A few days later, it was time to head south. The two main roads that could enable me to do so went as straight as you will. I opted for Zhongguancun Road, a six lane thoroughfare replete with bicycle lanes and ample footpaths.
Early on I found a small green strip, between the apartment blocks and road itself. Gardeners were busy watering the dry ground to assist with early spring growth, while other workers were engaged in yet another task. Many of the pedestrians along the road opted to take the main footpath, but I preferred the grasses, flowers and trees. A few older people sat quietly on a bench, one or two younger people were having a break after lunch. But for the traffic I could glimpse between the trees, I may have been far away from such a thoroughfare.
Originally, I had planned to walk further south to a large park, Yuyuantan, hike through the park itself and take the metro home. The plan changed with an unexpected discovery: right beside the glorious National Library (known until now merely as a metro stop), was the recently opened Zizhuyuan: Black Bamboo Park. Why not? I asked at the gate if there was a few. No fee, please enter. For me, this was a very auspicious beginning.
Inside was a sheer delight. In ages past, it had been a small retreat for Ming Dynasty emperors. The Nanzhang River had been dammed, a lake formed, gardens of black bamboo, trees, flowers and grasses planted. Like many other such places, it had only recently been reopened after many years of green reconstruction.
Early spring blossoms abounded, but people seemed to prefer other and more well-known locations throughout Beijing. So here were relatively few people – which is saying something for Beijing. I could lose myself on paths through the small hills (presumably from digging out the lake) festooned with bamboo and trees. I could meander along the lake and be taken in with the cultural aesthetics as to how such places should appear and feel. I could sit on a small bench, eat a bread roll and sip some water, while looking out over the lake and the blue sky above.
At one moment, a park worker pointed excitedly into the water. Among the freshly shooting reeds was a turtle, enjoying the crystal clear water.
Finally, it struck me: I was experiencing at first hand the comprehensive greening of Beijing. I may have noticed year by year the improving air quality, and I had heard that the new mayor of Beijing was given the task of cleaning up the city’s environment.
But a place like this requires longer-term planning and implementation. Short-term, the many environmental laws need to be enforced strictly – as they have been. Long-term, you need to clean up waterways and plant ever more trees. China as a whole may lead the world in reafforestation, but Beijing itself is seeing the results of its own long project of becoming a green city, a testament to ‘ecological civilisation’.
Reluctant to leave the park, I tarried long. But darkness was looming and I had some walking to get home. I left through the west gate, wound my way through some local streets and picked up Suzhou Street. Due north it ran and took me home.
Today’s kilometre count: 14.