It is mid-May, mid spring, and along many of the main roads of this metropolis, this megacity, the sidewalks are alight with rose bushes, a panoply of yellows, pinks, oranges and reds set against a back drop of deep green leaves.
Elsewhere the road-sides are a continuous avenue of trees, gardens and lawns. The older stands of trees are majestically tall, maybe a type of poplar reaching to the sky. There are weeping willows, firs of a wide variety, deciduous and evergreens, elms and beech, and even some eucalypts. None have been pruned, as occurs in Italy where each year the grandest of roadside trees are given a test of survival by pruning to their bare trunks. Here the natural growth is valued and each tree is important to the society. Younger firs are carefully tended and dammed, to trap any moisture, by small teams of men and women. No tree is allowed to die. Rapid growers are triangularly staked to ensure that they survive the wind.
Yes there is pollution in the air, expected of any megacity, and certainly these trees have an ample supply of carbon dioxide to mutate to oxygen. Away from the roads are carefully kept lawns with flowerbeds and neat lightly pruned hedges.
The main gates to the nearby university I am visiting are closed, but for no reason than to encourage visitors and students to enter through other portals. Alongside the university, one street is devoted to cafes, portable food stalls and cheap restaurants, where hygiene appears a less serious concern than in the several 4 and 5 star hotels in the district. There are no stray cats or dogs to chase the scraps and, on this visit, no pigeons or seagulls diving among the tables for crumbs.
There are whole suburbs of recently completed apartment towers, maybe over 20 levels, and architectural design is exercised in office complexes and towers in this megacity. A massive supermarket sells just about everything except electric power stations. Yet, incongruously it seems, the windows of towers, whether office or apartment all are built with small panes of glass, none bigger than a normal door and most much smaller – framed together in a composite to create the larger glass expanse that, in Europe, would consist of one expensive very thick toughened sheet of maybe 20 sq metres, there demanded by the competitive ego of the architect.
Less ostentatious buildings throughout the megacity are partially painted, or daubed, in pinks, browns, and other muted colours, that seem to be pre-stained to avoid appearing new. Steel frames and railings often show surface rust after not many years, maybe from inadequate corrosion resistant coating or lack of primer when painting. Concrete facades on low rise buildings, even the university, tend to crack and craze casting a doubt on the long term long term resistance of the structures, yet it is a dry climate and the construction quality record of this megacity is good. Expansion has been driven by government policy as much as economic conditions.
There is not much bustle here despite us being near cross roads of expressways in a megacity. Interestingly, the use of the horns seems to be declining as drivers, except those in old trucks, gain greater respect for their fellow ‘autobahnites’ . There are more new cars than in most cities and, in contradiction to selection based on the laws of physics, many of them are black. And they all drive on clean roads.
Standing atop a university building we look across to a new ’space city’ and the famed mountains about 40 kilometres away with their ancient Great Wall crawling across their peaks, and I look forward to our early traditional banquet of Peking Duck. Surprisingly, here in Beijing, I am told by my friend the Dean, the ducks of perfect size and composition are imported from England – but hopefully not mine tonight, I like the local fare.