And so it begins. Today, with the Olympics to open at 8:08pm tonight, the world will see China, and more importantly, Beijing in all its splendour. For better or worse, Beijing and the lives of its 16 million residents have been irrevocably changed.
Exactly a year ago to this day, a team of 35 talented photographers fanned out in all corners of this sprawling metropolis, from dusk to dawn the very next day, to capture the 气氛 (qifen) or atmosphere of Beijing.
In those 12 precious hours, they photographed a dizzying kaleidoscope of beauty, energy, colour, fervour and melancholy as seen in crowds celebrating the ‘festival of jubilation’ in Tian’anmen Square, young men taking a dip in Qianhai Lake, guards with a perfect yet unknowing poise outside a picturesque Forbidden City, the majestic Temple of Heaven, weary commuters on buses and young ladies awaiting customers in “barber shops.”
Under night’s encompassing cloak, we see artistes readying themselves in a cabaret show at a gay bar in Fengtai District, youngsters posing in a tattoo parlour, the Chaoyang Hospital emergency ward and displaced residents in their make-shift accommodations after their houses were razed.
By the time the sun ascended majestically in the foreground, nuns at Beijing’s only nunnery broke fast, Muslims finished up their morning prayer at Niujie Mosque, old residents begin their daily exercise routine in the many parks and the same weary commuters take to another day’s work. We are reminded that the banality of life’s routine is infinitely more elegant, graceful and unique in Beijing.
The results of this expedition have culminated in a large, glossy coffee book, aptly entitled, “One Night in Beijing” which conjures to mind, the lyrical ode of the same name by Chinese band 信乐团 (Xin yue tuan), sung with equal passion. Published by Immersion Guides, the Beijing-based publisher of guidebooks, maps, and the popular “Insider’s Guide to Beijing,” this is a worthy addition to any Beijing lover’s library.
Photo sources: Immersion Guides, “One Night in Beijing”