Archive | The Feet RSS feed for this section

蚊 they strike…

7 Aug

Looks very professional and DEET-like. Isn’t.

I haven’t slept well for ages. It’s not noisy neighbours; Eric Jou and Pooper the Dog moved from the flat above about a week ago. It’s not that the air conditioning doesn’t work; in fact, it effectively chills the room to a pleasing 16 degrees so I can happily curl up under a duvet with my pjs on and whisper platitudes to the environment like, “The one in the office doesn’t work, I deserve some slack.”

A few unwanted guests have arrived with the summer heat, humidity and rain. They brought with them gifts of little red bumps to decorate my arms and legs. I look as if I have a revolting tropical disease. I lie for sleepless hours, scratching like a dog with mange.

The mosquitoes have arrived.

They say that, for reasons ranging from blood type to diet, certain people attract biting insects more than others. I’m pretty sure that I’m the scientific proof for that theory. If there is a biter, he’ll bite me – no question.

My memories of childhood holidays in Scotland are obscured by the clouds of midges that swarmed above every loch and burn that I was forced by my parents to visit. These midges had a particularly nasty way of lodging themselves in your hair just so they could re-emerge just at the moment when you had made it inside to the “safety” of your mildewy “rustic” cottage.

In Italy, the mozzies were so bad that I would coat myself in a thick layer of repellent every night. It repelled every member of my family from sharing a room with me, but failed against the mosquitoes. One especially determined little bugger got his fangs on perhaps the only part of my body that I hadn’t covered either with poison or pyjamas. I woke up at about 2am, discovered that I couldn’t open my right eye, and freaked out. I spent the next day smearing antihistemene all over my swollen eyelid, while my delightful little brother hooted “Quasimodo”, “God, your face makes me physically sick”, and words to that effect.

Even in the UK – hardly a tropical or Mediterranean clime – the one or two  mosquitos that survive the yucky rainy weather aim straight for yours truly.

But I have to say, China’s mosquitos have a level of intensity that puts all previous records to shame.

Chinese mosquitos – or at least, the ones that have been trying to drain me of my life fluids  – do not tend to make that irritating whine that sounds like a mini pneumatic drill. Or rather, they did to begin with – the first batch that arrived around late spring had the usual sound effects. But come mid-May, they were replaced by a much nastier, soundless variety.

However tight your security, however thick your mosquito curtain, however many doors you close and windows you barricade, these 蚊子 (wenzi) will break through somehow. One friend of mine has developed the theory that they are living in his air conditioning unit. And once the 蚊子 come out to play, you know they’re there.

Beijing bug bites are smaller than the European variety – smaller and more pointy. In that little mountain peak atop each pimple is concentrated the most extreme, most potent itch serum you could possibly imagine. Whatever chemical is in these mosquitoes’ tongues, it is sure to be on the European Convention of Human Rights’ list of banned interrogation instruments. I for one would confess to murder if only to make the itching stop.

To make matters worse, 蚊子 operate on the principle of “and you thought lightning wouldn’t strike twice the same place twice, bitch?”, so that your ankles, thighs and arms look like the sites of cluster bomb attacks.

My efforts to find an effective repellent against these miniature dragons have proved in vain. I managed to procure a squirty tin of something called “Wenbuding” after performing an elaborate dance in the chemist – a high-pitched buzzing noise,  a hand gesture that suggested a kamakaze pilot honing in on my hand and vigorous scratching accompanied by the words “nage nage sha si nage xiaode buzhedau jiao shenme danshi wo yao shenme dongxi, ni zhedao ma?”.

But it didn’t squirt properly, and even when I did manage to dribble a semi-decent quantity onto my skin, I ended up with more bites than before, making me wonder whether I had been mistakenly sold mosquito pheromones. The final straw came when I squirted it right in my own eye, producing the same effect as that Italian mozzie all those years ago.

The anti-itch cream I bought was similarly disappointing. Not only did it fail to stop the itching, it also stank to high heaven and exploded inside my handbag, coating everything with white slime that made it look as if I was getting luckier than I was.

