Right before I was going to leave for Beijing for the National Holiday week off, I went to go recheck all the things I needed for the trip. I had everything, except when I went to my desk cabinet to check my train tickets and cash, there was no cash to be found. I was confused because I knew I hadn’t taken it out of there, and definitely hadn’t let the money leave the room, so I went through everything in the room at least five times, then gave up and started to look in my entire apartment, then back to my office again. No money, anywhere. I started panicking because it was the last of what I had, and it was what I had put aside to travel to Beijing with. I called Craig and he came to help me look, then I tried to get a hold of my parents to see if they could give any input. The conclusion was that the money was stolen, after I remembered that a lot of random people have the key to my apartment. I figured this was the end of it, and I would have to spend the National Holiday alone at home, and forget about Beijing, but then mum said she could Western Union some money to me, and I could try to get it in the morning of Oct 2nd, which was the day after the official National Holiday. I was supposed to leave on my train at noon on the 2nd, so that morning I got a motorcycle taxi downtown to the Postal Bank, went in and was told that the ‘Western Union people’ where not going to be in the office until October 9th. I went to the other bank that has a W.U. in Liuyang, and sure enough, got told the same thing. The motorcycle taxi guy brought me to all those banks, and when I had no money to pay him, he insisted he bring me, and then he brought me home. The night before Craig had said he might be able to lend me some money, but then when I got home he checked and his money hadn’t gone through yet either. The motorcycle taxi guy wanted to wait in the school to see if I needed a ride back downtown, and so he started talking with the maintenance staff about what happened and one of the guys who works at the gate told me he would lend me whatever I needed, then he wouldn’t take no for an answer. So me and Craig hopped on the backs of the staff and moto guy’s bike, respectively, and went off downtown to the bank. The guy gave me much more that I needed, and said to pay him back when ever, then he brought me downtown to where Craig and the moto taxi guy were waiting. After we said good-bye to him, and were again refused when we tried to pay him, Craig and I went to get some noodles before getting on the bus to go to Changsha to catch our trains. Everything pretty much went smoothly from there. After all the frustrations I was feeling about the way things work in China, it was made all better by the overwhelmingly awesome bunch of help I got that morning, from complete strangers. Its things like that that make China really really worth living in, and like no other place in the world.
So after all that I was on my way to Changsha with Craig and when we got there, we jumped on a bus for the train station. The public bus got to the station with only 10 minutes to spare for me to get on my train, so Craig yelled ‘call me when you’re on’, and I ran off towards the platform. I got on the train about 3 minutes before it pulled out of the station, but I was aboard, safe and on my way to Beijing! I was in the bottom bunk in a hard sleeper car, which basically is three bunks on top of each other, with 6 beds per open compartment. They are called ‘hard-sleeper’ but its actually pretty comfortable. The train ride was about 21 hours overnight, so at about 11pm after a gross but filling train-food meal, and about half of the book ‘this side of paradise’, i ate some Tylenol pm’s and went to sleep until 6 the next morning. I don’t advise taking Tylenol when you don’t have any pain, because I was trying to go to sleep and I felt like i had no legs. It was a really really weird sensation, and kind of prevented sleep for a while.
The next morning, I ate an orange and talked to some of the people in my bunk area. There was an old man who had been on the train for about 40 hours, all the way from Kunming to Handan, which is near Beijing. The other people were from Yueyang or Changde, both in Hunan. I had a good conversation about all kinds of things with them, and it was all in Chinese which made me pretty happy!
When we arrived, the girl from Changde said she would help me get on a bus to the subway station because she had to go the same way. So I followed her, and eventually got the subway. The Beijing subway has tripled in size since I was there last in 2006, but it isn’t too hard to navigate. I headed towards Yonghegong Station where my hostel was, and on the way I met a lady from Boston on the subway with her kid and his friends. We started talking and she told me how her husband works in Beijing, and her son goes to a Chinese school in Beijing and so he speaks perfect Mandarin. She said sometimes she wasn’t sure if it was a good thing putting him in a Chinese school, but she figured that the language ability and his math abilities were a plus that beat any upside of putting him in the international school in Beijing. I thought it was pretty cool that they had done that, and the kid seemed pretty comfortable with it all. She also told me that if i wanted a job in Beijing, her son’s school was looking for a foreign teacher next year, and she gave me her e-mail.
When I got to Yonghegong雍和宫 station, I got incredibly lost trying to find my hostel. The hostel was in a ‘hutong’ which is basically a gated community made up of a zillion little alleyways that people live in. They are really cool places, but its so hard to find your way around in them! Finally after asking a bunch of people I found the hostel, checked in and went to go find some food. There were tons of little noodle and dumpling places all around the hutong, so it was pretty easy to find food. The noodles were also the best I’ve had in a long time!
