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Published: August 26th 2010
I've wanted to visit Beijing even before I thought about teaching in China. So I'm finally making the trip, determined to make the most of it and go all out. Everything about this place is big, even the winding hutong neighborhoods.
I fell asleep on the train while watching the shadows of mountains fade into others. We were constantly passing picturesque blue lakes, the sun reflecting off of them. Sadly, my eyes finally drooped shut before sundown and stayed that way for nearly twelve hours. I guess I was still tired from my trans-Pacific crossing two days ago.
A lady in my bunk gave me milk while her son and I chatted and looked out the window. Since she hadn't seen me eat the night before she was concerned about me.
We got in an hour late and I was getting hungry. The bus to my hostel took another hour, so I didn't really relax and clean up until 4pm. Ugh.
I went in search of an ATM so I could pay for my room and tours. Then I got ice cream and wandered through the hutongs to find the drum and bell towers. I got there
too late to see them, but now I know when they are open and I found the bus to the Forbidden City. I stopped to buy snacks for my Great Wall hike this week and then strolled around the nearby lake. It was so relaxing and scenic. A nice ending to a hectic and slow afternoon.
I wandered through a different section of my hutong, taking in the sights and sounds that comprise daily life for so many. A daily life that is slipping away as more and more hutongs are torn down in the name of progress. Luckily--or unluckily--the hutong I'm staying in has been commercialized a bit, thus preserving it and destroying it at the same time. It's nice to wander its narrow streets, imagining what's behind tall walls. In a way, I guess, the hutong has simply evolved to stay alive.
I tried purchasing my return train ticket through my hostel since I couldn't find the ticket office at the massive train station. But it turns out that didn't matter since there are no tickets left unless I want to sit on a hard seat (and probably unwillingly share it) for 20+ hours. No thanks.
So I had to book a flight, thus tightening my budget considerably. To give you an idea, a hard bunk train ticket would be around 450 RMB, but a cheap air ticket with layover works out to over 1100 RMB. I'm not too happy about it, but it beats missing my first new teachers' meeting next week. On a bright note, this does give me one extra day in Beijing and hopefully an easier trip home.
Now I'm sitting in a Tibetan Cafe just down the street from my hostel. I've devoured a plate of momos (a cross between a dumpling and a samosa) and I'm sipping on a mango lassi. It's a bit of a splurge, but I need the calories and good food always makes my mood bright. It's peaceful in here. Soothing music, soft lighting, large booths, excellent table service--just what I needed. I can even watch the street since I'm sitting next to a large window. And life on a hutong street is never dull.
This is going to be an amazing trip.
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