I’ve had an interest in Chinese culture for some time, so it was quite exciting when work informed me I needed to go to Beijing.
I was born in New York, grew up outside of Boston, and now live in Southern California. I’ve been to my share of big cities, San Francisco, New York City, and Los Angeles, as well as Hong Kong.
They all have in the neighborhood on 3-8 million people.
Beijing has just under 20 million.
The city is huge, insanely busy and incredibly chaotic. Cars are a relatively new thing there and so is traffic control. Traffic lights and laws are treated as more suggestion than hard rules. This goes for busses, cars, scooters, bicycles and people. Everyone just goes. I witnessed an elderly gentleman cross a busy 4-lane expressway like he was walking through the park, the vehicles honking, but somehow avoiding him.
The amazing thing is it seems to work. It flows almost seamlessly.
It’s through all of this that I ventured out with my camera – a Canon 5D and a couple of lenses (Canon 24-105mm ƒ/4 and 16-35mm ƒ/2.8). There were more photo opportunities than one can sometimes capture when you’re in a bustling city and Beijing has exponentially more.
After making my way through the subway system, Tiananmen Square, the Forbidden City, back alleys and street markets over the course of 6 hours or so, I ended up in an area called Houhai.
Houhai is the name of a lake and its surroundings in the Shichahai neighborhood which has a high concentration of shops, bars and restaurants. It also attracts a lot of tourists, though mainly Chinese tourists.
As I made my way through the throngs, I spied a third-story rooftop where people were having drinks and made my way there. The rooftop didn’t have any tables open, so the host directed me up a narrow staircase, and to a lone table, on a balcony, overlooking the intersection. I put my camera bag down, ordered a Yanjing beer and surveyed the area.
I ended up getting a really great view and was able to relax and just watch. It was getting breezy and the willowy trees were moving lightly while delivery bikes, pedi-cabs, scooters and pedestrians performed their ballet. The sun was just beginning to fall behind me, so I started taking some shots, trying to photograph the scene as it played out.
This is my favorite, as it captured the swaying trees, the setting sunlight, the sense of chill in the air, the Chinese flags which hang from every window and of course the people, moving in all different directions.
I’ll probably go back again, but nothing will match the first time you experience a new city, new culture and new land.