Wednesday, May 13, 2010
In the morning, I stir to the sound of the Xicheng District waking up – men and women commuting on bicycles, mothers and grandmothers ferrying children to school, street cleaners, and slow passing vehicles. From the northwest facing window, I can see the glazed tile roofs of the hutongs, or ‘flat houses’, across the street and a second story addition that juts from one of them. Solar powered water heaters populate much of the roof lines. Later, Dr. Z points out the electric meters and conduits outside of the courtyard homes, noting that utilities were added long after the construction of the original hutongs. He encourages me to find some time before we leave to explore this historic district.
We make our way to the Jishuitan subway station, backtracking the way we took the night before. Anyone carrying bags or packages have to pass their things through a scanning machine before entering the subway (this is required at every entry point).
The subway station itself is well-lit, modern, and bustling. We pass many colorful advertisements neatly posted on the wall. There are two ways to purchase passes – either via the vending machine (with screen, instructions also in English) or from a ticket agent. As my luck would have it, Dr. Z prefers the person to person interaction, so we wait our turn for the ticket agent. He tells me that jockeying for a spot in line, through a crowd, or in and out of trains is very much part of the culture here. He gives me 4 RMB and smiles because I am visibly nervous about asking the ticket agent for “liang jiang piao” (two tickets). He reassures me and says I can probably just get away with just handing over the 4 RMB and not saying a word. Repeating “liang jiang piao” like a nutter, and before a grandmother who is all of 4′ 7″ can jostle me out of the way, I slide 4 RMB to the completely disinterested ticket agent sitting behind the glass who, in turn, slides two tickets back to me. Pleased at my own effort, I shoot Dr. Z a grin from ear to ear.
Beijing’s subway is one of the most organized, efficient, and relatively clean systems I’ve ever seen. There are route maps written in Chinese characters as well as pinyin, and the transfer stations are not difficult to figure out. Dr. Z advises that I should make sure to pay attention to what direction I need to go in when I transfer trains, as some stations (and their exits) can be quite confusing. The boarding area next to the tracks have arrows indicating the exit and entry path onto the train, which in the rush to board or exit seems efficient.
Notes about riding the subway:
– intercom announcements are also in English
– video screens featuring news and entertainment
– route map that indicates what station is coming up
– people soliciting spare change, in pairs, person with disability or physical impairment sometimes sings or is reciting something
Six stops and one transfer later, we exit Tiananmen West and cruise quickly through the Tiananmen Square which is huge. The enormity of this public space is astounding and there are many tourists (both Chinese and foreigners) taking pictures and having their pictures taken with various monuments in the background. There is a long line of people waiting to visit the tomb of Chairman Mao. Our destination is the National Museum, but first we stop to take in the broad boulevard north of Tiananmen that separates it from the South Gate of Gugong (the Forbidden City).
Unfortunately, the National Museum is closed, so we head to Wangfujing, an expansive shopping area nearby to stop by a bookstore that also has English language materials. I purchase two items, a travel book on China and a book on emerging identities and development in China.