Monday will be 1 year since my arrival in China. On that day I touched down in my apartment (45 minutes from the city centre) at around 4:30pm with the help of a guy named Hugh. There were 3 other Chinese residents in that place who spoke no English. He took me out to get dinner and ordered me a dish he knew foreigners like – egg and tomato noodles (he wasn’t lying). I took it back and slowly yet gracefully ate it with a fork, and then I hit crashed at about 8pm.
A lot has changed since that day 363 days ago. I am no longer in contact with Hugh, nor the agency he works for. I live just minutes away from the city centre with a Brit and an American. Granted I still love the egg and tomato dish but I’ve since learnt how to use chopsticks and walf, slurp and chomp down any dish like a monster.
Living in a city is kind of beautiful around Christmas time – there are twinkling lights of white, blue and gold all around; Santa’s face is plastered on every surface imaginable; and Christmas trees the size of giants outside every shopping mall. It almost makes you believe that Christmas is a real thing in China until you begin to learn that people here don’t say “on Christmas Day…” they say “on Merry Christmas…” Everything is a facade in China I swear.
Despite being surrounded by all of the Christmassy decorations, more than I had ever seen before, I just really wasn’t feeling it. Who can blame me when I’m halfway across the world without family, Nan’s homemade Baileys and yorkshire puddings? CHRISTMAS ISN’T CHRISTMAS WITHOUT YORKSHIRE PUDDINGS. I had tried to push how I felt about not being at home this Christmas aside but every now I then I did shed a tear. We don’t have family traditions like other families but just hanging out with the bestest people really does mean everything. It’s difficult being someone who always gets the FOMO (fear of missing out).
My housemate and I had decided to throw a Christmas Eve party though which rose my spirits a little bit. Several of my wonderful British friends came over as well as a group of Calvin’s (my new American/Chinese housemate) friends and a few of Faye’s friends too. Everyone brought a little something to the party – Lavi brought homemade mince pies infused with vodka as opposed to Rum, they didn’t go down so well with the Americans; Alex and Naomi had brought 2 boxes of brownies made by a woman in the south of China, before the were set down on the table we opened them secretly and had a couple bites; Gemma had gone to the effort of making pickled onion and cheese sticks which are my absolute FAVE at parties.. my Auntie Karen would always bring them and cheese and pineapple sticks to parties and we’d DEMOLISH them together.
We’d also ordered some fuck off massive pizzas from a place called Tube Station, each slices is the size of your forearm and it’s so bloody tasty. A lot of us at the party were vegetarian so we thought it best to order 2 veggie and 1 meat – we couldn’t order all 3 on one order for some reason so Alex and Naomi ordered one whilst I ordered 2. As the party got going and the pizzas were on their way us veggies were gearing ourselves to dive straight in on the cheese pizzas, it’s not uncommon for meat eaters to be incredibly selfish with vegetarian dishes even though they know we don’t want theirs lol. I was in my bedroom doing reindeer make-up for a sweet Chinese girl who was obsessed with mine… I come out to realise the first pizza had arrived , it was vegetarian and there was ONE FUCKING PIECE LEFT. I snatched it up and threw daggers towards anyone who isn’t vegetarian, not just on my own behalf but also because Naomi hadn’t yet arrived and 1 of the veggie pizzas had gone already! FUCKING FUMING.
The two Saturdays leading up to Christmas were spend doing Christmassy-ish things. The first Saturday Spencer and I headed to Gulou, a super touristy Huting street lined left and right with souvenir and gift shops, to Christmas presents for our families. Some shops contained tacky magnets and postcards of the great wall (disclaimer, some of my family may be receiving said magnets are postcards but I’m poor), whereas others had incredibly funky handmade leather bounded booked or jewellery. Gulou is popular with both foreigners and locals which can only mean one thing… it’s fucking busy, surprisingly not as busy as summer perhaps but still busy enough for me to get irritated by slow walking invalids.
After this we scooted (quite literally, Spencer having an electric scooter is the best thing) over to Sanlitun where the Beijing Flea Market was being held. Our priority, first and foremost, was to purchase a cup of mulled wine and eggnog to toast up our hands after a blistery cold journey and it did not disappoint I just wish I had a mince pie to go with. The room was filled up and down with several stalls all with smiling foreign expats, I suppose maybe 1 or 2 stalls were owned by local Chinese people, so this was kind of like “shopping locally” and helping out the expat community.
Spencer and I guzzled our festive drinks and then span around exactly 180 degrees and began rummaging through Liuba Draws’ stall. Liuba is a super tall, super lovely Russian (with Asian heritage) woman with an incredible talent in illustration. She captures the average hustley-bustley day in Beijing with incredible attention to detail of the locals – one of her cards features the “Beijing Bikini”. So without hesitation Spencer and I begin grabbing sooo many things as gifts for our families.
