Beijing, 12 April 2013

We were discussing weighty matters yesterday afternoon, the security situation of our organization here in China. It’s a review we carry out once a year, in the Spring. Not unnaturally, the new outbreak of bird flu in the Shanghai area was the first topic on the agenda. After a review of where things stand, we concluded that the new flu virus H7N9 currently represents a moderate threat to our staff members and their dependents, but we agreed that we will need to closely follow the flu’s progress. Next on the agenda: North Korea and the recent ratcheting up of tensions there which I alluded to in a previous post. Conclusion: low to moderate concern for us in China, but the Security Officer to monitor the situation and report back. And so on, down the list of possible threats, both natural, like earthquakes, and man-made, like the outbursts of violent agitation in the Eastern provinces over land use.

All the while, I admired the magnolia in the garden outside the window, with its silky white flowers standing out against the tender green of a weeping willow tree unfurling into leaf. At the meeting’s start, both were picked out with vivid intensity by the sun. But as the meeting wore on and the sun moved in its arc across the sky, the shadows drew in and cast a pall of grey over the white and green.

picture 004

And so our security review was done for another year.


Beijing, 18 January 2013

Readers of my posts will know that I walk along a piece of canal on my way to and from the office. During these walks, I watch how the change of seasons are reflected – literally and figuratively – in the waters of the canal and the willows that grow along its edge. This year, winter came flurrying in with a blustery storm in late November which damaged a number of the willows along the canal.

Winter-2012 005

Then came a snowstorm, which left a modest covering of snow and which quickly disappeared. Thereafter, the temperatures plunged and the canal froze over. With no snow, the ice was initially buffed clean by the wind, but the wind soon died down and over a period of a week or so a thin layer of dust settled on the ice’s surface; winter is very dry in Beijing. One morning, as I turned off the bridge to start my walk along the canal, I noticed faintly etched in the dust a Chinese character. I was intrigued. What had been written? A name? Two names, united in love? Or something stupid like “Wash me”? Or worse?! Given my illiteracy in Chinese, I had no idea. So I took a photo.


I showed it to my Chinese secretary. She studied the photo a minute and said “it says, qīng.”

And what does it mean, I asked?

Clear, pure, clean, she told me. Peaceful, also.

Clear, pure, clean, peaceful … The writer must have been feeling good when he wrote it. Was it love? Just a happy moment? Whatever it was, I thank him. Later wind has effaced the character, but every time I walk past the spot I get a warm feeling.


Since writing this, snow has fallen and has covered the canal’s ice with a thin coating of snow.  Someone went out and wrote in the snow. This one I could read:

love 002