I'm a member of a web site. It's a social networking web site similar to facebook. But it has a purpose.
www.couchsurfing.com is a traveler's haven. It's an opportunity to meet the world, travel to it, and stay for free. The idea is simple. You join, make friends through the site, and stay at their house for free if you ever travel to their city. It seems a little sketchy at first.
I joined after seeing a special on Dateline or some other news magazine program. Heath, my roommate at the time, and I decided that we were crazy enough to join, and immediately signed up to see what happened. We got no requests for a place to stay in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
When I moved to China, I knew exactly no one. When I lived in Dongyang, it was very hard to meet people who spoke English because, well, no one did. When I moved to Beijing, I was excited about the excessively large foreign population. I spent afternoons at the Starbucks near my apartment. The coffee shop, completely packed with foreigners, yielded no friends. I did, however, get hit on by a nearly elderly Australian and watch an American girl's bag while she used the bathroom.
Discouraged about my failed idea and tired of spending ungodly amounts of money on coffee, I started emailing other Couch Surfers in Beijing.
I got a couple of bites, which led to an art event in Beijing followed by a party. I was excited! I finally had found my niche in Beijing.
The art event was great. Absolutely, without a doubt my type of gathering. I met a fellow CS'er at the subway, and as we made our way, he continued to meet people and invite them along. It was a little strange at first, but soon I realized he's just that darn friendly.
Afterward, we all went to a party where I met more and more people. From CS'ers teaching English in South Korea who were just visiting to girl from Holland who was in Beijing only a few more days. At the end of the night, I couldn't type the numbers in my phone fast enough.
The party ended abruptly with cops at the door. As I was making my exit, I fell in step with two boys who live on the other side of the city. Perhaps the alcohol helped because I don't remember how our conversation started. But it did. They followed me out, while people called my name to go to another party. I decided to avoid the cab fare and continue making some new friends with these two guys. Case and Mario. Kansas and Arizona. Theater connoisseur and film fanatic. Add their sexual orientation, and, if you know anything about me, then you realize it was truly meant to be.
I just spent the last two days with them and another couch surfer -- Emma. Emma is from Indiana, and she's just passing through. She managed to message both me and Mario about hanging out with her while she's in the city. I responded faster than Mario, and Emma and I were having coffee when Case called me about going to a bar. It turns out that Mario was emailing her at that exact moment...
That night we went to a bar with two other couch surfers -- Cat and Ryan (he's from NEW ORLEANS!) The evening was fun, but pretty low key. The next day, Emma and I shopped until we quite literally dropped at my apartment and watched a movie. Case and Mario phone and reminded us of another Couch Surfing party taking place that evening. We got ourselves ready, and headed out to meet them.
I was excited about more CS events, but I wasn't in the mood to pay a Y75 cab fare at the end of the night. So Case suggested we have a slumber party...The night was really great. We danced, and generally had a good time.
When we went back to Case's; splitting Y30 four ways wasn't a big deal :), and the slumber party commenced with Oreo's, good conversation, and movies. We all managed to squeeze onto his full sized bed for some much needed rest.
And today, all four of us just spent the entire day experiencing another tourist trap of Beijing. The site -- Fragrant Hills Park -- wasn't really exciting at all, but the time spent with three other amazing people was well worth it.
And all of this, all of my life for the past month, has been a result of a web site that automatically turns most people off. An idea that's intended to unite travelers and like-minded people has succeeded grandly in Beijing.
And Shanghai. I'm couch surfing next weekend for my birthday.