I Heart Beijing — First Days
We arrived on the plane from Lhasa to Beijing at around 11pm. It was very foggy. We bought a ticket, stowed our gear underneath, and hopped on the bus line that would take us right by the hostel we’d picked out. The airport was about 30km from the city, so a cab would have been expensive. When we got to the appropriate stop, we hopped off and asked the driver to open the underneath so that we could grab our bags. But he wouldn’t. I guess we’d missed a sign or something, but we weren’t able to get our stuff until we arrived at the final stop, Beijing Train Station. However, this was about 5km from our hostel, so we ended up having to get a cab anyway.
We ended up sharing the cab with a couple of people we’d met from Jersey. Not New Jersey, but the British island that is just off the coast of France. The cab driver offered 40Y to take us. We haggled him down to 30. Then he had to ask if anybody knew where it was. We pointed it out for him on a map, he asked somebody else, and never quite figured it out. We only had to show him the map several more times on the ride.
So we’re driving around in the thick fog at nearly midnight and the taxi driver has less of a clue where to go than we do. We tried calling the phone number listed, but it had been disconnected. He finally ends up finding the stadium that is near the hostel and stops at the wrong end of it. He rolled down his window and asked someone outside if they know where the hostel is. That guy told him something and the driver told us “Me yo,” which we knew meant something like “not here” or “out of stock” depending on who was saying it. From that we took it to mean that the hostel was not there any longer. (The next day I walked around and couldn’t find it where it was supposed to be on the map. I also spoke to someone who made a reservation with them, so they apparently just moved locations but didn’t tell anyone where they went.)
Since we couldn’t find our place, we just found the next closest hostel in the Lonely Planet, a place called the You Yi, and pointed to the phone number. He called and located it and we checked in. It was a bit expensive, but we found out that it was pretty much the going rate for Beijing. The beds and bathrooms were clean, they offered a free breakfast, they had western toilets, and hot showers. It was nearly perfect.
The next day we had breakfast and split up. Brian’s sinuses had a problem with the dry cold air in Tibet, and the relatively warm moist air of Beijing was causing him to have some problems for him. He took a nap while I walked around the city. It was a gorgeous day with no smog in the sky and I had a great time. While I was walking around, a guy on a bike carrying two giant stalks of sugarcane stopped to speak with me and practice his English. It wasn’t great, but we were able to communicate. At the end, he broke off a piece of his sugarcane and gave it to me as a gift.
I went back to the hostel and called a friend of a friend of Meredith’s (my sister) named Elyse, who I’d talked to over email. She is from North Carolina and working for the US Embassy, so she is a handy person to know. She’s also written and produced a play called “I Heart Beijing” which is where I got the title of this post. She said that there was going to be a good DJ playing at a club not too far from our hotel and we agreed to meet up there later that night.
Brian was still napping, so I went back out for a walk to let him get some rest. I also wanted to check out some hostels in different areas to check on prices. After looking around, pretty much every place was charging about what we were paying. A couple of them were in an old hutong district near the city center, and it was nice to walk through that area. Finally, I walked down to the central shopping district and found a bookstore with English language books. I bought a couple and headed for the subway to go back to the hostel.
Brian was awake and using the Internet so I joined him. We met some people from Canada, one of whom was working in Shanghai as an English language editor. We chatted for a while and decided to go out for a bite at The Tree, a Belgian bar and restaurant below the hostel. The food and beer were delicious.
Later that night, we ran into each other again and went out for a drink at a bar around the corner which had 10Y beers — cheap for Beijing. At midnight, Brian and I were going to meet Elyse, but his sinuses were feeling lousy so he went back to the room. I went to the club and finally met up with her after about a half hour and another phone call. Note to self: You should have some idea of what the person you’re meeting looks like.
We hung out and chatted for an hour or so, then left since it was getting late. She said that a friend of hers was having a birthday party in a couple of nights and would check to see if we could come. It was also going to be close to our hotel, so she showed me where it was. Everyone was going to be dressed as clowns. But that’s a story for another time….