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Bye-bye Beijing, farewell to thee and thanks for the memories

Updated: 2012-06-07 13:37
By Chitralekha Basu ( China Daily)

Bye-bye Beijing, farewell to thee and thanks for the memories

The other day my friends Keiko and Oliver were having a barbecue in the handkerchief-sized courtyard of their siheyuan home, in a hutong off Beijing's Dongzhimennei Dajie.

Bye-bye Beijing, farewell to thee and thanks for the memories

By the time I got up to go home, it was close to midnight. Taxis are rare at that hour. Only a few showed up and were quickly grabbed by people dining out late at the eateries on Guijie Street. And most buses stop running after 11 pm.

I decided to walk.

It was full moon and a cool breeze swirled in from the east. The weeping willows along Dongzhimen North Alley rustled their drooping leaves, tickling the pedestrians who walked beneath. There weren't too many of them though.

Only a few people - couples, mostly - sat on roadside benches, engaged in indolent post-dinner conversations. Some munched on kebabs sold at makeshift stalls. It's surely one of the world's most minimal enterprises, comprising an instantly installable barbeque grill and a few plastic bags containing diced meat and other ingredients, and a bunch of collapsible stools for patrons.

By the time I came up to Andingmen Bridge and watched the ripples cutting the moon into a million shreds, a wave of longing surged inside me, all over again.

As I prepare to wind up my time in Beijing, my home for three years, to make that inevitable journey back to India - a departure I have been postponing for almost six months now - I am deeply touched yet again by the generosity of this city, for its sensitivity to its lovers enjoying their moments of intimacy in parks and on pavements at midnight.

I'm moved by the freedom and sense of security Beijing allows its single women, who might walk unescorted along a 6-km stretch on a nearly deserted street after midnight and not have to worry about being stalked or mugged.

I don't know of too many cities as heady, pulsating, historically engaging and politically significant, while also having an intensely active and intellectually stimulating art and culture scene that continues to attract the world's attention - that are also so safe.

Before I came here, I was told, by helpful people who had had greater exposure than me, that the Chinese could be, you know, "rather inscrutable". I was told trying to break the ice might not be worth the effort.

I could have spared myself the trouble. The kindness of strangers in Beijing is, in fact, one of the city's most endearing aspects.

I had lost the keys to my apartment in the taxi the very first week I was here.

Luckily, I had retained the receipt. On receiving my call, the cabbie came all the way to my residence - halting his own work - to return the keys and did not even charge me for the journey.

On a windy morning in December, a sudden drop in temperature to the sub-zero level took me unawares.

I was wearing a thin pullover. By the time I got out of the bus at Sanlitun and walked to my favorite hole-in-the-wall grocery store, my hands could have fallen off my wrists like dead leaves.

The lady who ran the store was genuinely upset.

"I am not going to sell you anything until you go home and come back adequately covered," she said, outraged at my callous indifference to health concerns.

"What would your mother say if she saw you like this?"

And the other day I had my "selfish-giant" moment.

I had struck up a conversation with a lovely little girl of about 6 or 7 in the subway - she was testing her new English vocabulary and I was faltering with my less-than-scant Chinese.

Predictably, we couldn't get very far. I found a seat in another corner of the coach and moved away. When it was time for her to get out, she ran all the way to where I was sitting, put her arms around my neck and held on tight.

I have had more hugs from strangers in Beijing than in all my previous years put together.

I have a feeling this bank of affection is going to last me a while.

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