Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Past Meets Present

Let’s be honest: Beijing is not a beautiful city.

In fact, it’s dusty, gritty, grimy, polluted, and several other kinds of dirty that I can’t think of the words for just now. In addition, it’s crowded and has the most chaotic traffic I’ve ever encountered. (No, I haven’t been to your hometown, so yes, maybe your drivers are worse, but believe me, this is bad.) The pedestrian is at the absolute bottom of the pecking order, getting to cross the street only when every car, bike, scooter, motorcycle, truck, bicycle rickshaw, taxi, horse-drawn carriage, and pushcart driver who wants to run the red light has done so, To stroll Beijing is to risk death half a dozen ways, ranging from emphysema to being run over by a melon vendor.

But, Beijing is also a city of amazing sights that everyone should see once, and for me, it’s a place full of personal history that I’m glad to return to. I’ve revisited sights I remember from 1992, and connected with two people I am very happy to have seen. One is my host, Tim Pettus, who is the father of a good friend I met while studying Chinese in college. The other is a long-lost friend named Matt, who was my T.A. in freshman year Mandarin class. We’ve been in sporadic touch over the years, but I hadn’t seen him since he graduated from college in the summer of 1990. I remember Matt at 22, wearing jeans and a yellow hoodie that may have been the only warm garment he owned. The man who got out of the taxi cab was wearing a dress shirt and blazer, and carrying a briefcase, simultaneously paying the driver and checking in on his kids by cell phone. But I recognized him instantly, and we had a great time catching up over dinner with his family. He lives here now, having created a life for himself in the suburbs of Beijing. It was strange but beautiful to see someone I remember as a big kid with a house and kids of his own. It reminded me that while it may seem like little changes from day to day, 15 years of days can add up and somehow make you a grown-up without your even realizing it.

Here's my Beijing photo gallery.

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