Nicholas Quirke was getting down to the nitty gritty business of living in China on 22 May 2020 when encouraged by Peng’s research into Health Kits for Shanghai and Nanjing he embarked on another much needed mission to obtain a bank card. Their previous attempt had ended in failure, with the banks shaking their heads in a indifferent fashion. Though he had intended to go to a newly discovered park and the likelihood of the IBOC fulfilling his needs were remote, he thought it best to try. He was oddly excited to note that the Bank was located in the big grey square building that he had been able to observe from the window of the apartment. Even though his Beijing health kit showed green he met with some resistance at the door with security talking unintelligibly to him, but as always in these situations he demonstrated his incomprehension and moved on into the bank where he was greeted by a worker who could speak some English. Once he had explained that he was travelling round China and needed a bank card to support the health kits he was shown to a window where he started to hand over all of his documents. Suddenly it seemed supremely easy, he completed a couple of forms and the only hiccup was he did not have his National Insurance number on him. There was a slight hiatus as he cycled swiftly back to the apartment to get the information and headed straight back. Contrary to the doom and gloom messages on the ‘Safe and Sane’ WeChat group who had helped direct him to the Bank, within the hour he was the proud owner of a Chinese bank account and card. Payments in China work effectively when linked to WeChat and Ali Pay, which are also mediums for a myriad other activities. Most importantly to get around any city in China now a health kit is required and he requested that the teller set him up with the tools to obtain them. Things started to get complicated as the phone line had been organised by Peng and in his name, which meant that Nicholas, though he now had a card, could not link to the kits he needed. After a phone call to Peng he headed to a China Mobile office to have the phone transferred into his name. Naturally that wasn’t going to be possible unless both parties were present and it was something that would have to wait until tomorrow. He returned home to a phone call with Eileen and an update on home life before preparing himself for a zoom meeting with his Australian friends. They covered many topics and he was grilled about life in China during COVID19 and life with Peng. It felt like the first time he had a more than a 1 -1 conversation with people for a long time and he enjoyed the banter and teasing. Hearing his friends talk about life in the UK at this time made him feel glad that he was in China and away from the atmosphere everyone was living in. There were many who had questioned his desire to explore one of the most demonised countries in the world and yet he now felt that not only had he achieved his goal of living in China and discovering its culture but that there wasn’t another place on earth right now where he could sufficiently survive. As always he felt inspired by Kim and he was determined to harness the feelings of the day to day moments and experience he was having and do something really creative with it. It was a really positive way to end the day and with these thoughts he bought his Friday to a close. With material at a minimum he decided once again to attempt to post the earwig journey.
Nicholas Quirke was able to satisfy another urge that he had been missing on 21 May 2020 when he made a trip to the National Art Museum of China. He had been to the museum on his visit in 2018 but as all galleries had been closed until now he had not managed to see any indigenous historic art work. The Museum was located in the Dongcheng area and meant another journey North for him. The day was notable as the start of the CPCC’s week long meeting in the city and the security level of the central areas, were raised and now at every subway entrance soldiers were stationed and he was fortunate enough to catch a group of guards marching to their positions. From the photographs he took he was amused to See that one of the trained and drilled Guards was out of step with his brothers. The added security meant that he had find an alternative route to the museum as he could not take Chang’an Avenue and pass Tiananmen. What he did discover was that it took him past a park he had not seen before which led to another relic which he would have to explore later. His entry into the gallery was straightforward though they did have some concerns about his GoPro, which in a flashback to his last tarriance was confiscated, but was on this occasion approved. Before going into NAMOC he wandered around their outside sculpture park, impressed as always by the heroic Imagery of the communist statues. Once inside he headed for the 6th floor to work his way down through the galleries which got larger and larger. The Museum were honouring all their donations and donators and he was treated to their 3D collections, their foreign collections, Water colours, oil, tapestries and photography. He loved the scope of the work, from the flowers and birds to the awesome landscapes and the beautiful figurative work. By far and away the work that really spoke to him on this visit was the vast and moving depiction of refugees following the Japanese invasion in 1943 in an ink and colour panorama by Jiang Zhaohe. Naturally it was a long visit and once he had refreshed himself with a tea and some nuts he set of to explore the relic park, a long thin garden which led to a neglected piece of cobbling which was a road, originally laid down in the Ming Dynasty and led to one of the gates to the city. Though it was clear he shouldn’t, he stepped onto the stones and felt the rush of the historical Chinese whose feet had worn down the stone. He enjoyed a late lunch in a mall and realised that it was the first time that he had bought himself lunch out on his own. He felt he had overcome a small hurdle. The air started to blacken on his ride back home and no sooner had he walked through the door than it turned to night and another furious storm erupted. He was pleased to have The opportunity to catch up with Cole and to get the opportunity to listen to more of Titus Andronicus, featuring great many of his friends which ‘The One Fell Swoop Project’ on FB had read on Sunday, together on Zoom, and had recorded especially for him. It was the intention of the group to get through Reading the complete works of Shakespeare during lockdown. Nicholas hoped to get an opportunity to join them in a reading despite the complexities of the time difference. His evening activities ended with a filmed conversation with his friend Terry in Denver on the usefulness of online teaching methods on TikTok. he was inspired to start a TikToc account and promised himself to download the app in the morning.
