I’d been meaning to revisit the charming little patch of Beijing that is Xihai, and finally did so yesterday. Strolling around there was a nice reminder that no-one does winter fun quite like Beijingers do…

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This is a sign that I walk by all the time. I’ve only ever seen fire hydrants pictorialised this way in China:

It only makes the design more intriguing when one discovers the actual hydrants look pretty much the same as the ones anywhere else..

And here’s a manhole which I also pass by almost daily. It ‘has character’: if you look at it from a certain orientation, it’s patterned all over with the Chinese character for ‘person’ (人). Though I’m not certain it was intentional..

The Chinese word for ‘manhole’ is jinggai (井盖), which literally means ‘well-cover’; so no direct references to people climbing in and out of them, which the English ‘manhole’ so baldly points to. Anyway, intentional or not, I like to think of this pretty patch of steel, with ‘人’ all over it, as a translingual visual pun. :o)

I had brunch today with two close family friends, Pingping and Lele. We hung out in a little alley, Wudaoying (五道营) Hutong, which is nestled in a network of smallish streets very near to Beijing’s Llama Temple (雍和宫).

Wudaoying is peppered with tiny cafés, restaurants, bars, and slightly off-kilter shops. It’s very charming and uncrowded; and also the kind of place that many Chinese people would describe as rather xiaozi (小资), or ‘petit-bourgeois’. (It’s perhaps additionally telling that the larger restaurants on this street specialise respectively in Greek, Italian and Spanish cuisine, and that many of the cafés and bars are heavily European-influenced in terms of décor and menu.)

Because of China’s Communist legacy and the continued circulation of its ideologies among the general population (much of it tongue-in-cheek), xiaozi / petit-bourgeois is actually a commonly used phrase and not seen as high-faluting talk at all. Fascinating how the ‘same’ phrases carry such different baggage across languages. I’m trying to imagine, say, American university-age friends saying to each other over salads and fries: “This place is sooo petit-bourgeois!”  Hmm…