The Power Capitals: Washington, D.C., Beijing and London

When I was a kid (some would argue I am still one), I was fascinated with knowing capital cities and flags.  Not really sure why, perhaps it was an early predictor of future sanity.  I was pondering the other day that there are countries that I have visited whose capital cities I have not than I thought.  So I started thinking which capital cities have I visited and could there be some common thread to some of them.  That led me to think of a new series to briefly chat about the capital cities I have visited.

White House, Washington D.C., DC, center of power, President's residence, US flag, photo

The White House, literally and/or figuratively, the world’s center of power

In this group, I’d thought I’d include some capitals that represent power centers.  While I could add a few others, those fit better within future categories I will be sharing.  For this post of power centers, I have chosen to include:  Beijing, Washington, D.C., and London.

Entrance to the Forbidden City Beijing, China bicycles cars pollution

Entrance to the Forbidden City in Beijing just north of Tiananmen Square

These are certainly global power centers for financial and political reasons.  But they could not be any more different from each other.  The following statements, of course, are up for discussion and challenge but they sort of indicate how I “feel” these power centers:

  • Whereas London exudes history, D.C. has it but as a secondary or tertiary theme to its power center persona, whereas Beijing seems hell-bent on destroying its fascinating history.
  • Whereas Beijing is exotic to me, D.C. exudes a vibrancy that is uncommon for me and that thrills me, and London exhibits a self-assured calm that almost makes it familiar, yet not exotic nor vibrant.
  • While London feels cozy as you spend time in its neighborhoods (despite its incredible size), Beijing feels large and cold.  And D.C. … well at times it feels just like a large political amusement park until you explore what’s behind “public D.C.”.
  • All three can feel impersonal, but I think once you get to know London and D.C.  that changes with the only difference being that D.C. seems more transient than London does, making London more of a place where one can grow deep roots.

Where I would live?  I would say D.C. hands down.  In fact, in any list, this would be on my top three places to live.  I feel the energy and it transcends the political activity-related energy.  I love walking the treed streets of the city, admiring architecture new and old, and discovering places to hang out (London does offer some of this.)

Where I would learn the most?  I would say Beijing with its long history and fascinating culture.

Where I felt people warmth?  London would have an edge on D.C. but, in reality, none, I’d venture say, excel at people warmth.  Not sure if that is related to the power center nature of the city, the culture of the country/city, or some other factor (like it just takes time to feel it).

Any big gripe on any of these?  The pollution in Beijing is about the worst I’ve experienced.  I got sick from it, putting a big damper on my time there.  And no “nearby Rio de Janeiro” (as Sao Paulo has) for me to go “heal.”  🙂

Where would I love to return?  Sure, I’d enjoy going back to London but D.C. would be it.  Beijing… Been there, done that.  I’d rather learn about China through other places.

The City, London, England, United Kingdom, power center, capital city, financial center

London is a power center, especially in global finance

Of course, different strokes for different folks – what’s delicious to me may be bland to another so take it all with a grain of salt and share your impressions of any of these cities if you have visited them!  Regardless, these are fascinating cities to explore.

Photo of the Week – Beijing on a Sunny Day?

Beijing is well, and fairly, known for its pollution problem.  This photo from 2002 probably is from a “good” day.  I imagine the situation has gotten worse over the years.  However, what really makes me wonder in this picture is the ratio of cars to bicycles.  I wonder if there is that much space for bicycles anymore…

Entrance to the Forbidden City Beijing, China bicycles cars pollution

Entrance to the Forbidden City in Beijing just north of Tiananmen Square

Going for Terracotta Soldiers – and Discovering a City

When friends and I decided to go to China for 10 days, it was a totally clean sheet of paper in terms of what we wanted to do.  BeijingXi’anShanghaiInner Mongolia?  Lots of choices and not enough time (is there ever?).  We knew we would be in Hong Kong pre- and post- China visit as we were going to visit a common friend.  So we looked at the map and tried to figure out what would be reasonable given the amount of time and distances to cover…

The Terracotta Soldiers

At some point we decided Xi’an, with its famous terracotta soldiers HAD to be in the itinerary.  I mean, we can see the soldiers “on tour” as they are shown in museums around the world at different times – but nothing better than going to the actual site since we were already going to be in China. Shanghai and Beijing are big cities, always there for a potential business trip (should I be with the right company!).  And a big city is, after all, a big city… (more true of Shanghai than Beijing, I am sure).  But Xi’an?  Unlikely work will take me there (unless I pursue an Indiana Jones career…).

Terracotta Soldier in Xi'an, China (Xian)

So, off we went.  Of course, driving out to see the place where the soldiers were unearthed was pretty cool.  You could visualize how it was found by a farmer.  While the site itself had grown a large structure to protect to digs (the real dig:  where they have been and will be continued to be unearthed some day), there was still enough undeveloped land (this was a few years ago!).

Terracotta soldier and horses in Xi'an, China (Xian)

As you may know, the soldiers, when first unearthed, are colored but the color quickly disintegrates (or whatever the technical term is!) so they have stopped digging them up until technology has evolved enough to be able to preserve the coat of colors.  You may also know that each soldier is different.  I don’t mean in pose or attire but their actual faces.  How impressive is that?  We saw some being repaired as some broke as they were buried.

Terracotta soldier under repair in Xi'an, China (Xian)

What I Really Liked about Xi’an?

While the soldiers are the headline, Xi’an is like many other places in the world:  there are other awesome sights and experiences to be had besides the “headliner”.  The city walls are massive and impressive.  A walk around them is a must to appreciate the town.  Just look at the width of the top of the wall!  China does walls well.

Xi'an - City Wall in Xian China on a gray day

But Xi’an is more than the soldiers and the city walls.  I encourage you to explore the city, more than we got to do with our limited time.  It felt VERY different than monstrous and dysfunctional Beijing.  Xi’an came across as a city I would WANT TO live in!

Xi'an - View from City Wall in Xian, China

Xi'an - Pagoda by City Wall in Xian, China

Our last day ended with us losing our car to take us to the airport after visiting a temple site and we had to scramble to find a car to take us to the airport.  It was not easy where we were and we were tugging my friends’ 3-yr old in her stroller – which proved to be why someone finally took pity on us to help us find a car to get to the airport!  A story I will never forget!

Xi'an - Traffic at an intersection in Xian, China


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