A Beginner’s Guide to the Beijing Subways

There are over 12 million people living within the urban areas of Beijing, and if you extend that to include suburban Beijing as well, the numbers will jump to over 20 million. There are a number of different ways to calculate and rate cities in terms of their populations, but no matter how you calculate it, Beijing usually finds a way into the top ten. According to Wikipedia, in rating the most populous cities using the concept of city proper, Beijing ranks number 3 in the world, following Shanghai at number 1 and Istanbul at number 2.

Just to reiterate, there are a LOT of people in Beijing. Always. No matter where you are – no matter what you are doing – no matter the time of day, there are people around simply because they are everywhere.

One of the best ways to experience just how crowded it is in Beijing is to take a ride on the subways during rush hour. If you hop on the subways during non-rush hour, by most standards the subways will still be crowded. However, if you have the unfortunate chance to take the subways during rush hour (下上班:”when people are going to or getting off work”), you will…well…you will definitely have an experience in store.

I really can’t describe how crowded the subways can get. In the states, they would never allow a carriage to move filled with that many people. It just wouldn’t happen. But in Beijing, while the subway is expansive and expanding all the time, it still cannot meet the demands of the city’s people. Slowly it seems that the idea of “queuing up” seems to be catching on, but it is still a loosely held courtesy, and as soon as things get hairy, the lines fall into mobs of people pushing feverishly to board the subways. At every subway door, there is usually a trained subway worker there to help the process of guests getting off and guests getting on move more smoothly. Sometimes, however – when there are just too many people – they spend their time pushing people into the subway carriage and then trying to get the automatic doors to close so the subway can continue on its way.

It’s an exciting, and often terrifying, way to travel around the city.

For the subway newcomer, here are some key points of advice I have put together to make your first ride in a crowded subway car a little more bearable during rush hour:

1)     GET TO A HAND RAIL: Often times the subway carriage will be so crowded that, like sardines in a sardine jar, you might think that being tightly pinned between your fellow subway riders is enough to keep you standing. Good and well-intended logic, but an inherently flawed assessment. The subways are prone to sharp jerks and stops, phenomenona which tightly packed crowds of people seem more vulnerable to – indeed, without the ability to move your feet for balance, the crowds sway and sometimes during the worst cases, people will fall over to be knocked into the walls or bars of the carriage. BUT – problem easy solved! Make any and all efforts to GRAB A HANDRAIL!

2)     THE BOX-OUT TECHNIQUE: Once you have managed to board the subway, you might think that the difficulty is over – NOPE! At every stop there will be a jostle of people getting off and a jostle of even more people trying to squeeze their way on. This is a technique that has taken me months to master, but I call it the BOX-OUT TECHNIQUE. When you are being squished ever closer and tighter to your fellow subway riders, the trick is to claim your territory – stick out your elbows, bend your knees to make yourself a little wider, and broaden your shoulders. In essence, BOX OUT the territory just around you. That way, when the subway finally gets moving again and there are no more people trying desperately to squeeze aboard, you will not be left SUPER SUPER SUPER squished, only mildly discomforted by the 20-or-so people squeezed against you.

Note: During especially crowded rush hours, this technique is less effective. When it’s really bad, just put your hands in your pockets and casually stick out your elbows. This is just to monopolize the room you need for basic functions, i.e. breathing!

3)     PLAN YOUR GETAWAY: Some subway stops are more popular than others! If you are getting off at one of the less popular ones, plan on preparing to get off long before you actually arrive. If you don’t, you WILL miss your stop. Ask the people around you if they are getting off at the next stop ( 下车吗?xià chē ma?), and slowly begin the arduous process of making your way towards the door.

4)     WHEN IN ROME, DO AS THE ROMANS DO: Just follow the crowd. You will not be considered rude, out of line, or inconsiderate for acting as the rest of the thousands of subway-goers do. This includes waiting in line. As said before, queuing is a relatively new phenomenon, so if the queue dissolves, be prepared to fight with the mob to get on board and don’t worry about it!

