My recent trip to China was another benefit of my relationship with my partner Scott Barton, who was granted a fellowship, for an intensive 2-1/2 week program that focused on the culture, history and ritual practices of eating of the people of Hong Kong. Who lives for all things food, Scott is a PhD candidate in the Food Study program at New York University. For the past 25 years he has worked as a chef and restaurant consultant all over the United States and in several European cities.
But, this trip was not solely about sightseeing. While I am not part of the NYU program, I immediately jumped at the chance to piggyback my own cross-cultural research. Because I knew this would offer me the opportunity to explore Chinese culture through the food, arts, architecture, shopping, transportation, design, language/writing systems and people. Of course, I hoped there would be other things that peaked my curiosity. Our travel agent suggested we visit a few others cities besides Hong Kong. Why travel halfway around the world and not see all you could? As it turned out, Scott’s brother Craig had taught an architecture course in Beijing one summer and loved the city.
So, Beijing was our first stop.
Beijing is a bustling city of contrast with about 17million people. The flight takes about 13 hours from JFK in NYC, on Air China, we left December 26th, on Saturday at 3:30PM, and we arrived in Beijing early evening Sunday around 6:30PM. Visitors and business people might easily be fooled by the city’s cosmopolitan ambiance. However, the communist government still rules with a mighty hand. All one has to do is follow the continuous flurry of headlines about “Google in China and privacy rights. In an effort to present a more modern face, the government has started to tear down the old parts of the city and replace then with thoroughly modern architecture. One perfect example is the decline of “Hutongs,” located throughout the city. While there have been a major effort to teardown these alleyway communities, citizens have fought to maintain the city’s historical architecture and infrastructure.
We stayed at the Crown Hotel, and the accommodations were excellent. Centrally located it offered access to venues such as Tiananmen Square, The Forbidden City, and lots of glitzy shopping strips that mimic western shopping meccas. While our room rate included Internet service, I did experiences numerous snafus such as the disappearance of my navigational bar. Let me warn you about, “the Great Fire Wall of China,” it does exist and you can expect to have your Internet surfing censored. To all those “Facebook” lovers, it does not exist in Beijing.