Nicholas Quirke was In a confident mode on 27 March 2020 after he had stepped off the scales and discovered he had shed another 2lbs bringing his total weight loss since he had been back in China at 10lbs. It also meant he had won the weight loss challenge that Peng had initiated and He would not behave top do all the cleaning for the next 2 weeks. But it did mean Peng was going to have to be completely Vegan rather than vegetarian for the next 14 days. No cakes for him anymore. It was another session at the massage hospital and he had another early start. It was a sunny day, but the temperature had dropped dramatically and he was not prepared for how cold his hands were when cycling to the massage hospital. It was another good deep tissue treatment into his leg and spine and once again he felt an immediate benefit. He made the next appointment fo 5 days later as he felt optimistic it was getting better. His accommodation registration form was running out so they went to the police station to get a update to the end of May. in addition, the Chinese government, had announced that any tourist visa would automatically be extended by 2 months without having to go through official channels. This was more good news for Nicholas, as there was no guarantee if he had to leave at the end of May he would be able to get back into the country without having to endure another 14 days quarantine, and at this time it meant a government facility with other people and at his expense. It was highly likely that regulations would change, but at least he didn’t have to worry at this point about another overseas jaunt and hopefully as the country was slowly opening up again would give him the liberty to do some travel around the country which was one of the primary reasons he was here. A trip to the supermarket meant he had some idea of the exotic foods that were on offer and he bought a couple of dragon fruit to try. Peng was still anxious to show him some of the bars and night life and they headed back to Beijing Fun to sample the stylish delights of Starbucks Reserve which had now opened. They walked up the 3 flights experiencing the coffee house, the tea house and the bar. However there was only 1 drink on offer, and neither of them wanted the coffee Mojito and instead they went back to the Inwave Teahouse they had been to before. There was only one other customer in there and as they went through the doors they were immediately informed by the Trader that it had shut at 7pm but she said she would serve them and they could stay there till official closing. When she served the tea she had bought also bought them a complimentary ice cream. It was such a lovely gesture it broke is heart to tell her they were Vegan and couldn’t eat it. The feeling of being welcome in the city was almost immediately wiped out when they left to get a street snack, an eggless crepe called Jianbing he experienced direct racism when a street official shouted at him and Peng. There is panic as Local people now believe the Virus is coming in from overseas. Peng corrected them and said that this was true but 90% of the cases were Chinese nationals returning from overseas and it was only 10% foreigners. The officials apologised and let them get on their way. The food was delicious and warm but it was not enough to protect him from the cold which was now bitter, so it was back home where he suddenly felt exhausted by all the activity of the day and showered and took to his bed.
Nicholas Quirke was trapped indoors on the morning of 26 March 2020. It was a gloomy rainy day and the temperature had dropped dramatically. It was the day of his friend David Mounfield’s funeral and he wondered if the aspect would be equaly gloomy in the UK on this inconceivably sad occasion. It was suddenly really hard for him to get any momentum and instead he scoured facebook which was literally awash with beautiful words and memories. Of course the reminiscence that kept haunting him was the occasion when David’s appalling time keeping and adherence to the rehearsal schedule for Moonlight over India and The Bargain led him to fire David from the production in the interest of maintaining the sanity of the the cast who had complained bitterly about Dave. Having taken the draconian action, which was completely against his nature, he then found himself to be vilified by the rest of cast for having disposed of a beloved member of the company. The episode was taken by David’s in his usual affable manner and caused no damage to their friendship as their long term collaborations bore testament to. With lockdown in the UK the funeral was sadly limited to family only and the wide, wide circle of friends would have to celebrate his life from afar and wait for a future memorial. He sincerely hoped that the sun would shine and send a beautiful, bounteous spirit on his way. Nicholas eventually shook off the lethargy, the inertia that overcame him and ventured out to a supermarket to get some all important stock for the fridge, spinach, a red pepper and some bananas. He marvelled at some of the interesting looking vegetables and thought he must research what was on offer and try cooking them. Another parcel of Buddhist books And DVD’s arrived for Peng as part of an elaborate joke his cousin had instigated, through whilst amused he found the waste a little hard to swallow. As he was not getting out on the bike Nichols decided to take to the treadmill before settling down to do some more work and get to grips with more admin relating to cancelled flights. He walked for 6 km as he tried to talk with his sister. before ending up a sweating heap and his leg started to hurt. When he looked at his emails and bank account a couple of refunds were showing up which was a relief, but he was still waiting on confirmation of the flights he was unable to take. It was impossible get answers or get through and he was still trying to get it resolved by the time Peng returned from work. Nicholas went out on a fruitless mission to pick up a parcel that was not there. After supper he was ridiculed for not knowing the mechanics of his wireless headphones. Technology frequently defeated him and he was used to finding his own way around the machines that dominated his day to day existence. Who knew, that if you are listening to music on AirPods and the phone rings you don’t have to get your phone out, you just tap them and the phone answers. For 2 years he had found the inconvenience irritating and he was not ashamed to state that he felt ashamed for his lack of understanding. Ridicule was justified. As he took to his bed it was the time in the UK for funeral proceedings to begin. A prayer, a wish, a thought, a dedication. God speed David. You were a big man, filling a big space in peoples hearts, the world is diminished by your loss.
