Monthly Archives: April 2011

Leaving Home – Part 3 – Meeting The Group.

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?”

Deal.

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.

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Leaving Home – Part 2 – Let the excitement begin!

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 definatley 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 my body bacame riddled 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.


The Leaving Home Series – Part 1 – Can i really do this?

After years of procrastinating, months of saving and dozens of sleepless nights, the time had finally come for me to leave Aberdeen.

My family had gathered (despite their differences) to wave me off at the airport. I didn’t really want everyone there if I’m to be honest. My parents were hardly on talking terms, my grandmother and father hadn’t spoken in years and i was a nervous wreck.  Not only was this moment in my life important for me, I knew how much it meant to my family.  I was finally taken the leap I had  always wanted to take.

Before I had even stepped foot on the plane, I could feel they were immensely proud of me. There was no need for a flow of conversation (although my two grans could chat for all the tea in China) as my family knew this was my moment and respectfully left their baggage at the gate. I had said most of what i wanted too the weeks before and quietly – we enjoyed the the last minutes together.

They had formed a delicate environment for me to play in as i took centre stage. There would be no drama. Just teary goodbyes that i knew I’d have to deal with as I walked through the gate.

My grandfather was strong and as wise as ever.A worldly man with countless great advice and kind words. If I’m honest, I would of preferred only him to take me to the airport and have  said my goodbyes to everyone else the night before. I knew that not everyone got along, and my grandfather alone was what i really wanted. I knew he had the right things to say when and if I needed them. I wanted strength that morning in more ways than a coffee. And I knew he was the source. However, my parents, grandmother and other grandmother came along aswell and to be fair – there was nothing to worry about.

We shared another coffee, a few last minute chuckles and some mandatory travel questions;

“got your passport?”

“Got everything you need?”

“When does your flight get in?”

But forget about the latter. My flight had just been called…

It was time to leave.

I was flying to Heathrow and then onto a connecting flight to Beijing.

It was now time.

As we (surreally as a family) took the short walk up to the check in desks, I started saying my goodbyes. I can’t recall the order but i do recall the reactions;

My grandmother was in tears (as presumed) as was my other, but I remained strong.

My old man was upset. I couldn’t ever recall ever seeing him upset. I harbour a lot of feelings on my dad, good and bad. I kept it brief. We are both very similar and even saying goodbyes wasn’t enough for us to open up and let our guard down, but  I think we both knew how we felt about each other or perhaps still –  just to proud to say.

Then as i approached my grandfather, suddenly i began to crumble. My eyes filled up, my lip began to tremble and I was met with more wise words in which I obsorbed like a sponge and never got enough of.  He assured me I’d be fine and i would have the time of my life and It almost felt as if I was getting into trouble for being upset.

We shook hands like men, and exchanged a hug. I worried that  I would never  see him in that great of health again.The Parkinsons had been slowing him down in recent weeks, and it was only going to get worse as time flies.

I then said a tearful goodbye to my mum. She was gutted i was leaving, yet she knew it was something i had to do. My parents had recently seperated and I got the impression that my mum felt like she drove me away, when in reality it was me taking the wheel. It had nothing to do with the seperation.

As she held on ot me for dear life, I said my last goodbyes and turned to the desk, grasping my boarding card and passport.

I marched on.

They had decided to follow me down to the boarding desk and  I continued to march on trying not to look over my shoulder. I gave one last smile, waved my passport in the air and carried on through.

That was it.

I had officially left.

But I was a mess. It was harder than I had  imagined it would be. I had played this scenario over and over in my head and in practise I was always slick about it;

“Yeah I’ll give you a call on the other side, it’s all good. Don’t get upset. I’m off to get pissed and see the world and I’ll be back soon!”

I bothered the check in desk, asking her if I was in the right place. I was nervous. She assured me i was.

I felt stupid for crying and asking an obvious question.

