This was written more than a week ago, but I thought I'd post it anyways! There'll be something more recent before I head out again!
If I don't post for a longer time, that could be for a variety of reasons. It could either be that I do not have internet access for a long time, as was the case in Macao. Or that I sleep half the day and feel there's nothing much worth writing about, as was the case in Guangzhou. Or I am too busy "experiencing experiences", as is the case right now. Beijing is overwhelming, it overwhelms me every way, and without plans as I am, I let it take it with me wherever it wants to take me. That way I have, over the past few days, been to the National Stadium twice, once for very cheap. That way I have been in a potentially very dangerous situation. That way I have learned more about China than anything else could have taught me.
I was in the Bird's Nest for the first time on Sunday. It took me ages to find facepaint, and much to the amusement of passing by cars, I painted my face with the German flag looking into the side mirror of the cab I took to the stadium. The stadium is overwhelming. It is huge, it is busy, it has atmosphere, but overall I was not yet too impressed - I was sitting close under the roof, with no chance of seeing the Olympic fire. Overview - perfect, closeness to the action rather not. Because this ticket had be bought from the official German reseller, I ended up in a large group of Germans. Oh, the joy. It was surprising how many Germans were there, all over the place. I spent a good hour afterwards just walking around, taking pictures, having pictures taken (my face was quite the attraction) and making my way back - although not quite, off to the bars! There I met Max from the Ukraine, and we talked for ages about learning Chinese, Japan, the Russian-Chinese relationship, and where to stay in Beijing. Eventually I got to horribly overcrowded bars that were full of proud-and-rich foreigners - gave me a good reason to head back faster!
I walked back to the hostel. About 4km, at about 3am, in a city I don't know. That is exactly what I love doing here, it is one of the best ways to see the city. I typically buy a bottle of beer for these trips. It tastes good, replenishes liquid I lost, and hey, I could always hit dodgy people over the head with it (and stab the next one with the shards. I've thought this through!) .
Otherwise there has been a lot of walking around during the day, heading to the black market in the evening, and trying to buy tickets for whatever is available. Helping other foreigners along the way and meeting logs of people. One evening I walked around a lot and noticed another foreigner on the phone speaking some Chinese. I waited, and commented to the Chinese girl whose phone it was how interesting it was to hear another foreigner speak Chinese. I ended up talking to one lady for a long, long, long time, as we were walking towards the subway together. A very interesting conversation, in which at times she seemed to assume I speak no word of Chinese, and at other times seemed to assume I understood everything. We got onto the subway, she paid the subway fare (much to my protest, but she was first in line.) Now this is something Chinese people will often do, nothing too strange. On the platform already, a guy started talking to me and showing me lots and lots of pictures of him with famous athletes, first on his camera, then in a folder full of prints. I moderately understood what he was saying, and the lady was now chatting with other people. She would go to a different station that I could also go to (both are equally far from my hostel) and I decided to go with her, so we could talk a little longer. So the stop after my first station we'd have to transfer, and I'd have one more stop on another line.
This is where it all gets very strange. As we both exit the car, the guy who showed me the pictures made a strong effort to get my attention. She walked ahead, as he repeatedly waved his hands in a "no, no, no" gesture, with a very ernest expression on his face. I was confused and didn't quite understand, walking on to my transfer, as a guy came running up behind me, hit me on the shoulder a few times, and then said in broken english "don't follow her!", very sincerely and seriously, a few times. I asked him why in Chinese, and after the usual pleasantries ("You speak Chinese? Where did you learn it?" etc) he said that there was no reason. But he was very, very sincere, and made sure I understood. I did have to go to the same transfer as her, however, and did so. She made a comment that she would follow me one station and see me off, then go back to her stop in the other direction (apparently I had misunderstood we were on the same stop.) I told her, now with more urgency than before, that that was really not necessary, and we both went out own ways.
I still don't know what to make of it, and I'm not sure I ever will. I'm not sure how dangerous this could have been, but apparently enough for two people, at least one of which knows I speak a little Chinese, to want to warn me and to make a strong effort to do so, based either on the way she looked or something about her appearance, or based on something she said to the other people while I was looking at pictures. In either case, nothing happened, there was no final danger involved, and it was an experience to stay with me. This is the first time that I may have felt properly unsafe in China - but as with all things, it is something that I have learnt lots and lots from!