Beijing is an enormous city. I expected it to be big; but even just from looking through the airplane window, I could see buildings that stretched further than I could see. As the plane landed, I noticed that the skyscrapers were grouped, with 5 or 6 in each section. Everything in Beijing seems to be incredibly square – I even saw a couple buildings that resembled elongated houses. After a 14-hour flight, I was surprisingly less jet lagged than expected, so I was able to stay awake on the bus ride to dinner. The architecture I saw on the drive was very mixed; some buildings in Beijing are large, brightly colored apartment complexes with AC units outside every window, and others are dark, modern, glass-covered business towers. As for the small shops and restaurants, many have the English translation underneath the Chinese characters, yet the inverse of this is rarely seen in America. This was the case for our restaurant; however, the staff did not speak any English, so it was difficult when we asked them to identify some dishes. Our welcome dinner was delicious, and already I’ve tried so many new foods! My new tries tonight were taro root and a pork pancake dish, and my favorite dishes were Peking duck and the tea. This was our second family style meal as a group, which I like much better than traditional ordering because it’s easier to try a little bit of everything.
After dinner, I joined a few people and explored the mall across the street from the hotel. To get there, we took an underground passageway instead of using a crosswalk. The underpass also connected to two stories of the mall which were below ground. The mall we went to is much larger than those in America – it’s 7 stories high and on both sides of the street! Unlike malls at home, there’re many smaller, more open shops, and the larger shops are fully open on the ground floor. We also found vending machines which squeeze fresh orange juice for you, which we found very interesting.
On our way back, we ended up using the crosswalk, and it was exactly as dangerous as the video we had watched portrayed it to be. People would cross when the walk sign was red, and when it was green cars and buses and bikes would turn closely between two groups of people. The roads here are the exact opposite of those in Pennsylvania: they’re 5 lanes each way with a separated bike lane, and there isn’t a pothole in sight. Beijing seems like an incredibly bike-friendly city, as there were yellow bikes and mopeds on every street corner. I also saw about five smart-car sized red cars with only three wheels which drove in the bike lane, something that isn’t seen at all at home. My first impression of Beijing is that it’s an eco-friendly, well organized city. It wasn’t incredibly crowded, I can see greenery everywhere I look, it’s clean, and many people travel by bike. I’m excited to get to know this city better, and I can’t wait until tomorrow!