Yearning for the Old

Liulichang on a December Saturday

from The Blue Lotus

Sentimentality is suspect, especially in Western travellers (I mean — everyone needs pennicillin and the other miracles of modern life). But you can’t help hunger for the antique in Beijing, where you may experience a 12-lane traffic jam on a newly-built road every day. Just one subway change got us to Liulichang Dongjie, a commercial street from the Ming times, now an antiques district–somewhat scrubbed for tourists but not too much, and strangely empty on a Saturday. And nearby, we did a good activity for my sore throat: taste tea in Maliandao, a giant tea district. It’s both a tastte of the past and a living wholesale marketplace. The oolong’s perfume was dizzying (but we already have lots of oolong). We tried pu’er, red, white, black; bought green & jasmine.

Big leaves

Tea test with Joe Weber of BusinessWeek-U Nebraska

Preservation: it’s not that no one’s working on it here, but it’s a race against time. Sometimes I hear about visitors who “hated China”–after experiencing traffic jams, pollution, nearly getting run over by speeding vehicles, & massive jostling crowds.

Probably should have bought this

Some actual antiques

Antidote: Follow your yearning for the old. My students feel it, I know, even as they train for cutting-edge global media jobs. For 20-somethings, everything has changed in one short lifetime.

Paper, some antique

We didn’t make it to Dashilan, the district the student below writes about, but it was right nearby:

“In my childhood memory, grandpa takes me here once a month, to walk the streets, narrow and crowded but in a lovely way. We purchase some daily goods, like shoes, scissors, tea, and clothes. I still remember holding my grandpa’s hand and squeezing our way back and forth from one store to another. Today, Dashilan has totally changed its form. The street must have widened three times at least. And it also has become much cleaner a place. But where is the savor of Kaorouji’s roast meat? Where is the refreshing smell of Zhang Yiyuan’s tea? They are part of my childhood memories. Today we walk without mentioning the past.”