Sunday, 30 March 2008

Steamed Buns & Hip Kids (Past and Future)

There's no need to throw out the past to embrace the future. The past is part of our fabric and contributes to our future. If we hide from history and pretend it didn't happen, history disrupts our future happiness. Coming to terms with the past is part of growing up.

I've finally moved out of the dreadful serviced apartment environment to a 2000 year old (rebuilt) Courtyard House by the Forbidden city and I'm loving the sheer history of it all. The peace and quiet of the neighbourhood really appeals; particularly the birdsong in the morning. I only knew I'd missed real twitters once I'd heard it again. Anyway I've always wanted to live only a stone's throw from Tiananmen Square.

Close by is a traditional shop that sells the freshest steam buns and dumpling soup I've had since I've been here, in an environment that is proper Beijing. I much prefer this type of restaurant to the luxury ones so often preferred by the expat community over here.

Some old boy takes that hulking dough and kneads it old-school-stylee into the right consistency by hand. He looks like he's been doing it for decades.

It doesn't take much of an imagination with B&W photography to visualize being back in the past, to a time when secrets were whispered in darkened alley ways for fear of public humiliation from the Party during the naming and shaming episodes of the cultural revolution, or perhaps the rarely mentioned Great Leap Forward which people from the West will know more about than many under 30 who are local.

So to provide some contrast to my morning steamed buns and dumpling soup (cost: 1 1/2 Euros) We did a bit of a Xidan run again on Saturday and I'm starting to like the scruffier shopping mall with mad T Shirts that aren't always trying to be so hip, but because of the sheer volume and variety of output that China produces, sometimes score a Black Swan for creativity and luck on the most random of details such as words and spelling, or Kitsch design serendipity.

Again these Beijing youngster are terribly endearing and for me constitute the really nice side of the people in this wonderful city. There is a naivety there, but as you can see it's not always incongruous with having personality or their own style.

Maybe we should get some of these folk into the agency ASAP because I'm starting to feel the pain of not hearing about creativity or ideas in four months, while definitely seeing it constantly outside the confines of the agency walls. These kids are the future and China is going to be a wonderful place for it. That I'm confident of.


  1. Love the photos, great post Charles. And that girl is so cute(!)

  2. is there any part of the building that is 2000years old? or has there just been a building on the spot for that long?

    It sounds like moving out was a great idea.

  3. Absolutely.
    Are they the steamed buns with red pork in? My favourite...

  4. oh my goodness charles - are you trying to drive me mental with envy??!! those images of the steamed buns made my fucking mouth water. i'm reading the last chinese chef at the moment and between that, your posts, and the call-to-ban of a falun dafa-sponsored theatre production here, china is weighing in heavily on my psyche.

    and i love the contrast (visually and literally) of 'true' vs 'new'. hopefully it's like harajuku all over again...west end boys like xidan girls i'm sure..

  5. Hi Rachel. The Courtyard was rebuilt a few years back but is still faithful to its historical shape. Alas they didn't use any of the original materials. Maybe they were beyond repair.

    Hey Lauren. Glad you like this one. I listened to a podcast about the Last Chinese Chef on IT conversations of all places. I really enjoyed it and will be up for reading the book if you pop over. Although you might wanna hurry given that I've got some virals kicking off big time. I'm in demand sweetie ;)

  6. They do indeed have Red Pork Rob.