For some reason, I began to find that I was seeking ways to get out of the city. Once I had walked towards its centre, but my desire was increasingly outward. I was not yet sure why this was the case.
But on this day I set out to fulfil a half-formed plan: to head further north and then west to another part of the mountain ranges, which drew me more and more.
Baiwangshan – 100-views mountain – was my aim, more than 15 kilometres away. The first part was along what were by now somewhat familiar paths. North along Suzhou Street, which became Yihuanlu (Summer Palace Road), past the old western gate of Peking University and then along the edge of the older Summer Palace.
By now I had turned westward and found that I was walking along the northern rim of the new Summer Palace – or what people these days simply call the Summer Palace. To my left were the hills made from digging out the lake. On their slopes and tops I could see the many buildings surrounding the palace itself. I longed to go there and explore.
But I needed to use the toilet. Spying a sign, I turned right and into the past. This was still in many respects a village, with its narrow streets, groups of old men smoking and playing Majiang (Mahjong), and neighbours doing their thing. But the toilet I could not find. In the end, I asked a local ‘public peace’ officer, who led me on a twisting path to find the toilet. This one had not yet undergone the transformation of the ‘toilet revolution’, launched four years ago by Xi Jinping. Three squat holes were side-by-side, with a small corner that passed as a urinal. No divisions or barriers between them at all. Here one could squat, enjoy a smoke and chat with a neighbour who may be engaged in the same pastime. That a foreigner was there did not so much as raise an eyebrow. Of course, foreigners too need to go from time to time.
Refreshed from my experience, I strode on, turning north along the Anhe River. Once upon a time, it had been nothing more than a refuse dump and drain. Now, it had been transformed into a beautiful, clean waterway. Many were the signs advising one to keep the river clean, and many were the trees planted along its shores.
Close to Baiwangshan, I came across a vast military establishment to my left. Accommodation for soldiers’ families were nearby, as were many shops catering to their needs. Through the massive front gate, I spied pictures of Xi Jinping and many, many red banners with slogans and quotations from Xi. I pondered taking a picture, but the two guards at the front gate had me firmly in their view. Best not for a foreigner to take snaps of a military establishment … I marched on.
At dusk I finally arrived at Baiwangshan: tickets inside cost 20 RMB, but I had hiked enough and was keen to get home. A new metro stop was nearby, on an extension to Beijing’s already vast metro network. Inside, I was enthralled by the design and artwork of the station. In good socialist style, the station celebrated yet another technical achievement and the improvement of lives for the common people.