Had a good time in Beijing on Sunday night. It was a relief to get out of Tangshan for a few hours. I was a little late finishing up at the school, but had my bag and such with me, so getting to the train station wasn't a drawn-out affair. Getting a taxi, though, was tough. I got onto the second-to-last bus, which was full, but that was a positive: it left within two minutes. I sat on what I can only describe as a flight attendant's seat. It came out from part of the partition behind the driver, so I was sitting in the aisle. I spent the 1h40m trip floating between sleep and craning my head upwards to watch The Island in Chinese, and trying to keep my arse from atrophying.
Got to Beijing without issue, and likewise checked into the Central Beijing Youth Hostel near the south train station. The weather was fantastic, and the air was pretty clear and cool, but not chilly. Almost no wind. I got in earlier than I'd expected, gave Jon a shout from my room, then started walking. Had I been smart, I'd have taken the subway to Wangfujing, then walked, but I didn't think that the hotel would be north of the pedestrian section of that street. Wo san bu gua. (I went for a stroll.) It took about 35 minutes, but it was quite nice. Met up with Jon at the Crowne Plaza Hotel, and we caught a cab to Houhai.
Houhai is kind of a hutong surrounding a lake - old alleyways with quiet bars and stores. I found it a lot more relaxed and comfortable than Sanlitun district. It seemed almost detached, in a way. It's its own little niche in Beijing. Alistair had recommended the Lotus Blue, so we wandered along the lakeside promenade to find it. Most of the bars, being on the left (west) of the promenade had booths and such right up against the waterside. While it wasn't cold, it certainly wasn't warm, so we stuck with the indoors. Found the Lotus Blue no problem, after a few people bugging us about "lady bars". The Lotus Blue was quite busy, but we took a high table, then switched to a more comfortable spot within a pretty short time.
Had a great time just relaxing and chatting with Jon. We got along quite well, I'd say. We talked about our respective works, China, Australia, books, movies, culture, language... lots o' stuff. There was a live band while we were there and they were playing Chinese fusion - a bit of a mixture of traditional Chinese music with modern sound. It was a nice backdrop for beer and conversation. I found it very easy to disassociate myself with that week of teaching, and put emotional distance between myself and this week, which was just what I needed. An eye of the storm, per se.
We got there around 10pm and stayed til 1:30am. By the time we left, everyone else had gone home, including half the bar staff. On the way out, we also got re-pestered by the "lady bar" peddlers. Got back to the hostel without issue, though the damn taxi-driver charged us for Jon's trip and then charged me for what he saw as a separate trip. Meh... whatever. We didn't spend much, really, and I was too tired and inept in Chinese to put up much of an argument. I asked why, swore mildly, contemplated calling him a bitch, and settled for just grunting and waving my indifference.
I managed a few hours' sleep, woke up late at 10:10am, raced to check out and meet up with Jon in front of the Wangfujing Bookstore. I was 15 minutes' late. He'd been up and about since 8, wanting to see Mao's Mausoleum (not open on Mondays, we found out) and the Foreign Legation. So he had a chance to see a few things that day, at least. We checked out the bookstore. I grabbed a book on writing Chinese characters, a little book of Chinese proverbs ("100 Pearls of Chinese Wisdom"), and a lesson book. We then looked around in the DVD/music store next door, and I suggested "A World Without Thieves" and "The Banquet" which he got, and I grabbed "Police Story" (Jackie Chan) and Bruce Lee's "Fist of Fury".
Unfortunately, we ran out of time for lunch, so Jon went his way, and I headed for the train station to catch the Tangshan bus. Saw this ad on the subway platform and had to take a picture. Had no problems finding the bus and the ticket guy, and slept most of the way back to Tangshan. It was a nice "weekend", and it provided a much-needed rest.
Next week, I'm taking my TB 3A class for supper (confirmed) and heading to Tianjin. I've decided to say screw it in regards to going to Shanhaiguan. I'll take my camera for the supper, and Tianjin, so will have more photos to upload. I've been pretty lax with that lately.