And we're off! As usual, I wasn't on top form, having gone to a baseball game the previous night with a co-teacher. Yet at a little after 9.30, we were on a bus to Incheon International Airport to begin our Chinese expedition. Excitement - HUGE.
Let me introduce you to the team that is going to take the Red Giant by storm. My awesome American friend Kelly is my normal travelling partner in crime, and was not going to miss this trip. We were joined by our friend Matt, another American who lives in Kelly's city, Bucheon. For the first part of our trip we were being joined by three more people - a Canadian called Sean and a South African called Kelly, who both work in Korea, and also Kelly's Australian friend called Tom, who has been kicking it in China for a while.
But for now it was the three of us who were standing in a long queue at check-in. A two-hour plane ride later - complete with very bumpy landing - and we had touched down in the capital, and our first stop - Beijing! This is a place I have wanted to see for a long time. A lot of people feel the same, but there are many things that make people hesitate about visiting China. One of them is the language, and I have to agree - it is very intimidating. It looks scary, and sounds scarier.
Our first encounter with this was on the subway from the airport, when we couldn't work out how to buy a ticket. Very little help, no English from them, no Chinese from us - stalemate and frustration. The mood lightened somewhat when Matt inexplicably dropped all of his money, and soon after we had tickets and were walking down Nan Luo Gu Xiang, the street of our hostel.
Getting to this juncture introduced us to a fascinating aspect of China - the traffic. There is lots of it, as in all big cities. However, I've never before experienced a city where it is more dangerous to cross on a green man than a red man. We almost got flattened by a bus, two taxis and approximately 56 bikes and scooters.
The volume of bikes was not something I was expecting - partly because of the smog - but I guess it is the cheapest, albeit most dangerous, method of maneouvring around the city. This, in tandem with the greenery and strangely relaxed nature of the people we walked past, created an atmosphere I would associate more with a continental European city.
After we had checked in and had our first beer - the one on the plane cannot count - we were preparing to head out for dinner, when we saw the strangest thing. A man walking an animal down the street. A GOOSE. The man was taking his pet goose for a stroll down a major street in Beijing. Incredible.
Following on this incredible theme, we found Tom & Sean, and had some authentic Chinese food at Houhai Lake. We ate like kings - kebabs, beef, pork, greens et al - for the princely sum of £7. We also had some less orthodox food here - the heart and cartilage of a chicken. The former was fantastic; the latter, less so.
We ended our first night on a rooftop bar across from the hostel. At one point I went to the public toilet outside - more on those another time - and spotted a familiar face on the street. It was South African Kelly! Her boat from Korea had finally arrived. The sextet was now complete, although a couple of hours later we were in bed.
China is packed with street vendors, and we were drawn to one such establishment as we walked back. It seemed to stock three things - bees, cockroaches and scorpions. It had to be done. I chose the cockroaches, handed 15元 - $2 - to the man, and bit into the dead insect.
It tasted of...salt. Salt and MSG. THe texture wasn't too hard, and not as crunchy as I thought. I'm not going to say it was nice, but it helped to kick off this trip with a bang.
Love you all