Under a hot, grey, cottony sky, we embarked on our first journey in this astonishing land. Right across from our five-star hotel, lanes, jutting into the main street, were jammed with improvised, shabby-looking outdoor stands where proprietors cooked breakfast for Beijingers emerging from the nearby subway on the way to work.
Cooks prepared delicious looking egg sandwiches, sesame dumplings, meats on sticks and other easy to-take-away style food.
Young Chinese grabbed bytes on the way to modern office buildings that loomed above what appeared to be remnants of China past both the old hutongs from the 13th century and drab, low-story housing complexes with window air-conditioning units from the Communist-era of the 50s and 60s,.
Taking a full tour of the immediate surroundings which was in the business district of Beijing, we came across a so-called entertainment district and encountered our first example of "Chinglish," funny, weirdly written English, on a sign.
The contrasts between the old, the new, the poor, the rich, the west, the east were thrown together in this short walk in a hodgepodge that made clear the stark reality of Chinese ambiguity. We watched as mingled traffic of dogs, people, carts, autos and buses navigated the cross streets without much guidance still managing for the most part to avoid collisions. We marveled at modern, clean subways with an amazingly seamless security system, and the landslide of new construction wherever we looked.
While we gaped at all we were seeing, Beijingers gaped at us. When we finally arrived at a dim sum restaurant (Din Tai Fung in the Sun King Place mall) for our late breakfast, the waiters and other patrons stared openly at us as we devoured mini dumplings and amazing vegetables.