Editor’s note: Steve Hubrecht’s last reporting job, prior to working for the Invermere Valley Echo and Columbia Valley Pioneer, was for The China Daily in Beijing, China where he lived with his wife Jenny from 2008 to 2010.
Moving from Beijing to Invermere is, to put it mildly, an exercise in contrasts.
A city of 14 million people versus a mountain town on a tranquil lake shore. Beijing, with all the hustle and bustle of China plunging headfirst into the 21st century, is a place people go to experience the giddy rush of watching the biggest story of the decade unfolding before their eyes. Invermere, on the other had, is precisely a place people come to escape hustle and bustle.
One place has a problem with an ever-growing number of cars, something that seems to frustrate a large part of the local population. The other place has a problem with an ever-growing number of deer, something that seems to frustrate a large part of the local population. In Beijing, everything is open all the time. Haircut at 11 p.m.? No problem, step right in. In Invermere, outside the summer tourist season, most everything shuts down shortly after 6 p.m. (save, mercifully, for the grocery stores).
In the markets, subways and alleys of Beijing you’ll hear a half dozen languages on any given day (Mandarin, obviously, but also many other Chinese dialects that the huge number of migrant workers from each of the 30 or so Chinese provinces bring to the capital — as well as English and a surprising amount of French).
In Invermere, it’s much more straightforward — all English, all the time.
And the air in Invermere is delightfully crystal clear, while in Beijing it at times chokes you and smells of coal.
But there are some similarities. Both are places that have experienced massive construction booms in the last decade. In Beijing, teams of migrant workers labour around the clock to put up dazzling landmarks building (such as the Birds Nest, the Water Cube and the CCTV tower — better known as the Underpants). In Invermere, many contractors have built impressive, sprawling, eye-catching second homes on the lake.
Both places are proud of their trademark homegrown specialities. For Beijing, that’s Beijing duck, chuan’r skewers and lao Beijing peanut soup. In Invermere, it’s Kicking Horse Coffee, Arrowhead Brewery, Saunders Jam and Kootenay Bayou hot sauce.
Beijing and Invermere are both towns with a passion for bicyling. In Beijing, biking usually means taking a Chinese Flying Pigeon — a classic, old school Chinese bike — and using it to commute to work or drift down the old traditional, home-lined hutong courtyard alleyways. In Invermere, biking means riding one of the many world-class mountain bike trails in the area.
Some of the differences between the two places are unexpected. Slipping into a quiet, tree-lined, car-free hutong of Beijing on a summer evening can actually seem less hectic than being out on Lake Windermere in the summer, when the lake is filled with countless motorboats.
Another surprising difference is that Beijing — with its centuries-old traditional neighbourhoods, and its parks and public spaces filled with residents exercising, dancing (yes, elderly Chinese people ballroom dance in open-air public spaces), practicing calligraphy or doing tai chi — often exudes an overwhelming sense of community. Invermere, despite being much cozier and far more picturesque, occasionally misses the mark in terms of community. (Where, for instance, was everybody at the Relay for Life or the MusicFest? C’mon people, get behind your community events).
But when you open your Invermere back door each morning to a garden full of sunflowers and Mt. Swansea etched against a gloriously blue sky, and take a few deep, relaxing breaths, it’s hard not to feel like you’re living in a small slice of paradise.
Steve Hubrecht is a reporter for the Invermere Valley Echo and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.