Denim on Denim in China Town

Denim on Denim in China Town

 I want to take a slight pause from recounting my adventures and times in China to talk about my more recent trip to China Town in London! I just absolutely love this place and it really re-creates some of the best parts of Chinese culture.  There are so many cool new things to smell, see and experience. It is always very busy and there are some wonderful places around here to eat and have nice cocktails.

So this is what my boyfriend and I did last time we went for an afternoon to China town…

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Sushi at Yoshino, a small take-away venue which does the best and cheapest sushi in town, is always a great way to start the day.  ❤ A walk down to the pedestrianized zone of China town, a cobbled street flanked with wooden gates is wonderful and a great way to travel half-way across the world in a couple of hours. I love browsing through the shops and marveling at the odd food hung up in the windows and the cool nick-knacks for sale. Bubba Tea if you don’t mind cream and jelly or else coffee and cake at Patisserie Valeria for an hour whilst you wait for your appointment at the nail bar, found one day hiding at the back of a large shop which sells clothes, electronics and other Chinese ornaments.

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After years of biting my nails am finally trying to grow them! Gustavo got ropped into getting a manicure as well after pissing off the woman by biting his nails in front of her hehehe

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Everything here is really exotic, I love the writing on the signs and all the fantastic smells. Even the apple minute maid has squishy Aloe Vera bits floating in it. For some fun and games we made a quick stop off at the beautiful and lively Hippodrome Casino. After a drink on the roof terrace and playing just enough on the roulette to get a taste of the excitement and the atmosphere we headed to the pagoda shaped restaurant New China to try their famous Hot Pot. An interactive meal, which involved cooking our own food! It was quite late by the time we finished so we didn’t go out, but if you are looking to continue the party head to the famous Experimental Cocktail Club for some drinks or Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club which is just round the corner before going out in Mayfair or in Soho.

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I decided to wear my skinny denim jeans and large white embroidered top (a present from my most fashionable friend Naomi) with a denim jacket over the top to keep warm. Now you have to be careful with too much denim in case you end up looking like Britney Spears and Justin Timberlake back in the horrendous 90s. If you get it wrong or pair the wrong shades of denim together it can go very wrong. If you get it right however, it is  an easy way to look pretty hip whilst showing in an understated way that you are bold enough to go for this controversial look. So what do you think?Is it ever acceptable to wear Denim on Denim?

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WEARING

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Chinese Nuts and Birds’ Nests

Chinese Nuts and Birds’ Nests

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Now if you want to be hardcore, you can’t just party and then miss the whole next day. As it was getting dark by the time we woke up, we set off for the Olympic park. We thought it would be the one thing that would be more spectacular at night than in the day time. We got directions and set off. The bus was rammed with people and it was here, in the middle of rush hour when the sexual deviance occurred.

The bus was full and yet still more people came in. Another stop, no one got out but in poured the crowd. Now in London I have experienced my fair share of personal space invasion during rush hour on the Jubilee line, with the carriage resembling more a discotheque with rough looking people and smelly breakfast breath than any sort of public transport. It is always awkward being pressed up against a total random stranger, so it was pretty mortifying when I got wedged up against a poor Chinese man so tightly that neither of us could move. Now he was tiny, but somehow he had angled himself upwards and had got stuck there. Our pelvises were locked in an antler embrace and with every movement of the bus his nuts pushed further into my stomach. Now, one always wonders in these types of situations whether or not the other person is in fact wedged and not just a total pervert. Indeed how much was this man actually enjoying having his balls rubbed in this way? I know I couldn’t move away, I did at least show him that I was trying to. Did he? Not really… which come to think of it makes it all the more suspicious. A few people got out. I managed to prize myself away. We disembarked. I looked at Shirwa who had moved up inside the bus. Something similar had obviously also happened to him. He mumbled in a distant voice something about a grandma. We walked in silence, not making eye contact and fought the instinctive need to sit in a corner and rock.

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Putting that memory in a little box and burying it deep inside of our psyche, we walked towards the park. The scale of the park was huge. The National Aquatics Center shone like a bio-luminescent jelly-fish. First acidic blue then candy pink. The moon was out, large and bright.

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We walked around this newly build wonder. Flanked by posh hotels and sky scrappers, this part of the city was world’s apart from our Hutong and the Forbidden City. We arrived in front of the Bird’s Nest stadium. I have never marveled at a structure of this kind before. This one was different, so artistic, so creative. Huge, gigantic concrete struts crisscrossed all the way around it. The orange lights pulsated away. It really did feel like the nest, but not of a bird, instead the the nest of a majestic phoenix.

