I just finished watching Miao Wang’s excellent documentary Beijing Taxi. The film both lovingly and critically looks at the changing face of China’s capital through the eyes of three different taxi drivers—a soon-to-retire, smiley older man; an easily contented, middle-aged guy; and an ambitious but frustrated mother. The impression that the movie gives of Beijing is very hazy—both literally (because the city is polluted) and figuratively (because the streetscape is changing drastically, right before the camera’s lens). Huge buildings are being putting up alongside massive, congested highways, and in the time span of the movie (two years) progress is definitely measurable as a function of what’s been added, as well as what’s been removed (the rubble is piling up where older, smaller buildings used to be).
The film was started a couple of years before the 2008 summer Olympics. The iconic venues—the Bird’s Nest, in particular—are a point of pride for the locals and yet look totally alien (they definitely don’t blend into the city and have a distinct air of removal from anything remotely status quo). And as the games get nearer, the city starts to look cleaner and neater and more welcoming. I wonder if that sheen has remained?
After watching the movie, it’s still difficult (as per my first blog post below) to get a sense of what it would really be like to walk around Beijing. (Granted, the doc wasn’t about walking, it was about seeing the city through a windshield). I don’t know why I want to know what this is like. Maybe it’s because I walk everywhere I go. I walk five kilometers to work and back everyday, in Toronto. But also, strangely, the curiosity is specific to Beijing. Because in a way I feel like I should have a sense, a strong guess, of what if feels like to stand on a street corner there. As though I were in Google street view. The way I can imagine it for other major world cities (just from having seen those places in so many movies and magazines). It’s a bizarre sense of entitlement.
But I will find out in June. I’m looking forward to it.