Today was the day we were going to Beijing. Although I had wanted to spend another day exploring Xi'an, I was extremely eager to get to the capital city. Yesterday had been draining, mainly due to the heat, but we had taken everything easy, retiring at a reasonable time so that we could make a quick getaway to the airport for our flight to Beijing. Everything seemed to go to plan … until we left the room.
The plan was simple: change some money at the hotel; checkout of the hotel; catch a taxi to an office of China Northwest Airlines (8km away) and catch a bus to the airport.
I hate to be late, so I tried to make sure that we left with plenty of time to spare. Even Lisa was, for once, reasonably punctual. We arrived at the reception only to be confronted by Miss Misery, the receptionist who had given the tout such a hard time yesterday. Because we had paid cash, I assumed that checking out of this hotel would be a straightforward and speedy activity. For some reason, it was not speedy at all. In fact it was painfully slow. Don't ask me why it took so long, because I have no idea. Miss Misery was even more miserable than she had been the day before (if that were possible). Her face was thunderous as she messed about with papers, documents, pens and whatever else she had on her desk, in an attempt to delay us as much as possible. She didn't make any excuses for why it was taking her so long. I started to clock watch. I started tutting and sighing. I started telling Lisa that if this took much longer we were going to be very late, miss our bus and spend huge amounts of money on a taxi all the way to the airport instead of the cheaper option. Lisa was beginning to get annoyed, not just with Miss Misery.
"Stop tutting," she said. "We'll be alright."
"We still have to change some money," I spat, wishing we had done so last night. The theft on the boat had made me very wary about sleeping with large amounts of cash around. Even though we had been in a hotel room instead of a toilet on a condemned boat, I was still paranoid about being robbed.
Finally, Miss Misery, getting more miserable by the second, took our keys and terminated the checkout process. There wasn't even a trace of a smile from her unhappy face. At this stage I pulled out a traveller's cheque and pointed to the cash till. She acted as if I had insulted her. I could see the red mist pouring from her ears and covering her eyes. I though she was going to come round the desk and punch me. Even though we were now late, I tried to make light of the situation by smiling at her. She snatched the cheque from my hand and stormed over to the till. With a truly thunderously angry face, she filled in the details, took my passport, etc. and then, finally, handed over the cash. Anyone would have thought that I was a parasite she was flushing out from her hotel. I'm sure she would have been more courteous to an army of cockroaches in her own home.
"Let's get out of here," I said to Lisa pleased to be finally rid of Miss Misery forever.
Outside, we saw a few taxis and flagged one down. The taxi set off and completely ignored us, driving around the square in front of the railway station. We already had the guide book open with the name of the place we wanted to go to written in Chinese, but either this guy was telepathic or he was just cranking up the meter at our expense. The latter case was confirmed when he decided to drive another loop of the square. Already late, I was beginning to fret. I bashed on the plastic cage surrounding the driver and tried to get him to at least acknowledge our presence. After a few minutes, he condescended to pay me some attention and reluctantly glimpsed at the book. Once again I was getting angry and my tone of voice as I tried to tell him to get a move on must have got through to him. Looking at the book rather than the road ahead, he continued to drive while he worked out where we wanted to go. I had nightmares similar to those in Chongqing. Were all taxi drivers insane in China or were we just unlucky to have flagged down the crazy ones? After what seemed like an eternity, this particular madman set off down Jiefang Lu.
