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.
Nicholas Quirke was weary on 20 March 2020, Despite eating a heartier breakfast than he had done for a while of Smoothie bread and almond butter, seeds and fruit. Yet faced with a simple day in the home he had somehow lost the will to be productive. Once he had corrected the technological issues and got the blog posted he concentrated on getting some calcium tablets for Cole. A simple task but somehow took nearly an hour to get through yet more technology hiccups. The same had happened when he ordered some flowers for his mother for Mother’s day. He then focussed on preparing lunch, broiled the tofu he had marinated and made a salad and as Peng was working from home And he needed to accommodate him too and as a result seemed to have made more than was necessary By the time lunch was finished they both felt stuffed though neither left anything on their plates. An afternoon nap turned into a sleep and at 4 he woke to get himself ready for the event of the day ‘A Haircut’. They cycled to the salon, which was certainly a lot smarter than the establishment he visited in Seoul, though a lot less character. He was given a hair wash and had forgotten how lovely it is to have some else’s fingers massage ones tresses. He gave Peng strict instructions to give to the barber but he was aware as the cut was happening that the young man was going way closer to his scalp than he wanted. The language barrier made him guide up on any attempt to change and he gave himself up to Que Sera! He was quite pleased with the result and was quite pleased when the girl who cut Peng’s hair told him the self hair cut was a very good attempt. This made Nicholas feel good about how he had wielded the scissors. They were both still full from the lunch they had eaten but felt they should have something and made a light smoothie. Peng exercised, Nicholas Made a Pea and Mint soup for the next day. And then they sat down and watched a film. Some serious shopping was going to happen on the Saturday and an early night Beckoned.
Nicholas Quirke was feeling the cosmos was giving him some sort of blessing being in Beijing by the end of the day on 19 March 2020. It was another beautiful sunny day and once again he was taking too the streets of the city on a bike. After an uncharacteristically lazy morning, having discovered he was two pounds lighter than last time he had weighed himself,; during which he watched TV, collected some parcels and prepared some tofu for the next day, he got himself ready to go to meet a new friend at a tea house in the elite APM Shopping Mall. The ride in the sunshine and the fresh spring air took him past Zhongnanhai (Central and Southern Seas) the central headquarters for the Communist Party of China, Tiananmen Square and Tiananmen Gate to the Forbidden City, which aside from the traffic was busier than when he had last seen it, but still quiet, to Wangfuging area which had also been desolate on his first stop in Beijing. He noted that from China, to South Korea, to Japan life, shopping and social seemed to revolve around malls in Asia, with restaurants, bars, shops, and Cinemas filling these huge centres. He met Justin in a Teasure tea house and drank a very satisfying Puer ripe tea. It was an enjoyable conversation, Nicholas always liked to hear peoples stories and his friend was garrulous telling him all about his ife in China, about his family that had to live apart due to finding work in the cities, and in this case his wife disappearing and leaving him and his son to fend for themselves. He was keen to go to this particular venue as Peng had told him he could get some soybean IceCream which was a food he loved and missed since he had left England. He located the bar on the sixth floor but due to the lack of customers they weren’t making the ice cream and he left sorely disappointed. He had arranged to meet Peng for supper at another Buddhist restaurant which served HotPot, a traditional Chinese meal but this was solely vegan. They met and cycled to the restaurant at ‘The Place’ mall, which boasted a massive LED screen canopy with digital animation, the largest of its kind in Asia, though surprisingly, as it was immense, not the world. It was another amazing dining experience for him at the Vegan Hotpot, discreet veiled dining areas, the tables adorned with hobs that boiled the broth that he was then expected drop the vegetables, tofu and other delicacies in to cook. It was a delicious meal and when Nicholas paid, the humble and gracious owners offered gratitude to them for having eaten Vegan and contributed to saving the planet. As an western visitor they presented him with a gift of a glass water bottle that was made even more special as the words from The Nīlakaṇṭha Dhāraṇī, also known as the Great Compassion Dhāraṇī, Mantra were on the bottle. He felt welcomed and blessed by them, though Peng was a little disgusted that they gave the gift to the ‘White Man’. By the time they left night had fallen and the screen, which had been off in the daylight was now awash with spectacular animations and images accompanied by suitably chilled out music and called ‘All of Beijing Look Up’. They took a Didi taxi, Beijing’s answer to Uber, back to the apartment where once again he wrestled with the slow technology. Tired and frustrated by the inadequacies of the data speed he went to bed.
