I was excited. China was where i wanted to go. I didn’t know why. I’m easily swayed, which in hand made the planning of my trip a dream for the woman at STA Travel.
“You know man,have you thought of Baghdad?The weathers perfect this time of year and it’s a 24 hour party!”
‘Ermmm…..cash or card?’
But here i was,moments from the unknown and although a lot of emotions was streaming through my body I definitely knew i was ready.
The plane landed and i patiently waited in cabin traffic as everyone grabbed their bags. My belongings were ready hours ago. I stepped off the plane straight onto an airport shuttle bus,robbing me of a glimpse of Beijing. There was a group of young,English backpackers standing across from me but i was too stressed out to talk. I was soon filling out an arrival form after running around frantically trying to obtain a pen.Carefully i filled out each section with administrative style accuracy.Finally – I was in Beijing.
I stormed outside with a spring in my step trying to disguise the fact i had never been before. I portrayed a man who had lived and worked there for years.I possibly may have looked like a man who hadn’t a clue and had ‘tourist’ written across his forehead, as i was soon accosted by rambling taxi drivers and hotel salesman.In fact I definitely looked more like the latter,sporting a t-shirt with a big pink bunny on the chest.
I found a guy from Norwich who looked just as ridiculous as me and poached a cigarette off him. As we both gathered our senses we decided to walk along a road with the intentions of flagging a taxi. I guess the feeling of self-control outweighed the logic of going to the rank. We swiftly received daggering stares from what looked like an army general as he put his rank through a series of drills. We had wondered onto private property and decided to head back.
On arrival at the rank I tried to argue a price with a driver and swiftly walked away. I did so with a few others. I was warned of getting ripped off and was overly cautious of this. Eventually it was a case of “Fuck it – i want to get to the hostel”. A small man who spoke no English bundled my backpack into his car and i was off.A few miles down the road i was already aware I was paying well over double than what I should be. I didn’t really care. I tried to make idle chit chat. He didn’t. Every couple of minutes cleared his throat and spit out the car. He had one huge,black fingernail on his index finger. Would this same fingernail stab me in the neck? Surely not I hoped. It was gross. But a normality in China.
The city was HUGE. Way bigger than my imagination. It had massive and impressive structures. Not at all like i pictured it. It soon became clear why the driver kept clearing his throat. The city was shrouded in a cloud of smog. Next stop – bronchitis! Gather your organs on departure.As it turned out,I wasn’t departing anytime soon.We we’re lost. He had no idea where my hostel was and jumped out the car on a couple of occasions to ask hotel staff for directions. An hour-long taxi later I finally arrived.
The street was hectic but defiantly worthy of exploration. I couldn’t wait. I stepped out the car and paid the driver. I t was now triple what i should have paid. Again – i didn’t care. Out of nowhere some homeless looking man grabbed my bag and walked away with it. Rather forcefully i snatched it back. As it turns out he was wanting some cash for carrying my bags up the steps to the hostel. He picked the wrong time to find some cash from me,although i did find my manners and thanked him anyway.
In the hostel I tried to check in. The woman behind the counter was in no hurry. I was full of confidence despite the news of no record of my booking. Half an hour later.Still no clue. I wasn’t too bothered. I was too busy chatting to an English family who had also just checked in. I was grateful to talk to someone about the great adventure I had planned. Eventually after the receptionist made a few phone calls my booking was found. I didn’t doubt it was never there. I checked everything a thousand times before I left.
As soon as I opened the door to my room i threw my bag down and came over with excitement. I had made it. And I was proud finally be where I’d been talking about for so long. Travelling. I will never forget how I felt that day.
That night i couldn’t wait to see what Beijing was all about, albeit in one block. definitely a city best taken in baby steps.First stop was the supermarket. I always love food shopping in different countries.Simply – I love food and find the whole experience exciting. There was no shortage of eye catchers in this store. A huge array of colours,packages,cartoons and just about everything you can vacuum pack in a bag. Elephant cock anyone? Just ask at the checkout. They probably have them stored next to the pickled alien finger and the steamed goblin scrotum.I grabbed a couple of bags of “who the fuck knows” and played it safe with a pot noodle esq cup. A pack of fags and a few beers later I was ready to sleep off the jet lag. And that I did. A whole day and a half of it!
When i was finally up and running i began to think of the group i was going to meet the following day. I wondered who they we’re and I started to build mental pictures in my head of the fun we might have. It was all pretty exciting. I went down to the reception so I could query about getting to the zoo to take a few snaps of the pandas (also minimizing the risk of getting lost,kidnapped and sold for parts.The zoo was the safest place i could think of for a simpleton like me).I asked to get a sneaky glimpse of tomorrows check in. As it was my groups names and nationalities were there in full few. Fabian from Germany,Jim from England, Adrian from Wales etc. The mental pictures i had before began to take a different shape.
The zoo was great. An oasis in a massively populated city which looks nothing like a zoo on the outside. I couldn’t quite believe it when the driver stopped. We had driven near an hour and it hadn’t even looked like we left my street yet. I was in awe of the sheer scale of this city. The zoo was just what I needed to break me in. I enjoyed my own company and enjoyed seeing pandas, which I grew up watching on countless wildlife videos I had as a kid. Amazing animals. The stoners of the natural world.
That night I had plans to make my own fun and see who the hostel had to offer for me. I necked a few beers and headed down to the Social room. I met a Canadian guy with his girlfriend and a Dutch guy. I remember sitting on the steps outside for hours talking to the Canadian guy,not really knowing that I would have these traveller style chats over and over again.
That morning i came down at 4am to watch the Celtic v Man Utd game on the big screen. The place was dead. The receptionist was draped over her desk,the security was slumped in his chair and the barman was passed out on a mattress. I gave the barman a budge and he leapt up. I offered him a bite to eat but he was too polite to accept. I stayed up and drank beer with him.
I got back to the room in the early hours. My body clock was still out of sync. I sat at the window and watched the world go by and worked through a pack of cheap cigarettes. I heard my room door open. Presuming it was the cleaner i took no notice. It wasn’t. I glanced over to the door as a man struggled with his things.It was Fabian from Germany,checking into my room.My group had begun to arrive.