China 1999

Written by Al Wong (Write to me)

This is my experience in Beijing, China in the Summer of 1999. If you came to this webpage first, it's better if you start from the beginning of the story.

Friday, July 16th
Tian Jin

Today's activities include:

  • Tian Jin. We left early (~7am) for the 2 hour drive to Tian Jin. The drive ended up taking well over 3 hours as we had to reroute through several bad intersections.

    On arrival, I had thought Tian Jin would be a place to take pictures. This was not the case. Tian Jin is another municipality where one can shop. We spent some time walking through this one alley of small vendors. There wasn't anything I really wanted although the prices were slightly cheaper. I didn't think this place was worth the several hour round trip. I ended up buying a couple silver coins and a Mao badge.

    We had lunch at a local restaurant. As always, there was more than enough to eat. I thought I was going to lose weight on this trip but I think I gained a little weight from all the food!

    We then did a little shopping through this strip mall. I didn't buy anything although I did buy a neat little lock from a wandering old lady vendor.

    The ride back took a few hours too and everyone was a little worn out from the trip and the lack of sleep from the previous night.

  • Random Thoughts About Beijing Traffic

    • If you have half a chance, go for it! This appears to be the main rule of thumb while driving in Beijing. If you can make a left turn quickly through oncoming traffic, crossing bicycles and pedestrians, go for it! Who cares if you miss them by fractions of an inch. If you can cut in front of another car in a three foot space, then go for it! Who cares if the other car behind you has to cross two lanes to avoid you? This is playing chicken, Beijing style. A corollary is...

    • Red stop lights do not necessarily mean stop. Come to a complete stop in major intersections only because you have to. The amount of crossing traffic doesn't give you half a chance.

      However, red stop lights on minor intersections can be ignored if you can cross the intersection given half a chance. You don't even need to slow down!

    • Ambulances do not have the right of way. I have seen several ambulances with their sirens on and their lights flashing but they are not given any deferment as to right of way. They might as well not bother. By the way, ambulances have purple flashing lights and their sirens are not very loud. The moral of this story is: Do not get seriously sick or injured in Beijing. You may not make it to a hospital in time.

    • Police cars do not have the right of way. I've noticed a few police cars with sirens and lights flashing and are still not given the right of way. Police cars have more agressive drivers though.

    • Car accident. Saw my first car accident in Beijing today. I happen to pass by after the fact. So they do happen even in Beijing! I'm amazed there are not more car accidents considering the way people drive here. This leads me to another thought. How does car insurance work in Beijing? Is there a concept of car insurance in Beijing? I'll have to find out.

    • Deadlock. As our minibus was driving us back to the language academy, we had to go through this narrow alley. However, there were cars wanting to go out of the alley and to make a right turn. And there were cars that were turning left to go into the alley. The problem is the two streets are very narrow and cars were in deadlock. Cars coming out of the alley couldn't get out because the cars coming in were blocking them and vice versa. We sat this way for several minutes until one car got fed up with this deadlock and managed to take an alternate route. This freed up enough space so cars could move again.

  • Later That Night. I took a taxi ride to Wang Fu Jing Street to really check things out. We passed Tianamen Square and I saw a large crowd of people gathering evidently to see the changing of the guard which is a big deal in Beijing! It was kind of neat seeing all those people for the event.

    I should also mention the taxi passed the Holiday Inn of Downtown Beijing! This was the hotel I stayed at in 1989. And if memory serves me correctly, it was the only tall building in the area. Now there are skyscrapers on either side! Things have really changed in Beijing in the last 10 years!

    At Wang Fu Jing, I visited a lot more stores than last time. They sell just about everything here! I saw more types of candy than in the US. They sell soaps, toothpaste, clothes, shoes, bags, etc. I ended up getting some fresh peaches. I need more fresh fiber in my diet. I also started talking to people around the food stalls. The food seemed to be very good but I didn't try it. I didn't want to get an upset stomach 3 weeks into this trip.

    I struck up one long conversation with a lady who is a nightclub singer and just got out of work. She spoke almost no English which is great for me to practice my Chinese. It was fun.

    So I take a cab back to the academy around 10:30pm and strike up a conversation with the cab driver. This time I understand more of what he says. He gets off work at 12midnight and is very tired now. He agrees traffic in Beijing is very bad and today was very hot. He's never been to the USA before. He's had passengers from Canada (they spoke very good Chinese), Singapore and Malaysia. The driver said he could understand my Chinese. He was a friendly guy.

    This cab driver knew most of the way to the side street of the academy but still had to ask for directions once. He drove pretty slow and we only had one near miss. The seatbelt in the front seat didn't work either.

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Last updated : November 8, 1999
Copyright 1999 Al Wong, Los Angeles, California, USA
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