I need a computer!

I’m sitting here at the Internet-connected computers at my hostel – the Qianmen Hostel in Beijing. I’m by the door out to the noisy, hot street. The air conditioner next to me is leaking, so one of the staff is mopping around me. Behind me, other guests are coming and going through the door, sometimes bumping me with their backpacks as they pass.

This is no way to write anything interesting and/or thoughtful!

So I’ll stick to banalities for the moment.

Despite the leaking air conditioner, this place is really lovely – an old wooden building with rooms set around a cool inner courtyard. The staff is friendly and cheerful. They serve a huge, cheap breakfast with good coffee. Good stuff.

While here I met a gaggle of Brits – 5 just-graduated women and one early-30’s man – who invited me out with them last night. We went to a lake district north of the Forbidden City, where a huge number of loungey bars have opened up. The setting was nice, the bars were basically interchangeable, and the “we’ll just go out for a drink or two” turned into a sleepy 3 am cab ride back to the hostel. Good times.

Today I leave for Shanghai but overnight bus. If my miming and the bus-ticket vendor’s broken English have the same meaning, then it’s a sleeper bus – meaning I’ll have a bed (short and narrow, but still a bed). If not, it’ll be 15 hours being crammed into an Asian-sized seat, with Asian leg room. But heck, the ticket was cheap – 266 yuan (about $47) vs the 655 yuan it would have cost for the train.

Ugh, this is boring, right? Yeah. I’m going to end this torture now, and hope that my HP Moscow/NASA connection comes through in a few days.

Ha HA. Welcome to China (version II)

Greetings! Surprised, some of you? Well, DrC, my dear and clever friend, sent me his proxy info to help me (as he put it) get around the “Great Firewall of China.”

To catch everyone up, a few days ago I sent this note to a few friends and family:

So, I’m spamming all 33 of you because, as readers of my blog and/or followers of my Facebook, I thought you’d be interested to know that yes, I’m in #&$*(%ing China, and no, neither Facebook (expected) nor my blog (unexpected) are available. So expect silence for a few weeks.

In case you’re wondering, I am not amused with China so far. I have gotten ripped off every 3 hours or so, on average, since I arrived on Saturday afternoon. The first thing that happened: my bus left me at the border. It just took off without waiting for me, leaving me in the middle of laughing cabbies – they were all in on the scam – to insist that I pay 100 yuan (about $18) for a 5-minute cab ride into the actual town. And that’s just the beginning. Ooh, what a story – from Saturday morning at 7 am until Monday very-early at 3 am I’ve been fighting with Chinese bullshit, scam artists, shoddy transportation, and jerks. Grumble.

Happily, I finally made it to Beijing (last night at 3 am) and am staying at a lovely hostel within spitting distance of Tianamen Square. Also, the French daughter/father travelers I met in Vladivostok are here until tomorrow night, so we went out for cheap and delicious Peking Duck this evening. But really, that’s the only pleasant thing I have to say so far.

Anyway, I don’t want to complain too much. But I wanted to let you know that I am safe, but I won’t be posting for a while.

The rough plan is to stay here until Thursday, then to Shanghai (Ollie plz put me in touch with your cousin!) for the weekend, and then to Wuhan on Monday for the eclipse on Tuesday the 22nd. Then up to Xian, I think, then I go to Mongolia soon after (still hazy on details). I will try again to post, from a different internet cafe – maybe one that can get around the filtering (though I doubt it).

OK I’m off to sleep, in a bed, for the whole night, for the first time since Friday. Yay!

Things have, in fact, turned around since that first frustrated missive from here. I haven’t gotten ripped off since (!), and a few things have gone well: I visited the Forbidden City and the Gate of Heavenly Peace, which were both very interesting (if hot and crowded, to paraphrase Tom Friedman). I’ve gotten used to China – the culture shock coming over a land border from Russia, I think, was greater than it would have been had I come from the US on a plane.

Most cheeringly, thanks to Esther I might get a replacement for my hopelessly broken HP laptop (it would have cost more to fix than I paid for it). Esther, being Esther, is arranging with (ahem) the managing director of HP in Russia to find me one and send it to China with one of her NASA astronaut friends, who I met in Star City in May and who’s coming to see the eclipse with me next week. As Coline, the French woman I befriended in Vladivostok, said, “It’s nice to have connections.” Indeed!

OK, I’m going to wander Tienanmen Square for late-afternoon light. More later (yay).

[Thanks DrC, and Esther, and the rest of you who sent me words of encouragement after my China email. I have the greatest friends in the world! ]