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Love at first sight

By Dave Kerschgens | chinadaily.com.cn | Updated: 2013-04-30 08:53

It was like love at first sight when I visited Beijing in 2008, right after the olympics. My previous boss allowed me to take a sabbatical of 3 months. I wanted to explore a new world. And for me - living in the Netherlands for 25 years - China was a mysterious new world that I wanted to explore. I started an adventure which would change my view on the world. And my view on accommodations.

The first month I stayed in a hutong hostel, near Zhangzizhonglu subway station. With a cozy courtyard in a typical Chinese room, which means: bathroom tiling on the floor with mysterious black hair on it, a lot of greasy stuff on the wall and the bathroom was coated with mold. My main question at the time was, why do people put bathroom tiling on the bedroom floor?

Dave Kerschgens [Photo provided to chinadaily.com.cn] 

The room was cold, because it was not isolated. So every time it started to rain and there was thunder, I could feel the rain accompany me in my room. But the area was magnificent. Lots of small shops, impressive courtyards and tons of red lampions, which gave an even prettier view by night. Families were living in a space not bigger than an average sized auto garage, diapers of their babies were changed on a table where everybody could watch.

People seemed to be happy with the way of living.

After one month, I was transferred to a new accommodation, near Beixinqiao subway station. Cheap as hell, but hygiene wasn’t a word that could be found in the hotels dictionary. A positive note about this room was that there was carpet on the floor. Problem was: the carpet was dusty. Result: I was sneezing the first days.

After a couple of days the sneezing stopped and I got used to the room and started feeling comfortable.

But.... At night in the hotel - when the sun went down and the people outside started to play chess in the hutongs - room doors went open and whole families started to talk (read: scream) to each other and smoking in the hall way. The spectacle would last till early morning. Sometimes at night I was wondering if I was on a crowded market street or in a hotel room where I was trying to get some sleep. Apparently they liked to socialize with doors open so that everybody could hear them. Even the music in my ipod, couldn’t block the voices from outside. Don’t get me started on the cigaret smoke.

One morning, I woke up early to go to my Mandarin classes. A gigantic white bed sheet was lying on the floor in front of my hotel room. No idea what happened. At first I thought there was a dead body underneath the sheet. The sheet was wet and covered with black stains. After two days I found out that there was a leakage. The sheet was still there after 3 days.

The people in the hotel couldn’t speak English and every form of communication in the hotel was in Chinese characters. Asking a simple question, but more important: getting a clear and satisfying answer was quite a challenge and took a lot of time. It became even more dramatic when my bike got stolen in front of the hotel.

Of course my bike was gone. Forever. I tried to explain the hotel receptionist what happened.

I ended up sitting on the back seat of my friends bike for the next days.

Living in Beijing, especially in a non expat area introduced me to a new way of living, and taught me how to survive outside of my own comfort zone. It made me curious, made me hungry for more China. Love at first side changed into real love for a country that is so huge that I needed to start to make a plan which city to visit next.

Dave Kerschgens walks in a hutong, Beijing in an undated photo. [Photo provided to chinadaily.com.cn]

The author, from the Netherlands, is a frequent China traveler living in Malaysia.


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