I've decided to break my posts about Beijing into a few different blogs because there is to much to say in one sitting.
I stepped from the Beijing International Airport into grey clouds, a slight drizzle and with a vague sense of apprehension. I was apprehensive because 1) I didn't know how I was going to get from the airport to my hostel and 2) I had heard various stories about the dodginess of China. I didn't know what to expect but thought it would be a harsher version of Korea. I was right - it was a MUCH HARSHER version of Korea.
I solved my first problem by hopping onto the express train from the airport which would take me into Beijing and one of the subway stations. I knew that my hostel was somewhere near Tiananmen Square so figured I would take the subway there and then walk. I had no problems using the express train, it was when I exited the train and attempted the subway that the problems ensued. I could see where to go to get on the subway but didn't know where to buy the tickets or how much they cost. There were some automatice ticket machines, all in Chinese and no one around who spoke English. After 5 minutes of standing around feeling lost, I finally found a ticket booth, bought 1 ticket and hoped it was for the subway. It was.
I had a subway map so I knew where to go and I knew that I had to change to 3 different lines. The first line was only 2 stops and when I got on I thought - no problem. The train wasn't that busy and it was a piece of cake. I got off and switched over the next line for another 2 stops. This train was a little bit busier but still not too bad. Then I switched for the line to Tianamen Square. It would be 5 stops and this is when the insanty began. The crowds waiting to get on the train were scary and they had guards waiting at the doors trying to control the traffic. When the doors opened it was like a vacum sucking you in, you had no choice but to move with the crowd. Somehow I arrived at my stop and managed to fight my way backt through the crowd and out the door. I was at Tianamen square.
I thought my hostel was close by but really it was 2.5km away. Armed with my trusty Lonely Planet I found the road I needed and walked and walked and walked. Just when I thought that I had to be going in the wrong direction I saw a little red sign with my hostels name pointing down a small alley. I must have looked confused because this little old Chinese lady tapped me on the shoulder, pointed at the sign and pointed up the alley. So I headed up the alley and within 5 minutes I was standing at the gate to my hostel.
My hostel was located in one of the old hutongs of Beijing. Hutong is the name given to the alleyways that crisscross throughout the city. There are over 360 hutongs in Beijing, all with seperate names. Each hutong is like a little community. Within the hutongs are the buildings or Siheyuan - which is what my hostel was. Bascally each Siheyuan has a door that leads out into the alley, when you step through the door you enter the courtyard of the building. When I first arrived at my hostel I questioned where I was staying but as soon as I stepped through the door it was like I had entered another world. It was breathtaking.
The main room of the hostel was the original courtyard of the Siheyuan. A roof had been put over it with a fountain in the middle along with tables, chairs, couches and 2 computers, typical hostel lounge. It was all decorated with Chinese art and decorations and along the sides of the courtyard were all the rooms. It had a very cosy, homey feel and definitely one of the best hostels that I have every stayed at.