We slowly waltzed our way around until our eyes landed upon chocolates, cookies, nut butters and CURRY PASTES. NAKED Nut Butter was set up by two very sweet women from the U.S who have the same relationship with nut butter as me… spooning it out of the jar, skipping the bread and shoving it straight into their gobs. We had a couple of samples and Spencer decided to get a jar for herself (which vanished quite quickly apparently), I will in the future purchase some but I currently lack the finances and the willpower to not eat the entire jar in one sitting. If it’s in my cupboards I’ll just hoover it up.
Next along from NAKED Nut Butters was a gorgeous couple, the woman is called Reshma Khan, who own Parwaaz Spice Route Concepts. Sitting on their table were around 20 jars full of different flavoursome pastes and chutneys, most of which we tried (obviously) and all of which we wanted. The spiciest chutney they had was the Brinjal Pickle which had eggplant in it (the English people reading this would be incredibly ashamed that I don’t use the word aubergine anymore), they dollops a little on a cracker and handed it to me. The whole thing went in my mouth in one go and the inside of my mouth became this incredible storm of flavour and spice. IT WAS SO DAMN GOOD. Her suggestion was that we get this jar and eat it with feta cheese, which we did and it was INSANE so incredibly moreish.
Spencer has a scooter in Beijing which makes commuting a pretty easy ride, unless of course you come incredibly close to a collision with other scooters, mobikes, cars or tuktuks. It’s human nature to have a moan and a bitch about the slow elderly drivers or the dickhead overtakers or people who don’t use their indicators, but at least there are road rules that most people follow and abide by. In Beijing road rules, common courtesy and right of way go out of the fucking window. When you’re on or in transport it is every (wo)man for themselves. It’s a bloodbath. Just the other week I was cycling along and out of nowhere a scooter comes slamming into me, luckily I caught myself before falling on the floor. I vocalised the noise “AYAH” (which in China is another expression for “oh my god”) and carried on cycling.
After drowning our market stresses in a big fat Muddy Patty Freakshake Spencer and I hopped on the bike and set off home. We came to a stop at the traffic lights where we realised we were sat behind a parked tuktuk and a parked BMW. Standing beside the two vehicles were two men, one was above average height for Chinese men and the other came to his chin. The smaller man had his finger in the other’s face and was shouting incredibly loud and the taller man was shouting equally as loud back. We were witnessing a “YOU HIT MY VEHICLE AND YOU MUST PAY MY INSURANCE” kefuffle, because in China you must work out who was wrong in order to get the money. Inside the tuktuk was a woman and a small child. I imagine the child was there Grandson because the small man and the woman seemed a little older. The woman had her arm hanging out of the open door and was floundering around as if to get her husband back into their vehicle.
The shouting, finger waggling and our interest grew and grew and grew. The woman the defiantly gets out of the car and starts towards the taller younger man. She pauses. Flexes her hand flat. Raises it pretty slowly and the slaps this man around the face. The moment her hand peels away from his cheek the taller man shoves her to the floor. She falls ass first backwards, her head smacks a car that is patiently waiting at the red light. The woman thinks about jumping back up to her feet but the word “COMPENSATION” must have flashed in front of her eyes because she lowers herself back down to the tarmac and plays corpse for a little while. In England so many passersby would be rushing to help this poor woman off of the ground however it’s incredibly common to have to suffer a public accident alone. Why? because if you get involved you are the liable to get sued. YEP. A simple act of kindness could risk you hundreds or thousands of RMB if the injured/victim chooses to sue. So she just lay there, and as she did the child in the tuktuk has screaming from the top of his lungs and the third man came around from the driver’s seat to see what the fuck had hit his car, because now he had been dragged into a mess of a situation.
So it’s 19 days until I set off for Austria & England and I am incredibly excited. Not only will I be seeing Dominik and Thomas and raving till the early hours of the morning in Vienna but when I’m in England I am going out of my way to see the people I haven’t seen in AGES. I’ll be meeting up with Carol at home home (my childhood best friend from when we were 6), Ellie in Wolverhampton (my bestest bestest friend who was my Thursday sesh buddy at Uni) and Harry in Bristol (my long blonde hair best friend I had to put up living with for a year). I’ll obviously be seeing my family and a couple of other friends too. CJ, my cousin who moved to Nottingham way back when we were all very small could also be coming to visit with his girlfriend Beth and their gorgeous son Bobby.
My heart just got all warm and fuzzy just thinking about them all. I really cannot wait to hug, natter, and laugh with every single one of these people and forget about the many many hurdles and depression dementors that sit with me in China. I cannot wait to surround myself with the people who care.
See you soon losers,