June 11, 2011
From what I’ve gathered from online forums, there are three ways to pay one’s bus fare in Beijing: 1) There are self-pay buses, where you deposit 1 RMB into the fare slot 2) Popular with tourists, there is the more bewildering process which involves communicating your destination to the on-board conductor via a combination of miming, broken and poorly pronounced Chinese, and iPhone photos of Google maps screenshots, before finally being told by the exasperated driver how much to pay, and 3) (the least painful method), by scanning a magnetized bus card when you board the bus and then again before you get off. I think most people have a bus card. I do not.
Today, I took the bus by myself for the first time. Luckily, it was self-pay.
The physical layout of Beijing is on a grand scale. I walk a lot. I walk so much that my calves are beginning to look like they have been chiseled out of marble. My hip flexors get so sore that I am often forced to discreetly stretch mid-stride in a strange technique I can only describe as a sort of walking yoga warrior one pose (namaste). I added more mileage today by making my way to Chaoyang Park, a huge expo-like venue where the 2008 Olympic volleyball competitions were held.
My Chinese language exchange/interaction for the day was with the lady at the ticket booth. All I caught was “piao,” but it was enough for me to understand that I needed a ticket. So, sticking my head close to the opening in the window, I inquired, “duoshao qian?” 5 RMB was my answer. It’s the small victories, really.
Few things are more dramatic than the sound of thunder erupting in the distance, or if you are unfortunate, right overhead, to announce an impending storm. It was as I was making my way out of Chaoyang Park when loud, no-nonsense, thunder added unwanted bass to the folk track that was playing on Juicy Fruit (the new name for the bubble gum colored mp3 player I picked up at one of many electronics megastores that dot the boulevards).
Now, it’s not unreasonable to expect thunder to signal lighting. Rain. Hard rain, even. And that was really what I was expecting when I looked up and saw darkened skies and gathering clouds. I made it about a quarter mile out of the park when all of a sudden, a maelstrom unlike anything I’d ever experienced descended on me. The storm was so intense that I was sure that some righteous, divine force, was either trying to smote me, or trying to create new life on earth. Anyway, it was by some good fortune that I was able to find my way back to a hotel lobby that was under construction and unlocked. I waited with seven other drenched souls who were likewise seeking shelter from the downpour. In the fifteen or so minutes we spent together, we marveled and shook our heads at the ferocity of the storm. Miraculously, the apocalyptic rain subsided and along with it our momentary camaraderie. I gingerly made my way across the flooded street and caught bus 408 back to the hotel.
The neat thing about such summer storms is that one is usually treated to a lovely sunset at the end. Thus, it was under such a sunset that I ended my day with a rooftop dinner with M overlooking Huhai Lake. Lovely and melancholy. That was my birthday in Beijing.