shu and joe

under construction

Published on January 30, 2006

Everywhere in Beijing, the solid outlines of construction machinery carve out a space against the flat, gray sky. A sky so low it touches the heads of pillowy children, bundled within layers of hollofil and down. It hovers closer at dusk, pushing icy winter air down your coat and towards the nape of your neck, through leather gloves and in the dear space above your socks. People still ride their bicycles in this weather, ploughing through six-lanes of traffic, rosy-cheeked and glazed with determination. Explosions of fireworks break the heavy air, often setting off car alarms and causing an unsuspecting tourist mild aural anguish. I am convinced that all the ghosts who were supposed to be scared away by the gunpowder are long gone by now.

Since it’s New Year’s week, little work is being done and the normal clang of mechanical cranes has been replaced with the sound of real birds flying in phalanxes above the Forbidden City. Their sound, deafening at first, alarmed us with its odd tinniness. Like something from an old sci-fi movie, it bounced off the pavement and reverberated through the courtyard house we wandered into.

“Chinese birds,” my mom offered matter-of-factly. “That’s the sound they make here.” Unlike ordinary Western birds, floating silently aloft, these Asian cousins had magical sound-producing skills. Things, animals, people, life itself behave differently here, her look implied. Normal occurrences to my mom are often new and strange and occasionally beautiful to me. Robotic bird sounds, frozen lakes dotted with bicyclists, hand-pulled noodles, meat on a stick offered up by Chinese Muslims. All completely quotidienne to the average Chinese person but completely baffling and lovely to me.

I looked back up towards the birds, now flying westward. For a few fleeting days, it seems they’ll have the sky all to themselves.

Filed under: Beijing, China

Leave a Reply