So yesterday afternoon, while lzh was still out somewhere, probably feeding her brother before making sure he could find his way to Deshengmen and get the right bus back to Yanqing, I suddenly decided what I needed most was fresh air and exercise. So I turned the computer off, grabbed shoes, wallet, cellphone, keys and a jacket, and walked out.

I wandered down the lane- 磨房中街/Mofang Zhongjie (Mill Middle Street), I think it’s called- that runs westwards from Xidawang Lu to Wusheng Lu just north of our estate, and was reminded once again that whoever’s in charge of the free shuttle buses at the nearest Walmart seems to have a couple of screws loose. Either that or they drew up their shuttle bus routes while sitting down to dinner and getting stuck into the baijiu in the staff cafeteria with only a map- and all maps of Beijing have a little bit of vagueness built into them- to base their bus routes on, and never went out to actually have a look at the streets they would be sending their drivers down. Or both.

Well, sure, it’s possible, indeed not even difficult, to drive a bus down that lane. In fact, there is often a tour coach parked halfway down. But considering the antics that the drivers of even very small cars have to go through to work their way round the masses of pedestrians, cyclists, tricycles and various similar contraptions, parked vehicles of every kind, and oncoming traffic, it just doesn’t make sense to schedule a bus service down that lane. Especially considering that there are other, more suitable roads serving the exact same communities- Songyu Beilu, for example, runs parallel to Mofang Zhongjie, is only 500 metres to the south (and the locals are not averse to walking, and in any case, even from the deepest, darkest depths of that labyrinth of alleys, markets, shops, restaurants and apartment blocks, it’s never far to either Xidawang Lu or Wusheng Lu), and now extends all the way to Xidawang Lu. That would be a much more suitable street to use, especially considering that it is actually wide enough to allow traffic to flow normally and accomodate buses.

Still, the worst I’ve seen is tour coaches driving down West Street in Yangshuo so the tour groups can get a look at the crazy bloody Westerners without putting themselves at risk of catching foreigner cooties. That is dumb. For the coaches to squeeze through, everybody and everything in their path has to dive into the nearest shop or cafe. But they banned bicycles from that narrowest section of West Street.

Anyway, I got to the Wusheng Lu end of the lane and crossed over, looking for my favourite local DVD shop- actually, the only local DVD shop I know of, but fortunately it’s very good.

Was very good. It was closed, and it looked to be permanently closed. Oh well, DVDs were just an excuse to go for a walk, and yet it wasn’t really DVDs that got me out of the house. It was more like an easy way of choosing a direction to wander in. So I wandered up north, then down a lane heading west, found myself (predictably enough) on the Third Ring Road, so turned north again, heading up to Jinsong Qiao.

And seeing the construction sites- or are they entrances to the underground construction site?- of the Line 10 terminus, I thought, there’s no sign of any change here, and yet Line 10 is supposed to be opening soon, and even doing test runs or something like that, so what’s going on? And then I turned the corner and saw that there is actually an entrance to Line 10 all built and apparently finished and looking brand-spanking new. So new it’s still shiny despite its location at a big, busy intersection. But they seem- and yet it’s too early to say for sure- to be making the same mistake as the Line 5 at Tiantan Dongmen- only two entrances. Well, I don’t know about on the western side of Jinsong Qiao, but on the eastern side where I was, I could only see the one entrance, and that was on the northern side of the road. Maybe, and I hope this is the case, they’re building an entrance on the southern side, I mean, that’s a busy, busy intersection and it makes no sense to force half the commuters living to the east of Jinsong Qiao to cross that intersection to get into the subway. But they did that with the Line 5 stop at Tiantong Dongmen, and it took them forever to open up the in-Soho entrance to Line 1 Dawanglu (as opposed to the entrance stupidly placed in a traffic island outside Soho), so who knows.

And, well, I have to say that my experience with Line 5 is extremely limited. The one time I took the 34 round to Tiantong Dongmen to hook up with the Line 5 (a route to the subway that is odd but just as convenient as going straight up Xidawang Lu to Bawangfen/Dawanglu- provided the bus driver can actually find the accelerator, which was not the case on that day) I could only see two entrances to the subway- one on the southeast corner of the T-junction there, the other on the western side of the road, meaning one way or another I had to cross the road. I would’ve thought it an obvious choice to put an entrance on the northeast corner of the T-junction to grab all the traffic to and from the Hongqiao market, but I couldn’t see one. So such an entrance may exist, but carefully hidden from people getting off the bus at the northeast corner of that intersection.

And then I came across one of the banks mentioned in that notice about the change in the gas-buying system. At the moment, we can only buy gas (or recharge our gas IC cards, I should say) from one particular branch of the Agricultural Bank. From March 5, we’ll be able to buy gas from any branch of the Bank of Beijing. A notice was put up explaining the change, and it included the addresses of two nearby branches of the Bank of Beijing.

