May Day Holiday, Part I...
I arrived in Beijing last Tuesday for May Day, also known as International Labourer Day (or something like that). I stayed at the Lotus Hostel near the XiDan district, which is one of my favourite hostels in China. Hopefully I can visit them a few more times before I leave! I spent most mornings out in the courtyard, laying on a couch in the sun reading.
The first day in Beijing I didn't wander too far and only went to the White Dagoba Temple near the hostel. It was originally built way back in the Yuan Dynasty, which was founded by Genghis Khan. The temple was nice but the best part is that it was quiet. There were actually two Tibetan monks circling the dagoba, clockwise, as you do to gain merit. It was interesting to see one of them talking on his mobile in Tibetan while going around and around.
The next morning Alex arrived from Qingdao as planned and after breakfast at the hostel we headed out to Houhai. I haven't seen Alex since I was working in France way back when, so it was nice to catch up and swap travel stories for the week (and look at things "with Chinese characteristics"!). We wandered around Houhai lake for a bit, through some hutongs, then sat down at my favourite cafe in Beijing for a drink.
One thing that I love about staying at hostels is the people you meet along the way. Of course there are always some crazies, but usually everyone is nice and has at least one interesting story to tell.
Late on Thursday morning we headed off to the Military Museum, which was interesting for a great number of reasons. I'll leave some of it up to your imaginations, but they had a lot of interesting items on display.
In the afternoon we tried to make it to the Midi Rock Music Festival in Haidian Park. I was excited about seeing Soundtrack of Our Lives in the evening, but fate had other time-consuming and expensive plans. I had made it by bus to withing one Beijing block of the park, up in the north-west of Beijing. But of course, when you're that close to something nobody knows where it is. Nobody. The cops hadn't heard of the park, people shopping in the area hadn't either, and even people working in stores nearby didn't know. We asked 5 cab drivers, who said they didn't know and sped off. Finally one said she knew where the park was, and drove us to the south of the city and dropped us off. Of course it wasn't the park. We got in another cab who had heard of the festival, knew the type of music, and where it was. Excellent we thought. 25km later, we were at the gate of the Pop Festival, with streams of primary school students walking in and out of the gates.
So now we were in the middle of nowhere-park, and none of the stops on the bus stop-sign looked familiar to me. Luckily there were some girls there who knew the area, and took us to their stop from where we could catch another bus to the metro, to catch two different metro lines, before getting another bus back to the hostel. Yes, it took a long time to get back, but the girls wanted to know if I was single (surprise, they were too!), and were quite fascinated with my arm hair.