Autumn Alumni Reunion Recap

As anyone who has studied abroad will tell you, the experiences, the places, and the adventures are among some of the most unforgettable aspects of any study abroad program. However, undoubtedly one of the most memorable parts of any experience abroad is the people you share these experiences with. Lotus Educational Foundation’s study abroad programs bring people together from all over the world. After our time in China, we all return to our respective homes with our memories and experiences together – and while modern technology has allowed us to keep in contact with relative ease via e-mail and Skype, somehow when we’re brought back together, it’s easy to fall in step again and feel like no time has passed at all.

While reunions are difficult given the international scope of Lotus’ reach – people from all over the world come together to study in Beijing through Lotus – it is an exciting thing to be apart of when they can happen. Recently, Lotus Educational Foundation hosted an alumni reunion in Washington D.C. Joined by Lotus alumni, their friends and family, and students interested in studying with Lotus in the near future, over 40 people attended to discuss their experiences and learn more about what Lotus Educational Foundation has been up to in the international community.

With new programs on the agenda for next year, alumni from a variety of different past programs, and students interested in studying in China in the future, the reunion was a wild success. Alumni had fun sharing and swapping stories – students interested in studying abroad learned more about Lotus – and some of Lotus’ directors had a chance to talk about some of the exciting things ahead for the non-profit study abroad organization. Indeed, it was such a good time that we have hopes to host another reunion soon!

Check out some of the pictures!

 

A White Winter

The weather’s change from a brisk fall into winter has been one of sharp descent – the temperature has fallen swiftly and curtly, and left everyone bundled up with scarves, hats, and mittens. Where the streets were littered with fruit vendors in the summer and into the fall, they have changed with the weather and are now selling baked yams. It’s a pleasant, if not foreign experience, to purchase a roasted yam during a long walk in the cold or during the daily commute to work and school. Steaming and warm, it is definitely is a welcome reprieve from the cold.

The cold weather has given way to small bursts of snowstorms. Indeed, I have woken to a white Beijing on more than one occasion. However, the arid nature of Beijing dries the snow up before it has a chance to cause too much trouble or become too slushy. It’s fantastic – all the beauty of snow without all the trouble it can cause!

As I’ve discovered with the drop in temperature, it’s not the snow that is to be feared – it’s the wind. Beijing is known for its sandstorms, and during the winter, the wind whips up the cold air and if you don’t have a fierce jacket prepared to fight it off, it is absolutely chilling. Without extreme temperatures back home, I thought I would be able to weather the winter with just a thick jacket or two – after my first week with the wind and the cold, however, I’m already prepared to spend my weekend procuring a number of scarves, mittens, and hats to make the winter more weather-able.

Alumni Reunion – Lotus Educational Foundation

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alumni

november 6thinvited

ALUMNI REUNION

LOTUS EDUCATIONAL FOUNDATION

You are cordially invited to Lotus Educational Foundation’s alumni reunion in Washington D.C! Take this exciting opportunity to catch up with old friends, share your experiences with other past students, and learn what Lotus Educational Foundation has been up to in the international community!

Refreshments will be served. You are more than welcome to bring along any family or friends interested in Lotus to share in the festivities as well. Please RSVP to Lisa Sheng, Program Director, at lisa@lotuseducation.org or 408.996.1929 before October 30th.

Looking forward to seeing you there!

Location: Address: 3125 Cathedral Avenue, NW, Washington D.C
Time: November 6th, 3 – 6 pm
Contact: Lisa Sheng, Program Director, at lisa@lotuseducation.org or 408.996.1929.

A Trip to the Senior Centre

My first volunteer excursion with Lotus involved a trip to the nearby senior centre by bus to visit, chat with and generally entertain the elderly folks who live there.

This particular day was chosen as it was the 重阳节 (Chóngyáng jié – Double Ninth Festival), which as of 1989 has also been known as ‘Seniors’ Day’, when the elderly should be visited and should enjoy themselves.

The first activity upon our arrival was to give balloons to the elderly and play with them. The game essentially involved hitting the balloons back and forth, and whether they were cherishing them, hitting them back or just popping the balloons, the elderly folks seemed to be enjoying themselves.

Next came the entertainment. Each volunteer performed a routine for the elderly spectators. One was Taijiquan, one was a violin recital, a few people demonstrated their superb solo vocal skills while I myself joined in with a group rendition of 北京欢迎你 (Beijing Welcomes You). It wasn’t only us that performed however, as a few of the elderly folks also gave a performance of some kind. Following this, it was cake time, as all the seniors with birthdays in the last three months were wished happy birthday with a huge cake and celebration – a truly heart-warming sight.

