Let’s catch up on the past few days.
Monday saw us visiting Beijing’s most iconic sites: Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City. Our hostel is conveniently located roughly 20 minutes walking distance from the two, which are located next to one another. They also happen to mark the ‘geographic centre’ of the city.
Following the beaten tourist path we headed past Mao’s mausoleum, through Tiananmen Square and to the Forbidden City. Greg had left me only for a moment before Chinese tourists began to ask for pictures, which I was all too happy to oblige. After all, it was a nice diversion from someone trying to sell you something. Apart from that instance, nothing remarkable happened during our wandering.
Following the Forbidden City we decided to make a department store our heading. We ended up shopping on a ten lane highway, flanked by towering department stores. H&M, Adidas, Nike, Only, etc. Everything imaginable.
Making our way back to the hostel we made a slight detour through a hutong and quickly realized we were lost. While they are quite safe, it was a bit unnerving as the alleyways narrowed and the buildings exhibited increasing disrepair. Only one man hissed, “Diablo” at Greg and I. To our relief the alley we were on ended up joining with the street our hostel was located on. By the time we returned we figured we had logged about 15-km by foot. Not too shabby.
After showering we headed back to Helen’s to eat dinner street side. Night fell and a cool wind-swept through hutong. At one point the fellow across from us, sitting with his laptop, was approached by an older Chinese woman. She came up onto the patio, stood behind him and peeked at his laptop screen. After satisfying her apparent curiosity she simply stepped back into the night. The street in front of Helen’s attracts quite a bit of foot traffic as it is located on the tail end of a popular shopping street. As such, many Asians pass the place and are enthralled to see so many Westerners.
It was Tuesday when Greg and I decided that we (well mostly me because I had booked the place) had possibly chosen the worst hostel in Beijing. Please allow me a moment to digress so that I can provide a review for prospective customers.
Far East International Youth Hostel
This HI ‘Hostel’ is essentially the basement floor of a mediocre hotel. We appreciated that it was cheap as dirt ($7/night for a four room dorm) and quite cool due to its subterranean location, but that was about it. The doors were extremely loud when closed, the lounge area was always vacant (we once found the bartender sleeping) and there was zero ambiance. We met no one, were woken by Chinese tourists at all hours of the day (they were the primary occupants in the hostel) and the bathrooms left a lot to be desired (squat toilets and very basic shower rooms). If you have any desire to socialize with other people or like to sleep through the night, avoid this place like the plague.
After three nights we packed our lives back into our packs and headed up the street to the 365 Inn. I need to mention at this point that it was absolutely pissing down rain. The streets were flooded and the rain didn’t let up all day. We settled into our new digs and pacified ourselves with cards and beer. Big beers. 4% 600-ml for $1.50. (This country is so cheap!) We met a lovely British woman and shared a lengthy discussion about travel in Asia, and made subsequent plans to strike a Beijing highlight off the Must-Do List: sample Peking Duck.
While I was hamming it up with the Brit, at some point during the afternoon Greg had a health scare. He was quite concerned with some off-putting sensations and a small lump in a rather sensitive location. A family member of his recently discovered cancer in the same location, so there was legitimate reason for concern. After suffering in silence he brought it to my attention and we reasoned that nothing could be done until the following day. After a largely sleepless night peppered with anxious nightmares, we made our way to a hospital which had featured a nice English web page. It was quickly apparent that the staff were not at all fluent in English.
We checked in and were summoned into an examination room. Not more than thirty seconds after Greg dropped trou, a window washer began washing the exterior window, sans curtains. The doctor, who I must describe as a Chinese relic, quickly performed an initial examination and insisted the area of concern was fine. However, he would need to perform a prostate check. As he communicated this in broken English, a look of horror quickly materialized across Greg’s face. This was too much, I had to leave the room. I muffled my giggles in the hallway as muted groaning spilled from the examination room. Shortly thereafter, we found ourselves waiting in the lobby as lab tests were run. Another half hour later we left the hospital, armed with a prognosis of a simple infection, a bundle of antibiotics and one bashful boy. But more importantly, we were flooded with relief. Nobody would be needed to return to Canada for treatment. While I have many girlfriends who enjoy independent travel, I was not thrilled by the idea of going at it solo. We had waited so long to do this trip together.
The travel forecast is looking like Great Wall on Friday and the Summer Palace tomorrow.