I looked like a Scottish Stereotype, sitting in my underwear, smoking away in junkie squalor. Fabian smiled never the less and introduced himself. He had a gelled fringe and an orange coloured jumper. After a short introduction Fabian decided to go to the Olympic village. He offered me along. I declined. I’m not really sure why as it’s something i wanted to do. Perhaps I was still feeling overwhelmed and not quite ready for socialising. Or perhaps I just felt comfortable and safe in my Marks and Spencers briefs.
That night it was time to meet the group. I was up for it now. It was like entering the big brother house. I couldn’t wait to meet the characters I’d spend all my time with the next few weeks. I had a new-found confidence running through my blood stream. For some reason – even though I had never met these people or been in this position – felt like we already had one thing in common.
As I got the lift down to the third floor I shared the space with a blonde girl and her boyfriend. There was no introductions nor a hello. Just polite smiles and an awkward wait. We stepped out the lift greeted by a pool table,a small corner shop and a bar with comfortable looking sofas and a big TV. There was a long table with chairs and a welcome pack on each space,decorated by a pair of wooden chopsticks. Some of the group had arrived. I hovered around as i tend to do, blankly staring at picture frames like i knew who the artist was. Everyone had similar things going on.
After ten minutes or so most people had arrived and it was time to sit down and meet the group.
Our tour guide was a young Chinese lady (not that obvious – we had a French Canadian guy later on in the trip) whose name escapes me just now. Lucy perhaps? Answers on a postcard please. She seemed fun ( i.e – easily swayed into a drink or two)
As it turns out – I was right.
Lacy! That’s her name. Competition now closed.
First on the agenda was the mandatory introductions followed by a drawn out run down, of the next few weeks –
“My name is Darren and I am from Aberdeen,Scotland. First time away on my own so you all have to be nice to me”.
Great i thought. Could of said something a bit cooler.
Of course most people we’re in the same boat. I felt like I already knew the answer to the others questions (after all – I did look at the check in sheet) I had already mapped out drunken scenarios and unforgettable experiences. Everyone at the table had a part to play. Some more than others.
Jim had caught my eye. As pale and as ginger as you like from Doncaster. He was also alone. I don’t recall our first conversation but im about 99 percent sure it was about football. The guy knew more about the SPL than I did. We had soon found a lot of common ground (same bull shit girl troubles that plagues us all from time to time)and I remember staying up untill the early hours playing pool most of the night and drinking beer. He had left for the same reasons as me. To get out the UK.
“Why China?” I asked him. He didn’t know really. Just like me.
I had made a friend. Besides the trip, it wasn’t going to be the last time i seen Jim….
I went to bed with a full day ahead of me in the morning. And I couldn’t wait to get stuck in. I’m not going to lie and say I knew much about the city and what it had to offer. The plan was to find someone who did and latch onto them. As it turned out – I ended up doing that the whole trip.
I really should have read some books or at least did some sort of research,but to be honest i liked the fact I was stepping into the unknown. I’m not one for being stuck behind a camera or lost in a guide-book. Losing my wallet is more my style. Passing out in a gutter. Putting my last quid in a bandit. And I’m all the better for it. Now of course times have changed. Without even knowing it – I became fairly organised.
Off to Tiananmen square – one of China’s most famous landmarks followed by the Forbidden City. It was a grey,dull day but we we’re in good spirits. Before every section of the tour there was a little history lesson by our guide. By the second hour – I had switched off. Terrible I know. It was grand,impressive and the obvious way to start a trip in Beijing. However since the group had only recently met we had one eye on where we would drink at night. Luckily – someone else was already on to that.
That evening we gathered the troops together and headed out. Rumour had it that there was a strip of clubs and bars somewhere. I really couldn’t envision it. I hadn’t seen one bar or even anything that looked like one, on my travels so far. Of course this is China. The party wouldn’t come looking for us. We would have to go to it. What seemed like countless underground stops and miles of walking we arrived.
Out of the darkness came this bustling,bright and seedy strip lined with music bars and hookers. I really wasn’t expecting it. I guess I was a little naive aswell as unprepared.Most bars we’re packed and we had a large group. It was going to be a problem getting everyone in,sat and drunk.We had walked the strip twice. I decided to speak up as we already had started to lose people and some we’re becoming impatient (including myself).I suggested we sat in the first bar that could hold us untill we decided on a better idea. Fuck the prices and fuck the venue. We could always move on later.
“Lets just grab a seat eh? Happy folks?”
We we’re greeted by a musical performance by what can only be described as the Chinese Steven Segal backed by The Cheeky Girls. He had a terrible backing track and lip synched every word.He was supported by the terrible dancing and backing vocals of cheeky girl 1 and 2. Don’t worry though. He made sure we all knew his guitar was working by crancking a chord out before songs,then continue to fake that too. In short – it was utterly brilliant. They seemed to love it and we did too. Plus cheeky girl 2 was not bad. Winners all round.
I can’t really remember how the night ended,but i do know we got off to a brilliant start. And for a group of strangers that we’re stuck together for the next month or two – that was important.