25 minutes by car, 37 minutes if traffic was bad. That usual commute by me was seen as “somewhat long” by most friends, and just above average for the U.S. national population. I usually would listen to 91.7 – NPR, or during the months of Sept – Dec, it would be 1530 – ESPN Radio / Mike & Mike (which, btw, is 100x better than the new Trey and Wingo…).
Now, my commute is to Beijing when I’m not working remotely back in Cincinnati. Spanning 3 – 8 weeks, my trips in Beijing allow me to become an actual worker in the city and not simply a passerby tourist. I gain many benefits of this – I have my neighborhood dumpling place, jianbing place, ramen place….so yea, mostly local food places. However, by far the most interesting aspect of my Beijinger lifestyle is my commutes.
I’m going to go ahead and give you a rundown of my usual commute to our office in Beijing from my Airbnb place, which is a few miles east of Tiananmen Square in the center of Beijing. Keep in mind – the usual Beijinger commute is 52 minutes, which means my coworkers constantly remind me that my options are “very ideal”. Here we go….
- Taxi/Car: 18 – 35 minutes, 20RMB (about 3$)
- Bike: 35 minutes, 1RMB (.25$)
- Subway: 55 – 90 minutes, 3RMB (.50$)
- Bus: 45 – 100 minutes, 2RMB (.40$)
The main consideration here is the time of day and I will detail that in this account by providing a few scenarios. I’ll also be including my usual step count thanks to FitBit (changes your life man).
6:15AM – 45 steps
I try to shoot for 6:15 as a wake up time. 6 is just too sad to wake up at, and if I wake up past 6:30 then I feel too rushed in the morning. This is my usual workday when I go to the office, so bear in mind that some days I wake up to go travel, go to a school, etc. Either way, by 6:15 I’m up and immediately think about how I am going to get to work that day. This is mostly because I need to consider which hurdle I want to cross that morning!
6:45AM – 275 steps
This is the ideal situation, but also the hardest one to do every day since it means I have to get moving right when I wake up (shower, dress, pack, etc). If I am out the door at 6:45am, my option to get to work will be the bus. The reasons for this….
- It drops me off right in front of the office, so I don’t have to walk much once I get off the bus
- I can usually get a seat on the bus
- I get to be above ground, which means I get to actually watch the world go by
7:05AM – 1,600 steps
The bus stop is a bit of a walk from my apartment – it takes about 20 minutes, but it is pretty straightforward. Some mornings I take one of the infamous MoBikes to the bus stop, but most of the time I can’t find one right away and by the time I do, I’m already halfway there! Anyways, I get there by 7:05 and usually get on the bus after 5 or so minutes. Once on the bus, I can get a seat 75% of the time as most of Beijing is still asleep. The bus takes about 30 minutes (3 stops) as it snakes through Beijing traffic. This is another key part of the bus option at this time – it is usually early enough that we don’t hit any traffic! 30 minutes later, we are at my stop near my office
7:45AM – 1,850 steps
I’m in my office in Beijing at this time with a jianbing and coffee ready to go. This is easily the best option (time + price + scenery), but also the earliest and most efficient option. It takes about 60 minutes from the moment I open my door to sitting down in my office chair, but again this is right around average.
7:10AM – 275 steps
This is most days – it’s quite difficult to just “get out of bed” the moment you wake up.
Like the majority of 20ish adults, I like to spend a solid 10-15 minutes first going through social media and emails before leaving my warm bed and accepting my reality.
If I fall victim to this, it means that I am getting out the door a bit later and I need to take the subway. The reason for this is mainly because if I take the bus, I will be a prisoner to the Beijing traffic because by the time I get on the actual bus it will be 7:45 and I’ll be jammed inside, while our vehicle is jammed outside; a terrible situation to be in. So, I take the subway since it is underground.
7:15AM – 400 steps
Luckily the subway entrance is really close to my apartment, so getting to the exit isn’t a problem. My problem is the reality in front of me – I’m about to take the most common form of transportation in a city of 25 million people. There will be no sitting and there will most definitely be shoulders in my back from little, nice old ladies. The other main obstacle: I have to transfer twice. The fun part about transferring is that you have to walk to the new subway line. This not only includes lots of walking, but also walking with a huge pack of other people with an assortment of luggage, walking paces, and ages. I start with Line 7 and only go one stop.
7:32AM – 1,100 steps
I’ve only gone one stop and made the walk to the transfer to Line 5. The 1 stop takes a few minutes, the actual walk takes around 15 minutes. Compounded by the fact that I am doing it with hundreds of people at a quick pace, it ends up getting quite warm, my absolute downfall as a human. So, I’m about to get onto Line 5; notoriously one of the most busy lines in Beijing. The lines to get in are already forming and yes, we have the pushers at each stop ready to literally push people in. If your mind is struggling to visualize this, please watch this video and imagine me pre-coffee getting ready to be pushed into this mass. And this time, I have two stops to go….
7:48 – 1,750 steps
I’m on my last line (line 1) with the faint feeling of perspiration coming down my back. I have two stops and it is not nearly as crowded as I am going the opposite way of the majority of Line 1ers. The issue I have to prepare for is coming up – my subway exit is a solid 25 minute walk to the office. I’ve already walked a ton, so my choice is to do the walk or pay a little for a bike ride. Totally depends on the day for me, but usually opt for the walk so I can catch a breather and collect my thoughts.
8:22am – 2,400 steps
In the office with jianbing and coffee in hand. At this point, I am still in the office earlier than my colleagues, but reeling from the chaotic pre-coffee hour I just had. Also I want to make it clear – I eat jianbing almost every morning if I can. I already shared the link above, but I am going to do it again here because it is important. It’s easily one of the main things I look forward to once I land in Beijing.
7:20AM – 275 steps
I’m late, the morning commute with public transportation is going to be horrible (and won’t get my there until 9), and at this point I just need to bite the bullet and pay for a taxi. For sure this is the most comfortable experience, but I still A: have to sit in traffic (albeit I actually get to sit) and B: it doesn’t seem expensive, but adds up if I keep doing it. It also involves hailing a taxi which can sometimes be a bit unpredictable on the timing, compounded by the fact that I am also a waiguoren and typically scare off most taxi drivers. It usually takes about 10 minutes to get a taxi, but I don’t have to walk far and I get dropped off right by my office.
8:05AM – 650 steps
Again, easily the most comfortable experience but it is unpredictable (getting an actual taxi) and costly. These are for the usual “F-this” days.
7:35AM – 275 steps
Panic mode sets in – even if I find a taxi, I still have to sit in terrible traffic. The bus is an absolute no-go (100 minutes easily) and the subway will be PACKED with people (90 minutes). This is where I go the straight bike option. It isn’t a terrible bike ride and in fact, if I don’t have any meetings/visits (meaning I’m wearing jeans and a flannel), I prefer this option as I get some morning exercise in. However, that is rarely the case (I usually have to dress quite nice) and I’m not going to ride a bike in dress pants and a jacket. However, if I get out of my place late enough, I have no choice. Luckily with the bike option, I don’t have to deal with people or traffic as Beijing (and the rest of Asia) is very bike-friendly with the street lanes AND it is cheap. It usually takes me about 30 minutes.
8:15am – 1,400 steps and 25 active minutes
In the office, ready to go and hopefully not too sweaty. It’s only March though, so it’s only going to get worse…..
Planning to write a lot more as I have seen a need for both cultural and political opinion pieces about China, Education, and the geopolitical situations playing out around the world. Hoping you guys enjoyed this and reach out if you have any questions or want me to talk about anything else!