As I expected I couldn’t get a train ticket for the next day, in fact for the next four days, so I found myself with a few days to kill and no plans, which isn’t a terrible thing in
While walking back dejectedly after failing to find a minor site listed in my guidebook, a woman started shouting at me on the street. This is nothing unusual and I pressed on, but when I turned around it was clear she wasn’t trying to sell me anything, and I gave her the benefit of the doubt. She was a short, animated woman standing outside of a mosque and wearing Muslim headdress and a broad smile, and was just hoping to start up a conversation. I found her very difficult to understand, which is too bad because she was trying to talk about
That night, my last in Beijing, I was determined to go out to the bar district and have a good time, because the previous couple of days I had done nothing but walking and sleeping, generally passing out by 7pm from the jetlag and exhaustion. I decided to have a beer at the hostel bar first, as the atmosphere wasn’t half bad and prices would be much more reasonable. There was a guzheng at the side of the room, so I decided to give it a shot and see what I remembered from my lessons in Zhangye. As it turned out, not much without the book, but nonetheless one of the hostel workers was intrigued, and asked me to teach her something. Wang Dong, or Daphne as she also introduced herself, wasn’t exactly a natural but she got a kick out learning part of a song. And I suspect she also just wanted to practice her English, which was slow but workable. She refused to speak Chinese and I at first refused to speak English, a not-uncommon occurrence.. After asking about my taste in music, she remarked “when I listen to music on the guzheng, I think of the wind on the sea and very peaceful things, it is nice. But you like to listen to the rocky music, it is very noisy. You seem to me like a quiet person, I’m not sure why you listen to very noisy music.” After talking for maybe a half-hour I realized she was at work, not just hanging out in her off-time, and she eventually went off to make tea. And we have the idea that Chinese people are the ones who work too hard.
By then it was getting late to go all the way to the Sanlitun area and have to come back, so I figured I might as well stay there and make an actual attempt to meet people, which is most of the fun of staying at a hostel alone. I surveyed the room—two girls speaking Japanese, three Western girls at a table, and a group of about a dozen guys crowded around a foozball table. The table of three girls struck me as friendly enough, so I eventually walked over and said “Hello. So, sitting by myself is starting to get very boring. If you don’t mind if I join you, that would be great, and if you do, that’s fine. What do you think?” Smiling, one of them stopped me by the end of the last sentence and said “have a seat. And, don’t ever introduce yourself like that again. Seriously, I would give that a 5.2.” And after a moment, “that was harsh, wasn’t it? Sorry.” They were English, Irish, and Belgian, and saying farewell to Asia after spending months of backpacking together, heading back to