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Tuesday 22 Aug 2017 | 07:48 | SYDNEY
Tuesday 22 Aug 2017 | 07:48 | SYDNEY

Beijing diary (part 1)

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18 June 2010 10:48

En route to Beijing earlier this month, my plane sat on the tarmac in Hong Kong for nearly six hours waiting for clearance to take off. The reason for the delay was never explained. Perhaps it was air congestion, or weather conditions, or a Chinese military operation – the pilot was never informed.

Few of my fellow passengers seemed too bothered, and the only ones to complain were Westerners. I don't know what this reveals about Chinese attitudes to authority, but I do know how a group of Australians (or, God forbid, Americans) would have reacted in such circumstances.

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I was heading to Beijing to conduct interviews for an essay I'm writing, with the support of the Australia-China Council, on the PRC's global strategy and its approach to the UN. Most of what I heard from my interlocutors made me pessimistic about prospects for great-power cooperation at the UN. On the other hand, as a first-time visitor to Beijing I found the city more charming than I had expected.

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One reason for this was my choice of lodgings. When I finally made it to Beijing, just before dawn, I checked into a hotel located in a traditional courtyard residence in one of Beijing's old alleys, or hutongs (pictured above and described here by Alistair Thornton, The Interpreter's Beijing correspondent). The place was cheaper and, I’m sure, more pleasant than the huge, antiseptic 5-star hotels that most business travelers to Beijing frequent.

I awoke to birdsong, and a short stroll took me into the middle of old Beijing, with gossiping locals, doting grandparents taking the air with little kids, and little food stalls. When an old woman hawked on the street in front of my feet, I knew I was in China.

Photo by Flickr user Nesos, used under a Creative Commons license.

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