Saturday, June 23, 2012

Beijing 2012 - Day 5 (Mastering the metro, Dazhongsi street art)

Today is all about the street art as I plan to wander a stretch of Line 13 between Zhichunlu and Xizhimen where the murals are supposed to be plentiful [Check out the pix]. That means lots of metro rides. I am learning to savor the thrill of snagging a seat on one of those packed cars. Signs remind us that chairs must be given to people who cannot endure too much standing - and sometimes those rules are even followed - but most folks riding the metro take a practical, no-nonsense approach to these things. That means getting on fast and taking any seat that's available. Courtesy be damned, if there's room at the edge of platform, you just know that someone will bypass a long line to seize that opportunity.

And when those doors open, a flood of pushing, sweating, determined people plow their ways inside, snapping up every available seating space. And why not? Start on one side of Line 1 (departing the Batong Line, getting on at Sihui East) past the Tian'an men Square stops to points west and you could be hanging off a metal bar for an hour, tripping over bags of grain transported by rural workers or merely breathing through someone's armpit. Locals know the value of those seats; some will even miss a train just to advance closer to the platform before the next one arrives. That's the moment when everyone is focused, scouting out space. They're all plotting their courses, rehearsing the gymnastics necessary to catapult themselves onboard. I am too. 

The train is slowing down now, pushing a cool breeze toward us. Windows reveal a couple free seats in the car that's easing its way to this part of the platform. And wouldn't you know it? Some guy has just edged his way past our queue and is now standing next to me. He sees the same prize. Surely one of those empty seats will be taken by an alert strap-hanger. Maybe both will be gone by the time those doors fully open. So now I'm competing with folks on the car and this dude who just saddled up beside me. He hasn't given me a glance; he's staring through those windows at my seat. What's worse, that real estate lies near the open door. I can easily shoot my feet across the car, but getting a seat alongside the platform will take some finesse. 

My t-shirt is drenched with sweat, sticking to my back. I'm waiting for that air-conditioned interior and, maybe, the chance to rest. It's all a matter of precisely where the car stops. A few inches to the right and Line-Jumper gets that seat. A little to the left and... Yes! The door opens squarely in front of me. I've got to change direction quickly, pushing onboard, and then pivoting around to snag that seat near the entrance. I catch hold of the metal bar nearest the door and spin hard; I feel briefly airborne. Line-Jumper grunts as he crashes into a cluster of exiting passengers. Cutting where he did, he's trying to bully his way past the crowd of folks trying to depart. 

Inside the car, one strap-hanger has claimed an empty seat; she's likely waited several stops for this moment. Another traveler had a similar idea; I never saw him amid the scrum. But I'm faster, and that poor dude nearly sits on my lap before realizing that the game is over. And of course Line-Jumper is forced to stand this time. I smile inwardly and feel the squeeze as other passengers plunge past the closing doors. Any elderly folks standing? Any pregnant women? I take a look, just in case, ready to stand up for them. Nope, everyone else is healthy enough to endure the ride, and I am grateful for this chance to relax. Seats on Beijing metros are gold, and I'm learning to get mine.

Day 4 | Day 6

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