Out with the old, in with the new most often happens in a sudden and shatteringly disruptive sort of way in Beijing, with lifetimes of memories of place wiped out in an afternoon, quickly replaced by something new that fairly effectively makes reminiscing about what used to be there seem fairly pointless.
A few weeks ago, one of my favorite little coffee shops in Beijing’s old town sat in the curve of the small hutong road as it turned to go around GuLou, the Drum Tower. The wifi was fast, the shelves were full of quirky books and magazines, and there was always a French fellow (who claimed to be a math professor teaching at a prestigious Beijing university) teaching French language to Chinese college kids. Â The last time I went back, a team of (de)construction workers, likely migrant labor from Hubei or Hebei or Henan province, had already made quick work of the place.
The anxiety, or more often resignation, of the locals, is that the whole neighborhood will be completely transformed, the old buildings and old little shops, bars, and homes where so many memories have been made will be forgotten and Beijing will have yet another “traditional” hutong commercial street, done up in a sort of Disney-ish version of what a colorful old Beijing street may have been imagined.