Reiland: On the subway to Tuanjiehu


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BEIJING — I heard the familiar beeping sound and rushed onto the train only to be shoved into the person in front of me. We were all sardines in a can on Line 10 of the Beijing Subway.

But that was nothing new.

For those who frequent the Cambus at the University of Iowa, think of the most squished you’ve felt and multiply that by five.

This time I was on my way to Sanlitun for dinner. I scanned the map one last time to reassure myself I was headed in the right direction. I wasn’t interested in turning around to find another train during this mad rush.

From Huixinxijienankou — my entrance point to the subway and the closest stop to China Daily — to my final destination was only five stops. I stood sandwiched among the hot, sweaty passengers. The trains are equipped with air conditioning, but when everyone is packed together, it doesn’t always circulate, leaving the stench of body odor in its place.

And before I could grab onto a handrail we were on to the next stop: Shaoyaoju.

Several passengers leapt onto the train and scurried to the back and left and right side. There were no empty seats when I stepped onto the train, and now there were even fewer places to stand. I looked around at the crowd trying to spot a “familiar” face. I took pride in seeing Westerners or anyone who remotely looked like I did. Once I spotted a gentleman in a Michigan State T-shirt, and I nearly hugged him.

Unfortunately, I didn’t see any Big Ten comrades, but I did enjoy overhearing some gossip the two next to me were sharing with each other.

I thrived on the conversations I could understand. I of course had no idea who these people were, but I could understand them, and it was glorious.

Sanyuanqiao intrigued me, because it was the transfer stop for the Airport Express. I stood and peered over at the passengers carrying large suitcases and wondered where they might be headed.
Home perhaps? Another adventure?

I was less than two weeks away from going home myself, but I wouldn’t be venturing on the Airport Express. While it was is much cheaper than a taxi, it wasn’t considered very luggage friendly and there was no way I would be able to fit myself and two large suitcases with me into this crowd.

At Liangmaqiao, my stomach rumbled, but I continued to reassure myself I was getting closer to my strawberry and Nutella crepe.

I remained standing with little wiggle room, and I knew I was going to have to use some gentle force to make it out of this train. I looked over at the boy next to me who was reading a book in Chinese, and I read along with him. I didn’t understand a single character, but it was fun to pretend, and I had a bit more time to kill.

Those who aren’t engrossed in books or their tablets were glued to their cell phones, and this was something I was familiar with. The only difference was it wasn’t Facebook or Twitter — both banned in China — rather Sina Weibo and other Chinese social-media outlets.

We pass the Agricultural Exhibition Center, one more stop.

The subway is very user friendly for native English speakers because it repeats the directions in both English and Chinese.

And I can’t help but chuckle when the robotic female voice recites the stops because it never sounds like it’s supposed to.

“The next stop is Tuanjiehu. Please get ready for your arrival.”

I elbowed my way to the front door anxiously awaiting the impending sea of people waiting to board the train I was exiting. Each waiting station has a centerline where passengers exit and on either side an area to enter the train.

Most of the time the lines are blurred, and it’s just a big mess. But I made it out of the train in one piece and scurried off to my dinner at Crepanini.

It was just another day in Beijing where I was one of 22 million.

Daily Iowan staffer Jordyn Reiland is spending the summer interning for the China Dail* in Beijing. Look for her weekly columns each Friday in the DI.

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