Visiting Beijing as Communist China turns 70

BEIJING — I woke up to a glorious morning in China’s capital on the 18th floor of the Fairmont Beijing (no smog for now), ate a solid Chinese breakfast (congee, fresh fruit and tea), and went for a stroll in a tree-lined neighborhood. The leaves are turning golden brown, but it still is shirt-sleeve weather.

The streets were filled with a confusing mash of cars and bikes, along with bold pedestrians who waded into the traffic. Like Shanghai on a previous trip, I noticed the boulevards were clean and well landscaped.

Back in my room, I checked on the progress of our son’s college tour via iPhone. AT&T charges $10 a day for unlimited calls to the U.S. from China, so it’s no big deal to talk regularly (and no Great Internet Wall to hassle with either).

The time difference is simple to manage: When it’s daytime here, it’s night-time there.

“How’s Hanover, New Hampshire, Mitchell?” I asked our son. “Well, it’s sort of like Nevada City,” he said, referring to the small-town feel. I reminded him that our town lacks a world-class college such as Dartmouth. He agreed and was excited about the campus tour.

After working a while this morning (putting our lifestyle magazine “to bed” with our designer via email), I went for a swim in the Fairmont’s sweet indoor pool.

These hotels — the big Western brands — blend Eastern and Western culture: They are adorned with beautiful Chinese artwork, floor-to-ceiling windows, plush furnishings, and state-of-the-art features (including curtains that open at the touch of a button).

I used frequent traveler miles to stay at the Fairmont, but the prices for these four-star hotels are roughly half what they are at home. Right now, at least, traveling to China is a bargain.

In the hotel’s swimming pool — where swim caps are required — I soon was joined by a vacationing Chinese family: Mom, dad, their toddler and grandma. We smiled and said hello, but neither of us knew the other one’s language, so that was about it. It was a relaxing time.

Back home, at least in Washington D.C., the political climate was tense. “Trump’s meltdown,” CNN International was reporting when I turned on the TV. It showed our President dodging a reporter’s question and then insulting him. Not exactly “presidential.”

The news — the Western broadcast, not China’s — has pointed to our politics as being in disarray this week, marked by impeachment proceedings, political infighting and more. The falling stock market also gets wrapped into the narrative.

To be sure, China has its own problems. “Hong Kong violence overshadows China’s anniversary celebrations,” the Financial Times’ summed up in a front-page headline. Like others, I’ve been surprised at China’s military restraint — at least so far.

The editorial page of the Wall Street Journal was waving the American flag (as expected): “Mr. Trump’s policy reflects a new bipartisan American consensus that China’s economic abuses must be confronted.”

Hong Kong’s escalating violence contrasted with China’s weeklong festivities here on the mainland to celebrate 70 years of Communist rule. People have been celebrating and behaving unified (also as expected).

It’s a festive atmosphere, complete with fireworks and parades. The streets are filled with banners, posters, flags, even fresh flowers commemorating 70 years of communist rule.

Cars are decorated with China’s flag, as locals show their patriotism. I thought of the “State of Jefferson” flags I see on some cars in our small foothills town and laughed to myself.

The protests in Hong Kong is China’s problem, and the political friction in America, topped with talk of impeaching the president, is our nation’s “bete noir.” Meanwhile, the world’s economy is slowing while each side waits for the other to blink.

I am hopeful for a resolution to this “trade war,” but I’m not holding my breath. China and America are in parallel universes.

The brief video clip in this post shows what was being broadcast on television. I recorded it with my iPhone.

Author: jeffpelline

Jeff Pelline is a veteran editor and award-winning journalist - in print and online. He is publisher of Sierra FoodWineArt magazine and its website Jeff covered business and technology for The San Francisco Chronicle for 12 years, and he was a founding editor and Editor of CNET News for eight years, among other positions. Jeff has a bachelor's degree from UC Berkeley and a master's from Northwestern University. His hobbies include sailing, swimming, and trout fishing in the Sierra.

2 thoughts on “Visiting Beijing as Communist China turns 70”

  1. Any trouble with web-surfing? When I’ve been in China, stories about Chinese subjects in western newspapers are often blocked. Sometimes whole papers are blocked–last week when I passed through there, no New York Times!

    1. Yes, but I sign up for a VPN (virtual private network) before I go. It has worked well both times (to access the NYT, for example). On this trip I took a little longer to connect, but I was patient.

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