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We took some wonderful photos. Women were flying large kites of paper and colorful toys were thrown up great distances into the air. The moon shone bright and full. We looked around, took pictures. There were lots of young people. The whole place was jovial. We walked along the wall which lists the winners of the different medal and the modern sculpture of the torch. At night this was truly magnificent. Red and orange hue spiraled from the city in the distance.

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On our way back we took a final glance back at the Nest and at the Moon. Kites fluttered in the wind. This had been a great few days, or nights or hours. It seemed as though the 24 madness which had engulfed the city had gone.

Suddenly behind us, two kites intertwined and fell crashing down to the ground. Apparently a kite seller had stolen the customer from another kite seller and as we walked off into the distance two women wrestled each other to the ground, each with fists full of hair. OK, so perhaps the full moon madness which we had experienced last night wasn’t quite over yet!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Full moon madness and lycra trauma

Full moon madness and lycra trauma

Tonight, Beijing went wild.The music started. The acrobats appeared dancing dressed in jeweled Lycra. So many acts, so many contortions. Some hung from the ceiling, others jumped through hoops to form human towers. They piled high and flashed passed on moving bicycles. A woman dressed as a snake bent herself completely in half whilst balancing herself on one arm. I saw the human body do things in that dark room that no one should ever see.

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Last night we went out close to the Worker’s Stadium. Surrounded by modern elegant glass sky scrappers and shops, it is here that expats and locals revel and drink into the early hours of the morning. What I had seen up until now had undoubtedly been an ordered, controlled and conservative state and peoples. Perhaps it was the heat or even a change of moon, I don’t know. But tonight we would see things which would rock my perception of China and its people to the core.

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Steam was vented, shots and drinks were downed. From our dance floor we starred blurry eyed into the distance and saw many, many a party on the roof tops of the skyscrapers and through the penthouse windows where music and lights blared out. Strobes and electricity pulsed through the night air. The festivities and madness exposed itself to the stars, loud and visible from where we now stood but had just minutes before been hidden and hushed up. We were young and we were free. The children of the Revolution and tonight the night was ours.

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Reggaeton and elektro-house, zombie cocktails that were so strong after a couple we could barely stand up. It was hot and the room and the heavens heaved with our activity. It was my friend Toni who had bought us here. He was a tennis player and we had lived and played together in Barcelona. Now he studies a masters in Beijing.We lived such parallel lives for a time and then our paths diverged. Tonight, we were reunited and for a brief moment our fates careered forwards once again on the same course.

 

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In the early hours we found ourselves back down in the narrow streets. Sellers and food vendors cooked their meats and sizzled eggs on metal slabs. Red tuk- tuks waited patiently and offered their services to staggering groups. The party upstairs was wild but still sophisticated.

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Down here, mixed with the earth, dust, the smoke, the litter and the dimness the wild grew wilder. Shouting broke out! Aggressive, loud! We heard a massive crash, glass breaking. Then another, high pitched against the droning back noise. It was all very hazy, a man stood erect in the street and aimed a full liquor bottle at an invisible target. He pulled his arm back and threw and then scuttled away. Out popped some heads from behind a car and another bottle was thrown from that direction at top speed – aimed to hit, aimed to hurt. This one smashed dangerously close and set off a car’s alarm. We drifted through this cloud of madness. A police car siren pierced our ears and in a puff of smoke all ran away and the scene dispersed as it was just part of a dream.

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We ate chips and other things, but I can’t remember what they were. It was good, it was grimy. We sat outside and waited for our friend who had returned to the bar to try to locate his lost phone and wallet which he had only just noticed had disappeared. The workers started to pack everything up. It was late, even for this area of town. This was our queue to get going.

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Taxi drivers turned down our custom left right and center. The combination of foreign, alcohol and a dodgy address was too much ,even if one of our party was half Chinese and spoke the language. It was getting light, we would have to walk back towards the bus stop and wait for the buses to start up. Our tiered party set off down the deserted boulevard. For us the night was over, we just wanted to get back into our beds and sleep. But somehow the madness and the revelry hadn’t quite finished.  On he other side of the street construction workers started grappling. A girl looked on in horror, perhaps she had been the spark that had ignited the barrel. Spades were drawn. Really? Did that guy just hit the other guy with a giant spade? The moment felt surreal and it wasn’t the alcohol that made it that way.

