So after what would have to be said was a considerable delay (a bit like the one you've just experienced waiting for me to come out with this post, which in fact did not turn up ‘tomorrow' as I said it would – sorry about that) getting to the hostel, and having dropped a fairly significant amount of cash in the simple process of getting to the place, I finally made it. I handed over my now well-worn, tatty Hostelworld confirmation and waited. And waited. And waited some more. From the scenes across the counter, I could see that all was not going to plan. Finally some man was summoned and turned up behind the counter, inspected the confirmation in much the same way as the others had already diligently done before informing me of the bad news. In spite of having a confirmed reservation, for which I paid a deposit, the place was actually full. However, the good news was that there'd be room tomorrow – oh, and in the meantime I could go to the ‘sister hostel' not too far away; in fact, in order to placate me, the nice man would even call his friend, who would then take me, gratis, to the ‘sister hostel'. Furthermore, in order to appease me further, there'd be free beer until this friend turned up. It was a daring move on the mans part, no question about that – and something tells me that he probably called his friend having looked at the nationality of my passport and ordered him to get over to collect me as quickly as possible. It took 15 minutes – one pint.
As I grabbed my stuff, the man looked a bit distressed to say the least – I didn't know what the problem was but got suspicious after he called over the hostel staff who tried to insist that I needed to leave some of my stuff behind. Unfortunately however, I wasn't for shifting and we ended up leaving the premises with my large rucksack and smaller backpack. We walked outside, down the steps and past some rusty, beaten-up old moped that'd almost definitely seen significantly better days. He circled it and then stopped right by the handlebars. Suddenly the whole issue with leaving a bag behind became obvious. I'm not going to lie, in hindsight the whole thing seems mildly amusing, but at the time I really hoped that this was some sort of Chinese ‘You've been Framed' and that the whole thing would turn out to be a joke. It wasn't – moments later, once we'd precariously stowed my small backpack in this basket that looked even less sturdy than the one we tried to hang in our shower at home, he pointed to the back of the moped, which I took to be a sign that that was where I was to be seated, while doing my best to keep hold of my large rucksack for the journey. I got on, looked around briefly for a helmet, already reckoning to myself that safety would not be a priority for the journey ahead. We took off, belting straight for some side street, nearly hitting half a dozen pedestrians in the process before swinging a corner and with it, a bang. We stopped. The backpack holding things like this laptop, my wash things, my cameras and diary now lay about 20 feet behind us, now only partially encapsulated by the basket, which had come apart during the 40 seconds or so we'd been on the road.
The man didn't speak, simply got up, took the basket, re-assembled it on the side of the road and, still without saying a word, handed it to me as if to say ‘it's mostly your stuff anyway, you better hold onto it'. So we set off again, one hand now holding onto the side of the moped for dear life, one hand holding onto the pretty heavy basket on the other side, trying to find something to lean it against the whole time. And so it went – we spent a good 20 minutes weaving in and out of heavy Beijing traffic; our man seemed determined to get me to the sister hostel in the shortest timeframe possible. At one point a bus pulled in towards the kerb while we were already alongside it and so, in an attempt to get ahead of the bus, rather than draw back and go around it, we instead sped right up, hoping to pass the doors and get in front of it through the tight, narrow gap left between it and the kerb before people started getting on and off. We didn't make it – instead we got just to the front when the doors opened and we slammed on the brakes. The combined weight of the basket, my person and my heavy rucksack was nearly sufficient to propel me clean off the moped completely! The rest of the journey was pretty much similar to that one event – moments of looking both ways at red lights and then proceeding at high speed across the junction anyway, nearly hitting some kids on bikes, blindly swerving to avoid them and instead nearly being wiped out by an oncoming, speeding bus. Against all odds, we somehow finally made it to the ‘sister hostel' – Gulau House. Don't bother looking for it on the internet, you won't find it on there any longer.
When I finally got into the hostel, at this stage quite exhausted by the days unusual events, it'll come as no surprise that they'd rather conveniently not been told about the deposit I'd paid and since it was the sister hostel, they were adamant that it wasn't valid so I'd just have to pay the full rate anyway. So I ended up doing just that, figuring at this stage that I'd already build up so much dislike for the country that a bit more couldn't do any harm. I finally got to check my e-mails – one e-mail from my grandfather asking if I'd be taking a ‘slow boat down the Yangtzee'; I wanted to actually write, but didn't, that the only thing I wanted to take was a fast plane down the runway, back to the relative safety of Osaka, if nowhere else. The air conditioner was an irritable device that turned itself off roughly every hour, meaning I woke every 2 hours as the heat level in the room became unbearable; similarly, the toilet had some plumbing issues that needed to be looked at with urgency so the room absolutely stank whenever the bathroom door was open – even just a crack, so for that reason I leaned my backpack up against it all night, thanking myself for having the intelligence to bring the backpack even if not for the intended reasons. Finally morning came, and with it came the sounds of drilling, workmen shuffling about and what sounded like ceramic being thrown to the ground from great heights. The only issue I personally had with this all was that from what I'd seen the previous night, there was nothing nearby, only our hostel. Always expect the unexpected in China, that's the only advice I can give to anyone going there.
The reason for all the noise it would turn out very shortly was that as we ate stale bread and carrot juice for breakfast and I tried desperately to convince myself that it wasn't too bad, the hostel was actually being demolished, regardless of whether we were in it or not. I had just spent a night in a hostel which would be gone by the end of the day.
To be honest, I could go on for pages and pages about the short time I spent in China – towards the end, things picked up a little, thanks in no small part to the availability of beer in our hostel and some proper food but would I go back? Nope – it's too strange and I'm just not into being pestered and basically robbed the whole way through a country; nobody really wants to help, it seems as if everyone's just out to take as much money as they can and there's no better targets for doing just that than tourists. And maybe the Olympics thing has made people greedier but I doubt it. I was pleased (or ‘glad' as some would say!) then to step onto the plane for Dubai and take a break from it all as I have been doing these last 12 days – tonight I'm heading for Bangkok and although there's no doubt it'll be just the same in terms of being pestered and annoyed, hopefully the break will make me slightly more (or less, depending which way you look at it) receptive to the whole thing. So here we go again, it's off around the world…again…