I've been in China for a week now and i'd forgotten just how funny this place is.
I was in Yantai in 2007 and it was a friendly dump by the sea but i put that down to the fact that half of it was being knocked down and rebuilt. Now it's almost finished and it's still a friendly dump by the sea. I sat in a small park/town square and watched Yantai pass by. In one corner of the park square there were a group of old people (probably three times my age) doing tai chi exercises which invloved holding their arms out and saying "aaaaahhhh" or patting themselves on the legs and body. In the other corner of the park a small group of people were practising their numb chucking skills. Yes, numb chucks. Six people just playing around with numb chucks. Then a guy set up a stereo next to me and some middle aged people paired up and started doing some kind of rhythmic ballroom dancing in time to the music. All the while kids ran around with plastic kite things and two woman rode around on wobbly skateboards. I didn't really know where to look.
The 14 hour overnight train to Beijing wasn't much fun but it was worth it. If Seoul felt like a coat i'd not worn for a while then Beijing felt (and looked) like a friend you haven't seen in ages whose moved up in the world, got himself a new house and car and lots of money and isn't ashamed to flash it about. But underneath all the fancy new buildings and cars that friend is still the same. It's quick with a smile and a frown, enjoys getting drunk and shoving all kinds of food in it's mouth and will probably always have unhealthy traffic flowing around in veins and arteries whilst welcoming anybody to come to the party to continue the fun. Beijing is a unique place in a unique country. The rate of change here is huge. Since i was last here in 2007 there are four new metro lines, completely new massive hotels and gargantuan shopping centres and sometimes just whole postcodes flattened and rebuilt again. Who knows when or if it will end.
I've spent the past week here waiting and then getting a visa for Kyrgyzstan and also wandering the streets failing to find the Embassy of Uzbekistan which aren't activities that will appear in any day tours or guide books anytime soon and with good reason. I did managed to see an area of the city called Factory 798 which contains a load of disused factories that have been converted into art galleries for Chinese modern art. Some of the galleries still have old machinery bolted to the floor and exposed pipes running overhead. It was a great way to spend an afternoon away from the Uzbek embassy hunt which is still ongoing. Hopefully next week i'll find it along with the Beijing Police Musuem (where you can fire laser guns at stuff, apparently), Beijing Underground City, The China Red Sandlewood Musuem and the Beijing Tap Water Museum. I'll try and do all that and write some more pretentious crap before getting a train heading west next Friday.