We got caught between two stops when the first bus eventually passed us. By then we had been walking over an hour. When we got back to our hostel around 10am. We collapsed into the warm soft duvets and pillows and took the feet off our aching shoes. People were stirring from their slumber but we slept like logs and nothing could wake us. This little episode didn’t help our jet-lag and we woke up around 5pm to a smiling hotel receptionist who laughed and wished us good morning.

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Climbing the Great Wall of China

Climbing the Great Wall of China

Now I have had a few laughs at the expense of the Lonely Planet “recommended hostel” and traditional Hutong, but now it is time to give this lovely little guest house some credit for probably the most amazing trip of my life.

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Built over two thousand years ago, the Great Wall of China is vast and stretches from Shanhaiguan in the east, to Lop Lake in the west and along an arc that roughly delineates the southern edge of Inner Mongolia. A comprehensive archaeological survey, using advanced technologies, has concluded that the Ming walls measure 8,850 km (5,500 mi). While some portions north of Beijing are near tourist centers and have been preserved and even extensively renovated, in many locations the Wall is in disrepair. We were offered three different tours and we chose the one to Mutianyu, a part of the wall which is less touristy and more fun than Badaling but not as far away as Jinshanling.

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Mutianyu is called the Garden Great Wall and is 98 km away from downtown Beijing. We bundled into a little white truck and set off away from the busy city and into the countryside. The trip itself was quite fun. However, like everything so far in China it was also slightly scary. I was sat in a beaten up old van without a safety belt on a recently added half person  chair.

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We travelled at a mighty speed. Little mopeds ladened with sticks and produce whizzed past us in all directions.  Some even carried not just two, but three passengers. Oxen ploughed the fields and everything around this area seemed very lush.

It was really hot, so we did well bringing my newly-bought parasol, some water and hiking boots/trainers.We were really lucky, just a few days before a woman who was in my dorm told me how she had gone to the Wall on a rainy day and had failed to see the mountains due to the fog.🙊 So I would recommend looking at the weather forecast and trying to go on a sunny day as this is the one place where the views do matter!Novices… I don’t know…

Our tour, which was actually really good value, included a cable car up to the wall. It would have been possible to hike up onto the wall, but this would have taken an extra 45 minutes through trees without a view. We travelled up the mountain side in the same pod used by President Clinton on his trip to China in 1998. Did I lick the seat I hear you ask? This, unfortunately you will never get to know. 😉

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The cable cars took us high enough up the Wall to get the most incredible scenic views. We were on top of the mountain range and could see other peaks in the distance. It snaked up behind us and then down, down, presumably towards the sea. The verges were green, the sky very blue. Absolutely incredible.

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The wall was steep. I forced Shirwa onwards passed our nearest watch tower. We had to walk a little bit, otherwise how could we justify buying the “I Climbed the Great Wall” t-shirts at the end. We snaked downwards and got some amazing shots through the open fortifications. This experience was truly magnificent. It was so quite and peaceful, there were very few tourists. The man made fortifications hugged the hills. We were embraced by nature, the turrets flanked on either side by steep drops, standing precarious but strong at the same time. It felt like all was woven into the fabric of the earth, the dangerous elegance of man’s contribution to the world.

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A great thing about Mutuanyu is the fun slide ride back down to the bottom. I went quite slowly and hoped not to get kicked in the back by some nutter- like all those years ago in the playground back at school. The thought of falling off the metal and just rolling endlessly down the mountain side… Shudder…

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Once off the wall, we walked through the throng of traders who gathered at the bottom to sell their memorabilia to us, the tourists. A green hat with a red star, strange fruits, bags. We walked through, browsing. The further away from the Wall we went, the lower the prices and the louder the cries from above and behind us. I ended up buying my lovely t-shirt for around 5Y, which was a steel compared to the 20Y charged at the top, but a real tip off compared to the 1Y which I could have got right, right at the bottom. So for another lesson, NEVER EVER buy your souvenirs from the first stop, shop or trader that you meet. Wait until the end, when you think your last chance has gone, when you almost at the car park, it is there where you will get incredible offers. I sound like I am being razz, perhaps I am, but there is nothing worse knowing that what you bought 5 minutes ago for 50Y you could have for 1Y and for better quality.

