Thursday, February 3, and Friday, February 4, 2011

We bid farewell to Liam and Kevin, then to Dave and Helena on Thursday morning. There was a slight twinge of sadness for me as I hugged each of them; I’ll likely never see these people again.

It’s a fact of life for a traveler. You can meet good people, sometimes stellar people, but you aren’t meant to have them in your life but for a moment.

After a full week, and taking into consideration Shannon’s worsening cold, we decided to play it easy for our last full day. We took the subway to the Olympic Park, which is 25km due north of the Forbidden City.

Hamming it up in front of the Bird's Nest Stadium (or whatever it was called).

It was cool to see, but fairly boring in the daytime.

The pool complex looked like it was covered in bubbles.
I really, really wanted to pose in a picture with this statue. Out of respect for Shannon, I didn't.

Then we made our way to the hutongs, which are a collection of extremely narrow alleyways full of small homes.

Narrow as a hallway. If I had tried walking through, I probably would've gotten lost.

We walked around for an hour or so.

Looks inviting.

During our walk we passed three disfigured beggars. The first one we saw shocked me to such a degree that I felt sick. According to some sources, up to 85% of beggars in Beijing are professionals or are part of a racket, which adds to my feeling of being violated by what I saw. While this is not only found in China, it’s the first time I’d been subjected to it.

We distanced ourselves from the area where the beggars were and happened upon a quaint street lined with funky shops and restaurants.

You should've seen all the people taking pictures with fancy equipment. I played it cool.

Hungry, we stopped for a late lunch at a restaurant with the thickest menu I’ve ever seen.

The drink menu was separate. I'm not kidding.

Later, after finally returning to the hostel, we both collapsed into bed until Cam knocked on our door a couple hours later. Cam, Will, Shannon and I decided to take a cab back up to the area where the restaurant was to see if the boys could “ice sled” on the pond there. Unfortunately, it was too late and the ice was dark, so after a brief walk around the pond and stop for a beer, Shannon and I retreated to our noodle place for one last hoorah.

We turned in early, forgoing setting an alarm so we could sleep in and relax before our flight. Thursday night ended up being the worst night’s sleep for us both; between her cold and my allergies, we awoke groggy. A few hours after dragging ourselves out of bed, the staff warmly wished us safe travels and Cam and Will hugged us goodbye. We climbed into a cab for the longest accelerateBRAKEaccelerateBRAKErollforward…BRAKE ride of our lives. We made it back to Taiwan, safe and sound, late Friday evening.