Nicholas Quirke was in a fiercely productive mood on 25th March 2020 and by the end of the day not only Did he feel he had achieved a lot but he had earned himself a little money Too. It was also his 4th visit to the massage hospital and Ping-Angli was now as familiar to him now as his home. He cycled the whole way and arrived in time. He was always struggling with officialdom at the hospital regarding information they required about his whereabouts, despite having seen the same staff 3 times in 9 days and Peng had prepared an information sheet to give to the hospital. The moment the unintelligible questions started Nicholas showed them the sheet of paper and they started laughing, he was let straight through to reception. He saw another doctor and the massage was less painful and he felt it actually hit the source of the problem, though his leg tingled it felt like something had really been attacked. He paid for some more sessions but hoped he would not have to use them all anticipating an improvement from here on. Wednesday had been established as his cleaning day and back at the flat he set to dusting, hoovering and mopping the floors, as he did this he practised his Multi tasking skills and prepared food and did the laundry. During this period of somewhat frenzied housekeeping he received a message from his friend Terry in Denver, offering him some work correcting the grammar and writing for a clients PhD application, it was only $50 but it was a start. Once he had received this he sat down and started work on the first paid endeavour since he had hung up his Santa hat in December. Feeling satisfied with his work he set of to meet Peng for some supper at Qmex. He navigated the subway despite a wrong turn but failed at the final hurdle of finding the restaurant and Peng had to rescue him once again. I seemed the google maps didn’t like his location and was actually trying to make him travel from an alternative location! It was the first time he had properly been out at night on a bike and after eating they went to an ice cream parlour where he was able to enjoy another sorbet before they cycled to Beijing Fun, another area of smart nightlife. and then to see some of Beijing’s historical sites lit up at night. The Gateway to Tiananmen Square looked amazingly romantic in the night lights, but unfortunately, due to the virus situation all the bars were shut and instead they had a short walk around then cycled back home. He was pleased to note that although he had done a lot of cycling and movement his leg was not feeling painful. This was a good sign that he might finally be on the mend
Nicholas Quirke was astounded by what was happening in the world on 24 March 2020. It seemed a never ending litany of chaos. The reports of lockdowns, of the curtailment of liberty, of jobs and livelihoods lost, the deaths in Italy exceeding those of China were just some of the bizarre and terrifying events that overwhelmed him. He had enjoyed a long conversation with his former employer, Tamara from Blackwatch entertainment and her picture of what was happening in the UK was enlightening but left him feeling worried and concerned for friends and family that seemed a complete reversal of fortunes from the concerns his family had about his journey into the Far East. Seeing it for the first time from their perspective he could understand the worry breaching China’s borders held for them. Though once again he was truly grateful he was where he was, and not enduring the hardships the coming months might have for his family and friends. He was actually now in a safe harbour with desirable company and a slowly awakening city and outlook. The day ahead of him was almost a re-run of his previous meeting with his friend Justin,. He had planned to have lunch in a Vegan restaurant but out of the 3 locations they could go to 1 was closed, 1 only doing take away and the 3rd although open seemed to be too far out of the way for his friend to travel to, so they ended up meeting instead in the same Teahouse, It took so long trying to sort this out that he was late leaving, though he still rode a bike, and actually pelted his way there, past The forbidden city and Tiananmen Square and he wasn’t too late after all. The conversation revolved again around the life of his acquaintance and Nicholas started to feel a little distant and a little less interested as he was regaled with the same stories. They enjoyed a nice lunch in ‘Foodbowl’ through he didn’t have quite the variety he was expecting as he showed them the statement, in Mandarin, on the phone Peng had prepared for him to show restaurant owners declaring:- ‘
I am a vegan, please help confirm the food I ordered contains no animal, no seafood, no milk, no egg and no cheese. Thank you‘
And the menu suddenly shrank, as even the tofu dish had a sauce made from egg. A raw food salad with a simple oil and vinegar dressing suited him, except he did end up with it annoyingly splashing and staining his new jacket. He looked in a Bookshop for Riding The Iron Rooster, which is Paul Thereoux‘s account of his Journey by train to China when he too had decided he would Spend a year in China and indeed get there by train across Europe, it was not in their stock, but he was amused to find that their Contemporary fiction section pretty much covered the Penguin Classics range. . An hour, a walk and soybean hot milk later it was time to head home. They passed a famous photography studio where Chairman Mao and other leading members of the Communist Party had their official headshots taken. He was quite pleased that although he rarely used the subway for line 1 he did know that he could take it to Xidan and was now remembering stops on various lines. . He got off and cycled the rest of the way. His new phone had not worked as he expected and frustrated by its inadequacies, they reset and he had to load each app one by one, being unable to remember passwords caused some annoyance. His supper was very light as he was now in competition with Peng to see who could lose a certain amount of weight first. He was potentially tying himself to a week of housework, while Peng would need to live a completely vegan lifestyle for 2 weeks if he lost. Peng was very confident he would win. Nicholas would need some extreme measures, maybe a fasting day would help, to beat this competitive spirit.
