Greetings, loved ones. Recently, I had to take a journey (not to California), but into the depths of the traffic disaster that is Beijing’s city center. I was so inspired after reading Kathleen Ma’s article in a previous issue of UNIT-E that I decided to take the 北京地铁 (Beijing subway) to my meeting. Not only did I avoid jams in between ring roads and reduced my carbon footprint, but I came back with interesting stories and became an even more seasoned 北京人 (Beijinger).
17.30 – In the midst of the pouring rain, enlist the help of a black cab driver, “我的好朋友” (“my good friend”), to get to the Beijing Exhibition Center subway station.
17.38 – Get ripped off by 我的好朋友, but decided not to quibble. It’s raining, and that RMB 5 counts as my good deed of the day.
17.42 – Buy a stored value card for RMB 20 and add credit to it. The price of a single trip stays the same at RMB 2 for any distance. The only real benefit of this card is its convenience. It makes my wallet look a lot fuller and I like a beijingren.
17.45 – Swipe my 地铁卡 (subway pass) – Wah! 我真的是北京人! (“I really am a Beijinger!”) – and rush through the turnstiles to catch the train.
17.46 – Reach the top of the elevator just in time to see the tail end of my train disappear into the distance. FML.
17.47 – Consult the LCDs above the doors: 12 minutes until the next train arrives. It’s the price Shunyi-ers like myself pay for living in the suburbs.
17.49 – Stalk around the waiting platform and mumble rude things about how warning needs to be given before a train leaves – I could have caught that train!
17.53 – Get bitten by mosquitoes. On the bright side, I have tangible reminders of this experience.
17.55 – Start (attempt at) catching mosquitoes by snatching them as they fly by. It doesn’t quite work, but I persevere.
17.57 – Attract weird looks from strangers, since I am grabbing at seemingly thin air and cursing in strange tongues. Move away from spectators and wait for train.
17.59 – Train arrives. Avoid above-mentioned spectators on the train to prevent the next six stops from being incredibly awkward.
18.04 – Realize that my old nemesis, the mosquito, has followed me. We duel.
18.15 – Admit defeat. The mosquito is quite the ninja.
18.20 – Arrive at Wangjing station. Nearly get off (OK, do get off), and jump back on when I realize there are two Wangjing stations and this isn’t the interchange point.
18.23 – Arrive at Wangjing West interchange station. Try not to look like a “noob” and follow the crowd.
18.29 – SO MANY STAIRS.
18.34 – EVEN MORE STAIRS.
18.38 – NO MORE STAIRS. (There are actually only three flights of stairs. Stairs are recommended not only for wellness reasons, but also to avoid deadlock on the crowded escalators.)
18.40 – Dongzhimen or Xizhimen? Consult subway map. Dongzhimen. Who knew that one word could change the whole direction of travel?
18.45 – Attempt to find the Dongzhimen line. Get completely lost in the process, as the station has limited signboards and elusive stairways.
18.53 – Start to wonder if it would have been easier to just leave the station and walk to Solana. In the rain.
18.56 – Text everyone and inform them I’m going to be late. Cause of tardiness? Passenger traffic. I wouldn’t be able to face them if they knew the truth.
18.59 – Finally get onboard my final train. It’s all smooth sailing from here on out. I emerge from the station with the sense of pride that only comes from just having completed a rite of passage to renew my status as a Beijingren.
This article originally appeared in the April 2012 issue of UNIT-E. It was written by Heather Budimilia, a student at The International School of Beijing.
UNIT-E was founded in the spring of 2010 with the aim of establishing a non-profit, student-run magazine for international students in Beijing. Staffed by current students from a range of international schools, the magazine provides an amalgam of cultural tidbits, fragments of Beijing student life, and a broad spectrum of unique perspectives from a diverse group of young adults.