I’ve been in Beijing altogether for over 40 years. So I can wellcall myself a long-timer of Beijing. Like all other long-timers of the city,I’m supposed to be very familiar with its scenic spots and historical sites,nay, its superb attractions. But I believe there is one thing lying unknown tomost of the long-time residents –the predawn hours of Beijing.
For many years, I have been in the habit of getting up beforedaybreak to start work at four. Instead of going out for a jog or walk, I’llset about my work as soon as I’m out of bed. As a result, it is from inside mystudy that I’ve got the feel of predawn Beijing. Years ago, I hit upon anewspaper article about street cleaner in Tian’anmen Square at daybreak. Itmust have been a very moving scene, but what a pity I haven’t seen it with myown eyes. I can only picture it in my mind longingly.
Forty years ago, I lived downtown in Dongchang, a compound which hadhoused the secret service of the Ming dynasty. There were inside it severaldeep spacious courtyard one leading into another. I was the sole dweller of thethree innermost courtyards. My friends, calling this place too ghastly, seldomdared to come to see me in the evening whereas I myself found it quiteagreeable. In summer, the moment I got out of bed before daybreak, I wouldsmell the delicate fragrance of the giant silk trees coming from outside mywindow. Thereupon, I would feel refreshed and joyful, and the clumsy pen in myhand would seem to have become as agile as it could.
Several years later when I moved to the western suburbs, I kept myhabit of rising at four to begin work at the window. The glittering spire atopthe tower of the daytime through my window, would no longer be visible now inthe early morning haze. Nevertheless I knew that, tough invisible, it remainedthere intact, towering to the skies to inspire people with hope and the urgefor moving ahead. At this, I would be beside myself with joy and feel as if myheart were also flying high up into the skies.
Ten years after, I moved again. In the new home of mine, I had nosilk trees, nor could I get sight of the glittering spire from afar. There was,however, a lotus pond of limpid blue in front of my door. In the first fewyears after I moved there, lotus flowers continued to blossom on the surface ofthe pond. In the summertime, when day broke early at four, a vast stretch oflotus leaves looking skywards outside my window came dimly into sight while thequiet fragrance of the lotus flowers assailed my nose. All that delighted me evenmore than the silk trees and the glittering spire.
Is it exclusively due to the above-mentioned that I’ve developed aliking for predawn Beijing? No. for 30 years, I’ve been bogged down in the mireof meetings. To tell you the truth, with the experience accumulated over the 30years, I’m now scared of meetings. In the daytime, there is no telling when Imay be served a notice for attending a meeting. To exaggerate it a bit, thatkeeps me in constant suspense and makes me fidgety. Even when no meeting is totake place, I feel restless all the same. However, my experience tells that itis only during the predawn hours that I can be truly havened from anyinvolvement in meetings. As soon as I sit at my desk before dawn, somethingsimilar to the conditioned reflex will begin to function within me: InstantlyI’ll pick up my pen to play my proper part with perfect peace of mind. Theninspiration comes gushing to my mind and my memory becomes as quick as anewly-sharpened knife. I’ll feel overjoyed, almost to the point of waving myarms and stamping my feet.
In short, I love Beijing, especially predawn Beijing.