Sooty skies are not the only reliable indicator that winter has finally descended on the Chinese capital. Vendors selling roasted sweet potatoes occupy street corners with their repurposed oil-drum ovens. To ward off the sniffles, Beijing cabdrivers nibble on cloves of raw garlic, making taxi rides especially trying.
Then there are the piles of cabbage that accrue in communal courtyards, high-rise hallways and window ledges across the city.
The vegetal escarpments sometimes tower waist-high in public stairwells, competing for space with rusting bicycles and neatly stacked piles of the honeycomb coal briquettes that still heat countless homes here.
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"When you see a mound of cabbage outside your front door, you feel confident that you won't starve to death during the winter," said Wang Jianrong, 62, a retired government worker standing proudly beside a heap of white-and-jade roughage.
In a city crowded with BMWs, upscale malls and produce-packed supermarkets, the stockpiling of cabbage is a vestigial impulse that speaks to an era of scarcity that still haunts Chinese of a certain age.