Monday, January 19, 2009

Song Without Words: The Beijing Exodus

I can't find my cellphone. Not that I really need it right now, but it beeps every now and then, notifying me that I have a new message - probably the daily news digest. It's somewhere in the pile of magazines, newspapers and books next to my bed. Nobody's calling now, unless they're in Beijing. But with the Spring Festival coming up soon, everyone's preparing their luggage and tickets to get on the next train or plane out of the capital.

I realized how dramatic this annual event was when I tried to place my usual delivery order for some lunch. The usual tired attendant's voice didn't pick up the phone after I called three times in a row. I went outside to get a to-go order of some street meat and vegetable shish-kababs. Not a single stand was in sight. For the first evening since I've been in this neighborhood, the little curving streets around my apartment were empty, quiet...and clean. Even the local restaurants were all closed. The delivery people, the waitresses, the cooks, everyone has gone home.

I made some convenient noodles.
A few people still linger around, walking in and out of the area pulling their luggage around. The happy ones go, with airplane tickets reserved online or with train tickets bought months in advance. The sad ones return, resting another night in their apartments before waking up again at three or four in the morning to rush to the train ticket booths, hoping to buy a ticket to get them out of this place. A walk by the Wudaokou ticket booth at eight in the evening told me the ones sleeping had no chance - some people are camping outside, armed with noodle bowls, blankets and mp3s to fight for the last few hard seats.
A few early birds are popping firecrackers somewhere.

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