I've never felt more out of my depth in my whole life. It's not that the people here don't speak good English, it's that they speak no English. My limited Mandarin is the only thing I'm getting by on, so this should be a decent learning experience. I'm sure laoshi will be pleased anyway.
So, I arrived in Beijing about half an hour late. The cabin attendants were quite sweet; after the Chinese announcement came the English: "Ladies and gentlemen, this is... Uh... In flight... Person. We will be leaving in thirty minutes. Thank you for your understanding." After the flight though, the next challenge awaits: dodging the fake taxis. You are like a wounded gazelle on the sarengeti, they just smell you coming all the way from arrivals. I had been prewarned luckily, and managed to get into a taxi with a meter. Tip for travellers, bring your hotel's address in Chinese on a piece of paper, as the taxi drivers don't speak a word of English. And then we were off; one of my favourite experiences is to sit in the back of a taxi as it's driven through a strange city, lights from the shops and buildings shining down, and seeing how another place lives.
Eventually we arrived. The driver pointed down a dark alleyway, the kind of one with dim lamps and deserted items by the side of it. The kind of alley where if you were in a movie and saw it, you'd know something bad was about to happen. With a cheery smile, the driver made a walking motion with his fingers, then promptly took off. And so I was left with a slight dilemma of whether to trust the alley or try and follow the directions I had on the paper. Believe me, being lost in a strange city at 1am isn't a lot of fun. Even less so when you have no map, no one nearby speaks your language, and you are distinctly aware that you're carrying a large quantity of cash.
Still, I made it. Had to point and motion to the paper a few times, had a random Chinese man get quite annoyed at me for interrupting his cigarette, and stumbled into a small hall full of people playing board games. The defining detail of the instructions was (I wish I was kidding) 'we have red lanterns outside of the hostel'. Well, not sure if anyone else has been to Beijing before, but a lot of the houses have red lanterns outside of them. I stumbled into the hostel half asleep, but buzzing a little from an adrenaline hit of being lost, and was shown to my room.
I may have underestimated just how bad the jetlag would hit me. I thought I'd have an early start, get all the sights in. Nope. Woke up at 8am, with four hours sleep, still knackered from the plane journies, and my body thought it was midnight. Not going to lie, didn't get a whole lot done this morning. This afternoon however, I took a walk down to the temple of heaven and the park that surrounds it via the subway. The subway is surprisingly simple to navigate, just make sure you memorise where you're getting off, the English translations leave a lot to be desired, when they're present (took me four listens to convert handryu into handrail).
The park is an ocean of serenity in the city. People sit on the grass, some are singing, some dancing. Saw a few modelling photoshoots going on too. Outside of the main sections, the park is very quiet and shaded, and it's a lovely walk, exactly what I was looking for after the hectic travelling.
Tomorrow I'm off to the Great Wall, and the day after the Forbidden City. I think the rest of today will be consumed by finding food and trying not to fall asleep too early.
Thanks for reading, pictures will come as soon as possible.