Of course, the notice was posted in Chinese only, and nobody thought that the foreign teachers, most of whom don’t read Chinese (and most of whom speak no more Chinese than is absolutely necessary for their survival- some because they’ve only recently arrived in China, others…), might need to be told of the change, lest they make a fruitless and frustrating trip to the old bank to try and buy gas sometime after March 5, and so I translated it myself and posted it up where the foreign teachers would see.

Anyway, one of the two branches mentioned on the notice was the ‘Jiulongshan Branch’, and even though the address given was Nongguangli, lzh and I assumed it was the branch on Xidawang Lu she passes every day on her way to and from work. That, after all, is Jiulongshan. The address didn’t seem to match, but still…

Well, so there I was on the southeastern corner of the Jinsong Qiao intersection, and I looked up and saw “北京银行九龙山支行”. Ah, right, of course. Bank of Beijing, like so many other banks and similar such institutions, follows the same policy of taking pretty big liberties with the geographical namings of its branches. The Jiulongshan Branch, naturally, is on the northwestern corner of Nongguangli, the southeastern corner of the Jinsong Qiao intersection, a good one and a half kilometres from Jiulongshan.

Well, anyway, I kept wandering, and reached the northern end of Wusheng Lu. I let the traffic lights make my decision, and so wound up wandering back down Wusheng Lu, stopping in at the market just north of that lane I’d wandered down on my way out, opposite the locked-up and closed-down shell of what was my favourite local DVD store. Two of my colleagues swear by this market for its DVDs, so I decided to give it a go. I wandered up the back, stopping at a couple of stalls selling DVDs but nothing even remotely attractive, past the food and furniture sections (this market is a lot bigger and far more comprehensive than I remember it being when we lived down at Songyu Xili towards the southern end of Wusheng Lu) and found the stalls they’d been raving about.

And this is where it gets dangerous:

Four kuai per DVD.

I kid you not.

And my colleagues swear by this place, they insist the quality is perfectly fine.

So I spent probably an hour or so sifting through the DVDs at the various stalls, well, several of the stalls but there were too many for a sustained, comprehensive sifting of them all- yeah, I’m a bit out of practice, having relied on one or two good stores for several years now. lzh desperately wants a new Disney film featuring cute golden retrievers and huskies. She’s a sucker for any movie featuring cute dogs, and through these movies she’s built up a huge list of dogs she wants from all these movies. Anyway, she’s seen bits of this film online and wants it on DVD, and I was planning on stopping at that store on my wanderings, so I went and sifted through their selection.

And this is dangerous. Four kuai per disc, and I’m assured the quality is fine…. I wound up taking quite a haul home, and there were plenty more I could’ve bought.

And so far, the quality has been fine, although I’ve noticed one is more obviously pirated than the others I’ve seen so far.

Still, the selection of movies there, although it is pretty good, can’t match the store that used to be across the road, and is very far behind that offered by Tiger’s DVDs up in Wanda Plaza. But good enough and cheap enough to be dangerous.

And then home again.

And that little walkabout just further confirmed why this is my favourite corner of downtown Beijing.

Here’s one facet of this part of town that I like: Walking around my neighbourhood, you can see all of Beijing’s development from the 1940s up to now. You can see it in place names like 磨房里- Mill District. The mill has since disappeared, of course, but obviously there was one here not so long ago. 农光里- Rural Light District? Well, there’s not much rural or agricultural left around here, but I think it’s fairly safe to bet that back in the 1950s when BeiGongDa was being built, this area was mostly rural- hence the mill.

And the buildings, too, of course. The BeiGongDa campus is one example, having teaching, office, dormitory, and sundry other buildings dating from the 1950s up till, um, about yesterday, and more under construction. But just over our back fence is a slum that I strongly suspect is the remnants of what was a rural village 50 years ago, and which has somehow managed to survive all the developments since. Right next to that is an apartment block probably about 15 years old. And walking down that lane, you can see apartment blocks built at every stage of Beijing’s development between those two points in time, and around the edges of our neighbourhood are all the latest developments, some already established, some just finished, some still under construction.

It’s a fascinating little area, and yet it’s perfectly, blandly ordinary, and yet it’s its ordinariness that makes it so good.

And there’s lots of good eats, too, but that’s pretty much a given in China….

2 Responses to “wanderings, subway ramblings and a dangerous market”

  1. John Says:

    I’m not too surprised about ¥4 for a DVD, although I might be a little sceptical about the quality. The price for DVD 5s has been ¥6 most of the time I’ve been in China, and ¥10 for (alleged) DVD 9s. I’m surprised that the prices of both haven’t fallen a little. I would’ve thought that the DVD 9s might’ve dropped in price by now, although not as low as ¥4.

    I wonder how long it’ll be before Blu Ray discs start having an effect on the market.

  2. wangbo Says:

    I was sceptical of the quality, too, but so far my only complaint is that they’ve done the usual idiot pirate thing and, instead of just copying the original English subtitles, translated their already shoddy Chinese subtitles into terrible Chinglish. Makes it harder for lzh to enjoy the film.