Friday, April 03, 2009

Underground Beijing

Here's how the "Insider's Guide to Beijing" describes what's under our feet...

Little did you know, but Beijing is mostly hollow underneath. The city sits on a warren of tunnels, air-raid shelters and escape routes, rumored to lead as far out as the Summer Palace. Most of the 85 square kilometers worth of tunnels were dug out manually, by a combined force of the army, citizen "volunteers", and schoolchildren. Ordered by Mao after "big brother" USSR ceased to be so brotherly, the extensive network was designed to hold 40 percent of Beijing's population and had everything from arsenals to infirmaries to a mushroom cultivation farm (not even chemical attacks can overcome the Chinese passion for fungi).

With a description like that, you know we had to go check things out! So there we were on this little jaunt through an old, crumbling section of hutongs just south and east of Tiananmen Square. Predictably, we had to dodge a veritable army of hawkers. What were these guys selling? This time it was rides on their sanlunche (motorized three-wheelers). "Are you going to the underground city? It is far away! You should ride in my car!"

Well, we bantered back and forth with these guys as we searched for the entrance to the underground city. At one point, I knew we were getting "colder," as there were no more sanlunche drivers following us around. A couple of turns later, and I was equally sure that we were getting "warmer," as there they were again, puttering along slowly by our sides.

And then came that feeling that we were getting "hot." Once again, the drivers started to peel off and leave us to our own devices. But this time, they were not yelling at us to turn around and come back. This time, they were not screaming that we were heading in the wrong direction.

At least they were not lying about this, as a few steps later and we were finally at our destination. So what was it that they were lying about? These guys were willing to take our hard earned cash and transport us to an underground city...that isn't open! That's right...Blow up the picture of the sign on the door and you'll get the message loud and clear.

And you wonder why we are suspicious every time drivers follow us around places we've never been before...



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