Reflections on a Wandering Life.....

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Change. It was five years ago this evening that I flew into Beijing from Los Angeles. I was thinking today about the changes that have taken place in this city since then. Construction has slowed a little--there isn't as much building going on now. But so many buildings have popped up out of nowhere since I came. Part of it is the natural result of rapid development. But a good measure of it in my neighborhood had a lot to do with the Olympics. The Olympic Tower is right across the street from the North Gate, and the Bird's Nest is just a few miles to the East.

August, 2006
The dollar twenty cabs are all gone now. The flag drop fee is still 10 kuai, but the rate per kilometer is up to 2.00. When I first came, the little Xiali cabs were 1.2 kuai, and the slightly bigger ones were 1.6. The price is a little higher now, but the cabs are much nicer. Lots of Hyundais. But even though those little Xiali cabs were pretty small, they weren't that bad for one person, and quite a bit cheaper if you were going all the way across town. Usually, the little ones wouldn't take you to the airport, though, because they were not allowed to pick up passengers from there. But I don't need to take a taxi to the airport, because the airport shuttle stops at the North Gate and the price is still 16 kuai.

I have written before about all the little restaurants near the West Gate that were destroyed a couple years ago when the whole West side was leveled. And the hutongs (alleys) with their many, many courtyards are slowly being eaten up by development. Fortunately, some of them have been bought up by foreigners who are remodeling them. In one sense, you can't blame people for selling out, because many of the courtyards would need quite major repair in order to be comfortably livable. Presumptuous, perhaps, for someone like me to tell them to continue to live in those neighborhoods so that I can continue to ride through them of an autumn morning.

Subways. The old subway map had two subway lines and the horseshoe-shaped light rail to cover the north side. Largely because of the Olympics, the situation has changed quite a bit since then. The most significant change is Line 10, which runs all the way from the western part of the Haidian District, to the CBD (Central Business District) over on the east side. But Line 5 is also very useful, because it allows me to avoid the Xizhimen interchange when I'm going into the city. Eventually, there will be a subway line going all the way to Fragrant Hills. I'm not sure what I think about that. That might not be such good news. Not all changes are good. But the new subway lines do make things easier if you need to go across town for any reason.

But there are also things that don't change. Sidewalk merchants. They lay their stuff on a big cloth on the sidewalk. If the cops show up they can roll up their stuff and be gone very quickly. I've seen them do it several times. And the street vendors who sell food. Like sweet potatoes. Really good on a cold winter day. And in spite of all the development, Beijing still has plenty of bicycles and bicycle lanes. For this, I think the city planners of Beijing deserve to be commended. Even when they build a new freeway, they include a bicycle lane, which will take you right and over the cloverleaf to the other side. In the parlance of Microsoft, we would say that Beijing is backwards compatible. And history. History never goes away. Well, I guess it does. It slowly slips into the past, but the older it is the more slowly it moves. There's lots of it in Beijing. Every time I ride my bike down to Houhai, the old Bell Tower and Drum Tower are still standing there, just minding their own business.

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