Beijing Backpacking, Day 2: Doing Foolish Things and Gutsy Things To Survive

The not-so-public entrance to a park in Fengtai District, suburban Beijing
The not-so-public entrance to a park in Fengtai District, suburban Beijing

GETTING FROM POINT A to Point B seems straightforward in a place like Beijing when you look at a map of it. The streets are laid out in a simple grid pattern and the subway lines neatly traverse it, so it seems like you’d be able to walk anywhere or map out your journey? If the subway isn’t on, then just walk down the street above the subway? Haha … no.

Take, for example, when you’re on a part of town that is on the fringe to the extent that most locals haven’t even been there. Add to that the fact that it’s summer, and a sticky 30+ degrees, and you’re thirsting to get to your destination as soon as possible … even if that means paying money.

Which brings me to an interesting occurrence in Beijing – private parks. They’re pretty standard issue parks, but they’re fenced off, and charge a fee just to enter. I cut through it to get out of the heat to where I wanted to go faster … at the cost of one yuan (although that’s only about 20-25 cents). Nonetheless, the park is well preserved and flourishing in the summer heat, its own urban oasis. But you don’t have to go in to get relief; trees line the fences for shade on the outside, and sprinklers overstep their boundaries to cover the footpaths.

And a sticky and scorching day deserves a big night out – except when things get a bit late. I turned up at the subway to interchange to my line, only to watch the last train pull out. So I could walk, thinking that the line – a major subway line, at that – would simply follow a wide road above it? 11.30 pm is not worth the risk, so flagging a cab is the best option … or, if that fails (or you lack the cash), a tricycle. These guys spoke not a single word of English – out came the broken Chinese again, and a prayer that I would come out of this alive. I don’t know if it was gutsy or just plain foolish to test your nerve and language skills in survival mode in someone else’s vehicle, but on the way back to my place, I found out what a (comparatively) wise decision that was, given that this road, like many others in Beijing, spanned six lanes … before abruptly funnelling into a poorly lit alleyway and back again, several times. Not to mention that at each intersection my driver would blithely drive right through a red light causing a brief standoff with a taxi … or in the worst case, a truck. The things you do to get home … or get by.

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