Saturday, January 29, 2011

We were picked up at 11:20am by Shannon’s boss, Jeff, in a private car. We arrived at Taoyuan International Airport and had no problem going through immigration and security. After eating a good meal of miso soup and dumplings, we boarded our flight for Hong Kong. I was a little concerned about our transfer time, but the transition in Hong Kong was effortless, and the flight to Beijing was uneventful. During the flight I watched The Town, which turned out to be a bad decision since the movie cut off 5 minutes before the end.

The plane pulled up to the terminal at 8:30pm or so, and my concerns about the validity of our very expensive and last-minute visas began to creep back into my mind. The officer took my passport and flight information, looked at me, pounded on his keyboard, glared at me, pounded two stamps on my passport and paperwork, then shoved the paperwork back to me.

They let us in! Suckers.

“HAH! They actually let me in!” I nearly shouted, then realized just how close I was to Grumpy Official; instead, I smirked, and we continued our trek to the exit. Through baggage claim, through customs, outside into the freezing temperatures, into a taxi: the travel couldn’t have been any smoother.

Our hostel was within a five-minute walk to the Forbidden City, which we found out after our taxi driver couldn’t find the hostel and thus drove us around for a bit. When we finally escaped the backseat and lugged our suitcases through the Forbidden City Hostel’s front doors, the girl at the front counter greeted us and helped us check in.

Home Sweet Hostel

We made our way up the stairs and down the hall to room 213; the electronic key chirped as it unlocked, and we entered the room. One round, pink bed greeted us from under a mirrored, slanted wall, but the windowless room was cozy, warm, and private; we had our own bathroom with (to my intense excitement) a sit-down toilet.

For two fairly tall girls, the bed wasn't bad.

After a few minutes of giggling at our sleeping arrangements and unpacking a few key items, Shannon and I bundled up and left the hostel in search of a late dinner. 15 minutes of walking past numerous closed stalls and restaurants left us feeling a bit desperate; then, on our last-ditch effort, we passed a bustling hole-in-the-wall, and a smiling woman rushed outside to usher us in.

The menu was generous, and I decided upon the safest option: “beef noodles”. I had no idea what the dish would look like, but it was cheap and sounded like something I’d like. Shannon’s order came out fairly quickly, and I continued to wait.

And wait. I joked that they had to find just the right cow.

And wait. I wondered if they’d forgotten my order.

Then out it came: a large bowl of thick, wide noodles and chunks of beef in a steaming broth. I sampled the beef, which was fine. I pulled a noodle to my mouth using my chopsticks, and the look I shot Shannon prompted her to grin. “That good?”

Stupid picture makes me want some right now.

Freshly handmade noodles soaked up the broth and offered a chewy texture and deep flavor. They were delicious. I was so focused on my noodles that I didn’t notice an older man at the next table sketching in a small book. Shannon pointed him out, and he joyfully drew two quick portraits of us. He was a spry little man, and hopped up as we were paying for our meal and spoke to the woman behind the counter; she grinned and handed our money back to us. We thanked him for buying our meals and left the restaurant full and happy.

First he drew Shannon, then me. My hat is completely unflattering, apparently.

It didn’t take long for us to return to the hostel and get ready for bed. Midnight came, and Shannon and I curled up in our Valentine-themed bed and quickly fell asleep.