2006.02.17 Beijing

PEK Shop Sign

I've stayed the past week in Beijing, in part to visit friends, in part to avoid the frozen temperatures back in Xinjiang. I hadn't initially planned on passing back through Beijing, but had nothing pressing in Urumqi so decided to call on several people up here.

After arrival at Beijing's Capital Airport my eyes were drawn to a sign along the terminal corridor. The only reason I paid any attention was because I initially mistook the round object in its lower corner to be the international symbol for a radiation fallout shelter. (Such signs used to be common around the U.S., I remember seeing them as a child.) I walked past, then doubled-around, wondering what kind of airport would display a fallout shelter sign with children frolicking next to radioactive materials. After realizing it was a sign for a shop, I decided not to investigate further: a sensible explanation would spoil the surprise of my original interpretation.

This trip to Beijing I've spent the largest chunk of my time with Joyce and Lisa. As with most of my recent visits to Beijing, I'm staying at Joyce's apartment. Lisa moved up here from Shanghai last Sunday. I've been enjoying having additional time with friends--I hadn't figured on seeing either of them for at least several months. We've been catching up, going around town to various restaurants, bars, and nightclubs.

Joyce & Lisa
Joyce & Lisa

While on our way to go out with Lisa this past Tuesday, Joyce and I witnessed a streetfight. I've seen more people beating each other up around the streets of China than other places I've lived. It's usually small-scale stuff, a couple of guys start yelling at each other, then start scuffling around. Sometimes there's blood, sometimes not. People tend to cluster around to watch, I seldom see anybody try to break things up. Occasionally the police do arrive.

What made last Tuesday's fight notable was that, rather than two men, it was between a man and a woman. It was more pathetic than anything. The argument I heard voiced was as follows:

"Are you a man? What kind of man are you!"

"Uh, are you a woman? What kind of woman are you!"

"Oh yeah, be a man!"

Beijing Streetfight

The couple were more rolling around on the street than duking it out, it seemed that the woman was doing better. The man had blood all about his face, in the end they walked off separate ways.

After it was over I realized it was St. Valentine's Day and wondered whether that had anything to do with it. Certain western holidays such as Christmas and Valentine's Day have made it big around China. Valentine's Day has become just as important of an occasion to couples in China as it is to couples in the U.S.. The rest of the evening I noticed lots of men carrying bouquets around the city and heard plenty of chatter on the radio about people treating their partners in various special ways.

Shahnaz flew in from Urumqi the day after I arrived, we grabbed a burger together just east of Tiananmen Square. She moved back to Urumqi from Xi'an some months ago, she'll spend the next few months in Beijing. When not partying, she's spent her time in Urumqi studying French, in the hopes of passing a proficiency examination. If she does pass, she'll move to Paris in October to study psychology. She plans to stay here for a semester, improving her French at Beijing's Institute of Foreign Languages.

Shahnaz may be the only person I know who is even more enamored of the hookah than I am. When we got together to catch up a couple days ago she complained how her present boyfriend wants to control her, asking her to stop smoking and drinking. This is nothing new: half the time her conversation revolves around contemplating whether to dump whomever she's presently seeing. She has quite a record with relationships, but a break-up over hookah-related differences would be new to me. It seems that she told her man she would considering quitting cigarettes, but took issue with him over never smoking another hookah.

I'll be meeting somebody new tonight: my second-cousin, Sandy. While we were together in the Philippines Aunt Kitty mentioned that her daughter recently moved to Beijing for work. Sandy and I have been in touch via e-mail, we plan to meet up tonight over sushi. I knew that I'd be seeing lots of relatives over this trip, but hadn't expected to meet so many new faces, let alone connect with family here in China.

I fly back to Urumqi tomorrow morning. Nisagul is going to receive me at the airport. Over my time away she's stayed on at Chris and Mary's flat. I'll stay there as well in the immediate days after I arrive. I do hope Nisagul and I can find a new apartment quickly. I should have several people visiting me out in Xinjiang this spring, I'd like to have somewhere appropriate to accommodate guests.