Beijing by num­bers just stag­ger­ing

Signs of in­no­va­tion ap­par­ent all over

Sunday World - - Life - By Ma­pula Nkosi ma­pu­lan@sun­day­ Nkosi is hosted by the Chi­nese govern­ment.

With a pop­u­la­tion of more than 1.3 bil­lion peo­ple, ev­ery­thing in China when it comes to num­bers is just stag­ger­ing.

Beijing, the first of the four ci­ties we are vis­it­ing, for ex­am­ple, has 22 mil­lion peo­ple liv­ing in it – about half of Mzansi’s pop­u­la­tion. There are 18 dif­fer­ent routes ser­vic­ing their ef­fi­cient pub­lic train and bus sys­tem. The city has grown ex­po­nen­tially in the last 10 years alone.

While there was a spat­ter­ing of sky scrap­ers then, to­day the tallest build­ing next to our ho­tel that hosts the Citic bank­ing group stands at 528m tow­er­ing above us di­rectly from our con­tem­po­rary ho­tel called The Jen Beijing.

A decade ago, there were only a mil­lion cars on the city streets, but to­day at six mil­lion ve­hi­cles, the use of cars in the city has to be clev­erly reg­u­lated. As a re­sult, many peo­ple use mo­tor­bikes and bi­cy­cles.

The govern­ment has taken to run­ning an an­nual lot­tery to award 20 000 lucky res­i­dents the priv­i­lege of stand­ing the chance to own a car ev­ery year. Ac­cord­ing to our guide Adrian Wang, once cho­sen, if a po­ten­tial buyer does not use the chance within six months, they for­feit it. The grow­ing in­dus­try of elec­tric cars has re­ceived a boost from the state as these cars are sub­sidised.

In the me­dia and re­tail sec­tor, the num­bers are more phe­nom­e­nal. The Peo­ple’s China Daily dis­trib­utes more than three mil­lion copies ev­ery day while their on­line ver­sion of Twit­ter, called Weibo, has more than 78 mil­lion fol­low­ers. Their on­line shops de­liver close to 100 mil­lion pack­ages daily.

We ar­rived in the city to balmy au­tumn weather but the fog soon ap­peared the next morn­ing, en­velop­ing the city. The skies were grey, like it was about to rain and one in ev­ery five peo­ple I saw in the streets had their masks on.

The smog doesn’t af­fect our breath­ing as we walk around the city, and head to the ma­jes­tic Beijing Cap­i­tal Mu­seum where the his­tory of the coun­try and city is dis­played over five floors. It’s a Sun­day af­ter­noon, but throngs of buses spew gig­gling school chil­dren and the mu­seum is chock-ablock as fam­i­lies and groups also at­tend.

Our group soon be­comes pop­u­lar with the chil­dren who ask to take pic­tures with us at ev­ery op­por­tu­nity. Af­ter in­dulging them for more than half an hour, we found a way to dodge them as they wanted more..

The af­ter­noon was time to try and conquer my fear of heights at The Great Wall. The chal­lenge starts on the stairs lead­ing to the en­trance and though it is a Sun­day, throngs of peo­ple are al­ready walk­ing. Beijing is a city that is friendly to the el­derly. Fam­i­lies have fun with grand­par­ents in tow. I was plan­ning to walk on two tur­rets of the wall but see­ing so many fit 70 and 80-year-olds putting me to shame, I force my­self to walk slowly up one more steep leg to the third tur­ret just to sal­vage some pride.

Af­ter ex­plor­ing Beijing we are head­ing to Shang­hai, Shen­zhen and fi­nally Hong Kong. We have dis­cov­ered Chi­nese hos­pi­tal­ity at its best in their sig­na­ture ro­tat­ing din­ner ta­bles loaded with all sorts of spicy and herby dishes and soups as we tasted new dishes.

We have also dis­cov­ered how tech­no­log­i­cally ad­vanced the coun­try is with elec­tric pub­lic buses now re­plac­ing old diesel ones, many bike rid­ers re­ly­ing on a bike app to con­trol pub­lic bikes and a lot of au­to­mated sys­tems in­clud­ing wire­less charg­ing pods at pub­lic spa­ces and restau­rants, on­line check­ing-in at all the tourist at­trac­tions, and even at im­mi­gra­tion desks at the air­ports. ■

For­bid­den City tur­rets peak­ing from an oval win­dowYummy Chi­nese dumplings Opera singers at a restau­rant in Shang­hai. Ho­tel Jen in Beijing is a con­tem­po­rary oa­sis in the city.

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