26 August, 2005

Can you find the annoying megaphone that barks out a repeating distorted message that somehow gets people to frequent this establishment?

The Real Brewed Tea (Rabbit) place we went to on a couple of occasions.

For some reason, no matter where in the world you are this symbol represents ice cream even though the name of the company is always different.

A typical Beijing taxi. Actually, this one isn't so typical since it isn't terrorizing someone at the moment.

One of the main Beijing train stations. My train is marked by the card on the left. Trampling begins promptly when the doors to the platform are opened.

26 August, 2005

Day 41. My time in Beijing came to an end far too fast. I feel like I've only seen a very small fraction of what the city has to offer. At the same time, there are so many other places to see and explore. I'm sure the capital isn't all that representative of the rest of the country. What I'd really like to do is see what it's like in the country. Unfortunately that just isn't in the cards on this trip. I do have a schedule to keep to and Shanghai is the next stop.

I still had the afternoon though. Unfortunately I blew a couple of hours waiting to meet a friend from America who never showed up. I haven't seen a familiar American since Amsterdam. (Come to think of it, I haven't seen a single black person since Berlin. Not counting TV.) Anyway, this incident has led me to issue a decree. And I'm sorry if this sounds dickish but it has to be said. I'm no longer making plans to meet people who don't carry phones or at the very least some sort of a device that can send and receive SMS. For crying out loud, everyone in Mongolia and China seems to have one of the things so it really shouldn't be that big a deal. I can't tell you how many times I've had to deal with people from back home who have absolutely no means of communication when they're traveling and it's a royal pain in the ass when you try to make plans with them. So be forewarned if you're one of those people. Life is too short to sit around waiting for you or figuring out how to convey messages. I really don't think this is at all unreasonable.

Glad I got that out of my system. Anyway, I got to hang out in the hotel lobby for a couple of hours which was too fascinating to put into words so I won't even try. Afterwards I really only had time to head across the street to the mall once more to grab something at the food court. This time I was a little bit more daring, opting to sit at one of those counters and order what is known as a hot pot. That's where they bring you a pot of boiling water and a bunch of raw meat. The idea is for you to cook the meat in the boiling water. Now, as someone who can barely manage to make tea, this was a bit of a challenge as I wasn't sure when I should put what in, for how long, etc. But I figured if I did do something really out of line they would have come running over to correct me. Unless they just didn't care, which I could see working in a mall. But they seemed helpful enough and it was a huge amount of food. Plus I got a really big mug of beer. Total cost was just over three dollars. And they say food in the countryside is even cheaper.

Something else that struck me as rather remarkable in the past few days has been my sustained interest in the actual language around me. Usually I just kind of filter it out and resign myself to the fact that the language being spoken around me is another one I'll never know. But there's something about Chinese that makes it fun to learn. I took a semester of it in college and I remember that fact. It's almost modular in its construction and it's really cool when you start to recognize characters on signs. Speaking it is a bit trickier and certainly understanding what someone is saying to you can be next to impossible. But with a little practice and determination, I could really get into this. Sometimes it's the most unusual things that wind up being the ones you accomplish.

My ride showed up right on time at the hotel. I said my goodbyes to Hanneke and Sasja and wished them luck in their new and intriguing destination. I really wish I could be going too. But Shanghai, Japan, and the Pacific Ocean ought to be fascinating as well. No regrets.

The guide got me to the station and explained everything quite thoroughly as to where the train would be, what time they would let people in, etc. One thing I noticed about this train station was that it was an absolute madhouse. It was jammed full of people who all had this desperate manner to them. Imagine Penn Station at rush hour times ten. I didn't understand it.

And I sure as *hell* didn't understand it when they started letting people go down the stairs to the platform. It was like this was the last train ever. I really was afraid of getting trampled. What was the big deal anyway? We all had assigned seats! What the hell difference did it make who was first? A very strange way to leave Beijing.

The train itself was surprisingly new and modern. According to my counterfeit Let's Go guide, the trip was supposed to take 14 hours but this train was claiming it would take only 12. I suppose this was another improvement in the way of life around here. Now if they could only calm the people down a bit while boarding, it would be *really* nice.

I wound up sharing the compartment with three Chinese people, none of whom apparently knew each other. Everyone pretty much kept to themselves. We all got tea, a toothbrush, and a free dinner. (I always seem to get a free dinner after having a late lunch.) The food was so unbelievably spicy. That's one of the differences Sasja noticed about food in China as opposed to Chinese food in the Netherlands. It had so much more spice here. And I suppose that's true about America as well. We're a little too cautious about such things. What I wouldn't give to see the reaction to a meal like this on Amtrak.

The train ride was very smooth and it wasn't long before we all drifted to sleep. Again, the motion of the train completely put me under. At 7 am we would be in Shanghai.