I sat and pinned a couple of Scotland badges on to my bag, that my mum had bought from from the gift shop earlier. I already felt like i was waving the flag for back home and i hadn’t even left Aberdeen yet…

As I took my seat on the plane, I had mixed emotions. The flight was only an hour or so but i was already anxious to get off, just so i could gather myself. It was full of business men with their notebooks and broadsheet newspapers and I felt out of place with my red eyes and Adidas hoody.

The time flew by and I was soon stepping into Terminal 5.

I instantly felt alone.

It hit home pretty quickly  that I was on my own from here on.

I aimlessly walked around the terminal, looking out for shit television personalities and drinking coffee. I had hours until my flight to China but i needed it.

I felt very self aware and I was protective of my bag .I had checked everything in it a thousand times already and kept  reading over my trip notes again and again, looking for possible stumble blocks and potential problems for my trip.

I had no one to talk too and every feeling I had was amazingly clear and powerfull.

After being so overwhelmed with love and admiration, I suddenly realised that this is what i was truly searching for.

I wanted to deal with myself.

I wanted to live in my own pocket.

I wanted to be alone.

And i wanted to change.

I knew before i left that this was something i had to do and being on my own would achieve the change i badly needed.

The hours ticked by and I was soon on the flight to China.

The flight to Beijing wasn’t particularly memorable. It wasn’t like the movies where some stunning brunette sits opposite and you engage in meaningful, quirky chat for 10 hours.

I had an older Chinese couple ( who oddly owned a restaurant in Aberdeen). The gentleman spoke some English but e spoke none atall. As much as i enjoyed engaging in idle chit-chat, his breath stank a bit and he had a few bad habits.

I spent most of the flight staring out my window blankly, waiting patiently for any sign of a new world that i had never seen before.

After 13 hours it came.

The gentleman suddenly became very animated and excited;

“look! The Great Wall Of China!” he said.

Looking back on it I’m not sure what the fuck i was looking at. Someone could of said it was Disney Land and i would of bought it…

I had listened to music most of the flight and played the same few songs over and over. I knew these songs would be etched in my memory forever so I picked them wisely.

As we flew closer to Beijing I began to see hundreds of sky rises in huge industrial grids. I wondered how many people lived here and where they all worked…

During the flight, I had a couple of glasses of wine and a few beers to calm my nerves, and now all I wanted was a cigarette.

I was soon to get what I wanted.

We were beginning to descend…


The First: House Hunt In Brisbane

I had stopped dead in my tracks in Brisbane.It was the end of the road for the people I had been travelling with and I was running low on cash. It just made sense to stay where I was for the time being. Besides – It looked like a perfect place to start. Not too intimidating and I could see myself getting on fine.

I was living out of a hostel for the past 10 days and had been keeping an eye out for a place to rent. I had found a cool little site that was easy to navigate,gave you all the information you need and more importantly – preference options for potential house mates. It’s a terrible thing discarding people based on your own personal preference,and you find yourself being more picky than need be.However when you have the power to do so it’s highly probable – that is what you’ll do.

So a few contacts fell through and my search stretched out to the suburbs. It was then I got a personal message.

Corina – A model and fitness instructor and her equally as appealing house mate.

As you can imagine – that caught my eye.

After some networking,involving some flirty txts,aswell as the usual motions of trying to rent a place, I ended up heading out to look at the room. The first thing that struck me was the fair distance it was outside the City. You’re talking an hour on the bus  on a busy day.Also there wasn’t much around bar a big shopping centre. I guess if it went well i could work there.

I found the place easy enough but had realised I was to far outside the action to truly be interested. As I was nearing the door,the electric gate swing open and I was greeted by a bubbly blonde,sporting little hot pants,a vest top and a pair of aviators. She ran up and wrapped her arms round me like we were long-lost friends. The house was awesome. She gave me the tour as we chatted light heartedly.She proudly showed me an instruction manual for a running machine,with little pictures of her demonstrating the equipment.

