What does any traveller do with a few hours to kill in a city? Take the long way, of course. There was no shortage of landmarks to see between my original origin and destination stations. And with a subway, you really get no hint of what life is like outside, making each first-time subway exit a bit of a moment of truth.
And what better way to start landmark spotting then at a place where the landmark is the train station itself? I alighted from the subway at Beijing West Railway Station, the largest in Asia by area, hoping to catch a glimpse of some architecture believing it to be as majestic as its name, a station that would be the Grand Central or Shinjuku of its city. Unfortunately, the bulk of the station comprises transit areas only available to the ticketed – much like the concourse of Hangzhou East.
Yet there is still quite a scene on the outside, with tens of thousands at any given time camping outside or queueing. The question is, who is waiting for a train, and who is homeless and sleeping out? Most likely the majority comprise the latter, assuming that there are far more comfortable areas to wait for a train indoors. The road that leads to the front of the station carries the same vibe, with street vendors outside what appears to be low-market malls. On the other end of this road, a mecha monument next to several military headquarters – is this meant to reflect something about the advances in China’s military technology?
By this intersection, one reaches Line 1, the Subway’s oldest – and once again the architecture reveals its age, how once upon a time this was state of the art, but now it is somewhat a portal into Beijing’s past. Interestingly enough, it is one of only two lines on the subway with no platform screen doors.