On Grandparents and Pekingese

Let me give you the tour.

So, I’m living with a host family (composed of father in his 80s and son in his 50s) in the north of Beijing. It’s a typical complex of run-down looking apartment blocks populated mostly by families of the sāndàidàtáng (‘three generations under one roof’) variety.

Let me take you back to the first night I arrived. I decided to go for an evening stroll in the compound on that steamy September evening to orientate myself. As it turned out, all the buildings looked the same and I got lost.

Over the ensuing two hours of growing panic and the distinct feeling of walking in circles I saw some pretty interesting stuff.

Old People

Everywhere. As I later discovered, most of the families who populate the compound are of the sāndàidàtáng (‘three generations under one roof’) variety: four grandparents, two parents, one child. This means that the wrinkly ones far outnumber everyone else and are way more visible in the compound’s public spaces pretty much 24/7 (I’ve seen power-walking grannies out at 1am).

In the handkerchief-sized green spaces, concrete benches and paved paths they hold epic chess battles, blast pop music on boomboxes, hawk into flower beds and generally have a great time whilst everyone else is at school or work.

On that first evening, I passed a lycra-clad lady practising her Tai Chi, accompanying the instructional video on her touchscreen tablet with rythmic farts. Five minutes on, I passed a leathery-faced street cleaner bent over a pile of polystyrene fragments with a pair tongs picking them up one by one. He farted loudly as I passed. Is it me or them?

We Need To Talk About Dogs.

I’m not a great appreciator of dogs. Dog-themed clickbait (‘This Dog is So Cute It Will Make You Wet Yourself’) doesn’t really do it for me. HOWEVER. My first few weeks in Beijing have often seen me dropping to my knees or running red lights to get a snap of the latest weird Beijing dog I’ve seen.

All the dogs are small, often oddly proportioned to the point of being grotesque in a way that reminds me of Qing dynasty foot-binding. These dogs are not practical dogs. They are status dogs: here to look pretty, not rescue you in an avalanche, attack would-be thieves or play go-fetch on the beach.

As darkness fell in the compound on that romantic evening, over the background rumblings of healthy bowels, drifted another sound, the tinkling of little bells adorning the neck of a briskly trotting dog whose head seemed twice the size of its tiny body. Behind it, what appeared to be an illuminated dog head, speeding through the dark. Turned out it was wearing a glow-stick necklace.


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