Nicholas Quirke was not expecting to lose a day in such a spectacularly dismal and dull way on 20 May 2020 when he booked a ‘first thing in the morning’ appointment with Apple. Having been told his phone was ok he discovered that the on/off button didn’t function and it was causing all sorts of problems and he went to have it checked. He saw two technicians, looked at another phone and ended up buying a new phone for the price of the repair. It seemed a satisfactory outcome but one that still cost him £300 and some pain in parting with it. The process only took 5 hours to resolve and he did end up making a friend with Cass the Technician who tried Numerous attempts to get a new phone for half the cost. Exhausted by the effort and the waiting he returned briefly to the apartment before setting off to meet Peng for their usual Wednesday night out dinner. They were dining that night at Lin’s, a smart vegetarian restaurant near Solana Mall and Sun park, which was an area he was now familiar with. As he was early he stopped at a Moka Bros cafe and enjoyed a jasmine tea. There was some excitement in the air as it’s was 20th May, or, as the Chinese write it 5/20, which another day when ‘Love’ is celebrated. Apparently when you say 520 it sounds like Wo ai Ni (I love you), though in pin yin its written as Wu er ling, which to Nicholas’s eye seemed nothing like Wo ai Ni. However the closeness in sounds was enough for the Chinese to get giddy about the number 520 and when they arrived at the restaurant all the tables, including theirs, were strewn with rose petals, a proper lovers tryst. The restaurant was vegetarian which meant that most of the dishes were Lacto/ovo and it took nearly an hour to make their order from the very extensive menu. When the dishes came they were deliciously flavoured though he did have to raise an eyebrow at Peng’s order of Vegetable lasagne which seemed oddly out of place in the array of Asian dishes. It was his first proper meal since fasting and the effort of eating made him strangely weary. On the way home the subway trains were jammed packed and he suddenly longed for the days of Social distancing. They also encountered a street dance which is a Chinese past time he had yet to see in the UK. It was good to end the day with some activity and he could feel that it hadn’t been entirely wasted in the Apple store, but ‘oh the expense’ still made hime feel a little sore.
