Top memories of my life in Beijing 1996-2001

  • First landing at Beijing Airport 1996

It was a hot May day of 1996, we have just landed at Beijing Airport Terminal 1 and only one at that time. We  got out from Aeroflot IL86 aircraft and by terminal bus we have reached airport building. Most of you do not remember this building since in 1999 new much more modern terminal building was built and in 2008 most modern and very large one. I was only 3 and half years old but still I remember this day at least memory is so foggy like a dream or a smoggy day of Beijing of that time.   I remember long corridor and many people around me speaking a in an unknown to me language at that time. While we were standing in row a policeman in a green olive uniform checked our passports.   I remember that I said to my mum that I want to go back to Belgrade and that I miss my grandparents she told me just to  be calm and that this will be our new home. I never imagined what adventure and life in China would bring me and what will all this mean to my life. I am still thankful for that day which allowed me to meet amazing world of China. Today Beijing airport is one of most modern and largest in the world and busiest too.

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Terminal 1 Building
  • Sanlitun 1996 Beijing most popular place for shopping, hanging out, pubbing, clubbing and place with many business and residential buildings.Those who were in China first time after early 2000s wont probably know what I am speaking about or wouldn’t even recognize Sanlitun from the period of 1996-2001.  Area of embassies and diplomatic compound stayed more or less same.Main Bar Street was similar like today but  a bit narrower and with much less number of bars and clubs. Today you know how many expensive bars, nightclubs and restaurants you can find there open everyday. Area across street of todays Soho compound where Village and other shopping malls and plazas reminded on brick buildings which you can still find between mentioned shopping malls and Poly Plaza right across Workers Stadium but was in much unfavorable condition. On todays place of Village and other malls, plaza with large screen and pedestrian area, Starbucks, rich and expensive shops, bars and clubs with  cheap beer behind Village and other outlets there was something completely different.  About modern Sanlitun you can find in my stories Beijing Little Guide 3 and 4. If you compare these two you can see how Sanlitun reflects rapid change in living standard of Chinese people. I remember quite well old brick simply constructed buildings which date from  circa 1950ies. There was one narrow lane passing behind todays Village mall and behind Yashow market which existed until recent years. On the approach from bar street there were clothing shops which were selling cheap everyday clothes which you could bargain down for even lower price. Simply only one pedestrian zebra was dividing a side of street with bars and side with open door cloth market. When you would enter the lane real open door local market would be approached. There was a real neighborhood atmosphere as there was a tailor shop, a butchery with always fresh meat , a opendoor market with large amount of vegetables and fruits and local dairy shop. I remember we often used to buy products in dairy shop and also many fruits such as pineapples and litchi. There was also a open door market where alive chickens were sold. They were moving in cages like in movies if you saw and when you order one seller would kill it in boiled water and sell you. Often with mother I went there and she would buy me some toy such as bus, snake or crocodile as there was very large part of market where toys were sold and I couldn’t just pass through without asking for some toy. A bit deeper in lane you could enter area in block between brick buildings. Often smell of noodles was felt from some windows. In front of buildings there was a really large amount of cabbage stored for being eaten during winter. It was visible that people who lived there didn’t have enough money. But they often seemed happy as we could see them in evenings gathered around drinking tea or beer, eating noodles and  speaking friendlily to each other. My father often took me there in evenings during hot and wet summer of 1996. After walk we would sit in front of our settlement and we would watch construction of some buildings next to Zhaolong hotel. I never imagined at that time how China would be built up and developed like today.  My parents were often afraid to bring me to open door market or even supermarket since I was very misbehaving child and I used to take and throw apples or pears what always made vendors angry. It  was typical for me to touch something what wasn’t supposed to be touched, or to do something what wasn’t supposed to be done, or to eat something what wasn’t supposed to be eaten. For example in front of 1 Jenny Lous supermarket which doesn’t exist anymore at Sanlitun, one old man shared his green ice cream with me while father was buying food ,(he left me in front of shop to prevent me of making mess inside(throwing fruits and peppers on floor). But he didn’t expect to see me eating ice cream with unknown man. Father was so shocked when he saw that.
old sanlitun
Sanlitun before, http://patricksloan.net/2011/03/the-old-beijing-3-2/
  • Great Wall 1996 We went to Great Wall first time when my uncle was visiting us in Beijing in November 1996. It was overcrowded as always but often this memory passes through my head since I was only 4 years old and on such famous and great place. I was really fascinated with how long the wall is and I was asking all the time where is its end and beginning.
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my first trip to Great Wall, 1996
  • Ritan park 1996-1997 It is place which I associate with my first memories of Beijing. A park about which I already wrote in chapter about alternative spots in Beijing and in chapter 7 at Guangming Online. Actually when I came there in 2013 and 2015 almost everything was same in the park like in 1996 just large altar was closed for public. There was still same luna park which I often visited with my parents and even the bench on which they were sitting while I was riding some toy car. Simply when I remember Ritan park of 1996 I realize that there are places which still didn’t change in Beijing.

