Reading in Beijing

Rickshaw Boy by Lao She

Reading a book is getting lost inside a whole new world. Conjuring different landscapes, people and their stories in your head. Living their lives, seeing what the author wants us to see. And just like that, each book you read is a new experience. You’ve had a tour of another city and have witnesses a whole new culture.

Travelling is where you are authoring the book you are reading. You are describing landscapes to yourself. You’re living the story you’re writing. Every new place you travel to makes a new mark on your personality.

Every travel experience is a great new story waiting to be told.

What if we travel and read at the same time, creating our own stories while living someone else’s in parallel?

Walking around a city in 2018 and reading about the same street you’re on in 1924. Educating yourself about the heritage and culture of various landmarks. Knowing beforehand, what spot in the city provides what kind of view. All of this sounds like such a great way to travel! And believe me when I say it was!

“Rickshaw Boy” was forever on my To-Be-Read list. When I found out that I’ll be visiting Beijing and staying there for a week, I realized that there is no better way to read it than there.

Forbidden City

When I was in Beijing, I was walking with everyone else and was being a regular tourist. But the things I was seeing were massively different because I had a book in my hand and the vision of the author.

Tienanmen Square went from a pick-up point for rickshaws to having subway stations and metro buses. I knew how Forbidden City looked in winter from atop the hill at Jingshan Park. I knew that Tsinghua University, where students now walk around with earphones plugged in and heads bent over their books was once boiling with turmoil amidst massive student protests. I appreciated the calm in the chaos of the streets. I learnt how China went from believing in Individualism to establishing Communism and Beijing’s role in it.

“Rickshaw Boy” had many parallels to “The Jungle” as they both served as communist manifestos to the public. They both illustrated the perils of individualism through the lives of bright eyed, hopeful protagonists whose beliefs in securing their lives through hard work were shattered by the society. But my journey reading “Rickshaw Boy” seemed more personal than when I was reading “The Jungle”.

From learning how to pronounce the names in the book from the locals to being able to visualize the story better because of being in the place the story was set, reading in Beijing was a delightful experience and I wish I get to do something like this in the future again.

Here is to reading more, travelling more and hopefully, being able to do both together :)