Black Noise: Beijing Sounds

Everyday, I pop in headphones before making my one hour commute by subway to the office here in Beijing. I, like many around me in the subway, try to block out the somewhat unpleasant journey crammed like sardines and hoarded like sheep transferring trains. But I realized recently that it’s hard to find silence in China and in particular, Beijing. As I sit and write from the seventh floor of the forth building in the China Central Place in the Central Business District, I hear the sound of progress: the sound of sawing, nail guns, elevator maintenance. It is hard to find the silence that I rediscovered traveling to Xinjiang’s beautiful mountains. You rarely have time to think in a city like this. And the hustle and bustle is not the energy New York thrives on or the wheeling and dealing that Los Angeles sounds like. Beijing is harsh. The harshness is in people’s voices. Yelling into cellphones. The subway announcements are done at ear-piercing volume. The recyclers who roam hutongs on bicycles pedal with long moan. I am on the bus and cellphones now serve as boomboxes pumping out hip-hop without earphones. But that’s the reason I put my headphones in each day — trying to drown out the sound with more sound.

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