Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Rediscovering Beijing


Eric Abrahamsen is the main researcher and writer of Beijing By Foot.

It's a box with a set of 50 cards, each with a map of a different neighbourhood and interesting and fascinating facts and stories about the places.

He's lived here for six years, and his day job is a translator from Chinese to English. But he also likes to walk. A lot.

Which is why the publishers asked him to help them with this guide which sparked his interest in learning more about the city he lives in.

The guide is coming out next week, but he gave me a sneak preview by showing me an interesting place in Hou Hai, or the back lakes.

Near the Goulou or Drum and Bell Tower is a Yuan Dynasty bridge, which is still mostly in tact, save for a few brand new marble parts. It looks a bit strange, but how do you keep a still functioning bridge look decent?

The Wanning Bridge is part of a canal that was built during the time of Kublai Khan, ferrying goods like silk and tea all the way from Hangzhou to Beijing. The canal used to go all the way to the Summer Palace.

And as the water was flowing upwards to the capital , a sophisticated lock system was also created which was very new at that time.

The canal was developed by Guo Shoujing, a brilliant mathematician, astronomer and hydro-engineer.

He even calculated the calender very similar to what we have today -- and was only 26 seconds off. He also developed a number of instruments used for astronomy.

It's amazing that all this was developed over 700 years ago.

And you can find out even more amazing facts and stories from Beijing By Foot.

Abrahamsen tells me the guide has North American distribution and hopefully European distribution soon.

I commented that Beijing is so unwieldy that it doesn't seem like a pedestrian-friendly city.

He agreed, but said that after you accept and get over the fact that bus and subway stops are not necessarily in the most convenient places and are willing to walk alot on dusty roads and get sweaty, then once you get into neighbourhoods, you are going to discover some really neat stuff.

After spending over four months walking, writing, and reading did Abrahamsen renew his interest in the city and now he can't help but continue rediscovering the place he calls home for now.

It's kind of inspired me to check out the city again with this new perspective.

1 comment:

ks said...

i am always amazed that the maps and travel guides written by foreigners are much better than the ones published in china. why is it? the outstanding ones are national geogrphic, lonely planet, eyewitness travels guides to name a few. i think it is high time the chinese should start developing the culture of original research. learn from the kweilos, the foreign devils.