At night, Tiananmen Square is a great expanse without apparent life, but the arteries radiating to the shopping and restaurant district are lit like New York and bustle with locals and tourists, all equally affluent.
The main shopping streets are closed now to cars, and the original department store, founded about 50 years ago has a taste of Gotham City about it. Every second opening is a restaurant, and if you look carefully, there may also be one above each fashion outlet.
Beijing is a more mature version of the ‘globalisation’ development throughout China, a country where the incongruity is more in how American English and archaic British English intertwine in bright signs – ‘Imperial Mansions Executive Apartments’, and individuality now for this city may only be in the Chinese script. Even Costa abounds at PEK.
Less than half a kilometre from Tiananmen Square stands a proud edifice of confused identity. Even less distance from the bustling hub, is a mausoleum of elegant but sterile apartments, each with a fully outfitted kitchen, except for cutlery, crockery and cooking pots and pans, tissues and wipes. A massive and deep bath is centred in the bathroom, (reinforced concrete is not spared in a Chinese construction) one that may take a ton of water to fill.
But when I dare to catch the lonely lift downstairs no-one is at home. The only signs of life are the occasional cleaning lady, searching desperately for something else to wipe or an errant piece of paper, just like the diligent street cleaners, risking their lives all day on the main roads of China, to create a spotless highway.
In quiet desperation, after a day spent in composition in the apartment, one that left me listless, I venture to find the in-house restaurant, and having wandered around a cavernous area, bereft of any form of life, I find it around a corner to the left and am welcomed, quietly and a little with surprise, successively by three waiters. I choose to sit near the door at a small table, facing the wall so that I do not have to converse with other guests expected to fill this immaculate sterile Chinese restaurant.
I need not have been so shy. My view is of a glass modernization, in teak colouring, of a traditional Chinese scene in carved wood, and of two cheap magenta cushions, these together making an impression that this edifice, in contradistinction to the grand structures around Tiananmen square, was built to a price, not to an architectural specification.
Hiding there in in my nook I consume cabbage and noodles and a Tsingtao beer, and having completed, I turn around and I realize that no-one has entered, I am, for this mansion of executive apartments, the sole dinner guest.
I am nobody in nowhere, or is it anywhere? The only proof of my existence may be a small dent in the noodle pile in the kitchen.