I have a big problem with taxi drivers worldwide. On many occasions I have found myself biting my tongue to stop me from bellowing at them. Don't get me wrong. Most taxi drivers are fine upstanding people doing their job with a smile and minimal conversation. But there are some to who I have wanted to inflict maximum grievous bodily harm. The worst culprits seem to be in the UK although I have encountered a few psychopaths abroad as well. Airports seem to attract the worst kind of taxi driver, as we had already encountered in Chongqing. At Manchester airport in the UK, I have encountered the most obnoxious taxi drivers in the world. On occasion, I have been lucky enough to arrive back in England from a long haul flight and jump into a taxi, telling the driver that I want to go somewhere in Manchester (not unreasonable considering it is Manchester airport) and he has actually taken me home without complaint. On such occasions, I have given the guy a tip. But there have been times when the driver, expecting to take a ride further afield, have been totally unpleasant and sometimes even threatening. Once, arriving at terminal one from Canada (and completely jet-lagged), I found that every other flight had arrived at the same time. It was pandemonium. Taxis were driving up one at a time and the queue at the taxi rank was totally disorganised. A lone administrator was fielding complaint after complaint. I decided to bide my time and wait in the queue. After twenty minutes, I reached the front of the queue and a taxi pulled up. I jumped in relieved that my patience had paid off. The taxi driver turned and said "Where to sir?". Fantastic. Not only am I finally in a cab but I seem to have a polite driver. My destination was in south Manchester around eight miles from the airport. As soon as I told him where I wanted to go, he turned into Mr Hyde. He turned his attention from me to the pandemonium at the taxi rank and said, "You were not the first in the queue. I'm not taking you."
"I have been waiting in that queue for twenty minutes. It is my turn. I was at the front of the queue."
He turned to me with a look of pure hatred in his eyes and switched off his ignition.
"Those men are arguing with the taxi co-ordinator because you have taken their taxi."
I turned to look at the harassed guy fielding complaints about the lack of taxi drivers and saw three businessmen talking to him. As far as I could tell they had only just walked out of the terminal and were asking where they could pick up a cab. Either the driver had unbelievably astonishing hearing, was telepathic or just a fucking liar. The driver got out of the cab and beckoned the men over.
"Look!" I shouted. "This is my taxi. They've only just arrived."
He came round to my door, opened it, grabbed my suitcase and took it out.
"You have stolen their place. Now get out of my fucking cab."
"THIS IS MY FUCKING CAB!" I bawled, suddenly livid. "You don't want to take me because I'm not going very far."
The three men seemed oblivious to my plight as they approached the cab. They were only focusing on getting a taxi themselves. The bastard driving the cab clearly expected either a long drive or a huge three-man tip. I wasn't going to give him either. I got out of the cab and hurled as much abuse at the man as my tired body could muster, imploring the three men who stole my cab not to give the bastard a tip. I took his number and complained as soon as I got home. I hope the bastard got the sack.
Anyway, enough ranting. Back in Xi'an, I was very angry with the taxi driver and his apparent lack of interest in anything other than trying to make us pay lots of cash. We were very late and getting later by the second. To make matters worse, we had hit Xi'an's rush hour. There were cars everywhere; each junction was gridlocked. I was totally stressed and spent the entire journey effing and blinding, hurling abuse at the taxi driver who, fortunately for him, couldn't understand a word I was saying. I vowed that if we missed the airport bus because of this guy, I was going to kill him. I wouldn't really have killed him but I did promise myself that I was going to get out and hail another taxi to the airport, thus not giving him the lucrative fare.
Finally, we turned up at the offices of China Northwest Airlines, just as the airport bus pulled up. Luckily there was a long queue of people wanting to go to the airport, so we had a minute or two to spare. To rub salt into the wounds as we were paying him, the taxi driver beeped his horn to attract the attention of another cab driver and pointed to us with his thumb and, with a sly grin, uttered a sentence of Chinese, at which the other taxi driver laughed and shook his head. I didn't need Captain Paranoia to assume the worst on my behalf. The taxi driver had said "Look at these stupid bloody tourists? I've just ripped them off." (at least that's what my body language translator had informed me). I was livid, almost shaking with anger. "Thanks a FUCKING BUNCH!" I screamed at the driver as I got out of the cab. My words fell on deaf ears. He just drove away, still smiling.
