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Beijing in an Instant

Beijing in two days? Yes, please! This October, accompanied by my faithful Fuji Instax Wide, I set out on a frenzy around the Northern Capital. I had just started learning Chinese and thought that would be the best China: 101.

Just this month, as part of my “it’s 2012, let’s go around the world before it explodes” globetrotting experience, I went to the Northern Capital – Beijing for two days. I was especially excited to get that first glimpse of China because I had just learned how to write 中国, and how to model my voice to say “nǐ hǎo” tonally, which as it soon turned out, before I even officially entered the country, I was doing right only in my head (from that moment on I only spoke fake Chinese, which triggered a few good laughs from the locals).

Of course, I had been building up an image of China in my head for my entire life ever since the day when the curious 4-year-old me read somewhere that the Great Wall was the only man-made structure visible from space (it sure is visible and beautiful from a plane). And although I knew that I should be expecting the unexpected, every aspect of the journey was a bigger surprise that I could have been prepared for.

It’s really hard for me to synthesize those two days and in any way that wouldn’t sound too superficial. But I think I have found a common denominator for everything that I saw and experienced in China, in that it was characterized either by its scale, “iconicity” or uniqueness. And so I walked a tiny bit of the Great Wall, wondering how many people before me and how many people after me will set foot on it; tried to embrace all the flavors of Oreos and marshmallows in a Chinese supermarket; and ran around hutongs spotting innumerable badges young people sew onto the backs of their jeans.

I looked into the eyes of Mao, which for the first time, weren’t appropriated by Andy Warhol, and made an attempt at deciphering every Chinese sign painted in gold at the Temple of Heaven. Finally, I tracked the walls of the city for street art and walls of the subway for video ads projected from the trains, and observed serious men at serious games, which made no sense whatsoever to me (but I’d be willing to learn!). My trip was not even a trailer, hardly a teaser of what China has to offer to a traveler. But now I know that when I do get a ticket to the real show, I’m sure the setting, the characters, and the plots will provide topnotch entertainment.

written by annabaranowska

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