I went to China for work a while back. I spent four days at the China office working with our local team there, and then spent the next week in a training session in Beijing. Many of the participants in the training session were from Japan, which was kind of funny. Still, Beijing is only a short flight away from Tokyo (about four hours - almost nothing compared to flying to America!) so it wasn't all that bad. I was excited to go to China, since I had never been there before. I had to jump through some hoops to get a Visa, but it wasn't difficult at all.
What did I think of China? I had a really tough time there. The Kanji looks similar enough to Japanese kanji that I feel like I should understand it, but I don't. At all. The simplified characters make me feel a bit uncomfortable, and they often had characters in n-gram sequences that I just don't understand. I don't know any Chinese at all, and I couldn't communicate one bit. English wasn't super useful either; it was useful at one hotel, but not so much the other. Taxi drivers didn't understand English at all. Before I went to Japan I printed out a little sheet with the possible places that I might want to go (two hotels, work, and the airport) and used that. If it wasn't for that I wouldn't have been able to go anywhere. I actually took the bus to work mostly, and the second week of training was all located at the hotel, so I didn't do much traveling at all there. We did go out as a group a few times to dinner, and we had to take taxis then. That was a real experience. It probably took about 40 minutes to get three taxis. They each took different routes and got caught up in crazy traffic. When we tried to get taxis going back, they wouldn't always stop to pick us up. Or, once we told them where we wanted to go, the driver didn't want to go there, and wouldn't take us. I was amazed. Something like that would never happen in Tokyo.
The air was unbelievable in Beijing. The first week I was there, I didn't see the sky at all. It looked gray and overcast every day. The air was kind of dusty, and I had to constantly clean my glasses. I started to get a persistent cough. I can understand why people would not like the air quality there. On the second week it cleared up a bit, and I was amazed at how many skyscrapers Beijing seemed to have. I thought that if it was a videogame, I would have said that they have terrible pop-in and too much fog turned on. It was really amazing to me. I know that Los Angeles used to have a problem with Smog when we lived there in the early 80s, but they managed to clear it up. I don't know if Beijing is going to be able to make as much improvement because they already have cars with good emissions standards (I assume) and I believe a lot of their pollution comes from factories, which drive a large percentage of their GDP, which makes it difficult to try to cut back on emissions there without having an impact on global competitiveness.
Over the weekend that I was there, one of my friends from work was kind enough to show me around Beijing. We took one day and went to the Forbidden City and Tianeman Square. They were both amazing. The Forbidden City was huge. Unbelievably so. It had some really amazing architecture. You could spend hours walking around there and not see everything. Days probably. One thing I wanted to do was find the Starbucks in the Forbidden City. I never found it. It turns out that it was shut down a few years back by the Chinese government because of concerns about the image. I can understand that. I still really wanted to go to a Starbucks in the Forbidden City. They have some tea shops now, but it just isn't the same.
I really liked Tianamen Square too, but probably for the wrong reasons. The big picture of Mao, all the people, the China Dream, all that stuff is great. But I just kept seeing Chun-Li's stage. No bicycles though, just a bunch of cars. Too bad. Now that I am back and have done some internet searching though, it turns out that Chun-Li's stage never had a picture of the Forbidden City and Mao in the background. I thought I remembered a picture of Chun-Li in front of that exact backdrop, but I was wrong!
Security to get into Tianamen Square was really tight. We had to wait maybe an hour and a half to go through security. There was a person who once immolated himself in the square in protest of something, and the government really doesn't like that. So now they check for people bringing in fuel or something like that.
On Sunday we went to the Great Wall. I don't know if can say much about the Great Wall that hasn't been said anywhere else; it is an amazing wall. We walked up and down it. We actually took a cable car up the wall. I highly recommend that. If you don't take a cable car, you will have to walk up more steps than you can easily imagine. We actually had to walk down those same steps because the cable car shut down at some point for maintenance (and does so daily - watch the schedules!) but going down was bad enough. I am very glad we didn't have to climb up all those steps. I can't imagine trying to breach that wall without steps (or cable cars) and instead arrows coming down at you. Unbelievable.
All that said, the wall didn't work. I was on the wrong side!
Based on my experience at the Great Wall, I think if America builds a huge wall between Mexico and America all that will happen is that we get massive crowds of people taking buses out to the wall to climb around on it. I don't know if that would address the problem that people have with the US-Mexico border. It might be good for tourism though.
The drive back was slow - we hit traffic in Beijing and the two hour drive out turned into a four hour drive back. Crazy.
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