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Before leaving, we had a really lovely buffet meal, which came included in the tour price. The food was incredible and it was great being surprised with different plates of food without having to battle through an alien menu. We got to meet some Chinese tourists and we all had a really relaxing time after our arduous walk on the most spectacular Wonder of the World!

So, after all, thank you Hutong Hostel and thank you Lonely Plant for the recommendation 😉

 

Sitting on the City Walls Courtyard House – Beijing

Sitting on the City Walls Courtyard House – Beijing

This was my first time in a hostel. Apparently, it was actually possible to stay for under 7$ a night and in really good conditions too! If you have read my earlier posts, you will know that the location wasn’t great. We had chosen this place to stay as it was Lonely Planet recommended and looked fairly close to all the major attractions of the city. The NianZiHuTong or Hutong as we called it for short wasn’t charmingly old, it was more corrugated iron and shanty old.This was at least from the outside… No taxi drivers would take us to or from there, no one had really heard of the hostel. Finally, it was very far from any metro, which we found out later was by far the best way of traveling round the city.

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My trip to China taught me many things. Probably one of the most important ones would be to never judge a book by its cover. Yes, the exterior of the houses were rough and we could hear birds shrieking, BUT these houses are traditional ones and thus, their center is focused on an internal courtyard.

Things are not as they seem; the first appearance deceives many – Phaedrus

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Deep thoughts. So anyway, even though, from the inside it looks like the worst place in the world, but from the inside we were treated to a marvelous flash of color, the sound of running water, fountains and beautiful plants. Terracotta warriors stood over the main internal courtyard, where food was served on demand and computers purred away into the night. This place really had everything and was a great rest from the rest of the world around us which was very foreign and alien. Here we could get crisps, coffee, food which we recognized. The staff were so so helpful. We were able to book our tickets to far away tours and all our travel tickets to our following destination Pingyao. We were given maps and ideas of what to do and what to see.

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The rooms were really clean and had air-conditioning. The bathrooms were really smart and the beds comfortable. Apparently in China toilet paper is supposed to be put in a little bin. I’m sorry to say though I flushed it and I flushed it all.

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So, although not the greatest of locations, we did enjoy many other benefits of this charming traditional Courtyard House. Here you will get a great sense of the real Beijing. Close by there is a park where people of all ages play ping pong and board games, couples stroll along to the night markets. Little bikes and cute, hopefully rabies free dogs wander around.

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Hardcore surrendering and bladder control at the Forbidden City

Hardcore surrendering and bladder control at the Forbidden City

It is screamingly obvious, but I wish someone had highlighted this again to me: that Beijing is in fact massive. What looks very close on the map in reality isn’t. There are also lots and lots of people. So the roads are very congested, sometimes the traffic dosen’t move at all. Taxis couldn’t be picked up easily and there was no facility to pre-order cabs. Our hostel was very centrally located and looked very close to most of the beautiful palaces and squares. However, although only just a short bus ride away, the traffic was such that it would take ages to get to places this way. I would therefore highly recommend a hotel/hostel which is close to the incredible, new, high-tech and super advanced (I’m running out of positive adjectives here), metro system. All the main sites are linked to this network, it is cheap, fast and reliable – a lot easier than having to walk and work out the right bus which then later gets stuck in endless traffic.

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So after covering a short distance on the map, but having endured a very long bus ride we finally arrived at Tienanmen Square. Outside of China, the square is best known in recent memory as the focal point of the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989, a pro-democracy movement which ended on 4 June 1989 with the declaration of martial law in Beijing by the government and the death of many civilians.
The day I went to the square it shone silver in the hot sun and yet it was still somewhat frosty and eerie. We passed the tight security to enter and looked around us to see if we could see any plain clothed police spies who are rumored to be patrolling and securing this vast space. If they were patrolling it, it would be hard as it was just so huge, the fourth largest square in the world and of course we wanted to see it all.

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The square was named after the Tiananmen Gate (Gate of Heavenly Peace) located to its North which was built in 1415 during the Ming Dynasty and is the entrance to the Forbidden City.

On its southern edge, the Monument to the People’s Heroes has been erected. Ten Great Buildings constructed between 1958–59 to commemorate the ten-year anniversary of the People’s Republic of China surround the square as does the impressive Great Hall of the People and the Revolutionary History Museum.

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The year after Mao’s death in 1976, a Mausoleum was built near the site of the former Gate of China, on the main north-south axis of the square. In connection with this project, the square was further increased in size to become fully rectangular and being able to accommodate 600,000 people.

