"Bus or cab?"
I rolled my eyes at Manfriend.
"You know we aren't going to catch either," I replied unhelpfully.
"Well, let's walk. Maybe we'll have better luck at the intersection."
Nor did we have luck at the next, nor did any bus head where we need.
"The subway's just there ..." Manfriend suggested, but we both know we didn't want to head into that crowded mess.
"Let's walk a bit further."
And just shy of two hours later, we had walked home. Our fitness bands buzzed — at least we'd met our step goals. Surely that made up for the massive meal of Indian food we'd just consumed. That same meal had gotten us into this transport pickle in the first place.
As it is in every city I've visited in Asia, transportation is a regular ball-ache. Never had I yearned for a car more than when I was shivering in Beijing winter, waiting for a bus, or being pushed from every angle in a crowded subway car.
And these were relatively easy public transit systems to use.
In Seoul and Hong Kong, the subway systems were great but still more confusing — and limited — than in China.
In Vietnam, there was no subway, nor were their obvious bus routes to take. There, and damn near everywhere else in Southeast Asia, a bus ride was almost too much of a gamble. If you couldn't read the signs, you probably also couldn't ask where the bus was headed. You just had to hope.
If you didn't opt for bus or train, though, you met extortion-level rates via cabs, tuktuks and the likes. It takes determination and haggling prowess to get a reasonable fare, made all the harder by vast language barriers.
No, Beijing was easy enough. I knew the language well enough, had a few years' experience with the subway and bus systems, and knew enough shortcuts to walk.
The challenge here, now, was the crowds. Those, and streets not at all designed for the number of cars now flooding them on a daily basis. I know U.S. 36 is rough going, but I assure you, any route near the old part of Beijing gives it a run for its money.
As Manfriend checked his map app — this time we were attempting to get home from an afternoon of snooker — I held vigil for an open cab. As one passed, we tried to flag it.
He ignored us.
Manfriend turned back to the map.
"Even if we get the cab, these roads are rammed. There's no bus or cab getting through."
Subway it was — even with a formidable queue stretching from security.
A cramped commute later, we were home.
"Sure, the journey's great, but when it's been a long day, the destination's all I care about," I grumbled.
Manfriend chuckled at my transport headache — we both knew, it's all part of the Beijing experience.