Promenade Nº7

Beijing – 北京
16 December 2013
From 11h42 to 16h11 (4h29min)
8,5 km
Total duration with public transportation (bus and subway): 7h02
跟随护城河第三集 (Following the moat, third episode)

At 10h16 I left my house. I walked south in order to reach a bus line that would carry me to the place where I had turned back during Promenade #5. My idea was to walk following the second north moat all the way to its east end. I already reached the other end, on the west side of the city during Promenade #6.

I spotted a couple of brooms on the way.

I saw some rests of the bills I put up together during Promenade #5.

After an hour and half walking and bus riding, I finally started Promenade #7. I actually got on the wrong bus following a nice old man that I started chatting with after asking him if this was the right bus stop. He told me it wasn’t (“bu bu bu!”) but when the bus arrived he urged me to get on (“shangche shangche!”). He sat next to me and we had a little chat until he went out at the very next stop (old people travel for free in Beijing), then the bus turned north and I wanted to go all the way east. Anyway, I finally arrived at the Yuan Dynasty City Wall Ruins Park (元大都城垣遗址公园), the one that follows the 2nd north moat. Departure 11h42.

I think this is a good example of what I was criticizing on the last Promenade about official and unofficial paths. Here, walking on the paved path is so uncomfortable that people made an alternative path right next to it. Did the conceiver of this path ever try to walk on it?

At some point I came across some chalk drawings on a sign.

And right after that, I passed through a tunnel full of little dark green shapes covering illegally stamped advertisements. I immediately wanted to do something with these shapes.

I looked for a rock that I could use as a chalk. That one didn’t work.

That limestone one did.

I went back into the tunnel.

And started marking an outline around each shape.

I started from the left side of the tunnel and outlined all the shapes I could until the rock consumed out.

I did almost 90% of the length of the wall.

Panoramic animation (pass your mouse over the image to move it).

The way graffiti is erased is always quite fascinating, but the way they do it in China really attracts my attention. In this case, inside a tunnel, they used as little paint as possible to cover the small ads stamped all over the wall. Normally an uncleaned wall would look like that: Most of the time they advertise the services for locksmiths, plumbers, construction workers, issuing papers… Although, in this tunnel, I couldn’t find any uncovered ad, so I have no idea what they were advertising for. The abstract pattern created looked very inspiring to me and I simply wanted to highlight it. After taking pictures of the result, I moved toward the east again.

I spotted this interesting broom and brick private party.

On the way, I found another limestone rock.

It was bigger than the first one, I put it in my bag.

Competition was very active all along the way.

When the moat reaches its furthest point east, it turns 90 degrees to the south, just like on the west side of the city.

After a while wandering south, I came across this interesting configuration. A strange concrete item is situated at the encounter of different planes. Vertically, it has three different levels, the street on top, an terreplein in the middle and the pedestrian path where I was situated. Horizontally, two manholes are the separating point between a straight wall and a sloping wall. The first manhole is at the road’s level and the other a little bit higher than the terreplein’s level. I don’t know in which order these elements had been constructed but all this happening in the same place creates quite a singular structure.

I decided to highlight it with my new rock.

This “design abnormality” is probably the result of difficult roadwork. Sometimes, the cheapest solution gives the best visual result. Here, the different volumes created (square, rectangles, semicircles…) melt into a composition that I appreciated a lot. I hope that, with the stripes, people will notice it and perhaps enjoy it as much as I did.

Then, I found another fascinating spot. It’s a sort of dead end, a place where nobody needs to pass through, it doesn’t lead anywhere and has nothing interesting in it.

It really looks like this small discarded area has been created by moving the stairs half their width to the left. After a closer look it seems that the stairs were erected before the walkway. But anyway, they couldn’t match the two elements together and the result is that half of the stairs are leading off the road and the railing on top right is too short to protect people from falling into the gap created. I found this small no man’s land so beautifully absurd that I decided to highlight it too.

To me, it was like saying “Hey guys, the stairs should be here”.

After documenting the occurrence, I moved south again. Under an especially long  and low tunnel – long because the 3rd ring road with something like 12 car lanes passes over and low because at some point I had to crouch down to be able to pass, and I am not taller than the average Chinese. This gloomy place, dark and scattered with huge filthy water puddles, was actually full of people walking by. In that outstanding environment, I found a lot of bills, all advertising for the same “Individual rooms for rent”.

I couldn’t resist and did again the bills uninstallation-reinstallation – done before in Promenade #2 and #5 – this time with 36 bills.

The marketing plan works, people look at it more than if they were all individually scattered around.

After walking under one of the biggest highway in Beijing, I ended up in a very quiet neighborhood. Hundreds of people were rushing inside the filthy tunnel 50 meters behind me and now this pleasant and quiet place was totally empty. It will probably lead to nowhere, perfect for me. I kept on following the moat south. I passed no more than ten people before I reached the next big road.

This is a detail you will find in almost every city, people leaving food for cats or birds. For some people it can appear unpleasant, so I took a wooden stick and decided to do something about it.

I thought a little organization would make it more appealing.

I had a genuine laugh by myself and moved away.

I reached the point where the moat plunges into the Ba river (坝河). Note the stairs on the left heading into a wall, classic.

I tried to do something on that interesting spot but the white of the limestone rock I was using was not contrasting enough. Anyway, again this construction looked a little bit absurd to me, it was probably open before and was leading somewhere but why, after closing it, did they leave an open lid on top, is there a parking lot hidden behind this wall?

I found a yellowish rock and tried a simple Sol Lewitt pattern on a low parapet. I left the rock hoping that someone will continue it.

It was almost 4pm so I decided to leave the river bank and walk west, I knew the subway line 13 was running close-by.

The subway station was actually very close, but to reach it I had to cross this wonderful platform bridge. This one is not like the usual pedestrian overpass, its top part is very wide, creating again, a huge useless space. People walk following a straight line from stairs to stairs (actually marked with black tiles). I assume that very few people enter the rest of the platform. I did, of course.

Once I reach the other side I understood it was supposed to be a bridge for something bigger than pedestrians, probably the subway line, as I could notice the structure was exactly the same as the subway bridge 50 meters away. I’d love to know the real story behind this bridge. But it seams that a bridge was built in the wrong place and instead of demolishing it, it has been transformed, creating a wonderful residual space.

16h06, on my way home.

The GPS track record (click on the map to make it bigger).

> Back to Promenades Journal