The journey to the airport was uneventful and it gave me the opportunity to wind down. We arrived at the airport, checked in and boarded the plane without major incident. Food at the airport was surprisingly expensive compared to prices elsewhere in China, presumably because the volume of tourists visiting the city made it possible to exploit them. Compared to UK airports, however, the prices were reasonable.
I was impressed by China Northwest Airlines. As the plane was preparing to taxi out, the stewardesses all lined up and an announcement came over the tannoy saying "Our staff our so pleased to have the opportunity to serve you" and every single one of them bowed. When we had taken off, each person was given a copy of "The China Daily", China's official English newspaper. I was shocked to discover that Alex Ferguson had been named in the Queen's birthday honours list to receive a knighthood for being the first manager to achieve the coveted "treble" of the Premiership, the F.A. Cup and the European Champions League. The memory of this achievement was still rampaging round my skull as I recalled standing in a crowded Delaney's in Wanchai, Hong Kong, watching Ferguson's men win the league title and the F.A. Cup. Staying up to watch their triumph over Bayern Munich would have been too much, not only because the game was in the middle of the night in Hong Kong. The next day, Henry and Alex had felt the need to offer me their congratulations. Why? Because they assumed that being based in Manchester I would be pleased. Well I wasn't. I knew that all the Manchester United fans I knew would never let me forget this. I knew it would be mentioned at every opportunity. I knew that I would have to deal with chants of "Champion!" for at least the rest of the season. I felt sorry for Manchester City fans (I still do as a matter of fact).
The China Daily concentrated, as you would expect, on local news (by "local" I mean "Chinese") and there were one or two scathing articles about the US. But apart from that, it was an enjoyable read (apart from the reference to Manchester United).
We also received a very nice China Northwest Airlines pen.
When the plane landed, it began to taxi to the terminal building at Beijing airport. Almost as soon as the plane had turned off the runway, people started to get up and retrieve their bags from the overhead lockers. Normally, there would have been a message asking people to remain in their seats until the plane had arrived at its gate. Not in China! Lisa and I stayed in our seats until the free-for-all had finished and the majority of people had left the plane.
We had once again decided on a hotel, the Chengwenmen, and were not going to allow ourselves to be seized by money hungry touts. We knew which bus to take and, roughly, where our hotel was located. First, though, we had to get a bus ticket. This proved to be difficult because next to the bus ticket office was an official looking hotel representative who was just a tout in disguise. Lisa walked up to the woman selling bus tickets and, using the phrasebook, asked for two tickets. Unfortunately, the tout, sorry, "representative" next to her decided to intervene.
"I'll get you a bus. We have a very nice hotel for you to stay in."
"We have a hotel already. All we want is a bus ticket." said Lisa.
The tout said something to the bus lady, trying to stop her selling tickets to Lisa.
"Look!", said Lisa getting angry, "All we want is a bus ticket. We already have a hotel."
"Which hotel?" asked the tout.
"The Chengwenmen," said Lisa.
"The Chengwenmen is being refurbished and has no rooms," said the representative. "I have a good hotel for you and I will get you a bus."
Our experiences of touts so far had taught us that they were untrustworthy scoundrels and that they would lie and cheat to relieve you of cash. Lisa made a stand.
"I don't want to stay in that hotel. We are going to get a bus to the Chengwenmen. Leave us alone."
The tout once more tried to stop the bus lady from selling us a ticket, so Lisa tried directing her request to the bus lady herself. Although she didn't understand exactly what was going on, the bus lady came through and tore off two tickets. The tout was visibly frustrated, telling us that we would not find a hotel. The bus lady pointed to the bus station outside the airport terminal and wrote down the bus number. Thank goodness that common sense prevailed. We were both worried that we would have to find another hotel in case, by a miracle, the tout was telling the truth, but we decided we would cross that bridge when we came to it.
The one problem we had with the bus was that we had no idea where we had to get off. We boarded the bus and Lisa asked the driver, pointing to the relevant page in the guide book, where we had to get off to catch the bus. As we were trying to get our message across, a young woman, who spoke English, boarded the bus. She very kindly asked if she could help and after a brief conversation with the driver, she said that she would tell us where to get off. Fantastic.
