Wednesday, 28 August 2013

Day 22 - Of the real and fake Beijing

This post would have more appropriately been called 'People in Beijing' but here the pictures and text are a bit mismatched so hope you like it anyway.

The weather was still grey an dull so I figured it might be s good a time as any to walk from my hotel to Tiananmen Square, via Wangfujing Street (the Night Market), and then on to Quianmen and see what they have done there. Last time I walked along Quianmen street it was mostly boarded up and scheduled for demolition and renovation for the Olympics.

While Tianmen Square had more security checkpoints, I was glad to see that the 'students' wanting to 'learn/practice English', show you their 'art exhibition' or just 'have coffee' were still around, albeit less and not on the square itself. They are kind of a tradition for me and I would have been disappointed not to have them around, not that I would recommend going along with them (unless you want to waste some money) but it's always a nice enough chat and you can (and should) ask them for useful information, which they mostly provide without problems.

Otherwise, I was not hugely taken by Tiananmen Square and figured I've taken all photos of it last time round so there was not much photography to be done here.

Heading on to Quianmen gate, I decided to skip going in an just head on to Quianmen Street and see something completely new for me.

Well, I don't know what I expected but was certainly not prepared for what was waiting. For  full disclosure, I only walked along Quianmen Street twice in 2006 so it was far from knowing the area but what they have done is just wrong.

It not only feels completely out of place, at first look it seems like a film set or a kitschy Disneyland street depicting China, complete with fake looking (but working) tram.
All this done by someone who has never been to China and less authentic feeling then any Chinatown you will ever encounter around the world. There is no character there, everything looks fake and the expensive boutique shops do their own to make you feel like you walked into some kind of alternate reality.

Baffled and completely confused, I wandered around for quite a while, trying to get my head straight and figure out if this was actually real. Even after being around there for an hour or longer, I could not make up my mind what to think of this. I mean it's horrible and wrong but in a way you have to experience it yourself to really understand so I guess go there while in Beijing and see for yourself.

Once I wandered into the side streets to the East it actually got worse, a lot worse with empty shops, dead end alleys, fallen down statues, dusty shop windows, faded paint and so on. There was some sort of 'Taiwan Yes!' festival going on but I did not quite understand it.

I was ready to turn around and leave this place but then figured I might as well document everything and also check out the side streets and alleys to the West. Imagine my surprise when I stepped back into real China and Bejing and saw the old neighbourhood I walked through in 2006 on the way to a restaurant.
Everything was there, the people, the smells, the noise, even the old cinema and the restaurant I went to. It was like stepping through some kind of portal back to the real world after being in this weird alternate reality.

Needless to say I was quite happy and been taking a lot of pictures around here, before stopping and ordering (way too much) food at the restaurant I have been to in 2006. The place did not change a bit and everything looked exactly the same, the only difference being more tourists there this time. The place is called De Yuan Roast Duck Restaurant but funny enough I did not actually had roast duck there so far.

After a very nice meal, I let them pack some of my leftovers to take away and then headed back to the hotel. I decided to walk off the food rather than take a taxi or the subway.

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