A summer evening view of Beijing and its skies (WEI YAO)
Summertime has finally come to the capital city, and everyone stands jaw agape at the wonderful, kaleidoscopic colored skies. Masks are out; parasol parades are in. Is that overhead blanket something new? Did the government by accident discover ways to make fissures in the vast gray concrete sheet that normally hovers above our heads? Answering these queries would be like solving the proverbial riddle, "Why did the chicken cross the road?" There is something so sweet about now looking up at puffy cumulus and seeing two Chinas: one fictional, one real.
In my childhood days one favorite pastime was to lie on the ground to watch the clouds slowly drift toward the Pacific coast. This was part of the "California dreaming" of my youth, imagining travel adventures and dreaming of wonders that only clouds, birds, and airline pilots normally see. That was then, and today I live thousands of miles away from the west coast. Although many years later, living in the Far East, those magical clouds still have power to capture my imagination, reminding one that like the clouds, a person can also cross the Pacific Ocean in both a literal and a vicarious sense. China is indeed an adventurer's mental paradise for the eyes and, indeed, the taste buds—especially now that respiratory masks have all but disappeared.
You need not search long and hard for sweet odors or tastes in Beijing especially if you have a "sweet tooth." Beneath the vapors of the heavens, city bakeries and candy shops are in plentiful supply to satisfy your inner cravings for something special down on mother Earth. Supermarkets and specialty shops carry small, delicately wrapped snacks made from spicy meats for those with a yen for specially preserved snacks in small quantities. A wide variety of hard and soft candies, caramels and nuts embedded in thick chocolates are seemingly omnipresent. Hanging out in the imported goods section of your local supermarket, you can avail yourself of goods courtesy of Godiva, Lindens, Cadbury or Ferrero Rocher.
It has been said that chocolate, with its natural payload of caffeine, induces "a natural high," or spurt of energy. For those who prefer to save your money, you can still enjoy a bit of "eye candy" merely by looking up. Treats for the senses are not confined to those that can be found on terra firma. Everything you could conceivably fantasize about eating is to be found there: Seafood, creamy desserts, and delights like chocolate varieties are there. Whether candy-induced or not, projecting your consciousness to the north of Beijing provides pleasant viewing of the Fragrant Hills softly sloping beneath the horizon.
Keep your eyes peeled above the horizon also for the horned goat's head, the lonely maiden with draping gossamer garments, and ships sailing spread out expansively across blue seas. All these sights and more await you: veritable candy for the eyes. High up in the Beijing skies, there is a feast for the senses to be had. The city's west and southwest may not offer much in the way of visual pleasure beyond the various architectural creations that dot the skylines. Go east in the evening, however, and you will be greeted by several mysterious rainbows planted firmly from one end of the urban landscape to the other. Two Chinas: one tangible and non-evasive, the other mysterious and unpredictable, driven by the turbulent and fickle winds of nature, as well as by developmental change.
Beijing's now taffy-colored skies bathed in slate blue tones bring with them an allure of sugary fantasy and dreaminess. Take a walk in one of the many neighborhood parks to enjoy the fresh air with the accompanying sights and sounds of nature greeting you everywhere. High above in the clouds billowing and drifting are the roots of ancient Chinese legends, like the cowherd and the maiden, or the Monkey King's dominion, and perhaps even the archer with his mighty bow and arrows, piercing the nine suns that are alleged to have once roamed the skies.
You may even be lucky enough to see the titular "big breasts and wide hips" of Chinese author Mo Yan's novel. Idiomatic stories carrying traditional Chinese folklore beyond the realm of books and classrooms have the same power to transport your consciousness to faraway places, as does intensive study of the clouds. Two Chinas: one real and one imaginary. Perhaps you can find which one best suits your tastes.
The author is an American living in Beijing
Copyedited by Eric Daly