Monday, October 03, 2005

Xiangshan Gongyuan and Fun Misadventures

Donny and I decided to go to Fragrant Hills Park today. My Lonely Planet Beijing Guide said that we should get out at Pingguo Yuan subway station, and then board bus No. 318 to get there. That seemed straighforward enough to me, so we headed over to our subway stop, Wudaokou.

wudaokou station

We took the yellow line to Xizhimen, and then transferred to the blue line. We took the blue line south to Fuxingmen, and then transferred to the red line. We took the red line west to the end of the line, which was Pingguo Yuan. We got out of the station, and found ourselves on a street with a block of food lining the sidewalks - sweet potatoes, egg foldovers with vegetables inside, various types of meat kebabs, carmelized fruit kebabs, dumplings, and much more. Everything looked so good. If the subway ride hadn't taken the hour that it did, I probably would have stopped for some food.

As it stood, however, it was already 4.00pm, we still had another bus to catch, and the park was supposed to close at 6.00pm. We waited for bus No. 318 for about twenty minutes on one side of the street. There was no sign for it, but alot of busses stop even if they don't have a sign on the sidewalk. Finally, though, we decided that we needed to ask someone. We found out that we were on the wrong side of street. The person we asked said that we'd be able to find out what bus goes out to Xiangshan by looking at the signs on the other side.

We went over there, and were still basically clueless. Fortunately for us, the next people we started questioning were also going to Xiangshan, so they let us follow them. There was no bus 318. We took something else, and then transferred to another one. The bus rides were long, too. By the time we were dropped off in the parking lot at Xiangshan, and we walked up to the entrance, it was already 5.55pm. They weren't going to let us in.

I have no complaints, though. We got to walk through a huge array of sights and smells with the food being sold on the way up. Also, I did get to see the hills quite a bit on the bus ride. It was really scenic. When we were at the entrance, I got a nice view of things, too. I'm sure I'll go back when the place is actually open, but I don't consider having gone a loss. Plus, the air was really clean! My lungs love it when I give them a chance to get rid of some toxins.

xiangshan parking lot

As you can probably tell, the sky there was really clear. It got dark very quickly on our way up, and it was undoubtedly nighttime on our way down. The shops closed on our way down, too. As a result, the light pollution was gone, and when we looked up, we saw something that we hadn't seen in a long time - stars. Tons of stars. It was amazing. Because of that, we decided not to take the bus at the first stop, but rather walk on a bit to the next one. We ate dinner at a restaurant we ran across, and then kept walking. We decided to pass the next stop, too, because it was so nice outside.

We kept walking and walking, and then we came to a highway. It was a classic fork in the road kind of situation. We knew that we had gone straight the whole time in the bus though, and the traffic directions indicated that we'd have to go left in order to retrace our path. So, we walked on the left part of the road, under an overpass, and to some area that was a little less recognizeable than I think we were both hoping it would be. We continued onward, though.

Further ahead, we had another turn decision to make, and we chose left again. That, however, brought us to a dead end, and a sign that prohibited cars from the area. Certainly that wasn't the place we wanted to be since we were looking for a bus. I started cracking up. I love being lost. It's really entertaining to me. Donny started laughing, too. I don't know if it's because the situation was so ridiculous, or because he was nervous about being lost. Regardless, though, it fed my laughter, and I just kept going for another three minutes.

We rerouted back to our last decision point and decided to go right this time. This path took us by a gas station, and we both thought that was a good sign. We remembered passing several gas stations. Great. We were on the right path. We walked past the gas station, and then past what looked like a car repair shop with a family sitting around and eating outside it, and further still. Then we ended up on another highway.

This highway didn't have any sidewalks, and what's more, it didn't have a bicycle lane. That didn't really seem right. There weren't any foreigners walking around, which came as no surprise since we didn't see any the whole time we had been gone. The strange thing was that we didn't see any Chinese people walking around, either. There wasn't a soul on that road. There weren't really even many cars.

For the first time since we'd been here, there was silence. No car horns, no screaming vendors, no construction, no broken bicycles rolling across the pavement, and not even any birds making noise. There was nothing. It was amazing. But for as much as I loved that road, it was also problematic. We were definitely going to get picked up if a cop rode by. We weren't doing anything illegal, but being two foreigners on that road in the dark would probably have been enough reason for a cop to stop us and drive us somewhere else.

We turned around, and walked back to our first decision point. We had been going the wrong way all along, and we realized this because there were no busses anywhere that we had been walking. It turned out that when we went left, we didn't take the correct left. There was one road further on the left that we should have taken. We walked on that to the next bus stop, which also didn't have the right number stopping there. Two men in a van kept trying to get us to let them give us a ride, but I wasn't up for that. I'm sure it would have been fine, but I still didn't like the idea. We waved down a cab, and took that instead.

We told the cab driver that we wanted to go to Pingguo Yuan station, and he said he knew where it was. A few minutes into the drive, he asked us where we were living, and we told him. "Why don't you just let me take you there, then?" he asked. That put us into argument mode. The trip to Xiangshan took forever, and we thought the guy was trying to rip us off.

"No, you don't understand. Your school is much closer than that subway station. This is a much shorter trip," he said. After going back and forth with the guy a few times, we decided to just let him take us to the school. It was going to be less of a hassle anyway. The trip only took 15 minutes. I was confused.

Donny looked at the map later and found out that Xiangshan is actually really close to our school. It's west of here. Public transportation, however, just isn't developed enough yet to make it so we don't have to completely go out of our ways to get there. When I go back, I'm taking a cab. I hope these new subway lines come in soon. That would be nice.


At 12:06 AM, Blogger Nick said...

You said, "We were definitely going to get picked up if a cop rode by. We weren't doing anything illegal, but being two foreigners on that road in the dark would probably have been enough reason for a cop to stop us and drive us somewhere else."

I'm playing stupid to modern Chinese culture here, but would it have been such a problem to get a free ride home from some cop?


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