The character of Beijing was forever changed by the 2008 Olympics. The new sports complexes and hotels made much of the city look like any other big city. Initially I was disappointed but then began to discover the remnants of the ancient Beijing like the Forbidden Palace and the Great Wall.


The sky was gray during my entire stay and the air felt heavy. The thick smog made it seem like it was permanent dusk, muting the colors and textures of the buildings and bright colors of the clothing and silks in store front windows.


Cultural artifacts like Ming Dynasty jewelry and vases were gorgeous but also muted by poor lighting and dirty display glass. The smells of Beijing were not muted at all and there were many, frying garlic and ginger were the most pleasing.

Shanghai was all highrise office and apartment buildings and neon signs. The first thing I noticed was that every apartment balcony had lines of clothes air drying in the fresh breezes. Nothing was muted here. Shanghai neighborhoods took on the characteristics of the multinational residents of the past.


Within a few blocks you could see small slices of Germany, France and England right down to the architecture that brought Europe to Asia. There was even a “Chinatown” in Shanghai!