My wife and I learned an important lesson yesterday about riding Chinese subways. Do not board a subway train during rush hour unless you are prepared to become so close to the people around you that you literally cannot move. My wife made the mistake of being the last person aboard as people stampeded into our car, and a guy who was “managing” the crowd put his hands on her backside and crammed her aboard. Behavior that would warrant an arrest for assault in the U.S. is just part of the normal commute on Beijing’s subways.
Aside from our rough introduction to the subway system, we were able to make our way around town and visited historic sites like the Lama Temple and the Temple of Confucius plus the Beijing Zoo. We had to take pictures of live pandas or several of our grandchildren would have been very disappointed. Beijing is rapidly becoming one of the most developed capitals in the world, with a population of more than 20 million people and a seemingly endless skyscape of high-rise buildings. Managing all the new buildings and infrastructure is still a major concern that involves traffic jams, drainage issues, lack of routine maintenance, and building safety, to name a few.
The technology of the present is, in many ways, overshadowed by the accomplishments of the past in downtown Beijing. The towering structures of the Forbidden City and the many temples completed hundreds of years ago are testimony of an advanced culture that predated Western Civilization. Today’s progress emphasizes the point that China’s long tradition of accomplishment may get sidetracked on occasion, but it is unlikely to end anytime soon.
We have greatly enjoyed the people we’ve met here and none more so than my teaching assistant Yong. We had dinner with him Sunday night at the Auspicious Hotel, which has one of the nicest restaurants in the Chanping District where we are staying. Nearly everyone has been welcoming and eager to help us, whether it’s finding our way or figuring out what to eat. We have had some memorable meals, although we have mostly eaten at the University’s cafeteria. We are staying at a university-owned hotel called the International Exchange Center, located just across the street from where I was teaching.
Our last adventure before heading home will be to travel back to the center of Beijing by subway to visit Mao’s mausoleum and a large outdoor market. We are planning to leave the hotel at 5:00 a.m. to avoid rush hour. Paying for guided tours is comfortable, but expensive, while making your own way through the subways is sometimes uncomfortable, but satisfying.
I have been keeping up with events at home through the Internet and e-mail messages, so I don’t think there will be many surprises when we get back. We have missed our family and friends over the past few weeks but would not have traded the chance we’ve had to meet new friends and see first-hand what is happening in this very dynamic part of the world.
From top: Subway station at rush hour; panda at the Beijing Zoo; awaiting a great Tibetan lunch; the world’s tallest Buddha (carved from sandalwood); and hanging out with ducks (naturally) at the Zoo.