Friday, 22 November 2013

A 21st to Remember: 不到长城非好汉

Ste-ality (What I thought would happen)

"Oh balls." I sighed,

"Not only am I going to be alone for my twenty first birthday... I’m going to be vomiting cow cock into a squat toilet.”

You'd be forgiven for assuming that I wasn't too fond of the idea of spending my birthday in China. Before I came here, I assumed it was going to be all doom, smog and gloom. I was going to be the friendless weirdo who occasionally pees himself on nights out, but that was all fine, because I was going to have the most miserable year imaginable. 

In fact, for about two months before I came here, the only response I could give anyone who wished me "good luck" in China was a mixture of:



So to be told that my family, best friend and boyfriend were coming was probably the best news I've ever received! 

I could introduce my loved ones to the joys of hidden costs, funkay smells and accents so thick you’re perpetually one backwards throat click away from mistakenly delivering the Heimlich manoeuvre... But since most of us are Scousers, I was pretty sure they'd feel right at home.

Of course, they were also going to come into contact with the untamed, sometimes dangerous, wild Chinglish.

The "No Tossing" sign's picture only confuses me more...

My slightly obsessive personality meant I'd drawn up an itinerary that dictated when we'd be going to places, where we'd be eating, and how long we were allowed to pee. In short, I turned into some kind of half tour guide-half hitler creature (with a cracking arse.)

The arrival

So the day finally came, and I was so unbelievably excited to see them, I'd prepared a little "Beijing survival pack" for each one of them which included:

  • An oyster card and train map
  • Tissues: they don't provide you with loo paper in the toilets here... Which is just a faeces filled fuck-tastrophe waiting to happen
  • Wet wipes: for when tissues just aren't enough.
  • A pair of chopsticks: to poke each other with, as they sure as hell wouldn't be able to use them
  • A plastic fork, for when desperately eating with your hands grew tiresome.
  • A packet of Walkers each, with flavours such as: Spicy fish head soup, cola chicken, wusabi shrimp & finally cucumber, for the health conscious amongst us...

*Ste fact of the day. I have a slight phobia of crisps (potato chips for my American readers) so even touching the packet was a moral victory* 

After traveling for 30 hours, they were absolutely knackered but that didn't stop them from giving me massive cuddles. It was only then, that I truly realised they were here for an entire week! AHH!  I decided that the first night would be chilled, to get them acclimatised to the time zone and most importantly... FOOD!!

Beijing roast duck - 北京烤鸭

Beijing, or what we used to call Peking is of course known for it's duck! It's a little different to our Western equivalent: it is cut up in front of you, with long strips of tender meat, and crispy fat on the outside, kind of like belly pork. Like in the West, you eat it with cucumber and pancakes.

On the first night, my family got to try out their new chopstick skills (and were actually really good!) As my brother and best friend are the fussiest eaters in the world, I kinda feared they were going to starve, but to my surprise they tucked into their first ever authentic Chinese meal with gusto!!

Excitement or nerves?!

Day one of bootcamp

I had a full day planned, we set off pretty early to the other side of town. We first went to 景山公园, a park in which there is a huge hill, constructed from the earth that was left over from digging out the Forbidden City's lakes. The Chinese really know how to do manual labour.

We climbed the seemingly never ending staircase to the buddhist shrine on the top of the hill, overlooking the forbidden city. You couldn't take pictures of the huge golden buddha in the shrine, but that didn't stop them from destroying the sanctity by flogging cheap shit INSIDE the shrine.

Next to the shrine Peter and I decided to dress as Emperors, in fitting with our custom of trying on local costume.
From there we hauled ass to 天安门 Tiananmen to see the honourable, and in my opinion, rather foxy Mao. It was a week after the problems, so they were checking I.D cards, but rather predictably we didn't get stopped. Being western often grants you a free pass on security checks (such as swabbing of bags in the airport) and even gets you into clubs for free!

Here we learnt the Chinese equivalents of "CHEESE!" for pictures which go a little like this:

茄子 "QIEZI" (aubergine/egg plant)


Camera man: "Is the pork fat?"
Everyone else: "Fat!" (Fei)

Michael also experienced his first glimpse of fame, as some locals ran over to take pictures with the strange westerners with tall noses and sunken eyes! (Katie and Peter later experienced this as she had children basically thrown at her. Peter had a very friendly couple eager to snap him!) 

