In case you didn’t get the reference, this post title is in homage to a childhood favorite, Big Bird in China. While the China of today is much different than 1983, it was hard not to feel hit with an immediate time warp/culture shock mashup. Hit with stifling humidity (at least as much as I’m used to, thanks to Korean springs) the moment I stepped out of the airport, I made a mad dash for the taxi station and hopped into the first one I saw. The cab was an older one, with crank windows and a shoddy aircon, but it was blasting Sean Kingston as we drove down the highway, a mix of old apartments and futuristic Olympic buildings on either side. Being in Beijing was a crazy time warp. On one hand, you’ve got thousands (millions?) of bicycles and old buildings. Yet you also have the crazy, modern architecture that sprung up in the years prior to the 2008 Olympics. Getting those two things to coexist in my head was enough to make me dizzy.

Anyhow, once I made it to Woudaokou, Megha met me at the station and we walked back to the apartment she shares with her boyfriend, Charles and her roommate, Mike. Having not seen her in a year, we spent a few hours catching up before going out for a few drinks with Charles and Mike. Got back after a couple bars and some food to get a decent night’s sleep.

The next day, Megha, who is studying Mandarin in an intensive program in Beijing, had the day off, so she joined me in my sightseeing endeavors. First stop was Tiananamen Square, site of riots, protests and iconic photographs. The square itself was, for the most part, a large, open space with little in it, save for a few statues, tourists and vendors hawking cold bottled water. Once I got my head past the tourist element of the place, it was truly stunning, especially when I considered the great history of the square. In the middle of the square is the Monument to the People’s Heroes, which looked small in pictures but is grandiose in person.

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Mao's body is on display inside this building on the square

Mao's body is on display inside this building on the square

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You may notice the dreary, gray sky in the background. No, it wasn’t about to downpour. That’s how the sky looked every day in Beijing. Megha said she’s so used to it at this point that she barely notices the lack of blue sky. Xinhua is reporting that last month was the clearest May in nine years. I’m ready to call bullshit on that one, but then again, I haven’t experienced another Beijing spring aside from this one. This could very well be the cleanest one in nine years, which is scary to think about. Though according to this article, the picture above was taken on a “blue sky day,” and on that, I will be calling bullshit.

After Tiananmen, we crossed the street and entered the Forbidden City, which once was home to 10,000 eunuchs and concubines. Now it welcomes thousands of tourists a day. You could spend days in the Forbidden City and still not see it all because it’s so massive.

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That night, I went with Megha’s roommate Mike to a beer garden to meet some of their friends. They were a really nice bunch, and it was good to meet some new people. The only downside to the evening was that mosquitoes were feasting on my bare legs. Friends can attest to the awful reaction I get from mosquito bites, but these took the cake. They’re only now starting to go away, nearly two weeks after I was bitten.

That about does it for this installment of Melissa in China. Stay tuned for the next post, when Melissa takes you to the Great Wall of China!

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