There are many ways you could describe the city of Beijing, but by no stretch of the imagination could you ever call it beautiful. It is not. In fact as a whole it is a down-right unattractive city, though, like the Curate’s egg, it is good in parts.
In March this year I had the good fortune to meet the author Lionel Shriver at a book reading here in BJ where she launched her new novel ‘Big Brother’ at the Bookworm International Literary Festival. There was a reasonable turn-out of ex-pats,
and at the end of her session she spent as much time questioning us about life in BJ as we did asking her questions about her writing. Shriver had arrived in China the previous day, and was horrified by BJ and by the air-pollution.
Now she has set the cat among the pigeons by writing two articles excoriating the city. In one she says ‘it is the ugliest city I have ever seen’, and ‘Beijing is like a modern-day Gomorrah. It’s like an urban venereal disease. Beijing is the city Detroit looks to when it wants to feel better about itself.’ Don’t mince your words Lionel!
I’ve only lived here for three years, but I found my hackles rising when I read what she had said – well I would wouldn’t I? since she also said she couldn’t trust us ex-pats because ‘they had over-adapted to their dystopic town and could no longer see it.’
I grew up in what is (in my opinion) the most beautiful city in the world, Cape Town,
so it is somewhat ironic that I find myself wanting to stand up for this crazy, hazy megalopolis of 22 million souls which has developed in place of the ancient Manchu city that was here before 1949.
There are surprising pockets of visual pleasure to be seen here – and in summer one of them is the roses. From mid-May onwards, BJ is awash with roses, blooming lavishly down the center of the ring roads and express-ways,
Lionel wouldn’t have seen roses in March; but then she never even made the time to visit the Summer Palace, to stroll down a hutong, view the Egg and other examples of stunning modern architecture – such as Zaha Hadid’s Galaxy Soho complex.
Heaven’s above – she didn’t even go to see the Great Wall.
I felt as though someone had insulted a member of my family.