Red Lanterns and Gray Skies

It is an interesting phenomenon that when we are least looking forward to something…it ends up to be the most fun.

With great joy I anticipated a visit to see my granddaughter in Beijing . But I was not looking forward to leaving home, to visiting China again, and to be spending time in a huge polluted city on the other side of the world.

I LOVED MY TIME IN BEIJING! What a wonderful city of people, history and experiences. There are multitudinous layers of the modern, the ancient,  perpetual activity and calm.

Massive blocks of utilitarian buildings nestle against intricately painted traditional Chinese edifices.  Towers of glass hover over historical arches leading to hudongs (alleys).  The maze of freeways and wide streets surround the walls of the ancient Forbidden City and other national treasures. Serene lakes offer paddle boats, swimming and walking/biking paths circled by restaurants, tea shops and massage kiosks.  A quick taxi ride from the Wang Fu Jing* transports in a straight line to the Temple of Heaven.**  The seemingly endless cityscape breaks for the tree-shaded ornamental roofs of royal rooms hugging the steep slopes around the misted lake of the Summer Palace. (OMG, how many adjectives can I use in one sentence!)

A district of ancient hudongs with cracked grey walls that weaves through small houses reminiscent of our pueblos (but still occupied) is sparsely interspersed with renovated houses; brightly ornamented with bright designs above doorways guarded by foo dogs. Within two blocks is a lovely street with shops, restaurants and strolling pedestrians that could be in Ashland, Oregon; Seoul, or Antigua.

Life on the streets is living in a video game. Cars, buses, bicycles and pedestrians slip so closely by each other they are like water sliding around rocks in a virtual rushing river. The timing is exact as they pass within inches with no collision. Oh, people jostle and rub elbows in the constant dance of avoidance to make it to destinations, but vehicles don’t hit pedestrians, bicycles don’t run into cars and cars wait patiently for trucks and buses. There are relatively few sirens and traffic policemen are seldom seen. Priorities have been established according to size and flexibility leaving pedestrians with the least right-of-way and the most maneuverability. Children ride complacently in carts affixed to three wheeled cycles. These same carts can carry fruit and vegetables from market to restaurant, windows to constructions sites and huge cartons of bottles to the myriad of sidewalk stands selling drinks.

A walk through a park passes a young man lying on a bench texting on his cell phone and an elderly man in the slow and meditative poses of Tai Chi within a few yards of each other.

Pollution makes my eyes water as I gaze at the red lanterns adorning restaurants, inns and shops.

I will always love red lanterns.


*Wang Fu Jing is an area in the heart of the city a part of which is closed to traffic.  Lines of food booths, vendors of goods as well as permanent shops (including KFC) serve the hundreds of thousands of people who congregate every evening in this area.

** Temple of heaven is a historical garden surrounding the temples to the gods built in the 1400s.  It has tranquil rose gardens, lanes through lovely shade trees and pergolas shaded by wisteria in 2,700,000 square meters.

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