I’ve been in Beijing for a week now. Having moved out of the posh interiors and surrounding of the Beijing Regent and Park Plaza hotel, I taken shelter in a smaller part of the city within a walking distance of WangFuJing and The Forbidden City.
Tonight I decided to take a walk through the old part of the city, the small alleyways that run from the main street. I was wondering what would be here. Walking the dark alleys is at first daunting, you worry about what might jump up to your from the shadows and corners. But, I was dressed down with a T-shirt and a pair of shorts so I didn’t really stand out from the local residence.
The alley ways were dotted with little shops selling groceries and small items which you would get at any tuck shops. Then there was the small eateries. Quaint little places which I am sure gives you the comfort of homes among other residence who commune here.
As I walked on, I found windows with opened curtains, trying not to take too long peering in, I took quick looks and realised that I was looking into the private quarters of these residence. I was taken aback. Generally the small living confines were no more than just a single room with different amenities on the surrounding of the 4 walls. In one really enclosed space, I saw a bunk bed on one wall with another wall full of personal belongings all the way up to the top and a small table top where the resident had his dinner, read and wrote on. Another wall was used to hang towels and clothes. The final wall with the window through which I was looking through had a makeshift kitchen which came up to about the size of a toilet’s shower room. They actually cook full meals here.
No adjoining showers and toilets, I’m afraid. There was communal showers and toilets every hundred meters along the street. The toilets were quite a sight… not to behold and even less to smell. Communal toilets also meant squatting toilets without doors or even partitions to hide your indecencies. And this was the daily life and routines of the residence.
Who was I to be holding my nose? Who was I to say that this life isn’t normal or unliveable. As I walked on, Chinese uncles and aunties were lazying around, taking walks in this place which they call their home. To call this place squatters or slums just don’t seem appropriate. It was a place that this people had made their home.
Coming from a relatively lavish life, I took some time to put myself in this environment. How would I live here? What my dreams would be? What work would I be doing? How happy would I be? I had all these thoughts running through my mind, but these were all things that I struggled to answer perhaps because my mind couldn’t begin to comprehend the situation. My arrogance was not going to be put down without a fight.
Yes, that was it… arrogance. But, what made me realise about this experience and all those that I have done on trips like this is that this IS the whole eye-opening experience. A realisation that there were lives better and worse that yours and at the extremes, they dumbfound you to beyond comprehension.
I decided that tonight I’d buy something from the street. I walked back to my hotel with a handful of Kao Rou (barbecued pork skewers) and a plastic cup of Dou Shui (boiled grain soup/drink).
It was a humbling experience. One that I would not so soon forget when I return back to my home in Kuala Lumpur with all its luxuries and pleasantries… Perhaps one day when I forget how fortunate I am, I shall revisit this experience in pictures and in my unforgettable thoughts.