I have now moved to Beijing and I am staying at the residence at the Beijing International Studies University. I find the prospect of adapting to a completely new city in China a bit daunting. I had worked so hard to learn the bus routes and the location of the supermarket that sold cereal and now I would have to discover these things all over again.
Finally I gathered my courage and decided that I would tackle the winding massive subway system of Beijing. I had been on similarly complex systems in Seoul and Paris so I knew it would be possible for me to navigate. I found the subway stop and pressed a series of random buttons trying to guess what each prompt meant in Chinese. A picture of the subway line appeared so I chose a stop as my destination not knowing if that was even the stop I was going to.
I filed onto the crowded subway and immediately began sweating as the car was packed tight with riders. This was the kind of sweating that collects in the small of your back and rolls down your thighs. I tried to cross my legs so that no one would notice how hot I really was. I asked a young man, “Tiananmen?” I wanted to be sure that I was going in the right direction. “Yes, “ he answered. I felt pure relief as I was probably on the right route to my destination.
I got off at the Tiananmen Square stop and quickly found myself in a massive crowd of people pushing in different directions. I became slightly uncomfortable at the proximity of the people around me and moved my backpack to sit in front of me so that I could look especially pregnant. I was a bit lost and bewildered. I asked someone again, “Tiananmen?” I felt kind of foolish because I was sure it was really close and the people were probably wondering if I was a bit stupid.
I finally decided just to follow a random line of people and I hoped that swimming in this sea of people would take me in the right direction. And then I saw it. The famous gate with the large picture of Chairman Mao on it with the obligatory military guard at its base. It had been 10 years since I’d been in Tiananmen square and a bit of nostalgia overcame me. I had come before with a co-worker and was overwhelmed then as I walked through the square as I had studied Chinese Politics and the happenings at the Tiananmen Square protests before. I was in the square again, not for the first brilliant time but I was just as impressed by its size and political importance.
To actually get in the main part of the square you have to go under an overpass and go through different security checks. I didn’t remember having to put my bag through a scanner 10 years ago and thought that security must have been tightened. At one security checkpoint I noticed that an older thin woman was stopped by the military officers. They were searching through her satchel and found a series of leaflets. I wondered if she wanted to protest something. She also had a series of goods that she probably wanted to try to sell in the square.
As I walked in the square I noticed the sellers that I remember were quite free to sell souvenirs 10 years ago but were now hiding their products in the backpacks hanging in front of them. They seemed to be selling Chinese flags, Communist Hats, and Female Traditional Headresses almost secretly. Soon a military vehicle came towards us and the sellers scattered.
I moved on and found a ledge to sit on to watch all of the kids playing with their multi-coloured floating ribbons that were attached to sticks. A few people stared at me but not nearly as many as when I was in Hangzhou. I felt a lot calmer in Beijing as the constant stares of people in Hangzhou had made me a bit weary.
After I had sat for a bit in the square I walked to the end gate and then thought that I should make my way back to the subway stop. I realized that dusk was settling in and I was not quite confident yet with Beijing to be wandering around the city at night. I checked a couple stores and then I found my way to the subway again.
Just as I was about to go down the stairs to the subway a couple girls stopped me. “Hello, “ I looked back at two smiling women. “Why are you in Beijing?” they asked.
“I’m working here. “ I started to get a bit suspicious when they seemed to want to talk further with me.
“ Your English is wonderful. We are studying and would love to speak with you.”
“Are you from the Church?” I asked remembering Church representatives that had tried to recruit my students before.
“No. Why would you say that? We just want to have a coffee with you to practice our English.”I was still wary as I had been conned in Thailand 10 years ago by two women who had told me they were teachers.
They smiled and they seemed nice and the idea of sharing a drink and being shown a local snack place seemed comforting to me. I considered making an exit for the subway but finally decided to accept their invitation.