Nicholas Quirke was ready for another punishing treatment on 24 March 2020 and had set off on a bike to the Massage Hospital . 10 minutes into his ride he realised he was not wearing a mask! Infuriatingly he had to cycle home as without a mask he would not be treated. He still had time but he had to take the subway for speed. It was apparant that the carriages were noticeably fuller than he was used to seeing them He reached the station but accidentally took the wrong exit. He could not see where he needed to be and his sense of direction completely deserted him. Nothing was familiar and google maps refused to work, his VPN whirring round in circles. Like a child he called upon Peng to help him in his dilemma. He was on back on track but now late. He had the appointment booked and therefore expected an easy route through the red tape on entering. Once again he was held up at the door, and already 10 minutes late he was under the calm exterior quite agitated. The conversation reached an impasse and the nurses who recognised him from his previous visits asked to contact his friend and once again he was on the phone to Peng. Sooner or later this reliance on his wonderful host was going to have to stop and he was really going to need to stand on his own two feet. He felt more and more independent and could now find his way around certain areas with some confidence and the more he travelled around the easier it became through languages was continually a barrier, and the mental note to himself was: keep learning Mandarin. Once through the system, nobly aided by Peng, he was sent to an alternative area to wait and this time he had a number to wait for. As soon as he saw his name appear on the board he understood how the system worked and from here on he would be fine. He was late and had to wait about 45 minutes before he was seen but his physician had a smattering of English and even made a few jokes so though there was some painful manipulating going on at least he felt understood. Once again he felt drained by the treatment and once home had a midday nap. He felt suddenly old being incapacitated in this way. He was definitely not used to dozing in the middle of the day and getting himself together to go out again was like waking up all over again. He definitely needed something to do and occupy his time. He cycled back to the Joy City mall to collect some trousers and buy a cake and by the time he returned back to the apartment a delivery of his new phone had arrived. Peng had been very persuasive about getting a new i-phone and he sincerely hoped it would be worth the expense. Naturally what should have been a straightforward exercise turned into an ever decreasing circle of inability to get everything working that even defeated Peng. The frustrations of getting everything in order exhausted him and he gave up on trying to sort it out. Instead he planned what to do the next day to avoid a period in the doldrums which he had felt were trying to lure him in. While Nicholas worked, Peng beavered away at solving the riddle of the phone and by the time he had finished everything was in working order and he could go to bed with an easy mind.
