Bucharest Stories and Tips

Bucharest and Beijing

The premise of this article may sound a little far fetched. However, I am going to beg the reader to suspend judgement until the culmination of the next few paragraphs as I do believe the observations I am about to detail to be rather insightful. My main point is that after spending an afternoon in Bucharest, I found myself continually comparing it to China, where I spent four very happy years of my life. Perhaps I should a little more specific here before we move on. Bucharest reminded me of China when I first arrived in 2006 as the surge of economic growth really began to gain speed.

As I already stated, I understand that this may all sound a little contrived and perhaps a touch stretched. Therefore, I will begin by acknowledging the raft of potential criticisms. The first would, quite obviously, be that the people are very different (dark hair aside). The second would be the distinct absence of any signs of Chinese language or culture. And, the third would be that much of Bucharest has a tremendously French influence. Many of the buildings look French and there is even a war memorial that looks remarkably like the Arc du Triumphe (It is called the Arcul du Triumphe). As an aside, to give some background information, the Romanian language is actually closer to French than either Italian or Spanish. All of the above are very strong reasons to declare that the premise of this article is utter balderdash. However, I am not so sure.

After I have spent so much time describing why my assertions are wrong, I should probably begin to build my argument, which I believe to be rather forceful. I want to start from a historical perspective. Both countries spent the majority of the latter half of the past century mired in the stagnation of Communist rule. Both only managed to re-emerge into the outside world during the 1980s. China did this a little earlier and has been more successful in its growth into a market economy. Therefore, cities like Shanghai and Beijing are almost completely void of the signs of the Communist past - ancient treasures remain, but much recent history has vanished. Bucharest is not that far along and the signs of the past are clear to see.

The first way in which the 1950s-1980s are still alive and well is the architecture. I found Bucharest to a rather pleasant, but slightly shabby city. Communist regimes across the world were fans of wide boulevards and intimidating blockish buildings. In many of China's smaller cities this style was king. In Bucharest too, the city planners did not seem to deal with single lanes. It was four roaring lanes of traffic or nothing. Along these wide expanses of tarmac - slightly crumbling tarmac - stood plenty of apartment blocks that had certainly seen better days. They were all built in the 1980s and looked like a child's building blocks. This reminded me of Tianjin in northern China when I first moved there in 2006.

The final aspect of Bucharest that brought back memories of China was the prevalence of foreign logos. Just as in China they were everywhere. There were outlet stores, there were malls and there were small shacks all emblazoned with Nike, Calvin Klein and the like. This was the case in China in 2006 also. However, in both situations these brands were not housed in shiny boutiques in glistening malls - in China that would come later - instead the logos were sinply stuck, sdraped or even painted on. In gave the impression of a new market economy being super-imposed onto the old socialist system.

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