The city has emptied its bowels of people, and suddenly the streets are cleaner, the skies bluer (mountain visible!), the traffic wardens friendlier. (A short old man engaged me in a one-way conversation at a crossing yesterday, details of which aren't important, but it made me appreciate, all over again, the wardens' stupid, stupid jobs.) We are in Golden Week, the country's monthlong celebration of itself, a time when those in the middle class pack their bags and take a leave. The result is a metropolis mercifully relieved of the pressures and stresses of the hoi polloi, the ruckus and racket of the multitude among ones. There are suddenly seats in the subway and bus (and at certain McDonald's). There is a much-needed calm, a great slowing down, leading to a sense that this way of life is the norm. Of course the illusion will be lifted in due time, as this reprieve is as temporary as the blue skies. They will all return, by choice, because to live in Beijing is a privilege and at this heart of the world we are all part and parcel of the rat-a-tat of scuttling feet and all that happens, all that traffic, all that drunkenness, all that fire and ardor, the conflagration and consolidation of hopes and goals. Our choice is clear: Beijing, please -- another. And one for my friend here.