Beijing Day 4

Sunday it rained all day non-stop. I explored the subways and tried to get to the Natural History Museum, but the street I was planning to walk down was closed, and trying to take an alternate route I got lost in some Hutongs southwest of Tian’anmen Square. (The government is busy knocking down hutongs all over the city, and other perceived eyesores before the Olympics. Entire neighborhoods are being leveled left and right. Usually they don’t bother to exclude people from the destruction site, but for some reason this particular one was fenced off.) I eventually found my way back, but not a lot was accomplished today.

For lunch I stopped at a tourist joint near Tian’anmen square because I figured they’d have an English menu. (They did.) I don’t worry too much about eating at Tourist restaurants here because they’re mostly aimed at Chinese tourists, and are still weird and different enough. I have yet to see a burger or fries on any menu anywhere. First course was some nice fish soup (I thought I ordered beefball soup, but ‘m flexible) followed by the largest bowl of carp with Udon noodles I’ve ever seen. This could have fed a village. I was embarrassed when it showed up on the table. I hadn’t meant to order two courses, but I must have misunderstood the waitress when she brought the menu back to me and showed me some extra pages. I have got to learn enough Chinese to at least order competently by pointing at a menu. Pricewise though the whole experience cost just 70 Yuan, about $10. By local standards, that’s a princely sum for a meal for one.

I’m getting a little tired of playing tourist. I usually like to mix tourist activities with actual work, or a conference, or some non-tourist reason to be in a city. However, this time it’s Beth who’s at the conference, and I’m just spending the days exploring the city. This would be easier if the conference hotel was a little more centrally located. Beijing’s a huge city and walking around it in the rain just isn’t all that much fun.

It would also be easier if the subways were finished. There are only five lines, and lots of places that they just don’t go, including anywhere near my hotel. The 10 line and the Olympic Spur line should open soon, which will help this area a lot. However, until then the nearest subway is a cab ride away. (I haven’t deciphered the buses yet, but cabs are plentiful and cheap.) After that, one new line is opening every year through 2015. Beijing needs these badly. Traffic here isn’t as bad as New York, L.A. or London (pre-congestion tax) yet; but it’s getting there fast. 1,000 new cars are hitting the roads of Beijing every day.

It would also be more interesting if I could talk to someone. Some of the students and faculty here are competent in English, but I’ve only met one Chinese citizen who was really comfortable with English (a tour guide). If I come back (which I’m not sure I ever will, but who knows where the winds will take me) I’m going to make a real effort to lean some Mandarin. There’s just so little you can learn about a place or a people unless you can talk to them in a language you both understand. Of course, next time I’ll probably end up in Hong Kong. :-)

One Response to “Beijing Day 4”

  1. John Cowan Says:

    Plenty of people in HK speak Mandarin, if a little weirdly. But of course English is usable there too, much more so than anywhere else in China outside a university.

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