Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Losing Liulichang

On Friday afternoons the reading room in the Archaeology and Museology
Institute is closed, so this Friday I decided to troll the bookshops
of Liulichang, as I have done many times before, for books I need for
this research project (and for new publications). Since I had to be
downtown at 7 for Friday night services, it made sense to go in a
little early - it takes at least an hour to get downtown, so one wants
to get as much done as possible when one goes. I took the bus, then
the subway, getting off at Fuchengmen to photograph a wonderful shop
sign I’d seen from a bus (a halal eatery whose English sign reads “The
Huguosi Noshery”) and then getting on again to ride down to Qianmen.

Qianmen is almost completely unrecognizable (see my Flickr stream for
details - link in the sidebar - now that Flickr is back up I can post
pictures again). It’s been made into a pedestrian street with new
shopfronts which are reconstructed versions of the ones found there in
the late 19th and early 20th century - you can see the historical
photographs posted here and there on the walls for comparison. You
pass under a gigantic pailou (memorial arch) of the kind that stood
across many city streets until the great Beijing Soviet-style facelift
of the 1950s. Most of the shopfronts are still empty but the street
is clearly about to be unveiled. Trolley tracks run down the street,
which is paved with stone slabs, and standing on a siding across the
street from the Zhengyilou city gate is a sleekly enameled camel-
colored trolley, named “Qianmen No. 1.” It needs only men in trilby
hats and Chinese robes, with round tortoiseshell glasses, to complete
the picture of early 20th century China. I was so disoriented that I
forgot Liulichang is on the east side of Qianmen, between Qianmen and
Hepingmen. I got halfway down Dashilar before I gave in to my
disorientation and had a red bean popsicle instead. Thank goodness
some things haven’t changed. I'll find Liulichang some other time.

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