Nicholas Quirke was flushed with success on 19 May 2020 when he visited Beijing’s ancient Observatory which had been closed to all when he made the attempt to see the museum back in March. It was another glorious day of sunshine and he set off in his usual ‘ I feel like I own Beijing’ on a bike mode. Enroute, at some traffic lights a local started chatting called George who was the same age and was a translator. They cycled and chatted for a while and swapped WeChat Id’s, it was always good to make new friends. A misunderstanding at the gates led him to pointlessly walk around the block before getting into the museum. Gaining entry and communing with the ghosts of the ancient past was an extremely fulfilling event and one that surprised him with the complexity and beauty of the displays. Only seen from a distance, these original exhibits, on close inspection possessed a design and elegance that was breathtaking. The history of the instruments and the stories of the men who had operated and designed them was fascinating some of them predating Galileo and the setting was quite idyllic. He browsed and read for some time before leaving and heading for a tea at a Teasure in U-Town Mall. The transformation from the ghost town he had experienced in February and March to a bustling metropolis continued to astound him. Whiling away the time seemed to be a very easy thing to do and by 4pm 45 hours into a fast he decided it was time to head the 6 miles back to the apartment to prepare some food for the evening. On his way home, he kept overtaking a girl on a bike who would then overtake him and it was apparent they were on a similar trajectory. They laughed about the continual meeting at junctions and she ordered ‘follow me‘ as she started to dodge the cars And motor bikes and lead him on an exhilarating ride through the traffic. They eventually parted company and he stopped to buy an Ovaltine Powerball Cake for Peng before going home feeling quite weak from the journey and the sun to make his smoothie supper. It was cold and smooth and just what he needed. His evening was spent watching the touching film Maudie based on the true story of an artist. Plans to head for Nanjing at the end of the month and then Further afield to Shanghai and Hangzhou in June were mulled over and his exploration of China was well and truly underway.
Nicholas Quirke was experiencing a sense of deja-vu on 18 May 2020 when, on China’s National Museum day he made his way to The Beijing People’s Art Theatre. Conceived in 1952 by four founding members Cao Yu, Jiao Juyin, Ouyang Shanzum and Zhongshan Qifang, with the ambitious goal of building a renowned, unique and profound theatre Company that aspired to the emulate the characteristics of The Moscow Arts Theatre. As Stanislavski envisioned they wanted a theatre based on truth and realism that was as far away from the overblown dramatics of the Peking Opera as could be imagined. With all the theatres still closed, a museum about a theatre was going to be as close to the experience right now and in celebration of Museum day he couldn’t think of a better place to be. It was a beautiful sunny day and there was no other way to dress than ‘Vegangster’ and his mood was up. Although it was situated close to Tiananmen Square he took a new route which directed him through the south of the square, though as preparations were in force for CCP conference, its was still closed and he had to take a detour up another street. He did not got lost he held his course and arrived safely at his destination, which, like the Moscow Art Theatre Museum was attached to the Theatre. Like all visitor attractions in Beijing, probably throughout China, he had to book in advance, so he was amused on showing his ticket, that they showed him a sheet of attendees and asked, “Is this you”, pointing to the sole western Lao Wei name amongst the sea of Chinese Characters. He was given his ticket and guide, and in addition a small blue notebook, resembling a passport, which noted that it had been published especially for 18 May 2020 to record National Museum day. He noted there was a film crew milling around To record the event of the reopening and felt certain that they had surreptitiously captured the Lao Wei. In many ways the material and the layout of the exhibits resembled that of the gallery in Moscow and even though it didn’t have the extensive history or the emotional impact on his psyche that MAT had, the overwhelming sense of artistic endeavour and the desire to break new ground and to formulate a new advance in performance was so potent that he felt quite choked by the experience. In addition, the theatres history was set against a background of The Cultural Revolution, when despite its revolutionary ideals the Theatre was closed and one of the founders, Jiao Juyin, whose intellectual rigour was the company’s driving force was vilified and forced to halt any artistic endeavour. Nicholas was pleased to note that a pardon was eventually granted, though he never practiced again. All the more sad when reading the philosophy that this engine of change espoused. “When the limits of drama in realism are broken, we will attain a plane that is more beautiful, more conceptive and more attracting’”. The body of the exhibition was around the productions that the company have performed over the years and in particular the stand out pieces from their initial repertoire; ‘Thunderstom’, ‘TeaHouse’, ‘Peking Man’ and many other that he had never heard of and had never, to his knowledge been seen in the UK. It was an inspiring and revealing experience and he felt privileged to have had the insight into an aspect of world theatre which had remained unseen (at least to his eye) for decades. He was certainly going to research further and hoped he would get a chance to see the company in action when the theatres reopened. After the greed of the weekend he had decided to have a 48 hour fast and avoided lunch but did stop to have tea at Teasure in the APM mall he had been to when he first escaped Quarantine. It was once again a thriving and busy mall and another indication that the stranglehold COVID19 had had on the business of daily life was seemingly fully in abeyance. His thoughts went to his family and friends in the UK and around the world and hooped that they would see this as an indication of the liberty they too would hopefully enjoy soon. He stopped at another mall to get some Coffee beans for Peng before heading to Joy City at Xidan and the Apple store to part with £300 to get his phone mended. To his relief the technician who looked at the phone and performed a full diagnostic on the apparatus advised that the only function that was damaged was Apple Pay and that although it was slightly bent the phone would perform well. The screen protector and case had prevented any internal or major structural harm. With his phone working and no expense he stopped at Uniqlo and bought a shirt to celebrate. He had had a nasty shock and the lesson was keep a tight hold of the phone and avoid tripping up. He would take a lesson in avoiding falling over in old age as suggested by Peta.on the futurelearn.com site. Though there was some grumbling of his stomach he felt very little hunger pangs watching Peng eat his supper and it was a content and confident Nicholas that prepared for sleep.
