The last time I was in China it was freezing cold in January 2003. The weather is fantastic this October day in 2004.
After slogging it out across Russia and Mongolia, we soak up creature comforts at the friendly Far East Youth Hostel located among the back alleyways of one of Beijing’s ancient hutongs where young backpackers pick the cheap dorm rooms next to the self-catering kitchen and laundry room in the basement and we, of course, choose a double room upstairs with all the Chinese tourists for about $25.
Downstairs is a “coffee bar” featuring a wide screen TV for viewing one of scores of dvd movies, three high speed internet terminals and a book case full of tattered novels and old travel guides.
Several tables of travelers share experiences and information…one with an Israeli guy trying to explain his country’s posture regarding Palestine to a couple of doubting Norwegians (Europe is generally pro-Palestine which is one reason the Europeans have trouble with the U.S.)
The compound includes a courtyard across the alley with a budget restaurant where I tried to order soy sauce in Mandarin (chiang yo) and got rice instead because of the tone I used.
On the back end of the courtyard are even cheaper dorms housing mostly young male West Europeans. After setting up the tiny computer speakers and coffee pot we step outside the doors of the cozy hostel and find ourselves dodging old men on bicycles between humming dumpling shops and cheap clothing stores blasting Chinese hip-hop and techno. At dinner we laugh at the English menu…among the choices are “Hot Pot of Old Duck With Chinese Medicine” and “Soup Of The Ox Reproductive Organs.” This is as good as it gets. If home is where the soul likes to be…I am there…at least for now.
And then…Bob packed up…and left.