November 17th, 2007 – by: coolguy
I haven't been updating much recently, but that's because not much is going on. My cash supply began running low, so I realized I wouldn't get to visit many of the places I wanted to. I've been hanging out in Beijing for the last month, making friends with the long-time regulars and the short-term travellers in my hostel. But I'm not the only one that has got sucked in and stayed at the hostel much longer than they expected. With such a variety of interesting characters, it is easy to lose track of your stay. My hostel is probably the cheapest one for foreigners, and we certainly get what we pay for. What was probably at one time a nice courtyard building is now a dirty, smoky mess.
Getting a tattoo in the hostel basement
The staff spend all day watching tv or surfing the internet and they get upset when we want to pop in a DVD or check our email. The place is heated by coal bricks that they burn inside the building, so the top level of the hostel is full of dirty fog. They don't seem to have any heating either, so everyone walks around wearing their coats, hats and gloves indoors. I've even started wearing two pairs of gloves!
There are some endearing qualities at this hostel though. For one, they have a ping-pong table which I usually play on for an hour or two every day. I've become quite good at spinning the ball. The other guests here also provide more than enough good conversation, jokes, and entertainment to fill the day. Some of my fellow guests are teaching English, some are learning Chinese, some are travelling, and some are just enjoying being here.
Sparring in the hostel courtyard
On one of my first nights here, I was introduced to the "funny menu" restaurant. Tasty selections such as "the temple explodes the chicken" and "the pot wraps the meat" entice you from its infamous menu. Mark, an Irishman, always orders a glass of "Tiger Penis Liquour," which he assures me he drinks purely for the health benefits. Another night Oliver, a Dutchman, took us to a Chinese nightclub. We were clearly the only foreigners in the entire place and we attracted a lot of attention, but it was still good fun to dance and bust some ear drums. A Swede staying here bought a tattoo kit and has been offering free guerilla tattoos in the hostel basement to anyone who wants one. Quite an interesting place!
I've found a comfortable hangout in the hostel bar and I've been chipping in here and there in return for some free food.
The rabbit with the iron stomach
I've helped install a new floor and cover up the drafty windows for the winter, mounted a dartboard on the wall and helped with the shopping. The bartender's mother, who insists we all call her "Mama," has been teaching me a bit of Chinese and I have helped her with her English in exchange. She couldn't speak any English when I first met her so I can definitely see an improvement. Apparently the private tutoring I've been trading for lunch could be earning me $40 an hour in a real job. My Mandarin lessons are more experiential than academic. I feel like I'm the main character in a Chinese lesson book, doing different activities every day. Monday I learn to count in Chinese by keeping score on the dartboard. Tuesday I learn about food words while eating lunch. Wednesday I learn about directions by biking to the shops with Mama sitting on my bike rack. I have learned enough basic Chinese to express myself and I have saved up enough money to move on (the ever-rising Canadian dollar certainly helps things), but I will really miss this place when I go.