Excerpt from the Journal of Olds – Beijing

Fi writing the bulk of the blog on our early time in Beijing has thankfully allowed me to shelve my frustrations for many of the lowlights that she touched upon; if it wasn’t for the magnificent Tom, Jessie and Jo & Jessica and Davide – and the other revellers we were lucky enough to bump into one crazy night out – I think I’d have left the place without actually taking in the attractions. It’s important to note that a lot of the locals we met and got to know on our journey through China were truly magnificent, it’s just that we seemed to have a knack of walking into situations that allowed China to rub us up the wrong way.

I’ll whistle-stop over our early days in Beijing:

– Good times meandering around the Hutongs with Tom in search of reasonably priced beer and decent food, all the while soaking up the best and worst of the Beijing scene.

– Hangovers and lazy recovery days in the Flowering House hostel.

– Acquiring a journal that I actually look forward to writing in – a cool huge anime-emblazoned note book [http://daybreakswork.blog.163.com/blog/static/8203959520104235301724/]

– Poor choices by me on the food front.

– Long hours on foot and on crammed on public transport trying to get across the truly massive Beijing – on one night we actually had to turn around and head home after failing to reach a place to dine in time to ensure we could catch a metro home.

– The Great Firewall of China combined with the retro dial-up internet speeds means that even with the genius of Jay and his proxy I can’t access Facebook or Twitter [though I can and have been text messaging the latter] and fear the risks of using a third party proxy.

There were highlights in that time; it’s not all bad and indeed some our erks are likely circumstantial rather than set in stone failings. Tom championed our first major nights out on this journey, and when Fi says that Tom should write a book I second that call – his extraordinary tales of his journey so far completely reignited my spirit of adventure and kept us both entertained as we all wandered the streets of Beijing.

Our first night in town saw us wander in the direction of a recommendation at Tom’s hostel and get used to the idea that beer wasn’t cheap and food was fraught with risks. Don’t get me wrong – we had an awesome meal at a lovely place but one dish had more chillis in than I’ve ever seen in one place before and another introduced us to the concept that china seems to have little interest in removing the bones from Chicken regardless of the dish it finds itself in – add chopsticks the mix and it quickly becomes a pain in the ass.

We were blessed to fall upon a quiet little venue at the end of our evening and experience what can only be described as a humbling encounter with one of the great artists of our time [sic!] – the operatically trained Ivan Corpus [http://www.cityweekend.com.cn/beijing/events/96879/]. We left in awe and parted company with Tom to head our separate ways.

Here’s a little insight into Tom – when faced with a fork in the road and a clear knowledge of which direction to take, Tom will often decide to take a punt on the alternative just to see where it leads him. Inspired.

This particular evening he did just that and found himself on a journey involving a compulsive French liar who’d have you believe that he pretty much ruled the world, an ex-pat Rock Club, and a 5am + finish.

The next night we met up and rolled on out again. This time Tom had undergone a harrowing experience during the day involving Tea – not my story to tell, but a rough break for sure – so we had a lot to do to turn the day around. We wandered in the direction of some lakes with neon-littered watering holes surrounding them. The antics within were surreal with every one of them involving some form of live music in a language we couldn’t understand. It wasn’t long before we’d stopped at a hole-in-the-wall shop and acquired a few beers, some fake red bull, and a bottle of turps [or Chinese liquor – I think they’re the same] in an attempt to raise the pace. It seemed to destroy our sense of direction as we circuited the lake twice more before we realised and set off in the direction of the same Rock Club Tom had found the night before. En route we found the first street-gym we’d ever seen and proceeded to undertake an alcohol-fuelled workout.

We ate – well Fi and Tom did; I was already at odds with local cuisine. I’d reached the end of my first wind and was threatening to hit the sack but succumbed to the collective encouragement of my partners in crime and we made it to the ex-pat venue. Which was awesome. Crazy Japanese guy [think Mr Chow from the Hangover] and a lovely couple – Alice and her fella [I was so wasted and am terrible with names when sober] whom was in the bad books for wearing a shirt she hated. Great tunes for most of it and a very late night rounded off with McDonald’s breakfast.

What a hangover – one of the two major ones so far.

Skipping forward, we arranged to for the three of us to meet Jessie and Jo [our German friends from the Trans-Mongolian] at a Night Market a few days later to sample the madness on offer.

The place offered everything.

A guy wiggles a baby shark on a stick. Another guy shouts “Sheep Penis”. You observe every item of seafood – wait, sorry, sea life; this wasn’t food. Can you even eat urchins? Or Sea Horses? After much consideration we take a punt on what we are informed is Dog. Well it is China right? We’d probably eaten it three times already dressed up as beef or pork. Tasted spicy and vaguely meat like. We changed direction and found a real eye-opener – baby scorpions, still alive and wiggling, skewered on sticks awaiting your request. Into the fat they went and Tom, Fi and I all partook. Tasted like a crunchy over-seasoned bar snack – a poor pork scratching. Not convinced we’d pushed the boat out far enough, on sight of some full-sized Scorpions Tom & I decided to up our game. This, unlike our previous two morsels, tasted precisely like you’d expect a Scorpion on a stick to taste, and signalled the end of our dining adventure and a desire for something – anything – to wash away the taste.

I’ll pick up in the next entry on the tourist hotspots.