The Opposite House Hotel in Beijing is cool and edgy with soaring ceilings and modern Chinese art. From the moment I arrive in Beijing I feel inspired, and settling into the Opposite House room was the best way to start the trip. Yes of course, it is hot and it is amazing what steam can do to hair texture.
Everything you look at is a photo worth taking. My iPhone cannot capture the grand, awesome impact of everything I am seeing. The size of the powerful modern infrastructure and all of the frenzy of new architecture, even in the old areas is too much to capture even for human eyes. New is the word and progress prosperity is evident everywhere. As we stand in the World's Wair space next to the Birds Nest, the area is filled with people on line to experience the spectacular site. "Where are all the tourists?" I ignorantly ask this since I see Asians only, and I am corrected immediately and told that in fact most of the people I see are in fact tourists, Chinese tourists from all parts of China. Talk about self sufficient, this location is a good place to witness that reality.
There is an art district in Beijing where galleries with inside/outside exhibits are displayed in funky, crafty type structures. The art cafes are so creative and fun, and again you can see everything is growing fast but is still in the authentic phase. I had steamed veggies and fresh fruit presented so creatively, and to my surprise, there are many easy-to-find good, healthy, unprocessed foods in restaurants in China.
We headed to an area that had a landmark's preservation tone where all the little old Chinese shops are exactly as you might imagine from old movies I've seen of China. As we walk the narrow alleyways, the shops are filled with everything Chinese old and new from real Chinese dresses redone with a new slant, and very old fashioned items but done in cool ways. There are new Chinese fashion designers who work in cleverly-designed shops, done obviously on a shoestring but making it look almost more appealing than some of the lux stores at the huge shopping malls. I will be wearing Chinese dresses for quite some time as they were irresistible.
I am a tea lover and how can you not go to the famous tea salons when you are in China? Yes, the tea salon is huge too, of course. They do tea presentations and tastings that are amazing rituals and bring to mind that tea is not only a healthy beverage but a reason to take time out of the day and this ritual is part of the ceremony. It is not surprising that teas can go up to hundreds of dollars for the more selected varieties.
After visiting every shopping area in Beijing and high-gloss mega mall, it is clear China is a work in progress and nothing will stop the powerful move forward for their new fast growing affluent middle class. We headed to dinner at the lan club, designed by Philippe Stark, sitting atop a tall building near Tiananmen Square. The lan club serves dinner and then live music, and out come the club kids Beijing-style. "Ok, how did this all change happen?" I ask my host at dinner? If this is communism and Hong Kong, didn't go third world in the transfer, there must have been a master plan for China, a bit different from the Mao revolution? I am told Mao was necessary for China and as in every revolution it has an expiration date. After Mao, his successor, Dang Shiu Ping had a plan for China: Make it strong financially, and it will win the respect of the world, and become an important global force. I believe we can safely say his plan for the first tier development was successfully under way. From the infrastructure remodeling to support from the government for everyone to build their businesses the plan is still on pace even after Ping's death. You can then add the Olympics and it is a testament to the Chinese will and determination as one nation.
I learn it takes one month to build out a boutique using Chinese workers and materials. At the speed it takes to build a boutique in a shopping mall, China built Beijing into the most modern city. The architecture, the design, the roads and bridges, all of this determination describe the new China post Olympics. The Nike Beijing store is a fantastic design experience and everything from the store to the products are a perfect for this modern China. From the graphics on the walls and on the tees and the energy in the store was what I felt throughout Beijing.
This is the city where the government sits and in Beijing I feel I am really in China. Not only did the traditional music in front of the Birds Nest at the Olympic site send a shiver down my spine but passing Tiananmen Square with Mao's image boldly reminding China of its history. The driver said the building in the square was built in the 50's, but it became bigger and bigger under Mao's direction as the years passed. From the need for Mao's communism for the good of all the people to pings global vision as my host says it is a good time to be Chinese.
I came home and drove into Manhattan from JFK Airport looking at the roads and bridges that look old and rusty. The American dream, that prosperity and anyone can have a chance to be in the growing middle class, I saw China was not at all evident returning home to the USA. What was once such an American concept was left behind in China. Where is our plan? Why are we not united to compete globally? When will we act with a sense of urgency to stop what seems like our downward slide to the third world? I want to enlist in whatever effort there might be in uniting this country to once again be a powerful force to deal with in the global community. Where do I sign up?