No, no... not for good! At least, not yet.
23.12.2012 - 07.01.2013 -14 °C
Beijing, December 24 - 25th 2012
Upon landing on Beijing Capital International Airport, the pilot announced that the temperature was minus 14 degrees Celsius. The ground was snow-white-covered except for the runway that must had been cleared up. Shame thing to admit, it was my first time landing on a snowed airport.
The bus terminal was right in front of the airport exit door. But there were so many buses and I didn't understand which bus to take to get to my hotel, Beijing Dongsifuyuan Hotel. So I went back into the airport. A big sign "Tourist Infromation" I read. Thinking that this is Beijing, the capital city, I expected English when I read 'Tourist Information'.
While showing a piece of paper with the address of my hotel written on it (both in alphabet and in Chinese character), I asked, "Excuse me. Which bus should I take to get to this address?"
"You want car!"
"No. I want to take a bus." I pointed to the bus terminal which could be seen through the glass wall behind me.
"You want taxi!"
"No, no. Bus."
The lady speaking to me pulled her friend's arm, persuading her to deal with me. Her friend looked at me and asked, "You want to rent a car?"
"No, no! I want to take a bus. To this address."
"But there are many buses there." I pointed again to the bus terminal behind me.
"We only have car-rents."
"So you cannot give me any information about which bus to take to this address?"
"Take a taxi?"
Forget about English. Even in Beijing. Even in the international airport. Oh yeah where's that lady who laughed at Garuda's flight attendant's Mandarin? Aaarrrggghhh.
I walked back to the bus terminal. At every stop there was an assistant standing. I looked for one who looked young. The young generation should be more modernized, I assumed. And still believing I was in Beijing, the capital city, I kept my English.
"Excuse me. Do you speak English?"
To my surprise: "Errr... a little."
"I need to go to this address." I handed him my piece of paper. "Which number should I take?"
He took a look at the address. "I'm sorry, I don't know. Go there." He pointed to a box office across the road.
"I'm sorry." He apologized again.
At the box office, "Excuse me. You speak English?"
In a rather panic mimic, the guy shook his head while moving his hand.
"Duìbùqǐ. Wǒ zhǐ yīdiǎr shuō hànyǔ. Wǒ xiǎng qù zhège dìfāng. Zěnme qù nǐ zhīdào ma?" At last I gave up. I am not in an international airport. I am in China. In China you speak Chinese, you know.
Since that moment on, "Duìbùqǐ. Wǒ zhǐ yīdiǎr shuō hànyǔ." became my key phrase to start a communication. Believe me, it worked well. People became friendlier and more helpful.
Eventually, I got on the airport bus and got off at the last stop Beijing Railway Station. Actually I could have gotten off at Dongsi, but I wasn't sure it was the Dongsi where my hotel was. Besides, I needed to purchase a train ticket for Turpan anyway.
Unlike other railway stations I had been to in China, there were many counters to reserve a ticket here. It was the 25th and I wanted to purchase a ticket for the 29th. I thought that was a lot of time. During my previous Silk Road adventure in summer, I used to reserve tickets just one day in advance and always got it whereas it was high-season. Especially in Xinjiang Region, it was the Ramadhan holiday season. Thus, I was totally taken aback when I heard that tickets for Turpan on the 29th were all sold out. Soft sleeper, hard sleeper, hard seat, all. How can??
Ah, maybe the ticket lady didn't understand my Mandarin. She didn't understand that it was Turpan （Tǔlǔfān） I wanted to go to. I should have written it on a piece of paper I had always done during last summer. This time I didn't prepare for that and I forgot how to write Tǔlǔfān in Chinese characters. So I decided to check the characters with Google after I check-in my hotel and return to the station in the evening.
Guess what queue this is for! They are queuing for a taxi! I decided to take a taxi to my hotel, because I had no clue which bus to take and where to get off. I promised myself once I've settled down my blue suitcase in the hotel, I will find out and never take a taxi again until the time I will be leaving for Turpan -- which I wasn't sure when for I had not gotten a ticket. (Until the day I left Beijing, that promise was kept.) Standing in line this long made me aware that Beijing was, cold. Will I survive in Turpan? In Urumqi?
I got a room on the 4th floor in Dongsifuyuan Hotel. No elevator. One staff could speak English but the rest were pure Chinese. Meaning, no English. Not at all.
