Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Beijing Addendum – Terrible Trip to the Tombs

The plan was to visit the Ming Tombs on the way back from the Great Wall. This is what most tourists do, since the tombs are 50 kilometers from the city. The internet made it seem so simple: take the 919 (slow) bus from the Wall to a stop that connects it with the 314. Take that bus directly to the Tombs and voila: more sight-seeing bliss. Easy-peasy.

Wrong. The real instructions, at least in our experience, have many many more steps. So here they are, for your edification.

Jeremy and Vanessa present “Instructions for getting to the Ming Tombs from the Great Wall”
  1. Look for the the 919 (slow) bus at the entrance outside the wall. Ignore scores of fake taxi drivers shouting, “Hello, Taxi, Hello. Ming Tomb. Hello” into your face. Find a parking lot full of 919 buses. Approach official-looking lady and hear her argue with her coworker in Mandarin over who will deal with the foreigners. Ask, in Mandarin, where the slow 919 bus is. Be told it's “behind” with vague gestures. Walk in the direction she points, asking two other people along the way who also declare it's “behind” something. Walk a huge staircase to an area that looks “behind” the parking lot. See nothing. Walk back down. Ask again. Be told it's actually a steep climb further up the mountain. Experience strong desire to hurt someone. Begin ascent.

  2. Walk at least 25 minutes through tunnels and past signs before finally reaching another 919 parking lot. Discuss how this other location could even remotely be considered “behind” the previous parking lot. Shake fist in anger.

  3. Realize new parking lot is a mix of “slow” and “fast” 919 buses. Ask several people which buses are “slow” and which “fast.” Realize no one knows anything. Get help from a man who asks around the parking lot. Finally be led to a bus that says “Fast Slow” bus. Yes, “Fast Slow.” Look for a baby to punch in the face.

  4. Settle on the “Fast Slow” bus as only alternative. Queue up in a disorderly mass of people. Wait. See bus pull up and be forced inside by the shoving mob of bodies. Notice every seat on the bus is already taken. Get crammed further and further back into the aisle as more people get on. Have no room to breathe. Try to keep from passing out from the heat and stink of bodies. Watch the lady in the seat nearby throw up into a bag. Travel for 20 minutes of agony, cursing your parents for having met.

  5. Hear a stop announced, not matching your desired stop. Get off anyway, pushing past bodies as you go. Celebrate the “fresh” air and freedom from discomfort. Notice the bus lady is shouting at you for having not paid for the 20 minutes of hell. Keep walking. Hear the lady chasing you down, tugging on your arm. Quicken your pace.

  6. Lose the bus lady around a corner. Notice you're in a ghetto. Get harassed by several more fake taxi drivers. Find a toilet, regroup. Walk back to 919 bus stop. Jump on next bus and blessedly find a seat in the back. See the new bus lady approach for money. Pay glady – then immediately be asked to move forward to front of the bus as your stop is approaching. Get off.

  7. Check the bus stop for any sign of the connecting 314 bus to the Tombs. See nothing. Absolutely nothing. Where is this mythic 314 line? God only knows. Ask around for any information. Receive bubkiss. Then a lady who speaks surprising good English appears. Breathe a sigh of relief as she describes a 314 bus stop that will go to the Tombs. Retract relief as she informs you the stop is at least a 20-minute walk away. Curse loudly.

  8. Begin walk. Continue walk. Walk and walk and walk. No stop. No 314. Freeways, and streets, and hobos. Feel a wave of utter defeat sour your spirit. Wait on a corner for a long time. Hail a taxi. Ask the driver if he's heard of stop 314. The taxi driver does not, because he is brand-new. Of course he is. OF COURSE HE IS BRAND NEW!

  9. Tell the driver to take you home, away from this horrible place. He does not understand. Where is this Beijing metro stop you speak of, he asks. Really, taxi driver? Really? Swallow your pride and call your friend Lu. Hand the driver the phone. Hear a long stream of Mandarin. Watch as the driver looks further confused, then defeated, trying to work his GPS. Get out of the taxi.

  10. Walk back the way you came as Lu searches the internet for a route to bus 314. Finally reach where the bus dropped you off. At Lu's suggestion, get on bus 376, which takes you past a fork in the road to another stop. Realize this was where the English-speaking lady was pointing all along. Try and find bus 20, a route Lu says will take you near the tombs. No bus 20. Cross the street and search the bus stop there. And suddenly there it is on a rusty metal placard: the mythic bus 314! Whoop and jump around in sheer ecstasy.
  1. Squeeze into the crowded bus when it finally arrives, ignoring the pungent alcoholic breath of the old man pressed next to you, and the foul, rotting breath of the man who announces each stop by wheezing into your face. Whatever, this is bus 314 – blessed 314. Next stop: the Ming Tombs.

  2. Next stop is not the Ming Tombs. Nor is the stop after, or after that. But eventually, yes, the Ming Tombs. The mother #@*ing Ming tombs at last.
And so we arrived, 4 hours after leaving the Wall, at the famous Ding Ling tomb, the only tomb excavated of all the Ming Tombs. It was a hour before closing and the place was virtually deserted, making our visit almost peaceful. We took the long stairs down to underground chambers, saw the burial sites of the Emperor, his Empress, and many concubines. Saw thrones and artifacts in the museum. Very satisfying.

In retrospect, we should have done a little more research before trying to take the bus. Our source had listed the wrong stop, the cause of most of our problems. The correct stop was available upon further search. Still, even with all the correct info, the 919 (slow) bus is a horrible steaming pile of dung. Never take it. Repeat: never take it. It is a blight upon the Earth, a scourge against humanity, a great evil.

Triumph upon our arrival.

Underground tomb entrance.

1 comment:

grace said...

You poor things... That sounds absolutely brutal.

I'm glad you guys made it there before it closed. :)