Posted by on May 2, 2011 | 1 comment

Subway Ticket Counter

Feeding Time on the Subway

Subway Platform

Waiting for Subway Train

Hot Pot Restaurant

Hot Pot Fixings

Hot Pot (3 Kinds)

Dipping Vegetable in Hot Pot

Fang, Qing Li, Yong Ming

Hot Pot Dinner Companions

We had made arrangements to have dinner with some friends of Yuan’s (she had originally met them while traveling with a group of mutual friends). The plan was to meet them after work at a subway stop, and then go to the restaurant together from there by car. So this would be my first experience with the Beijing subway system.

Subway Ride

The station was very clean and modern. For ¥2 (about 30 cents) you can ride anywhere in the city, so it is a remarkably cheap way to get around. The place was relatively empty when we got there, so I was expecting a painless travel experience. When the train arrived, though, things changed rapidly.

Waiting for the subway train, there is a specific area where you are supposed to stand, which lines up with where the subway door will be when the train stops. People departing the train will move directly out from the center, while people boarding the train line up on both sides of the center line and enter from the left and right after passengers have had a chance to depart.

When the train stopped in front of us it was full. So full that it would be hard to imagine anyone else fitting onto the train. A few people got off, and then those who were lined up on the platform made their way onto the train. It was quite a struggle, with people aggressively denying the laws of physics by squeezing their way into the non-existent remaining space. Yuan and I did our best to follow suit, and the next thing you know we were on the train and it was pulling away from the station.

We had about 4 stops to go, and I was barely able to find a hand-hold for myself to keep from falling down. We made it to the next stop, and to my shock and horror, even more people started piling onto the train. I was no longer able to hold onto anything, but it didn’t matter, since I was being held in place vertically by the sea of bodies. Directly behind me and under my legs someone had put a suitcase, so I literally couldn’t move an inch in any direction.

Given that we were traveling during rush hour in a particularly busy part of the city, it wasn’t too surprising to encounter cramped conditions on the subway. But this went beyond the most densely-packed crowd of people that I have ever experienced.

As the train approached each station, a female voice would announce the upcoming stop in Chinese. Then a different female voice would announce, very pleasantly: “the next stop is [name]… please prepare for your arrival.” If the station was a transfer point, she would add this: “please prepare to get off.” The double-entendre was hilarious. It was just one of the many odd English translations that we would encounter in China.

We finally arrived at our destination and were able to decompress ourselves. We met up with Yuan’s friend Fang and they spent some time catching up (in Chinese, of course, which pretty much left me out of the conversation). Fang is the manager of a Financial Street real estate company. Then her other friend Qing Li (manager of her older sister’s company) showed up along with her boyfriend Yong Ming (a defense attorney) who was driving, and we were off to the restaurant.

Hot Pot is one of those classic Chinese meals. I’ve had really good hot pot in California (at Little Sheep, which also has locations here in Beijing), so I was curious to see if there was any difference in the version served here. I let the rest of the group do the ordering, as the menu was in Chinese and the group was carrying on an entirely Chinese conversation. We then got up and went to another part of the restaurant where everyone was filling dishes with condiments (such as sesame paste, garlic and chili oil) and then took them back to our table.

As we sat down again it was beginning to dawn on me how utterly exhausted I was. It had been a very long day already, and I had gotten a total of eleven hours of sleep over the past three days. I did my best to contribute bits and pieces to the conversation, but most of it was beyond my comprehension, and I was having trouble staying awake.

The food was delicious, though, and when they asked me to compare this hot pot with the version I had tried in the United States, I had to admit that I couldn’t tell the difference.

At the end of the evening our guests were kind enough to drive us all the way back home, for which I was very grateful. It had been a very long, very full day, and I was ready for a good night’s sleep.

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