10 September 2017

How I Ruined My Summer Vacation (2017 Edition) Pt 4

Because there is likely to be some bad news every week, I cannot delay further telling about my little summer vacation. Apologies to those without the electricity to read this. My heart truly goes out to you; I've been in your shoes. 

When I go to Beijing, China in the summer to teach a course in business writing for American audiences, I arrive as planned on a Saturday but with little fanfare. I meet the first class on Monday full of jet-lag and improve greatly for the second class on Wednesday. Then I have a four-day weekend looming. Since I've seen all the big sites of Beijing, this first weekend I decided to check out a few small places I found on my map.

East end of the long, long park.
This year, on my first weekend, I set out with map in hand to find a park which had the ruins of the Yuan Dynasty outer fortress walls. I had passed it previously but never gave it much thought. One hardly thinks of ruins as something to see. After conquering my first bout of "Mao's revenge" and trying to sleep through the night while someone was singing with a karaoke machine in the park across the street from my hotel room, I had to get out - for my own good. My plan was to go out early before it got too hot but with a poor sleep I slept in a bit, then got up to write/edit my latest novel, the sequel to my vampire novel A DRY PATCH of SKIN. Then the housekeeper came, always within 5 minutes of 10 am. Then it was 11. 

Finally I got myself ready, thinking I could at least go to the nearest McDonald's for lunch, something to do. I'm not a regular of McD back home but when in foreign countries it provides a brief semblance of normalcy. So I checked my official Beijing 2008 Olympics map, which had all the McDs marked for advertising purposes, and decided to try a route that would take me to a different McD which I had never visited. I left my hotel, crossed the big avenue, and ducked into the park that ran parallel to the avenue. That was the Yuan Dynasty ruins.

West end pavilion.
Well, not much of the ruins existed at that location. On the map the park extended quite some distance to the west from where I started. So I walked...actually, it was a gentlemanly stroll. Most of the route was shaded by trees, thankfully. I walked along the ruins of the ancient walls, worn down to about a meter or less in height, like old teeth. It made a really nice park along an empty canal, with trees, flowers, play areas for children. Many families were taking advantage of the park but it was not crowded at all. 

At the west end there was an expanded area with statues of Yuan Dynasty people in all their finery, of modern construction but still interesting. They stood on top of a pavilion, just as real may have done at that spot a long time ago. As a writer, trying to create fictitious or historical settings, I find being at the site of ancient things to be fascinating. Like, did those people long ago ever imagine that some tourist teacher from American would one day be wiping his sweaty brow while standing on their pavilion? Probably not. More important things to plan for. But the location did make for nice photos. I always like to contrast old and new in the same picture: the existential theme of the impermanence of permanence. Here and gone. Like the wind. 

A modern depiction of those Yuan folks!
I exited the park at a formal gate, drenched in sweat from the hot sun. A girl handing out hand fans with advertising for a fitness center on it, gave me one. Thanks! I really needed a fan at that point. Following my map, I planned and walked along the tree-lined avenue to my destination: a department store with a McD

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The McD was busy when I entered. At the sight of a foreigner they whip out the English menu but I knew what I wanted and simply pointed to the picture overhead of one of their specials. I was able to get a table, too, so I enjoyed a leisurely lunch although the food tasted as expected; I guess it had been a while so it wasn’t that good. Then I went down a couple doors to a coffee shop I saw as I arrived at the McD. Inside, it was very Western and the A/C was great! I ordered an iced latte, took a table and relaxed. I even read 2 chapters of a paperback I’d brought with me.

Next I planned to go further and check out a science & technology museum I saw on the map. There was also a temple nearby. When I walked to the big interchange where the museum was, it seemed to be under renovation. I could not see where to enter or if it was even open. As for the temple, I could not see any sign of it but for a square of trees among a lot of high-rise buildings. It was hot and late enough in the afternoon that I decided I had accomplished enough for the day. It was time to walk back, probably about 5 kms by then. I followed the map, choosing a different route just for variety, and there was a subway station! 

Public flower pots along busy avenue!
I checked my map and route chart in the station to see how to get home. The station where I was required 2 transfers to get to the station nearest my hotel. So I did that. Except I went one station too far, past the closest one. Remembering my error last year, I made sure of the directions before I set out along the busy avenue. It was a fairly pleasant walk, despite the temperature being 95. Much of the sidewalk was shaded by trees. Finally I arrived at the intersection I was hoping for: the one where the Starbucks is located. I was right! 

Bus stop. I don't trust buses because I don;t know where they go.
Feeling how wonderful an iced latte would taste right then, I walked south enough to be able to look over to see if the Starbucks was really there—it was—but then I could not cross the avenue. Barriers had been set up so nobody could cross. I decided I was close enough to home to just keep going. It was 5 pm and dinner time, but I did not want any hot food, so I popped in at the Subway restaurant near the campus and got a sandwich and drink. Then I went to the 7-11 for more drinks, then to the hotel. As it turned out, that Subway sandwich with all its "fresh" veggies, introduced "Mao's revenge" to me again.

NEXT: The 798 Art Zone

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  1. Ah, the revenge of Mao, the bane of your working 'vacations.' Hopefully you still had the strength to write ♥

    1. Perhaps I shall do a retrospective of my travel woes.