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Thursday, March 10, 2016

Good Morning, Beijing . . .

Now that the sun is rising earlier, I do so also and often stroll through my neighborhood before getting ready for work, fetching fresh fruit for my breakfast, fresh produce for later use or simply enjoying the sights as the community prepares for the day.

There is a middle school behind my work complex and my apartment looks over its assembly ground / basketball  courts and across the road to a kindergarten opposite. Across the road from our side gate is an elementary school, so the streets are filled with students each morning.

The kindergarten and elementary school students are dropped off by their parents or grandparents -  some in cars; many on electric motorbikes, scooters or seated in child seats on the back of cycles; many being accompanied on foot, often with the child on a kick scooter that the adult will then lead home.

The chaos outside the gates, as cars stop wherever they can to see their charges safely to school, is added to by the presence of a community sanitation center beside the elementary school. Local garbage drop-offs, like those from our complex, are made using small (and usually heavily laden) carts pulled by three-wheeled motorcycles and these and the large sanitation trucks taking the gathered garbage elsewhere add to the mayhem.

A little further up the street is a line of restaurants, small supermarkets, a local market and real estate agents (these are everywhere in Beijing!). At one small storefront, women sell a Chinese version of a breakfast sandwich - a bun with either chicken or sausage, lettuce and a tomato. Other vendors sell dumplings and one man is always present, selling fried pastries from a hot vat of oil set up outside one of the restaurants. I like to watch as he rolls his dough flat, before twisting it and dropping it into the hot oil. There are dumplings for sale behind him, but I have only ever seen the pastry seller busy in this spot, not the restaurant doorway behind.

The shops are on the way from the closest subway stop and main bus routes to the middle school, so the streets are filled in the mornings with older students making their own way to school. Like anywhere else, they tend to roam in groups, laughing and talking among themselves and oblivious to anyone coming their way. They are regular customers at the food vendors, as are many of the parents and grandparents doing the school run - sometimes getting food for themselves or their charges as they rush them to school, sometimes picking up takeout in a more leisurely manner as they head home or to whatever they plan until it is time to return at the end of the school day.

Beside the middle school, in the parking space between two apartment blocks, is a temporary farmers'-style market, only there until 1 pm each day and offering the best and freshest of whatever is in season. At this time of year, there is much to choose from and I often find myself getting carried away and having to make and freeze soups or stews so as to use up all the goodness I have bought.

The neighborhood is equally busy in the evenings, with the addition of folding camp chairs and wooden-box tables turning the streets into al fresco dining areas and the ubiquitous groups of men playing Go or other games. The evenings have their own excitement that I also enjoy, but it is the promise of what the day may bring that most draws me to the morning scenes.  

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