May 10th, 2009
It’s been a long time since I was last in Haidian, but a friend of lzh’s got married out that way today, so off we went.
I’ve always hated Xizhimen. It’s a collossal, busy mess. When I first moved to Beijing, I’d pass through Xizhimen fairly often, and it took me forever to figure the place out. Of course, it’s also constantly changing… Anyway:
- Alright, there’s lots of construction being done there, and construction creates mess. Nothing to be done.
- Sure, but is making the northern end of the platform of Xizhimen’s Line 2 station entry only and forcing passengers for Line 13 or the northern exits walk a ridiculous loop right round the station really the best solution?
- Still, it is nice that you no longer need to go outside to transfer from Line 2 to Line 13 (and presumably vice versa).
Ah well, we escaped Xizhimen and found ourselves a bus up to Xiaotun. Neither of us really knew where Xiaotun was, just that it’s somewhere in Haidian. So the bus comes, we get on and sit down, it takes us off in what turned into a weird zig-zag through Haidian that wound up killing my sense of direction.
At first, of course, we were moving through the high-rise jungle of downtown Haidian, all fancy new skyscrapers and shiny signs. We did an odd loop right round the Golden Resources mall, covering three of its four sides. Isn’t that supposed to be the biggest shopping mall in the world? If so, I was underwhelmed. And it has an odd facade, somewhat reminiscent of a kindergartner’s collage.
But the bus continued, and gradually the high-rises and shopping malls thinned out and the space opened up. Wasn’t long before we were in the low-rise fringes of urban Haidian with the hills steadily approaching.
Still we continued, getting more worried about whether we’d get there on time- as it turned out, we missed at least half the ceremony, unfortunately (well, fortunately for my ears- I like Chinese weddings, but my ears find the volume just a tad painful). And the buildings thinned still further, with low-rise urban fringes giving way to almost semi-rural edge. Eventually the bus arrived at the Xiaotun stop, and we got off, finding ourselves at T-intersection trying to be a proper crossroads (one of the roads was little more than a country lane which didn’t get much respect from its better-built brethren and wasn’t fully open to the intersection), a recently-planted forest on one corner, a field of villas bisected by the T-part of the intersection on the opposite side, and an odd building looking half-Western/half-Chinese on the corner behind us. No sign of a hotel or restaurant where a wedding would be held.
lzh phoned and got dodgy directions, so asked around the locals. Eventually she found one who knew the place and pointed us in the right direction- the right direction being completely opposite of the one she had first been told to walk in. So off we go, and find ourselves entering some kind of “ecological park”- except all the trees look like the same species to me, and they’re planted in perfect rows like a field of soldiers. We follow the lane to some distant building and discover we’ve taken the back entrance. Walk around the building and find the main entrance, ask which of the multitude of weddings is the one we want, sign the guestbook, and we’re in.
We’re in a huge indoor space that seems to be made out of the human equivalent of spider web, thin steel posts and beams with what might be translucent silk, some kind of plastic, or some fancy glass stretched over it. And vegetation, plants everywhere. This huge space is divided into smaller spaces for each wedding by thin, pink curtains, meaning we can hear every other wedding in the building. We find ours, and find a table with spare seats and two of lzh’s university classmates.
As I said, we were late. Well, the bus driver didn’t help, proving a good example of how the word ‘geriatric’ could be applied to driving styles. Anyways, we’d made it, but only in time for the end of the ceremony. Oh well.
We still got the food and drink though. Still, our table turned out a little odd. There were 3 distinct groups: My wife and her classmates were one; then there were four people, evidently two couples, that my wife’s group didn’t know (and if they didn’t know, I couldn’t know); and me. Well, given the sheer amount of background noise, I couldn’t even hear anything my wife was saying, and she was sitting right next to me, so I simply couldn’t be any more sociable than I was. I could only eat, drink, and enjoy the spectacle from the point of view of a stone-deaf outsider, that’s the state the level of background noise from all the weddings had left me in. But those other four, well. Playing the lazy susan so that the food is always in front of your own group and the rest of the people have cigarettes they don’t smoke and drinks they don’t want sitting in front of them is somewhat less than polite.
Still, I somehow managed to get a good enough feed. lzh helped by loading me up with shrimp- I’d grab one, she’d dump two on my plate.
lzh decided that because we’d come so far, and there’s no knowing when the next time we’d be heading out that way would be, we might as well stop by the newlyweds’ house. So it was arranged for us to hitch a ride in some friend of the groom’s car and off we went, further out into the wilds, past another field of villas and more young, monocultural-looking forest, to an area of four-storey apartment blocks. Yeah, I guess up in the foothills space is not quite at such a premium as it is down here. And thence down to the row of apartment blocks overlooking those villas, and up to the fourth floor. The groom’s parents had one of the fourth floor apartments, and the newlyweds the other, nice and convenient. Not big apartments, mind, but certainly with space enough and kitted-out well, and with windows open wide to get that cool mountain breeze.
Well, we weren’t quite in the mountains, but in that odd space, that wide, flat area where the valleys are opening out into the plain, somewhere up behind the Summer Palace. A nice area, if perhaps a bit too empty. It’s hard to judge from such a short trip, but there didn’t seem to be much in the way of community. A proper, long-established village up there would’ve been very attractive.
And as we were sitting in their apartment, an Avril Lavigne concert came on TV. Oh dear. If this is the state of modern Western rock, I’m very glad to be living in Beijing. This concert came with the lyrics in bilingual subtitles, just to make sure we got what she was singing about. Their ‘look’ was enough, but the lyrics took the cake: I was left with my first impression strongly reinforced: A bunch of kids from affluent families taking regular teen angst and turning it into the closest approximation they can of ‘suffering’. Elevator music, in other words.
Anyways, after a bit we got back in the same car, a Nissan Tiida, I believe, and we were taken back into the urbs and dropped at Suzhoujie’s Line 10 station- perfect, claim a seat and just sit until we reach the terminus, the terminus, Jinsong, being the closest subway stop to our place. lzh took advantage of the convenience of Line 10 by sleeping off the excitement on my bony shoulder. She must’ve been exhausted if she could sleep on such an uncomfortable shoulder.
But that wee Nissan was a pretty sweet ride. Very roomy and comfortable despite its diminutive size, very quiet, and, well, I don’t know, having been only a passenger, but it seemed pretty easy to drive. It accelerated with ease, seemed to handle comfortably. Pretty nice.
So we’re back from our little adventure out into the wilds of Haidian. It’s an intriguing area, quite attractive, but on the whole, I think it’s better down here in Chaoyang.