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The last days of old Beijing : life in the vanishing backstreets of a city trans
Michael Meyer
Adult Nonfiction DS795.7.A2 M48 2008

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From Publishers' Weekly:

Starred Review. Just in time for the Summer Olympics in Beijing, the Old City's narrow lanes and shops are being bulldozed and their residents displaced to make way for Wal-Marts, shopping centers and high-rise apartments. Part memoir, part history, part travelogue and part call to action, journalist Meyer's elegant first book yearns for old Beijing and mourns the loss of an older way of life. Having lived for two years in one of Beijing's oldest hutongs--mazes of lanes and courtyards bordered by single-story houses--Meyer chronicles the threat urban planning poses not only to the ancient history buried within these neighborhoods but also to the people of the hutong. The hutong, he says, builds community in a way that glistening glass and steel buildings cannot. His 81-year-old neighbor, whom he calls the Widow, had always been safe because neighbors watched out for her, as she watched out for others: the book opens with a delightful scene in which the Widow, a salty character who calls Meyer Little Plumblossom, brings him unsolicited dumplings for his breakfast. The ironies of the reconstruction of Beijing are clear in the building of Safe and Sound Boulevard, which, Meyer tells us, is neither safe nor sound.Meyer's powerful book is to Beijing what Jane Jacobs's The Death and Life of Great American Cities was to New York City. 25 b&w photos. (June) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved All rights reserved.

From Library Journal:

Meyer lived in a Beijing hutong (narrow lane) for two years while he worked as a teacher, having gone to China as a Peace Corps volunteer. Eventually, he was given the nickname Teacher Plumblossom. Meyer was often asked by his neighbors if he knew when their neighborhood would undergo the same razing occurring everywhere in preparation for the Olympics. To show us what this threatened neighborhood is like, Meyer takes us into his life, masterfully describing the seasons, his home and courtyard, and his students and their parents. We meet his landlady, for instance, who runs her house with an iron grip while bringing him nourishing soup. He also adds a wonderful sprinkling of humor, pointing out the sign that greets him on the way to a latrine: "No Spitting No Smoking No Coarse Language No Missing the Hole." Ultimately, the neighborhood wasn't destroyed. Now tourists are brought there to see the real Beijing, and, reports Meyer, they rank the visit as a highlight over the Forbidden City and the Great Wall. All library collections that aim for a complete overview of China must add this unusual title.--Susan G. Baird, Chicago (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

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