Of course, there’s another reason I haven’t been able to sleep for the past few nights. My year in Beijing is up. I leave the corner of the CFK on Saturday – and for the life of me, I don’t know why. Once my nightly gut-busting dinner has come to an end and I have left the local backpacker bar with one too many beers inside me, once I am in bed with nothing more to distract me, I start to properly freak out. What on earth was I thinking? I don’t want to leave…

And then the itching starts. It triggers itself like a time bomb. As I scrape half the skin off my shins in despair, I think  savagely through my tears, “At least these little fuckers won’t be in England.”

Then again, knowing my luck, they’re probably planning to stow away in my suitcase. Watch out, UK. More than one Beijing beast could be arriving on the plane on Saturday…

Cure for the blues is a walk in the park

2 Aug

Time for a stroll

This post is adapted from a piece I wrote for 21st Century Senior Teens edition several months ago, a fact that partly explains its somewhat saccharine tone and general level of gorgonzola, for which I only apologise in part. 

The park (which, by the way, does have a name, it’s the Yuan Dynasty City Walls Ruins Park – when I say I don’t know the name, I’m just being artistic) genuinely does arouse feelings of “gah-I-love-life-and-I-love-China” and warmeth all but the hardest of souls with its gay array of patrons. 

Whenever the workload got too much… whenever my boss suddenly announced

Standard outdoor summer dress – the maxi-visor, guaranteed to keep your skin whiter than white.

I would have to work on Saturday… whenever the questions – “Ellie, is this really grammatically correct?”; “Ellie, can you cut this story about a mutilated child who realised the meaning of happiness to 100 words?” – went beyond an average level of annoyance… whenever yet another of my Beijing flings went disastrously wrong or bad news arrived from home… I would turn my Chicken Feet towards the park, knowing everything was going to be fine…





Forbidden City, Summer Palace, Great Wall – the tourist sites that you “must see” in Beijing. But my favorite spot doesn’t appear in any guidebook or “top ten” list.

Seen these guys grow from chick to duck – and yet the cage never got bigger

The Park is just around the corner from my house. It doesn’t have a name – or if it does, it’s written in Chinese characters so I can’t read it. But every time I go for a stroll in my Park, I see a show that is a hundred times better than Peking Opera.

Sometimes I meet a man taking his pet birds for a “walk” in their cages. Further along the path, I might come across two men greeting the four compass directions in their daily tai chi routine. Another man walks towards me – backwards. Well, why not?

Cute baby no.10001041820580975 – aka The Cute Baby with the Remote Controlled Car

A mother runs after her baby who is overexcited by the sight of the statues of bronze horses and the trees and flowers. Suddenly the baby sees me and stops dead in his tracks. He stares for a moment at this weird foreigner. Then his face breaks into a huge smile, he points at me and shouts “ayi!”. I grin back, and laugh as his mother tells him he should be saying, “Hello!”.

And they all go hand in hand, hand in hand through their…

A “quiet walk” is never quiet. Singers come to the park to belt it out like Pavarotti. Twenty of 30 people will gather around a radio to do morning exercises or dances with fans or huge swords. One man even brings a huge whip to the park just so he can crack it through the air, sending up clouds of dust.

Park people aren’t always wildly talented. Recently a shrill-voiced couple has been coming with a microphone and loudspeaker and howling deafening songs to the world. But they have something to sing and they sing it, and that makes me smile.



I know that when I go back to the UK and take a stroll in my local park there, I’ll miss my caterwauling karaoke singers and my fan dancers. The sight of everyone simply enjoying themselves in the open air reminds me that whatever problems there are in life, solving them is just a walk in the park.

The Park is equipped for every eventuality

Summer fun plus some rather disturbing tricycles

Tai Chi

Fan dancers

Sky’s took a turn since this morning – I think it’ll brighten up yet

31 Jul

Even a Chicken Feet’s King can change his feathers in “fowl” weather

I’ve told at least eight people the same tedious anecdote in the past four weeks. My Grannie, I begin, likes to recite very long monologues by Marriott Edgar, along with the requisite silly northern accent.

One such monologue is called Three Ha’pence a Foot. It tells the story of a building contractor called Sam Oglethwaite who is asked by a chap called Noah for some wood to build an ark. Sam demands a price of three ha’pence a foot; Noah only wants to pay a penny a foot; no deal is struck, Noah builds his ark with different wood… and then the floods come.

