Friday, February 11, 2011

Day 3 Part I - Using the Beijing Subway

Having seen the Big Breakfast Spread, the family decided we didn't quite need SO much food every day.  So we retreated to the hotel coffee shop the next morning.  They apparently use the same bakery, so the donuts, muffins and other pastries were just as unbelievably delicious as the ones at the buffet.  The coffee drinks were well made, and I heard no complaints from the hot chocolate drinkers.

Of interest - at the entrance to this coffee shop (and in other prominent spots in other Wester Style hotels, I would discover later) was a display where one could buy honey from "The Farmers of GuanBa."
In glass jars no less.
If you can think of something (in 10 seconds or less)  you would less rather pack in your luggage to take home as a souvenir, I dare you.  A glass jar or honey.  Really.

Anyway, we picked up Lonely Planet and headed for the Beijing Subway.  For those of you who haven't been to Beijing since before the Olympics... yes Beijing has a subway, and unlike so many other things we saw in Beijing, this appears to be robustly built and is happily and constantly used by locals on a daily basis.  In fact, during the few times Tavin and I used it during "rush hour" times, there was NO personal space, and much strap hanging was on.  Several Chinese we talked to were somewhere between pleased and surprised that Tavin and I used the Subway daily and liked it so much.  Sure there are still parts of Beijing that are hard to get to one the Subway, but it made getting around, overall, a breeze.

Side note about the Subway - it is definitely a manifestation of the weird control-freaky nature of the Chinese Government that would pop up now and again.  While you can buy a reloadable pass, it appears  one needs to speak or read more Chinese than NONE.  Most Beijingers are still learning the system so no one looked at me strangely as I squinted over the screen.  In fact, as I gained confidence, people would watch me.  Anyway, there was usually someone at a booth selling tickets - this is good because the machines have a spotty service record.
And this is where it gets odd.  Tickets are 2 RMB.  Machines only accept 10RMB bills and higher, and 80 out of 100 did not give change.  And you cannot purchase extra tickets... well you can, but tickets you buy are only good at the station where you buy them, and within 2 hours of purchase.  The ticket machines will accept the 1 RMB coins.  But if I handled more than 6 of those in my entire time in China, I'll eat a shoe.  
One time I was at a station where no one was at a window, and only 3 out of 8 machines were working, it was like the inside of a chicken coop.  You HAD to buy at least 5 tickets.  Everyone in Beijing has a pile of 1 RMB bills, but the machines only accept 10 RMB bills. (or 1 RMB coins).  I didn't have any coins - and neither did the Beijingers.
The upshot is, I bought the 5 tickets - and learned about the "that station only - within 2 hours of purchase limitation" and so ended up with 2 good tickets, and 3 souvenirs.  

This is what a subway ticket looks like.

If I had ever run into that situation again, I could have bought the 5 tickets, and sold the other 3 to people for small RMB bills.  But, alas, never had the chance.  And one wonders what the police/army presence would have made of that?
So we made it onto the subway, and headed for the Forbidden City and Tienanmen Square.  They are right across from each other - and have 2 stops.

Yes - you walk out of the subway stop into a post card of a visit to China.
Here is one of the guards.

Here is our version of the postcard!

Welcome to China - Yes, it is bloody Cold!

And then we went into the Forbidden City.  Visiting in January, I learned more about WHY the Chinese Emperors dressed the way they did than I ever would have at any other time of the year.

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