Today I started back with my favorite Mandarin teacher. It’s been too long since my last lesson. I purchased Rosetta Stone some weeks ago. I still need to install it into my computer and get cracking on it. I imagine with the two to four weekly sessions with my instructor My comprehension will improve. I am not going anywhere so I will use the lessons to help structure my days. I already have Saturdays, Monday nights, and every weekday morning until 10am scheduled. Now, with the addition of the eight hours weekly of Mandarin lessons I should become more productive. It pains me to have the structure although I am aware that I need it and it will make me more productive in my Beijing world.
I know that I take my life into my hands every time I cross the street. In Texas, from where I hail, driving outranked other daily activities on the danger-0-meter. Now, spending time in Beijing, I found the new most dangerous thing to do each day. That’s biking. Occasionally I get in the car with others. I began driving in 1988 at the tender age of fifteen. I taught myself how to drive a 5 speed 1980 model Toyota Celica with manual steering. I attended driving school the summer before turning sixteen at my high school. I recall the lessons we learned. The most important thing that the coaches teaching impressed upon us dealt with safety. Automobiles kill people. We learned all sorts of things I had never thought about before. I don’t know which nugget of information that was thrown my way counts as the most important. The fact that cars kill people sticks in my head (even today) above all other things related to being in a vehicle. I respect the car, the road, other drivers, and especially the driver of the car I ride in. Being a passenger I observe all sorts of differences in China in relation to driving in central Texas.
Many difference relating to driving in Texas and Beijing come to mind. The quantity of cars on the road differs dramatically. It’s nearly incomprehensible to comprehend the quantity of vehicles in Beijing compared to Austin. I began driving at fifteen. My parents drove. Their parents drove and I think their grandparents may have even driven cars. In China I find that Chinese people I know have been driving for fewer than ten years. Their parents never drove and so on. Things that I don’t even think about such as looking behind me and using my mirrors when backing up don’t occur here with most people. I’ve seen many different people relying on folks getting out of their way as well as their sensors on their cars. When suggesting that a driver use his/ her mirrors I get extremely confusing looks.
Another difference – When driving a car with others in the car I always check to see that everybody completely closes their door and gets in the car. That’s not a regular occurrence here. Safety? That’s not high on the priority list here. Stop signs? Nobody obeys those in China.
In the defense of this country of first generation drivers…. what they do works. It’s so different from what I am used to. Their average speed (because of the traffic congestion) is so low that horrible wrecks like we see daily in Texas occur less frequently. My driving friends take drinking and driving much more seriously than most Texan drivers I know.
In summary I am intrigued and entertained.
This morning I woke at 5:15am before showering, taxiing to the Beijing west train station, and taking a 2 hour train ride to (Shijiazhuang) somewhere. Vicky from my wire cage factory greeted me with excitement outside of the station which I determined to be an hour from the middle of nowhere. We then hailed a taxi and journeyed to a bus station 16 minutes away. Our luxury bus took us three short hours past nowhereville. The bus ride was fine minus the cramped seats that squeezed my knees most of the time. Once we departed the bus we waited 15 minutes for a luxury sedan to greet us and drive us 5 minutes to a restaurant that would not serve us. Next we found an alternative eatery and dined on a quite tasty Chinese lunch that did not include the regular alcoholic beverages . I think we were in Anping County at this point. This delighted me tremendously. Once lunch concluded our posse continued to the factory for a 25 minute work session that concluded with an executive decision to drop me at a different train station for a direct (4:55pm) train (standing room only ) back to Beijing. The train station in Hengshui felt like a flashback 40 years. I boarded the train hoping to find a seat. After standing for nearly two hours I found a seat where I sat for the final ninety minutes of my slow train ride.
