The smell of Beijing is unmistakable. It’s the smell of resin, cigarettes, and motor exhaust, and it hits you, hard, as soon as you step into the Beijing Capital Airport.
It’s been more than a year since I’ve last been to China’s capital. The last time I went, I barely spoke any Chinese, I was terrified of the people around me, and also severely constipated from the lack of fiber in the food stuffed into me around banquet tables. I feel like that time I didn’t really get the ‘real’ China. I never once visited a FamilyMart or bought a bottle of Tsingtao for 3RMB. I was driven to every place by a guanxi driver, who ignored all my attempts at speaking Mandarin. In the past year, some things have changed, and others – well – they stayed the same.
For one, I still don’t like Beijing. I love my life in Shanghai. Shanghai is 1920s French colonial architecture. Beijing just looks like the ugliest parts of Moscow. It’s block-y, the buildings are 1970s Communist-chic, and the streets are a little too wide, reminding me of military parades instead of places like the IAPM Mall. In Beijing, I am constantly reminded that I’m in China. Maybe it’s the CCTV cameras or the plainclothes policemen, but it doesn’t quite have the ‘charm’ of Shanghai.
I do think I like the people in Northern China better. They’re more assertive; their Chinese is easier to understand. The cab drivers, however, have no handle on the city’s ‘ring roads’, although to be honest, I can’t say that I blame them. Beijing is a maze.
In Beijing, D and I climbed the Great Wall, tobogganed down the Wall behind some extremely slow-moving Brits, tried to go to Tiananmen Square at night and got through (almost all of the) security guards. We had probably what will have been my worst flight in China to date (which is saying something), a two-hour Beijing-Shanghai route that turned into an almost eight hour adventure when we emergency-landed in Hangzhou due to the bad weather. We sat on the runway for almost three hours and flew back at 3am to an airport filled with swarms of people trying to get back into the city, falling asleep at about 5am.
To be honest, Beijing exhausted me. Going there was worth it, but now that I’m going home the day after tomorrow, my body feels a little broken. I’m not sleeping well; I had a few fainting spells (some during really inopportune times); I think my body is breaking out into hives from being stressed out. I even went through a brief six-hour span when I thought I had bedbugs (Paranoid? Yes. But I am also the person who was once told she had scarlet fever by an overly-cautious doctor). I think my body is breaking down, over-saturated by China, and I can’t wait to go home, if only for two weeks.