Can you spot Asian girls' favourite pose?
Tiananmen leads straight on to the Emperor's old humble abode (the Forbidden City), so naturally we shuffled our now aching feet through the vast maze of courtyards, over the central bridges that hundreds of years ago, only the emperor was permitted to walk on, in complete awe of the intricate detail that covers every square inch of the buildings. 

Peter making out with a stone dragon.
The chinese fu dogs, or 狮 (lion in Chinese) often guard entrances in pairs. The male has a ball under his right paw, whilst the female has a lion cub under hers.

Humorous historical note, Anglo-French forces not only stole things, including scratching gold from the statues... We burnt shit down too! Wait. That's not humorous. We were arseholes...

From there we went to Wangfujing, (Peter and I went via a VERY friendly rickshaw driver, later learning that tourists are often driven into alleys and mugged...) the only pedestrian-only road in Beijing. It sells all kind of weird and wonderful things, most of which are "edible". As seen in a previous blog, I've eaten cicada there, but this time we went for scorpion! Mmmm! 好吃 Tasty! 

The Chinese motto seems to be "if it's on a stick, you can eat it" such as lizards, millipedes, starfish, sear horse:

Katie trying (snogging?) her first scorpion. Me blending in with the locals.
Our mini bush-tucker trial drew in quite a crowd of people, watching us eat and making sure to get plenty of pictures! Strangers taking pictures of me is something I don't think I'll ever get used to! 

Beijing Zoo

So the next day we went to Beijing Animal Asylum Zoo to see our first ever giant panders! The Chinese tourists from other parts of the country seemed more interested in the foreigners than the critically endangered giant panders and took pictures of us instead. There were tons of school children too who wanted to come up and just say what little English they knew to you! Sooooo cute!

Spot the odd one out: that's right! The snake is the only non-mamal

Whilst there though, I was kind of appalled at the standards of the enclosures for the animals. Now, I do understand that whilst no enclosure is going to be comparable to the wild, conservationists have a duty to try and replicate it as closely as possible. Therefore a fisher-price rocking horse for a panda to play on really doesn't cut the mustard, neither does an enclosure so small, dark and dirty for monkeys that they're hiding in a corner or trying to attack passing tourists! Upon reflection, there are millions of people living in absolute poverty in the West of China, so I'm kind of surprised that the zoo wasn't worse!

Whilst I'm still on my rant, I think the zoo finally put the most challenging aspect of living in China into words for me: an apparent lack of social conscience from *some* of the people. 

Michael Jackson's earlier, more riskier stunt.

Silly little things like:

  • "If I feed this bear, once again ignoring the THOUSANDS of signs, it might be dangerous for the bear, or the child that I'm precariously dangling over the rails..."
  • "If I knock really loud on this cage, ignoring the THOUSANDS of signs, the animal might get frightened." 
  • "If I spit here, somebody else might put their hand in it"
don't seem to occur to everybody here. 

In some people's minds, it seems to be "every man for himself" which I understand, giving such a long and sometimes troubled history this country has experienced. It was just so apparent at this place that it kind of shocked me. 

On the tube there is a character that my friend and I have nicknamed "the arsehole marshmallow" as he is a poster boy for bad social etiquette. Simple comic-strip like posters can be found all around the Beijing subway telling people not to push others onto trains, give your seat up for somebody who needs it etc, etc. There's also posters that feature cute dogs and mangy looking cats, encouraging and instructing people not to eat them. 

This shows that yes, there's a need for some education, but at least something is being done about it. It might be a problem, but it is recognised and on its way to being solved, and lets be honest: England has it's own problems when it comes to how certain groups act in public too!

One big happy family

So to prove that this is only *some* of the people in China, I thought I'd write about the parks we visited. Every day, crowds of the elderly amass in parks, to socialise. Now, you might remember the blog where I joined in with them... But this time it was Katie who got dragged up to ballroom dance!! In the parks, there are several courtyards and in each one, a different style is being practised. Anybody can join in regardless of age, gender, race or even dancing ability as beautifully proven by Katie!!

Also, my good friend Bowen came around with my family for the entire tour just to help us out, despite having been to all of these places one million times before! He helped me when people just couldn't understand my thickly accented Chinese, when we needed two Chinese speakers in each taxi etc! So thank you Bowen, you're a star, a great friend and a constant reminder that you can't and shouldn't generalise your opinions on a place or its inhabitants!!