I don't know what I expected the weather in Beijing to be like but was quite relieved to find it was cool and overcast after the scorching conditions of Xi'an. The plane had landed in rain, which had now stopped, but there was a slightly misty visage to the city. The airport is around twenty kilometres away from the main city and, once we'd left the airport, it was clear that Beijing was a huge city. The maps in the guide book do not impress upon you the sheer scale of the metropolis. Buildings and motorways stretched as far as the eye could see, which wasn't too far given the misty conditions, and I was reminded of Hong Kong without the skyscrapers.
The bus pulled off the motorway after about half an hour and the young lady said, "This is your stop."
We thanked her and the bus driver and left. The bus pulled off and rejoined the motorway leaving us at a junction surrounded by main roads. All we had to do was find the name of the one of the roads and finding the hotel would be easy, right?
First of all, the roads next to us, full of speeding cars, had no names we could see. The two of us searched for inspiration. The road signs, although in English as well as Chinese, didn't indicate where we were or where we were supposed to go to. Tonto had arrived and was having a party with Captain Paranoia at our expense. Neither myself nor Lisa had any idea where to go. We walked in one direction for around ten minutes before stopping and reconsidering our situation. We walked in another direction for another ten minutes before, once again, Captain Paranoia and Tonto combined told us that we were going the wrong way. After around half an hour of walking round in circles something had to give. Our major problem was the lack of shops and people. We seemed to be standing at the meeting point of five major highways, an interchange having no need for shops and people because no bugger would be stupid enough to be walking around there. In the distance, we could see a few buildings which appeared to be an area where people ventured out. Ignoring the combined attack of Tonto and Captain Paranoia, we made a silent pact with each other to carry on walking until we found a street name, a shop or a person to ask.
Time passed and we were getting tired. I felt as if we were walking on the hard shoulder of the M1. Then, like a knight waiting to save the day, we saw a uniformed man leaving a building on our right. Lisa ran over to him and pointed to the hotel name in the guidebook. He scrutinised the book for a few seconds and then pointed down the road. I couldn't believe it. We were on the right track. The hotel must be just a few minutes away, which was a relief.
We continued to walk. More time passed and we continued to walk. Even more time passed and, guess what? We carried on walking, searching for signs and the hotel. I began to think that the man had either read the wrong location from the guidebook or had given us the wrong directions. The good news was that we were approaching an area with shops. I decided to get a second opinion. I approached another man with the guide book and made sure that he understood exactly where I wanted to go. And guess what he did? He pointed further along the road. Yes we were still going in the right direction, but just how far did we have to go? We'd had enough. Even if the hotel was just a hundred yards away, we would hail a taxi and face the music. It took around three seconds to get a taxi and we dived in the back expecting the wrath of an irate taxi driver when we told him where we wanted to go. Much to my surprise, he nodded and joined the mayhem on the road.
Like Guangzhou, the traffic was horrific. Once more the taxi driver had to do battle with buses, cars, lorries, motorbikes, pushbikes and other taxis to get where he wanted. The only difference between the two cities was that pedestrians in Beijing are more aware that if they take on cars and buses they may actually be seriously injured. The taxi continued for at least a kilometre along the road then, to my concern, indicated left and turned off straight into a gridlock. I expressed my concern to Lisa. I had no idea whether the taxi driver had misread the guidebook or whether he was actually going to take us to our hotel. I tried to find a street name to ease my worst fears.
I had plenty of opportunity because the traffic was completely snarled up. The taxi driver was clearly as upset about this as we were and kept turning around to tell us how frustrated he was. Not speaking Mandarin, we didn't understand but his gestures and expressions made it easy to deduce his mood. More time passed and eventually the taxi driver managed to turn down another street with virtually no traffic around. I could sense his relief because he immediately floored the accelerator, causing pedestrians to whirl around in panic, in case he had mounted the pavement. He cut through a few side streets and after a few more minutes, dropped us off at the Chongwenmen Hotel. It had taken us half an hour to travel three kilometres.
