time has been slow here, but now it is certain: my days at 57 Department of Internal Affairs Street are numbered. after going through the ups and downs of a solo residency, from crushed-out excitement to awful loneliness, through all the novelties and frustrations of working in a strange environment as a near-mute illiterate, i have begun to see Beijing in terms of the things i will miss:
steamed buns, autumn light, park life, old people, kites, the noise of construction, getting lost, a variety of mock restaurants, egg and lettuce pancakes, pyjamas, markets, surprises…
it is a longer list than this, and i am a sentimental person. but i am SO excited to be going home and back to my life, where the stories i’ve begun here can start to take shape. the creative exhaustion i’ve been feeling this entire year has dissolved over the last few weeks, and though my reserves are still low, i am actually tempted by the proposition of getting my teeth stuck into something big again… maybe not a novel, but something worth thinking about. in my notes i have been calling this sensation ‘itchy teeth’.
There are things that really surprised me about this place when i arrived which i never had much of a chance to note down, too busy being impressed to record my impressions. But they are things worth noting down before they become memories.
Beijing is romantic. Exploring lantern-lit hutongs, cycling to parks, strolling around lakes – in the sunshine, this city is nothing but charm. It is also completely disgusting when the smog settles and some of the weather has been 100% pure apocalypse. A few people have corroborated this impression that the city is a rollercoaster: one day you are in love, the next day you are in hell. Fortunately, the government helps the masses by cloud-seeding for every major holiday.
Beijing is functional, convenient and diverse. It is one of the world’s great modern cities in the throes of huge redevelopment. but it is also more chinese, more historic, more traditional than i expected. in my travels i have become used to the basic sameness of cities – the chain stores and cultural tropes which repeat themselves in slightly different incarnations around the world. but there is a lot that is uniquely chinese about this city.
Although, on saturday i went to a gay bar, and it was pretty much the same as every other.
Beijing welcomes eccentricity in a way that reminds me of New York. There are some golden synchronicities here. Not to mention a good deal of wingnuts out and about. China also likes company. Old ladies with small dogs in pyjamas essentially run the place.
In a city this size, public space has a wonderful necessity and use. Overcrowding does wonders for parks. Exercise is built into daily life in a way that would make australian public health officials swoon. Real estate is going crazy of course, so the phenomenon of ordinary people sharing space in the city might not last. But it is delightful to watch it while it does. And of course, the gap between rich and poor is widening, disappointing, cruel, and visible in the streets all day long, particularly in the phenomenon of new black audis with the horn jammed on running down cyclists in the hutongs… i shake my fist at you, nouveau riche scum.
Beijing is under construction. I am amazed at how quickly and efficiently a bunch of state-based organisations can mobilise resources to build infrastructure – and this is really why i came here in the first place. i wanted to see for myself this energy of growth, the destination of many of the natural resources that provide a livelihood for many Territorians. Where is it all going? From my roof i watch the cranes turn elegant circles over scaffolding which grows daily higher. The percussion of construction wakes me every morning and is still sounding when i go to bed at night. All night trucks move loads of soil and workers shift bricks and reseal roads. It is going Up.