Saturday, October 1, 2016

Just Two Subway Stops to the Forbidden City

The Moat and Wall of the Forbidden City, Beijing, China (May 21, 2016)

China is 13 hours ahead of the time zone where I live, which is as bad as it gets since it completely invert the sleep/awake cycle. Being able to function after such a time slip requires some adjustment, so I planned to arrive in Beijing two days before the start of my meeting. Adjusting to a new time zone however works only if you resist hitting the bed during the day, and stuck to the sleep schedule of the new location. That means keeping busy while the internal clock gets in sync with the sun.

Forbidden City Moat
I decided to spend the first adjustment day visiting the Forbidden City, just a short subway ride from my hotel. It is in fact quite easy to move around in Beijing. The city has 18 lines, 334 stations and 554 km (344 miles) of tracks making the Beijing subway the second largest system in the world (after Shanghai). All this is quite recent, since only two lines where in operation before 2002, with the largest expansion was completed for the summer Olympics games hosted in 2008. Since I read about how imposing was the wall and moat surrounding the Forbidden City, I convinced my graduate student that went along for the trip that we should get off the train before the main entrance, and walk a little along the wall. According to my map that meant walking for just a couple of stops, strolling through a modern boulevard leading straight to the back side of the Forbidden City, and then walking along the moat to the main entrance facing Tiananmen square on the opposite side. The weather was pleasantly warm and sunny, and the air exceptionally clear, without the dense cap of smog that the city is notorious for. What could go wrong?

Well, what went wrong is that I apparently don't know how to properly read distances on a map. The distance between the two stops turned out to be over 3 miles, and took a couple of hours to navigate in the heavy traffic of the big city, to then arrive at the entrance of the Forbidden City, which is something that in itself takes at least a full day to visit. My graduate student was not amused, and she is still reminding me of this episode every time she want to point out how my judgment may not be up to the task when we explore new directions in our daily research work. From that point onward she got in charge of navigating our excursions on the city's transport system. The trick for a successful career in academia is finding students that are smarter than you...

The Moat and Wall of the Forbidden City, Beijing, China (May 21, 2016)

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