"The capital of an ancient empire. Steeped in thousands of years of culture. A city bursting with life and opportunity. A people celebrating their past while embracing the future. A place to inspire. And a journey to experience. This is Beijing, a modern city with an imperial past."

This is how Beijing was described to television viewers in the New York metropolitan area on "Discover Beijing: A Modern City With An Imperial Past," a series of infomercials broadcast on the ABC television network's flagship station in New York, WABC, at 7:30pm on Saturday evening.

The 30-minute program leaned heavily on the classics: the Forbidden City, the Temple of Heaven, Beihai Park, the Summer Palaces (New and Old), with some tea and cloth shoes thrown in for good measure. Other mini-segments included 798 (pronounced "seven ninety-eight"), Liulichang ("pronounced like "Lilly Chang") and finally, the Great Wall.

The informercials are part of an ongoing public relations campaign in the United States, and specifically in the New York area, to improve Beijing's image. The campaign began with Beijing sponsoring a float in that most American of events, the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, which takes place annually on Thanksgiving morning (the fourth Thursday of November) along New York's Fifth Avenue.

The "commercials" within the infomercial all highlighted Beijing's 72-hour, visa-free policy. Which is just fine, except that travelers from New York or anywhere else in the United States are not eligible for visa-free travel unless they hold onward tickets and valid visas for a third country. Some of the frames featuring the visa-free travel message had part of the phrase pushed offscreen for some reason.

New York City transplant, NBA and CBA basketball star Stephon Marbury, appeared more than once, opening by saying, "You are at my crib in Wangfujing, Beijing, China," and continuing, "Coming to Beijing, it gave me an opportunity to explore something new in my life.” He summed up his experience in Beijing by saying, "Living in Beijing and being here is like I fit, I fit right here in Beijing."

Notable cameos included Gordon Kutil of Big Smoke Bistro, Michael Tsai of Palms LA Kitchen and Bar, and Jimi Sides (identified as Jimmy Sides) of The Corner Melt. Sides said he thought what is known as the American Dream was now taking place in Beijing.

New York area residents can catch the program again Sunday morning at 5:30am, Eastern Standard Time.

We still think some of our suggestions to boost tourism to Beijing were better. Even India has a better short-term visa policy than Beijing now.

Photo: Steven Schwankert/the Beijinger

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