As I walked back from the subway tonight in the clinging heat, I felt like I was floating. No, perhaps “coasting” is a better word. My legs were like rudders guiding my upper body smoothly and wordlessly through a thick, heavy sea of humidity. I watched the late evening Beijing sights like I was leaning over the railing on a slow moving cruise ship and being carried along.
It was dreamlike.
I’m tired tonight. I had a long day visiting friends which came on the heels of a long night of partying the night before with the university crowd. It was a celebration because our exams are over and the courses have come to a close. They’re all out again tonight, but this student (i.e. the one who is about an average of ten years older than everyone else here!) cannot keep this pace. I chose to head back to an air-conditioned dorm room to cool off and be languid.
And tonight is truly a night for the word “languid.”
Besides, I was in jeans and sneakers all day in the intense heat and I feel like a human stew. It’s not pretty and it doesn’t smell inviting. I really outta be alone tonight!
As I was walking home, though, conscious of this being my last week here, I was taking it all in like scenes from a movie. Sometimes I see my life here a bit like that, as though I’m writing my life over again and I’m the protagonist in the script who can choose what happens next – a “Choose-Your-Own-Adventure” film, perhaps. And, “shuo shi hua” (to tell you the truth), it’s almost like that for me here. I ride the tide of contacts and activity often not knowing what will come next; it’s a beautiful reality. I feel so far removed from my home in a Canada – a world of pre-scheduled tours and travels, some of which are pre-booked a whole year in advance. This spontaneity, or option for spontaneity, has been so incredibly liberating.
I’m going to miss it.
Tonight’s dreamy feeling started when I walked into the mouth of the subway at Chaoyang, downtown. I was washed with the sounds of cheesy pop music coming from the CD vendor’s small stereo at the bottom of the stairs. Often the subway entrances have vendors selling a variety of things and pirated CDs and DVDs are among the popular items. I have seen this vendor before, a young guy who is often strumming a guitar along with the songs, and his music is always playing. Or, shall I say it is always crackling out the speakers that are too small to handle his penchant for loud volume. This time, the song was a soundtrack-style song with fully orchestrated keyboard strings and wind chimes and soaring vocals. As I walked down the passageway under the street, the sounds of this twinkling music fading behind me felt like the score to a movie that was just beginning. It set my thoughtful tone for the whole forty-five minute trip back to Wudaokou.
I got out at the Wudaokou stop along with the many other young people pouring onto the platform. I took up my place in the spilling students going down the steps of line 13, an aboveground train, and eventually found myself on the sidewalk and being carried eastward towards my campus in the same crowd.
I first crossed the train tracks that are right beside the subway exit and I took in the track keeper’s residence. I’m not sure what his official title is, but each side of these tracks consists of a small residence space and the people who live and work on each side are responsible for the railway crossing, i.e. the announcements, the lowering and rising of the traffic arms, the security, etc.
(Well, I was told that they don’t actually live there, but it sure looks like a home to me…)
This south side looks more elaborately lived-in than the north side with laundry hanging outside the small square living quarters, a veggie garden planted on one side of the tracks in the empty plot of land (I love that there’s a garden right here in this busy urban railroad crossing!), and potted flowers in the mini courtyard. This worker has truly tried to make it a home in such a public place.
Then, just moments later, I am gliding past the outdoor restaurant and markets where vendors sell food on skewers (chuars) and steamed corn and beer. In fact, you can get just about anything here, including vegetarian fare, as long as you’re not picky about where it’s cooked. There are piles of seafood and meat and then lots of vegetables to choose from.
It is crowded on a non-rainy weekend night with tables and chatter everywhere. During the day, this open lot is deserted, but at night everything comes alive. The smells of cooking and smoke and clatter of glass bottles all hit me at once. The angle of the smells and sounds reminded me of a sudden laugh track in an old sitcom at a moment in the script that isn’t that funny. I’m not part of the merriment, but it is alive in another dimension, piped into my state of mind anachronistically.
My cruise continues, bound for its only destination: home.
(Or at least, the closest thing I have to home here, which is my dorm room.)
Crossing the street and rounding left down the pathway to the west-gate of my campus, the energy on the street has calmed. The heat is keeping the edges duller here. I slip in through the west gate past the childlike guard who is dutifully holding his rigid position and I swerve around the basketball courts to my dorm building. When the door finally closes behind me, my pants and sneakers find the floor and I sit around in my underwear enjoying the air conditioning and letting the day frame itself around my thoughts.
It is only nine o’clock at night and the credits are going to start rolling any moment. This short film of my evening is coming to a close, free of dialogue but full of sights, sounds, smells and feeling.
All we need now is a repeat of that cheesy pop music and it would be a full-circle Beijing night. Oh well, I’ll just have to replay it in my mind, fuzzy speakers and all.
Cue the wind chimes.