Nicholas Quirke was adapting easily into Beijing life on 18 March 2020 as it had become apparent that he would now have to spend quite some time here. His visa allowed him 90 days each visit and if he was to stick to his plan of staying in China for a year then he he would have till the end May before he needed to leave for another country and then return. At the moment, if he left, even if he travelled to another city he would have to be quarantined for 14 days in a government facility and at his own expense. This did mean his plans to travel around China, to see the Pandas in Chengdu, a river hike in Guilin, Shanghai, Tianjin and Zhangjiaie National Park, Hangzhou’s temples and Pagodas, and many other highlights of this vast beautiful country were going to be put on hold till it became clear what regulations would be as the Coronavirus lessened it’s grip on the country indeed the world. It seemed crazy to return to England, itself succumbing to the panic the pandemic was causing. As long as he was in Beijing he was safe. Clear of the virus and able move around the City with a certain largesse it made sense to stay put in the accommodation he had the pleasure of being in. The only question for him was how would he would spend his time. During the 2 weeks of quarantine he had been spoiled, he’d had the company of Peng and the alliance they had formed during this time to keep his spirits up, with activities that revolved around his hosts lifestyle. Now, with Peng at work each day he was going to have make his own plans. As a result he was settling into a domestic routine with cooking and housework, realising that a review of how he could make some money was desperately needed. His order of Calcium tablets arrived and he was able to begin the long attempt to rebuild his bone density. After housework he planned to cycle to Joy City Mall to do some clothes shopping before he attended his 2nd treatment at the massage hospital. He needed to make sure that he all the essentials he needed from hand wipes and hand wash, Face mask, Passport, community pass, door key, power pack, translator, AirPods, phone, his travel totems and his metal straws and utensils, everything he might need for a day out in Beijing. It was another warm spring day and being on a bike Gave him such a sense of joy and belonging, navigating the wide streets and Junctions, it really made him feel like he belonged. He stopped off at the Joy City mall which was quite an extraordinary construction. He was headed for the 2nd floor but then accidentally got on escalator that took him up 6 floors. Quite the longest ride he had ever had and as he took a picture of the height he experienced a sharp attack of vertigo. Getting back down was not so easy and he had to search the floors in the warren. When he got to the establishment he wanted, all he had time to do was to buy some socks that weren’t thermal or highly coloured. On arrival he saw a number of familiar faces and said Ni Hao, to all. Due to an error he had made on Monday he had to re-register and paid for another 3 sessions. This meant he saw Dr Lau again who was patient and friendly as they waited for the translator to repeat what he said in Chinese. A nurse found a patient who could speak english which made the process easier. He had a different masseur, a bulky guy who got deep into the tissue causing him much discomfort, however, he knew he would feel the benefit ands endured the pain. Nicholas felt drained by the massage and eager to get home and relax he took the subway home. From the front gate he carried a parcel for Peng all the way back to the apartment only to realise it was 501 for a separate building. This meant walking all the way back to the gate. Detail, a skill he lacked. He put on his new sweat top which he was feeling very pleased with and sat down to enjoy some TV and have a long conversation with Cole in which he learned of the ravages of COVID19 on his sons ability to earn, as several projects were cancelled. Frustrating to learn of the disappointments and unable to be of much help. Of course he realised how deeply his own ability to earn money would be affected if he were at home. They were joined by Harvey and they enjoyed a good Father/sons talk. It made him feel a little homesick and he could have done with a hug from them both but sharing a laugh was enough to sustain him for a while. He had supper with Peng, watched more of The Outsider, started to do some writing but allowed himself to be distracted by his friend and his plans for the next day. By the end of the night he really started to feel the benefit of the massage and looked forward the next session on Monday..
Nicholas Quirke was feeling a little tested on 17 March 2020 when he went on a shopping mission for Peng. The day had started extremely well, he had had a refreshing sleep and was able to tackle the technological issues that had prevented him from posting his blog, his leg felt pain free, and he had a plan to get out and see more of Beijing. After breakfast Peng went to work and he weighed himself for the first time since he witnessed his weight had been going up instead of down. He was delighted to see they were recording a decrease of nearly 5lbs. His spirits soared and he was eager to get on with his day. he made some Hummus, washed up prepared himself a salad for lunch, including the Tempeh he had marinated and cooked the night before. Peng wanted him to go to a mall where there was an Ikea and other fashion outlets. When packing for his journey he had focussed on the arctic conditions he would be enduring in Siberia and Mongolia and had not carried many items other than trousers that were smart casual and could be worn through the seasons. He would need clothing for potential employment and to replace the shirts and items, torn and stained, he had dispensed with along the journey. This meant he needed some essentials like a smarter jacket, a pair of shoes and maybe another shirt. Peng thought it laughable that he was so poorly attired and that he had travelled with white shirts. Peng provided him with a train route to get to the mall, but the fact that it was a perfect spring day, made him want to cycle and then the route changed and with it Nicholas’s inattention to detail. He enjoyed cycling along the strange route which took him into the suburbs of Beijing and then he took the subway along the rest of the route. He got off at the stop and then was unable to fund the Mall. When he messaged Peng about where the mall was he got a short response as once again he had got off at the wrong station. He was in fact meant to have cycled to that station and then get a train the rest of the way. He had curtailed his bike ride 3 stops too early and then got off the train too early. A time and money wasting moment that made him cross with himself. And put him out of sorts and in a bad mood which extended to his behaviour and he took hardly any photographs to record the day. By the time he got to the correct location he was sulky and his foot and leg were starting to ache. He was expected to scan a code into his WeChat but as he was fussing about getting his correct Chinese mobile number the employee on the door, giving up on the old white mans ineptitude, just waved him through. The shops in the mall were open and there were some cafes open and he prowled the mezzanines to find somewhere that wasn’t only offering take out rather than providing a place to sit down, relax and seriously ’take the weight off his feet’ which were killing him. He was sure the Dr. he had seen would not approve of the punishment he now felt he was administering to himself. He looked at some clothes shops which had a distinctly western vibe, with H & M, Though it was closed, Doc Martins, GAP, Uniqlo. Nike but the attempt was so lacklustre he gave up and went to get the items Peng wanted from Ikea, again this was not an experience he had expected to endure out in the Far East. No different to the UK or, clearly, across the globe, and even at a time of crisis still busy. He got the goods and headed back to the apartment feeling a little more cheerful though the dull ache in his leg continued to agitate. He did feel though that something was shifting and that the pain had moved a little. He was looking forward to his next treatment. He cycled from the station, bought some Bananas and garlic, which they were low on and on arriving back, washed and sat down to deal with the responses to the admin that he was trying to get resolved. Now TV were refunding him the subscription they had been taking but nothing from Bulb to say they were dealing with his enquiry. He felt another phone call coming on. He avoided the treadmill and stretched his muscles and his intellect, chatted with a friend and once supper and writing were out of the way he went to bed.