Now where was I? Oh, yes. The Airport Express to go into Beijing and the Asian girl I may or may not have talked to.
When the express train arrived, we all piled in. I stood looking around to see if there was an open seat. I spotted one and tried to maneuver toward it with my carry-on. By the way, I might as well mention it now. I had looked all around (though not the airport in its entirety) for a locker to place my carry-on and asked several attendants until the last one said there were no lockers. Strange, huh? No lockers in an airport? Who knows? I like to chalk it up to being lost in translation and that there are lockers and I will find one when I go back. But back to my story.
I took perhaps one or two steps toward that open seat when an old man decided to snag it. Well, bully for him (since I’m out of the country, I feel no need to speak in American tradition). It was better for me because right behind me was the girl with the extremely large backpacking bag. She was The Girl on the Train (don’t go see the movie, it was terrible). She was standing and so I stood right across from her. I smiled and then she smiled and then pointed to her head and asked, “You’re from Houston?”
Ah, yes. The Astros may have missed the playoffs this year and been abysmal at times, but by God, I’ll say they came through in the clutch this time. I was wearing my Houston Astros cap. I said yes and we began to talk. She had flown out of Houston too. She was going to Busan to visit family (Busan is the port city at the southern-most part of South Korea), so now I knew she was Korean. She began to say her name, and then just said, “Just call me Sue.” She had just arrived and she was going into Beijing for a little while before she was to leave.
We had the same plans, and then we figured out that we were on the same flight out of Beijing. What luck! We talked about unimportant things, as interested people often do in order to keep the conversation interesting.
The first stop emptied several seats close to us so we sat next to each other, continuing the conversation. I told her my plans for Beijing and asked if she wanted to come with me. She said yes and so it was settled.
Jumping a Little Too Soon
When I read the map, it appeared that there were only two stops—the middle and the end of the line at Dongzhimen. I had planned my travels accordingly. I would head straight south from there, look at the Temple of the Sun, and then from there, head west to Tiananmen. It was not meant to be, however. There were three stops, apparently. But we got off at the second one anyway, which ended up being the one I thought was to be the first stop. Rats! We discovered this inconvenient truth (thanks, Al Gore) when we reached the outside of the subway.
We couldn’t walk it because that would be too far. So we burrowed ourselves back into the tunnels to try to reach the correct subway. We attempted to get back on the subway, but our Airport Express cards were taken by the machine so we couldn’t. Now that I think of it, maybe we should have asked for new Airport Express cards. Hmmm. Things that will keep you up at night (but not me, since I’m sleepy).
We finally jumped on a subway heading toward somewhere relatively close to Dongzhimen and then got off. When we exited, we arrived in an area that was not what I anticipated.
So I decided to do what any normal American would do. Walk into a Starbucks. I asked where the Temple of the Sun was to the guy working the cash register. The “No Sale” sign was obvious to me as he understandably didn’t understand a word I had just said. Sue got my attention and said, “This guy knows English.” I turned and thought, “Of course, he does. He’s British.”
He explained where we were and where we wanted to go. We would need to get back on a subway.
I wasn’t too interested in going back to the source of all my no returns and neither was she, so we decided to walk around. Sue said she didn’t mind walking around and was cool with taking a look at the area. We walked, took pictures, talked, laughed and then found the palace grounds we were looking for. The park wouldn’t be open for another 30 minutes, so we decided to eat.
We walked across the street to a very small stand-alone building, though it was more like a room. They were cooking dumplings outside and it was rather busy. Sue and I decided this was where we would eat. I ate rice soup and she had a black bean type of soup. We split the dumplings and some pastry-type of breadsticks. I will say this. It was quite delicious.
Our 30 minutes was up and now to the Palace Grounds. The funny thing about thinking your going somewhere in particular in a country you’ve never been before, with people who don’t speak your language, there’s always a good chance you’ll wind up somewhere you don’t expect. That was soooooooort of what happened to us.
Where did we end up? You’ll get a good kick out of it in my next blog post.