Beihai Revisited

Nicholas Quirke was in the mood for revisiting some of the parks he had first visited in the spring and which now, 27 October 2020, should have a completely different hue. This was not only due to the change of seasons but also as many aspects of the parks had been closed due to Covid 19. He had also been keen, since his visit to the National film Museum, to see some of the China’s classic films from the the 40’s and 50’s and he discovered that the Chinese film archive would be screening a newly restored print of ‘The Lin Family Shop that evening as well as their weekly screening of a classic movie on the Wednesday, ‘Flower Shop’. It seemed impossible to check if the films were screened with English subtitles and he had to resort to cycling to the cinema to see if it was possible. It was quite a way north and not an area that he was familiar with beyond Ping A’nli where he had received his treatment for sciatica. It was an enjoyable cycle the temperature was temperate and he found the archive without any problem. When he attempted to get entry he was stopped and had to explain that he wanted to book a ticket for the cinema. He was directed about 20 metres along the road where indeed there was a cinema. As he walked through the gate he was stopped and when he showed them the link of the film he wanted to see he was sent back to where he had just been. He explained that they wouldn’t let him in and the usher kindly walked him to the archive cinema which, of course, was shut. He made his way back to the gate and the archive offices, preparing to do battle with the guard but when he arrived a distinguished gentleman, who was lingering and smoking, asked if he could help. “Do you work here?” Nicholas asked. ‘Yes” and he proffered the question in Chinese on his phone. ‘Who can tell me if tonight’s screening has English subtitles’. He got a colleague to come down and help him. Lan had excellent English but was also astonished that an Englishman was interested in old Chinese films. It took a while but it turned out that the restored print did not have subtitles. The film the next night didn’t have subtitles either, but he did learn that the print was recently donated from a french archive and he also learned that the offices were being refurbished as it had not been done since the 1950’s. His mission though had failed and he bestrode a bike and cycled to Beihai Park. To his delight he was given free entry and once inside made his way round the side to the park which he had not explored before. The park was immense and he realised that he had only seen a tiny fraction of it when he explored the island and the white pagoda. It was also apparent with the various pavilions in the park that he couldn’t see everything on this visit. To his annoyance the Go Pro selfie stick broke. It would be the third replacement since he had arrived in China. Despite the damage he managed to enjoy himself in the imperial gardens and the visit to the Jinxing (Peaceful Heart) Studio was another example of the complexities of harmonious design and mind that the ancient royals applied to their privileged lifestyles. Here in a garden within the gardens, created to echo the landscaped gardens south of the Yangtze, the emperors enjoyed pavilions where they composed poetry, painted and relaxed. Night was falling by the time he started back and he realised how short the days were now becoming. The evening consisted of a viewing of ‘Spontaneous’ which turned out to be a surprisingly engaging, even heartwarming tale of spontaneous combustion. It had been an long day and he welcomed the sleep that enveloped him once his head touched the pillow.

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