Monday, January 26, 2009

The Five Senses Of China, Part III: Hearing

When considering the sounds of China, I could easily write a lengthy piece contrasting a concert of honking taxi horns on the streets of Harbin to the tranquility of a bus ride on the Beijing 106, where the only noises you may hear are the occasional roaring motor, squeaking breaks, or the ayi announcing each stop.

Instead, though, I'd like to report some observations from last night...the eve of Chinese New Year...spent in an unlikely venue...the Beijing United Family Hospital (hanging out with Marina after a tough day at the Temple of Heaven).

Yesterday evening, I was in the loudest place and the quietest place that I've probably ever been at the same time (except maybe a Bruce concert...Born to Run v. My City of Ruins...but that's not China).

It was 11:15 pm on January 25th. The final day in the Year of the Rat. There had been a barrage of firecrackers, fireworks, and dynamite exploding in the streets of Beijing for a few hours. But then there was something different in the "air." With countless revelers preparing to celebrate the incoming Year of the Ox in just under an hour, they kicked it up a notch, giving it all they had to create a true "fireworks spectacular." While we weren't in New York Harbor and the sponsor definitely wasn't Gucci, it became apparent why everyone knows China invented fireworks. These people have 'em and they know how to use 'em!

For close to an hour, the hisses and booms tickled our eardrums. For a moment, I thought about Francis Scott Key as he wrote the Star Spangled Banner. In another train of thought, I remembered the people in warring nations and truly appreciated my safety given that these explosions were celebratory, not confrontational. Combined with the voices of Chinese singers belting out traditional tunes on CCTV 1's variety show--a program that was, no doubt, on every TV in China and even some in the US (right, Song Wei?)--the excitement drummed up by this ear candy was an auditory feast.

While the mood on the streets of Chaoyang was festive and loud beyond compare, inside Suite Eight on the fourth floor of the Beijing United Family Hospital, the silence was deafening. The hospital gave peace and quiet new meaning. No constant intrusion of boisterous nurses. Rather, the soft, soothing voices of caretakers whose mission was to provide prompt service and immediate comfort to their patients. Throughout the overnight, the intermittent sounds of joy outside were followed up with, well, not a peep inside. A calm during a storm, you might say.



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