It should be no surprise that Beijing has changed in the 5+ years since I left. After all, during that time there was this little event called the Olympics. What is a surprise is that the ways in which it has changed are not what I expected.
It’s still polluted. Taxi drivers don’t pretend to practice English anymore. And pedestrian crossings remain a suggestion.
The changes come mostly from seeing the city through different eyes. The eyes of the handicapped. I personally have no physical hindrances, but now I have this appendage called a baby, along with two five year olds. And suddenly, what used to be a fun adventure of jumping on and off buses or running up the road to the supermarket becomes excruciatingly difficult.
Handicapped ramps? Forget it. Green crossing lights that actually cause cars to stop, even for children? Nope. Space to steer a stroller through the supermarket? Not much. Free playgrounds for kids. Uh-huh. And eating out at a restaurant? Not without bringing your own high chair – and space to stow the stroller.
So. Taxis and take-out have become our best friends. When we do leave our hotel grounds with the baby, it takes two adults to be able to safely cross the street or to lug the stroller up the steps to the bridge. There’s a fabulous new subway stop that’s sprung up outside the hotel but we’ve never had the chance to use it. There isn’t even an escalator to go down, much less an elevator. I understand now why I never saw many small children before.
My baby will grow out of his need for the stroller soon enough. And I understand the conflict of space versus a burgeoning metro population. But for those with real, lifelong handicaps, until efforts are made to ease mobility – and safety – across the city, their view of the world will remain painfully small.