Rapid transit arrived inside the terminal every three minutes.
Directed by Robert, our arrival coincided almost to the minute with the train’s appearance. Luggage dragging people that we were, we rushed on and were transported to the parking lot where our mini tour bus awaited. (I have no recollection of exiting the train or getting on the bus.)
We zipped down the highway surrounded by young trees already dressed in delicate greenery. By comparison, Ontario was still in the throes of winter on this March 29th, but I squashed the thought as I gawked in awe. The highways were clean and neat with row on row of countless new tree plantings. To my limited gardening knowledge they were two to three-year-old saplings. I seem to recall some weeping willows (or not).
It must have been at least a good half-hour or so before the city limits loomed ahead, although. I hadn’t paid much attention to the time. What caught my eye immediately were countless gray apartment buildings: cement shells, without an outside finish; empty openings instead of window-filled; forlorn and abandoned-looking construction sites. There is a reason for this our guide, Robert, told us when I asked him.
“This is an excellent opportunity for the buyer,” he said. “He can choose the cost and type of windows, doors, cupboards, flooring walls etc. he is willing to pay. In addition to hiring a sub-contractor to finish the interior of this carcass, the owner is responsible for hooking into the main water and electrical.
“But why are so many unoccupied. How long have they been empty?” I asked.
“More and more people are moving into the cities every day. They haven’t come here yet.”
“Who builds these things? Where does the money come from?”
“Sometimes the companies run out of money, it’s true, and must wait till they find new resources.”
Our bus progressed through streets crammed with buses and cars and lots and lots of people. I watched young and old city-dwellers ride bicycles in terrifying traffic, sometimes with loads of cardboard or wood tied in a pile behind them. I saw no helmets and an assortment of non-practical shoes. I noticed a number of girls riding mopeds with waist clutching male passengers. Really? Does this mean more girls own the motorbikes?
Another interesting sight: one-seaters, which looked like someone had wrapped a sheet of tin around a bike for a car-like body with a roof. Actually, these vehicles were not run by pedal power after all from what I could make out. I still have no idea what they were / are.
Newer, old and knocked down buildings stand side by side. As we moved through neighbourhood to neighbourhood, Robert informed us a lot of the old city was being torn down to make way for the new. During the long drive to the hotel we viewed rubble from many such scrap heaps awaiting removal.
I noticed a certain rhythm to the traffic. Each time we came to a stop light, our bus driver, pulled the hand brake. Why? We were on a level road not on any incline or stopped midway downhill. All the drivers around us honked horns all the time and after a while I became aware of something else. This was their way of letting the other drivers know, ‘I’m coming through.’ The drivers weren’t angry nor irate. No screeched brakes shrieked. Bikes and buses seemed to play a game of chicken. Three or four lanes appeared to accommodate five or six lanes of traffic. I covered my eyes. Buses and cars dodged in, out around us, but not one transport truck was in sight.
Some quick and interesting facts:
- Beijing is the same latitude as New York City
- Beijing is the capital of Peoples’ Republic of China
- It is the third largest city in China
- China is shaped like a rooster. Beijing is located at the neck of the rooster and is known for fresh water pearls
- 20 million people / 5 million cars
- Since the Olympics, 3 million more cars on the road = work = wages = cars)
- Odd / even license plate policy: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Road_space_rationing_in_Beijing
- First car market here was the German Volkswagen
- The second was Buick from the U.S.
~ * ~
Any mistakes are my own. I admit my attention span and hearing are not always on alert. These few facts I jotted down as I thought I’d heard them.
~ * ~
Next Week: Beijing at Last (Part 2) May 30th
Previous related posts: