Reuniting with Beijing, encountering Zombies, and the journey home!

On our fourth morning in Qingdao, we did the same old routine: get up at our own leisure and head upstairs to the patio to relax and eat breakfast. I spent the majority of the morning reading, packing, watching a bit of tv, and even got to chat to Dereks mom on the phone! We checked out and headed to the train station around 11:30am and our train headed to Beijing around 1pm. As I mentioned previously, we had purchased first class tickets because they were all they had left. It was awesome! There was so much leg room, hooks to hang our bags, a pull-out table, free snacks, recliners and two sat together instead of three. I read for the majority of the journey, dozed off a couple of times, and listened to music. First class is an EXCELLENT way to travel!

We arrived in Beijing around 5:30pm and I remember complaining of hunger as soon as we left the train. We took the subway back to our hostel (the same one we stayed in earlier that week) and the subway station and train were unfortunately packed with people this time. The number of people was unreal! We were shoulder to shoulder, back to back, front to back… people were everywhere. I was glad when we left the subway after about half an hour, and by the time we got to the hostel and put our bags away I was so hungry I was starting to get the hunger shakes. We quickly departed the hostel in search of a decent restaurant for dinner. Earlier that day Derek and I had realized that it was Canadian Thanksgiving and were fairly depressed to be missing out on turkey, mashed potatoes and pumpkin pie with our families, who traditionally spend holidays together in Thunder Bay. So we were on a mission to find a restaurant to celebrate Thanksgiving in and that would lesson our disappointment. After wandering for what felt like hours to my hunger-ridden body, we picked a restaurant and ordered food immediately. The food. Was. Awesome. Maybe our opinions were so influenced by hunger that I’m making the food out to be better than it actually was, but we were so pleased to fill ourselves with grub as quickly as we could that it didn’t matter. Dinner was delicious and satisfying!

After dinner, the boys departed to find their own fun around the area, and myself and the girls nearly ran to the nearest Dairy Queen, which was at a mall located just 10 minutes away from where we were. We ate dairy queen and wandered the mall for a while, before heading back to the hostel and going up to the bar for a few drinks. We found a Monopoly game that was written in Dutch and none of us could remember the rules. Tamlyn can speak Afrikaans, which is very similar to Dutch, so we attempted to play anyway, despite not knowing the rules of play. I won, go figure. We headed to our room after the game and read and listened to music until the boys came back from their adventure around 11:30pm. We all fell asleep shortly afterwards!

In the morning, we had to check out of the hostel by noon but we all wanted to go out into the city and shop/sightsee, so we checked out around 9am. The hostel let us leave our bags there during the day, since our train back to Hohhot didn’t leave until 11pm. Derek set out to do his own thing for the day, opting not to go shopping with the ladies. Kyle also ventured out on his own, as per usual, so the girls got on the subway and headed towards the shopping district. After a few confused directions, lots of walking, a few phone calls to people who could speak Chinese, and a very confused taxi driver, we made it to a decent shopping square. We ate breakfast/brunch at Starbucks and visited a few stores in the area, before venturing off to find the giant import food store! It was glorious. I stocked up on popcorn, granola bars, bagels and marshmellows, and Tamlyn and Casey stocked up on their needs that can’t be met in a Hohhot supermarket.

After this we headed to a popular shopping district in Beijing where you can find popular western stores like GAP and Sephora, but there’s also a huge traditional Chinese market. Most importantly, there was a huge bookstore that had an entire floor dedicated to English books! I for sure stocked up on a couple of novels because it’s very difficult to find books published in English in Hohhot, let alone anywhere in Inner Mongolia! We ventured into the market after this and there were so many things to look at! One stand was selling, I kid you not, live scorpions on sticks. They were squirming and wiggling their claws, it was so odd that people actually eat them like that! Stands were also selling seahorses and starfish on sticks, these popular treats that look like a stick of crab apples covered in a thick syrupy substance, and candied popcorn. Of course, many stands sold the usual things: hats and scarves, paintings, toys, masks, notebooks, bags, figurines, plates, etc. We walked around the market for a while but finally succumbed to our throbbing feet (we had been walking around for about 6-7 hours at this point) and headed for the subway to go back to the hostel. We had told the boys to meet us there for 6:30pm so we could have dinner, which would then give us plenty of time to head for the train station for around 9:00pm.

I just want to mention how many badly disfigured people we saw that day. We saw a woman near the subway begging for money and she was holding a small boy that was so disfigured that, at first, I couldn’t tell if he was real or not. I thought it might be a doll she was holding. He had small, dead eyes and no lips, or maybe the lips were curled in because all I could see were it’s pointy teeth inside a slack-jawed mouth. His head was awkwardly big for his body and square-shaped. It was shocking to see up close! I saw some people with missing body limbs (legs, arms, feet) sitting on the street or being pushed in carts. I saw some people (in Qingdao as well) that literally had no faces. Their skin was so badly burnt that it was like pinky-black wax where cheeks, a forehead and a mouth should be. Derek said that they had probably been factory workers and there had been an accident or explosion, which is common in China. Unlike worker compensation, which is not common here, unfortunately. However, the scariest thing I saw was on the Beijing subway. Something was pulling at my sweatshirt and I looked down and almost screamed! A man was on the floor by my feet begging for money, but he looked like a legitĀ Zombie! One of his eyes was practically popping out, his skin looked like it was peeling off, and his legs were so mangled that he was pulling himself across the floor with his hands. I recall whispering a few times “Don’t bite me, don’t bite me, don’t bite me!” as I hastily moved to get out of his way. I don’t mean to be rude by describing these unfortunate people this way, but it was really weird to see them all in one day! What’s kind of funny about witnessing all these oddballs is that later when I was telling Derek about them, he said that he had seen the exact same people! Apparently Derek had been wandering the same areas as us the whole day and witnessed the same people. What a crazy random happenstance!

We got back to the hostel and went up to the bar/lounge to rest until the boys showed up. My feet were killing me and I dozed off at one point and when I came to Derek and Kyle had joined us on the couch. We all decided that we wanted decent pizza before going back to Hohhot, so we set out to find a pizza restaurant that Derek and Kyle had discovered the night before on their adventure. We got there and it was inside this incredible building that must have been a grey-stone church or chapel before being made into a pizza joint. It had a great atmosphere, high stools and tables and an area with tables and seats that swung, similar to the way porch swings move. The pizza was delicious too! It was a great little find, so kudos to the boys. After dinner we went back to the hostel to collect our bags and then set out for the train station. Derek decided to accompany us to Hohhot and stay for a few days before heading back out into the abyss.

We only had to wait at the train station a short while. It was extremely busy and the line up seemed even bigger than the one to Beijing had been. It was another sleeper train and I volunteered to take the top bunk again. I actually quite like the top bunk because there’s no one to bother you by walking around you or climbing up and down near your feet. I was praying that I wouldn’t get another neighbour who suffered from sleep apnea because what a terrible experience that had been. Thankfully, there was very minimal snoring in my section this time. I got a decent nights sleep and when I woke up we were very nearly in there. We arrived in Hohhot around 7:00am and so ended our week vacation in the big cities of Beijing and Qingdao. It really was a remarkable, unforgettable experience and I’m so happy that I could share it with you!

I’ll write about Dereks visit in Hohhot in the next blog!

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