Tag Archives: travel

The Heart of Summer in Beijing

I know that summer is coming when the peaches start to appear at the fruit stand in front of my compound. That is about the same time when I start to wear shorts and a t-shirt, although a jacket is still necessary when I ride my scooter into work early in the morning.

Those peaches are hard and bitter, and I often wonder why they even try to sell them in the first place.

As July approaches, the peaches soften up and become sweeter. And when the sun beats down on one’s brow in the heart of the summer, the peaches are sweetest.

I have never eaten a peach as sweet as the ones from Beijing in the heart of summer.

I wash them off in the sink and stand while I eat them. The best ones are so juicy that you have to hold them out in front of you so that the juices don’t drip down onto your t-shirt. When finished, I wash my face and hands to remove the remnants of peach flesh from my mouth.

When the peaches begin to harden and become bitter I start to think about wearing jeans again and where I will spend my golden week. That is the first week in October you get off in a Chinese company. Almost a whole year will need to pass before we can eat Beijing’s sweet peaches again.

The Complications of Beijing Train Stations

 

WeChat Image_20170710095554

I almost didn’t make it.

It was hot and humid in early morning July. The taxi cabs were lined up bumper to bumper around the station and everyone seemed to be in a rush to go somewhere, although no one was quite sure where that place was exactly.

No matter how many times I go to train stations in Beijing, they always seem to confuse the heck out of me. In other cities it’s more streamlined and there are less people. But in Beijing, for one reason or another, it’s always a zoo.

Having bought my ticket to Wuhan on the C-Trip app, I still needed to pick it up at Beijing West Station. First, I tried to use the self service station, but that machine required using a shenfenzheng (身份证), or Chinese ID card.

In a rush I asked a few different shop attendants where I could pick up the ticket. They all gave different answers. Eventually I figured out that I needed to go into the station and stand in one of the lines that oozed out like an ice cream cone in the sun.

The first line moved quickly and I was relieved. I checked my phone, and saw that I would still have time to grab a coffee and something quick for breakfast before departure. Perfect.

Abruptly the line began to thin. Soon I reached the front, only to find out that the attendant was closing the register. Apparently she had been working all night.

I moved onto the next line. This time deciding upon one that read “English Service” above the register.

About halfway into the line I began to hear yelling. Men who were slightly bigger than the others were throwing their voices around in hopes that they could either rush to the front or speed up the already stressed out cashier.

A moment later one of the men appeared in my vision above the crowd, crouching on a metal bar in front of the cashier’s station where a rotating gate stemmed the surge of passengers who pushed each other from behind. Like some sort of line-cutting troll he shoved his ID card under the window and demanded his ticket.

A moment later, another a man who had cut the line was walking away when he got into a shouting and shoving altercation with a man standing in the line that he had cut. They raised their voices and puffed out their chests, cursing each other.

Ultimately the man walked away, throwing insults over his shoulder as the other stood fuming in position at the center of the line.

And yet still we waited, and waited. I checked my phone and realized now that the gap between me boarding the train and it departing was becoming narrower and narrower. Fending off a few more old men trying to cut the line and passing through the steel gates, I managed to pick up both departure and return tickets for an extra five RMB.

Outside, I began to hurry. I now had to find a way to enter into the station, but the heat and crowds of people befuddled my head. Eventually I made my way to another set of turnstiles between the crowd and train platforms.

At the final set of turnstiles, I realized that I again needed a Chinese ID card to pass through. Pleading with the guard to let me jump over the gates as I was in danger of missing my train, she smiled and shook her head.

So, out of time and luck, I made my way as if I was to go back out of the line, but then casually ducked under a red rope to the side of the turnstiles.

Rushing through the final security check, grabbing two meat pies and a bottle of water, the attendant looked at my ticket and urged me to hurry onto the platform before my train departed. I dashed away towards the incorrect cabin, but a cabin nonetheless, and onto the train leaving for Wuhan.

Had I not ducked under the red rope, I would have missed my train and had to return to the line and exchange tickets. A task that would have cost me another hour, minimum, and further exposed myself to the not-to-be-taken-lightly early morning summer sweat.

Better To Stay Loose

Leaving Seoul today. I knew that it was coming but still, for some reason or another, it’s hard. I don’t want to go back to Beijing. I have responsibilities there.

I am writing this while sitting on the airport express train. That old, peculiar feeling of leaving a place or a friend has sprung up again.

For some reason it always feels like it’s raining on the last day of a trip. Rain drops splatter against the sides of window panes as the questions run through my mind.

What if I don’t leave?

What if I do?

What if it’s all a mistake?

seoul black and white

Hill top in Itaewon, Seoul.

Traveling to a new city is always like living in a dream. You meet new people and see new things. You walk around and imagine yourself in every cafe and on every street corner.

But you know you’re just kidding yourself. You don’t love this city anymore than the last. It’s all just that hopeless romantic side of you. Not made to fit in anywhere because, actually, you enjoy not fitting in.

I mean… what I mean to say is, you don’t like staying anywhere too long. Then the shine wears off and you see that everyone is human again.

Better to stay loose. Better to keep moving.

Modern and Drab Seoul

I recently completed my goal to visit the triumvirate of northeast Asian Mega-cities: Beijing, Tokyo, and Seoul.

Seoul lights in Gangnam.

Seoul lights in Gangnam.

All of these cities are massive. But they are also unique.

Beijing, where I live, is gritty and brutish.

Tokyo is dazzling and unique.

Seoul is…

Seoul is modern.

I knew that it was technologically advanced, but I didn’t expect so many free internet access points and for everything to be so clean. That’s a big plus, especially when you are coming from China’s tight internet restrictions and less than ideal sanitation.

It’s geography is also quite nice. It’s hilly and that gives it some character. Maybe I’m partial because Beijing is so flat.

And while Seoul is ideal for tech and cleanliness, it is also a bit bland. In terms of architecture, at least. The buildings are all pretty similar and leave something to be desired.

(I would also comment on their music/movie scene, but I feel it’s too early for that. They might have something unique there, but it still needs time. I will give them the benefit of the doubt- even though Gangnam Style is a little… OK moving on.)

On the whole, I think it’s not quite a bad place at all. Safe, clean, and technologically advanced. In terms of style it’s no NYC or Tokyo, but that’s OK. I suppose that may be a title not everyone actually wants. 

It’s nice to finally visit all three cities. It took four years and I feel like I now have a really strong breadth of this area. 

Funny that even though I have noticed many unique characteristics, I have found that these three places actually have far more similarities than differences. The food, family values, and culture of face all seem ubiquitous.

While I feel like this trip definitely closes a chapter in my traveling career, I also look forward to visiting these places again someday. Each has a very youthful vibe and it’s almost like you can taste the change in the air.

I like that. I like when people push the status quo.