Had quite a bit of fun in the last few days, culminating in a hedonism overdose last night.
The girls at EF were happy to see me when I dragged my scrawny arse into the teachers' room on Thursday, and it made me really glad to see them as well. I'm very much going to miss their boundless enthusiasm and child-like brilliance of spirit. They really do shine, those girls. It's a wonder anyone has ever had a bad day at EF Tangshan. They went through my pictures with such calculation and slowness, often going back and making sure not to miss one. They asked questions about almost everything: "Where did you take this one? How did you get there? Who's that?" It was quite cute.
So I hung out with them for a while on Thursday, and Duncan and I had a beer later on. Possibly last time in Yi Liang You Meng, though might go there tonight with Alistair, if I have time.
On Friday I................... slept in! (remember to breathe, folks) I muddled about til later than I'd planned to, but it was all good: chatted with Angie and sorted out all 1,005 pictures from the trip. I have to say the Enhance feature of Apple iPhoto is like a magic button for good pictures. Hazy and quasi-blegh image? ENHANCE!
I faithfully delivered to Andrew from Joe the CD containing resources and such that couldn't be sent any other way. I did it Johnny Mneumonic style. (okay, I wish) Saw Lily and talked to her for a bit as she hadn't been in the day before. Spoke with Andrew about a certain something I can't be but cryptic about as it involves a surprise for a certain someone. (No, Pele... not you.) Andrew called his girlfriend, Lili, in Beijing to ask about it, and she just said that if I'm coming in she will go with me. Appreciative was I, and I don't think Lili said "It's no problem!" more times in a row than she did while I was there.
So yeah. Beijing. Best time I've had in Beijing yet, by the way.
I got in around 13:30, and tried to book a room at the Beijing City Center Hostel, the usual one I stay at since it's right across from the train station and very... well... central as it were. No go. No rooms at all. So I used their phone upstairs and rang up Leo Hostel, getting a tad panicked. They had dorm rooms still available, so I made a reservation there. It wasn't the best-case scenario, but it was better than sleeping in one of the pedestrian underpasses on Chang'an Dajie. Called Lili (and woke her up, as it turned out) and arranged to meet her in Sanlitun where she lives.
We went back to her place to drop my stuff off, and headed out. Can't say where, I'm afraid. Which is irritating because I have some great anecdotes. Grrr...
That trip took us about 3 hours, and was a rather Herculean enterprise, it turned out. So many little details. Lili kept laughing, saying "Most men aren't this exact or patient [with things of this nature]." Lili rocked - she was a great advisor and co-conspirator. I had originally planned to go into Beijing, do the business that needed doin' and head back to Tangshan, but Lili convinced me to stay over since we wouldn't have had time to wrangle up our little conspiracy otherwise. Accepting proved a most wise and excellent decision.
After [doing what needed to be done], she had to pick up some stuff from her office, so off we went. Quite a nice building, and area. Corporate apartments, mostly. That's what her office ended up being - an incredibly nice corporate apartment: 12th storey, two large bedrooms, cherrywood flooring, stainless steel kitchen, bathroom that looked like it was ordered from a Hilton brochure, laundry room (with a real washer and dryer!), oil paintings, digital everything (the lights even came on slowly, like something out of Blade Runner), and floor to ceiling windows looking out over the Chaoyang district. (I just realized I forgot to take pictures of it, but that will be amended, for reasons you shall soon hear, O Constant Reader.)
She made tea, I made coffee (with some of her boss' Bailey's tossed in for good measure) and we lounged on leather sofas. We talked for a good three or four hours. I didn't know Lili very well prior to yesterday beyond saying hi when she visited Tangshan; just idle chit-chat. We got on phenomenally, and I don't think that I've ever turned an acquaintance into a good friend so quickly, with the exception of Aaron. We could even commiserate about Texan management!! What are the odds?
She had gotten in touch with a friend of hers that afternoon while we were out, and it was decided we'd make a night out of it. She hadn't had a break in a while, and I more than felt up for it since my hostel and [That Which Shall Not Be Named] was all sorted out.
In the taxi to drop her laptop and work stuff off, Lili said if I wanted to stay in the corporate apartment while I was in Beijing, I was welcome to. Ummm... hells yes! So I will take pictures while I'm kicking back in the lap of someone else's luxury. Cancelled my hostel reservation this morning. Makes me wish I had a suit or something equally flash just to walk around that apartment. Somehow a Transformers t-shirt and jeans seemed out of place there.
Her friend worked at a pub called Frank's. Not quite sure where that ended up being, but I think it was near Suzie Wong's. Nice place, and packed to the gills with expats. Cricket was on, Sri Lanka vs Australia (Angela, you watched that, I assume?). There were a lot of Australians there. "Get the fuck outta here, ya wankah!" was the general outburst every time a Sri Lankan player or coach was interviewed.
Oh, Lili's friend (on the left). I'm not sure I've met anyone like Molly before. I kept trying to think of who she reminded me of, and I came up blank. I was expecting someone fairly composed and shy-ish, just based on Lili's quiet-and-content personality. Not so. She's like an experiment in concentrated Hell Yeah™, wit and sensuality. Kind of like a merger of Molly Millions from "Neuromancer" and Zenda from "Only Forward"... and Sid Vicious. I mean, no matter where she went, heads turned, people tripped, conversations turned to garbled mumbles. Molly looks like a Chinese Angelina Jolie, and she was raring to kick ass and wear grooves into dance-floors. She also embodies the word "in the scene". She knew everyone, everywhere - waitresses, DJs, bartenders, owners, patrons... it was quite the sight to see her move about like a lightning storm of social'ness.