Nicholas Quirke was in a technological doldrum on Sunday 17 May 2020 having seriously damaged his phone but was fortunate to be able to borrow an android phone from Peng to help him through what he hoped would be a mere hiatus and he had his phone back repaired and fully operational. This meant he was going to have to take his camera with him on their expedition to the foothills of the Lofty mountains, the Nine sides, to visit The International Garden Expo park which at 1243 acres was the largest man made park he had visited and had been the location for the 6 month 2019 event. Its was now a permanent attraction and the featured landscaped gardens designed by gardeners from around China and the world was an immense park. It was was the largest ever gardening show. and apparently two villages were relocated for the exposition. The journey there was through the stunning scenery he had experienced the previous weekend. It had promised a warm day and he dressed accordingly in a tee shirt though once they arrived it was clear he was seriously under dressed in what was now referred to by Peng as his ‘Vegangster’ wear. The wind was cold and the threat of rain was never far away. He survived the chill and the Enjoyed the beauty and the variety of flowers and exhibits on display he was particularly taken with the Dutch walled Time Garden which maze like structure led to an area of rest for those who have reached the winter of their lives and featured a cluster of birches with their stripped white bark, also, of course, the magnificent centre piece, a mountain top Temple with spectacular views of the mountains and waterfalls. There were also featured gardens from the habitats of China’s provinces, giving him a taste of some of the sights he might see when he ventured further into China’s interior. They spent 5 hours exploring every thing from the botanic gardens which boasted a fantastic mirrored film show by Teamlab which led them through the roots of trees ands an exotic tree which reminded him of his body shape to the Derelict Yurts of the Inner Mongolian garden, before the cold got to him and they headed back to Beijing where Peng test drove a Hybrid Honda Elysion while Nicholas enjoyed the luxury of the rear seating. Once this was completed they headed to Tianchumiaoxiang Vegan Restaurant for the supper they should have enjoyed the night before. The tastes were divine, particularly the deep fried lotus root and thgough they did not order a lot they still had food to take home which Nicholas foolishly left in the basket of the bicycle. A parcel from home was waiting for him.courtesy of sister Kate who had sent him 3 packs of toothpaste which was not available in China and 3 packs of dark chocolate caramel wafers for Peng. It was a happy end to another successful mission outside of the city. They watched the end of Midsommer, which was so dark that his own problems with his phone evaporated to nothing , as they ate ice cream and finished the cheesecake he had mad. Feeling bloated from his greed he went happily to bed.
Nicholas Quirke was feeling in high spirits on 16 May 2020 when he set off on a 6 mile Bike ride to a restaurant where he would have supper Peng. He had spent the morning ironing, making a cheesecake and writing and getting out into the warm, 28 degrees, air was a welcome prospect. He believed that he had arrived at the location and hopped off the bike having cycled the distance in 33 minutes. He was however, lost and in the confusion of the moment he tripped and his phone flew out of his hands on a trajectory towards it death. Miraculously Peng found him but there was no dinner, instead to the Apple store to discover it could be repaired but he would be £300 lighter. The distress it caused was not enough to stop him from enjoying the cheese cake he had made or from watching a disturbing horror , ‘Midsommer’ which strangely did cheer him up. It was otherwise a dark day for him and one he would draw a veil over and try to forget.