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Saturday, November 6, 2010

Beijing's 2 Faces

We were in Beijing this past week, staying at Park Plaza Wangfujing. The hotel is a 30 minute walk away from The Forbidden City and is right smack in the middle of a district that fairly glows with opalescent opulence.

There I was in my fleece sweater, blue jeans and Nike shoes staring goggle-eyed through the clear glass windows. I know shops like these exist along Orchard Road, but seriously... our shopfronts with their limited space lack the grandeur of these Beijing luxury stores. Space is a luxury that rich people in China can afford. And what took my breath away was not the gleaming Rolls Royce being appraised by 5 men and 2 women, but the amount of space around the car... and the height of the shopfront ceiling.

Whilst the poorest of the poor stay in a cubicle next to a public toilet hardly bigger in square footage than a Rolls Royce, the Rolls Royce sits in the middle of a huge white expanse large enough to strike one dumb and speechless.

I kid you not.

After some exploration, we found our way into the back alleys of Beijing - hutongs wide enough for a single car where families stay and raise their kids. It was here that I saw a woman cooking dinner at the entrance to an open door. Inside, in plain view, there was a bed, 2 young children and all their meagre belongings hanging from the walls. All of that was stuffed in a space hardly bigger than a Rolls Royce. Above the door was a sign - "Laundry Woman". An old woman so wrinkled and small, she looked like a cricket, sat in the failing light of the evening hawking scraps of paper with the word "dragon" on them.

The contrast in lifestyles was so stark within a distance of less than 500m, that you couldn't help but notice, especially since the Rolls Royce was on the street in front of the hotel and the laundry woman and cricket lady was on the street behind the hotel.

If we wanted Peking Duck at the best Peking Duck restaurant in Beijing (Dadong), we crossed the road in front of the hotel. It cost us about $120/= to feed 3 people to bursting. If we wanted steamed Beijing dumplings, we went out the back door and went a little ways down the alley. The steamed Beijing dumplings were the best I had ever eaten. It cost about $4/= to feed 3 people to bursting.

The steamed dumplings were so good that I developed serious cravings for them over the next few days. I also craved the Peking Duck. The Park Plaza Wangfujing Hotel was very well situated indeed because from there we could experience the 2 faces of Beijing.


Open Kitchen Concept said...

Oh.. you went to Beijing!

petunialee said...

Yeah! And all the time I was there I kicked myself for forgetting to ask you for tips!!

Blur Ting said...

Wah, what a contrast! I have never been to Beijing yet. The peking duck and steamed dumplings give me all the more reason to go now.

Wen-ai said...

Havent been to Beijing yet too. Maybe next year, I'll bring my mum along. ;) Then ask u for tips. ;P