Walk­ing the cap­i­tal’s streets is first step to hap­pi­ness

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - LIFE - Hu­tongs Con­tact the writer at cor­rie@chi­nadaily.com.cn

I find it hard to be positive when dis­cussing San­l­i­tun, one of Bei­jing’s trendi­est shop­ping dis­tricts. Like many of the city’s ex­pats, I would of­ten find my­self there at the weekend. But a visit can be ex­haust­ing, end­ing with the vow not to re­turn for a while.

How­ever, I would be drawn back by the wide choice of bars, res­tau­rants and shops. De­spite the packed sub­way to get there and throngs of peo­ple once I ar­rived, I re­lied on San­l­i­tun for shop­ping and eat­ing and paid the pre­mium. But those days are done.

I had a taste of a dif­fer­ent San­l­i­tun dur­ing the dark­est days of China’s COVID-19 out­break. Back in Fe­bru­ary, I wrote of the si­lence shroud­ing the city’s res­tau­rants. Forc­ing the pub­lic health emer­gency to the back of my mind, I went out and en­joyed the peace. On the sub­way, I of­ten had the car­riage to my­self and at nor­mally busy shops, I re­ceived in­stant ser­vice.

When city life slowly be­gan to re­turn to nor­mal, I knew I couldn’t go back to the old rou­tine.

Since my ar­rival in Bei­jing 18 months ago, I’ve re­lied al­most ex­clu­sively on the sub­way for nav­i­gat­ing the city. Now it’s busier again and I want to prac­tice so­cial dis­tanc­ing for a while yet.

My choices were lim­ited; use taxis or start walk­ing. Buses are not yet an op­tion be­cause there is no bilin­gual sig­nage and my Chi­nese skills are el­e­men­tary. I knew taxis would prove to be ex­pen­sive but I fig­ured Bei­jing, a city of al­most 22 mil­lion, was too big to walk.

How­ever, I de­cided to test that as­sump­tion by walk­ing along the Line 10 sub­way route. Hav­ing been a reg­u­lar sub­way pas­sen­ger for so long, I had no idea how near or far places were from each other. To my sur­prise, I found it only takes 20 min­utes on av­er­age to walk be­tween sta­tions. After that, I quickly gained con­fi­dence in mak­ing my way around Bei­jing on foot.

I now mar­vel at how many ar­eas of the city re­main quiet — and how a se­lect few stay busy. I had for­got­ten that there is so much more to see when walk­ing. There are many dis­tricts I had writ­ten off as fea­ture­less be­cause of my ignorance. It feels good to build up a de­tailed knowl­edge of nearby neigh­bor­hoods.

Here be­gan my re­treat from San­l­i­tun, I don’t need it any­more now I know qui­eter places to go.

As a chal­lenge, I’m try­ing to avoid San­l­i­tun for the rest of 2020. I can now take a de­tached view of its char­ac­ter, which is in stark con­trast to most of Bei­jing. The one thing I love about Bei­jing is that it’s a very tra­di­tional Chi­nese city. It has an in­di­vid­u­al­ity that plenty of cities across the world lack due to glob­al­iza­tion.

By stay­ing out, I will buy fewer in­ter­na­tional brands and spend more at lo­cal re­tail­ers. This, I hope, will help me de­velop a bet­ter knowl­edge of Bei­jing and, to a lesser ex­tent, Chi­nese cul­ture. I’m also sure that walk­ing the city will add to my in­te­gra­tion ef­forts.

I don’t ac­cept that hordes of peo­ple are part and par­cel of life in the cap­i­tal. De­spite it be­ing a bustling me­trop­o­lis, I have found a com­fort­ing peace in Bei­jing’s twist­ing and sprawl­ing boule­vards.

Cor­rie Knight Sec­ond Thoughts

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