My first impression of China from the air well matched my impression of a communist country. But when I put my feet on the ground and saw the full-sized billboards of corporations such as LG, Samsung, and Nokia, the metropolitan landscape full of skyscrapers, department stores, apartments, high quality hotels such as Hilton and Sheraton, and the streets jammed with Volkswagens and Audis, the first impression had to change.
But the transition from communism to capitalism is just one sign of the rapid change in modern China, and Beijing, the capital of China ever since the Ming Dynasty, is a complex mix of new and old. Just a few minutes away from downtown Beijing, ancient tombs and palaces rest in peace. Right next to the speedy foreign-made cars, there are still long lines of people on old-fashioned bicycles hurrying to work. Those who remember how China looked five years ago will be surprised for sure.
The representative historic sites of China also show both new and old. Two of the major ones are Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden Palace in Beijing. The square in front of Tiananmen, the Gate of Heavenly Peace, located in the heart of Beijing, has been witness to many historical events of modern China, from the Cultural Revolution (1966~1976) led by Mao Zedong to pro-democracy demonstrations in 1989. Thousands were killed during the events, and China changed over the years. But today, tourists calmy take in the scene of all the demonstrators, police, and tanks. No sign of blood anymore. No more people mourning over dead bodies of young people. Only a monument remembers and commemorates the events and the victims.
Behind Tiananmen Square stands the Forbidden Palace, familiar to those who have seen the movie "The Last Emperor." The high red walls, gold-colored roofs, and large doors fully explain its name: the size and dignity of the huge royal residence would have made any person in the Qing dynasty shiver with fright. The royal throne and bedrooms seen in the movie are still there. But as you are observing the palace, do keep in mind that there are eyes fixed on your wallets. The moment you see your bags unzipped, you will find something missing. Travelers beware. It happened to me.
Along with these breath-taking historical sites, food gives an added joy to people traveling in China. China is famous for richness and diversity in cuisine. It is said that Chinese people can eat everything that goes by land or sky except planes and trains. With every restaurant meal, side dishes such as roasted peanuts and vegetables are served and eight more main dishes follow. You will never be able to eat all the dishes that come out; just tasting them once will make you full.
A variety of food can be spotted on the streets as well. On the streets of Wangfuuzing, a downtown area similar to Myong-dong in Korea, all kinds of food are sold from frogs, sparrows, starfish, rotten tofu, and even eggs with unhatched chicks. One particular thing about Chinese meals is that tea is served for free, while water has to be paid for.
Other than the historical sites and food in China, bargaining is another delight. Travelers usually stop at pearl, silk, tea, and herb shops. With a few words, you can easily buy a product at 50 percent off from the price labeled.
As I took-off China, I had the feeling that the "new" Beijing is now preparing for another take-off. The city is busy remodeling itself for the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics, pouring millions of dollars into the city"s infrastructure. Tourists were able to leave Beijing five years ago with expectations of seeing a new city five years later. We will have to see how much more it will change five years from now.
저작권자 © Ewha Voice 무단전재 및 재배포 금지