Transportation and a really, really big, crowded city
23.01.2009 - 23.05.2009 -2 °C
Beijing is a world of old and new trying to meld together. Boston has this same problem, although Beijing and Boston solve it different ways.
Beijing is laid out in a series of ring roads that start with the first ring road around the Forbidden City. This is the oldest part of Beijing and I have not been here yet. There are 5 ring roads with the 6th still under construction. The area around Beijing used to be all farmland and this is being eaten up by development and the need to house all of the denizens of Beijing. The Zhang's apartment is in the second ring road in Andimen district near the Lama (Earth) Temple. Their neighborhood is very convienient to everything. Ms. Xiao walks everywhere, to which I accompany her when I can. The Di Tan (Temple) park is right outside the building. Ms. Xiao ensures me that it is very beautiful in spring and summer when the flowers are out and the trees have their leaves. Ms. Xiao said she does not like the winter when the plants are dormant and nothing is green...Hmmm sounds like someone else I know....Ms. Xiao is a plant-o-phile like me. She has some beautiful plants in the apartment including a gorgeous orchid that she got for her and Mr. Zhang's 20th year anniversary.
The apartment is one of a few towers that lies behind a man made river (really a canal of sorts) that right now is frozen over, but I am sure will be beautiful when the temperature starts to climb above 4 C. There are lots of Willow trees all around the shores making a serene image which is in contrast to the bustle around the area.
The subway station is really close to the apartment and I take the subway to school everyday. It is actually easy to get around Beijing using the subway, although I have not ventured past line 5 or 2. The station is where line 5 and 2 intersect, making it a very busy station as line 2 goes around the second ring road and line 5 travels N-S from Andingmen to the Forbidden City in a straight line. The subway is very crowded but also very efficient. it costs 2Y to ride the subway and I have a card (no discount) that just makes it easier to get through the subway lines. If you do not have this pass, you have to purchase a card each time you go through the subway. This means you are spending lots of time in lines. The subway is mostly automated. The only aggravating part is putting your bag on the security belt which adds some time to your commute, but it is still efficient even during rush hour. The subway is also English friendly with announcements in both Chinese and English and the station names written in both characters and pin yin along with blinky lights to signal the next station.
Buses do go everywhere in the city and are cheap. With the transportation pass, the bus is only .60Y. However, the bus is not so friendly to the English speaker. You are on your own. Ms. Xiao and I took the bus back from Chinese Japanese Harrods. Since we live in a central location, there were a few different bus lines we could have taken. We decided on bus #61 which took a while to get to us. With the bus, you can really see what is going on street-side, but don't expect any help in knowing what is going on or where to get off. i have not found a bus map, yet or any signal of which bus line goes where...so I have pretty much avoided the busses, instead opting for the foreigner-friendly subway. Starting this weekend (Feb 21), I will take to the bike and see how I do dodging Beijing's cars, busses and pedestrians as I weave my way through the meandering city.
Miles takes his bike to school and I have been taking the subway. He beats me everytime. His commute takes about 20min and mine is 30 with all the walking, shoving and baggage checking on the subway. The subway is amazingly clean and orderly and very fast. Trains are about 3-4min apart and there is a tv that tells you when the next train is due. The trains are also really quiet unless there are some students aboard who giggle and laugh with eacher other. Usually everyone tries not to look at anyone else and pretends they are in the subway car by themselves.
With above ground transportation, the world is not so orderly. I understand that the car is not new to China, but lots of people owning them is. The traffic laws seem non-existent as far as I can see, with cars making left hand turns from the right lane on a red light. People have absolutely no right of way, even when it is green for the cross-walk, cars and busses still take right on reds and they just don't stop for anyone/thing. Bikes take the same tact and really don't stop either. So a pedestrian is as likely to get run over by a bus, car or a bike. On my way to school last week, I was the witness to a bike V car accident which may have been my fault. I was walking along the bike path and a car was travelling behind me, waiting for access to an offramp to the elevated highway along our road. A bike was travelling up the on-ramp (wrong way), swerved and hit the car head-on. I just kept on walking to the subway stop believing that the biker was looking at me as if to say: "Why is that white girl here in Beijing?" and not the road. When I told Miles I was apprehensive about biking in Beijing, he just told me that I should do it and it was "inevitable" for me to bike. So, Ms. Xiao offered me her bike and I will try it out this weekend. Wish me luck!!