When we lived in Beijing, bicycles were the main mode of transportation. "Commute hour" found a whole lane of bicyclers heading to work or home in a special bike lane. Now most people own cars, motor scooters, or just take the bus or mass transit. I'm sure that in second or third tier cities there are still bicycles, but today in Beijing they are more rare.
When we lived in Beijing there were policemen on every corner. Even at corners where there was a traffic light, we would see a police man overseeing the traffic. The only place I saw police on this trip was at the main tourist attractions like Tian An Men square.
--Higher High Rises
16 years ago we saw some high rise apartments and business buildings, but nothing compared to today! Back then, there were many of the old "hu tong" neighborhoods from old China. A "hu tong" is a neighborhood with single story houses that are called "Quadrangle" houses. They consist of a main living building, with two smaller buildings sitting perpendicular on each end of the main house. They end up forming a U shape, with a main gate to close it off and form a square.
Today most of those old neighborhoods are gone, and high rise apartment buildings have taken over. It's quite sad to see this bit of culture gone.
The 90's China saw many farmers bringing their fruits and vegetables in to the city to sell each day. I frequented a side street not too far from my hotel to buy fresh produce. But today there are stores where fresh produce is sold, and farmers are no longer allowed to sell on the streets. In fact, I rarely saw anyone selling anything on the streets on this trip! I really miss that!
This is one area where the change has been a good thing. When we lived in Beijing, the food was nothing special. At that time, southern China was more known for it's fare. But today the food is great! It's hard to find a bad restaurant in Beijing these days. My stomach bears the proof.
--The Public Toilets
I remember reading some years back that as part of their preparation for the Olympics, China was pushing a renovation of the public toilets. I was astounded to see this change! Years ago the public toilets were dirty and usually didn't have much privacy. Today, there are doors on every stall, and they even have a "handicapped" standing toilet in each bathroom. Most of the toilets are still "squat" toilets, but us foreigners can still find a sit down one. This was a blessing to me because I have been having problems with one of my knees. The old bathrooms also didn't have a place to wash your hands, but now they do! This is probably the best change of all!
The one thing that hasn't changed is the kindness of the people. Although the China I knew is disappearing, the people are still the same. Sometimes the government of China takes the attitude that they have too many people. The "one child" policy is still in effect. Sadly they do not realize that the people are China's greatest asset!
I have mixed feelings about my trip to Beijing. On one hand, it felt like a coming home, and I felt comfortable being back with the Chinese people. But on the other hand, there were so many changes that I didn't recognize Bejing! But it was nice to be back in the midst of the wonderful people!