20 August 2016

My Ruined Summer Vacation, Part 3

As a writer, I often set up my hero as a stranger in a strange land. Perhaps that's because I know so well what that feels like. Whenever I travel, I usually skip the conventional tours and get right out there walking the streets. I like to pretend I live wherever I am visiting. I wonder how it would be, how I would get along there.

So when I had the opportunity to teach a class at a university in Beijing last July, the little Chinese-style hotel across from the campus became my home sweet home. Having seen all the major sites on previous visits I spent much time in my room writing. However, when I did go out, I usually got myself into some kind of trouble. By my second week, I was ready to go on a longer venture away from my neighborhood.

The entrance to the neighborhood. The traffic barriers are new.
The rain was light when I left the hotel and walked the mile to the nearest subway station so I used an umbrella. Humid and hot, but not as bad as other days. I got some relief inside the station where cool air blew and on the subway train itself. Being a big boy now, I could follow the map and get myself to the right stop. We come to underestimate the need for basic skills when we are thrown into the stranger-in-a-strange-place scenario. I do not read Chinese but I did learn some of the characters while living in Japan in the 90s, so I could guess at the instructions on the ticket machine. (You always want to press the green buttons. Green is good.)

The street from the subway station to the park.
I rode the subway to the Tuanjiehu stop, named for the park near the hotel I stayed at when I first visited Beijing in 2007. The neighborhood looked very different this time, the trees grown out more, changing the lighting of the streets and sidewalks from what I recalled. But I recognized some of the same restaurants and other buildings from before. I took pictures of the park, despite the overcast, then had lunch at a Cantonese restaurant nearby. I had some dim sum and some char siu barbecue pork, which was very delicious. 

Then I walked about three miles over to Wangfujing street, the big tourist shopping area and browsed the book and music sections of the store I always go to there. (Last summer, I was accosted in the mall there by an "art hooker" who lured me into an art store to sell me art, which you can read about here.) Sadly, I found little to buy. I was getting tired of standing and/or walking, too. 

Entrance gate to Tuanjiehu Park on a rainy day.
Taking the subway back to the station near my hotel went according to plan. But somehow I exited the subway station walking the wrong direction. Somehow I always seemed to exit the wrong way, that is, exiting out a different one than I entered. Think of the four directions of the street intersection above the subway station. No problem, I thought. Just one mile more and I would be back at my hotel room.

The neighborhood looked different but that did not alarm me. I thought it was simply that the trees had grown out. I walked on, thinking I was going the right direction. Then I realized I was going in the wrong direction but I thought I would meet up with a cross street that would lead me back to the hotel's street. 

Tuanjiehu Park
But no! I was going the wrong direction. By the strange yellow-brown light in the cloudy/hazy sky I had no sense of north or south, east or west. Suddenly I did not know where I was or which way to go. I got angry rather than frustrated. It took so long to walk on to the next big intersection just to see what the street sign said. When I got to the next intersection, I pulled out my map and determined where I was at that point. I saw on the map that if I kept going this way, the way I was already going, then turned that way, I would be able to return to my hotel from the north instead of the south.

So I kept walking, my feet getting more sore and my hip joint starting to ache - because, as everyone knows, you tend to get older when you keep walking farther and farther away from your destination. By then, I was moving myself solely from sheer willpower, as the evening started to darken. 
Tuanjiehu Park

I got to the next big intersection - another one - and saw the signs of the avenues in each direction and found them on the map. I realized then that I was even farther away from my hotel. It was maddening! It seemed that none of the directions would be the right direction. I looked at the people strolling past me. I stared at my map. I wondered how I might ask for directions, not knowing any of the right words. I considered if I held up my map they would get the idea I was lost. But none of the people passing me looked like the right person to stop and ask.
Tuanjiehu Park

I sat on a bench there along the sidewalk for a few minutes. I was just about out of walking for the day. Although I did not count my steps, like some fitness fanatics might do, I knew when I had reached my limit. I had to save 15 of them to actually walk through the lobby of the hotel and get on the elevator up to my precious room 424. 

So I flagged down a taxi and showed the driver the card from the hotel which had a map on it. Thank goodness I kept that card inside my passport! The driver got the directions from that little map and took me to the hotel. I saw later that I had been getting close to the Beijing Olympic Park!

Tuanjiehu Park
When he stopped for me, he was heading the wrong direction to simply continue on to the hotel so it required a long turn around, getting on the highway a bit, then charging up narrow parked-car-choked streets and popping out somewhere behind my hotel. Took about 7 minutes of harrowing stunt-driving in the heavy traffic of Beijing. Cost me 20 yuan! But worth every jiao (penny) of the price, just to get me back to my home sweet home away from home again.

I stepped out of the taxi a block from the hotel, where there was a place to pull over. Thankfully, that put me right by the 7-Eleven store where I usually bought my drinks and snacks. So I got some drinks and snacks. I also got myself an ice cream bar, because I deserved to be pampered after all the stress I'd endured in the 90 minutes between exiting that subway station and stepping out of that taxi. 

I was sure glad to be home! Kinda embarrassing getting lost in the big city - more so when you actually have a map in your hand!

Sorry, I didn't feel like taking pictures while I was desperately lost so all I have are the pictures from earlier in the day (Tuanjiehu Park). The ice cream bar was good.

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