While I was eating, I gave Carmen a call and we decided to meet up later at this place called ‘Houhai’后海, which is basically a big park that is full of touristy shops and spiffy cafes and bars, all around a big lake in the centre of Beijing. I met up with her, and we went to a place in there to have some coffee (first coffee in a long time, so so tasty…), and sat there for about three hours talking about stuff (haven’t seen her in about 6 years), then decided to go out later to a place I found online that was having a techno night, called ‘China Doll 3.3’中国妹妹3.3 in the Sanlitun三里屯 district. She lives far away so she went home first to do some stuff before going out, so I decided to walk around Houhai and see what there was around. There were all sorts of alleys of shops full of overpriced touristy chinese things, but it was fun to walk around and look at everyone. Plus, there were lots of dazed-looking foreigners everywhere, who were also fun to watch.
After walking around for a few hours, I went back home to get ready to go to ChinaDoll to meet Carmen, then got bored waiting to leave, so I decided just to go and walk around Sanlitun. That district is kind of the ‘hip bar’ district it seems, because that is what lines the road on either side, as well as a back alley. There were foreigners filling all the bars except for one, which was full of a lot of hardcore looking Chinese. I decided to go in that bar to have a beer, and it was fun because I could listen in because everyone spoke Mandarin, not ‘Liuyang hua’! After that I kept walking around and then found some South Africans who invited me to have a beer with them in a square on the street, so I hung out with them until Carmen called saying she was in front of ChinaDoll.
I went to meet Carmen, and we went in. The place was great and the music was really really great. I had missed this kind of music, and was glad to be back somewhere listening to it, and being able to dance. It was so fun that we ended up forgetting the time and stayed until 7am. When we saw that the sun was coming up we decided to go our ways, and talk later that night, maybe meet up again and come back.
I went back to my hostel to sleep and rest my legs, but since I lived in a dormitory in the hostel with 6 beds in a room, it was kind of hard to sleep. People had already woken up at that point and where coming in and out. I slept for a few hours then woke up and decided to get my day started. I went to explore all the markets I had put on my list of things to do in Beijing.
I decided to a market street called ‘Nanluoguxiang’南锣鼓巷 first, because there was supposed to be some interesting shops and a lot of young people hanging around there. It was right near Houhai where I had come with Carmen the night before, but it was a whole different street that went through a Hutong. Most of the shop fronts probably opened in the back into more alleys and people’s houses. At one point I sat down to have a coffee (I’ve really missed coffee), and to look at people passing by, and these people came running over to ask if they could take my picture. I’m not sure why they wanted to, but now two people have a picture of a random foreign girl on Nanluoguxiang street. The street was long, but the other end opened up onto a regular street, also full of interesting places like music shops and other things.
After that it was getting to be dusk so I decided to go to a night market I had on my list and have a street-food dinner. It was downtown near Tiananmen square, and off of Wangfujing王府井 which is kind of like Beijing’s times square. Very shiny and bright and lots of western stores and three Mcdonalds, and an Outback Steakhouse?…The night market street was tiny and extremely crowded. There was a funnel of people going in, and a funnel of people going out. I just shuffled along with the rest of the crowd, holding my bag tight, past vendors selling scorpions and starfish and larvae on sticks, ready to be barbecued. I had some good food, like candied somethings on a stick, some chicken and squid on a stick, a plum cake in a cup and some other tasty things. When I finally shuffled out, I walked along Wangfujing and found a place that sold jeans, so I went in and found some cheapish ones. (It is extremely difficult to find jeans that fit in Liuyang) After that I went and walked along the upper road and saw the hotel that me and mom and han had stayed in in 2006, and also found the night market that we ate at as well. After that I went to see Tiananmen and walk around the Forbidden City’s gate.
When I got there I saw that Tiananmen was complete jam-packed with people, and full of big lit up things and neon lights and big tv screens showing the National Day parade. I didn’t even try to go into Tiananmen, and settled for looking at it from a distance. I went into the Forbidden City which was much less crowded, and walked through the part that was open at that time of night, then walked all the way around the moat and back to the metro station. By that time I was exhausted, since I had only had about 4 hours of sleep and had just walked for about 9 hours straight.
When I got back to my hostel, I rested for a bit, then decided to go meet Carmen again to go out that night. We both figured we wouldn’t stay long, since Carmen had to work the next day and my legs were tired. We went back to China Doll and there was almost no one there since it was a Sunday, but there was good music nonetheless so we stayed for a bit. After an hour they said they were going to close because there was no one in there, but then a flood of foreigners came in and then a bunch of asian guys. We decided to stay a little longer and dance around with these people, and I made friends with one of the people that came in. It turns out the asian guys were from Mongolia (which was strongly declared to me after I started speaking in Chinese to them). Carmen decided to go home and rest before work the next day, but I had a whole new wave of energy so I stayed for a while and the group of Mongolians invited me to come with them back to their friend’s apartment and hang out for a while. I went back with them and I’m glad I did, because I think I’ve made some good friends that I will know for a long time. They were incredibly interesting to talk to, and told me a lot about Mongolia and Mongolian culture, which is very very different from China. Next summer I might go visit with my friend Byambaa, who was the main translator for me, since I dont speak Mongolian and he speaks English. I think it’ll be nice to see Mongolia with the aid of someone from there, instead of just winging it on my own!
