Suddenly, it's cold. So cold that it wakes me up, which is no easy
task. Huh, looks like the door to the car behind me shook shut,
cutting off the supply of warmer air for me and the 2 guys cuddled
together on the other side. No problem, obviously: I got up and
opened it. Problem: an angry-looking old lady gave me the evil eye of
old age's entitlement, got up, and slammed it shut. I am not without
a temper or particularly abusive of those that are senile and/or
feminine, but I don't know if I've ever wanted to punch someone quite
as much as I did then. I resisted, instead defiantly opening the door
and trying to snooze. I was somewhat successful, because the rest is
hazy. I think she shut it once or twice more, and that some guy
watching this charade intervened by opening it. Maybe sleeping on
train floors isn't so good for narratives...
At any rate, I survived the rest of the night with the help of some time snoozing on the floor inside the car, finally stealing a seat that opened up, and authoritatively motioning for the girl by the window to switch me seats so that I can use the table as a pillow.
Finally, at what was probably noonish, we got to Beijing. 2 seconds after leaving the train car, I got a gruesome first site: a guy on the steps, face down, collapsed, sprawled like he might be a crime scene corpse ready for its chalk outline, with several cops yelling at the motionless body. I resisted my urge to take a picture; as I look back, I see him move. Great way to start a city, huh?
Random path search for food yielded the typical: menu I couldn't understand and waitstaff that thinks I'm hilarious. I kid you not: they actually brought the fish in a net to my table for me to O.K. before killing it and throwing it in an oil-and-hot-pepper stew. The broth was good, but I think the fish might have been a carp and can't stop thinking of all the PCBs he/me chomped on; more importantly, he's not very tasty.
Getting a cab driver to call the hostel gets me to the first bed I'll sleep in since leaving Austin the morning of the 13th. I've got a foreign city waiting unexplored, but I take what I want more than anything before hitting the road: a steaming hot shower. Also a first since starting this trip; have I mentioned I haven't changed clothes?:)
Dinner's spicy cuttlefish, which is tasty even though I don't know what a cuttlefish is. I get outside after and immediately decide I'm too cold to bother with this navigating shit, but hailing 5+ different cabs was to no avail. They picked me up, providing a brief respite of warmth while they stared at the map of the hostel's location, but then said something not even close to comprehensible for me and I was back in the cold. Pissed off and freezing, I zigzagged down alleys in what I was pretty sure was the general location of my hostel. Finally, I emerge at a main street and, with some incomprehensible objections and hand-waving by me, the taxi starts moving. And it stopped: I was no more than 5 blocks from the hostel. I paid the 10-yuan ($1.50) minimum fare, a well-deserved idiot tax:)
I tried to stay up and write/even read some of the books that are probably a majority of the weight I've brought, but I conk out and start writing nonsense about the occurrences of the day before (seriously: scribbled out from my 12/16 entry is "i'm assured that I'll be fine to board with my ticket from Changsha but I might not have a neighbor." Yeah, I know and I agree: that's pretty weird.)
Last thing I remembered before conking out was feeling wonderfully warm and in absolute contentedness with my single cover and ~half-inch-thick mattress in a dorm room with 7 other beds. The wealthiest guest in the most expensive suite at the nicest hotel in the world was less comfortable than I was at that moment.