Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Crossing the line

I have just become a Dongcheng boy for the first time.

Well, nominally, I was a Dongcheng boy in my first year here too, but that always felt phoney. Dongcheng – the ‘East City’ – is plainly distinguished from the western half of central Beijing, Xicheng, by the meridian running through the nearby Bell and Drum Towers and on south to the Forbidden City, which it neatly bisects (oh, those fengshui-crazy Chinese urban planners!). There might be some sense in shunting the boundary sideways a little bit for administrative purposes, since the nearest major north-south road – Jiugulou Dajie – is 100 yards or so to the west of it. But my first digs were to the west side of that. The city fathers chose to steal the first row or two of houses on the far side of the street from Xicheng as well.

But now……. I’m definitely an eastsider.


JES said...

Yes, yes, yes -- geography, all that.

But what does it mean to be an eastsider? Is it like New Orleans, say, in which to say you live in the Quarter is vastly different from saying you live in Treme? Are you close to a grocery, a source of good DVDs, and (one hopes) a bank???

(Apologies if you've already covered this -- just started working my way backwards.)

Froog said...

Have you lived in NO, then, JES? I've visited a number of times, but I don't recall ever hearing of Treme.

I am still scoping out the neighbourhood, having been there less than a week. But it does appear to be uncommonly well provided for - there's a decent little fruit shop directly across the road from the front gate of my building, and a fair large Chinese supermarket - one of the Chaoshifa chain - 5 minutes down the road.

There is certainly scope for a much longer post on this topic, but in essence, the city districts in Beijing are so huge as to be meaningless in defining a 'spirit of place' or a neighbourhood character. There's no difference at all between Dongcheng and Xicheng in the centre of the city, but a contrast does start to become evident towards the east and west fringes, close to the 2nd Ringroad.

For expats, the main difference is 'city centre' (mostly around the Houhai/Gulou area, where I have always lived) and 'east side' (originally mostly around the Lido Hotel complex - although there's a whole villa township called Shunyi, much further out, and a number of upscale apartment complexes around the CBD, and latterly some rather cheaper developments around Shuangjing in the south-east corner of the city) - although there's also a huge student enclave in the north-west, centred around Wudaokou.

Eastsiders tend to have more money, more affluent and western-oriented tastes, and (perhaps, sometimes) less interest in Chinese history and culture. The city centre dwellers tend to be a bit younger and a lot more boho.

But it's dangerous to generalize...

Froog said...

So, yeah, this short piece (did you notice how short it was?) was kind of an in-joke for Beijing residents. I'm not really an "eastsider" at all; I've just moved a couple of hundred yards across an arbitrary administrative boundary, but am still "a Gulou boy" through and through.