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I can’t think of another city that I adore so much, but also that I just can’t stand.  Beijing is both of those things simultaneously, and that fact was confirmed following my recent visit to the dusty capital.

Readers of this blog will know I spent many years living in Beijing, but my relationship with the city goes back to the late 1990s, when 1.20 taxis were roaming the streets unobstructed by today’s fleet of private automobiles.  Sanlitun South was the place to go, good restaurants were harder to find, and the Hidden Tree was pretty much your only bet for a pizza.  My, how times have changed.

There is a romance about Beijing that has withstood the tearing down of hutongs, development of new shopping malls and growing moneyed class.  It’s still an ancient city, it still has big wide boulevards, it’s got an excellent arts and culture scene, and it still has a charm that is impossible to define.  This, coupled with the fact that the city is filled with memories and friends, is why I love it.

But yet…

The brilliance of Hong Kong, where I live now, is its sheer efficiency.  I would put Hong Kong up against almost any city in the world in a comparison of public transport networks, service industries and more.  To give a quick example, I work in Central district in Hong Kong, right across the street from Hong Kong’s iconic IFC.  Chek Lap Kok Airport is 40 kilometres away on Lantau Island.  My flight to Beijing was scheduled to depart at 7:00pm.  At 5:55pm, I was sitting at my desk in my office, shutting down my aging (work-issued) Windows XP computer.  I had conveniently checked in my luggage and retrieved my boarding pass at the In Town Check In* (across the street) during my lunch break, so had no need to check in again at the airport.  I left my office at 5:55pm and was sitting at my gate by 6:32pm.  That included the traveling time from Central to the Airport, going through security, passing through immigration, and walking to the gate.  The efficiency is unbelievable, and makes flying out of Hong Kong often easier than taking an intercity train.

In contrast… I arrived in Beijing at 10:05pm.  I finally got out of the airport a few minutes before midnight.  The time it took me to clear immigration, collect my luggage, and stand in line with hundreds of other people for a taxi took almost as long as the flight took from Hong Kong to Beijing.  One city has found a way to move people around quickly, one is still struggling with the concept.

Then there were minor issues… taxi drivers weren’t familiar with certain locations I had to visit (including a brand new and large Renaissance Hotel), poor service at restaurants, etc etc etc.  None of these things are all that important individually, but over time they can wear somebody down.  It’s hard going out everyday knowing that, at some point, you’re going to hit a brick wall or have to put up with some level of incompetence that will create a needless obstacle in your pursuit of completing whatever duty it is that you need to complete.  It’s like death by a thousand cuts, and I have to admit that this was one of the reasons I came to Hong Kong: I want to be in a place where people get it and things just work.

Still, I love Beijing, and had a fantastic time this past weekend.  I was ostensibly up there for the Canadian Chamber of Commerce Charity Ball, but that turned into the least enjoyable portion of the trip (nothing against the ball, just that there was so much other stuff planned while I was in town).  Among them, I finally got to check out Grinders, which is run by my long-time friend Trevor Metz, whom I had talked to about moving to China when we were at a pub in Prince George way back in 2004.  It’s good to see the former journalist finding his calling in the F&B business.  (And by the way, Canucks fans’ in Beijing are probably already aware Grinders is pouring free beers for every Canucks’ goal on their march to the Stanley Cup).

As much fun as I had up there, it feels good to be home (although it wasn’t fun flying into a Red Rainstorm in Hong Kong; the flight is easily among the most turbulent I’ve ever been on).  I guess the best of both worlds is living in Hong Kong but getting the privilege of flying to Beijing a few times a year to enjoy all that the wonderful city has to offer.


*Disclosure: I previously worked for two years with the MTR Corporation, which runs the uber-efficient In Town Check in at Hong Kong and Kowloon stations.


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  1. gtc says:

    true with hitting a brick wall. i just think Beijing is modern as it is, though the people are just stuck in their backwardness. but it keeps getting better. great post! thinking maybe i’ll move to HK instead!

  2. Manx says:

    This article needs to be sent to Translink in Vancouver as well as the Vancouver Airport Authority. Also the Transport Minister of Canada and also Christy Clark. All that said I sure miss Beijing too.

  3. Christina says:

    I know exactly what you mean! The traffic alone is enough to kill you, and the concept of lines waiting in a queue is still quite foreign and ignored. And Hong Kong shines brilliantly in comparison. But, even with all with its dirt and street spitting, I too love Beijing. :)