A place of chaos that never dares to doze

The wheel and the bike are still kings of the streets in Beijing despite the proliferation of big motors as well. Here, a Beijing native 'brings home' his three piece suite of furniture on his power assisted bike/trailer.
The wheel and the bike are still kings of the streets in Beijing despite the proliferation of big motors as well. Here, a Beijing native 'brings home' his three piece suite of furniture on his power assisted bike/trailer.

Most nights when I wake up, there’s a kind of reassuring familiarity at seeing the same lampshade hanging from the ceiling. I feel it says to me: “Go back to sleep, all is well.”

Seldom in this contented if slightly uneventful nocturnal world do I ever glance at a different shade for ceiling, lest by chance an errant dream intrudes, so it was kind of challenging over recent weeks to wake up in a strange room in a city where every night, around 20 million souls close their eyes.

For nearly a minute on that first night away from the home hearth, I tried to figure out the strange layers of curves on this imposter dangling from the ceiling, before it squinted slyly down at me and seemed to whisper: “Welcome to Beijing.”

It is quite a culture shock alright, from the green fields of North Galway to a city like Beijing that never sleeps. In fact, it doesn’t even doze. This is a place where the filthy rich intermingle with the proletariat in one giant stew of humanity.

Beijing is surely the city of the wheel. Any form of bike – even those with the rustiest of chains, absent saddles or rickety pedals – is used to transport people and goods from one location to the next.

Any yet in my first day of walking through the streets of Beijing, I have never before encountered as many top-of-the-range Mercs, Audis, Beamers and Porsches, all spewing out carbon monoxide, in a city desperately trying to draw its breath.

Beijing is a place of the most outlandish contradictions. Despite the city having an AQI (Air Quality Index) often in the high hundreds (whereas in Ireland 30 to 40 would be the norm), fuel guzzling monster motors make short distance but time lengthy journeys across a city choked with traffic.

Yet in the midst of all of this, there are little tuk-tuks – small and battered looking battery powered bikes with room for two passengers – that do a magnificent job in the short runs through the city centre.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.