March 17, 2009

As Darkness Descends upon Wangjing

Greetings from the Mainland!

If you take a peek at a map of Beijing, you'll see what look like concentric rings.  Four, to be exact.  The innermost ring that you will see on a map surrounds downtown, which is the old part of the city.  This road was built upon the site of the old city wall, which was torn down as Beijing was modernized.  And though this is the first ring on the map, it is called the 2nd ring road.  The next three rings are, accordingly, the 3rd, 4th and 5th ring roads.
Why no 1st ring road?  Well, according to our friends here in Beijing, the perimeter of the Forbidden City (located at the exact centre of Beijing) was considered the 1st ring.  We live between the 4th and 5th ring roads, about 7 miles from the Forbidden City.
Last evening I took a walk down a boulevard to the southwest.  I brought the camera along, just in case there happened to be something worth shooting at.  I seem to think that most things are worth a few milliseconds of shutter time (I get many stares as I take photos of things that doubtlessly seem completely mundane to people from around here).

Here we have a restaurant. Folks in Beijing seem to eat out a lot. This is understandable. Unlike many places in Canada, restaurants here can be quite inexpensive. It may cost 2 dollars for a very filling bowl of noodles. Of course, that same bowl of noodles would cost mere cents to make, but eating out just saves time. Friends of ours (you know who you are) told us about their Chinese friend, who said that although her family eats out often, they like to eat supper at home from time to time as a way of 'staying close'.

Although the above photo appears to be the entrance to a casino, alas, it is only a restaurant. You will have to slake your gambling desires in the back alley, with the men fighting crickets.

Along major roads, the lights are bright. The sidewalks are well lit, and no one seems particularly worried that they might get robbed or stabbed or kidnapped. Compare that with Higgins (if you dare.) However, an interesting feature to the city is that although it is well lit, there doesn't seem to be lot of egregious power usage. Of course, I haven't seen downtown at night, but here in the 'suburbs' people seem to be quite conscious of their power usage. The stairwells of our building, for example, have lights on timers. You hit the button, and the lights go on. After 30 seconds or so, they will shut off again.

In the daytime, the streets are packed with vehicles of all shapes, sizes, and means of propulsion. By nightfall, the number of vehicles dwindles drastically. They still zip along the main thoroughfares, but on the side streets, it becomes downright peaceful. There are still bicycles everywhere, and most major roads have separate side roads dedicated (at least theoretically) to bicycle traffic.

On the side streets, you'll encounter groups of elderly men strolling with their hands clasped behind their backs, or smoking cigarettes in large groups. Women chatter with one another, gesturing animatedly. The window in this photo seemed so dirty and neglected that I had to take a picture of it.

Don't be put off by the following photo's green tint. My camera doesn't handle partial light well, let alone almost no light. Here, a woman was selling vegetables, late into the evening. She had her produce spread out on crates and pieces of cloth, and she was attracting quite a crowd. It's like they always say. If you build it, they will come.

By now, I was starting to get pretty far from the area I was familiar with. I came to a three-way intersection, where the road ended abruptly in a wall. Beyond it, I could just make out the rooftops of an older, poorer neighbourhood. I crossed the street to get a closer look.

I have no idea what the red sign in the next photo was all about, emerging like a neon cross from the darkness.

This side of the road didn't feel as cozy. Was it just my imagination, or were people were staring at me with a bit of distrust? A fellow in a peaked cap shuffled in close, and my hands went straight to my wallet. I became self-conscious (more so that normal). Not just because I was a sore thumb, but because I felt like I was stereotyping the people around me. Why was I at ease around the folks coming out of the restaurants 10 blocks back, and not these people?

It turns out that the guy who came in close just wanted to look at the last photo I'd taken on my camera. I turned on the display and showed him the ugly blur you see to the left. He looked at me and smiled, and I think he said something about how I really ought to stick to daylight photography. But I couldn't resist trying out the shot. What you can't see in this picture is a really interesting night market. Just to the left was a whole array of carts and booths where men and women were selling sweet lumps of dough fried in oil (a bit like Timbits). Unfortunately, the whole scene was putting off about as much light as an indiglo watch, and it just didn't show up on the camera.

So that was my nighttime walk through the hood. I've attached two more pictures I took this morning. It's gotten quite warm (up in the mid-20s during the day) (that's the 70s for all you Fahrenheit lovers out there) and jackets are becoming an unwanted item. Leaves are budding and flowers are blooming.

This tree is an example of one you'd see all along the roads here in Beijing. If it's not called an Umbrella Tree in Chinese, then there's no justice in the world.

And, of course, the apple trees are blossoming! Only a fool or a tyrant could say that they hate apple blossoms.


Laura said...

I love these pictures! It really gives one a feel for your city. My botanical eye tells me that those trees are cherry with cherry blossoms, but I would need to inspect the leaves.

The Freys said...

Do you see and leaves on those trees? Be my guest, Bori!!!!! (Can you tell that I feel threatened by being outdone by my younger sister?)