This was not my first visit to China, but it might as well have been. What we experienced this week was unrecognizable from the People’s Republic that my mother and I toured twenty years ago. In the fall of 1997, Beijing was a bleak, gray, crumbling, congested, chaotic, smoggy, urban mess. Despite ubiquitous signs prohibiting public spitting, sidewalks were coated with phlegm and respiratory distress was evident everywhere. People were drab, dressed in leftovers from the Mao days; dreary greens, blues and browns, nothing that would draw attention to an individual. They buzzed about on bicycles and loud, pollution spewing two-stroke motor bikes. Crossing the street required playing chicken with vehicles coming from every direction. Whoever blinked, lost. Mind you, Mom and I had a good time in 1997. The food was (and still is) excellent. We loved watching the women doing tai chi in the morning in the scraggly patches of grass that passed for parks and, in the evenings, the couples dancing on wide spots in the sidewalks. As two, tall, white women in China in 1997, we also attracted a lot of attention; sort of like minor celebrities. Everywhere we went, people wanted to have their picture taken with us.
Today is DIFFERENT. Where to start? There are so many possible angles. What struck me immediately, perhaps because I sew and love fabric, was the women. Gone were the colorless, shapeless, anonymous caterpillars. In their place; beautiful, look-at-me, butterflies. For a couple of days, as John wandered through major sights I’d seen before (The Great Wall, Tiananmen Square, The Forbidden City), I followed along and had fun with my camera channeling Bill Cunningham.*
Butterflies on the Great Wall and doing morning exercises in the Temple of Heaven Park.
* For those of you who don’t know who he was, Bill Cunningham was a fashion photographer who specialized in candid and street photography. His fashion spreads ran weekly in the New York Times and were a wonderful commentary on sartorial trends. Bill worked until a month before he died last June at the age of 87. There is a great documentary on him. He was also a friend of Doris O’Neil’s (a tidbit for those who know who Doris was).