Last August Craig arrived for a sixteen day visit. We enjoyed ourselves. September welcomed Suzy and her one week stay. The time flew by, the space we stayed in seemed small. We enjoyed ourselves and visited new places that Craig did not experience. During the Chinese new Year, Ari came over for a week and then left after four days. He saw important tourist sites and enjoyed his quick trip across the world. Now I describe my most recent visitors and their most amazing week in Beijing:
This is an email I sent to Reid and Jenn. It has been slightly edited and pasted here:
Your trip included six full days plus the first Saturday night. Your schedule included the following:
Saturday night arrival – Midnight taxi ride from PEK airport to Taiyue Suites that took less than 30 minutes. We dropped your bags in your apartment suite then headed across the street to have a quick dinner consisting of tofu, greens, and small portion of meat. We spent less than $7 total ( I think) on the food.
Sunday morning we slept in until 9am before preparing for a normal Sunday hike to the mountains north of Beijing. We traveled by foot for 15 minutes to a subway which took us from line ten to line 8 underground where we came up for sunlight, a view of the 2008 Olympic stadiums, and a 12 minute walk to a hiking group meeting place. On our short walk from the apartment to the subway we stopped at a 7-11 and picked up local breakfast foods that we shared on the walk. We waited for a pair of German friends (Felix & Janna) who met us at the subway for the travel to the hike and the hike itself.Some of the items included hard boiled eggs, chicken, some other meat, and tofu. Once we arrived for the hiking meet-up we met friends, realized that our mountain hike would include a section of the Great Wall (Black Dragon Mountain.) You met Yan Ma, Jiannan Zhang (from Plano) plus many others. One cute couple of doctors gave us a ride after dinner. Don’t forget the huge dinner and Reid purchased a long sleeved Playboy shirt. We went to sleep by 10pm I believe.
Monday (rest day) included a leisurely morning of oatmeal, hot tea, coffee, and showers! We got our nails did, a massage, ate lunch with Tracy, saw the Village, Ya Show, and then met Amara at the Village Starbucks before traveling by taxi to meet Justin for hot pot. After hot pot we met Crystal and friends at Joy City for KTV(Karaoke) until midnight.
Tuesday, the three of us traveled by subway form Line 10 to Line 1 and to Tienan’men square, a museum, and then you two toured the Forbidden city and got HUNGRY. I met you both back at the Village area, across a street from 3.3 building, fed you a sandwich, introduced you to young Peggy, Chris from NY, then met Ying for Beijing duck. We made it to bed at a reasonable time.
Wednesday, we trekked with anticipation out to the Beijing zoo subway stop. We ate some serious street noodles, meat on a stick, egg something, then went inside the massive shopping mall for clothes, a purse, and lots of looking. With anticipation we then journeyed to Wudaokou for the night street market. After we arrived early we checked out some stores, a massage place, a Charlie Brown coffee shop, and some more street noodles. We also ate tacos and drank beer at La Bamba before heading back home without visiting the night street market. It did not happen that night.
Thursday we ate the egg pancakes on the street and taxi’d to Nanlouguoxiang – I left y’all for a Houhai, Goulou dajie, Nanlouguoxiang trifecta. You ate Shinjiang (Muslim) food in Houhai and did a bit of shopping. You took a rickshaw ride around Houhai where the driver pointed out homes of famous people. You checked out the bell tower also. Y’all taxi’d back and met Ping before we walked to the Chaoyang theater for the Acrobats show with Crystal. We ate some 7-11 food on the way to the wonderful performance. After the show we ate Hong Kong food at the Village.
Friday I left early for work at Shang Di. Y’all slept in and went (all by yourselves) to the Temple of Heaven on subway line 5. You ate fast food hot pot and then met me back at the Silk Market for a watch purchase as well as some souvenirs. We walked across the street to the original silk market for a Gortex jacket purchase before heading to Justin’s subway stop in the rain. We walked in the rain to meet Justin for a most wonderful dinner that included souvenir beer glasses and more Beijing duck. After dinner y’all went home to pack.
Saturday at 5:35am you left for the airport.
The apartment was tight but not cramped. We made it work. Y’all walked, traveled by subway, taxi, and private car. You ate many different foods. You negotiated prices for many different items. You learned how to WALK AWAY. You navigated the subway system alone. You made new friends and (hopefully) realized that you’ll be back here. You learned a few Chinese words.
Remember- WALK AWAY- The price always drops when you WALK AWAY.