“I’m not paying ten kuai for a boat, son! It was ten kuai to get in. I’m not made of fucking kuai!”
Yesterday, I joined a couple of mates (the same guys with whom I had scaled the Great Wall) and three visiting young women from the UK for what we hoped would be an adventurous trip to Beijing’s ‘underground city’. We got off the bus and, like doomed characters from a Neil Marshall or Eli Roth film, descended on the hutongs looking for the elusive entrance to one of Beijing’s hidden gems. So hidden that it has taken on near-mythic status and is surrounded by conflicting scraps of information: “it’s this way,” it’s that way,” “no foreigners are allowed,” “ONLY foreigners are allowed,” and – ultimately – “you have wasted your time. It is closed.” I actually had a sore knee all day after pulling a muscle, and I was a little on the grumpy and sarcastic side (extremely rare for me). Nevertheless I tried to keep my whining to a minimum (less than 57 witty grumblings throughout the entire day).
We all went to Jinshang Park instead, which is Beijing’s most central point. Highlights include the tree where emperor Chongzhen hung himself after fleeing the Forbidden City during a peasant uprising, and a tourist trap where you can have your picture taken while dressed as a Qing Dynasty bell-end.
Jinshang is also home to the highest geological point in Beijing, which I recommend to anyone with a limp who wants to tell the world that it can go and fuck itself. Let’s just say, as I did aloud, that it’s pretty obvious why Chongzhen hung himself at the bottom of the staircase. The views of the city are undeniably spectacular: the tower is in a direct line somewhere between Mao’s Mausoleum and the Olympic Park. It supposedly forms (along with the Forbidden City and the Drum and Bell towers) the figurative body of a dragon, with Mao’s embalmed corpse as the head.
Afterwards, we all wandered through beautiful Beihei park and then took the subway to nearby Sanlitun for the acclaimed ‘Burger Burger’ at the Blue Frog diner. The extra ‘burger’ stands for ‘extra burger’. In other words, you buy one burger and get one free. The offer extends to drinks, so I continued being (mis)adventurous and tried a dry martini for the first, second and ultimately last time ever, an experience that I imagine is akin to licking the underside of a rat. Even the olives tasted like bumhole. The prospect of going to a club on Sanlitun bar street was raised, as was the prospect of me limping home and curling up with a good book. I chose the latter option, stopping off at Page One for an overpriced paperback to read on the Batong Line.
Alighting at Sihui East station, I had the good fortune of meeting a gregarious young Chinese man who wanted to practice his English and who didn’t get my sense of humour.
Him: “What do English people like to do in their spare time?”
Me: “Read books on the subway!”
Him: “Do you believe in God?”
Me: “Not anymore!”