Seeing is believing! I had never been to Beijing before my recent visit in the middle of April. I had been to Shanghai four years back and that was a shock, in terms of the massive scale of infrastructure construction all over the city. Beijing was something else.
Maybe its historic importance added to the shock effect for a first time visitor. The Tian’anmen square at the heart of the city is the largest public square in the world, 500 meters wide and 800 meters long, it spans over 44 hectares. On a Saturday morning, there are hundreds of thousands of people, many lining up to see Mao’s Mausoleum.
The city is so well planned and so well managed that it does not feel like a city with 17 million people. There are six ring roads circling the city for easy traffic flow. New buildings dot the landscape everywhere. Massive glass structures, all looking brand new, almost make Beijing feel like a brand new city just put together. There is no graffiti, no garbage, and cleanness everywhere. I could not help remember my trip to Rome end of last year where I was shocked at the graffiti, filth and degradation of such a great historic city. As we drive past the Olympic stadium, it was a good reminder of the magnum opus of two years back that dazzled the world.
We visit the forbidden city in the city center, home for 24 emperors of the Ming and Qing dynasties. The huge place has 800 buildings and 8700 rooms. It took 200,000 workers to build this over 14 years back in 1406. The history and scale numb the mind. As we drove to see the great wall, we had to be well protected for the cold weather in mid April. The great wall is also a spectacle with 6700 km long wall built over a span of 200 years.
As I watched this vibrant city, I kept reminding myself that Microsoft, IBM and several major US companies maintain advanced R&D labs here. Of course my access to Google and Gmail were clearly routed via Google Hong Kong, much as I had read in the papers. No Youtube nor Twitter was available. Here is an interesting hybrid – a non-democratic government that seems to work well with growing capitalism and international trade. One feels the truth that the 21st century will belong to China and India as major economic powers.
From Beijing I travel to the blazing heat of India. But that’s another story.