Gill’s Reflections on Outer Beijing

I spend time at the airport looking for coffee. Airports are the only source of caffeine in these health conscious countries. Taiwan & China so far have believed in room temperature soups & teas. I keep a little stash of instant coffee to ward off the cold turkey approach to caffeine addiction.

So I’m housed on the 5th floor of a nice apartment block with a lovely Chinese medicine practitioner, her husband & son. Luckily they believe in hot water to drink, so it’s only filling the plastic water bottle that can be a problem. Another wayfarer is with me to absorb some Chinese massage etc. Susan, our host, is self effacing, educated and cooks us beautiful food, melon at the right time to cool the body, other foods for their subtle health effects. The family has very little English. My Chinese begins with it’s my 1st word – ‘itszy’ for ‘together’, suddenly falling out of my mouth. Also Chinese ’thankyou’ – tzhere tzere and “eehow” for ‘hello’.

Her husband drives us & their 9 yr old son, Tien-Nan a short distance to school via the back lanes – kms of muddy lanes through dilapidated patched-together houses, vegies growing in spare nooks, 3 wheeler bikes, kids & quiet dogs. Garbage is piled , not hidden in bins. It stinks & there are flies.

The Steiner school is temporarily down one of these lanes. Several adjacent house blocks have been converted into school classrooms & play areas. Different class areas are accessed by going back out to the lane. The coutyards & classses are pleasant & include Steiner-esque curves, natural wood climbing objects, sand pits, a play hut of bamboo made by the kids & a muddy play pond. They make cooked lunch & dinners for everyone including for us Wayfarers. Sometimes the drinking water filter or the electricity in one class room breaks down. They love our music & the final school concert includes music & puppetry that the kids have been woking on all term. After school I can walk home down the smokey main street past many stalls selling fruit, veg, fresh cooked Chinese food, various litlte grocery shops, restaurants, a hotel, a big modern supermarket, a woman screaming at her child for too long, washing, garbage, repulsive drains, old women chatting together, the dancers, an old man smoking a joint, a dead river, 3 wheel taxis, smart 4 wheel vehicles….to the cluster of 10 floor apartments where I stay, decorated with flowering Hollyhocks, vegies, where people calmly take evening walks with their pure bred dogs. There are even a couple of wheelchairs.

This village is the only place in China where I have noticed many old people or any one with a disability. I think they hide at home or homeless like the man with the fused hip, like mine, at the city train station. Curiously there are many tactile pavements in the city, but no obviously blind people, except the one playing the Irhoo – a chinese instrument.

School organised a guide to take us to the Great Wall one day & the Forbidden City another day. Both hot days we walked amongst crowds of people but I loved it, especially the Wall.

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