Looking forward to the future to relive my capital past

2021-03-16 12:05:50

As the annual two sessions wind down in Beijing, I am eagerly awaiting the return of warmer weather and the all-clear signal to sound so that I can once again head to a perennial popular natural getaway in the heart of the capital city. My anticipated session with nature-a downtown lake that feels like country-is a personal retread for me, and a sentimental journey that will have to wait for epidemiological protocols to be relaxed before I can do so again. Houhai is a placid lake in central Beijing's Xicheng district just north of the Forbidden City. Due to the stately trees encircling the body of water, it is impossible to know you are a brisk Frisbee-throw's distance from the world's most populous capital's downtown-relax, I "Baidued" it first. Second is Delhi followed by Tokyo. That gives a getaway garden feel to the site, sans the sifting through compost and muddy knees that tending the turnips backyard soil stewards get as recompense for their efforts. It was a blast-furnace inspired summer on the lake, during an ongoing World Cup that seemed to be captivating China wholesale for the first time in memory. As the largest of a three-lake system, Houhai naturally had the most restaurants and nightspots on its banks, and that night our group chose an eight-seat electric boat, with the only exertion needed to be keeping hands on helm. It must have been just before smartphones were chipped up enough to livestream TV, because I remember spending the 30-minute halftime buzzing across the great lake to another lakeside eatery so as not to wear out our welcome at the first for parking along their dock and tom-peeping their big-screen for free. Another memory was the joy, really, of maritime traffic jams. Connecting two halves of Houhai is a narrow underbridge passage that on sultry summer nights is a cavalcade of watercraft, and not just the slowly-droning electric party barges that we rented that visit. Gumming up the watery works at the boat bottleneck were two-seater foot-powered crafts with occupants usually more interested in each other than traffic conditions, and plodding wooden skiffs made to look ancient with seated slender hanfu-clad women on bows plucking away at pipa and erhu. As no one in our group that night was on a rush-hour commute to beat the punchclock at work, the futility of the jetty jam jibe did nothing to dampen our spirits, but the frivolous splashing game drenched our short sleeves. Imagine, sitting inches away from total maskless strangers in a city of this size and cupping one's hands to soak the poor saps in neighboring boats without malice, and with all gleefully participating. If this happens again at Houhai this summer, then that proverbial all-clear signal will be as stentorian as a church bell. As testimony to how much fun we had playing Ahab, Quint or (yikes) Charon that night, I can't remember which countries were matched up that night in the World Cup. But if things get back on track in the world's second biggest capital city this summer, I will surely be back on the calm night waters of Beijing taking in the Summer Games aboard my trusty Pequod putt-putt.