Beijing by numbers just staggering
Signs of innovation apparent all over
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.