Tuesday, November 10, 2009

I Happen to Like Beijing

I never thought it would happen. I grew up reading about Red China and became politically conscious during the Cultural Revolution. Historical China was bright and vibrant and a leader of all world civilizations. China of my lifetime was bleak and dour and badly dressed. Its art was garish and laden with poster propaganda. It had no literature and its dance was a bad joke.

And yet I've never met a lion dance I didn't like. My last neighborhood in the U.S. was Seattle's "International District," which a less politically correct city would dub "Chinatown," and I would hear drums and gongs and firecrackers and hit the streets of my neighborhood to follow the lions. They delighted me, and so did the old ladies of my neighborhood, kickass old broads who owned their streets, as mean as those thoroughfares could be at times. That should have given me a clue about where my heart might lie, but no.....

I can't blame it on autumn, although that seductive season is when I was last in Beijing. And of course autumn is only glorious when there are trees and trees only exist in cities that are highly evolved. (There are damned few in Bangkok.) So yes, perhaps I fell in love with Beijing's trees, cypress and poplar and weeping willow and ones that look like a variety of oak and ones that resemble Siberian Pea trees that grow in Alaska--but then I would have to give full credit to the people who have filled their city with leafbearing trees, and I do.

It is the people who live there who make me love China's capital city. Joie de vivre is not a term I usually associate with Communism but when I walked down a street after dark and heard music and then saw a large throng of people swingdancing in a space near the Worker's Stadium, that is the phrase that immediately came to mind. Old people, young people, women dancing with women, people dancing alone, right beside a busy sidewalk, without selfconsciousness and with palpable enjoyment--I watched and smiled and kept smiling all the way to the subway station that took me back to my guest house.

It was not an isolated spectacle, I saw this over and over again during my two weeks in Beijing, as well as old men wearing bright and tight Speedos plunging into lakes in the late afternoons, swimming vigorously and emerging with bodies filled with goosebumps and looks of justifiable pride. Old people sang in pavilions near Beihei Park's stunningly beautiful lake, and one group performed what looked like selections from Beijing opera, with professional skill and aplomb, shaking hands with their audience at the conclusion of their performance and thanking them.

Chinese culture is a gift old people give to those around them, and their triumph is quiet but glowing. They survived a revolution that was cruel and terrible and has at last brought a better life to the country. With generosity and elan, they provide a living testimonial to the victory of culture over politics. They are beautiful to see and they carry lessons on how to grow old with joy. I hope they will teach me how to do this one-quarter as well as they do--and I can't wait to begin to learn.


Kim said...

This is such a lovely piece. Makes me want to hop on a plane for China right now. Thank you.

janet brown said...

Thank you, Kim--

Anonymous said...

Hi Janet,

Just read your book and loved it! Your experiences so resonated with many of my own when I lived in Bangkok. Are you back there?

I am writing also with a question. I had submitted three stories to Joe Cummins for To Thailand with Love. He had accepted them before turning the project over to you, and was surprised to hear that I had not received word from you. Would you please let me know the status of my stories and if you plan to include some/all of them in the book.

my email addy is kk13dd (at) yahoo (.) com

Thanks very much,
Dawn DelVecchio