It’s complicated. No big city offers just one flavor. Beijing (only China’s third biggest) has plenty. I feel no need to go back (see Disliking Beijing) but I liked some.
[This is part of The Surface of China series.]
Dancing! · Our headquarters was the Laurel Hotel; the district seemed to be called Jiaomen, and it was… nothing special. But it had street life, notably including dancing. There were three separate dance scenes within a couple of blocks. We’re talking about a ghetto-blaster on a stand on the plaza in front of a mall or apartment building, maybe a dance leader, and then a gaggle of couples with wildly varying skill, dancing apparently for pure pleasure.
Another scene elsewhere on the same plaza was a little more downtempo, and then another on a darker plaza very old-school — strictly waltzes — and more romantic.
Dogs · Beijing’s pups are excellent. They’re mostly medium-sized, neither hulking nor tiny, a lot of them somehow look sort of Chinese, and by and large are cheery, quiet, and well-behaved. A lot of them are off-leash, trotting along keeping pace with their people, staying out of trouble. Mostly they look neither overstressed nor underfed, including the ones trotting here and there sans human, looking like they know where they’re going. I gather they are at some risk of being eaten; but a tip of the hat to the non-dog-eating people who seem to be taking good care of theirs.
Silent driving! · In the accompanying Dislike piece I bitched about Beijing’s overly-wide over-occupied streets. It turns out that the big ones come with little mini-streets on each side for use by anything that’s not a car, which includes bikes, motorcycles, and a whole lot of power-trikes, where the space behind the driver can be a seat for a couple of passengers, or a rack for power tools, or really anything in between. What you can’t help noticing is that (in my Beijing hood, anyhow) more than half of these non-cars are now electric. Doesn’t mean that you won’t get creamed and rushed to emergency if you don’t focus (unless of course you powerfully radiate no-fucks-to-give-here), but these auxiliary streets are kind of peaceful, I wish Vancouver had more like this.
Here are a couple of snaps, illustrating the minor-street-off-major-street thing.
Check out the brown polka-dotted thing on the front of the red-coated dude’s bike. I’d never seen one before but they’re everywhere in Beijing. It gets cold there in winter and I guess one of these will keep you warm without having to suit up in a dorky cycling outfit.
Speaking of electric vehicles, China knows it’s got a pollution problem and is working on it. We were driving along a nice modern highway and stopped in at a service center, totally like the kind we have here at home along the highway, and it had a brand-new electric-vehicle charging station.
That car is a BYD, a domestic Chinese automaker that pumps out lots of electrics. If the picture looks a little weird that’s because I fat-fingered the Pixel into “portrait” mode. The driver got a little tense and nervous when the large foreigner strolled over and started taking his picture. Sorry about that, dude; if I spoke a word of Chinese I’d have chatted you up, as a fellow EV owner, wanting to know about the finer points of charging China.
The Temple of Heaven · Our last day in Beijing was the best, someone recommended the Temple of Heaven, and is it ever great. Not the temples, the place and the people. It’s green and away from traffic and has plenty of room for everyone — none of which is otherwise in plentiful in Beijing. Not that it was empty, it was buzzing, mostly with old people, most of them wholesomely active.
Here are a bunch of dudes playing 毽子 (Jianzi), hackey-sack with a big shuttlecock, which dates back 2400 years or so in China. These guys were not young but damn, they were deft, deploying lots of slick behind-the back and knee-to-foot and heel-kick moves, and that shuttlecock wasn’t hitting the ground very often at all.
Then there was this big area full of exercise equipment, mostly occupied, mostly by older folk, here and there a child in evidence. I tried a thing I can only describe as a knee-swinging striding machine, and it made my legs feel great! Wish there was one in our neighborhood park.
Another thing that happens in the park is music; people go out and practice. Here’s one area that attracts saxophonists; this picture only catches a couple, but there were more. They’re within earshot of each other but that doesn’t seem to bother them. I strolled down the middle and among all the practice phrasing it was like a performance of abstract modern music; not unpleasant at all.
Then there was this guy with a lap guitar and beatbox, he had loads of soul. Seriously, check the video.
At another point there was a dude singing opera with accordion accompaniment, and while he neither looked nor sounded exceptional, he was competent and it was a fine thing to be sitting in the green listening to the arias. Did I mention it was green and spacious?
Occasionally there would be a person alone among the trees practicing Tai Chi.
And oh, right, temples too. These are from the Temple of Fasting (also “of Abstention”).
At this point I should say that, while in the “Disliking” piece I kind of dissed the Forbidden City, it had, if you went off to the side, some purely exquisite spaces. Here are two.
Back to the people; here’s a random nice outfit.
After the temple, we went to 京A Brewing and after two weeks of Chinese food I heartily enjoyed a cheeseburger and a very decent IPA.
Then we strolled through Wangfujing, a high-toned expensive shopping district, with a side-bazaar in which you can buy any imaginable food that can be presented on a stick as well as some that never should be such as scorpions, still wiggling. Wangfujing is fun if a little ostentatious, I recommend it.
On our last morning, before heading to the airport we walked randomly around the residential parts of Jiaomen; it was a quiet sunny morning, the pollution not too bad. There were oldsters on exercise machines in parks and playing/kibitzing chess games and just hanging out. A guy working on an electrical box beamed when we gave him a Nihao. The buildings are low-rises, older. I think if you had to live in Beijing, this might not be the worst place.
The best thing about Beijing is the people there. I hope they get a better government before too long.
Comment feed for ongoing:
From: Juanjo Aparicio (Apr 20 2019, at 05:05)
I was told recently blue license plates are for fossil fuel cars, green ones for full electric, white on top fading into green on the bottom for hybrid. Yet the BYD on the picture is at a charhing station, with a blue plate. Surprised.
From: Ronan Martin (Apr 26 2019, at 21:37)
In 2008, our school organized a tour to Beijing (the Olympics tiger was roaring). I can only imagine how much the city has changed since then. I hope to return, but no doubt the experience will be very different when not travelling with a group of teenagers!