Our final hostel was an irritable trek from the nearest metro stations but well worth it – one of the nicest, and very reasonable room rates. In the dorm of ten beds we had eight of them (throughout the week there was a steady influx of Project Trust volunteers arriving from their travels) but quickly made friends with one of the other travellers, Amy, from Australia. The other room-mate fairly blatantly disliked us, though this was probably justified, given eight people laden with suitcases from a year-long stay quickly spread to fill all floor space. We tried, we really did. We also resorted to shared resources (mainly communal shampoo) since we had so little time left.
Though rain-soaked and train-weary, bugged by Calum’s insistent cold (grrr), we all headed out to meet Laura and Reece, re-returned volunteers still (or back) in China. We shared stories over a meal before being shown to a Reggae bar. We spent a lot of the next few days with them, visiting the Pearl Market (delayed by poor public transport-related decisions) and an expat-popular bar called Four Corners, which was hidden away in a Hutong (small Beijing alley). There was an unlimited free drinks game on offer if you bought a ¥100 wristband and surrendered your phone. The first wristband-wearer to leave the room or look at their phone ended the game, and free drinks. I was designated sober person, and got to enjoy Cards Against Humanity with increasingly drunk players.
As you can imagine, unlimited drinks and a game which bans leaving the room is both a brilliant, hilarious and terrible idea all at the same time. Consequently the second half of the evening (probably more like last quarter, though it felt like half) was spent dealing with the aftermath – no problem at all, for the most part, though a few people went too hard. A good test of patience! The next day was taken easy by everyone (I was just tired), which was a good opportunity to start Game of Thrones.
Over the rest of the week we made the most of being in China – KTV, rice and noodles mostly. A trip to the Forbidden City with Millie, Shiv and Steven ended with, uh, realising we didn’t have our passports and seeing Tiananmen Square from a distance. The fences were kinda complicated so we left and found an air conditioned mall for lunch. We didn’t admit to the others that we didn’t make it to either of the attractions.
On our last full day, Calum, Shiv and I went on a trip to 798 – the Art District of Beijing. I’ll be honest, I don’t ‘get’ most contemporary art, but it’s a pleasant area of the city and some of the galleries were very interesting to look around and discuss. We were even pounced upon by one artist or gallery owner who asked us to pose for photos! We ended our last evening in the city with a pub quiz at Four Corners, swamped with several Project Trust teams who dominated the bottom half of the leaderboard.
After an intentionally sleepless night in which we all packed and the last few non-necessary items were discarded, we piled into several taxis and found our way to Capital Airport. I had to shave a few kilograms off my suitcase at check-in but it was an otherwise uneventful wait for our flight. The nine hours felt much shorter than they had done on the way here; as for the hour to Heathrow, I barely noticed it passing. I was taken by surprise in Amsterdam when Facebook notifications started coming through on my phone! Then before we knew it, we were through customs, reunited with families and off in our separate directions. What has struck me in the week since is the speed with which I have readjusted to home. Everything is strange once, then feels like I never left.