Trips and Tales: Part 127
Truer paths #3
PA confounds and contradicts some of the prevailing horror stories that find their way into my writing. That’s all good; who was it that said “I have never learned anything from any man who agreed with me”? (It was actually Dudley Field Malone.) Anyway.
“I found central Beijing to be fine,” he says of his bicycle excursions, zipping between the Hutongs in search of culture. “But keep off the ring roads.” Well, there’s the voice of experience. I have only heard the bad. Notwithstanding the variable danger of the traffic, just being outside may be punishment enough. A bicycle ride in the sun appeals, but so does being able to breathe. PA speaks of the air pollution: “Some days you couldn’t see the sun properly, even if you looked directly at it.” Such was the grey-ochre pea soup that hung overhead and whose lower reaches you inhaled on your way about. No thanks. No wonder they wear masks. There’s nothing stopping you doing the same of course.
Even as I type this, there are new regulations coming into place though, with the feel and measure of desperation about them. A cap on car registration plates issued per month already exists, with a limit of 22,000 against a requested 1.6 million in August 2013 – according to articles featured on Atlantic City and Mother Jones. Now, there are rules to (hopefully) restrict the total number of engines on the road to 6 million by 2017, with additional hard-line regulations extending to industry also.
The top 1200 major industrial polluters (the mind boggles at such a figure) will have to “upgrade” or be closed down, those who miss “clean” targets will be deprived of bank loans, fund-raisers and tax breaks, and be denied permission to undertake new initiatives that would generate further pollution. Fair enough.
But, we were with PA and his bicycle, cycling “here, there and everywhere”. From the outside, those stories of road insanity and illegality seem at odds with PA‘s revelation concerning a visible police presence. “There are police at junctions,” he tells me, “vaguely pointing you in various directions – but not really interested unless you do something wrong!”
What about crime I ask, thinking of the various scams and shenanigans that I’ve read about (see previous blog post)? Again, PA is somewhat dismissive. He’s never had any real trouble. “I pick a taxi from the station. I got ripped off the first time,” he tells me of his maiden taxi voyage across Beijing, otherwise fine. “I get a regular taxi, point to the meter, say ‘please’, pay 3 pounds” no problem. “Oh, and tips aren’t expected,” he adds, “anywhere.” So the diametric opposite to American culture then?
In spite of his limited Chinese vocabulary, he steps (or trundles) out in confidence. “I’ve never got stuck or lost,” he reveals. “Provided you’ve got the name and address of where you are staying, written down, (in Chinese, that is) you always get back in the evening.” Well, if that approach works for PA then good for him. Here I can only advise caution and less immediate trust in strangers. We live in a world perhaps where both PA’s easy-ride and the nightmares of others are equally true. At any rate, if you put a foot wrong; taxis are cheap he tells me, with the equivalent of 4 GBP getting you across Beijing. Just hope it’s a legitimate ride. There I go again. I feel like the spectre at the feast.
Next time: Trips and Tales (Part 128) Arrival Beijing #17
[Photo by lyng883]