A good China story, from Beijing

It’s been said by way of critique that Western mainstream media tends to sift China stories into one of three categories: Good China, Bad China, Weird China.

Well, this is a Good China story — because sometimes, sappy as it may seem, those of us here could use a restorative anecdote, a little reminder of our commonalities.

I tweeted last Wednesday that China was “having a real ‘No dogs and no foreigners allowed’ moment,” after my friend was denied service at a local Beijing bar because he was a foreigner. (That bar is, ironically, co-owned by a foreigner.) A few days later, I was with that friend and three other foreigners out about town, looking for a place to eat around 10 p.m., when we stumbled upon one of the only places still open in the neighborhood, an unadorned little restaurant called Lóngméntiào 龙门跳. None of us had been before.

The proprietor who greeted us at the door was a slight woman, maybe 50-something, whose mask looked perpetually on the verge of slipping from her face. For a split-second, all of us froze — because it was late, because we were a big group, because we were foreign in a place that couldn’t have looked more local. “Five,” I said. At the same time, my friend, a tall, exuberant Danish fellow, asked, “Um, are foreigners OK, here?”

“Of course!” our host beamed. Her expression seemed to add, And why wouldn’t you be?

This was an Old Beijing barbecue (zhìzi 炙子) joint, where meat and noodles are grilled on a sturdy black brazier heated by coal, served with local beer — but the cut-above kind that’s fuller and tastier than typical 50-cent Yanjing. Our host recommended dishes, kindly elaborating, “Foreigners like this,” grilled for us, and served. We made some small talk, and then I asked (it’s an occupational hazard) whether she had been warned to be wary of foreigners, due to anxieties about, well, you know.

“Not here,” she said. “I hear they’re checking everyone at the airports. There are more Chinese people flying back, anyway.”

How sensible, simple. The rest of the night felt normal, complete with the ordering of cheap baijiu, that Chinese sorghum liquor which, though wretched, seems to go well with smoked meat and conversation. For however long we lingered, there was no talk of coronavirus.

Previously in Update from Beijing:

Update from Beijing, where life is not quite returning to normal