My mom and dad transferred money to my Canadian account and told me to buy two specific things for myself for Christmas. One was a Lonely Planet for Brazil and the other was a Pandora bracelet bead from China.
I knew where the English bookstore was, but not the Pandora store. So, I googled it and hoped for the best. The book I found was a Rough Guide and I grudgingly bought it because it was newer than the Lonely Planet by a whole year. Task one, complete.
I met a cute Canadian family visiting from Saskatchewan and walked with them down to the subway where I pointed myself in the direction of my next target, Pandora.
The first Pandora store I had directions to was closed for renovations. Bah. I had to go back out to the west of the city to find the open one. It was in a mall called "Joy City", an awful place that was done up gaudily for Christmas with a blindingly sparkly merry go round from Swarovski and oversized Toy Story characters beckoning me inside. I found the bead my mom mentioned (which said "love" in Chinese) for about $60. Is that the right price? My god, it's insanity.
After that, I wandered around Bei Hai park, which was an imperial playground hundreds of years ago. It still is, because all of the higher ups in the communist party live there now, walled away from the proles.
It was interesting to walk by and see the soldiers marching and the high tech gates keeping everyone who doesn't own a black BMW out. I was surprised to suddenly feel a primal urge to go in there, as if it was the one forbidden fruit in the garden of eden. I guess it's only natural, and a useful recruitment tool for new officials to the party.
Joanne told me she'd be back at 2 p.m., but I looked at my watch wrong and thought it was almost time to meet her. I hurried over to the metro under the wrong impression, only to find I had an extra hour to kill when I got there, and looked at my watch again. I spent the time wandering around the picturesque lakes and watching the city staff set up a skating rink while perplexed ducks looked on.
I was getting pooped so I went to wait for Joanne at the metro again. I was early of course, so I got out my iPod and started dancing and singing with the pedicab drivers at the exit. When she came, we walked around the lake again, had some overpriced dumplings and went to meet Ranald.
We were early to meet him, so I got a crazy matcha smoothie and Ranald found us quite easily after he finished work. He brought us to an authentic Korean BBQ, where I felt like I was transported back two years in time for a while. It was pretty spot on. I treated everyone to dinner because I was still really happy about getting my visa.
After dinner we went upstairs to a soju bar where we got a kettle of lemon soju, just like back in the day, complete with anju peanuts. At one point, I yelled at some British wankers who brought their own horrible gangsta rap and played overtop of the bar's already terrible pop music They had their legs all over the table and were antagonizing the waitress to her face. I called them colonialist assholes and we switched tables. Joanne and I said goodbye to Ranald and went home soon after that.
At about 4 a.m., I woke up to pee and Shylo was calling me on Skype. I got a little excited telling her about how I found Alex shit talking me and claiming we would have sex to his nerdy, bitter friends on Reddit. I woke Jay and Joanne up in the process with this display of petty childishness. Oh goodness...
So, I sheepishly said sorry, and since it was morning anyway, I left to catch the train home. Of course I was super early and I waited around in a noodle shop for hours, only to find I was at the wrong station. Luckily there was still an hour before my departure time, and I made some fast subway moves to make it to the correct station, and went home.
I spent many hours having a pleasantly fluent conversation with an airport quarantine inspector who had just finished a three month English course in Beijing. Lucky me. He lived in Zhangjiajie, so I left him halfway through his long journey and made my way home.