constantly reminded me that this was not home. The wailing horns never ceased even at night, trash that the homeless burned to keep warm in the cooler winter months in Delhi left a strong burning clutch-smelling haze over the city, and the stream of brightly colored yet extremely filthy women with her hand out carrying a child or two begging for a portion of my extreme wealth never ceased. This, or something similar, is what I was expecting of Beijing, and I was shocked to find a different country of comparison - the United States. Perhaps it is the threat of the upcoming Olympic games that has this city scrambling into the 21st century. Everywhere I turn I see a new park with sculptures of athletes made out of flowers, a countdown clock reminding everyone in English and Mandarin that there are 18 days left until the beginning of the games, or workers working overtime scrubbing the windows and aluminum tiling of modern-looking sky scrapers. I am surprised by the emptiness of the streets. I would expect the second biggest city of the most populated country in the world to at least feel as busy as Manhattan during rush hour, but I have not had to push my way through streams of people once this trip. In order to accept the influx of droves of people into the city in two weeks, personal cars with odd-numbered license plates are only allowed on the roads on odd-numbered days, and vice versa. The entire city sits in buzzing anticipation. Tiananmen square, famous in the west for the massacre of 1989 that killed over 200 students when soldiers opened fire on a group of peaceful protesters, is getting a n... ... middle of paper ... ...he Great Wall was originally constructed during the Qin Dynasty, over 2,400 years ago. The way the wall follows the ridgeline of the jagged peaks is truly an incredible thing to see. An ancient Chinese proverb claims that no one can be a hero without having climbed the wall. Like everything else in my experience of this great city thus far, the Great Wall mixes the old with the new: we took a chairlift up the mountain to the wall, and rode on a toboggan (alpine slide) down. This elaborate and intricate weaving appears in harmony, although we have been learning about the bloody history that brought China to where it is today. Tomorrow I will be traveling out to the country, where I have a feeling that I will see more of the China that I had prepared myself for. I expect to see unpaved roads, and more poverty than was present on the surface here in Beijing.

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