 

  • Beihai park winter 1999/2000 Beihai park is one of my favorite places in Beijing and I mentioned it a lot when I wrote about trips in 2013 and 2015.  During winters we were going to skate on ice there usually on afternoons and sometimes in weekend mornings. Me and my father used to skate on ice and sometimes walk on ice around island. For me it was very interesting at that time to run over ice and I always wondered how deep water is down below ice and whether fishes can breath under ice and I always as a kid asked too many questions. Also while skating I used to enjoy to watch white pagoda standing on island. After some time of skating and freezing we would go to KFC which was situated at that time right on shore of the island. We always ordered hot orange juice and fries with ketchup. I still miss these days and fries and hot juice after spending time on cold.

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  • Ritan park 2000 When I was a bit older parents took me and my little brother to Ritan park too. But now we were going to circular altar which served as place for ceremonies for praying to the Sun during imperial China. I used to run there a lot and throw gum balls in the altar. Such large circular area was perfect for running.  Also my other Serbian friends Milica and Danica came often there and we were jumping around and  playing with Pokemon toys. We often imagined that altar is arena for fighting and competing between our Pokemon toys.
  • Summer palace 2000 or 2001 I am not sure but I think it was spring of 2000 maybe 2001. My parents and parents of Milica and Danica took us for a big walk. At beginning day was very lovely with brilliantly pure sky and shun was shinning like a gold. It was really hot but a very beautiful spring day. We crossed bridge across Suzhou street. I remember down there a lot of people sitting in pavilions and drinking tea and playing chess. After that we passed next to Tibetan style monastery. I remember very well how its white pagodas with golden peaks were shinning under pure sky and sun. When I was passing there in 2013 my memories were so fresh. no Than we went around Kunming lake starting from its western shore. Path under willow trees was full of people, older ones but also families with small children. Lake was full with boats. On another side of was pagoda on one of Western hills. I was really wondering and thinking what is this pagoda and to which park or temple belongs  It really seemed mysterious to me a pagoda on top of hill which never was mentioned by my father or mother and we were never there. Many years later I found out that this pagoda belongs to Jade Hill and it is Jade Pagoda which was also imperial garden of Qing dynasty. I found out that it is closed to public still and that there are some military instalments there. On same sunny day we were wondering whether crocodile lives in Kunming Lake. We were children and full of adventurous ideas. While finishing circle around lake clouds were coming faster and faster over sky and becoming darker and darker. Sun almost disappeared wind was very fast in blowing and it was moving lake surface. Waves were moving harmoniously but in very fast way, willow branches were like dancing on wind. People were hiding around below pavilions or going back to their cars. Still I remember this day because of so fast change of the weather. Simply it is impressive how things can change from quiet, bright calm and slow to fast, dark and loud.
  • Pearl Market 2000 I remember visits to this market very well. Most often I went there with my mother. She was going there to shop various things from house decorations, clothes, necklaces and other stuff. Since I disliked such long shopping she always bought me some toys there in order to keep me calm there. Sometimes on weekends we went together with father. While she was shopping me and father were going to the basement where fishes, chickens, snakes, eels and lizards were sold. They were alive and moving until last moment when you ordered some of them. When I was there in 2013 this animals weren’t sold anymore but there was McDonalds instead.
  • Sanlitun 2000-2001 During this period me and my father used to walk in afternoons and evenings behind Sanlitun Diplomatic Compound where we used to live.  It was there a quite narrow street directing towards Sanlitun. On right side is road to old hospital next to which we often passed during evening walks. On left side is small shop which  often was  working under low light. Stands with fruits and vegetables  were in front of shop. Here my parents used to buy me “sok u crevu” or translated “juice in hose”-colored and aromatized water sold in cheap and very soft plastic package which remind on sausage or not long hose. That juices existed in few very bright colors – green, yellow, orange and pink.. I didn’t saw them unfortunately in this shop neither in any other in which I was these days.  They were my second favorite juices during my life here ( first was plum juice). I liked these strange “juices in hose” because of untypical shape, color, too sweet taste and all this together. At that time  one old man who worked in this shop was always smiling when he saw me and my mother knowing that we will buy one of these juices.  He was surprised and happy when foreign boy was buying one of cheapest products. Always when we entered shop his smile was spread from ear to ear and he took immediately few “sok u crevu” and showed them in front of me, letting me to choose one. Unfortunately I didn’t saw my “sok u crevu” neither its seller. Probably production of such juice is abandoned now in China or now it is filled into bottles.  When we came there again in 2013 hospital was still there and a shop but not this seller anymore. Who knows where is now that old seller who I still remember. Maybe his working time for today finished, maybe he went to another shop to work, maybe he is retired or maybe he is not anymore among alive people as he was quite old even in 2001. In 2015 this street was same unchanged.
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Street where shop and hospital still are, 2013
  • Yonghe temple 2000 It was one of my favorite temples during my life in Beijing. We often used to go there to burn some incense. I always liked it since it was fun for me to make as much fire as possible. When I was there again in 2013 and 2015 burning incense had deeper and more reasonable meaning for me.

