A Morning in Beijing

I’m heading into the second week of my stay in Beijing and have finally started to feel like I’m getting the hang of it over the last couple of days. By ‘it’ I mean the basics: crossing the road, navigating the city, riding the subway, ordering food. Not without a few near-misses mind you, both on the street (dodging scooters on pavements is a daily ritual) and in restaurants (duck feet … eugh).

In addition to exploring Beijing’s hutongs, in just one week I have:

Explored Beijing’s art district (798 Art Zone)

Tasted Peking Duck

Taken a cooking class

Watched a real-life version of Tinder on Chinese Valentine’s Day

Visited the Forbidden City

And of course…

 

From overwhelming and slightly rocky beginnings, Beijing has since charmed me. I love its oddness, its chaos, its ability to push me outside of my comfort zone. I love the zero-fucks attitude the people in Beijing seem to have. And the food… let’s not get started on that again.

As incredible as it has all been, the highlight of my trip so far happened fairly unexpectedly yesterday morning. A number of people had recommended that I visit the Temple of Heaven, a massive temple complex, and that I make the effort to get there early to see the pensioners doing their morning exercises throughout the gardens. Pensioners? Doing exercises? Okay then. So off I trotted at 7.30am, expecting some interesting scenes and a pretty building.

And that’s how I found myself wandering through a garden in Beijing early on a Sunday morning. I took the quietest path away from the main thoroughfare and continued to take the narrowest or most-interesting looking turn until I was a little bit lost. This trick has led me to some of the best things I’ve seen in the past and today, it would seem, I was in luck once again. I walked by a large group of pensioners doing pull-ups, push-ups, shit like this, and generally making me feel like a total weakling. Aside from enjoying watching them be total badasses, what I loved the most was how great a time they all seemed to be having. If they weren’t exercising, they were huddled in groups chatting and laughing away. This was clearly their time to catch up with friends and kick off their day in the right way. It felt a little weird and intrusive to stand there and watch them so I walked on and pretty soon I could hear some music in the distance so I let it guide the way.

The music led me down a path that opened out onto a large clearing and this sight:

There were at least 10 couples sequence dancing to what I assumed to be (by the amount of people sitting in a nearby pavillion humming away to it) popular Chinese music. I was absolutely delighted to stumble across this so I took a seat in the pavillion myself and watched. 30 minutes quickly turned into an hour and I was still sat there transfixed. I mean, look at them go…

 

My favourites were the pair in the forefront. They weren’t keeping much of a beat but they danced the entire time I was sat there watching, despite their physical limitations. They were clearly doing it for the love of it and if there’s one thing I love to see, that’s it: passion.

At the risk of sounding like a total sap, at moments I found myself coming to tears. Being able to travel is a privilege and I am ridiculously lucky to be able to do it. Through no doing of my own, I was born in the right place to the right family, permitting me to have both the means and a piece of paper that allow me to stretch my experiences across borders. I am so fucking lucky to be able to sit in a park in Beijing and witness a little slice of life that I never would have known of if the stars hadn’t aligned in a particular way.

But that’s not all; it’s also beautiful to watch people being people. People are just … wonderful. And awful. In equal measure. As humans we have the power to create and destroy, to add beauty to the world and to strip it of it. As a dancer myself, watching anyone celebrate their body and their life through dance makes me feel emotional and … connected.

Any that’s what it’s all about really, isn’t it? Connection, I mean. You can have all the money and success in the world but without connection, it amounts to nothing. And this feeling of connection transcends everything – age, language, cultural differences. I find this concept both mind-boggling and simple all in the same breath. Of course it transcends, right? Humans are humans the world over.

These thoughts sat with me as I eventually pulled myself away from those beautiful dancers and explored the rest of the Temple of Heaven.

And to round off my morning nicely, I came across another scene that filled my heart to the brim and left me feeling so damn lucky to be alive…

 

There is this thing that’s like touching except you don’t touch
Back in the day it just went without saying at all
All the world’s history gradually dying of shock
There is this thing that’s like talking except you don’t talk
You sing
You sing

– Amanda Palmer, ‘Sing’

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