Beijing One Layover at a Time

Once in college, I took a weekend road trip to Wichita. Friends and I drove seventeen hours each way and back. Thanks to a few super chugs of coffee, managed to stay awake both driving and during the Monday morning class.

But I can’t do those marathon trips anymore –even when flying to China. I mean, you can’t stop anywhere over the way to get up, stretch your legs and use the “sparkling restrooms” at the local gas station. So I break up my flight as most airlines will pay for a hotel stay if your connecting flight is the next day. Just follow the instructions of the airline representative and they should set you up in a room with hot showers, chain locked fire exits and beds as soft as concrete.

So, what did I do after I surgically removed my socks and waited for the next flight? I took a mini tour of the city.


I got up at the crack of dawn to watch the PMS levels rise on a extra humid day, the air quality projecting to hit unhealthy levels.

I took a 6 am train to the inner belly of the city. Beijing has six ring roads, the seventh being built, being close to one thousand kilometers in length.  My airport hotel was  near the fifth ring road, my destination the second.  Yeah, Beijing is huge.

Anyway, as many passengers slept, this artist sketched many of the snoozing commuters on his sketch pad.

When I got off the train, part of the city was still asleep.

I took got off at the Lama Temple Station to see the Beijing Temple of Confucius. It’s   is surrounded by HuTongs (old quaint neighborhoods).

It’s similar to Chicago’s Old Town where a lot of traditional houses  have been transformed into pricey boutiques and coffee shops.

I face timed my brother in law with my cup of free wifi.

The Confucius temple was beautiful and humbling, telling the history of education and the imperial exam in China. Cheating has been plaguing the Chinese educational system for years, way before the days of cell phones and high tech cheating schemes.


But my favorite thing was this gnarly old tree…one so famous, it actually has a name. Chu Jian Bai or Touch Evil Cypress.

The name comes from a Ming dynasty story about how the tree knocked off a hat of a  notoriously corrupt official who walked by. Such a different twist that the story of the tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil in the Garden of Eden.

This wasn’t the corrupt official, just some guy who wanted to know the correct pronunciation of  two words he had scratched on a scrap piece of paper (eavesdropping and finance, go figure). It looks like he’s already been hit in the head  a few times.

On the way back to the airport, more commuters. Guys doing what guys do best.

The second leg of my flight was delayed, I arrived in the City South of the Clouds with my head still in a fog, only to have to be at school a few hours later. And that was only after being attacked by mosquitoes that feasted on my eyelids, swelling the left side of my face into a sun bleached baseball mit.

So the next morning, I stumble to my new school and in the office was a student I knew from a previous school. He didn’t apply himself there– much to his parent’s chagrin and my frustration–but over the last six months,  had been pouring  himself into studies, wanting to be accepted at my new school, really wanting it.  I thought of the Temple of Confucius, the desire of this kid, the butterflies in his stomach as he waited to take his entrance exam.  His eyes got wide as he saw me, a  smile forming on the corners of his lips.

If I was a gnarly tree, I wouldn’t knock his hat off.











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