The scallions are piled high on Andingmen Nei Dajie. That’s how you know it’s fall — that, and the shortening days, where the sunlight comes in at a 20 degree angle earlier in the afternoon than it ought to. By 4:00 the buildings burn orange in it.
Beijing is not what you’d call a user-friendly city. The streets are too wide; the blocks are too long; the climate is not really the sort usually considered habitable by humans. Winter is cold, with piercing winds sweeping down from the northwest and piercing however many layers of down armor you wear against it. Spring is short and sandy – I never knew that was an actual category of weather until I installed the Firefox weather plugin. In Spring, the streets silt up with fine-grained dust swept a thousand miles south and west from the plains left denuded by the grazing policies of the last century. In other places, green is the color associated with the spring; not so here: it’s a brownish-orange, the color of loess, the color of sepia-toned Photoshop nostalgia filters and poverty.
Summer is hot and hazy. There was a time a couple of years ago when, sitting in a taxi on the second ring road, I found myself actually unable to breathe for a space of about 30 seconds. Usually it’s not that bad: usually it’s like being in a movie shower scene co-starring everyone around you (usually middle-aged men with t-shirts rolled up to their nipples). Fall is the only really good season, and it too gives way all too soon to Winter.
But there’s a period in the fall of about three or four weeks when you think to yourself that you could love this city.
The late harvest comes in, and that’s always the sign that fall is fell and it’s time to get ready for winter. The cabbages come in from the countryside on loud blue flatbed trucks, and the scallions, and the farmers with them. They sleep piled in blankets on the sidewalks, nestled in between the stacks of scallions, and they burn too in the sunset.