Yearning for the Old

Liulichang on a December Saturday

from The Blue Lotus

Sentimentality is suspect, especially in Western travellers (I mean — everyone needs pennicillin and the other miracles of modern life). But you can’t help hunger for the antique in Beijing, where you may experience a 12-lane traffic jam on a newly-built road every day. Just one subway change got us to Liulichang Dongjie, a commercial street from the Ming times, now an antiques district–somewhat scrubbed for tourists but not too much, and strangely empty on a Saturday. And nearby, we did a good activity for my sore throat: taste tea in Maliandao, a giant tea district. It’s both a tastte of the past and a living wholesale marketplace. The oolong’s perfume was dizzying (but we already have lots of oolong). We tried pu’er, red, white, black; bought green & jasmine.

Big leaves

Tea test with Joe Weber of BusinessWeek-U Nebraska

Preservation: it’s not that no one’s working on it here, but it’s a race against time. Sometimes I hear about visitors who “hated China”–after experiencing traffic jams, pollution, nearly getting run over by speeding vehicles, & massive jostling crowds.

Probably should have bought this

Some actual antiques

Antidote: Follow your yearning for the old. My students feel it, I know, even as they train for cutting-edge global media jobs. For 20-somethings, everything has changed in one short lifetime.

Paper, some antique

We didn’t make it to Dashilan, the district the student below writes about, but it was right nearby:

“In my childhood memory, grandpa takes me here once a month, to walk the streets, narrow and crowded but in a lovely way. We purchase some daily goods, like shoes, scissors, tea, and clothes. I still remember holding my grandpa’s hand and squeezing our way back and forth from one store to another. Today, Dashilan has totally changed its form. The street must have widened three times at least. And it also has become much cleaner a place. But where is the savor of Kaorouji’s roast meat? Where is the refreshing smell of Zhang Yiyuan’s tea? They are part of my childhood memories. Today we walk without mentioning the past.”

4 comments on “Yearning for the Old

  1. jill, what great photos. take me right back to the hutongs and my mixed feelings about development in china. thanks for sharing!

    by the way, there’s a great chinese herbal remedy for colds. they sell in chinatown for about three bucks. even though the pills come from china, don’t know if you can get actually get it while you’re in china. they’re called yin chiao. when i get that depressing sore throat feeling coming on, i take eight in the morning, another eight late in the day and eight more before bedtime. i swear to you, the cold will be almost gone the next morning.

    the dosage is reduced for kids but i started my daughter on yin chiao in pre-school. in a matter of months, almost all the teachers there were taking yin chiao too! i learned about yin chiao from my chinese medicine master. he practices an ancient, classical theory that would be right at home in this old china post. just fyi:


  2. Wow, Betsy, you’re awesome. But what about if the cold’s now a week old & has hardened into a goopy chest cough & hoarseness? I’m so reluctant to go to my Western dr. here for antibiotics, even tho this seems like a bacterial infection, because I know I need all those good natural flora in my system, which it will kill, to meet the challenges overseas. I maybe should get a referral to a Chinese practitioner. I have a referral actually thanks to this blog!! … and I guess you’re the second to nudge me in that obvious direction. With thanks…for your blog, which I love, & sharing the journey.


  3. Della says:

    Thanks for another lovely post, Jill. Your student’s comments are so vivid and poignant, especially this one: “Today we walk without mentioning the past.” I hope you are feeling much better soon.


  4. […] tourism have me thinking about China’s giant build-out. Beyond our treasure hunts for un-razed old Beijing, I mean a bigger issue. Sometimes we seem to exclusively pursue the preciously pre-industrial. As […]


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s