Monday, 3 September 2012

Lost and Found

Looking out at Dongsishitiao around 10am on Monday
Today was absolutely gorgeous -- after the rains the sky was so clear and blue today it was amazing this was Beijing.

Friends had told me that just before I arrived the air was so polluted, with no wind to clear the air or rain to wash the dust away.

Mao just barely visible behind the green sheeting
It wasn't too hot and perfect to walk outside which is what I did.

Before lunch I paid a quick visit to Tiananmen Square but was disappointed to see the Gate of Heavenly Peace with Chairman Mao's portrait obscured by green scaffolding. Perhaps they are fixing up the area before the 18th National People's Congress, the date of which has yet to be revealed.

The square itself is looking less like a square and more like a concrete park with large rectangular screens broadcasting feel-good images of China, and more greenery perhaps to soften up its image. However there are intense security checks just to get into the square which completely deters anyone from even thinking of doing something that could cause a ruckus.

I crossed over to the north side and walked towards Wangfujing. Many people were eating yogurt popsicles, hanging out on street benches napping or chatting amongst themselves.

Wangfujing is just as commercial as it's always been. While Louis Vuitton and Gucci don't have an overt presence, stores like Nike, Van Cleef & Arpels, Hermes and Zara are there.

Security guard getting his shade thanks to McDonald's
And when a security guard has a McCafe umbrella to shade him from the sun, there must be some kind of guanxi between the government and McDonald's...

However people mostly wandered up and down the street gawking at the high-end merchandise.

While we didn't really need it today, all along the pedestrian-only path there are these tall metal machines with vents spewing cool mist.

It's a great idea to beat the heat, but is it really environmentally friendly, having these machines using energy to pump out mist that immediately evaporates?

Nevertheless, it was even more entertaining seeing some country bumpkins visiting the area, point at the machines and wonder what they were for. They probably thought those city folk just can't take the heat.

An energy-guzzling mist-making machine
Perhaps my happiest moment today was when I got my watch repaired.

Five years ago when I first lived in Beijing, I went to a repair shop in Wangfujing to get my watch fixed.

The repair man chastised me for not taking better care of my watch, exclaiming how dirty it was. He replaced a part and cleaned the watch as good as new and warned me not to get it wet.

But five years later, my watch would stop and start in the last few months and then yesterday the hands refused to move.

So I took it to Wangfujing, hoping the repair shop would still be there -- and it was!

The same repair man wasn't there, but a cheery one who meticulously took apart my watch, checked several parts and then revealed that one of them was broken and needed to be replaced. I can't remember if it was the same one, but I was relieved when the watch started working again.

He didn't criticize me for the state of my watch but cleaned it carefully before putting it back together.

I was so thrilled the watch was fixed as I've had it for at least a dozen years and find no reason to replace it.

The watch repair guy examining my timepiece
However my joy was short lived when I walked to the end of Wangfujing to a hutong where a friend had taken me to for dinner once.

It was purportedly the first restaurant in Beijing after the end of the Cultural Revolution and the beginning of reform and opening up in the late 1970s.

I don't remember the food being good, but very oily, however it was just the historical pedigree of the place that made it special. And it was filled with laobaixing or ordinary people who were probably residents in the area.

So I was sad to see the hutong surrounded by a metal wall and the hutong was demolished.

Where did the restaurant go? Where did the people go?

It's the sad reality of development in Beijing...


  1. Sounds like you're generally having a good time back in Beijing. The one time I visited the Chinese capital (one very hot summer), I recall loving the ice cream on sale there. And how I wish that we could get those candied fruits on sticks in Hong Kong -- funny how they're available in New York Chinatown but not Hong Kong!

  2. Oh yeah those are good! But they don't usually have those until the fall...