Before arriving in Beijing, I had very little interest in China, even when understanding its economic importance. Now that I've seen big, crazy Beijing, however, I'm much more interested.
The contrasts between Moscow and Beijing are the first things that struck me. In Beijing, you can smile at strangers and it's not creepy. There are restaurants, bars, and general activity everywhere. Everything is CHEAP. There are SO MANY people! In Moscow, streets are often empty, and it's hard to find a reasonable restaurant you can afford.
Beijing still has many obvious problems. There are very poor people everywhere collecting trash and harassing Americans. Many people are trying to sell you something, but it's really more like begging. The city is very dirty, and it's been making me a little sick. My lungs feel clogged, and bug bites are turning into really nasty problems.
Furthermore, much of the development in preparation for the 2008 Olympics is somehow disturbing. The government is bulldozing much of "old Beijing" (read: the real Beijing) and replacing it with Western-looking structures. They've repainted the Forbidden City and other culture attractions, which makes them look more like Disney World and less like a serious historic artifact. I will be very interested to see how the world perceives Beijing during the Olympics. I have the feeling that the Chinese government will not be able to hide every problem.
The economy here confuses me. I see a lot of activity in Beijing, but the train ride through the countryside revealed a deep poverty right below the country's shiny surface. When I get back to the United States, I'm going to do a lot of reading.