Slack with Bangkok heat, I try to separate what I am feeling for Beijing right now from what I feel for fall. Last year when I was there, a piercing-blue sky soared above a thick plumage of gold leaves that waved above much of the city. The air was invigoratingly brisk and each breath I took made every one of my nerve ends feel sharp and alive.
Beijing is defined by its trees for me. The tender pale green haze that washes the city in the spring after months of skeletal black branches softened only by snow is almost as lovely as the blaze of color in autumn. I left just as a hint of green began to emerge and returned to streets bathed in light filtered through new leaves. After a month in the grey gloom of Kowloon and Chung King Mansion, I walked for hours, ravenous for green, through neighborhoods that were transformed by spring into a place that was almost magical.
It took me two long bus rides before I found Beijing's Botanical Gardens, and even then I wouldnever have reached them if it weren't for a boy with the troubled complexion of early adolescence. I pointed out where I hoped to go on a bilingual map, as I had with other passersby before he appeared, and he waved in the same expansive gesture I had been provided with earlier.
With very little optimism, I began to walk away after uttering the only Mandarin phrase I knew, which is thank you, heading toward a park that looked verdant enough but not quite what I had expected. Suddenly the boy was at my elbow, beckoning forcefully toward a nearby bus stop. He led me to it, pointed out a bus number on a sign that was filled with many of them, waited with me until it came, and then told the conductress where I wanted to go. I still get chills of gratitude when I think about him.
What I found when I reached the gardens was landscape that had hints of wilderness in the hills outside the city. What I was given was kindness that was completely unexpected and undeserved, and is a large part of why I now look through my snapshots and feel a small but persistent yearning for Beijing.