“Would you like a coffee and a cigarette?”  She asked.

‘Yeh awesome – just black” I said.

“Good shit – There is never milk in this house anyway”

We sat out in the back garden basking in the sun,chatting about nonsense. I had been there around an hour when her mobile rang.On the other end seemed to be her housemate,checking to see if I had arrived and left yet. Corina was high as a kite as she had been working all week and was enjoying her day off. She kept laughing down the phone. I wasn’t sure if they were talking about me or not but I got the impression I was the butt of some sort of joke.

After the call we carried on chatting when no more than a couple of minutes later the phone rang again. I heard more of the same. No stress.

It was after that call that she started going on about past relationships,talking about how much she wanted to party and was “through” with men. We had another coffee and carried on enjoying the sun.The phone rang again a couple of times but she left it to vibrate across the table. Gradually her behaviour started to change. She became a bit tense and agitated and I couldn’t figure out why. The phone rang again but this time she went inside to take the call. A few minutes later she came back.Her behaviour was completely different and she looked pretty uncomfortable now. She lay the phone down. It started to ring over and over again.

“Soooooo………………Who’s on the phone Corina? Anything you want to talk about?” I asked.

She turned red and embarrassed,looking increasingly uncomfortable. She then confessed that it was a her boyfriend who is a bit unstable and apparently was not too happy I was there.

I suggested she just tell him I was looking at a room! Which I was (That’s my defense and i’m sticing to it!). She said she had already but he was sure we were shagging. I laughed uncomfortably not really believing what I was hearing. Either he was a jealous sociopath or she was a total whore. I was beginning to not like the sound of either.

Again – the phone rang. This time she answered it,calmly trying to explain the situation to him. She went onto to tell me that he has just came back from the Army and that she was worried he might come round.

Okaaaaaaaaaaayyyy…….

Ok was about as far as my thought process took me as by the time I had finished that particular word in my head,a rather huge,scary looking guy looking like he just got off the set of Apocalypse Now, came storming into the house and stared a hole straight through me. He was covered in tattoos and looked as rough as you like.

“I think it’s time you leave!!” he said.

I bravely piped up with “Mate…..(don’t call someone who hates you that by the way) I’m only looking to rent a room here. I’m not sure what’s going on but……..”

I was interrupted as he grabbed my coffee cup,slamming it on the table behind him.

“I think…..it’s time…….for you to LEAVE………..MATE!”

So right about then I was fairly shitting myself. But at the same time i was also worried for Corina. They embarked on a shouting frenzy. He called her a whore saying she fucks anyone that rolls in off the street.To be fair. She did look the sort. I started to clean my sunglasses,quietly to myself in the corner,like a child giving some pens and a colouring book to play with,whilst the adults have “grown up talk”.

Corina told me to stay where I was. I wanted to leave but felt I’d end up giving a statement soon. Eventually they broke things off and the army guy stormed out.I luckily avoided my fragile nose being rearranged.

Corina was very ashamed and embarrassed but I somehow felt I was a ploy in all of this. Or i was on some secret camera show.I should have one an Oscar for best supporting foreigner.

All of a sudden there was a rev of an engine outside. Action man was gearing up to drive through the electric gate! He reversed back and i honestly thought he was going to do it.

She threatened to call the police.Thankfully he had second thoughts and before driving off told me to “Watch my fucking back!”

Fantastic.

Corina asked if I still wanted the room.

She also warned that he would probably be looking for me at the bus station. Great.

I thanked her for the coffee in the most sarcastic of manners I could muster and left.

It was a rather long wait for the bus that day.I kept nervously looking over my shoulder,like i was gearing up for a terror attack.But i made it home safe and sound and had a story to tell in the hostel that evening.

Needless to say I didn’t take the place. I politely declined.And i didn’t hear from Corina again.

Welcome to Brisbane I thought. It’s going to be a fun year.