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Expat's Eye
Expat's Eye
UPDATED: February 5, 2010 NO. 6 FEBRUARY 11, 2010
Buses, Bikes or Boots
Travels and travails in Beijing



If you have been in Beijing for any length of time, you will have come to realize that there are several modes of transportation available to commuters, all of them relatively inexpensive, especially when compared to fares in the Western world. The choice is not only a matter of frugality, but also of convenience, comfort and speed.

If you are in a hurry, and willing to take the risk of being caught in unpredictable traffic, you'd opt for a taxi. Since there are hundreds of thousands of them in the sprawling city, catching one is as easy as waving your hand, and for 30 yuan ($4.3), you will probably be able to get as far as you want to go. They are clean, agile, and daring, and most of the cabbies I have encountered are more than willing to help us foreigners practice our Mandarin. On the dashboard in front of the passenger seat is the license, picture and number of the driver. The lower the number, the longer the driver has had his license. A driver with the number 14,596, for example, has been driving for about eight years. Cabs are great, and although they are the most expensive, as in most cities, but a deal, nonetheless.

The commuter cards are a stroke of technological genius! Good for subways, buses, and some cabs, they are scanned, and the money on them is automatically subtracted from the card account. What amazes me is how the card can be read, even through thick leather handmade cowboy wallets, like mine.I find myself riding buses just to use the card! When scanned, a screen lets the user know the amount still available. Cool!

The subways are efficient, fast, and comfortable if you get a seat. This is the best option for long-distance travel. New lines are planned, and will make this city even more user-friendly than it is now. The lines are nicer, cleaner, much safer and easier to use than the "Tube" in London or the lines in Paris, and with fewer train changes in most cases.

Buses. Yes, they can be jam-packed crowded, but are very inexpensive to use, and one never need consult a time schedule as they run constantly and frequently. If you don't have the bus card, the flat fee is 1 yuan ($0.15), but with the card, less than half of that! You miss one No.419, and the next will show in a few minutes. The one good thing about the crowding is the fact that you can fall asleep standing up, and the other bodies keep you in place and from hitting the floor. If you are lucky enough to find a seat, just remember to give it up for the elderly, infirm, or pregnant.

My favorite is the bike. It's nostalgic of old Beijing, environmentally friendly, good exercise, and it costs nothing but a little sweat. A biker does need to have chameleon eyes for looking in all directions at once, especially for cabs and buses.Awareness comes from the necessity of preserving one's life! With practice, the green walking lights can be timed, even though they are no guarantee vehicles will stop for the cyclist, pedestrians can be dodged and missed, and peddle scooters can be passed if you can build up some speed. Without stops to make, riding a bike can get a person to their destination in half the time it would take riding a bus!

For the ultimate money saver or the road or rail timid, there is always self-ambulation. This is still a city of walkers, and on foot, much more of the street can be taken in, enjoyed, shopped, leisurely previewed, and smelled. I have been pulled into more than one street side restaurant by aromas that all of the sudden made me hungry. But no matter the preference of commute, it is nice to know people can easily switch it up anytime they want, depending on the adventure they are in the mood for that day! From cabs to shoes, try them all, pick and choose, and have fun.

The author is an American teaching in Beijing

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