It's been incredibly busy these days and the amount of work going on has meant that I've been attending a lot of late night calls while on my travels.
Currently, I'm in Beijing once again. This is a noisy and busy city. Personally, I enjoy this metropolitan melting-pot of experiences. It's amazing! As I sit by the window, I can hear a constant cacophony of assorted sounds floating in on the dusty, warm air.
Someone is angle-grinding and metalworking, various people are calling to each other. A few people seem to be competing for the "who can lean on their car horn the longest" trophy, one of whom has decided to go for an interesting rhythm - perhaps to get points for artistic interpretation? You never feel alone in Beijing, even when you're alone!
Every single day, at all sorts of random times, I hear something explode. I'm assuming it's some kind of firecracker but, good grief, they're loud! In fact, on some days, you can hear cracks, bangs and booms reverberating around the city - some in the distance, some close by.
Outside the apartment, there is a narrow road that is literally filled with hairdressing salons, little fruit and vegetable shops and the occasional small family run restaurant. I've never seen so many hairdressers and barbers in one street before - and they all seem to be busy with customers. This explains all those young girls with frizzy 1980's hairstyles strutting around.
On an adjacent road, there are some tiny little brick built structures, basically consisting of a room with a window at the front and a curtain. If the curtains aren't closed, you can sometimes see a heavily made up young lady, often provocatively dressed, perched on wooden stool staring out at the world with dull, soul-less eyes. Fancy a little "extra service" after your hair cut? No problem!
We have a little supermarket nearby, where the checkout tills use barcode readers that frequently fail to read the barcode and the operator would rather not sell you the product, as that means having to type that long string of numbers in. Even at the big Carrefour, I was told that I couldn't use my international credit card, despite standing right underneath a huge cardboard sign proclaiming how international cards were welcomed! Luckily, most food items are incredibly good value here in China - especially for a visiting lao wai (foreigner) so it's no problem to produce the required cash.
Don't get me wrong, this place is fantastic and it's a veritable roller-coaster of experiences. The food can vary from the truly delicious to the blood-curdlingly horrific. The smells on one street can make you salivate with hunger, but turn the corner and you've got a lungful of the unspeakable. Delicious fresh fruit is sold from cute little wooden stalls and most of the time you don't get to see the seller emptying their nose with their fingers prior to loading your strawberries into a little plastic bag by that same hand.
The countryside can be equally rewarding. Not long ago I went pony trekking up at 12000 feet in Sichuan. Wonderful, aside from some saddle-sores that I'll not dwell on now. Getting there by bus was an experience. It seems that virtually all men smoke in rural areas, and they don't stop when they're on a bus, except to cough up some phlegm onto the floor between the seats.
It seems that smoking on a bus isn't considered antisocial out in the boonies. However, opening a window twill result in you getting shouted at because, apparently, it's very selfish to let in that cold, fresh air while trying to breathe.
Laid back, open minded travellers will love China. Uptight, neurotic westerners will probably struggle. Frankly, I think it's a great place.