I first visited Beijing 14 years ago, when I was a fresh-faced, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed 18 year old, writes Iain Overton. I had been travelling, as a student, on the Trans-Siberian Railway and had managed to blag my way from Krakow to China's capital city for £126.
After seven days of being wedged in a fetid cabin with a grizzly Stalingrad veteran and his Lolita-esque grand-daughter (complete with lollipop), I was desperate for a change.
And what a change it was. China was a blur of colour. Mao's legacy, it seemed, was a distant memory. There was promise in the air. And I was overcome by the smell of Green Tea, the glint of gilded dragons, the taste of fried bean-curd. Now those memories seem like a sepia-tinged photograph.
Beijing today is unrecognisable from that of my teenage experience.
Gone are the tea-shops, replaced by mile upon mile of faceless office buildings. Gone are the hordes of bicycles, once so prominent on the streets, displaced by Four-Wheel Drives and imported cars. Gone, too, are the ancient curving streets, demolished by six-lane highways and glistening malls.
Such is the way of the world. Those of us who experienced the unbridled joy of back-packing when 'Lonely Planet' seemed to be something taken literally (so few other travellers did we meet), were privileged to walk in a world before the Internet, before Starbucks, before EasyJet: when places felt like they were supposed to. Different.
Now it seems you can travel a dozen hours on a plane and disembark in a place that is not that remarkably dissimilar from the place you had just left. Only it is often beset with worse pollution problems.
Don't get me wrong - I am all for world-wide development and the ending of poverty. I truly am. It's just that economic progress always seems to be marked by an absence of finesse. Advancement seems to preclude pulchritudeness. A nation's abandonment of its History always seems to end up with the nation coughing on the stench of its own smog.
I suppose I am just becoming a curmudgeon, but with the news filled daily with the apocalyptic vision of global warming, and the death-knoll of climate change, one can't help but feel worried about China and its push to the modern.
I am glad it is moving away from the nightmare that was Mao, but does its future have to be an immeasurable, concrete-laced, line of cars?
(Iain Overton and Poppy Sebag-Montefiore's films on Modern China at to run on More4 over the next few weeks).