In Wudaokou, a studenty area!

Off my soapbox, onto the tour!

So the next day we went to Yashao and the silk market, basically two HUGE indoor markets where you can find millions upon millions of fake goods! They're made in the same factories as the real goods, so the quality is just the same (mostly). There we made quite the team of Bowen telling my family a price, me translating into Chinese to the vendors, whilst my family played the bad cops, refusing to go any higher than about a 1/10th of their original price! We got some incredible bargains such as: A mask that was 3000 yuan, for 250... and nail polishes that was originally 45 yuan for one, we got 11 for 100.

The big day!

So finally Peter had joined us and I woke up to a MOUNTAIN of presents! They served as my 21st/Christmas gifts, so that's how I'm going to justify being spoilt rotten <3

So much English chocolate, as that's one of the things I miss most!

A 'voucher' for my new iPad mini, that hadn't been released yet! I get it on my flight to Aus in Jan!

After that, we got food for our picnic and set off to the Great Wall of China! AHHH!! None of us (except Bowen!) had been there before, so it was such a once in a lifetime experience, and considering it was my 21st, I had to just keep pinching myself.

The weather was the clearest I think I've ever seen it and it was the perfect Autumn day.

You can take the boy out of Liverpool...
We drank champagne, ate our pastries, cakes etc from a bakery and just absorbed the scenery. Chairman Mao said "不到长城非好汉" which translates as "He who has not reached the great wall is not a true man". So I guess we're now *great* men and women!

I never appreciated just how steep parts of the wall were! On the bottom you can see a picture of me standing up straight (I shit you not!) #MindFuck

Probably the most memorable day of my life!

This man's selfie device had me both laughing and sick with jealousy. NEED.
Who needs friends when you've got a stick and an iPhone?

From there we moved onto Houhai, which is a series of lakes, surrounded by bars and restaurants. We got there exactly at sunset (17:11. All planned to perfection. I wasn't kidding about this control freak thing.) and rented a boat to drive around the lake and watch the sun go down.

There is no way I could have pictured a more perfect day. I had my loved ones there, and the fact that everybody but Peter was going home the next day did not sour my birthday in any way, because we could only remember what an incredible time we all had together. I love them all so much.

When the family's away...

So Peter and I did much of the same thing, only as we are such greedy bastards, we ate our weight in great food that I didn't even know was in Beijing!! Such as Pure Lotus, my birthday gift from Dominic (THANK YOU!! <3) Which was an 11 course feast of vegetarian food. If anyone ever tells me vegetarian food is boring again, I'll be forced to show them the picture album of the most magical food I've ever tried!!

We also went to the Summer Palace and took so many photos our index fingers nearly fell off! 

Oooh he's a handsome one!

We had a lot more time together, so we took it easy and didn't cram as much into one day!

I did however dye my hair blond (sorry mum!) and receive a panda onesie:

Well there we are my loyal readers, if you got this far, give yourself a pat on the back and rub of ketamine onto your gums as you managed to scroll past the thousand pictures of me!!

Sorry for the ridiculously long blog post, but I thought I'd share everything with you

Lots of love




  1. Love it. Really enjoy reading your blogs and the little snippets of history interwoven with lovely anecdotes. Amazing :) x

    1. Awhh I'm so glad you enjoy them! With Peter as a boyfriend, I have to at least *try* and trump his historical knowledge on ONE thing!!

  2. What a nice way to celebrate your 21st! So lovely. Although all the way through I kept wondering why you are scared of crisps.

    1. It was so beautiful :D! And they just disgust me. It's not like a PHOBIA, because I'm not scared of them. Just like I'm not scared of poo, I just really wouldn't want to touch it :P

  3. My husband wants to know what ice cream flavors they have at Coldstone Creamery in Beijing.

    And WE think British crisp flavors are strange! Who ever heard of prawn cocktail flavored potato chips? I love them, actually. I can't quite imagine cucumber flavor, though.

    1. (Un?)fortunately they're not completely mental! There's a couple of strange ones, like green tea flavour etc! Everywhere here caters to the local market, basically serving Chinese food, like in Pizza Hut etc! KFC serving rice!

      And hahaha! They're all strange in my eyes! There's also lemon flavoured here :D!