feeling autumnal

October 15th, 2007

What was I going to write about? I had thought of something… I don’t want to whinge about cheating students, I’ve done enough of that, but having just finished marking the first round of assignments, that’s what’s foremost in my mind.

There was something else, though, I did manage to drag myself out of that rut, if only for a moment….

The weather has been amazingly clear the last couple of days, Beijing back to its best. Well, maybe not its best, but its better, at least. Looking out the window across the trees that hide the slum and the old, 50s-style housing estates to the 90s-style high rises, the fronts of the highrises and the haze behind them are glowing yellow as the sun sets. This morning, the view was almost the same, except that the southern and eastern faces of the highrises were glowing, and the sky behind them dark.

This morning, looking out the window, I felt a little bit of jealously. Here I am stuck on the  cold, dark northwestern corner of the building, and just a few hundred metres away I see these apartments lit up beautifully in the early morning sun. They looked so warm and inviting.

I noticed some of the trees on campus have a tinge of yellow to them. The fruit that I don’t recognise in our courtyard here is starting to look a bit beyond over-ripe. The autumn winds have started to pick up and there’s a new chill in the air overnight.

Autumn is definitely the best time in Beijing. Trouble is, I know all too well what is on the way. Still, I’m quite comfortable in the winter. It’s certainly better than summer. In winter, you can always put on more clothes. In summer, there’s only so much you can take off before you get arrested, and stripping off makes no difference, anyway. Still, it does get to be a bit of a hassle having to wear so much in winter, especially having to put on and then take off hat, gloves, scarf and coat every time you walk in or out of a door. But autumn is definitely the best.

For one brief season the weather is comfortable- not too hot, not too cold, not too humid, not too dry, just Goldilocks perfect. I’ll leave you to draw your own three bears.

And for some reason as I was flipping through my CDs looking for some company, Xu Wei’s Through the Time seemed just perfect. Thing is, that’s an album that will forever have an unbreakable association with this small corner of southeastern Beijing in my mind. There’s something about the circumstances under which I bought this album. It was when I was living at Shuanglong Nanli, the office was in the back of the BeiGongDa foreign students’ building, and me, the boss and the two secretaries, the four of us being the programme that I was working on at the time, would often have lunch together, more often than not in the row of restaurants that was just across Xidawang Lu and slightly north of the foreign students’ building. That row of restaurants is no longer there, which saddens me, because there were some great little restaurants there and a lot of memories were 拆ed with those places. One of my favourite CD/DVD stores was in the middle of that row, and that little store made a huge contribution to my collection of music and movies. Sometimes, on the way out from lunch or some other meal, I’d hear some good Chinese music coming over the speakers in that store, and ask for the CD. I’m pretty sure that’s how I introduced myself to Xu Wei. And Wu Bai, and many other musicians.

Anyway, that store and those restaurants are gone, now. Victims of Beijing’s never-ending urban renewal. Sometimes I just wish Beijing would stand still- on some clear autumn day  like today- but then, it wouldn’t be such a damn interesting place to live in, would it?

The other day, Friday, actually, I needed to pick up some extra beer because I had the other male foreign teachers coming over for a few drinks, and I thought I should drop by the bank and get some money, because we’d need to eat at some stage. So I thought, there’s that Agricultural Bank just off Wusheng Lu, that’ll be the closest Ag Bank- might as well be ä¹– for once and take money off my Ag Bank card, like I’m supposed to for spending money, from an Ag Bank machine so that I don’t pay the cross-bank charges. Murphy’s Law kicked in, of course, and the Ag Bank machine was out of money. Well, I thought, I guess the nearest other bank would be that Bank of China opposite Jinbaiwan and the apartment we lived in for three months. So I went there, and got my money. Then to drop by the market and pick up beer the quickest way was to duck through the alleyways I used to spend so much time wandering through. The alleyways between Wusheng Lu and Xidawang Lu are an entire town in themselves. In fact, Wusheng Lu and the various alleyways and housing estates running off it between the Third Ring and Xidawang Lu are the equivalent of a large provincial town in New Zealand, a Nelson or Timaru or New Plymouth. Everything you need is there, there’s no real reason to ever step outside that area. And it’s a very small, very compact area. But I digress. As always. So I cycled off through the alleyways, reminding myself of all the twists and turns and idiosyncracies.

I think I’ve found the only part of Beijing that is not in a constant state of flux. Well, in the three years between me (stupidly) leaving BeiGongDa and returning, sure, Songyu Beilu has been pushed right through so that it meets up with Xidawang Lu, and one of the markets has been seriously renovated (or maybe 拆ed? Friday’s road didn’t take me that way), but otherwise, nothing has changed. It’s bizarre. Sure, at each intersection (of which there were many) I had to stop and get my bearings, but that was purely because it had been so long since I’d wandered through there. Otherwise, everything was the same as when we left three years ago. I would, actually, love to get back in to that area and find all the cool, little places I used to know.

Trouble is, of course, I’m back up to a full class-load, and don’t have as much spare time as I’ve had for the last three teaching-weeks. But nevermind, I’m sure I’ll find time and excuses to disappear into those alleyways soon enough.

But really, every little experience of this small corner of Beijing, no matter how infinitesimally insignificant, since July has reinforced just how much I love this little corner of the ‘Jing. Really, outside of Yanqing, this is by far my favourite part of the city. I can think of many other areas I wouldn’t mind living in, perhaps even a few I would like to live in, but this is the only corner of downtown Beijing where I actually want to live.

The sun has set and the haze has faded to a pastel pollution salmon. lzh is on her way home, and then we’ll go over to the 6th cafeteria for cheap but good eats.

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