Autumn has always been my favorite season, both in Beijing and in Montreal. In fall, the summer’s excesses fade from memory as a slowness descends upon the cities. Winter clothes are dug out from storage, pumpkin-laced drinks start appearing on menus, and frost curls over windows in the night.
Though my family has long made a tradition out of admiring fall foliage in Canada, it’s only in recent years that I started paying attention to individual trees. In Montreal, my sister and I grew up alongside maple trees, linden trees, birch, Siberian elms, red ash, and oaks. Our first house had a large lilac bush in the front yard; I can still smell the light, powdered sweetness of lilac blossoms from when we played outside in spring.
Though we’re approaching the end of autumn, early November is actually the best time to admire fall foliage in Beijing. All eyes will be on the city’s maples, oaks, birches, scholar trees, and willows – but the gingko (yinxing, 银杏) is perhaps the most majestic and unusual of all.
A living fossil, the sole existing species – Gingko biloba – can only be found in the wild in China. Few other trees loom as large in the national consciousness. The gingko is considered a symbol of longevity
because of its millennia-long lifespan, and its seeds are prized ingredients in both Chinese medicine and cuisine. It blooms only at night and loses its blossoms right away, “as if celebrating the wonder of life in secret” (“Ginkgo: Cultural Background and Medicinal Usage in China” by Heiner Fruehauf, The Journal of Chinese Medicine, March 1998).
Every autumn, locals and shutterbugs alike flock to Dajue Temple in
Haidian to admire one the temple’s oldest inhabitants: an ancient gingko tree that is over 1,000 years old. Though there are three others in the compound, the “King of Gingkos” is the oldest and largest by far. It would take seven or eight people to encircle its trunk, and the shade from this single tree covers more than half of the courtyard’s surface.
By now, the ancient gingko will be crowned in gold and incandescent in the sun. Fan-shaped leaves will blanket the prayer halls, forming a sharp contrast with the temple’s emerald roof tiles and burnished red walls. It’s a cinematic scene, and one that fits in nicely with our issue theme.
November is the perfect time to discover the city’s more interesting
cinemas and film-centric museums (p64). Cold nights and brisk days lend themselves well to the simple joy of curling up in the dark with a box of caramel popcorn, engaged by nothing more than the light of a flickering screen. We also spoke to students who took their love of cinema further by getting behind the camera (p58) – or even in front of it (p70).
There’s a scene in one of my favorite films, Cinema Paradiso, where the projectionist Alfredo urges his young protégé, Toto, to leave their village in search of his destiny: “You’re young and the world is yours. I’m old. I don’t want to hear you talk anymore. I want to hear others talking about you.”
As it turns out, people are already talking about a couple of the young film buffs featured in this month’s issue – and we can’t wait to hear more.
Photos courtesy of Sijia Chen
This article originally appeared on p9 of the beijingkids November 2013 issue.
Check out the PDF version online at Issuu.com