Name duo mafan! So much trouble!
Medusa had the best intentions at heart. I really do believe that. But despite this fact, yesterday was a vortex of frustration. Due to a booking glitch, I was kicked out of my hostel to make room for a boisterous bunch of French people. I was calling up other hostels in the city center, searching for a free bed, when Medusa swooped in and said "Anna! I have found you a beautiful hotel!" I think that every savvy traveler has a visceral negative reaction to sentences like this. The last time someone said something like this to me, it was three years ago on a bus on the outskirts of Yangshuo...but that's another, similarly irritating story that ended with a 3 mile walk to get from the shady hotel to the legit hostel I'd booked. So I said thanks but no thanks, I prefer to find a place myself.
Never underestimate the persuasive, almost hypnotic power of Chinese helpfulness.
Half an hour later, we're on the subway. I'm carrying my big backpack, which is pretty much the equivalent of a neon sign flashing the word FOREIGNER, and Medusa is revelling in all the attention I'm attracting. "Everybody is talking about you! Those girls next to you, they're saying how strange you look! You look so strange, do people think you look strange in America? We all think so." Very few people have seen a half-Chinese, half-white person here, and it's an endless source of curiosity and spirited speculation. I try to tell myself this must be what celebrities feel like. The alternative is that this is what the Elephant Man felt like.
We get off the subway after two transfers, and Medusa hails a taxi. Three subways and a taxi? Where is this place? We stop at a grim high rise hotel. Behind the desk are four wall clocks, displaying the times of different cities around the world. The New York clock, which should read the same as the Beijing clock, is about 8 hours slow, the second hand ticking two seconds forward in time, then one second back. Turns out Medusa chose this hotel because it's near her friend's medical school, where she plans on staying for the remainder of her week in Beijing. "Now we can spend more time together!" she says, taking my hand and pulling me to her side. Unfortunately, it's near nothing else of interest. Medusa does the talking, and after a couple minutes hands me a key and says, "I booked you five nights here."
Five nights. Five nights here. The phrase is like smelling salts. This is where the madness ends, damn it, right here in a shabby hotel on the outskirts of an anonymous Beijing suburb. I will once more assert an active voice in the direction of my careening, slippery life.
I dropped my stuff in the clinical-feeling dorm room, nodded to the Korean girl dozing in the other bed, and took Medusa out to lunch as a thank you. I then politely refused her enthusiastic invitations to tour her friend's medical school campus (though I couldn't escape a cell phone photo shoot, the results of which were texted to her mother), went to an internet cafe, and booked myself into a hostel in the center of town. This morning (after the staff came into my room on the hour starting at 6:00AM to stare at me while I slept) I checked out, got in a cab and arrived at a beautiful, charmingly crumbling traditional courtyard house in a quiet hutong. Literally down the street from where I was originally staying.
Sometimes it takes 24 hours to go five minutes. And I guess I just have to be okay with that.