Being with Lili and Molly was slightly uncomfortable at first, to be honest. I've never gotten rank glares of envious hate from guys before. It made me feel really small and out of my element.
Anyway, since we were positioned near the big projector screen, we moved outside... just in time for a blues band to start up. That simply fucking rocked. They played so many classics and paid highly-laudable tribute to the Blues Brothers. They were just awesome. Lili wasn't too familiar with the music, so I told her a bit about it (not that I know enough about Blues to fill a business card using a magic marker), and sold her on finding a DVD of Blues Brothers on Monday. Drank two pints (YES! PINTS!) of Kilkenny, two bottles of Corona, and got a free bottle of Tsingtao from Molly because we got charged on our bill for the cover even though she just walked us in.
Bar Blue was first on Molly's hit-list. We had a drink, and I chatted with Lili while Molly schmoozed like a presidential hopeful on speed and Red Bull. It didn't have enough energy for Molly, so we moved downstairs to China Doll, which I'd never been to. The feel of the place was a mixture of the Korova Milk Bar from "A Clockwork Orange" and some dimly-lit warehouse artiste industrial dance club. Odd and sometimes eye-raising images were being show on projector screens all over the main room, the dance floor was so strobe-tastic that it made you want to have an epileptic fit, the few booths that I saw looked like they'd been copied from the Mos Eisley Cantina (Star Wars), the seats were comfy sofas and low armchairs, the tabletops were (I think...) underlit in crimson and cerulean which, combined with the projectors, gave the place an amazing and "thick" atmosphere. It was a bit much for simple me, but really cool all the same. It made me wish Suzi, Jamie and Aaron had been there. They'd have loved it.
Around 03:30, Lili and I called it quits, being drunk and yawning in the midst of this Eden of lavish excesses. We wandered out, walking the short distance back to Lili's, she armed with ice-tea, me with water. Hydration I desperately needed at that point.
Woke up around 07:30, and couldn't get back to sleep. They'd started drilling in a downstairs apartment, or knocking down a wall, or were letting frenzied hyenas run rampant. One of those, I'm sure. Hung-over was I. I seriously never learn my lesson when it comes to beer. After eggs, pineapple and coffee, I was on my way back to rejoining the homo sapiens sapiens species. I flitted in and out of napping through the morning while Lili worked. (She has a workaholic Texan boss... I know two or three people who read this who can share a sympathetic smirk.)
Morning irritation: On my way out, I ran into a girl in the elevator. Without preamble, she asks where I'm from and says "Your girlfriend is sexy, man." (Turned out this girl - Chinese - lived in Hawaii for 16 years...) She'd seen Lili, who had to show me the elevator because they have two: one runs Mondays and Thursdays, and the other one the other days of the week. I love China!! "Uhhh... no, she's a friend of mine." "No way. She likes you. I can tell. It's girl-to-girl, man. I know this." Oooookay...
That elevator seemed to move damn slow, let me tell you. She persisted in walking with me down the street to the bus stop. Unfortunately, she was going in the same direction "to get some totally sexy short dress for a crazy party tonight" or something to that effect. Oi. Where's Angie to drive off weirdos when I need her? Apparently she was a professional TV hip-hop dancer, and was looking for work in Beijing. I didn't have anything to say to that, to be honest. However, through her I found out which bus would take me to the subway station, so I guess that settled the debt of crazy she'd incurred, not that I wanted to stick around and work it out. Oh, and when she took off, she went to offer me her cheek!! WTF? I looked at her and for a second or two thought 'Does she want me to slug her or something? Does she have a neck twitch?' Yikes. Thankfully that afore-mentioned dress beckoned ("totally, man") and off she went, but not before shouting in front of hordes of people: "Hey, I don't even know your name!" Three points: 1) She was barely up to code with Beijing regulation 273-B-8f (Regulation Concerning Minimal Clothing Requirements), 2) we were on a major street on Sanlitun, 3) enough people speak functional English to know what she said. To say that people stared at her and then me would be an understatement. I can only imagine what their assumptions about her and I must have been... A few guys standing near me eyed me, and unable to suppress coy smiles, turned away. Argh.
I'm happy to report no further incidents. Jesus H... what a zany 24 hours. On a lighter note, on the bus back to Tangshan, a kid in front of me kept staring at me with what I thought was a possibly-hostile or testing gaze. At first, I thought he was just being an insolent little bastard, but once the bus started moving, he peeked around the side of his chair (window seat, on the window side) and slid a candy along the window edge. "Gei ni," he whispered. ("Give you") Made me smile. He kept slipping candies down the window edge to me. Another conspirator. When he got off the bus, he just watched me. I said "zai jian!" and he smiled and waved. Just a funny incident, I thought.
Tonight, it's supper for the girls, then off to tai ji quan. Not going to do it (I don't think), but I want to give Xiang laoshi and Song laoshi the necklaces I bought for them on Wudang Shan and apologize for having been a lazy student. I may see if Lily can come with me to ensure nothing is lost in translation and that things are cool. I'm sure he'll be fine about it all - he's not exactly judgemental, is Xiang laoshi. I just want to make sure he knows how much I appreciate all his time, and Song laoshi's.
That's the end of the insanity for now. We'll see what Monday - Friday brings... I ought to have internet access at the corporate apartment (I love saying that), so I'll be about. Last things to see are: Temple of Heaven and the Great Wall. Oh, and a few hutong areas... before they're all destroyed to make room for ugly lodgings for Olympic sportspeople. So fucking sad what they're doing, and not just to the buildings. Those people have lived and worked in those areas for generations.
Enough ranting. I leave you with the picture on the left of the Dr. Seuss house (as I call it) near where I live here in Tangshan.