Nicholas Quirke was thinking of his mother, in fact all the mothers he knew back home in the UK who were celebrating Mothering Sunday on 22 March 2020. He was aware that with the need to self isolate and ‘Social Distancing’ it was not a good time to be indulging in festivities and he felt some compassion for the situation his friends and family in UK were now in. 2020 did seem to be a year of extraordinary turmoil for the world, yet having upturned his own life he found was feeling nothing but positivity about the journey he had embarked upon and seemed to continually ride some sort of wave ahead of events. He had experienced minor hardship during this crisis and was already feeling part of a society that was having to readjust to a new order, a new way of living, which completely aligned with his own personal journey. These thoughts were on his mind as he was faced with some minor decisions as part of the transformation he was undergoing from the traveller that set out on 12 January 2020 to the Beijing city dweller he was currently posturing as. Haircut, beard trim, an increasingly trimmer figure contributed to an optimistic outlook and today his gaze had turned to the diminished, and redundant Arctic wardrobe he had left Brighton with. He needed something more suited to spring and the country he was now in. With the temperature increasing on a daily basis they set off to the Joy City Mall to investigate what was on offer from Uniqlo. Peng was finding the Cultural revolution Maoist look that Nicholas had a fondness for a little tiresome and it was time to put a bit of colour back into his look. He found a yellow cagoule style top, a corresponding blue top as well as some appropriately lightweight strides, underwear and to mark the Year of The Rat some red socks, that in China indicated he was living through his Birth Year. It seemed to take some time and some obstructions for them to complete the purchases and hunger overwhelmed them and they made their way to the Vegan Restaurant, Godly, that Nicholas had been repelled from when he was first in the city. The staff seemed very unhappy to have a foreigner in their midst but Peng was persuasive and they were finally allowed in though he was tucked away in a corner. Regulations for dining in a public space demanded that people were not allowed at the same table or to sit opposite each other so they were sat at a diagonal to eat the delicious meal that had the textures, looks and taste of meat but were completely plant based. The Buddhist cuisine had completely mastered the art of transforming natural products into faux traditional meals. For some time he had been longing to have vegan Ice Cream or sorbet and Peng had been scouring the cities gelato’s for a place he could get something suitable but had been continually thwarted. Today’s he located a Hagen Das which offered a Mango sorbet and after calling ahead to make sure it was actually available and enduring the staffs confusion “Yes we do serve sorbet Ice Cream”, “No Milk?’, “Err I am not sure?’ “Oh yes, Our Sorbet Ice Cream is made without milk.”, they cycled to the store. Finally he was able to enjoy the taste of ice. Peng was extremely puzzled to receive a parcel of Books from a Buddhist organisation with pictures and chants for him to practice. he discovered his cousin had signed him up asa joke as he was now eating a Vegan diet which most Buddhists followed. Concerned that people in the Uk needed to know exactly the routine after coming in from outside he made a short video of the routine. Get In; take off shoes and leave them at the door, then remove outside layer,; Jacket, hats, trousers, wash hands, or even better, shower. Then you can relax. After this routine he tried on his new clothes before making a beetroot smoothie for supper and settling down to an evening of writing emails and contacting family, friends and a chat with Eileen. Peng had ordered a new Dyson which arrived and he proudly pieced it together and enjoyed the turbot power it produced, immediately setting out to clean the apartment. As the close of day approached he felt that once again the day had been productive and successful and he could retire with satisfaction.
Nicholas Quirke was looking forward to a day of cycling and discovering more of Beijing on 21 March 2020. It was a Saturday and Peng was playing host and taking him out into the city to discover another aspect of this increasingly amazing place. His close cropped haircut from the day before prompted him to do something he had been intending to do since he had been having to wear a face mask and that was shave his beard right back. The scissors came out and the beard trimmer, which had successfully shorn Peng, and he wielded it with his new found confidence as a barber. He looked and felt a lot younger. His silver cross, severely tarnished since he had been travelling, despite having the maker, Jeremy Hoye, polish it only a few months previously, needed polishing and the mission for the day was to get it treated and cleaned. First some sightseeing and once again the freedom of the city was his as he mounted a bicycle and they sped off to the Southside of Tiananmen Square, an area he had not previously seen. First they stopped at an old complex which had been smartened up called Beijing Fun with Tea houses restaurants and bars. They stopped for a Silver Needle tea after which Nicholas encountered this first Chinese Ghost-sign. Their next stop was the impressive Zhengyang Gate Which marked the south entrance to Tiananmen Square. The street running south from here led to the Temple of Heaven and off this main avenue some of Beijing’s oldest dwellings, shops And restaurants were located. They cycled past Dongdan Park which Peng had last been to when he was 10 and they stopped to have a look round this quaint park with a man made hill. Apart from a couple practising their ballroom dancing, apparently it is a popular spot to do this, the gardens were most notable for the preponderance of single older men, lounging on benches or draped around the exercise equipment, given to staring at the sight of white man in their midst. Peng had located a Vegan Restaurant in the heart of the financial buildings in the City and they went to the China World Mall. Unfortunately, The Lotus restaurant was closed and it took them almost an hour to locate somewhere suitable to eat and even when they sat down at Baker and Spice having found the only Vegan Dishes, the staff came back to say that they had run out of the Thai Green Curry he had ordered. He had red instead. Feeling replenished they took a Didi to an alternative Mall which dealt solely in jewellery and silver goods., They located a silversmith who took the blackened cross dipped it some liquid, and then handed it back a little cleaner than it had been. Cost, nothing. It was time to head home. They stopped at a cake shop where Peng bought a vegan Green Bean rose cake for desert, to follow the pea and mint soup Nicholas had made the night before. Plans to go out to See the city at night were scrapped and though they intended to watch a film A search for his reading glasses which went rogue took up too much time and once they were found, the will to continue the evening was spent. Oblivion called.