Never Alone

Tinny flute music pipes from a boombox in the park. Eight Chinese men and women move their arms and legs vigorously to the recorded exercise instructions. It’s 6 a.m. on the shores of Houhai Lake in Beijing, and the Chinese people rise early. None of the citizens stretching and bending in the yellow morning light look a day under 70.

A Chinese man sets up his fishing gear at the edge of the lake to catch an early fish or two, while people run, walk, and stroll past him. Although the sun has just risen, it’s already business as usual in the public spaces of Beijing.

Protest Without Recognition

The hotel staff who wash the bricks, cars and windows in the mornings in the courtyard of the Hebei Guesthouse did not stop their work or even divert their attention when about 20 elders from the area walked through the open red gates holding banners.

The group was here to protest and no one seemed to care.

A handful of women sat on the steps outside the lobby while the men tied red and white banners from corners of the roof to trees across the courtyard.

Whither Chinese Identity?

Walking around what looked like a more metropolitan area of Beijing one day, I came across an old man sandwiched between a Bentley showroom and a shopping center boasting two huge advertisements for Burberry. He was standing on a sidewalk outside a restaurant, weighing eggs using a simple weight attached to a stick, making a simple living in an increasingly complex, modern city.

Lost in Translation

Our team toured the hutongs of Beijing Friday morning. Hutongs are narrow alleyways unique to the streets of this city, built by the Mongols during the Yuan dynasty 700 years ago. Part of the experience included visiting a household in one of the neighborhoods. Our hosts, Mr. and Mrs. Chen, were in their early seventies. Retired government workers, they were eager to share their home and viewpoints with us (although cynics questioned how much of that alacrity might have been influenced by a possible arrangement with the tour organizer).


"Chinese People Are Friendly"

Before coming to China, some of my biggest questions were about Chinese impressions of the U.S.