Shijiazhuang

A little over an hour on the bullet train south of Beijing is the sleepy city of Shijiazhuang. The city is probably not known for much besides offering affordable housing for newly arrived ‘Beijingers’ who can’t afford the outlandish prices of apartments in the nations capital. The pace of life is slower here and the small town vibe is a world away from the bustle of its northern neighbour. A wander along the streets finds owner-operator shops dispensing local beer brewed in gleaming copper drums and fragrant smoke from outdoor barbecues perfuming the air, beckoning you to a plastic seat and folding table in an impromptu eatery. Even the traffic breathes in sympathy with the easy rhythms of life here. The city’s charms are subtle: beautifully crafted parks, a well ordered commercial centre with a slowly growing metro system, a modern and an expansive cultural museum, and the laid back attitude of its locals. Inquisitive and friendly to westerners, people go about life with the innocence and simplicity one often encounters in the much smaller and less ‘civilised’ cities and small towns in China.