I went to visit my friends in Beijing: an American couple who have been living and working in Beijing, China for many years. It was a holiday week in May. I thought we could go by train to another city. We were completely flexible on where we went. We went to a local travel agent to make arrangements. One of my friends speaks Chinese quite well so it wasn’t that we couldn’t communicate. We just couldn’t go anywhere.
“Nothing?” I asked as we left. “She says every train is full,” my friend replied. “How can this be true?” I asked. “Well, some Chinese get on a train hoping to get a seat so even if a ticket becomes available, someone on the train will buy it.”
We decided to go to downtown Beijing by bus. “Won’t a taxi be faster?” I asked. “Not today,” was the reply, “There is so much traffic during the holiday time that a taxi would be the same speed and we can see more on the bus. It has an upper level.”
They were right. Our bus inched along giving us plenty of time to see everything. My two friends sat together and I sat across the aisle. An older woman sat next to me near the window. I noticed she held a handkerchief up to her mouth. A younger man kept looking back over his seat and sometimes saying something to her. She didn’t answer. Eventually she touched the young man on the shoulder and three of them got off.
I asked my friends about it later at a cafe. “She is too old to muscle her way down the crowded streets and doesn’t want to pay for a taxi. The subway can be even worse so she rides the bus even though it makes her sick. It’s probably worse today because of extra traffic and the bus stopping and starting more than usual,” my friend said, “She will rest up for a bit and get on another bus and continue their journey across town.”
I tell this story so you might see how so many things are affected by the number of people in the capital city. And more people keep coming! Maybe for job opportunities or to be with family members that are doing better financially.
Getting a drivers license is hard now because they don’t want any more cars on the crowded streets. If all the bicycles were traded in for cars, traffic would stop completely, without a doubt. The buses come to the stops every five minutes and often fill up. The subway can be a real new experience when you have people pressing you on all sides and you have to wiggle your way to the door in time to jump off at your stop.
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Walking Along the Canal