Tag Archives: Beijing

Beijing Streetview

Beijing, China. April 2013.

My first view of a new city is almost always in motion, from the window of a taxi cab.

A classmate in university once spoke of her year in India and how it contrasted with her experience of Canada. In Canada she said, the landscape is full of colour, rich green trees that flare up into autumn flames, the deep blues and copper blue-greens of fresh water and glacial lakes, the open palettes of wildflowers. On the other hand, we build in brick and concrete and stone, paint our walls in a staggering spectrum from beige to white. In India, she said, the landscape was colourless, a wash of earth-tones and that, as if to compensate, everything else burst with colour–painted walls and signs and fabrics. Even the food was bright.

I was reminded of that in China. The landscape from Shanghai was a pale monochrome that stretched the length of ride on the train. But from the taxi, details of blue and green decoration danced and gold leaf and the red, the brightest red in the signs and painted characters, the temple doors and arches, an accent and an undercurrent at the same time, not a bass beat but the staff the music is written on.

Bicycles in Beijing, Part I

Beijing, China. April 2013.

This is a season of bicycles. Partly it’s about the weather, and partly it’s about vacations and people having time to ride. A friend has been posting photographs from his mountain biking trip in Switzerland, with trails only a few inches wide in valleys of mountains that go on and on. The Tour de France is riding through the mountains, and apparently, for the first time, there will be a Tour de Banff in the Canadian Rockies. Yesterday families of cyclists rolled along the riverside. The five-year olds push pedal-less bikes to learn the balance of two-wheeled bliss.

Much has been made of the bicycles in Beijing. Nine million of them, the songs say. Bicycles that do not wait for seasons or free time or sunny weather. Bicycles of utility. Bicycles of necessity. Bicycles of shortening the shortest distance between points A and B.

I wonder if there’s a song about the number of cars in Beijing. I expect they are equally numerous, though not nearly as romantic.

Impressions: Trees by the Tracks

Between Shanghai and Beijing, China. April 2013.

I like trees.

Apparently I am also allergic to them, but whatever.

I like the way light falls between them in streaks and patches and flickering shimmers and long shadows like roads to vanishing fairy-lands. How they cut light into shafts that transect the trodden paths and the spaces between. I like how strong trees are and how tall and how even old trees somehow smell new. I like the way they reach up and down at the same time. I like the way they move, bending, swaying without losing ground. I like the way they creak.
I like the way they change the way the air moves, the kind of stillness you feel walking into a stand of trees, like first steps into an invisible temple, the positive presence of negative space. I like their leaves in all the colours and shapes and sizes, the sound of the wind blowing through them just before they fall into fiery fall blankets underfoot. I like the way trees collect snow. I like the patience of trees.

It was a tree in Texas that taught me the value of the smallest patch of shade.

I like the connectedness of trees when they grow together in forests. I like their defiance when they grow by themselves. I like trees that grow, impossibly, through fences and from sheer faces of limestone and granite.
There’s something about a tree that feels sentient. Maybe it’s because they stand up, but it just feels like they know things. The witness trees at Auschwitz kept their silence but made me want to weep. I couldn’t look at them for too long lest I catch their eye and learn the whole story, and I, lacking tree-strength, had as much as I could bear with only the eyes of an hour.

These trees grew in the moments between dust patches on the journey from Shanghai to Beijing. I didn’t catch their story as we sped by, just a vertical impression, a thin stand against the speed of flight and the unsettling of dust.

Shanghai To Beijing From The Sightseeing Car

Between Shanghai and Beijing. April 2013.

The truth is, there’s not that much to see. We often take trains when we can as a way of seeing a cross-section of the country we’re traveling in. We booked passage on the train from Shanghai to Beijing and when we took our places, we found them at the end of the train, in a car with only four seats and big windows. The sightseeing car.

But in five and a half hours, the sights were remarkably homogenous. There were what felt like three minutes of rocky hills, and seven minutes of coastal wetlands, and the rest of the time, we sped through a dusty brown landscape of farmland only occasionally sewn with crops. But the oddest thing to my foreign eyes, was the construction. There were highrises that looked to be apartment blocks being built amid the wash of brown dust and yellow air, near no other building town or village on the flat horizon. Something about it felt like science fiction, like a premonition of Blade Runner or the ending of Mad Max where the lost children find their way home to the desolate skeleton of a once-great city.

“Those what had gone before had the knowin’ and the doin’ of things beyond our reckonin’. Even beyond our dreamin’.” – Savannah Nix