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So, it was extremely hot by the time we finished walking round the Square. We went towards the Forbidden City and entered its impressive imperial gates. Through the reigns of 24 emperors of the Ming and Qing dynasties, ordinary Chinese people were forbidden from even approaching the walls of the palace and anyone caught inside this Forbidden City would be brutally executed. Now, thousands of tourists walk through the endless halls and mazes of buildings in the sweltering sun and hope to one day make it out alive.

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We hadn’t had breakfast yet, so we were lured into a large packed Chinese restaurant by a coffee sign. The place turned out not to have coffee and was really expensive. We had fallen into the tourist trap – and so were forced to have strong beef noodles and sweet and sour chicken for breakfast, which reminded me of eating the crusty remnants of my cold Chinese take away the morning after a massive night out. Moral of this one is eat something before Tiananmen or bring something before you embark on the walk through the epic Forbidden City.

The toilets here, if you can find any are all squat so really my other piece of advice would be to not drink water for at least three days prior to entering the Forbidden City. A fine art between balancing dehydration and wetting yourself really. I had drunk something and so after our hour long tour of the square, I needed to go. It was hard to find a toilet and when I did I almost died of shock, so I decided to hold on. How long would our walk through this “city” be anyway?

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The city is beautiful. Guarded by bronze statues, the maze of houses, temples and buildings is immense. Once the imperial palaces to the Ming dynasty. For almost 500 years, it served as the home of emperors and their households, as well as the ceremonial and political center of Chinese government.

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The golden roves shone and glistened in the sun and contrasted elegantly with the blue sky. Walls were washed an earthy red color. Beware the many many tourists with their multicolored umbrellas to protect them from the all mighty sun.

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Forward we trekked, through the jungle of the forbidden fruit. The complex is a mighty example of man’s capacity to harness the Earth, the sky and the sun.The layout is religious, with open spaces which really connect this whole ensemble to the heavens and to the higher powers. No detail has been spared, man has shone and excelled – Decorated tiles and ornate carved stone work. We are humble and beings of flesh and yet our creations will be as mighty if not more so than Gods’.

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Further on we went. God help anyone who had ventured in here by mistake. Their journey would have been arduous, their chances of passing through unnoticed impossible. Guards now stand protecting and tour guides bear their flags like war banners. The people marched on, through sun and the waves, their colorful umbrellas bobbed like a sea.  I lay down on the cold hard rock, I was tiered. I wouldn’t be able to fight it or them much longer. “Leave me, let me piss myself “, I begged. “Just let them take me, I surrender!

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Somehow I ploughed on through the labyrinth  of opulence. It was the beauty that made my journey onward possible, that and the fear of being left behind in a city of ghosts and warriors.

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On the horizon civilization, the modern world. So close and yet centuries apart. The vastness of the Forbidden City meant that all noise and hustle and bustle of the new Beijing is forgotten. Only the odd glimpse convinced us that it did in fact still exist. A real portal to another time, another age, a golden era. This path was like a walk through the inner depths of China’s very own psyche. A map of a giant’s mind.

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We found shelter the halls. Sunlight streaming into darkness. A garden, bamboo and some green. Here the architecture was less open, less exposed. Leafy plants and fountains. Sichuan province after the sands and desert air of Gangsu.

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Speedos, Scorpians and other tasty bites around lake Hou Hai

Speedos, Scorpians and other tasty bites around lake Hou Hai

I was jet lagged and quite exhausted from the mammoth journey, but today was my first day in Beijing and I was determined to see some cool stuff! Shirwa arrived, looking similarly traumatized as I had done. He had taken a taxi from the airport so had avoided the car ride with the random stranger, but our hostel had been located in such a little alleyway that the taxi driver had refused to enter the Hutong, possibly through fear and so had bundled Shirwa out of the car on some nearby main road. After a few panicked calls (my phone was on silent and in my bag), I rushed out of the Slum Hutong to greet my weary friend.

We got all our valuables put into the safe, eyed up suspiciously and gave menacing glares of DON’T TOUCH MY STUFF to our dorm room mates and set off for Hou Hai. Hou Hai is a lake around which there are bars, restaurants, night markets and more Hutongs. This time we did as Lonely Planet recommended us to do and got pretty lost in the Hutongs and surrounding lake area.  I can’t exactly tell you therefore where all the photos were taken, but lets just say in Old Beijing, by a lake and at a night market.