I learned three things from the experience:
First, never believe a hotel tout. The Chongwenmen was a luxurious and fully functional hotel. It was not being refurbished and it was taking guests.
Second, when asking a Chinese person for directions do not think that your destination is just a few yards away just because they point. The people we had asked had told us which way to go but couldn't tell us that we had three kilometres to go to get there. I don't blame them. They did the best they could under the circumstances. We would just have to be more careful, especially in a city as huge as Beijing.
Third, never ever cross the road in Beijing. The traffic was chaotic. Pedestrians had more common sense here and refused to take on motor vehicles (unlike those in Guangzhou). We would follow their example. Pity cyclists didn't seem to mind risking life and limb.
The Chongwenmen Hotel was impressive and the décor and overall ambience of the foyer was alluring and pleasing to the eye. We approached the busy reception area and checked the room prices on the notice board. After a couple of minutes, a receptionist attended to us.
"Can we have a discount on a double room?" asked Lisa.
"I can give you a room for 380 yuan," said the receptionist. According to the notice board, the price of a room was 480 yuan per night. Just across the road, there was another very smart hotel called the Hademan Hotel which was not in the guide book. Lisa suggested that we try to get a better deal there. Although the robbery had relieved us of a lot of cash, there were adequate funds to be able to stay in a fairly decent hotel, but we had to be cautious and not spend too much. In Beijing, we hoped that cash wouldn't be a problem because a lot of major hotels, the Chengwenmen included, accepted credit cards. I had already decided to pay by this means from that point onwards to try to save our funds.
The Hademan Hotel, too, was an extremely attractive and high calibre hotel. Once more, Lisa asked for a discount and this time we were offered a double room for 350 yuan. The hotel accepted credit cards so we opted to stay there instead of the Chongwenmen. The room was superb with every facility you would expect from a business hotel. After settling in and resting for half an hour, it was time to face up to the events on the Yangtse River cruise again. We would pursue our cash loss, specifically to obtain a police statement as proof that we had been robbed.
We caught a taxi to the main office of the Public Security Bureau or PSB, the Chinese police. The taxi driver glanced at our guide book and nodded as if to say, "I'll take you there. No problem.". You'd have thought that my previous experience in China, trying to follow our progress on a vaguely detailed guide book map, I would have leaned my lesson and let fate take control. I didn't and tried my best to work out whether the driver had understood our request. Ten seconds after we set off, I was lost. I had no idea where this guy was going. The taxi shot down sidestreets barely avoiding cyclists and other cars. Our experience of Beijing so far had taught us that the main roads were overcrowded with every conceivable mode of transport. Taxi drivers here knew of a secret network of backstreets to get from A to B and avoid the traffic. The problem was that hapless passengers like us would completely lose their sense of direction. There were hundreds of almost identical streets full of busy shops. Beijing was bustling, the majority of people choosing to ride around on bikes. I could tell that the taxi driver was frustrated by the number of cyclists on the road because they hampered his progress and he moaned almost all the way (at least I assumed he was moaning about cyclists). I'm sure he would have mown down a few bikes had he been able to get away with it.
In due course, the driver dropped us off on a street which seemed to be in the middle of nowhere. We paid him and he pointed to a building a few yards away before speeding off to injure some cyclists. When we reached the building it was locked shut. The outward appearance was not that of Beijing's major police station. Captain Paranoia and Tonto both raised their hideously ugly heads and told me that we were lost with no hope of finding our way out of the tiny labyrinthine streets. Luckily, there were a few people around, so Lisa asked a passer-by for the location of the PSB station. He pointed along the street. Not again! I had visions of Lisa and I walking for several miles in a vain search for the police station. I was about to set off when the man flagged down a taxi and beckoned us towards it. He spoke to the taxi driver, pointing to the building we were standing outside and urged us to get in. Now I was worried. Lisa, less sceptical than I, got in the taxi and shouted "Get in." With a feeling of dread, I reluctantly joined her and we set off on another obstacle course.
