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Wednesday, May 24, 2006 

Beijing Then and Now

It just occured to me this year (well, next month to be precised) marks the tenth year since my first visit to Beijing. I can't believe how fast ten years has passed. Despite the initial culture shock, where I was totally unprepared for the level of poverty and the relatively "underdevelopment" of the capital of such large country, there were many good memories of that trip I will never forget.

This are some of the memories from that first visit that I wrote Andres Gentry about a year and a half ago. I think it still holds true today.

My first visit to China was in summer 1996. That time, I stayed with a Sichuanese friend in his uncle's place (an average household) somewhere on Tiyuchang (Sports Stadium) district in Beijing. Beijing back then was poor and chaotic. It was not as developed, commerical and international as it is today. Most people I encountered on the street, outside of residential neighbourhoods, looked lost and angry.

Average households, like the one I stayed with, didn't have hot water supply from the tap (no hot shower!). Home telephone was considered precious. Today these are all basic amendnities that many working class can afford. People also have many choices from food to forms of entertainment.

Looking at images of Beijing today, I see there are skyscrapers, young people have this incredible sense of self-confidence and energy on their faces. They are are well-dressed, neat and tidy if not trendy and stylish. Traffic looked much more in order. There are not just a few black Mercedes Benz carrying high officials on the road anymore, but a wider variety of cars drive by all kinds of people in much more orderly fashion than in the past.

I also remember back then, I could not even imagine how people on the mainland would ever change - in becoming more like their counterparts in other more developed Asian countries. But thank God, I was wrong. Looking back, it is incredible how much Chinese society has changed in a decade.

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