Beijing: The Needle in the Haystack

I spent the last stretch of my trip on the luxury compartment of the night train from Xian to Beijing Xi (Beijing West). The two big differences between the hard and soft sleeper compartments on Chinese night trains are the fact that the soft sleepers have lockable doors and only consist of 4 berths compared to 6 in the hard sleeper compartments. The bed though is just as hard. Once I had arrived in Beijing a started the search for the needle in the haystack.

As always in China, the night train from Xian to Beijing Xi left on time at 8:05pm, as indicated on the train ticket. Since the train leaves at 7:30pm and arrives at 8:18am according to the schedule, I assumed we would be arriving at 8:53am since we left 35 minutes later than the time indicated on the schedule. This is why I had told Lenka to meet me at the exit of the train station around 9am. I still think this was a good plan, although the Chinese had things differently in mind…
The first surprise the Chinese had in store for me was the arrival time of the train. Already before 7am the light went on in the train and everybody started to get ready to leave the train. I remained quiet in my bed, since I assumed I had another two hours until we would reach Beijing. I assumed the other people were getting off, before I did. It was quite fortunate though, that I double checked with other passengers by asking them whether this stop was already going to be Beijing, since indeed it was. At 7:15am we stopped in the huge train station of Beijing Xi. I had just enough time to get all my belongings and to leave the train. Unfortunately this early arrival meant I had to kill the two following hours, since Lenka would only make it to the train station for 9am. The good thing was, that I could make use of my experiences in China. My first goal was to bring my backpack to a left-luggage, of which the first one I saw was operated by 3 women. Fortunately I asked for the price before I put my backpack down on their counter. The asked for 30RMB! I would pay a maximum of 10RMB for the service and thus I just shook my head and laughed at the lady. She offered to provide the service for 20RMB, which was still too much. When she asked me, how much I would like to pay, I told her 5RMB. She didn’t feel like doing business with me anymore which is why I headed for the next left-luggage counter, where I could leave my backpack for 10RMB without even having to negotiate. This was the price I had paid in Lanzhou before and thus I considered it to be OK.

Lucky dragons for the coming year of the dragon in Beijing

Lucky dragons for the coming year of the dragon in Beijing

Since I wasn’t really hungry I didn’t even feel like eating breakfast. Nevertheless I found a small fast food place opposite the train station which was already open, where I sat down and let the time pass until 8:30am. I did have a nice view of the train station building. Once I left the place I started the search for the needle in the haystack. Since it was already the traveling season for Chinese new year, I was not the only person at the train station. Every train brought a new flood of people into Beijing and the exits of the train station. That’s right: the exits! Unlike other train stations I had seen so far, the Beijing Xi train station did not have just one exit where people left the place coming from the trains, but two. I decided to wait for Lenka at the North Exit 1 and assumed that she would check the other exits, in case she couldn’t find me at the first one. At the North Exit 1 I waited, and waited, and waited. Around 9:45am I started to have a feeling that Lenka was thinking along the same lines as I was, but with opposite roles. Therefore I decided to check out the other exit but I still couldn’t find her. Finally I figured that she did not have any means to contact me, but I could write her an e-mail which she would receive on her mobile phone. I thus started to look for an Internet Café, which I found after just asking two uniformed people. I immediately sent the e-mail, letting Lenka know that I waited for her at the North Exit 1. And finally 5 minutes later she arrived at that exit too! She then told me her story and how she had tried to find me with the help of the police. Apparently the police does not seem to be too attentive, since I stood within their line of sight the whole time and apparently they did not see me.
By taxi we managed to cross the city to our new apartment in Phoenix Town. The Phoenix compound lies on the third ring road, where it intersects with the airport express way. The taxi driver brought us directly to one of the gates of the compound, such that I had the possibility to get a first glance at the high-rises which I would see the next few years. We crossed the courtyard and entered building D, where we took the elevator to the tenth floor. Depending on the way one counts the floor, the actual number could be anywhere between 8 and 10, since the Chinese start counting at the ground floor and avoid floor number 4.

My new home

My new home

The first impression of the apartment was overwhelming. I asked myself how long it would take, until I would be able to navigate the apartment without any help. It is easy to get lost in an apartment of 200 square meters (about 1800 square feet). The search for an apartment was quite a feat for Lenka, where I tried to support during my trip by giving input as much as possible. Finally we were well rewarded for Lenka’s efforts: directly at the subway line 10 and the airport express stop, only a few steps to the next Carrefour super market as well as many small shops surrounding Phoenix Town make this location almost perfect.
Thanks to Lenka’s efforts I even could feel almost at home in the apartment. Not only was the apartment already fully furnished but I even was presented her ToDo-list of 35 items, such that I would not get bored until I have found a job.
I spent the next few days to get a few things around the apartment done, among them dealing with the lady of the relocation company and our repair claims. The apartment is already in a very good state for living, but as always there are a many small things we would like to have improved before we really feel at home.

Lucky Street: There are also Italian restaurants and a German bakery

Lucky Street: There are also Italian restaurants and a German bakery

Even though my journey comes to a good end (taking into account my cold, Diemo was quite right with a probability of arrival of 70%), the blog will continue to live. I expect many interesting observations and experiences with the Chinese and the expats here in Beijing and I would love to let you know about them. And don’t forget: we have an guest room with an original Chinese double bed, which is there for your use, a short e-mail suffices as a reservation.

5 thoughts on “Beijing: The Needle in the Haystack

  1. Hi Oliver,
    Respekt und Bewunderung!!! Mir ist das Leben in Japan schon anstrengend genug. Und da habe ich wahrscheinlich nur mit einem Bruchteil der “Probleme” zu kämpfen, die Du während Deiner Reise zu bewältigen hattest. Falls Euch eurer Weg in Asien mal nach Tokyo verschlägt, steht Euch unser Gästezimmer offen. Aber wir können nicht mit 200 m^2 dienen. 😉


    • Hi Thomas,
      freut mich von dir zu hören! Ich bin mal gespannt, was hier in Beijing noch auf uns zukommt.
      Vielen Dank für das Angebot mit dem Gästezimmer, das nehmen wir bei Gelegenheit gerne mal an. Das die Platzverhältnisse in Japan anders sind als in China überrascht mich nicht, wenn man diese Weiten hier einmal gesehen hat. Die Städte werden allerdings auch sehr dicht bebaut (kein Platz für Gebäude mit weniger als 15 Stockwerken).
      Gruss nach Tokyo auch an Sylke

  2. Hallo Meili,

    Glückwunsch und RESPEKT!
    Habe Deine Reise verfolgt und richtig Fernweh bekommen.
    Sehen uns hoffentlich mal wieder solange wir noch Beachen können 😉

    Viele Grüssee,

    • Hi Udo,

      danke für deine Nachricht. Du weisst, Reisen wirst du länger können als Beachen, von daher gibt es keine Ausrede 😉 (Mit dem Moped nach China ist halt eine schlechte Idee, da du immens Importzoll auch als Tourist bezahlen musst…). Wir haben ein Gästezimmer mit Doppelbett. Wenn ihr also mal vorbeikommen wollt, haben wir ein Plätzchen für euch. Beachfelder habe ich gar nicht weit von hier schon gefunden, die Temperaturen stimmen halt noch nicht ganz (-13°C übers chinesische Neujahr…).

      Gruss zurück und bleib fit


  3. Pingback: The needle in the haystack—a view from the other side | Lenka's Blog

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