Thursday, September 18, 2008

Go to China to see the future

I have been back in New York for a week. This is the first time that I don't feel excited to be back in this energetic city that I love. Usually, when I leave Beijing, I don't miss it much. Yet even though I haven't lived in Beijing for about 20 years, this time I really do miss it. I miss the excitement of the Olympics and Paralympics; I miss the Bird's Nest, the Water Cube, the National Theater; I miss the clean and wide streets; I miss the modern and smooth subways--all the things I don't see here in New York!

While I was searching for answers about my feelings for Beijing and New York, I read Thomas Friedman's Op-Ed "A Biblical Seven Years". Friedman put all those puzzles together and made such a powerful point when he said "... go to China to see the future." Then I read another blog "Beijing Diary", with the same message: "In many circles, China has moved beyond America and other countries, in looking forward to a future that combines the very best of East and West."

I would have never expected to feel about Beijing and New York the way I do now. For me, New York is a world class metropolitan city that hardly any other city in the world compares with. But now I am not so sure about this anymore. Look at Beijing's streets, subways, buildings - the city has transformed itself into a metropolitan city in a matter of years. Beijing has built six subway lines within seven years and two more lines will be completed by early next year. Contrast that to New York, whose negotiations for the second avenue subway line are still pending after more than ten years! Beijing's International Airport Terminal 3 - the world largest single building - welcomes travelers around world with its grand and contemporary architecture, but New York's La Guardia and JFK airports welcome travelers with "dumpy terminals" and bumpy roads. And it was only a few years ago, when Beijing's streets were dirty and dust was everywhere because of the ongoing construction. But now all streets (really literally all) are so clean and many narrow streets have been expanded to boulevards, some even decorated with beautiful flowers in between.

Of course, I know we cannot judge a city based on streets, architecture, or subway, there are many other important things that we should look at, such as the living standard, education, culture, housing, food, leisure, and more. However, I think Beijing has them all or are getting there at a rapid pace now. Beijing is not the same city as the one I grew up in, nor the one that I left about 20 years ago. It has became a modern metropolitan city that I can compare with even New York. Moreover, it has the grand ancient history and culture of the Forbidden City, the Great Wall, the Temple of Heaven, or the Peking Opera.

I know it remains to be seen if Beijing can live up to these new ideals and sustain the grandness, the cleanliness and efficiency now that the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games are over. I guess only time will tell.



Anonymous said...

Hello Xiaoning,

I have visited your site for many years now...and enjoy it so much...lots of wonderful products. I too was in Beijing during the Olympics and agree with your comments. I had not been before, but can imagine how the transformation has made an impact. The streets are wide and clean as you mentioned, and I was very impressed with Beijing. There does seem to be a clash between old and new, but the city is a wonder to visit.

Thank you for the site again, and for your wonderful products.

Sincerely, Peter