The journey took around twenty minutes and we were deposited outside a huge modern building. We paid the driver and walked in through the main doors to find ourselves in the brand new PSB station. Clearly our guide book was slightly out of date and the PSB head office had moved to this new impressive location. We asked for an English speaking policeman and after a few minutes were taken to the foreign desk where a tall man was waiting for us.
Lisa explained what had happened and the policeman handed over a form for us to fill in. Lisa wrote an account of what happened and passed it back, asking him to sign the form or endorse it with a stamp. He refused to do so. Becoming more upset by the minute, Lisa tried to get him to ring the policeman who had taken our initial statement in Baidicheng to confirm that we had been robbed. He refused again, saying that because we had had money stolen and not a camera or something like that, he could not endorse our statement nor would he phone the other policeman in Baidicheng. We almost pleaded with him. We had to get something back from our robbery and this was the only way to do it. Regrettably, he was stubborn and unmoved by our plight and even though Lisa was getting more and more distressed, he refused to budge. I left the brand new PSB building with Lisa, now in tears, and a form with our hand-written statement on it with no endorsement. I tried to console Lisa but it was no good.
"It isn't fair," she cried. "We've been robbed and this lot won't even help us."
I suggested that we should phone the British consulate. Perhaps they would be able to help us out or suggest a way we could obtain official proof that we had been relieved of three hundred pounds worth of Chinese currency. I flagged down a taxi and we went back to the hotel to make the phone call.
I rang the British consulate upon our return and explained what had happened to us. The man I spoke to was immediately concerned that we had enough cash to get by but I explained that we still had traveller's cheques and credit cards and that we would survive the rest of the trip, despite having to be careful about our spending. To my disappointment, he confirmed what the policeman had said, stating that the PSB would not endorse a claim for stolen cash. I broke the bad news to Lisa and we sat in silence for a while trying to come to terms with our frustration.
"Right," said Lisa suddenly, looking at her watch. "There's only one thing for it."
"What?" I asked, thinking that she had a master plan to retrieve our stolen funds.
"Let's go and get pissed."
Call me perceptive but I deduced that Lisa wanted to ease her frustration and bad feelings by consuming a sufficient quantity of alcohol to render her inebriated and drown the memories of the robbery and the episode with the Beijing branch of the PSB in a vast ocean of alcohol. I concurred.
To nuke our sorrows, we needed to temporarily escape from all reminders of our plight. The guide book told us how. An English pub called the John Bull pub was located relatively close (in Beijing this meant that we could reach it by the underground system within an hour!). The nearest Metro station to the Hademan hotel was only minutes away.
Beijing's underground rail system was surprisingly cheap and very easy to use, even for ignorant foreigners like us. You bought a ticket for 2 yuan and handed it in to a ticket collector. All signs were in English as well as Chinese making it simple to work out where you were. The trains were relatively clean and ran very frequently. We reached the station nearest to our final destination in about ten minutes and found ourselves face to face with a McDonalds as we left the station. A decision was made. Bollocks to a proper authentic Chinese meal. Tonight was a night for slumming it and eating a Big Mac.
The pub was in the area of Beijing where a lot of foreign embassies were located. Outside each embassy, a policeman stood rigidly to attention. I remembered images from a few weeks ago of an angry mob, protesting about NATO's bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade. The British Embassy and the American Embassy had both been targeted. Everything was peaceful now and it was hard to imagine what it would have been like had I actually been there at the time.
