Changing Times

Nicholas Quirke was senseing a certain irony in his decision making on 23 April 2020 when he decided to give his parking a rest and instead returned to Livat mall at Xihongmen that he had visited 5 weeks ago. The paradox being that he was giving up spending time celebrating the open spaces of Beijing to be indoors shopping, drinking tea and reading on what turned out to be World Earth Day, perhaps the one day when he should be ramping up the parking. The memory of his first visit felt fresh and ridiculously recent, yet what had been a deserted mall, like a scene from a zombie movie, was now teeming with life and if it wasn’t for the face masks and temperature checks, almost a completely normal picture of everyday life. Waking that morning he had felt he needed a change from his parking routine and if he did’t give it a break he would have been to every park in Beijing before the week was out. A shopping expedition was what he needed and once he had got his weekly clean over with he was heading out on the subway to the southern outskirts of the city to a mall, with an Ikea, to get some biscuits for Peng, have a wander, shop, relax and read for a while. He located the Heytea store when he arrived and collected the comestibles Peng had ordered and sat and drank his Green tea from what looked like a whiskey bottle. It seemed a very organised way of living as Peng had pre-ordered the biscuits and drink and this meant he avoided any queues and just collected the order Which was ready for him when he arrived. Was this available in the uk at cafes? Was he that out of touch with how the world operates now. If it didn’t then someone needed to get onto it. Despite the frustrations he experienced with his personal technology Life felt easier now he was really beginning to understand how modern technology could actually help and not hinder him. It was nice to sit and read which was not an activity he had been doing much of and following Paul Theroux’s journey to China, which so closely resembled his own, was engrossing and exciting and made him think about writing a book. The time slipped by so quickly and before he knew it he was leaving the mall to meet Peng for supper at Mocha Bros in The Place. He travelled in slightly nervous anticipation as there had not yet been an occasion when he was meeting his friend and hadn’tgot lost in some way. He paid attention to where he was and got to the location safely and ahead of time. He was in the Central Business district and was again overwhelmed by the size of the buildings and the of the architecture. During his day he had observed once again how he was an out of place foreigner, not a westerner in sight in the mall or on the long subway ride, which made his surprise on sitting down in the restaurant, to see six English and American customers occupying the tables opposite them. According to Beijing regulations everyone had to be a metre apart and they could not even sit at the same table which seemed to be a strange interpretation of the rule. In an un-English manner he spoke to the six separated diners to say how he had not seen a western face for nearly 2 months and asked about them. ‘Oh’. ‘We work here’. and went back to talking amongst themselves. Not A flicker of interest from them. Not very friendly, he thought, ex-pat, insular mentality. The Buddha Bowl salad was nice, but a dish he was used to back at home and he looked forward to the next exotic vegan treat they could find. To end the western style evening he enjoyed an expensive raspberry sorbet at Hagen Daz while Peng gorged on a Knickebocker Glory style Ice Cream treat. He noted, as he treated his, Athletes Foot, and he was ending the day with the aches and pains of the previous day seemingly evaporated, that travel restrictions between some provinces and cities were being lifted and he made plans with Peng to leave the City on Saturday and to test the possibility of experiencing some freedom.


  1. Well that wasn’t friendly of them! Leaving the city? Freedom? I’m so excited, can’t wait to see where you go xx

  2. How disappointingly rude of the expats. Were they a different generation perhaps? Or I wonder if the virus and the masks have made people behave differently. The thing I have found with mask wearing is of course you can no longer see the expressions on peoples faces. So all those subtle messages that you pick up from peoples expressions are not there. X

    1. It’s in the eyes grace. A mouth smiles you see it in the eyes. As everyone was dining no face masks. I think people generally are quite anti social when in a group. I was intrusive.

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