After this the seniors retired to their rooms, and it was time for the volunteers to visit each room with gifts of bananas and apples. They all seemed thoroughly thrilled to see us, and I even had the pleasure of meeting one lady who said she 110 years old!!

 

Hou Hai and Hutongs

It is perhaps the most the most extraordinarily ordinary things that I find so fascinating here in Beijing. While many of the biggest differences are not new to me (having spent time here before in 2009), I still find often find myself intrigued by the absolutely ordinary. It is these differences that make living here so exciting and rewarding on an everyday basis – whether it’s hanging my clothes up to dry (I’ve always had a dryer back home), learning how to use the shower (which baffled me at first – they are styled quite differently over here), or eating what I believed to be chicken, only to be told that it was in fact pigeon (it was actually quite savory), each day I find myself with no shortage of surprises.

With several hours of daylight left after completing my placement test at BLCU, I hopped back on the subway and headed over to Hou Hai. One of three small lakes in central Beijing (the other two are Xi Hai and Bei Hai), Hou Hai is a rare and beautiful reprieve from the city. The outskirts of the lake are littered with hutongs, narrow little alleyways and streets that are old Chinese neighborhoods. I found it quite exciting to wind throughout them, taking in pieces of the old city that have been left behind and bashfully offer greetings to the curious residents watching me as I passed. After I had gotten lost more than a few times in a number of different hutongs, I continued on and finally managed to reach the lake. The lake is gorgeous, with weeping willows all along the waters edge, bicycle carriages winding slowly around, and old men standing in large groups watching others play mahjong.

I had to get home for dinner with my host family, otherwise I would have been eager to watch the lake come to life at night. If I remember right, there are a series of very popular small bars and places to eat along the waters edge; lanterns are hung at every establishment – bars, restaurants, and boats alike, making it an absolutely magnificent scene in the evening.

One of the hutongs I explored on the way to Hou Hai.

Calligraphy practice.

Hou Hai.

Beijing’s Amateur Football Scene

Being quite a keen footballer back at home, one of my first objectives once I’d found my feet out in Beijing was to find a team to join.

So, I fired up the computer and browsed for amateur Beijing teams, hoping that the fact that my football vocabulary in Mandarin barely stretched to 我很喜欢踢足球 (wo hen xihuan ti zuqiu) would not be a problem.

Lo and behold! I found out that Beijing has a wealth of football teams with players from every country you can think of. Any one amateur league will have teams that are made up mostly of Russian, English, French, Chinese or any other nationality of players. Most teams in fact have a great mix of players from different parts of the world. I decided to join the Beijing Barbarians, as I thought they looked like the most fun and had an interesting mix of players. Our first game was played against the interestingly named ‘Sexy FC’, another team that was very much international. It was played in the incredibly beautiful Si’de park (四得公园) in Chaoyang district. As it was a sunny Saturday afternoon, the park was full of both expat and Chinese families having picnics and taking walks.

The game itself was played in very competitive yet amicable spirits, and the shouts around the pitch were always a mixture of English and Mandarin. I actually felt that by the end of the 90 minutes (with us winning 1-0!) I had picked up a few new words and phrases in Chinese, which I am determined to put to use on the pitch next week.

Unexpected Generosity

Doug Speeching compressed

On Thursday, June 23rd, more than a half a world away from the Jing Yu Xi Wang Migrant School, about 75 kind and generous people gathered to help me make good on the promise I made to Director Wang over three months ago. For those who read my blog back in March, you may remember that I committed to “do my best” to raise enough money to pay for the remaining six air conditioners required to equip the school.
I have to admit that I had my doubts about being able to raise $3000 from those who had never seen the school, had never met the children there, had never heard of Lotus Education and who possibly had no personal ties with China.   I have never been involved in any fundraising.  And, even though I was a salesman for many years, I have a real fear of asking anyone for money.

Two things kept me focused:  First, my promise to Director Wang who had shown me such kindness while I was at the school and second, the words of one of the students.   She told me,  “Teacher, you are in our Chinese hearts now and we will take care of you”.   At the time, she was only referring to protecting me from dishonest taxi drivers.  Not so dramatic.  Nonetheless, that one sentence has driven my desire to ‘take care of’ those wonderful kids who welcomed me while I was there.

