Awakening of Insects

Nicholas Quirke was astounded by the serendipity of his attempt to visit Beijing’s famed Drum and Bell towers on 5 March 2021. Though he had made the effort twice to see the historic square they were located in each time the Hutong enteral century had been barred to him and only the residents could access the square freely. And though he had decided to try again he was not sure that the way would open for him to get a good look. It was 10 km from the apartment and though the day itself was grey and a moderate pollution warning was present in the air, the temperature had risen and he decided that he would not only cycle but record a time lapsed journey which would take him passed the Forbidden City. He had not imagined that the road would be closed, but once he was within a kilometre of Tiananmen Square he was stopped by the police. They tried to send him south but as he wanted to go North he barked ‘Shichahai’ at them and they sent him back the way he had come but on the pavement. No dignitary could see a Laowai ‘Ni Xing’on the cities most important thoroughfare. The detour took him slightly longer than he had expected, but to his delight the square was open and he could finally see the buildings. He had not anticipated actually being able to go inside the tower but to his amazement, between 1.30 and 5.30 every day the tower was open and he decided to stay in the vicinity. The Drum Tower was built in 1272 during the reign of Kublai Khan, and was used to announce the time in Beijing for 625 years as well as marking the 24 solar periods of the traditional Chinese Calendar. After taking photos of the towers and square he found a nearby cafe to enjoy a tea and an opportunity to practise his Mandarin. He was struggling to master the 4 tones which differentiate the many sounds that appear to his ears to be identical but when given alternate intonation mean a completely different word. The result of this was that his Green tea when it was served was a Hot Chocolate. He was convinced he heard Lu Cha.and vehemently agreed but she had actually said Re (hot) Qiao (Sweet Chocolate). Hence he had to sit without a drink trill it was time to go back to get inside the tower. Though there was only a handful of customers the ticket office did not did till exactly 1.30pm to the annoyance of the elderly attendees. They were admitted swiftly and then had to climb the incredibly steep steps to Drum Hall. To his astonishment he discovered that 5 March was actually one of the 24 solar periods known as Jingjhe, ‘The Awakening Insects’ and the drums would beat to welcome in the change in the weather as the temperature gets warmer and the spring thunders awaken hibernating mites. What a perfect day for him to have visited. The immense hall was filled with drums of which most were reproductions with only one surviving ancient instrument long since defunct. He was pleased to see, looking conspicuous amongst the elderly, some youths had made a visit to witness the ancient ritual. It was an unexpected and thrilling treat to see a performance of Drumming which was modest but felt spectacular. He looked at the historical time pieces that were housed there before descending and making his way to a nearby cafe recommended by Peng whom he would meet there later, feeling that the day had been really special. The cafe seemed to be a refuge for cats and dogs and he actually found himself surrounded by beasts. Though he was not asthmatic he was short of breath and had lost his voice by the time he left. One of the forfeits for the Lantern festival riddles was that he treat Peng to a meal out and they were eating at a the conveniently located ‘Oii’ vegetarian restaurant which had a new hot pot dish on the menu. The meal was delicious and they both had a hankering for desert and discovered that there was a ‘Meet Fresh’ nearby where they could enjoy another of the mouth watering crushed ice Taiwanese deserts. They did not get home till late and for once there was no movie. New travel plans had been made though over supper and were finalised before he headed to bed and sleep.

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