Beijing, Impossibly Small
The China Post tells us the total population of the municipality of Beijing, including legal and illegal migrant workers, is 17 million, a figure cited by most others. The Embassy of the PRC in the USA frightens us a bit more with 20 million. Many of my acquaintances, aiming to drive the annoying foreigner from these teeming shores, claim 25 or even 30 million. When talking to friends back home, I round up to a neat 100 million. Any fewer would be a let down. This is China.
And yet, I have almost never in recent memory walked down Nanluoguxiang without encountering at least three people I know. In evenings, when I don’t really photograph, the number is even higher. At times, it approaches 100 million. In Sanlitun, it is also common for me to run into people I know, though there I often pretend I am someone different. Granted, in the other million hectares of this miasma of concrete devouring the North China plain at light speed, it would be almost shocking to see a familiar face.
I literally always run into photographer Xiao Yang. Though I do like him, our meetings have not been intentional after the first one. Xiao Yang was on his way back from photographing the famous British-born art collector and critic, Karen Smith, who resides and houses her myriad works of avant-garde modern Chinese art in a courtyard near Jingshan.