Today was a very, very full day. It was pouring rain in the morning when I woke up. While I was having my breakfast, I pondered my infinite wisdom, which had made me unpack my rain jacket the day before I left. “I won’t need this!” I had been thinking optimistically. Anyway, during breakfast, I met another Canadian who also didn’t have anything for the rain. We decided to go on a mission to find umbrellas. It was only after we were out in the rain, soaked to the skin, that we realized it was only 8am. Both of us were still jetlagged. Anyway, we headed back to the hostel, empty-handed and soaking wet. The chef at the hostel actually pointed and laughed at me when he saw how wet I was. Yes. Thanks for your support!
Later that morning, I went out again to get my umbrella. I was also on a mission to find a camera store that someone had told me about the night before. It was supposedly about 500m north of the Wukesong subway station. I thought this was an excellent chance to try out the subway. But first, umbrella. I found one in a little junky store up the street from the hostel. I prepared myself mentally for the long bargaining effort ahead. I sneaked a look at my Mandarin phrase book to temporarily memorize the word for “discount.” Then I asked him how much it was. Ten yuan — about $1.32. Err. I kicked the word for discount out of my head and gave the man his money. I am the proud owner of the cheapest umbrella I’ve ever seen, but it would at least last me a half hour if it started raining again. Oddly enough, it didn’t rain for the rest of the day, even though the forecast said 100% chance of it. That’s another thing that is the same wherever you go. Weather forecasts suck.
Anyway, I headed to the subway stop, which was just up the street from the umbrella place. Thousands of Chinese were cascading down the stairs into the station, as more thousands bubbled up from underneath. I followed the crowd downstairs. It was bedlam. Hundreds crowded the ticket window, shoving money through to the attendants. I stalled for time, looking for a subway system map. I couldn’t see one anywhere. I actually turned around and started walking out. My brain just couldn’t cope with that scene. But, halfway to the stairs, I felt ashamed. What was there to be afraid of? Being misunderstood? I walked back to the ticket counter and tackled the crowd. I had to fight to get my money through, because the concept of lining up and waiting turns is completely alien here. Eventually I managed to tell her I was going to Wukesong. She held up three fingers to indicate three yuan, which I paid. Later on, I heard the correct pronunciation of the Wukesong. Mine wasn’t even close. I bet she had no idea what I was saying, and just charged me the maximum to be safe. Whatever. Three yuan is still a bargain for a subway ticket!
I gave the ticket to another attendant, and went down some more stairs to the station. Here were the maps I was looking for. The subway stops were clearly labeled in English and in Chinese. Each direction had a sign indicating the current station name, and the next station name. Even better, both directions were available from the same platform, so if you screw up and go the wrong direction–which I did–you can just get off the train at the next stop and cross the platform to the correct one. Great system!
I took the subway to Wukesong, transferring along the way. It turns out that Wukesong is quite a nice place with tree-lined boulevards, apartment buildings, and lots of restaurants.
I walked at least a kilometre in a direction I figured to be north, but couldn’t quite be sure. I didn’t see any camera stores. I was getting quite hungry at this point so I crossed the street to check out the restaurants over there. I found a nice looking one and went in, explaining to the waitress that I spoke English. I’ve had nothing but great results when I’ve told people I only speak English. In every case I’ve been greeted with kindness. In this case, the waitress and I went through my phrase book, and I pointed and mangled some Mandarin expressing what I wanted to eat. The restaurant had some of these things, and some things it didn’t. I ended up with a plate of steamed and then stir-fried pork and vegetables, and a plate of steamed dumplings.
The dumplings are not pictured because by the time I got them, I was already eating the above. Can’t shoot. Eating. The dumplings weren’t great anyway. I took the skin off of them to make them more caveman compatible. I bet the wait staff at the restaurant thought I was some kind of crazy foreigner, who didn’t know how to eat dumplings. Little did they know, I’m the Fry Guy in the Great Thom Dumpling Machine.
After lunch, I headed back into the subway. I didn’t spot the camera store at all, which is fine, since I decided I had enough stuff to carry anyway, without adding more unnecessary camera gear.
When I got back, I put some serious effort into figuring out where I’m going to go after Beijing. It seems I kind of handcuffed myself with this flight from Shanghai to Guangzhou that I’d booked before I left Canada. It doesn’t give me a lot of flexibility for seeing different places around Shanghai, after I get to Shanghai. All of these trips have to be done before I get to Shanghai, which creates a bit of a backtracking situation.
Anyway, I really want to see Huang Shan, which is supposedly China’s most picturesque mountain. The villages surrounding Huang Shan are apparently great to visit too. This will make a nice change after all of the congestion in Beijing. I booked a bed and breakfast in the town near the mountain, and then went about getting a flight. It turns out that traveling on a Sunday (which I have to do) is going to cost me about twice as much as through the week. Oh well. That means the ticket cost me about $130 instead of $70. That’s about what I pay for a one-way to Montreal.
Task number two for the day was to find some new shoes. The ones I’d brought from Canada are wearing out, and were starting to look like I’d dropped a nasty dollop of oil on them from the weird hot thing i boght on my first day in Beijing. My shoes were sceaming, “Refugee!”
I bought the new pair at a little store in what seems to be “the shoe district.” I paid about $40 for them. I didn’t bargain, and thought I probably would, but they’re the perfect shoes for what I need: active hiking shoes. I also like the company’s slogan, which is “Conquer the Whole World.” Don’t mind if I do!
I’m going to wrap this up quickly because I can’t stop yawning and I’m going to fall asleep at the keyboard any moment now. I read about the National Grand Theatre opening up tonight. I remembered seeing this structure from the street and saying to myself, “What the hell is that?!” Anyway, it seemed like a good thing to shoot. I took the bus to Tien’an’men Square again, walked through, and found the entrance to the property. There were a few guards trying to keep people from walking on the edge of the reflecting pool. It was funny to see that the Chinese almost consider small acts of civil disobedience a sport. The guard would tell someone to get down off the edge of the pool. They would, but as soon as he turned his head, they’d hop up there again. Then the guard would start blowing his whistle and yelling, and the person would get down again. This happened a few times.
There were lots of people there with cameras and tripods. None of them was using my special secret technique of burning the image during exposure by using my hand in front of the lens. That means all their pics will have a hugely overexposed spot where that bright building is in the background. Unless they were smart and had a neutral density gradient filter installed! Incidentally, that building in the background is some kind of Chinese government office, like a parliament. The front desk girl here at the hostel didn’t know how to say it in English. Apparently it’s illegal to take pictures of government buildings. However, many things are illegal in China, which doesn’t stop people from doing them.
Anyway, that’s all for tonight. It’s time to collapse until tomorrow.