Should I be describing Beijing airport in some great detail? What can I say? It’s an airport. (Although possibly that’s a description in itself – no big difference from Heathrow except the signs are all in Chinese – that and the fact there were lots of fit girls wearing long military jackets, standing about not doing much and I think they were airport staff).
To be honest, having not had a cigarette for over a day and having been bored off my arse on a plane with no in-flight entertainment, I was too busy searching for a smoking room to take any of it in. Robotically following the other passengers to baggage claim and the rest of it, still with no luck on the smoking room front, I found myself at the place where I was supposed to be being picked up, looking for my name amongst the cardboard signs held by a scattering of dishevelled looking Chinese men.
Looking for my name. My name. First name, last name, then the name of my school. Possibly the name of my country would be enough? But no, nothing.
I wandered amongst the thinning crowd, feeling ever so slightly at a loss, confused and dazed, but not quite willing to take in my situation just yet; I decided to instead resume my search for a decent place to have a cigarette; then noticed that half the men in the airport were indeed smoking exactly where they stood. In fact, there was so much smoke in the air that I could hardly believe I hadn’t noticed this before.
It was a short time later that Anna and who I assumed to be her family came into view, marching together in a bustle of delighted exhilaration. Grandparents, parents and a couple of sisters I imagined, babbling away in enthusiastic tones. I drew on what must have been my third cigarette, watching them, wondering if I could, if I should break up the happy reunion to ask for help – and yes, this is exactly what I should have done, but instead, as I caught her eye I simply waved, and she waved too, and that was it.
This was, however, the moment when I threw my cigarette down and decided that enough was enough and something had to be done. Searching through my rucksack I found the name and address of my school written in Chinese. How hard could it be to get there? All I needed was a taxi.
And that’s exactly what happened. Walking towards the exit, I was all at once being hassled by a number of “drivers.” I use inverted commas here because rather than a taxi, the car I ended up in was a black unmarked car. But I got a good price I reckon. He had pulled out a little cardboard sign with prices on and insisted that 800 yuan was the cheapest he’d go, but I knocked him down to 300, which I was quite proud of.
The drive there was fairly non-eventful. No paddy fields or rice farmers outside because we were after all in the heart of the city. He offered me a cigarette, asked me where I was from:
“English teacher!” he shouted. “Very good!”
Then he went into Chinese and the rest of our conversation became guess work, with me nodding my head and saying, “Hao,” at what I hoped were the appropriate moments.
This day comes in two parts. The first, which you’ve just read, was written outside the building of what should have been my school. Rather than going in straight away I sat on a bench by some rock gardens to gather myself together and write about the little disaster that I’d so cleverly overcome. I thought that was it; that I was home and dry; about to meet new friends and colleagues, start my new life and that pretty soon I’d be going out to dinner, few beers, telling the story of how briefly I’d been stuck in Beijing, a stranger in a huge city, not knowing anyone, unable to speak the language, and with very little survival experience.
Ahhh, shit! You’ve guessed it. That’s exactly where I’m at now.
Must have gone in every room of the building. The odd looking foreigner with his piece of paper and broken Chinese:
“Where the hell is this school? Face to Face English. School. Xiue Xiao. English school. Face to Face. Wo shi yinguo laoshi. I’m an English teacher. Face to Face. School. Help.”
Gave up finally because what else could I do? Need to find a hostel, find someone who speaks English. Some other foreigners like myself. That’s my job for tomorrow.
As for now I’m sat in the most amazing hotel room you could imagine. View from the double windows is like some sort of sci-fi movie. Had McDonalds for dinner, which I took up here and ate on the balcony. Then watched a Chinese dating show on telly, had a bath, and have been drinking green tea and reading my book, feeling like a king on this huge double bed.
So I guess it’s not all bad. Just a little scary.
Okay, one more entry for today. The most beautiful, and let’s face it, the sexiest girl I’ve ever been within spitting distance of has just knocked on my door. When I opened up and saw her I just sort of stood there gawking, and probably dribbling at the mouth; but then reminding myself that she was in fact a real person and had probably got the wrong room, I politely told her as much. Didn’t speak Chinese, just said, “No,” and, “Sorry,” and pointed to my room number, gesturing with my arms that it wasn’t this number that she wanted.
Anyway, thought I’d write this down. Having trouble sleeping to be honest.
Also, the thought has hit me that possibly she did have the correct room after all and I just turned away the girl of my dreams.