Beijing is a city under siege. Not from dust storms (not yet, anyway) or anti-Japan protesters (although CNN would like you to think so), but from something worse, something much more destructive: developers. As in property developers, the people who are in the process of knocking down all of old Beijing in order to put up massive new office buildings and countless incredibly similar-looking apartment complexes, a surprising number of which have strange, New York-based names like MOMA, Soho, and Upper East Side. (In this Beijing is not alone, since the place we are going to live in Shanghai is called The Oriental Manhattan.)
At any rate, while generic apartment buildings aren't good, it's not all bad either, since almost everything that's being torn down is communist-style housing that is just as blocky, gray, and poorly constructed as you would imagine. (Although based on the condition of our place after six months, I'm not sure the new buildings are made any better.) And all this construction is not likely to stop any time soon: since most of Beijing is made up of the aforementioned communist buildings, pretty much the entire city can be torn down--and they've only just gotten started.
What does this mean? Well, besides making windy days, when all the grit and sand from construction sites is blown everywhere, completely miserable, it also means that construction is also everywhere. The other day I was walking down one of the main streets near our apartment and realized that I could see fourteen high-rise construction cranes without turning my head. I mean, how many cities even have fourteen high-rise cranes in them at any one time? And I could see that many just by looking straight ahead.
For example, here's the view out of our kitchen window, complete with three cranes. (One sort of blends into the foreground.) There's also two more that you can't make out--not without a much larger picture--behind the white buildings in the right of the photo.
And, to balance things out, here's the view from the other side of our apartment, outside the living room. (Taken at dawn, when you can "see through" the building.) I like the way that, once the outer frame goes up, they wrap the entire building in green to hide it, which is something they do with almost all new construction here. I'm not sure why. As if, because you can't see it, there's nothing going on there? Or maybe they just want to surprise everyone by taking it all down one night so all of a sudden there's a new building there where there wasn't one before? Maybe. Pretty much anything is possible around here, I think.
Of course, sometimes the green wrapping has to go up around existing structures. And although it's hard to tell, the guy with the cartcycle is drinking a twenty-two. And it is ten-thirty in the morning.
Basically, no matter which direction you look, you see cranes and construction. Like the picture below, taken on a random street that could be any or even every street in Beijing. Seriously, the entire city looks like this.
Of course, when things go up, things must also come down. Or something like that, anyway. It makes trying to find things interesting at any rate, since something that was there one week might quite literally be gone the next. In the first few days I was here we tried to go to a nearby China Mobile store to get me a cell phone, the same store Holly had been to ten days before, and it was all boarded up and gone. No signs, no warning, nothing--things just disappear, like outspoken political reformers in certain countries that will not be named. (Feel free to guess, however.)
It's the same for restaurants and bars, which sometimes makes it hard to find things. For example, the Hidden Tree--a really good pizza place--was knocked down, so they packed up, moved a mile or so away and became The Tree a week later. (Which is strange in itself, since the Tree is much harder to find--much more hidden--than the Hidden Tree ever was. Queer, that.) Sadly however, some places disappear and don't seem to come back. One night while my sister was visiting we tried to take her to Cloud Nine, a place considered by many to be the best bar in Beijing. We hadn't been there for about a month, but we had no reason to suspect it would be any different, any less cool, than the other times we'd been there.
Turns out, we were wrong ...
At least the developers had the decency to leave the corner of building with the sign standing for a while, so people would at least know what had happened. It would have been more than little confusing to round the corner--in an alley, like everything else here--at ten o'clock at night and find nothing but dust and rubble. Although given the way things are here, I'm sure that's bound to happen, and sooner rather than later ...