So anyway, I went home later on and slept for a bit, then went to walk around again and then see the Mongolians. After I hung out with them again for a bit I went to meet Carmen near Tsinghua University for some dinner. She lives right in the university because she works and does research there. It’s a really cool area because there are so many universities concentrated in one place. There are impromptu night markets of people selling clothing and other things on blankets for extremely cheap. The police come through every so often and clear them out, but within an hour they are all back again. We went to a sushi restaurant that was really really good, then to a little cafe/bar place and had some coffee. Carmen had to work again the next day so I left around 11 or 12. The subway and buses end around 10 o’clock so I had to take a taxi back. It was so so so expensive, I had to go all the way across the city, and I had forgotten how enormous Beijing is. So instead of a 2 yuan subway ride, I had a 67 yuan taxi ride. The next day I went to walk around some more and inspect some other markets in Beijing. I went to one called ‘Hongqiao’红桥市场 which turned out to be the pearl market I had come to with mom and han in 2006, and in 1999 as well. It was much less crowded that day, since it wasn’t the weekend. It was relieving because last time I had been there I had been grabbed by ten different sales people at the same time and pulled in ten different directions, no exaggeration. It was scary, and I’m glad it didn’t happen this time!
I didn’t spend too long there, since I got hungry and I wanted to take a nap. I went back to the hostel, sent a few emails, ate a good dinner of really tasty noodles and had a rest. I had to change my train ticket, since I had bought a hard seat (basically a hard wooden bench that fits as many people as one can jam onto it), for a 20 hours train trip. I went to Beijing’s train station and easily changed my ticket to a hard sleeper for a 16 hour train ride. A much better deal!!
That night I went to meet Carmen to have some Bubble Tea珍珠奶茶, and to meet another one of our ‘taiwan exchange student group’, whom we both also hadn’t seen in 6 years. We went to that same place near Carmen’s house and hung out and talked about China and our times in Taiwan for a while over a few beers, then went our ways. It was really great to see some Taiwan exchangers again, in one place! And so great to catch up and talk about ‘old times’. After that I just went back to see the Mongolians since I was leaving the next day, and hung out with them for the rest of the night.
The next morning I got ready to leave and got to the train station extra early since I didn’t want to be running at fullspeed to catch my train. It’s a good thing I did because the train station was completely packed and I spent about an hour shuffling towards my platform in a giant mass of people.
The train ride was pretty good. I slept soundly the whole way, since I had had so little sleep during my trip. I was woken up at 4:30am to the conductor telling me that we had arrived in Changsha, and I needed to get off the train. When I got off, I caught a motorcycle taxi back to Changsha’s east bus station to wait for a bus to Liuyang. Since it was so early I had a gross bowl of train-station noodles, with weird pickled things in it. It was bad, but I was hungry so I didn’t care. A bus came along around 6am and I got back to Liuyang pretty quickly. I was exhausted so I just went into my apartment and went to sleep, waking up later to plan lessons, eat some dinner and then sleep until the next day when classes started. I’m working all weekend this week. An 8 day week to make up for the days lost during the holiday. It’s not so bad, it takes some of this free time off my hands!
That is pretty much it for my trip to Beijing. I’m probably forgetting some things, but I can’t put them all in I guess! It would get too long.
I’ve decided next year I’m going to move to Beijing. I’m not sure if it is conveyed in this blog post or not, but I really really came to love the city, and everyone I met in it. There is a lot more variety in the types of people that are there, so it is much more stimulating than Liuyang. Also, everyone speaks Mandarin, so I will be able to have a lot more opportunity to speak and listen, and maybe take some mandarin classes at one of the universities or language centres there. I’ve also been pretty lonely in Liuyang, since it is very difficult to make friends. I haven’t met anyone who I have much in common with, but in Beijing I met a ton of people in only 4 days that I had a lot in common with, and feel I could make friends with pretty quickly!
We’ll see how all that pans out, but for now I’m in Liuyang and I have to make the best of it!!
Also, one more thing. There is no possible way of getting on Facebook anymore, since China has blocked all proxies and programs that get around the ‘Great Firewall of China’. This also means there is no way to access my blog. I can only post because I set up a ‘post-by-email’ thing when I had access. If your comments don’t show up, don’t worry, I can see them, I just can’t ‘approve’ them to let them appear on the site!
Hope everyone is well!!!