Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Tuesday 25th Jan, 7.20pm, Beijing

I have found some LAN internet access where we are now staying – in the centre of Beijing, in an apartment, kindly and quickly sorted out by Keer’s father. I am zipping Keer in and out of various dresses as she potters about getting ready for our night “on the town”.

Spot the Westerner
Yesterday we queued for train tickets to Zibo...for four hours. Four hours! Upon reaching the ticket office and requesting a train for the 31st, we were told we’d have to come back on the morning of the 27th as they can only book as far as five days in advance. Given the already fragile mental state we’d put ourselves in as a result of this first set of queuing, we decided to purchase tickets for an 11pm train on Friday 28th – on a 6-hour train journey with no seats. I’m suddenly very glad I bought three fat books “just in case”.

Another day, another wander through Silk Street Market. This time I had a list of items to purchase – adapter plug, watch, shoes, gloves. Sorted all out for less than £20! It quickly became apparent in our 4-hour wait yesterday that my boots are just not thick enough for this shattering cold. (It also became apparent that next time Keer says somewhere is not colder than London, I should probably still double-check with the world’s met office.)

Here’s some maths for you - a single journey on the Beijing subway costs 2RMB – the equivalent of 20p. For the cost of a 1-day Travelcard (for zones 1-6) on the London Underground you could make 75 journeys here! Mental! But not as mental as the motorised rickshaw Keer and I got in today – the driver was a proper loon, going against the traffic, in between the lanes, on and off the pavement – and then hurriedly ushering us off so the police wouldn’t see! Well, if nothing else, the rickshaw certainly pumps up the adrenaline.

We got some Chinese medicine yesterday to sort me out – the pharmacists said I was stressed and his remedy would get rid of the “too much fire in my head”, apparently.

I had my first experience of potential scamming today – we took a trip to Tianenman Square and were strolling along, as you do, taking photos and the like, whilst random people were coming over and saying “Hello! Where are you from?” and, of course, me being completely naive and unsuspecting, I struck up a conversation with two girls who were keen to “practice English” with us, were going for some “coffee and fun drinks”, and wondered if we “want to enjoy together?” I was all up for it – whilst in China, why not make friends with Chinese people? Anyway, in the end we didn’t go because Keer was convinced there was more to the scene than met the eye. Quite a few other “Westeners” were also being accosted by pairs of girls. It was all very odd once Keer put the shadow of doubt in my mind – and then my mind went running wild – “Well, they can’t have been trying to offer us sex because we’re not men...OH-MY-GOD they were trying to capture us and lure us into the sex trade!” But on a serious note, Keer said one of the latest scams has been the setting up of fake bus stops to sell advertising space. And later we found out that, yes, the two Buddhist girls (who refused to be in a picture with us for religious reasons [or because they didn’t want to be recognised in a line-up]) were indeed wanting to take us to some bar and get us to pay for overcharged drinks. And all this under the watchful eye of Chairman Mao’s portrait – tut tut!

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