Friday, May 28, 2010

Haiku for the week

Mercury rises,
Sweating city moves outdoors:
Sidewalks come alive.

For the past two years, with the government's exaggerated anxieties about first the Olympics and then the nation's 60th anniversary celebrations, Beijing's traditional street life has been at least partly suppressed: many bars and restaurants have been sternly discouraged from putting out any furniture on the sidewalks in front of their businesses.

Finally, it seems, we may be seeing a return to normal. Over the past week or so, it has been starting to get really hot here, and occasionally a little humid too. Most folks in the poorer neighbourhoods where I live don't have any air-conditioning (or are too thrifty to use it), so they spend summer evenings loafing around the streets, squatting on their stoop or on a tiny stool outside their favourite local xiaomaibu (a hole-in-the-wall convenience store, of which there are, around here, usually at least three or four in every hundred yards); many of them will even set up camp-beds on the sidewalk and attempt to sleep outside. Even our killjoy government couldn't really suppress these behaviours. But the buzzier atmosphere you get from having almost every restaurant move outside too, from having the sidewalks crowded with people drinking and snacking late into the night - that has been missing this past two years. I was therefore quite shocked - shocked, but very pleased - to discover when heading out to dinner a couple of nights ago that the hutong where I live was thronged with plastic stools and collapsible tables. This is what a Beijing summer is supposed to be like.

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