A Night of Travel in Beijing
Written in a state of mild and sweaty delirium. Please exclude the self-indulgence. Possibly there will be actual Olympics posts today. Possibly not.
I left the land of pop-a-shot basketball and fried scorpions and sheep penis on sticks around 9:30. Got past the security and into the subway system around 10. If I had a car, and no one lived in Beijing, I could have been at my desk by 10:20 or so.
Instead, I missed a train because every cubic inch of space inside was filled with flesh, left the subway system to try to take a cab, watched dozens of people in front of me fail to get a cab, watched the traffic on the main drag not move, went back into the subway system, passed through two more separate security checkpoints, was wanded once, made three transfers involving four lines--one of which required me to walk about a half-mile outside--and got to my desk around 11:35. And the entire time I had the rank smell of
fried boiled? silkworms in my nostrils.
Here are a few things you might want to know about traveling through the Beijing subway system late at night during the Olympics:
1) The trains never stop running. You never listen to a muffled voice telling you "this train will resume moving in a moment." You never wait for long for the next train. The air conditioning never conks out. The card readers never fail. And there are no homeless people asking you for money. It's quite disorienting.
2) There are flat screen TVs in every car. I might have already noted this, but I don't care. I'll note it again. There are flat screen TVs in every car.
3) The young Chinese couples hug and grope each other pretty much continuously. No kissing. No making out. But lots of prolonged, starry-eyed, hands-through-the-hair bodily contact. This can get awkward in packed cars.
4) Inside the stations are the same garbage bins that you see everywhere in this city: one for "recyclables," one for "other waste," side by side, both filled with plain old trash. The act of creating the "recycling" bins has done far more harm to the environment than the lack of bins would do, because there ain't one person in this town recycling.
5) The campaign against public spitting still has a few folks left to convert. Including, it must be said, dry-mouthed foreign bloggers.
6) The metro cards are amazing. You can put them in right side up or upside down or frontwards or backwards and they still work.
And a few more observations from a day in which I accomplished nothing while sweating through my clothing and failing to eat:
1) There are like 16 million people in this city. So why do I keep running into people I know, miles and miles from any Olympic venues? (Answer: because all foreigners go to the same three spots, apparently.) Within a span of four hours, I randomly encountered two of the Dutch rowing fans who shotgunned beers for me, the three Australians who promised to sell me an inflatable kangaroo, American bronze medalist in judo Ronda Rousey (48 hours of veganism and counting!) and Comcast SportsyNet employee Leslie Reader, who I didn't even know was in Beijing. She has a blog.
2) Things like that make the town seem small. Things like sitting in a cab in the middle of an eight-lane street, listening to Rhapsody in Blue on the stereo and just not moving at all make the town seem big. The cabbie finally kicked me out a block from my destination, gave himself a 50 percent tip by failing to give me correct change, and refused to give me a receipt.
3) The sky was blue today. Bright blue. Clean air. Glorious, fresh blue air.
4) About every other toddler on the streets has short pants with a slit down the back, allowing full crack exposure. It's a phenomenon.
5) The smell of cooked silk worms just doesn't leave you. Get out of my life, silkworm smell, get out.
6) I guess sports were played, somewhere.
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