Week One: Beijing.
I can't speak Chinese yet and I don't have a job.
Let me paint you a picture, Halla's flat doesn't have wifi so I'm sitting in Starbucks - I know, I know, but I promise when I find a quaint traditional Chinese teahouse with wifi and air conditioning I'll be right there. Anyway, I'm actually being very Chinese, just y'know, modern day financially secure Chinese, but I promise I'll go to a paddy field or something while I'm here just to offset my multinational sins... Anyway, even in these upmarket areas, it's totally different from home. It's pleasingly nutty. Just across from me there's a table of young professionals playing a very exciting sounding game of cards and hi-fiving each other, all the women have a mini branch of Accessorize hanging off their mobile phones and, out the window, there's six giant chinese lanterns hanging off the roadsigns. Best not to get too excited though, it's probably for the Olympics (the lanterns, not the mobile phones). That's what people keep telling me. I go oooooh, look at that and they go, oh, that's just for the Olympics. Oh well, I don't mind. This IS still Beijing, isn't it? I like it, it's fun.
Of course, I missed the Olympics but no matter - guess what greeted me at the airport? A giant inflatable pink cow.
Hooray! Fu Niu Lele! The official mascot of the Paralympics! Luckily I'd seen it (her?) before, otherwise I'd have worried the two seven hour back to back flights had messed with my mind a little. I hope London makes as big a deal out of the 2012 Paralympics as they're doing here, it's really nice, and as with the Olympics, the changes they've made to the city will continue having a positive effect long after the international athletes go home. When I was here last year there wasn't so much as a sniff of accessibility and now there's disabled loos and ramps all over the place. Later this week Halla and I are going to see the wheelchair rugby (AKA Murderball - who wouldn't want to see a sport with a name like that?) and something unspecified at the Birds Nest, I'll try and find a camera from somewhere so I can upload some pics along with the post-event sporting analysis (ahem..).
I've been spending the last seven days doing nothing much at all, having manicures and pedicures, eating out with Halla and her work people, dotting about, even doing a little shopping (although I've decided to abstain until the Paralympics are over, the prices are too high and I can't enjoy bargaining with my usual sparkling charm and ruthless efficiency because there's about 100 other tourists milling behind me who will pay the prices I won't). I can't stay on holiday forever though (apparently). I don't have a job yet but I am actually making some headway. Halla works for an English language magazine called The Beijinger and they're looking for new freelance copy-editors to proof the articles and check the spelling and grammar. Sample sentence: "soundtrack speeds the movie considerately". Hmm... not my dream job perhaps but beggars can't be choosers. Once I've re-written the two articles I've been sent and the grammar test (whomever/ whoever - let's call the whole thing off?) I'll find out whether they can give me any work. There's also plenty of listings on the Beijinger website which I need to follow up on and I will do... just as soon as my nail varnish dries.
Problem number 2: I can't speak Chinese. They speak Mandarin here and I can say Hello, Goodbye, Thank You, You're Welcome and I can do my numbers (up to 99, I keep forgetting what that 100 is..). Obviously I need to be able to communicate with people and really, hardly anyone here speaks English. Although the taxi drivers have started saying Bye-Bye, which I like. It's just ever so slightly informal, I feel like we're all great chums really. I've been considering paying great sums of money to go to formal Chinese classes (which would help me meet people as well as teaching me the lingo) but in the meantime I have managed to acquire a language exchange partner.
You see, Halla is incapable of having an alcoholic drink without immediately craving Chuan'r - little skewers of lamb covered in chilli flakes - the perfect snack for the partially sozzled. On Saturday night then, just around the corner from a hutong filled with trendy bars, we found ourselves in a small restaurant drinking cheap beer and lining our stomachs when a young Chinese man came over and said he was looking for someone to practise English with and that he could do half a conversation in Chinese and half in English. It was about midnight and while he seemed very polite and whatnot, I really was just sitting there waiting for Halla to fob him off with a "thanks but no thanks duck" you can imagine my surprise then, when she exclaimed "Oh good! You can teach my sister Chinese!". Marvellous news. But actually, we met yesterday for the first time and he's not strange or threatening and he didn't ask me out or try to grope me. He's 21 and studying English at University and he did teach me some Chinese. It was actually rather helpful to have someone I could practise my pronunciation on. He says I sound like a native and that in a couple of weeks we can do the whole lesson in Chinese but then, he's a sweet young man and, of course, lying.
So week one: one new Chinese chum, one potential job and one new pair of flip flops (50 yuan, at least twice what they should've been). I'll continue with my informal Chinese lessons and hopefully have some exciting employment soon, until then I'm going to continue pottering around doing not a great deal, I'm also going to attempt to get my hair cut - in Chinese! That'll be fun! Or dreadful.... Hmmm... watch this space!