Beijing was mostly what I had anticipated: Crowded, smoggy, and surprisingly capitalistic. My wife, having lived there for a year ten years ago, was disappointed with the changes rendering it near-unrecognizable to her. Gone were the dirt roads and half-completed subway lines, replaced with fancy cars, shops, and even more pollution, rendering the skies a permanent washed-out blue at best; a dim, orangey-brown at worst.

Even seeing wonders such as the Great Wall and Forbidden City were somewhat tainted. The portion of the Wall we visited was freely admitted to have been rebuilt in the '80s, with a (rather fun) toboggan ride from the top to the bottom of its hill; the Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square completely overrun with tour groups and Starbucks.