August 16, 2008

Public Transportation, Part 2

I decided to go shopping today. No work to be had, feeling kinda funky; it was time to get out and about.

I asked the information volunteers about my shopping options, and they gave me a few: I could go to the Hongqiao Pearl Market or to the Silk Street market, among others. I'm guessing they're all pretty much the same. But I saw a nice ad for the Pearl Market and thought I might like to get some pearls and there you have it.

I had two options for getting there: taxi and subway. The concierge at the Intercontinental Hotel, which is attached to the press center, suggested a taxi. He didn't want me to have to contend with a line transfer (there were two, in fact). The information girls never even broached the topic of a taxi, probably because for me, the subway is free.

I figured I could handle the subway. The Metro was a daily part of life in Paris. How hard could it be in Beijing? Turns out not very hard at all.

The Beijing subway and the Paris metro have three things in common: They're easy to use, packed with people and everybody pushes trying to get on and off. But in China, the cars are air conditioned and there's not much B.O. There's probably some correlation there. So all those lessons the government has been giving the people, teaching them to queue up and not to push? It didn't really reach the folks on the subway.

In their defense (Is there really any defense for this? I don't happen to think so, but it isn't exclusive to Asia, that much I know) there were hordes of people trying to leave the Olympic Green area at the same time I was trying to go shopping. I probably could have timed it a little better.

The first part wasn't so bad ... three stops on the new Olympic line to get to a main line. That's when it got out of hand. hordes of people trying to go down one staircase, albeit a wide one, and taking tiny steps. I don't worry about getting crushed, but I do worry about tripping on the stairs in a crowd. I worry about tripping on the stairs when there's not a crowd. Also I like to be near the railing, especially when I'm wearing a long skirt. The woman to my left was walking with her arm extended in front of her, trying to protect her baby. But I'm not sure it was a really good idea. (Pushing the crowd or taking a baby into it)

After a few stops an elderly woman, who had herslef shamed someone into giving up his seat, offered one to me when someone got up. She motioned to me quickly, and the woman on the other side scooted over. Now is the time when you all make jokes about my American bottom fitting in between two Asians. Are you done yet?

They announce the stops in Chinese and in English, there is an electronic image of the subway line, so you can see what direction you are traveling and what stop is coming up and there's also a tv screen by the door that flashes the same information. It's kind of a no-brainer. So I paid attention, got off where I was supposed to and arrived safely at my destination.

The down side is it took me 15 hot minutes to get to the subway, the location of which isn't obvious on the Olympic Green. And it took two transfers, 15 stops and 45 minutes.

I followed the exit listed in the guidebook for the store, but once I got onto the street, I didn't see it. I showed the book to a policeman, who took me around the corner of the station and told me to cross the street. He was friendly, helpful and even spoke some English -- all of which was far more than I expected.

At the corner, I noticed some people weren't crossing, which is odd because people in China cross when they feel like it, regardless of the light. So I crossed; the light was green. But three quarters of the way across, I saw why. I thought a car had been pulled over by the police. But no, a car hit a moped and there was a guy on the ground. I don't think he was dead, but he wasn't moving either. I wanted to take a picture, but I was afraid the crowd wouldn't appreciate a foreigner taking a picture of a maybe-dead guy.

When I got to the other side, I sort of stood and watched, but nothing seemed to be happening and it was kind of hot. And if I wasn't going to take a picture -- what was the point of gawking?

So then I went into the store.

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