The workmen on the right walking and talking through the wedding photo shoot made for an amusing scene. Why the photographer has the happy couple standing so far apart is a question I cannot answer. The old government buildings that are the backdrop for the shoot are lovely.
The old imperial college (guozijian / 国子监) and Beijing’s Confucius temple are along this gorgeous tree-lined street. The site of occasional horn-honking traffic jams, the street is nonetheless reasonably peaceful most of the time. I had peace, quiet, and a truly beautiful, blue-sky Beijing day for my visit. The banner – almost impossible to translate into anything but stilted English – says something like “the sacred locale of the national academy, bringing virtue to the entire world”.
Gulou East Avenue runs east from the old Drum Tower (Gulou) and Clock Tower (Zhonglou) towards Dongzhimen. It is a main street, but still a two lane two way thoroughfare in a city of massive wide boulevards. Not surprisingly, it is slow going for vehicle traffic most of the time. Because this is one of the few areas of the city that still looks even remotely like “old” Beijing, it is a big draw for tourists, especially of the domestic variety. I suspect this has made local officials reluctant to widen the street. The fact that the PLA owns much of the land on the north side of the street has, no doubt, contributed to the difficulties of doing anything to widen the street. I am certainly not unhappy about this. Gulou East Avenue remains a two lane road and the neighborhood has been spared the wrecker’s ball in the name of “progress”.
Most of the buildings along the street are relatively new but designed to look old. They are supposed to give the street the flavor of the old city, though I have been told that many of the designs are not authentic old Beijing styles. Be that as it may, I love this part of Beijing. The street is tree-lined and shady and, most importantly, it is on a human scale. Unlike much of Beijing with its massive architectural monuments to modernity that China’s urban planners are so enamored of. People can sit on stoops and while away the time with gossip. And that is definitely authentic old Beijing!
Wuhan is a city of some 10 million people in central China along the Yangzi River. I was more than a little surprised to discover that Wuhan noodle shops and food stands, of which there must be thousands and thousands, serve noodles and other items in paper containers. Disposable paper containers! And disposable wooden chopsticks! I was informed that the shops save money because they do not have to pay people to wash dishes. How nice. You could not ask for a better example of how Chinese and lots of other people deal with the (apparent) trade offs between sustainability and immediate gains. Money appears to win every time. I suppose it could be worse; the containers could be made of white styrofoam.
The beef noodle soup in the picture was quite tasty, but – go ahead and call me old fashioned – it would have been tastier served in a proper bowl. You are hearing from an old fogy who hates drinking coffee out of paper cups, though he has caved in to the inevitable and does so. But I absolutely will not drink the coffee through the little hole in the plastic cover on the paper cup. Not a chance! I take the cover off. There is a limit to how low I will stoop to accommodate the “modern” world. Under the best of circumstances, the aesthetics of food does not play much of a role in a down market Chinese noodle shop. But really, disposable container, disposable eating utensils, disposable napkin… At what point do we arrive at disposable food, disposable eating?
A rainy Sunday in Guangzhou turns a huge downtown IKEA into a mob scene of shoppers. A friend and I ventured into IKEA looking for a place to have a coffee. We got lucky and found a couple of seats in the cafeteria and sat for 45 minutes sipping IKEA’s coffee, about 80 cents for a cup with unlimited refills. A more than passable cup of coffee as well, especially compared to the offerings at Starbucks across the street, where a small cup of the swill Starbucks passes off as a premium brew goes for around $3.00. The photo was taken on the ground floor near the entrance to the store. I held the phone up as high as I could and this image is what I got. After three years away from China, a few days in Guangzhou, and especially a Sunday with rain outside, were definitely a reminder of just how crowded big Chinese cities are.