Beijing, one of Asia’s most culturally vibrant cities, has many interesting sights and activities for residents and visitors to enjoy. Unfortunately, the city’s notorious smog often casts a gray/green pall over the landscape during daylight hours, making it appear dull and lifeless. However, as dusk settles over the flickering metropolis, the streets awaken as the city’s many late-night haunts cast their light defiantly into the unrelenting haze.
Walking the crowded corridors of Wangfujing’s famous night market is akin to stepping into a scene from Ridley Scott’s sci-fi classic Blade Runner. The flashing neon and lamp-shaded tungsten bulbs cast an ethereal glow on the faceless masses shuffling through the district’s tight alleyways. Tourists, romantics, explorers and vagabonds, all from different corners of the globe, plod through this foaming maze of strange sounds and stranger smells, each searching for something different—each vanishing into the shroud as quickly as he or she appeared.
Gui Jie, also known as Ghost Street, is decidedly less mysterious than Wangfujing, but no less vibrant. The two-kilometer stretch of Dongzhimen is lined with dozens of restaurants that hang garish red lanterns in front of their establishments to attract customers. The aroma of boiling noodles and sizzling stir-fry wafting out from the bustling kitchens conspires with the din of traffic and stroboscopic radiation of tens of thousands of ruby-tinged lights to short circuit the brain’s olfactory, auditory and visual processing centers all at once. No wonder some newcomers feel overwhelmed the first time they visit.
It is within this pulsating, incandescent carnival that Beijing’s true character reveals itself. The smoldering streetlamps on every block illuminate a city on the forefront of a rapid transition—a people striving to find their voices and share their ideas on the international stage.
Check out more shots from my amazing trip in my Beijing Express set on Flickr.