BEIJING RUNAROUND: BUSES & PLANES & SUBWAYS

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Tourist district of Beijing

…flight leaves Bangkok at 1:20 in the morning, already doomed as far as I’m concerned… seat back doesn’t seem to want to recline backward… arrive in Shanghai at six in the a.m. with seven hours until my onward connection, but I have to change airports—not terminals—to do it.   Fun fun fun… exchange houses in China will fleece you right there at the airport, charging you fifty yuan to change your money, so I ask him for it back. I thought he said fifteen.

I get to the other airport with plenty of time to spare, quick tour of Shanghai in the process, nothing to do now but free-base caffeine… my only goal is to find my Beijing hotel before dark using the subway system in a city I’ve never visited using a language I don’t really know written in characters that mean little or nothing, though the character for pot-stickers looks surprisingly accurate… too bad I don’t eat meat…

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The other Tiananmen Square

Shanghai’s is the airport of the future, symbolic of their field-of-dreams mentality, their edifice complex, the notion that the world is there (and theirs) to be developed, a mall in every village, an airport for every town. I’m not sure I like that vision; I’m pretty sure I don’t in fact. Nature may not always be right, but probably more often than humans. I don’t think I’ll ever lose my love of fields and streams, mountains and valley daydreams.

…weather is bad, so the flight is an hour late leaving Shanghai, still I find my hotel before dark by the grace of God. Allahu akhbar. There’s a reason I book hotels close to subway stations… it’s a peach, $30 net with a couple bucks extra for the best breakfast I’ve had since Istanbul; hard-boiled eggs, salad fixin’s, and forty-two different kinds of tofu, a vegetarian’s dream in cheap hotel heaven… hotel doesn’t have Wi-Fi, but I guess a hard-wire connection will do. Steve Jobs wouldn’t like that, though, would he?

Great Wall at Badaling

Great Wall at Badaling

…first day I walk so much that my feet are mush. Tiananmen Square and Sanlitun Village—the foreign quarter—will have to suffice. I’ll save the Forbidden City for another day. I can do that any half day. The Great Wall will take a little more planning… mostly waiting actually, for the bus. I blow off the tour companies and opt for the public bus, but that means the long lines familiar to Communism.

Wall’s impressive, too, as much or more as any picture could attempt to do it justice. I even thought about walking it, but… naah. On the way back, though, I jump the bus line when I hear the guy yelling, “Spaces for two!” At least I think that’s what he said. Most Chinese travel in packs. They yell a lot, too. You’ve probably heard that they’re not really yelling, that’s just the tonality of the language. That’s pure BS; they’re yelling.

…a little bit of old China—but not much—lives on in the back alleys of Beijing. Here you can find the best street food and the most interesting little shops.   They’re rapidly becoming upscale and fashionable, too, since the faster they disappear the more valuable the few remaining ones become. It reminds me most of maybe the old quarter in Hanoi, with which it must share a common ancestor, if Hanoi is not a direct copy itself. Fortunately that district is not far from where I’m staying, so it’s the best of both worlds for me. I like it. I’ll be back.

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