Tuesday, June 21, 2011


Or Wangjing, as it is also known.

I have never liked Wangjing.

I have never liked the idea of Wangjing.

It is one of the first of the hideous 'new towns' to spring up outside the northern periphery of Beijing. And, being on the north-east side, the quadrant where most of the laowai live (conveniently en route to the airport!), it has been seen as an appealing location for the headquarters of a number of major international companies. In the past, I've taught training courses there for the likes of Siemens and ABB.

And I've absolutely hated every second I've spent in the place.

When they bulldoze one of the old neighbourhoods in downtown Beijing, the new constructions usually bear at least some faint vestige of the previous urban layout: a few of the small connecting roads remain, some of the old place names survive. Despite the colossal size of some of the malls and office blocks being put up, we yet manage to retain some sense of human scale - perhaps because these new developments are at least still interwoven with a few older, homelier neighbourhoods.

But when they build on a greenfield site, it's just horrendous. Wide roads, with few if any footbridges or underpasses to facilitate pedestrian crossing. Intricate, swirling road junctions that are even harder - all but impossible - to get across on foot. And block after block without any sense of a residential community; mile upon mile of offices, with little more than an occasional Costa Coffee by way of a retail/leisure/food distraction. It is a how not to model of urban planning. Walking through Wangjing, I invariably find myself contemplating the Zombie Apocalypse; indeed, I become convinced that it is already upon us.

Worst of all, it is the least accessible part of Beijing. Insofar as it was 'designed' with any intelligent foresight at all (which I rather doubt), it appears to have been designed for people who live in Shunyi (mostly well-off expats) and who have cars (and, usually, drivers). It's still not on any subway lines. (Part of Line 15 appears to now be open; but there are only two Wangjing stations, at the extreme ends of the development - the line does not penetrate into the heart of the office zone desert. The proposed new Line 14 may be slightly better, but not much, I think; and that's still 3 or 4 years away from opening.) There are precious few bus routes through there (most of them go up the Jingmi Highway towards Shunyi; if you want to get out to Wangjing from anywhere in central Beijing, you usually have to make at least one change). And it is very ill served for taxis (and the ones you find there mostly have out-of-town drivers who only want to do the shuttle to and from Shunyi or the airport, and don't know where anything else in Beijing is). Because so much of it is purely business rather than residential, you don't even find many hei che (the 'black cabs' - unlicensed privateers who, although they can be a pain to haggle with sometimes, are usually a boon in outlying areas starved of regular cabs).

From where I live, it takes about 1hr 20mins to get there by bus and/or subway, or at least 20-30 mins by cab. Getting back (in the evening rush hour!) takes more than 1hr 30 mins by bus/subway and ???? by cab.

Considering these dire logistics, I really should not have accepted a 2-hour teaching gig out there!

Oh, but wait - it gets worse.....

No comments: