Archive | August, 2012

Long live the virtual CFK

10 Aug

Perhaps appropriately, but no less tragically, the great emporium of Xuji Chicken Feet’s King, just around the corner from Huixin Dongjie, has closed its doors. There are signs of life from inside that suggest food will one day once again issue from its claw-roasting ovens. Yet the key feature of the restaurant – the great yellow letters on its front that declare “XUJI CHICKEN FEET’S KING”, and which first captured my attention and my heart almost exactly a year ago – have been torn down.

This is not, of course, the only reason why this should be the last post to squawk forth from the beak of the Just Around the Corner from Chicken Feet’s King blog. “One just-qualified journalist, one jar of Marmite, one new and unblocked blog, one year…”

364 days on, I have torn the 1920s Shanghai cigarette adverts off my walls, dumped ten tons of uneaten Marmite, unused jiaozi vinegar and a fully-functioning blender onto whoever happened to pass the chaos that was my flat, and – nearly, give me 4 more hours – moved out of my apartment.

My flight is at 11.15 tomorrow morning. I am planning to insert an intravenous drip into myself the moment I leave work so that I can administer a steady supply of coffee directly into my veins. I don’t have to waste a single one of my last seconds in BJ on something as mundane as sleep. All-nighter, here I come.

From Saturday, I will be back in England, hopefully with a job, hopefully with a snazzy hipster flat somewhere edgy like Brixton, and hopefully not dead of cold.

But fear not, loyal fans of the CFK. There are two reasons why this bird has not yet flown.

1) I still have to catch up on about a zillion posts. Expect a run-through of some of the best food joints around Huixin Dongjie (including a baozi special), The Best of the Great Albert moments, and more…

2) God knows, the sheer luxury of drinking water STRAIGHT FROM A TAP may be more than my body and my sanity can cope with. If the feathers fall in a certain way, I may be turning my wings back around the corner to Chicken Feet’s King… or whatever grubby hole-in-the wall restaurant chooses to replace it.

In the words of a famous t-shirt – I heart BJ. And I will be back. Wotchit.

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