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Climbing to the top at Badaling.

Climbing to the top at Badaling.

Some haze and the Great Wall, you can certainly tell its China!

Some haze and the Great Wall, you can certainly tell its China!

Looks clear from this angle.

Looks clear from this angle.

So there has been so much debate lately about the smog and the pollution in Beijing…I think it adds character to the city. No?! Ok, perhaps mystery when you cannot see what’s a few hundred metres in front of you. I think yes, the pollution is bad, but there are also so many simple things that make Beijing a ‘green-ish’ place too. Main roads are tree lined and many hutongs too, so simple but makes it a much more pleasant environment with an improved microclimate and aesthetic. The streets and hutongs are vibrant and mixed-use making it a more walkable city. Cycling is so common here and easy with cycle lanes along every main road, it is safe and one of the more preferred modes of transport. The high population here has its advantages too, in accordance with the ‘compact city’ model, higher density cities are more sustainable as it means there is more shared facilities. Public transport is fantastic, cheap, reliable and well-used (0.4 kuai a bus journey and 2 kuai a subway journey). As in all cities, cars are expensive to run, but here you have to win a lottery to be able to buy one and then you can only drive your car on certain days of the week depending on your registration plate. With stand still traffic, I wonder why people would even want a car here anyway. I have found the city to be very well connected, but there are planned further improvements; by 2020 there are to be 30 subway lines in total (I still cannot quite believe this).  There are also recycling bins along with every single waste bin – I’m a strong believer that small steps like this go along way.

Obviously there are many reasons why the pollution here is still a huge problem. Many are worried that the dense haze is only getting worse and what kind of health implications it has.  You can tell everyone here has a desire to do something about the pollution, however there is still always a gap between the words and action, its not only the government but individuals that make a difference too. Certainly more awareness of the issues and better education will improve the situation for a start.  I’m in an optimistic mood I have faith in Beijing.

Architects and urban planners here clearly have a responsibility in changing this too; to design more individual environmentally friendly buildings within a (much) more sustainable city.

I’m sure we will be reading many more stories on this debate in the news in the coming weeks, but I’m much more interested in how Beijing as a city will pull together to tackle the problem. Only time will tell.

B.

PS. I was supposed to write about visiting the Great Wall and how fantastic it was, but got a little distracted! It was nice to see not only architects getting excited about a wall…

Monday the 7th of November was my first Eid in China. I celebrated with friends by hosting a curry night and feeding 20 people a feast for the occasion!

I visited Niujie Mosque, which was the first mosque I have visited that did not look in my mind like a ‘typical’ mosque!  It was a great to see Beijing’s oldest mosque that was special and unique to China.  It incorporated traditional Chinese architecture to give it a real sense of place.  Elements common to both traditional Chinese and Mosque architecture are courtyards and gardens; within the mosque it creates a sense of serenity.  It was amazing how calm and quiet the courtyards were considering just outside the mosque was a wide 6-lane busy main road.

Mosque’s Minaret within the courtyard.

Mosque’s Minaret within the courtyard.

Narrow walkways connecting the buildings, hiding and revealing what is beyond.

Narrow walkways connecting the buildings, hiding and revealing what is beyond.

Courtyard outside the men’s prayer hall – an area that extends as an external prayer space on Eid.

Courtyard outside the men’s prayer hall – an area that extends as an external prayer space on Eid.

Chinese roofs and detailing mixed with Islamic decorations.

Chinese roofs and detailing mixed with Islamic decorations.

The 11th of November was Singles Day in China, a day celebrated or mourned by the unattached. This day was first celebrated in Nanjing by students in the mid 1990’s and has now turned into a multi-million pound industry that I knew nothing about.  The date was picked because of the solitary digits and the number 1 can mean “bare sticks” in Chinese and refer to Bachelors. This year was especially significant as it fell on 11/11/11, which only happens once every hundred years. It was celebrated across Beijing with parties and in the cinema with females being given even number seats and males allocated odd numbers in an effort to bring people together! Glad I found this out in advance and avoided! When being told about this was the first time I heard ‘Oh my Lady Gaga!’ instead of ‘Oh my God!’

So much I want to share, more coming soon!

B.