travel junkie goes back to china... and arrives in Beijing

7:10 PM

Armed with only the name of our hostel, Beijing (Peking) Downtown Backpackers, and its subway stop, Beixinqiao, I climbed down two stories (or was it three?) from the platform to the Beijing South Railway Station exit. It would’ve been easy and not a wee bit scary if I wasn’t lugging an 18 kg suitcase with me.

Guards, dressed in their commie-looking uniforms, stood next to the exit door looking like they’re waiting for something. Waiting for someone to make the wrong move, perhaps? I don’t know. But their intent looks certainly got me walking a bit faster. Not that I am guilty of anything. Well, maybe of hunger but I could hardly believe they can tell from where they were standing.

I walked out of the railway station and into the subway. The concourse was poorly lit and utterly crowded, on a Saturday morning no less. Why are these people up and about at 7:30 in the morning? Back home in Manila, Saturday morning is a blessed time to travel. The start of the weekend for most city dwellers, they choose to stay in bed until mid-morning which leaves ample room for anyone in transit. Apparently, it’s not the same in Beijing.

From Beijing South Railway Station to my stop, there are ten stations and two line transfers in between. Not so easy with a heavy suitcase that needed to be loaded unto an x-ray machine, and had to be hauled up and down stations (some of which don’t have escalators to the platform.)

Beijing subway is the oldest in mainland China with its first line opened in 1969. The first line I transferred to certainly felt old. The station sported the traditional tiles on the walls and open tracks. You know, the type where one can commit suicide by just flinging himself unto the path of an oncoming train? The second line I had to transfer to, line 5, was relatively new with glass walls and doors that slide open when passengers alight.

Getting into a train in Beijing was no way easier than during rush hour in Manila. One had to fight her way to get into the train; nobody makes way for alighting passengers; if you do, people behind would certainly take matters into their hands and push you in.

At this point, I have a confession to make. I have this thing about crowds. They make me sick, literally. Crowds make it hard for me to breathe. There should be ample space in between me and the next person, say an arm’s length at the least. (Or someone needs to distract me.)

In the crowded train, I decided to call my friend Raffy. Not only to distract myself but more importantly, I had to ask him for the address of the hostel. (Since I was such a genius to have left the address inside my luggage instead of my carry-on bag.) The call was short and brief, leaving nothing else to do but wait for my stop.

I tried looking down so I wouldn’t have to look at people. Bad move. Instead, I saw their feet and how very close they were to mine. I tried looking straight. Worse. They were up close and right in front of my face. I looked up at the ceiling. It was a bit low but was bearable. But I couldn’t look up the whole time, could I? How could I look after my bag? So I opted to look at a distance. And for every minute that passed, I tried my damnest to breathe yet the world slowly started to spin. And all of I can think of was, “Not in Beijing! Not in Beijing!”

Mercifully, I reached my stop before anything fatal happened. I alighted the train and walked out of the station as quickly as my feet would let me. But things didn’t get better anyway because I didn’t know what exit I should take and to which direction I should be heading. Lost in that chilly Saturday morning, I decided to follow the main road.

Beijing (Peking) Downpackers hostel is situated in a hutong, alleyways that criss-cross the centre of town. From the images I've seen when I was researching for this trip, hutong simply seems to be the traditional Beijing neighbourhood. And from the looks of the low-rise apartments surrounding me, together with the wide streets and sidewalks, i was not in a hutong. Or was I anywhere near one.

I asked for directions from any friendly-looking passer-by. They all pointed me forward. “Good,” I thought. At least, I was heading toward the right direction. After a good 20 minutes walking across the block, I reached an intersection. Stumped, I finally gave up and hailed a cab. Unfortunately, the cabbie wasn’t much of a help and hightailed since he also didn’t know where the hostel was.


Right outside Beixinqiao station were elders playing "sipa"


Lost, hungry, and feeling utterly defeated, I was about to head to the corner McDonald’s when I spotted two backpackers coming out of an alleyway. They hailed a cab and before they jumped in, I managed to ask them if they have any idea where my hostel was.

“Take that [pointing towards an alleyway], until you reach a Korean Restaurant.”

The alleyway was deserted except for the occasional car that passed through. There wasn’t a single soul, not even one who might be looking outside a window. Only the clakety sound of my luggage, reverberating against the walls, kept me company.

I finally reached the Korean restaurant and was dumbfounded again. Yes, there was the Korean Resto but where the hell was my hostel?

A group of teenagers, three guys and a girl, passed me by. Thinking that maybe these youngsters would know how to speak English, I approached them and asked for directions. And my goodness not only did they know how to speak English, they knew where the hostel was! Even more, these four blessed kids walked me to the hostel where I found Raffy standing at the front, apparently waiting for me. I was so relieved to see him that I wasn't able to help myself; I gave him a big warm hug. Believe me, no one in the world was happier than me at that precise moment.


my first glimpse of our hutong


the narrow alleyway could still accommodate cars, bikes, and pedestrians


After a quick breakfast at the hostel's cafe, I checked in and brought up my luggage to the dorm room. Raffy showed me to our room and recorded a video of my incandescent state.








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2 comments

  1. Hi

    I really enjoyed reading your blog and your accounts of travelling through China and the Philippines. I want to travel through China soon but know no Mandarin. Did you find the language barrier much of an issue while trying to get around?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Erin!

      So sorry for the late reply! Honestly? I didn't have a hard time. Then again, I mostly stayed in the city - Shanghai and Beijing, so there were some English translations. I went to West Lake in Hangzhou and if I weren't shown around by local, I think it would've been hard to go around.

      I pointed at things a lot and I took everything at face value. Am I eating pork or beef? Is this chicken or is this something else? I didn't really care. If it was delish, then I honestly didn't want to know.

      But what really got to me was they really don't have any sense of personal space. They'd bump into you and wouldn't even apologize.

      Good Luck! :)

      Hope to hear from you when you're finally in China! :)
      Maybe, you should drop by Manila. I'd be happy to show you around. :)

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