China - Round The World Tour 3 2004 Day 217 (27)

Beijing

Monday 11th October

We made an appropriately slow start today, our day of rest. Not a single tourist site is on the agenda today and I’ve no doubt that we will both get quite restless before the day is through because of it. Still, the human body can take only so much, even if the mind can keep going, and these in-built rest days are a necessary part of the overall experience to avoid burning ourselves out.

The laundry service that is advertised in the main common room is actually the do-it-yourself kind so I elected to throw our dirty laundry into our sink and filled it with hot water and some biological soap powder. A bit of kneading and a bit of soaking a couple of times throughout the day should suffice for our needs.

It’s almost a pity that we’ve chosen today to make our day of rest since that blanket of white fog or mist that had enveloped the entire city is completely gone now. There is a bit of a breeze blowing and this must have shifted whatever it was that hung gloomy in the air clean out of the way. I found out today that Beijing sits nestled against mountains to the North and West and this creates a bit of a dead spot where the lack of wind causes moisture in the air to hang around. It wasn’t pollution after all. Having now been blown clean away, a new, fresher and more vitalised Beijing has suddenly emerged. Overnight, quite literally, the city has changed from being gloomy and dank to being bright and vibrant. We hope this will last for the remainder of our few days here.

With little other than tedium to occupy us today, we spent a fair bit of time racking up the hours in the Internet room. It’s a lot better since I discovered that we can hook up the laptop and at just ¥8 ($1) per hour, it’s an inexpensive way to while away the hours.

Over breakfast, I decided that since it was now Monday and the airline offices would be open, I might try my luck one last time at trying to organise a return flight to Japan. With the communications barrier, this was rather less pleasant that pulling teeth. I managed to get the farthest with JAL, whom I had to call internationally in Hong Kong to get an English speaker, but just at the point of hearing the final price, the phone cut off. Apparently the international call ate through my minutes faster than a tout latching onto an unsuspecting tourist from one of the major attractions here. I went back around the corner to the same small shop where I originally purchased the SIM card the other day to get a top-up. Already familiar with the woman there, the process was much smoother this time around and the simpler transaction went without a hitch. Even with the top-up, however, we would only have about thirteen minutes of airtime to Hong Kong and I didn’t think this would be sufficient to make it all the way through the booking process even if we did find a cheaper flight. Each time I’ve looked at the whole idea of going to Japan, something seems to get in the way. Somehow, I don’t think we are destined to get there during this trip. Reluctantly (for me at least), we’ve decided to cut our losses on the idea and have given up on Japan. It will still be there in the future when the next opportunity arises. Oh well.

I sat in the common room when it was Sandy’s turn to hog the laptop and struck up a conversation with a Chinese man sitting there. After a few rounds of small talk, he asked me if I wouldn’t mind looking over an English text document that he and his female partner (not sure if it was his wife, girlfriend or whatever) were working on. It turns out that they work for a traditional Chinese medicine clinic just a short walk from the hostel and have been working on the text of an advertisement to hang on the notice board here in the hostel. I was quite happy to sit and work through the text with them on his laptop for an hour or two. It made a nice diversion from the boredom of not having anything to do today.

With their gratitude, we left to go and get a bite to eat up the road. Sandy had spoken with a Kiwi here in the hostel about his experience at one of the local markets here in Beijing. It was one of those markets where bargaining is the name of the game and everything can be found there. After dinner, we decided that this might be a bit of fun and so decided to try and make our way there. Sounds simple doesn’t it? Nothing of the sort! We were a stones throw from the nearest metro entrance and the rough directions Sandy had been given were something like ‘just a couple of stops along the metro’. What could be simpler? We didn’t actually come to the realisation until well and truly frustrated but it turns out that we knew neither which metro line to travel on nor, even, which metro station the ‘couple of stops along’ was relative to. We didn’t even know the name of the metro station to exit from, although we did know, for some reason, that it would be exit B when we got there.

The metro itself is really quite a small one as metros go. I think the one in Hong Kong is even bigger than this one. The network is very basic and utilitarian. It’s also rather old with carriages that look like they come straight out of a theme park mass transit system from twenty or more years ago. Functional but completely devoid of any thrills, nothing inside any of the network that we saw inspired anything but a complete lack of enthusiasm to travel other than what was absolutely necessary. The trains ran frequently and there was no litter or graffiti anywhere but nobody seemed to have a smile on their faces either, including the sad and dreary faces behind the ticket booths that sold us our ¥6 ($0,75) tickets each to get into the network.

After changing from line 1 to line 2 and moving ahead one stop, we decided that it might be a good idea to put our mobile phone to good use and call someone back here at the hostel for assistance. I spoke with one of the reception staff but her English was clearly limited to those things you might expect a new backpackers checking in to ask about. Our story of already being in the metro network somewhere and looking for correct station for the markets seemed just ever so slightly beyond the reach of our abilities to communicate with each other. We were pointing at various stations on a metro map whilst talking on the phone and a passer by seemed to understand the dilemma. I told him we were looking for the markets and he took over the conversation from there. After several minutes of him talking to the receptionist, he finally told us to get out two stops farther on this line. Chuffed with our little victory, we thanked the helpful young man and off we set. The only thing waiting for us at our exit, however, was a supermarket. The victory was a short-lived one. By now, our frustration and tempers were boiling over and we grabbed a taxi to take us back to the hostel. The moral of this story is to be better prepared next time before we leave the hostel. Knowing where we are going seems to be the very basic necessity at the very least. At least we found out where the bus terminal was for our jumping off point tomorrow for the Great Wall at Badeling.

Today has pretty much been a write-off. We got bored, lost, frustrated with each other and, to top it all off, decided we couldn’t go to Japan after all. I’m now tired, agitated, very depressed and want to suck my thumb for the rest of the night, and nobody can stop me so there!

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