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Moving right along (doog-a-doon doog-a-doon)

It’s been almost nine years exactly since I was last in Beijing and many things (an Olympics, for example) can happen in that time. Funnily enough, much of this difference is visible from the road. In ’02 there were plenty of cars along with all the bicycles but they were domestic brands, mostly. Now I peer out from taxis and see the odd bike or tuktuk awash in Peugeots and Passats and Range Rovers. (What range is there to rove over on Chang’an Road exactly?)

Another change is that people use their turn signals now. I used to think that the motorists of Beijing (I cannot bear to call them Pekingese, which will never not sound silly to me, although I have actually seen the term in sober, academic prose) were constantly honking in expression of a kind of irrepressible automotive joie de vivre or possibly in the belief that they could navigate through echolocation. In time I realized that most of the honking announced a lane change, putting the rest of the road on notice. Well, no longer –– like the stegosaurus, trepanning, and the eight-track, the mighty honk has been left along the curbside on the march toward high civilization. I can’t say I’m sad to see it go.

An ancillary benefit of decreased honking is that people can hear one another while on the road and, surely, talking with Beijing cab drivers has to be one life’s great, under-advertised pleasures. They’re garrulous not quite to a fault and to a man (I haven’t run into any women yet –– not so in Taipei) they espouse a kind of universal small-s socialism –– “People are people no matter where they’re from so just nobody be an asshole and we’ll all be fine” –– which I find terribly endearing. One of the first of my visit was also the pithiest: “The problem with Beijing is that it’s too big, with too many people. I get by, though.”



May 2012

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