The location of the John Bull pub in this peaceful area of Beijing seemed unlikely. From the outside, it looked just like an English country pub. I had been away from England for around three months and felt a short pang of homesickness at the sight. For a few seconds, I wanted to be sitting outside a pub in Manchester drinking a pint of my favourite bitter. The feeling quickly receded back into my subconscious and we walked in. The interior decoration was exactly as I had expected and I felt strangely at home. There were a handful of people dotted around and Chinese waiters standing expectantly. One came over to us and showed us to a table asking us in almost perfect English what we would like to drink. We both opted for the local brew, unimaginatively called Beijing Beer, and settled down to begin our journey to alcoholic oblivion.
Whilst we were on our way down the road to inebriation, we noticed a very strange couple nearby. The woman, a blond going slightly grey, was dressed in a suit, almost as if she had come here straight from work. The guy was black and older and was also dressed in a suit. She was very loud and had an accent which I couldn't place. The guy was slightly embarrassed and she played on this by poking fun at him. After a while, the guy had had enough. He stood up and told her he had to go and, despite her protestations, left the pub wobbling slightly due to excess alcohol.
The woman started talking to the waiters and, when she heard us order our second beers, decided that we would be her next target.
"Why me?" I said to myself as she plonked herself down at our table.
She was further down the road to intoxication than we were and asked us, with a slight slur, where we were from.
In the end, it turned out that she wasn't a drunken nutcase. Her name was Madelaine and she was a training instructor working in Beijing for nine weeks. Madelaine explained that she had to give a series of courses to people who could speak little or no English, with the aid of a translator. Because of the language barrier, the courses were taking a very long time. Basically, Madelaine had to say each sentence in English and wait for her translator to inform the class what she had said. Although she encouraged feedback, it was very difficult to handle questions, mainly due to the translation of the questions and the answers. Madelaine had to rely on diagrams to try to put her point across and, while it worked to some extent, it was very difficult and time consuming. I didn't envy her.
I asked her where she came from. Madelaine was Irish and had lived and worked in Finland for many years. This explained why her accent was strange; Irish with a Scandanavian twang.
My first impressions of Madelaine were coloured by my past experiences with drunken nutters in pubs. However, having spoken to Madelaine, it was clear that she was just here on her own in a strange country having to work for nine weeks. Having been in that situation myself (though never for that long) I sympathised and fully understood how she felt. She was handling it far better than I would have.
She was a great laugh and her speech was peppered with expletives. At various stages in the evening she had us howling with laughter. The waiters obviously knew her and whenever she ordered more drinks she referred to them as "Boss", much to their amusement.
Madelaine had been in China for a few weeks and had some sound advice for us:
Never take the first offer when buying something. Even if you like what you are buying, walk away and pretend that you cannot afford it. You will be chased and the seller will agree to a lower price. It was worth a try next time we found ourselves in that situation.
We spent the remainder of the evening with her and eventually decided to call it a night at midnight. At the end, Madelaine told us that she had to be at work for 9am the next day to continue her course. The poor woman. However, we would probably be suffering as well because, according to Madelaine, Beijing beer was very strong, hence the reason why she had been drinking Kilkenny all night. Perhaps my stubborn promise to only drink the local beer had backfired on me tonight. I would know in the morning.
My memories of the remainder of the night are hazy but I do remember that we got a taxi back to the hotel. When we arrived, I spotted a few stalls selling noodles and, having drunk lots of powerfully strong beer, I felt that I needed a huge quantity of curry, kebab and/or Kentucky Fried Chicken. Since this was the only option for food, I wobbled up and in my best English asked for a plate full of whatever was going.
The local people congregating around the stall were curious at first but after a while watched in amusement as I asked in slurred English what the contents of each container of food were, only to be met by a blank stare. In the end, I opted for a huge polystyrene container full of golden noodles priced at a mere two yuan. I staggered away saying "Bye" to everyone there.
In the hotel, I waved to the receptionists and all I got were nervous smiles and bemused looks. My last memory of that day was trying to cope with noodles, armed with a pair of cheap chopsticks. Oblivion followed at some stage.