Summer in Beijing. The heat is oppressive. It is peak hour. At the Wanfujing metro station, crowds swarm. A sleek, modern train speeds to a halt.
It appears that a million people swarm out. And seemingly millions more clamber in. It is a mad rush. Not for the faint-hearted. Not for the weak. But, most definitely, an experience in itself. Within a minute, the train pulls away on its next stop to Tiananmenxi. Breathe in Beijing and breathe out progress. At just about the same speed as the train.
For a subway that was laid back in 1969 and meant initially only for military use, Beijing’s train system is set to overtake London’s famed Tube as the world’s longest subway system by 2015. As the countdown to the Olympics gathers momentum, Line 10 and Line 8 Olympic Spur are set to be completed this month. Five new routes are planned, with construction expected to be completed in eight years.
Yet, outside a tiny corner overlooking Tiananmen Square from where the picture of Mao looms, an old man rests his bicycle against the wall. For a moment, he is framed against the sun. Lines crisscross, etching wrinkles against his weather-beaten skin. A minute later, he pulls away on the cycle. Old, forlorn, and slow. A minute later, another sleek train rolls into the Tiananmenxi Station. Never before has China’s past met its present in such contrast, and in such clarity. And with such effect.
Postcards from Around the World
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