Trips and Tales: Part 130
If you think you are lost; you are probably close #1
SD had swatted up on the train; a few last-minute cautions and advice courtesy of her sole official companion: the handy guidebook brought along for the trip’s duration.
In pursuit of a tactile reality she had set out alone, with no fellow traveler to hide behind or to inadvertently construct an insulating tourist-bubble with. Insidious things, those: woven with same-language conversation and familiarity to numb the depth of otherness felt in alien landscapes or cultures, when really; the whole point is to experience them. Imagine: shaking hands with gloves on or taking your own comfort zone abroad with you. None of this appealed.
Casting it all aside in a deliberate ploy; she has now to face, deal and experience everything that the trip may throw – first hand. To dive in and let the experience wash over her.
So much for that idea. She now sits in a carriage with a band of temporary travel companions assembled in Mongolia by virtue of the fact that this leg of their respective trips was destined to coincide. Company is pleasant after all and it will end soon enough. After a drag of hours, Beijing looms ahead.
Pouring out of the train into the station, the shift in gear is an unwelcome jolt. It’s damn hot: 35°C, and the whole enclosure is a messy sea of bodies jostling with purpose to reach their ultimate destinations, all seemingly knowing the ropes better than SD and her splinter companion. They have broken off from the group as differing destinations await, and now find themselves behind (with only slight exaggeration) half of this human tide as it reduces to an inert mass drained of the energy that had initially propelled it from the carriages to the causeway.
It becomes clear that the immobile blockage ahead is in fact the queue for the official, licensed taxis. That’ll be a 40 minute wait in the heat, the crowd and the lumber of baggage but the ordeal itself will still not be over then.
“OK,” says the companion, about to enter a cab after blithely agreeing to pay the absurd equivalent of 30 GBP for a ride across town. Fortunately, SD had read about the queue and taxi-rank shenanigans whilst on the train, and is able to yank her colleague back into reality mid-stride. The net result is an equivalent 10 GBP ride to the Hutongs where her accommodation awaits. It’s still expensive though, SD suspects – later to be borne out by the discovery of 20p underground fares.
However, in spite of the attempted rip-off and the subsequent crawl through Beijing’s traffic complete with cursing cab driver, SD still thinks that for a first-timer: the taxi is the smart move.
Until you know the ropes, that is – and are not liable to be lost in unfamiliarity. In any case, it had been an arduous trip and the tenner is a reasonable loss, all things considered.
“You can look at a map,” she says of trying to wing-it in an alien world, “But there’s no sense of scale”. However for next time: “Get on the underground,” she says. “It is simpler than London; there are no zones, you are just ‘on’. Just don’t go through the exit gates” – inadvertently that is. She talks of a curious “dead area” in the middle of Beijing where the underground lines effectively establish quartered sections to the city’s layout, requiring you to walk further “in the gaps” as it were. That’s the thing of course: a simpler layout means fewer stations and more walking at times. More so than back home at any rate.
The taxi drifts on as SD peers out, and into Beijing’s vehicular madness; with the rear of the driver’s cursing head ever-present. Gradually they approach by degrees: the famous Drum and Bell Towers and the Hutongs beyond. A world away from the chaos, they reside in narrow labyrinthine alleys and courtyards – too narrow that is for taxis to traverse. So prior to the last hurdle, the ride falls abruptly short, leaving SD with her baggage, the name and address of her boarding house and the entrance to the winding Hutongs before her.
More next time.
Next time: Trips and Tales (Part 131) Arrival Beijing #20
[Photo by knittymarie]