Monday 11th July
It was all fine up till then. School had just finished, the weather was as good as typical post-Brexit England was going to get and my hay fever was ‘apparently’ finally subdueing after a long bout of itchy noses. But then came the 11th of July.
Sophia, the friend who had so willingly volunteered as tribute to join us on this embarkation to Beijing for possibly the sixth or seventh time in my lifetime, was running a mild cold. She had also put stickers over her bag so she could recognise it. It was all going swimmingly.
Then came the plane. As we all crowd-crushed each other in the useless queues, we once again accustomed ourselves to typical Chinese culture and lifestyle-that is, every man and woman for his own. The plane had some recognisable features-most prominently the doomed (in more ways than one, if you’ve watched it) Batman Vs Superman: Dawn of Justice (which I didn’t actually find as terrible as most critics on Rotten Tomatoes seemed to have claimed); as well as The Jungle Book and, à mon avis the best out of all of them, The Lobster. (It borders on the insane, like me.) There were a few episodes each of most hit TV shows and a credible list of songs to hum to awkwardly next to the person with an unyielding face of stone.
We took off at eight-thirty, our ears hummed in annoyance as we rose up above the clouds, and then dinner was served, some sort of chicken with rice, beans and oddly cut carrots, like a spiky coral exoskeleton. It was actually pretty decent though, and I would have gladly had more. I went to ‘bed’ at midnight or something like that, still wondering if The Lobster could become a terrifying reality.
Tuesday 12th July
Morning was another matter entirely. Having only got a light sprinkling of sleep, and with the omelette looking more like a cushion to sleep on, I hardly ate anything, and the situation deteriorated as the plane prepared to land, not to mention my lesser other half looked like she was sleeping like a baby half the time.
There’s only so long I can hold my puke in, I’m afraid, and once we got to Beijing the beans spilled. Luckily, after a lot of death stares at the floor and the feeling of just wanting to curl up into the foetal position and die miserably, my stomach shut up for a bit. But only a little bit. You see, not eating breakfast and just not getting any lunch does not help your hunger status at all. Surprisingly enough.
My dad’s older brother drove us to my mother’s father’s house in Hebei, a province very close to Beijing. There, we chilled, eating watermelons and some sort of mutated cucumber from the garden, as we watched random pro-Mao communist propaganda. China as the mother country is still very much a reality for the old people in the Republic-and it’s too late to change their views now, so we might as well just pretend we’re watching some badly animated WW2 film.
Next stop was my dad’s family’s flat, in the heart of Beijing. You get a lovely view of all the flats and skyscrapers, and that’s about it really. Oh, and the fog too. That’s the best bit. Pollution in China is the worst I’ve ever seen it, although it’s not really a surprise. Sure, it has its sights, but gosh do you need to bring a gas mask if you’re going any time soon, particularly if you brought along your asthma-suffering friend.
After a hearty dinner of noodles, we went to the local shopping mall to buy some breakfast for tomorrow. It was weird to see how much it had changed in just one year-even the Paris Baguette shop, located in one of the prime window positions at the very front of the mall, had developed into a little café. (Still delicious though. England any time soon?)
And now we’re here, in a little valley about thirty minutes off from that flat on Cu Wei Lu. You pass through a beautiful mountain tunnel and it’s all just a lush green forest, a rare sight. The flats are actually pretty decent too.
Next up: a park, lots of walking and no battery.