A photo captures the changing colors of autumn in Beijing. [Photo by He Jianyong/for chinadaily.com.cn]
Autumn, wherever it is, always has something to recommend itself. In North China, however, it is particularly limpid, serene and melancholy. To enjoy its atmosphere to the full in the onetime capital, I have, therefore, made light of travelling a long distance from Hangzhou to Qingdao, and thence to Peiping.
There is of course autumn in the South too, but over there plants wither slowly, the air is moist, the sky pallid, and it is more often rainy than windy. While muddling along all by myself among the urban dwellers of Suzhou, Shanghai, Xiamen, Hong Kong or Guangzhou, I feel nothing but a little chill in the air, without ever relishing to my heart's content the flavour, colour, mood and style of the season. Unlike famous flowers which are most attractive when half opening, good wine which is most tempting when one is half drunk, autumn, however, is best appreciated in its entirety.
It is more than a decade since I last saw autumn in North. When I am in the South, the arrival of each autumn will put me in mind of Peiping's Tao Ran Ting with its reed catkins, Diao Yu Tai with its shady willow trees, Western Hills with their chirping insects, Yu Quan Shan Mountain on a moonlight evening and Tan Zhe Si with its reverberating bell. Suppose you put up in a humble rented house inside the bustling imperial city, you can, on getting up at dawn, sit in your courtyard sipping a cup of strong tea, leisurely watch the high azure skies and listen to pigeons circling overhead.
Saunter eastward under locust trees to closely observe streaks of sunlight filtering through their foliage, or quietly watch the trumpet-shaped blue flowers of morning glories climbing half way up a dilapidated wall, and an intense feeling of autumn will of itself well up inside you. As to morning glories, I like their blue or white flowers best, dark purple ones second best, and pink ones third best. It will be most desirable to have them set off by some tall thin grass planted underneath here and there.
Locust trees in the North, as a decorative embellishment of nature, also associate us with autumn. On getting up early in the morning, you will find the ground strewn all over with flower-like pistils fallen from locust trees. Quiet and smell-less, they feel tiny and soft underfoot.
After a street cleaner has done the sweeping under the shade of the trees, you will discover countless lines left by his broom in the dust, which look so fine and quiet that somehow a feeling of forlornness will begin to creep up on you. The same depth of implication is found in the ancient saying that a single fallen leaf from the wutong tree is more than enough to inform the world of autumn's presence.