Street Talk, Beijing

Street Talk, Beijing

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!

 

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10 January 2010: Window Shopping, Beijing

2010_0113_2533

Nanlouguxiang is a street designed for tourists in central Beijing. It features traditional looking buildings, which may or may not look like Beijing buildings used to look, pricey shops, bars, cafes, and a few restaurants, and lots of tourists, mostly Chinese. A local resident does some window shopping on a cold Beijing day that has kept most of the usual throng of visitors at home.

 

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30 December 2006: Forbidden City Tour Group

Forbidden City Tour GroupI visited the Forbidden City on this snowy day because I figured that it would not be especially crowded and that the snow would create interesting opportunities to photograph the buildings and interior spaces. I was wrong on both counts. Although it was probably a bit less crowded than usual, there were plenty of people visiting in spite of the snow. As for photo opportunities, by the end of 2006 Beijing’s Olympic facelift was well underway and, disappointingly, I found most of the major buildings within the Forbidden City shrouded in scaffolding for renovations. The day was nonetheless not a loss photographically. Among other subjects, I encountered this tour group of rather disgruntled looking people from somewhere in greater China.

 

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25 December 2011: Winter Swimming, Beijing

Winter SwimmingWinter swimming in Houhai is a cold weather pastime for a (very) small group of Beijing men. I cannot recall what prevented this small area of open water along the north side of the lake from freezing over. But there was more than enough room for a dip and the winter swimmers wasted no time taking advantage of it. I do recall this was a very cold Beijing Christmas day with temperatures below 0°/32°. My hands were freezing holding the camera.

 

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15 December 2008: Reasonably Prosperous Life, Beijing

Reasonably Prosperous Life

The four red characters in the yellow sign at the upper right mean, roughly, “reasonably prosperous life” or perhaps “moderately prosperous life”. Guaranteeing all Chinese a reasonably prosperous life is one of the Communist Party’s stated goals and the expression “小康生活” (xiaokang shenghuo) appears regularly in the Chinese media and Party publications. In any case, I think the expression nicely frames the Beijing street scene going on below the sign.

 

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