At the climax of the poem, after 40 days of rain, Noah sails past Blackpool, the only place in the world where there is still dry land – “And that were on top of the Tower”. Noah calls out to Sam, whose chin is still just poking over the surface of the water: “Now what’s the price of yer maple?”. And then comes the rousing finale…

“Three ha’pence a foot it’ll cost yer,

And as fer me,” Sam said, “don’t fret.

The sky’s took a turn since this morning;

I think it’ll brighten up yet.”

“And that!” I say triumphantly to my thoroughly confused, thoroughly bored listeners, “Is what I say to this bloody weather!”

In case you’re wondering, it’s been raining a bit in Beijing. On Tuesday 10 July, as I was sitting in my Chinese lesson and salivating over the prospect of a Roast Leg of Mutton dinner with Mum and Sam (who were sportingly visiting the Roost at the time), the sky darkened. At 7 o’clock I gritted my teeth and marched through the hutongs from Gulou to Yonghegong. A sense of rising panic was obvious from the people, the cars, the bikes, and in the air itself. It was what you’d expect the last few moments before the Rapture to be like.

As I stepped into Wudaoying Hutong, about five minutes from Yonghegong subway where I was to meet Mum and Sam, the heavens didn’t just open – they erupted.

Yet the ankle-deep paddle through the street, the rolled-up trousers and destroyed loafers of one Tom Hale who had thought he was in for a nice dry dinner, were nothing compared with what was to come. On Saturday 21 July, at around 12.30pm, a dense cushion of smog that had been choking the city for a couple of days suddenly converted itself into a storm on a scale unseen in Beijing for 61 years. Lightning flashed within the fog cloud; thunder rolled incessently; rain gushed down the streets.

Paddling through 798 in the earlier hours of That Rainy Saturday

Sam, Mum and I had been in the 798 Art District on that day. The downpour had started pretty much the moment we arrived. After about three hours of sitting in cafes saying, “I think it’ll brighten up yet,” we fled into an unlicensed cab. The rain cascaded all night long. We waded to a local restaurant for dinner.

At least 77 people died that day, and hundreds of businesses and homes were destroyed. As the puddles were gradually sandbagged up, one thing became clear – Beijing’s authorities suck at dealing with rain. An excellent piece in China Daily featured the stories of four people who had seen the storms at their worst, including 17-year-old Hou Shuai, who lost her father, and Qiu Yan,  the wife of Ding Zhijian, who drowned in his car on the Second Ring Road. Qiu’s story was particularly harrowing; her husband had tried to contact emergency services as his car was gradually submerged, only to get the busy tone every time.

Since then, official weather forecasters have pulled out all the stops, predicting torrential downpours any time the air smells damp. For a week or so after Saturday’s storm, workers were allowed home early if the forecast was bad.

Last night, the promised deluge came again – ironically a day earlier than had been forecast, so that I ended up cycling home from Sanlitun through a river, stopping at Yashow clothing market on the way to buy a pair of shorts to replace my poorly chosen white (now see-through) summer skirt. Once again, the streets were flooded and everyone appeared shocked. Once again, no one was prepared.

We have been told to suspect a hell of a lot more of this shitty weather throughout the “summer”. In the days immediately after that Saturday, I admit that I panicked along with the rest of them, cancelling plans left, right and centre to huddle in my flat with a bowl of soup and watch for the storms that never really came.

Now, however, I find myself slipping into Sam Oglethwaite mode. It is 16.42 hours on Tuesday 24 July, it is raining Cs and Ds outside, and I am about to pick up my raincoat and Chinese books and cycle to Gulou for a Chinese lesson.

Beijing cannot cope with the rain. Beijing hates the rain. I hate the rain. But I love Beijing, and I’m only here for two more weeks – less than, in fact.

So fuck you, weather. Literally come hell or high water, I’m going to enjoy my last weeks here.

In any case, the sky’s took a turn since this morning. I think it’ll brighten up yet – and I’ll be hanging onto Blackpool Tower till it does, not budging from three ha’pence a foot.