The Beijing Narrative: A Tianjin Tale

Spurred on by yesterday, and along with a desire to travel on the high-speed rail again, I decided I’d get away from Beijing for the day. The city’s weather hadn’t been cooperating, while intense wind and fog this morning signaled Mother Nature’s refusal to comply anytime soon.

I’m sure you’ve heard horror stories on the Shanghai Metro. Now, the Beijing Subway is much worse than that. A less than optimal city layout, combined with a flat fare of 2 Yuan (SGD 0.40) and poor planning means that the trains – 6-car long (compared to 8-cars in Shanghai and Seoul, 10-cars in Tokyo) – naturally struggle to move a city of 17 million people. Particularly during the evening and morning rush hours, diving, shoving and pushing is the behavior expected out of every passenger. This isn’t done with a negative connotation though, although sometimes the intense heat and humidity during the summer in an environment where there’s no air-conditioners can push the thresholds of human tolerance as exemplified by the few YouTube videos available. While I’d usually complain about the lack of air-con, it was a welcome respite from the sudden cold outside. In fact, the sudden drop of the mercury was so unexpected that it made a splash on the news as I commuted to Beijing South railway station. An unusual and rather unexpected cold front was to hit Northeast Asia, sending temperatures plunging to 3 degrees Celsius for the next few days.

(Above) Note my passport number on the bottom left of the card.

Beijing South railway station is one of the many modern architectural wonders in China. Crab-shaped, a single roof structure rests over the capital’s hub for high-speed rail services. I learned from my lesson previously to specify the time I’d like to depart, because previously, I didn’t explore Hongqiao as much as I wanted to, so this time, I specified.

After that, I had breakfast at Yonghe King, whose name, logo and interior is a rip-off of the latest Burger King’s. Unlike western fastfood restaurants, I’ve had enough experience to tell you that Chinese fast-food restaurants offer very good food for a very good value in a nice, clean and safe environment. This isn’t some watered down s**t, you get the real goods here! I ordered a dumpling soup (that comes with a side of dough fritters) and a hot soy milk, and I was absolutely blown away! The dough fritters (or yew char kway as we call it in Singapore) and soy milk was better than ANYTHING I’ve tasted in Singapore. It was that good! The fritter was soft and fluffy while the soy milk was absolutely aromatic.

Soon, it was time to board.

Matty had done a similar trip previously, so I was unsurprised but still nevertheless excited I’d be riding on the train designated the CRH3. The CRH3 is the locally produced version of the Siemens Velaro high-speed rail trains. The Velaro is the first-generation of high-speed rail trains that is able to cruise at 350km/h, and plies as an high frequency, intercity shuttle train on many routes such as Beijing-Tianjin, Madrid-Barcelona and Moscow-St Petersburg. It will be succeeded by the CRH380B, which is a Siemens licensed and approved locally produced version intermixed with Chinese technology, and forms the basis of the next generation of Velaro which will be seen on the Eurostar routes in the future. I was a tad disappointed that the train was sooo sound-proof that I couldn’t hear the famous acceleration of the Velaro. At least on the CRH380A, I heard a murmur. On the CRH3, absolutely nothing but wind noise, and that was pretty silent too.

Sadly, service C2211 never reached its famed speed. The recent collision in Wenzhou near Hangzhou has revealed serious safety breaches by the signaling company, and to allow drivers to manually see the signals instead of solely relying on the signals on their screen, the speed limits have been curbed by 50km/h. So, while C2211 never exceeded the 300km/h mark, I was still very happy I got to ride on the CRH3/Siemens Velaro.

Once I arrived in Tianjin, I proceeded to buy my return ticket, and was rather miffed that I had to leave much, much earlier than expected because tickets to Beijing were almost sold out. I wanted to go over to the Binhai area, but sadly, I wouldn’t be able to this time round.

Tianjin was very wet, very foggy, very windy – just overall, dull, grim and depressing, really. I thought it was kinda cool and surreal at certain points because I couldn’t see anything or anybody beyond a 100 metres – it was just clouds beyond. Then, I got to the realization that I was actually alone in a truly unfamiliar place, and I started to panic. I walked down a road, hoping it’d take me somewhere… and luckily it did. It was 14 deg C when I first arrived in Tianjin, but the terribly chilly winds that was raging in Beijing had become so gusty that the mercury plunged to just 5 deg C. I couldn’t venture outside – the wind felt like a thousand blades ripping through my face. This had an unexpected effect though – for the rest of my time in Beijing, I had very rosy cheeks, and I enjoyed the temporary variety of color on my face.

To escape the freeze outside, I chilled out at Starbucks with a warm Creme Brulee Macchiato (it’s late autumn, but it’s kinda winter already, so in malls, air-conditioners are switched off) and just watched the windy world blow the streets away. Soon, it was time to return…

Back in Beijing, I wanted to visit Destination today again, but I panicked again. I’m persistent, I don’t have stamina but my will power is strong – I’ve been told.

Jennifer Lopez’s song, Until It Beats Again was for a while, my song, as it perfectly described what Andy had unknowingly done for me – just when I had given up all hope to love, he reignited my spark. He doesn’t know this, but might his emotions feel the same if he had known the truth? I’ll never know, but one thing’s for certain, towards the end, I was more involved emotionally than he was, the complete opposite of how we started, and he preyed on that. A simple “Emilia-ing” gave it all away, and from then on, I needed no explanation – I couldn’t accept it either – the person who cured me was slitting my wrist. So, I forced myself to cease contact with him and the gay circle… Yet, despite all this, deep down, I still love Andy… I’ve never been able to look at anybody else, other than the occasional appreciation of their looks, the same way as I look at Andy.

Try as I may, inside, I’ve been hiding this fact. The only cure, is to wait for that right one, but it’s mission impossible. Wish Matty were around. He’d understand, he’d have the answers… Okay, maybe he doesn’t, but being around him calms me.

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