The first best thing of this hotel was the air conditioning system. In spite of the freezing wind outside, it was warm in my room. It was to me not too warm and yet not cold. Inside the room I could clothe the way I used to at home. In the morning bright sun shine warmed up my room through the wide window by my bed. In the bathroom I could hang my washed hand gloves and stockings, then the next morning they would be dry already. Even in Japan, I never found a room with such perfect room temperature in the winter.
My room had always been a place I looked forward to after a long day's trip even struggle. When my feet hurt and I thought I couldn't walk any further, I remembered my room. I felt encouraged that soon I can take off my shoes and it would be over. When my shoulders became uncomfortable because my camera backpack kept on slipping off my silky coat, I remembered my room. In my room I would be able to wear just a T-shirt and my shoulder would feel good again. When I felt I was at my lowest point... ah, that's another story.
From the front desk staff I got a map written in English. It helped me understand my location and public access to popular sites like The Forbidden City, etc.
I studied the bus stops. Uh, it was complicated, because it turned out that my hotel was located in the middle of many intersections. Depending on which turn, which lane I took, I would come out at a totally different side of a street. I got lost three four times and yet I know my sense of direction has improved.
The next thing to master was the subway system. Now, this is something I had never learned in other parts of China except Chengdu. But Chengdu's subway was nothing in comparison to Beijing's. Luckily still I had taken subways in other countries. Otherwise, I would have been totally in the dark. Oh yeah, but the screens had English version display. Thanks to that.
I explored the alleyways a bit. When my tummy cried for food, I found a hamburger house. Homemade hamburger. The shop seemed closed. But I just knocked. A young lady came, she slit the glass window open. I started my mighty "Duìbùqǐ. Wǒ zhǐ yīdiǎr shuō hànyǔ." Meaning, "I'm sorry. I only speak a little Chinese."
She returned a big smile and began to speak slowly. After she got my order, she slit the window glass back closed. I could see her fixing my burger.
And then maybe she got worried I didn't understand her when she asked me to wait. She walked back to the window, slit it open,
"Please wait awhile. I'm fixing your burger." (In Mandarin, for sure.)
When the 2 burgers I ordered was done, she put the them in my hand carefully. "Have a nice day. Take care."
I would never forget that warm smile. A welcome smile on my first day in Beijing. A smile that assured me I would be okay. One of my Mandarin teachers who was brought up in Taiwan said Taiwanese say mainland people are bad and she herself doesn't like China mainland. A friend of Mom said China mainland people are wily. My aunt said China mainland people cannot talk gently. Today, I have proofed them all wrong.
I proofed them more wrong when I searched for a winter coat and winter boots. Of course I always started with "Duìbùqǐ. Wǒ zhǐ yīdiǎr shuō hànyǔ." They all, the shopkeepers, were extremely kind with me in their own way. Once again, I couldn't believe I was in a capital city.
I got settled with a good winter coat, but not the boots. As I walked further, my toes began to hurt. A few days later, I understood the cause.
My lunch. Hěn hào chī.
That evening I returned to the train station by bus. I had a piece of paper with 吐鲁番 clearly written on it. The ticket woman was as friendly as the one this morning and the result was also the same: all seats for December 29th are sold out. Méiyǒu, méiyǒu!
What if I cannot get to Turpan? I have already purchased a plane ticket for Urumqi - Guang Zhou. At least I have to get to Urumqi or I'll loose that ticket. But Urumqi is to Beijing on the other opposite of China. Train or plane are the only options. I searched for a flight option. None either. I tried to look for a travel agency which might have train tickets although with a higher price. I could spot none.
I stood at the bus stop in front of Beijing Railway Station waiting for a bus back to my hotel. It was very very cold. The bus came but only to let passengers off, and then the door was closed, and drove away. One bus after another came. All the same. Two girls got off the bus. One squatted by the side of the road as soon as she got off. She was vomiting. Too cold? I moved my legs up and down. A guy standing next to me rubbed his hands between his hand gloves made some slashing sound.
Suddenly a girl came to me. "You cannot get on the bus here. You have to go there."
"From here go to the left, and then straight over there."
I tried to follow her direction as far as I could comprehend her words. I couldn't find the bus stop. There were bus stops, but none with the number that headed to my hotel. My toes began to hurt. The wind was biting my bones. (I hadn't got a good winter coat yet at that time.)
That's the bus! That's the bus! I ran after the bus while the bus was about to move on. The door was closed already. I waved my hand with all my might.
The bus stopped. The door opened again.
Panting, "Xièxiè..." I thanked the driver.
He grinned. He was the driver who saw me trying to get on his bus in front of Beijing Railway Station. His look was like, "Now you know where to get on the bus, eh?"