 

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Incense at YOnghe, 2013
  • Shichihai hutongs 2000-2001 I remember very well our spring and autumn walks around Shichihai lake and deeper in hutongs around. They were completely different than now. On a shore of Huohai you couldn’t see any bar or open door pub. At that time there was nothing from these pubs which I found in 2013 and 2015. Now all of you know those fancy bars where you can have coffee or shisha during day. Back in 2001 there was only one path around lake and there was not any bar. When we walked there on hotter days you would see a lot of people swimming in this lake. Still in 2013 there were some people swimming and in 2015 too. Hutongs closest to the lake were uncommercialized and were in quite bad condition what makes charm of the hutongs as always. There wasn’t single souvenir shop , bar, teahouse or clothes shop. Foreign tourists were rare at that time there. When we were passing there through these hutongs I was always with big interest and curiosity trying to see through door of courtyard to see whats inside. When I felt smell of food from their houses I used to wonder whether they are making noodles or jiao zi. Occasionally there would pass one or two people by walk or by bicycle. I remember one spring afternoon of 2000 or 2001 when we were walking around there on the small rain. It was really hot and wet and we saw few locals siting in front of their courtyards, eating noodles chatting friendlily and listening to thrush which was singing in a wooden cage which was hung in courtyard. Locals there were often surprised when they would see foreigners  in hutongs but were happy too when they would see our love and respect towards their culture. Nights at hutongs were silent and dark. Once in winter 2000/2001 we were driving at night and we stopped by lake for short. It was really silent and dark, only few lampposts were visible.    Today most of these hutongs are commercialized and renowned. They are in good condition, serve as hotels, private residences, souvenir shops, teahouses or beer houses. Famous commercialized hutongs are not just around lake but also an Nanluoguxiang street with a lot of souvenir shops, restaurants teahouses and beerhouses.  Hutongs a bit further from lake, some hutongs at narrower areas of Shichihai lake( near Guanghua temple), between Beihai, Jingshan and Shichihai, hutongs around Nanluoguxiang, near Liulichang and near Temple of Heaven are still unchanged. But their number is really small and it is only maximally  1 third of all hutongs. I wrote about that before so take a chance to check them until they stay authentic. Today nights are very lively at most of hutongs, with a live music and warm atmosphere especially during summer nights. They became popular spots for spending time at night.
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nightlife at Shichihai
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Fortunately there are still such hutongs,
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