Beijing in 1988
The city has changed so quickly that photos from only 30 years ago seem a lot older. There were very few cars and bicycles still dominated.
Although the blue-colored clothing was disappearing, it would be years until Beijingers were as fashionably dressed as those in many a major city in the world. Locals were able to purchase different clothing styles, although sometimes they seemed a bit strange, especially the stockings.
Older people were content just to dress comfortably
Retired men gathered in a park
And one who said he was older than 80, demonstrated amazing Taiji moves
Qi Gong, singer and musician in the park
Children’s clothing fashions were special, especially the Chinese diapers:
As were there transportation modes
Billiards was a popular pastime outside
Many Chinese had migrated from the countryside to seek their fortunes in Beijing. They lived in makeshift tents along the side of a road. However, since they were among the first migrants to arrive there before China’s economy really took off, most of them are probably very well off today. At that time, they were called mangliu (蒙流) (blind drifters), but young Chinese no longer know this term and sometimes ask me if I don’t mean liumang (流蒙) (hooligan or gangster. Nowadays they are called 黑户 (hehu) (unregistered resident) or 北漂 (beipiao) ((Beijing drifter).
Selling exotic animal parts for medicine
Korean restaurant selling my favoring dish, spicy cold noodles, Bibim Naengmyeon, and Korean barbecue
And of course the tourist sites
The Western Lake, site of the Summer Palace, which had been extremely beautiful until the British and French looted and destroyed most of it in 1860.
Temple of Heaven
Great Wall, which actually is not one wall, but many different ones, and you cannot see it from the Moon.
Night in train station. We had train tickets to a few places far west of Beijing, but there had been heavy flooding and trains were delayed. We could not get any information about when and if the trains would depart and waited all night in the train station. We finally gave up the next morning and gave back our tickets.
Approx. 20 years ago
Although it had only been about 12 years since I had been in that other large metropolis Beijing and Shanghai was at approx. the same level of development then, it was a completely different world. People were friendly, but no longer as curious about foreigners as previously, since they had become used to lots of them living and working there. They no longer asked how much you earned, how much the plane fare was, how many kids you had, etc.
I studied at Jiao Tong University in the Chinese language classes for foreigners, but unfortunately cannot find my photos from the first time.
The Bund, the former area of international settlements. Its heyday was from approx. 1860 to 1930. This can still be seen in some of the buildings.
Pudong is across the river with its towering skyscrapers is the financial hub of the city. It was mostly farmland until 1993.
Jin Mao Tower with 88 floors was the tallest building when I was there, but has since been surpassed: view from there
I am not usually a fan of skyscrapers, but Shanghai has some very beautiful ones.
The former French district
Shanghai dumplings were touted as some of the best in China
With my classmates and teacher. The other students were overseas Chinese and Japanese, while I was the only foreign devil in the class.
Day trip to Suzhou to visit its Classical Gardens
Approx. 10 years ago
While Shanghai is considered the financial capital in China, Beijing is the cultural one. I decided to give it a try again and has the school arrange staying with a family.
The couple were quite nice and tried to provide breakfasts and dinners that they though I would like. That meant things such as American white bread in the morning, which I abhor. I usually just drank their instant coffee and ate some fruit and went out to eat most evenings. I told them I like fish, and the woman made a special effort to buy and cook some, but there were so many bones that I could only pick at it.
Their apartment was on the 10th floor, and they gave me their daughter’s room to use. She showed up once in a while, but seemed happy to be able to be out on her own. Although it was on the 10th floor, there was a mosquito the first few nights that prevented me from sleeping. Normally, I travel with a mosquito net but thought I would not need it at that time of the year. And indeed, it snowed beginning of November, a rarity in Beijing.
View from my window
It was rather cold and there was no heat, since heat is only turned on Nov. 15, regardless of the temperature. Chinese (at least some) believe that this lets your body get accustomed to the cold of winter. Heat is turned off on March 15, again regardless of the temperature. As a result, I spent a few evenings in bed covered with all the available blankets.
I certainly didn’t recognize the city that I had visited 20 years previously. There were hardly any bicycles and modern architecture was prevalent.
Tiananmen had not changed, but something else had. I was approached by two women who said they wanted to practice their English and asked me if I could go with them to drink tea and talk. This was a common ruse, because once it would be time to pay the bill, you would be given one for at least $100. And a couple of thugs would appear to make sure that you paid. I respectfully declined, since fortunately I had been warned.
With adjacent Forbidden City
There was a quite interesting antiquities market with a nice café. I bought a vase, but I was unable to distinguish whether most wares were really antique or fakes, so I left it at that.
A visit to the sight of the Birdcage from the Olympic Games was a must, but unfortunately the fog prevented me from seeing it well.
I ventured into a tapas bar to discover a Spaniard and Chinese playing flamenco, both quite good. They later invited me to place where Chinese and Spanish danced and sang, although the two Spaniards who sung there were the worst flamenco singers I had ever heard.
I liked that school, so I decided to return the next year, but this time I reserved a room in a hostel with heater in the room. The hostel was located in an area where traditional architecture had been preserved.
And there was a good bar across the street that had live music on weekends.
The area where they were located
They arranged for a trip to the Great Wall, but to a section were there were not many tourists.
Visit to 798 Art Zone, a former factory complex transformed into art galleries and cafes. Wish I had invested in such art years ago. In the 1990s, many artists lived in an area near the Summer Palace, because it was cheap and not far from the university. Most were rather poor and were happy to sell their artworks for prices that were not that high until some foreign art dealers discovered them and starting buying and promoting their art. Now you need to be rather rich to afford their paintings.
My afternoon teacher: she was interning at the school and not paid, but hoping to get a position there later. She told me that she and her husband hated each other, and she wanted to divorce him, but he would not let her.
My morning teacher’s husband had divorced her and taken custody of their child, whom she was seldom able to see. She did not seem to be very happy, but was resigned to her fate.
I enjoyed my studies in Shanghai and Beijing, but felt like I wasted too much time traveling to get some place. The pollution there also mitigated my desire to return, so my next Chinese classes would be in smaller cities (described in my Yangshou and Kunming blog posts).