Josh's Photo Blog

June 24, 2010


Filed under: travel, Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , — joshuaps @ 4:03 am

(part 1 of a 4-part series on China)

It wasn’t my first time to Beijing – I’d been twice before on school and holiday trips. But this city is just so huge and so interesting that what I’d originally thought would be a short stopover turned into some of my best photography from this trip.

Of course, I spent time at the requisite tourist destinations, the top among them being the Forbidden City (above). Fortunately, China’s burgeoning middle class means that many of these tourists are also Chinese, holding at bay the swarm of foreigners that often overwhelm smaller, poorer countries that depend on tourist money. Of course, since China’s so big and has so many people in it, this means that many destinations are clogged with people, especially on the weekends. Any concept you might have of what a crowd, queue or mass gathering pre-China pales in comparison to what you’ll see over here.

Visiting the Bird’s Nest was a top priority for me – I’d hoped to have been here 2 years ago for the Olympics, but plans fell through at the last minute and I couldn’t go. The place is a giant park now – people come from all over to see the bird’s nest, then stay to chill out, eat and fly kites with their families. As with many things in China, it’s difficult to overstate just how huge this place is – even though it’s all flat land with no tall buildings, the smog and the vastness of it mean you can’t see from one end of the Olympic Park to the other except on a rare clear day.

The 798 arts district was also a big highlight for me. The place was a top-secret weapons facility until the ’80s, when it was abandoned and artists began taking up residence. The quality of the work varies, but one can’t deny that the place is pulsing with life and creative energy.

Houhai lake is probably the place I spent the most time in, mainly because I just kept happening to wander there after letting myself get lost in the city. The area around the lake is more modern, with tons of overpriced bars and touristy shops, but it’s surrounded by one of the last remaining hutongs (village-like communities) in the city, leading to this wonderful blend of old and new.

I loved hanging out with the older Chinese people – they grew up in a time when personal, private space didn’t exist and community bonds were much tighter. Even though China is richer now, they still keep their old habits and pleasures like going out for a swim with mates, or getting involved in a neighborhood game of Mahjong, pollution, tourists and snooty young’ins be damned!

Because it’s such a huge sprawl, there’s a ton of walking to do in this city. Though development is moving at an extremely rapid pace – between when my guidebook was printed and when I came, they’d added 4 or 5 new subway lines – the fact remains that Beijing is just huge and flat. Many places either require a roundabout subway ride AND a long walk to get to, or just don’t have a subway stop at all, and require you to take a (to be fair, affordable) taxi. Even if your destination has a subway stop, there’s no guarantee that it will have a stop conveniently located next to an entrance or exit of the place.

Next stop: Xi’an via overnight train!


Blog at