In a lot of ways, Shenyang represents (I’m told), the “old China”. Less influence from the West, more “authentic”. I guess so, but along with that come a lot of stuff that’s not very pleasant. People here spit a lot. The drivers are reckless, honk all the time, and ignore crosswalks. Public drunkenness is not uncommon. Gross odors are the norm outside. I thought I was getting used to this place, then we took a weekend trip out of town.
Memorial Day weekend coincided with Dragonboat Festival this year, so we had 4-day weekend on our hands. Shenyang is only 4-5 hours from Beijing, so we headed down for a stay in the capital. One of Diplowife’s friends offered us her apartment, near the Embassy, so we could see how the FSO’s down there live. Pretty well, as it turned out.
The train down to Beijing was surprisingly nice. The Shenyang train station is fairly new and modern, not too crowded the day we left. The train itself was OK, not too fast, but we opted to not pay for the extra-fast train. Scenery between Shenyang and Beijing was mostly nondescript at first, but eventually the flat plains gave way to pretty mountains in the distance. Mountains were an everyday part of the scenery back in Seattle, and it’s funny how their absence in Shenyang (and Maryland) bothers me.
We arrived in Beijing and made our way to Diplowife’s friend’s place. She lives about a block from the US Embassy, in an apartment about the same size as ours, but much more modern and well-appointed. She has two balconies and a sun room, with just a single neighbor on her floor. Her couch is really uncomfortable, so we’ve got the advantage there.
Within a three block radius of the Embassy and the apartment are a really nice bakery, the Kempinsky Hotel (with its amazing German brunch), a big array of nice restaurants (including a respectable BBQ joint), a luxury supermarket and who knows what else. The sidewalks are wide and hole-free, for the most part. There’s a subway station near the bakery that connects to a highly developed transit system. Our first impression of the US Embassy’s neighborhood of Beijing was very good, in other words.
It gets better. We took the subway to the middle of town and walked around some of the old “hutong” houses, many of which have been converted into shops and restaurants. Within moments, we find a craft brewery full of expats. There was an ice cream stand (it was closed, but bear with me). There was a beautiful Tibetan temple that we explored. Lots of expats were walking around and nobody was spitting or honking. We went on a terrific tour of several restaurants in the area. The next day, we saw the Forbidden City and parts surrounding it. Then we saw more hutongs and explored a big shopping district.
You get the idea. Beijing is a world-class city, and it makes Shenyang look like a provincial collection of tarpaper-roofed shacks. Anything we wanted was available in Beijing, even pretty-good beer. We got back to Shenyang on the fourth day, and it was immediately clear where we were. Sidewalks, if they existed, were a mess of holes and cars. Bad smells galore. Honking, so much honking. It felt a little bad to come home after seeing how Diplowife’s colleagues live. On the other hand, if we can make it in Shenyang, a second Chinese tour will be easy.