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On the way to the Lake and the night market – remember to always look both ways when crossing the roads 😉

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Weeping willows dropped lazily into the still water whilst Chinese men swam and dived in wearing their Speedos. The restaurants’ terraces looked out over a sea of giant lilies. It was idyllic. Well, except for the customers who were eating their food who got an extra helping of sausage.

 

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We came face to face with the legendary fried scorpions, starfish and sea horses. Octopus balls and corn blown up and moulded into the shapes of crazy animals. We bought some smoking drink called ? Perhaps someone could help me out? Anyway it was  our first taste of China.  It was excitting, I was daring and adventurous. The moment didn’t last too long though as after one sip we realized that it was cold steaming tea, so it hadn’t been boiled – tried to ask about the state of the water, failed miserably, saw some dodgy looking metal container, smiled sweetly, nodding our heads whilst walking increasingly quickly backwards, before dashing away and throwing the contents away once behind a corner. Clearly we had just avoided days of unnecessary leakages!

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We went to a little local restaurant and browsed the exotic menu. We avoided any real internal parts of animals and in doing so had a sumptuous dinner of rice, vegetables and chicken. It was all so cheap, we ordered enough food for 20.

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Shirwa was greeted by an America who insisted on buying me and him a drink. Shirwa he claimed was”the only other black man in Beijing”. The whole night was really fun!

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Everything down there was truly an assault on the senses. Don’t take health and safety lightly and don’t forget your gas mask when going to the toilet in one of the many public ones available. At least that is what I think the sign says although I can’t be sure:

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Smells of food were mixed with the smells of the drains which had overflowed in the really heavy rain, which had not stopped for 7 days before our arrival. Lovers sang ballads on the Karaoke machines, whilst tuk-tuks whizzed passed us. The football was on, but then we checked…we would have had to stay up until 3am to see the kick off.

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Colored flags lit up the night sky, as did red lanterns. In a secluded part, we stumbled upon beautiful classical Chinese music being played by older locals. Their families and friends gathered round to listen to the soft tunes, melodious against the scenic backdrop of the lake. There were temples too, and gates which we passed and I bought a beautifully hand painted parasol which really came in handy when we climbed the Great Wall!

SOS Princess lost in the Wilderness of Beijing

SOS Princess lost in the Wilderness of Beijing

My fascination for China started when I became increasingly involved in the city of London, business and law. Here the words are on everyone’s lips, China will most likely become the new next world leader. Their economy is booming, their overseas investment is soaring and if only due to shear size, their increased presence on the world stage can no longer be overlooked. So I planned my trip to the land of plenty, where pretty much everything I own is made. To the home country of the most stylish and fashionable people I know – my friends from Shanghai and Beijing who dress head to foot in designer gear, have the latest gadgets and look like porcelain models. The country is vast and my budget was limited. This was going to be the Princess’s first backpacking adventure, staying in Lonely Planet recommended hostels and winging it. I would meet a good friend of mine called Shirwa, a second year medic at one of London’s leading universities and together we would travel around Northern China.  I did my research, read books, asked around. I had been to South Korea anyway, so how hard would it be?

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So my flight had been extremely long. With a five hour stop over in Moscow and a night stop over in Rome, I arrived barely living onto Chinese territory. In Rome I had checked my bags into the overnight luggage storage, had gone into town to visit my friend Sonia and then had returned and had tried to sleep in the air-conditioned terminal in a t-shirt and hot pants. Lets just say that at 4am I had to move outside and share a dirty bench with a hobo or else risk freezing to death. OK, so I have learnt my lesson… I won’t buy multi-stop flights just to save money :/

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So, closing brackets, at 9am I walked off the plane at Beijing airport. It was hot, cloudy and humid. Everything looked drab. I had expected the terminal building to be brand spanking new, the newest technology, the world’s best. It wasn’t. Perhaps because my expectations had been too high, I saw it dirty and somewhat smelly. I went into the ladies and two women were squatting over the pan whizzing at full flow with the doors wide open. Something was weird, this didn’t seem right. I held my breath and closed the door.

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It turned out that not many people at the international airport, let alone in China, speak English. Now I don’t usually assume everyone can speak English as I am normally able to communicate in people’s native language being trilingual in French, English and Spanish and have good level of German, Catalan and understanding of Italian and Portuguese (Oh, yes! Check me out…!) But I had thought that at the airport, someone official could help the lost little girl. Things were going to be difficult, things were difficult. Still this was my hardcore backpacking adventure, so I would find my way to the city center by public coach (like I do in London or Barcelona) and then walk or take transportation from there to my hostel. This, I knew would save me money, I wouldn’t need to get into a car with a stranger, and no one could rip me off… right?

