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Beijing, the time traveling city

By Janaína Camara da Silveira | | Updated: 2017-09-26 10:00

Beijing, the time traveling city

Janaína Camara da Silveira [Photo provided to]

Beijing is such a capsule of time travel capsule. It's a city that presents the future and the past involving every person in profound changes at the blink of an eye. It does not matter what those changes are, it is always a welcome place.

I remember when I first arrived in Beijing from Brazil in June 2007. After settling into work and at the new apartment, the first task was to visit Tian'anmen Square. The goal was to finally see in person Chairman Mao's portrait, an image so powerful in my mind since I was a teenager as it was the iconic symbol of China, presented every time there was news about the country.

It was a time when smartphones were not a reality. I walked to a magazine stall near my compound and asked for a Beijing map. A decade ago, believe it or not, this was the easiest way to get to know a new place. It cost one yuan - paid with a paper note! I got my map and embarked on the subway at Jianguomen Station to get off at Tian'anmen East Station.

That was a time when Beijing had just three metro lines, far less than the 19 operating nowadays, and the ticket - a thin white and blue paper - cost 2 yuan, no matter the distance you would take.

Once at the square, I felt for the first time the powerful message of a city that transforms its landscapes fiercely. The Forbidden City is a testimonial of human efforts to build an identity, the architecture as a statement of a time. In the square, there are plenty of landmarks testifying to Chinese eras and achievements. Mao's portrait is definitely an emblematic image, but the Great Hall of People, the National Museum and the Monument to the People's Heroes, among others, all tell a story of its time. But it was not just about the past. The present was so strong, as in the belief in a brighter future.

2007 was the year to get things ready for the coming Olympic Games, scheduled to start on Aug,8, 2008. All the new buildings, urban equipment and strong economic growth were celebrated, linking the novelties to the tradition: 08-08-08 was an auspicious date since the sound of the character for number 8 is similar to the one for prosperity.

The novelties were popping up every month, showing me that life in Beijing was not only about changes, but about how fast those changes would occur. In a short period, the city saw its first rapid train line linking the capital to Tianjin and soon to Shanghai, among other cities, and the number of subway lines improved to five (with line 5 and 8), not to mention the National Stadium, with the nickname, The Bird's Nest, taking a main role as a new architectural wonder.

Beijing is still so vibrant. The buildings rise shaping new skylines every year. The economy has decelerated its pace, but this does not mean fewer opportunities. Life is smooth and wealth grows.

The capital is transforming itself but not losing its soul. On early mornings, the baozi and the jianbing are still making people queue for their breakfasts. At sunset, older people are dancing in the corners of the city. It's even possible to say that old habits that were almost disappearing are being restored. Bicycles are everywhere, making people reconnect to the streets via pedaling, transforming relations with the city and its citizens to be even more personal. It's a counterbalance for a life much more dependent on smartphones - the easiest way to pay for daily needs, from food to electricity.

Beijing is more and more interconnected, evolving and rebuilding its links with the past and the future in the present.

Janaína Camara da Silveira is a communication consultant at Radar China and a development researcher as a Master in Economics candidate at Unisinos University, Brazil.

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