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The familiar “feel” of Beijing….

I was a late starter when it came to international travel, but since my first (non-Canadian) trip around 1994 I have accumulated quite a few passport notations: Panama, France, Brazil, South Korea, Japan (including Okinawa), Australia, Austria, the UK (esp two years in Northern Ireland), Ireland, Portugal, Spain, Netherlands, Belgium, Mexico — and I might be missing a location or two.

The current trip to China (I am now in Beijing and will visit Xiamen and Wuhan before returning home) is perhaps among the most interesting not because it is the most exotic I’ve taken, but rather because it the most “familiar” (i.e., western; almost American). The architecture, cars, the fashions, the chatter (that which I can understand) — all seem very comfortable. I may be in a strange land, but I hardly feel like a stranger….

Maybe it is a matter of location (I am in what is called the “3rd ring” of Beijing — the 1st being the Forbidden City, etc, and the 2nd being major government offices), but this is by far the most visibly “middle class” setting I’ve visited outside the US. Yes, it is the location of a major university (I am staying across the road from Renmin University), but it is also residential and commercial — as in many modern and very familiar stores and shopping malls.

It is hard to describe, but even though there are as many bicyclists and street vendors I expected, they are part and parcel of a bustling urban dynamic the includes mass transit, major thoroughfares, neighborhoods lined with shops of every sort, and auto traffic that far exceeds what I expected. I cam expecting a Third World city in transition — but I entered a world class city that seems to be very comfortable with whatever changes have (and might) occur.

Maybe it was the “cleanup” for the 2008 Olympics that can account for the modernized and up-to-date Beijing that I am seeing, but in conversations with folks in their twenties and thirties it is clear that the social and economic transformation has been massive and quick. One noted that when she was a child, her family were constantly preoccupied with the price of basics — food and shelter — but that now her parents and she are more focused on the concern of all middle class folks on amenities, lifestyle and status. It is far more than a physical transformation — it is deeply social and cultural…..

Maybe a few more days of walking around will lead to a change of mind. But at the moment I have to say that I am very impressed….

(PS: This is also a terrific way to go cold turkey in re Twitter and Facebook — no access, and you can definitely sense that there are walls up all around the internet….)

June 9th, 2010 Posted by | accountabilitybloke | no comments