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Stephanie Neppl … Reporting from Beijing: Changes in China

By Staff | Aug 22, 2008

This view shows the north gate of the Forbidden City which was the Chinese imperial palace from the mid-Ming Dynasty to the end of the Qing Dynasty. It is located in the Dongcheng District, in the middle of Beijing, China, and now houses the Palace Museum.

Thursday, Aug. 22, 2008

I left Beijing in mid 2001 after spending two years working as a copy editor. A month after I left, the city was awarded the 2008 Olympic Games. At the time, I was happy for the Chinese people who would be superbly proud to show off their country.

However, I also knew that the city was going to undergo massive changes, some good and some bad.

Before I left, many areas of Beijing that boasted a lot of character were knocked down. At the time, we learned that the city was aiming to create green spaces, so many of our favorite restaurants and pubs were gone in a flash. Many traditional areas and buildings have been sacrificed to make way for large hotels, shopping centers and other more modern looking buildings. It’s definitely not the same Beijing, and it seems to be aiming to resemble many other big Asian cities and is losing its individuality.

Some of the good changes include a better subway system, which before was embarrassingly bad for a city the size of Beijing. Now you can actually get around the city without the need for a taxi, which helps alleviate some of the awful traffic.

However, traffic during the Olympic Games has been amazing – it’s just not there. The main reason for this is the restrictions on those driving private cars; owners are only allowed to drive every other day. I have only been stuck in one bit of traffic when trying to travel down the road that houses the Worker’s Stadium where an Olympic soccer game has just wrapped up.

The city streets themselves are barely recognizable; gone are the streams of hawkers, beggars and country folk squatting on the curb sides. There are no locals saying the infamous ‘CD, DVD, CD-Rom’ – you cannot find pirated products in the city, which though illegal, is one of the best parts of visiting Asia. Also missing along with the irritating hawkers on the streets are the street markets – they have all been moved inside. Haggling for my fake Gucci watches and Prada bags is just not the same inside a big department store.

Certainly change is inevitable, but this new Beijing takes some getting used to. I’m not sure if and when I’ll ever return to China’s capital city, but with talk already starting about the next time Beijing will host an Olympics, I can only imagine what lies ahead.

It’s just two days before I board my flight headed back to New Zealand, and I’m really excited to see tomorrow’s men’s beach volleyball final between the US and Brazil, and tomorrow night’s athletics lineup in the Bird’s Nest. My trip to the Olympics has certainly been an unbelievable experience, and with my older brother living just outside of London, it may just have to be duplicated in 2012.

Zai jian.