Beijing Size Queens
Photos: Getty Images
Story by Aaron Hicklin
The first thing I notice in Beijing is the smog. At 6am, walking to Tianamen Square the air is yellow and soupy, throwing a gauze over the sun that never quite manages to lift. How the Olympic athletes will handle it in August is anyone’s guess. Each day in Beijing feels like a month smoking unfiltered cigarettes; it should come with a health warning.
The second thing I notice is the scale. Standing in the vast, brutal space of Tianamen Square is to realize what Chairman Mao had in common with the emperors that preceded him: ego, hubris, and probably a very small penis. Doubtless he’d have executed the persistent woman who follows around the square hawking her cheap Chairman Mao watches. I bought two, feeling smug about knocking her down to less than half the asking price.
Only later do I realize that I should have halved that figure again to get close to the going rates in the Pearl Market, the city’s greatest repository of cheap Chinese tat. I picked up a fake silk scarf, a knock-of Swiss Army murse, and sundry other knickknacks that I briefly, regrettably, believed I couldn’t live without. Those fake mahogany tea measuring spoons with the carved bunny on the handle? Priceless.
But hurry—places like the Pearl Market may not be around for much longer as Beijing transforms before our eyes. To drive past its staggering Olympic village, a showcase of the world’s greatest architects is to realize that the center of power is shifting irrevocably from Washington to China.
The new Beijing airport, alone, puts the U.S. to shame. It was designed, like everything else in this city, by size queens, but it’s also clean, intuitive, and a joy to behold.
One thing that is definitely not a joy: Beijing’s gay scene. For a city of 17 million, gay men and women are shockingly underserved. Late at night I found myself at Destination, the sole gay club in the city, and a depressing reminder that not everything in Beijing is progressing at the same speed.
--From Out's Editor-in-Chief, Aaron Hicklin