The original plan
Pick a random bus, ride it all the way to the end, and then get off. Find yourself in some new, unexplored and fascinating part of Beijing. Wander around, and get to know this exciting new place, before finding another bus and repeating the process. At some point, think about finding your way home.
What actually happened
As planned, we did find ourselves in a new and unexplored part of Beijing. Fascinating, however, was something it was not. We proceeded to wander… soon got bored of the motorway, found another bus stop, and tried again.
Yes, it was totally unplanned – but that was the idea! Spontaneous, impulsive…and possibly a little stupid. And alright, so we didn’t find the most exciting places, I’m not sure exactly what I was expecting, but I’m glad we did it anyway!!
I was telling a friend back home about what we planned to do, who replied: “Ahh you’ve taken so long to do that. Most people do that within the first few weeks!” Strange. In my first few weeks in Beijing, taking a random bus and essentially, getting lost, was not at the top of my agenda. (In hindsight though, knowing the city a bit better, as we do now, makes this better anyway!)
We had a vague idea of what area of Beijing we wanted to head to, which was the southwest, since we’re in the northwest corner of the city (yep, just like home :)) and we’ve been to places in all the other vague directions. So yesterday (Sunday), at the bus stop outside campus, we stood and analysed the bus routes of those heading south, and picked one that went through Niujie (Ox Street) which is the Muslim area, and ended somewhere even further down. The bus came, we got on, and indeed, headed south. In a totally straight line. On a completely straight road. For quite a long time. We got overly excited when the bus made a right turn! And then turned north… and then west again, before continuing south. By this point, we were passing through Niujie. It was much smaller than we remembered, though to be fair, we had been walking the last time we’d come here. However, I hadn’t realised how strong the Uighur influence was here, until I saw a little China Mobile shop, with Uighur script on their shop front!
We finally got chucked off the bus at our unplanned destination, and the first thing we saw outside the stop was a Wu Mart (supermarket). We thought we might as well head in, because… well, supermarkets are adventures in themselves. Something amusing I found inside:
We walked a bit further, and then admitted that we weren’t particularly impressed by the place we had ended up in. There were a few shops, and buildings, but mostly just road. And nothing that really caught our attention… apart from another bus stop. And this very pink blossom tree:
Again, we inspected the bus routes at the next bus stop we came across, and chose a bus that went west and then north from where we currently were, and ended up further northwest from where we’re based. We decided we’d get off before the end though (cos that hadn’t really worked well for us the first time), at Haidian Park, firstly because we didn’t really want to go all the way out to the end, and secondly because not only would a park be nice compensation, Haidian is the district of Beijing in which we live.
Because this is China and our plans don’t work out (I’m not complaining, this is kinda how I’d imagined this day to go in the first place!), we got off at the stop named Haidian Park… and didn’t see any park. We walked all the way around the block, and realised that we actually knew where we were! If we walked further out, we’d end up near the Summer Palace. This actually pleased me: knowing where we were after having got off the bus at a random stop. It made me feel like I was actually getting to know my way around this huge city! We knew this because we’d come to the Summer Palace a few weeks ago – courtesy of a bus that had very recently put a new stop outside Nafeesah’s accommodation. Clearly, that bus was to be our ticket home. We enjoyed a nice walk to the nearest stop we knew, and actually, I was happy. Walking around seemingly aimlessly and then realising that you actually knew where you were going – not a bad feeling! If I can replicate this in other areas of the city, then I really will feel like I’m able to say to people that I lived in Beijing for a year, and yes, I do actually know my way around! (Because, really, I should know my way around a city I’ve been living in for a year, right? Let’s conveniently ignore the fact that I don’t know my way around London at all, regardless of the fact that I’ve lived there for 19years).
On the bus home, the aircon fan above us:
Well, that was the end of that ‘adventure’. As I said, not quite what I expected, but then, what should I have expected? We decided that we should plan this spontaneous and impulsive activity better next time (yes, there will be a next time!). I also decided that I want to go visit some other universities, especially the more famous ones like Peking University, and Qinghua University. It might sound strange and boring, but it’s quite common practice here, and some university campuses are actually really nice! My ulterior motive, though, is to check out the competition in terms of Muslim canteens 😉