I was walking back to my dormitory the other day, when above one of Beijing's distant highrises, I saw a colorful kite gliding in the sky. It was so hard to not believe that the kite flew itself, headstrong, going steadily against the wind. I wondered about the person at the end of the kite. Who are you? What do you do? Where are you? And there I was, surrounded by concrete, and suddenly, overcome with a strong feeling that was so similar to what I felt when reading 100 Years of Solitude, a feeling of fascination with the strangeness of life and the magic of what we've taken for granted as ordinary . Perhaps I was suddenly hit by a wave of magical realism. And the more I got to thinking and let the it set in, the righter it felt.
As someone who likes to frolic in fields of wild flowers and have day dreams about hiking in Yosemite, I was, needless to say, worried about going to Beijing. From the two or three times that I've visited, the capital city has only left me with the impression of an infinite and unending concrete sprawl. But that is just a surface.
It's hard to pinpoint what makes Beijing so magical, so heart-moving, and tragic. It's like a well-made coming of age story that transcends genres and makes you laugh and cry all at once. You root for that adolescent youth, because they're noble at heart, but also hates them when they betray their best friend to hang out with the “cool kids”. Perhaps it is the contrast that makes Beijing so bittersweet. In comparison to how dismally stoic the city looks physically, the people of Beijing have personalize this space and their surroundings and oozed culture and life into every possible nook and cranny.
Here in Beijing, ground means cement, not soil;
Toxic air is accepted and not challenged;
More often than not, snow is made possible courtesy of the Beijing government , not mother nature.
There are rural villagers who have come to Beijing to pursue a better life,
and for them, spending all day on a bridge, selling socks to passerby or competing with two other guys to put the plastic sheet on your cellphone, is a better life than what they left behind.
There are foreign students in Beijing, who are suddenly are rich! because China is cheaper than home. They spend like they are the boss and are treated like objects of curiosity/royalty.
Outside the clubs at night, they run into 5 year-old panhandlers waiting in the freezing cold, who they refuse to give anything to even though they are spending 50kuai on drinks and it's 3am in the morning.
There are people who rent out their kids to panhandlers because panhandlers with young children get more sympathy.
There are handmade kites that are painted by handicap people, who are on one hand being exploited, and on the other hand, employed.
In a country where freedom of speech is restricted, it's socially acceptable, if you just shout as loudly as you can into the air because you needed to let off some steam.
There are young men playing ice hockey on the lake when it freezes over, and wobbly grandfathers learning how to roller blade with their grandson.
When middle aged men ride their bikes on the ice, they are not being rebellious, they just need to get somewhere.
There are adorable kids! with wind-blown red cheeks and animal ears on their puffy winter coats, who speaks with heavy Beijing accents like old-timer cab drivers.
In the country with the world's greatest population, young people have a hard time meeting people.
There are kites flying above concrete buildings.