Moral of this one is firstly never be stingy. Having spent more money connecting my phone to internet roaming than the actual taxi fair, I found the hotel address and waved the map at the ticket man. I wanted a ticket for a coach which would take me close to this. Through sign language and some guess-work on their part, I bought a ticket and then probably an hour later managed to get onto the right coach. It is packed. A row of heads, all with black hair. I heard sounds on that journey into the city, that no one should ever hear. Gurgling and snot sniffling, someone was sick into a bag. Chunder hitting paper, which almost made me sick – a real mexican wave gone wrong!

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The bus made multi-stops, naively I had thought that it would be direct. Where was I supposed to get off, I had no idea. With Google Maps still tracking my every move, we careered into the city’s heart. The buildings were tall but also long. In London, a building like that would be considered a whole street. The scale was gigantic. The towers grey against the grey sky, christened with dark green turrets. It was all very soviet and industrial. The coach stopped next to the Central Station. I looked at the map.

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My hostel was according to my trusted Google 1hr15 minute walk away. Seedy looking taxi men offered me their vehicles in front of the train station. I walked passed them with great determination, with my two bags on each arm and dragging my heavy Babolat suitcase. This was supposed to be backpacking but as most girls know, packing light for three weeks is quite difficult, what with hair straighteners, heels, going out clothes. Backpacking, definitely easier said than done.

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Walking around Beijing turned out to be almost impossible. This was not a good way to get a feel of the city and go where I would otherwise not venture. My hands were rubbed raw pulling the bag over the overpasses which I needed to cross in order to get to the right side of the city. Chivalry, at least via-a-vis total strangers, was on that day at least DEAD. Not one person offered to help. After around 1h30 and still only half way I felt like I couldn’t go on any longer. I would bite the bullet and take a taxi. By then I had arrived at a very large shopping street and there were taxis! I approached one, but as I did so, it moved slightly further away from me. Again I tried and again it moved. I went to another one. I tried communicating, but almost immediately the driver closed his window on me and pretended I wasn’t there. I did many a time. I was surprised, everywhere else I had been in the world, taxi drivers wanted business and a tourist who would probably pay unwittingly over the odds would be a treasured prize. However, things it seemed were not like the rest of the world. It didn’t help that national elections were coming up, or as my friend Tony would later explain that a British man had attacked a Chinese girl just a few weeks before my arrival. So I had no choice but to pull and push on.

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Hot and sweaty, I reached a street with birds hung up in cages. All in a row, all for sale. I took some photos and had a break. I hadn’t eaten for hours. A man was sat with friends on some boxes. He came over. He didn’t speak any English. He offered me a ride in his car. At first I refused, but then really I had no choice. I got in, I showed him the address writing in Mandarin but in Pinyin, European script. He couldn’t understand it. I searched again and found it written in Chinese. He nodded, smiling. I was scarred.

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The journey was long and he found his way by Google Maps on my planned journey. I would never have been able to have walked the distance that we traveled, it would have taken hours. So, we tried to talk and say some things, we just laughed really at our inability to understand each other. Finally, we pulled into smaller and smaller streets. We were exactly where the GPS had told us to go, but somehow it didn’t look right. Lonely Planet has described their “recommended” hostel as being in the Hutong which was Old Beijing at its best. They had told us to hire a bike and even get lost here, tree lined alleyways and a key into the city’s past. It was old all right, but not in a good way, not in the Barcelona Gothic Quarter way. It was old in a shanty town, metal structure, public toilets kind of way. The narrow streets were windy and silent, except for the piercing scretch of a bird which came from God knows where. Was this the place where I had come to die?

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Clothes hung from strings and doors opened onto poverty. I lagged behind, the man egged me on and lead the way. He gestured, I shuffled silently on. Then he stopped. Was this it? It couldn’t be, it was recommended after all. No sign, just a wooden door on a metal wall like all the others. He knocked and the door was answered. A little lady popped her head out. Hello, welcome to City Walls Courtyard House. Seriously? Was I more surprised at this Lonely Planet recommendation or the fact that the man in the car hadn’t been a serial rapist? It looked shit, but I was so happy and relieved to have arrived and still be alive.