It’s spring, and less grittily so than usual. Not that the air is clean, of course, but the days are warming and lengthening, and the skies are blue or something like it, and we appear to be in the middle of Beijing’s spring allotment of nice days.
Li and I went out to a late showing of the new Jet Li/Jackie Chan movie last night, and afterwards decided that it was exactly the kind of night to be out for a walk. So we walked: north past Dengshikou to Chaoyangmennei, then across the walkway at Longfusi, then up east through one of the Dongsi hutongs. I dropped her off and kept walking – west, through another hutong, then north up Dongsi Bei Dajie, west again through Fuxue Hutong, further west, across Kuan Jie and down Mianhua Hutong to Nan Luogu Xiang, where I picked up my bike. And then I decided to bike around for a bit, since it was just so nice out.
It isn’t quite right to put Beijing into the category of cities that never sleep. Certainly, I saw people sleeping last night: a middle-aged man, against the wall of a Beijing Muslim restaurant on Dongsi Bei Dajie; another man huddled in blankets in front of the temple on Fuxue Hutong; a guy in a bulky army coat in front of the juweihui in my old neighborhood.
But even at that late hour there were people on the streets: a few young men and women piling into a car outside of Yonghegong — coworkers maybe, fresh from karaoke across the street; oldsters sitting in front of a 24-hour malatang food joint, playing cards and gossiping; a small construction crew trucking in bricks for one of the new ancient courtyards on Bei Luogu Xiang; the workers, inferred but not seen, sending down gentle showers of sparks as they put together the new CCTV building on the third ring road. The guard at the military compound on Fuxue Hutong who came out to yell at me when I took a picture of the banner in front of the base that read 百年奥运，中华圆梦 — “A Hundred Years of Olympics; The Fulfillment of a Dream for China.”
I asked him what the first part meant — since this isn’t the hundredth anniversary of the Olympics — and he screwed up his face and said he didn’t know.
If Beijing isn’t a city that never sleeps, it’s a city that can’t quite get to sleep. At the entrance and exit to my housing compound are newly installed LED signs that display the air quality (thus far, only “fair”), the temperature (warming, and fast), traffic conditions (“poor”), and the number of days left to the Olympics. The whole city is counting down, and so I may as well count with it.