Saturday, December 26th: 3:19 PM. I’ll be heading out to the Beijing International Airport in an hour to pick up my shuang bao tai. I’ve been looking forward to this day for awhile, and now that it is here, I find myself in a strange stage of panic. Not only does Joe’s arrival signify the end of my self-indulgen lifestyle in Beijing, but it also marks the beginning of the end of my stay in the city that’s been my home for the past four months. I’m not ready to go home yet.
My active engagement with this city has come in ebbs and flows. Over the past week, I have inundated my mind with the images of Johnny Depp, Kate Winslet, James Lipton, Oprah, the films of Jia Zhangke, the words of Evan Osnos, Charlotte Bronte, sundry Times journalists, and the sounds of Antony and the Johnsons, The New Pornographers, Andrew Bird, and – strangely enough – Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young.
And what a panoply it is! Indeed, I’ve barely taken the time to venture out to the below-freezing middle and east areas of the city. Footage recorded for “the project” has mainly been of foreigner youth culture, national dance classes at the gym, my tutee and his driver, and the Jiaoda campus.
In the past few weeks I’ve only made one excursion into the thick of Beijing sub-culture. A walk down a deserted street, a quick left into a small alley and a descent down an unlighted stairwell led me to the most entertaining drag queen performance of my life, resplendent with Chinese traditional dances, Jay Chou, and glam rock beats. Lithe young dancers and middle-aged men dominated the scene, singing songs and gan bei-ing (downing entire bottles of beer for laughs and money) for over two hours. Men happily snuggled together and fondled unabashedly - a nice break from the homogeneity of Beijing’s heterosexual culture.
Starting at 6:30 PM today, I will essentially be jolted out of what I like to call the “winter daze.” Ah! I’m still here and there is still so much to see – albeit as a consumer of a well-marketed and executed tourist industry. Over the next few weeks, I will take my final exams, tour around Beijing, go to Shanghai, and (hopefully!) go see the ice sculpture festival in Harbin, a city way in the north of China. And I’ve made a pre-New Years resolution resolution: rather than experience Beijing as a newcomer, I’m going to make an effort to document all of the idiosyncratic images I encounter, in hopes of recording some footage/memories of what Beijing is to me, four months later. It’s the only way to keep it exciting; and it’s also the only method to release this city’s inclination to make me a tourist. I just want to resist manufactured histories. Beijing is such a beautiful, vibrant, dirty, dry, large, bustling, empty, and burgeoning city. And I just want it to open up for me. When I go out with Joe to Mao’s mausoleum, Beihai, gugong, and the rest of Beijing’s ming sheng gu ji, I will see a Beijing I haven’t seen before. With my camera in hand, of course.
Seeing again. I have high hopes (and expectations) for it.
And when I go back home at the end of January, I won’t lose it all. I can’t!
When I get back to Asia at the end of February, will the language, my energy/desire to engage grow back like a starfish?