China is a country at a threshold of change: its economic growth is unbroken, and next year, in 2008, it will host the Olympic Games in Beijing. The consequences are quite apparent: in many places in Beijing there are large construction projects. Several subway lines are being built, and the status of the construction sites arises doubts if these lines can be completed in time for the Olympics. The conference hotel was quite near the main Olympic Stadium, which has an interesting structure, like a bird's nest. Around the hotel many roads are under (re-)construction, dust is in the smoggy air.
Road traffic has increased in the past few years, and the once dominant bicycle traffic has been overtaken by the car traffic (literally).
Beijing has many modern / contemporary looking buildings; around our hotel was a whole array of highrise buildings with apartment complexes. But a large part of the population still lives along those Hutongs, these small side roads with their one or at most two-story buildings in traditional style. Many of these areas around the Hutings appear impoverished, and Beijing seems to be ashamed of them somewhat: there were whole quarters being torn down and replaced by either "gentrified" versions, or by completely new buildings, shopping centres, parks. When I walked or biked through a few of those Hutongs, some looked a bit like slums, but others had a dignified appearance of centuries of tradition. It is a pity that this appearance is slowly dying out.
During my stay in this one week there was no rain fall during the days, but the sky always had been in a thick haze. Sometimes it appeared as one could only see a few 100 m. The reason for this smog is said to be the increased car traffic, industrialisation, and dust from construction.
Recent scandals re. tainted food and unsafe products have tarnished the image of China as a booming economy of the future: the image of its products is very bad, but the officials are trying to clean this up. But overall there seems to be an attitude that anything is allowed which can bring a profit. Tourists anyway appear to be "fair game", as they bring into this country their (our) well-filled wallets, and anything goes to get the content of this wallet. One example is the operation of illegitimate taxis, seemingly tolerated by the "real" taxis and standing in the same queue in front of hotel exits. These "fake taxis" usually have a sign on top of the car which looks like an official taxi sign, but without writing or lights. They have a meter inside for calculating the fare - but the meter runs about twice or three times as fast as the ones or regular taxis (which charge 2 RMB per km, and which have a red sticker about this on their windows - the fake taxis have no such sticker). So in general I do have a feeling of caution towards anything that is offered in Beijing to me as a tourist - it is very likely that any offer is fake and would result in me getting cheated. But I am confident that by next year, Beijing and China will have cracked down on these practises, as this is about their reputation - and also about a lot of money and business from tourism and international trade.
Overall, this was a fascinating opportunity to have a glimpse into China and Beijing during this short stay. I will visit there again, if I have another opportunity.