Huzzah for the South Station!

A few observations about the Beijing south train station, specifically the climate difference. First of all, the station is massive. It’s really more like an airport than a train station. There’s a top floor, where you buy your tickets and can wait for your train in any of a number of semi-decent chairs and benches. You can also buy bottled water at Armageddon prices, or grab some KFC. There’s a second floor, which is really more like a placebo floor because it has no effect on your journey through the train station aside from making you switch escalators; and then there’s the bottom floor, which is where you catch the subway and, should you be so inclined (and only God knows why you would) you can buy overpriced Ma Hua, arguably the worst snack ever devised by man. It’s essentially a lump of deep-fried twisted dough that’s been embedded with such delectable treats as rock sugar and strained peas (or that’s what they look like anyway). It really looks like they just up-ended a trash can, rolled the dough around in the refuse, and then dropped it in the fryer. I keep waiting to see Ma Hua on sale that’s got bottle caps and cigarette butts nestled alongside the rock sugar. (Note: it’s supposed to be a classic product of Tianjin. I find that terrifying.) Anyway, the temperature difference between the bottom and top floors is frankly absurd. The top floor has huge skylights which, although adding a certain aesthetic value to the design, also focus the sunlight into the barely-air conditioned space so that sitting there is not unlike sitting under a giant magnifying glass. The bottom floor is more like the Bat Cave, which is to say it’s big, open, windowless, and chilly. There are no creepy lone vigilantes wearing leather bodysuits flitting from pillar to pillar, but there are plenty of creepy lone Chinese commuters carrying smallish zipper cases that flirt dangerously with the line between purse and satchel, and sporting toupees that would make William Shatner blush with shame. Personally, I prefer the bottom level. No one hangs around there, probably because unless you’re of the odd temperament that likes isolated, chilly spaces that no one frequents (yes, like me; and like many spiders, as well), then the cavernous, fluorescent-lit area feels like death’s ping-pong room, and this works fine for me because it means I can read and think without listening to anyone two seats over cracking sunflower seeds in their teeth and talking with their outside voice. Anyway, it’s either that or the top floor, which in the summer months could easily double as a greenhouse.

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