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auction 2 compressed

So, in mid-April, armed with missionary zeal, I started planning “something”.   I didn’t know what that “something” was, but I was planning it.   I talked to friends, neighbors, colleagues and customers who all said, “That sounds like a good cause! Let me know when you figure out what you are going to do”.   I had no clue.  I won’t go into the details, but some of my first ideas were anemic at best.   Then, one day, I mentioned the fundraiser to a family friend, Sarah, who is a professional fundraiser for one of the local child protection agencies.  Everything started to come together almost immediately.  She gave me clear direction and identified which of my plans were irreparably crazy and needed to be dropped post haste.

Sarah kindly offered her home, which is larger than ours (and considerably cleaner because my children do not live with her).  She designed the invitations, edited my long-winded introduction, created email invites, enlisted her children and their friends to stuff envelopes and created spreadsheets with the invitee’s email and snail mail addresses…and the list goes on.  I was dumbfounded.

The neighborhood Chinese restaurant generously agreed to donate the food and one of my customers agreed to donate the drinks.  I got in touch with the local Confucius Institute  and the Kansas City Chinese American Association.  Their members responded with enthusiastic support.  They provided entertainment in the form of food and traditional Chinese dance and song.   The President of the KCCAA, CJ Wei co-sponsored the event in the name of his organization.

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marissa elizabeth anna compressed

I claim credit for the idea about the silent auction.  I have always admired the beauty of Chinese art and culture and over the years I purchased several antiques and culturally representative items which I have cherished.   I felt the time had finally come to give those things a purpose.   Other wonderful items were donated by members of the Chinese Community, local businesses, and other generous friends.   Two bright acrylic paintings were donated by an up-and-coming Chinese-American artist who has appeared in the press and has had shows at well-known galleries, Marissa Hitt.  Marissa is a fine, well-spoken young lady who will tell you all about her very unique images. Both of her paintings sold at the auction.  Oh, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that Marissa is six and a half (yes, 6yrs and a half).

The weather was beautiful for the event.   Guests were able to view the silent auction, watch a continuous slide show of the school and take from the buffet.   Outside, guests could sit eat and socialize.  It was a very multicultural crowd.

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picture board compressed

I spoke for a few minutes about the school, the wonderful people of Lotus and expressed my deepest gratitude to those who had given of their time and resources.  It was humbling to see how so many people had come together, half a world away, just to express love and support for children they have never met.

The dancers were beautiful, the singers were wonderful and, when the donations were added up, we had not only met the $3000 goal, we had exceeded it by over $700.   I will use this word again: humbling.

The next day, I received a call from my chiropractor who had made a generous donation, even though I had forgotten to invite him until the day of the event. I thanked him again, but he said that he had even better news.  The acupuncturist with whom he shares an office (whom I did not know and did not invite) had been telling one of her patients about the fundraiser and the school.  At the end of the session, her patient left a donation for $1000.  This was truly an expression of selfless compassion.

In the meantime, other donations have come in and we have exceeded the $5000 mark.   I am not only pleased to be able to repay my debt of gratitude to the children of the Jing Yu Xi Wang School, I am also proud of my own community for their generosity and compassion.   What a wonderful thing.

Doug

子路曰:愿闻子之志- “老者安之,朋友信之,少者怀之”
One of Confucius’ disciples once asked him: “What is your wish?” The answer was: “That the elderly will have peace, that friends will be true and that children will be cared for and cherished”

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wonderful food compressed

Announcing the New Chinese Blog

Lotus has just launched a Chinese-language blog to accompany its newly revamped Chinese website. It’s called 美国Lotus教育基金会中文博客, which simply means Lotus Educational Foundation Chinese Blog. Maybe we should start a competition here on the English blog to come up with a more creative name for the Chinese blog.

In case you’re wondering, our Chinese website is targeted at students and host families here in China. It provides information on hosting foreign students in China, as well as information on Lotus newly launched program, for Chinese students to study English in the United States over the summer.

If you think your Mandarin is up to the challenge, we invite you to join the discussion on our other blog (but don’t abandon us here at the English blog!) and see what staff and others at Lotus in Beijing are up to these days.