Nicholas Quirke was looking out of the window at the rain when he woke on 8 May 2020 and decided he would have to find an alternative to parking. He suggested to Peng that he find a Mall and spend some time browsing shops and sitting reading with a tea. Peng immediately suggested a new high end mall SK.S which was close to the Mexican Restaurant they had agreed to eat at that night. The good news was it was an hours cycle ride away to the east, the bad news was the weather was still intemperate. He occupied himself with some research, writing and ironing. He consumed 2 wraps and a smoothie for lunch before setting of on his expedition across the city. Though he had been this Far East he had not cycled the whole way before and miraculously throughout the hour long pedal the rain abated and he remained dry. The Mall was new and had been attracting attention in Beijing for the displays, the art, the eccentric sculptures that featured throughout the mall, in fact, on entering he was greeted by the sight of a pen of sheep accompanied by loud baas. His favourite was the swaying grass and the penguins. After exploring he found the Lung his Teahouse and enjoyed a pu’er with rose tea as he did some reading. Peng was joining him for supper at the fascinating mall as a good chain, Baker and Spice, who did some good vegan dishes, had an outlet there and he checked that they were open until 10pm and all dishes were available. While waiting for his friend he told another look at the store, including, in their quirky bookshop, a tome with a picture of an FB friend Michael Atters Atree on the cover, a sweet reminder of Brighton life. When Peng arrived they went to the restaurant where to his dismay they were told they could only buy drinks. Nicholas made a comment about having asked about food and the opening times and the guy just shrugged. This meant cycling further to a Mexican in another Mall where they consumed some spicy and delicious tacos. They picked up the car for their trip to Gubei Water Town the next day once and once they were back at the apartment packed and got ready for the weekend out of Beijing.
Nicholas Quirke was in domestic mode on 7 May 2020 and gave the apartment his attention for the weekly clean. It was a gloomy day outside so spending time indoors was not too much of a source of discontent. His plan was to venture on another parking expedition but this was not so much a history trip as to catch the last of the blossom in a park renowned for its cherry tree orchard and its its proximity and view of another modern soaring landmark, the Central Radio and Tv Tower. He was parking again and believed that he had possibly exhausted the city’s open green spaces but it was an opportunity to cycle and exercise and contemplate his future which for now was looking fairly set in Beijing. On arriving at the park which ran alongside another of the capital’s canals he was immediately struck by the variety of the numerous, he counted 10, conifers that lined the paths. It was a very serene place to be with sculptures and shaded pavilions to reflect in though there seemed to some expectation of a momentous happening on the banks of the canal as a plethora of apparent paparazzo with big cameras and looming lenses pointed at the water with mounting excitement. He guessed there must be some expected sighting of a special fish or bird. The air for once was full of birdsong and delightfully free of the instructions to be a thoughtful citizen of the world spewing from the speakers. The parks big surprise was that on walking through the leafy glades and following its path it suddenly opened up onto a wide shimmering lake with its view of the tower, which on this overcast day looked vaguely romantic, a sense that was added to by a charming old lady taking a languorous turn through the park along the lakeside and over the bridge, practising an aria. He had expected much more colour from the trees but his arrival was a little to late for the cherry blossom, though there were still some spectacular images, iridescence and scents to drink in. It was another park that spanned a huge area and he had covered quite a distance before sitting down to enjoy the calm and people watch. It was a no surprise that once again he was an alien face all the more obvious now that he could dispense in the open air with wearing his face mask. The cycle home was an equally enjoyable visual treat along the river bank and past the famous Diaoyutai hotel for visiting dignitaries. He intended to call his mother for a catch up, but while he was waiting for a response Kim called from Australia and they had an engrossing, hilarious and productive hour long conversation, by which time Peng had finished his cycling and they sat down to watch the creepy ‘The Hole in the Ground’ before retiring
Nicholas Quirke was returning to his favoured Beijing pastime on 6 May 2020, by indulging in a new spate of parking. His attempts to get to Zhongshan park had been stymied on several occasions but he had never taken his eye off getting into the famous park alongside the Forbidden City. Now that the holidays was over the crowds would be less and an ideal time to start looking around the green spaces again. Getting through security seemed a lot easier than it had on Saturday and it was probably fair to say that they were now fairly relaxed about the security though he was still surprised to see that he was still the only western face he saw in the park and on the road on a bike? The park was well worth the wait. He was seeing the gardens on another warm and lovely day, though there was a smog hanging in the air through which the sun did its best to penetrate and amongst its major attractions were the Cypresses that were 1000 years old. Their twisted, knotted trunks with gnarled and fretted barks looking like alien beings that had been sculpted filled him with a sense of his own, in fact, mankind’s insignificance. Touching these beautiful and magnificent specimens felt like he was in communication with a wisdom and knowledge that in our Species temporary habitation of the earth we had failed to fathom. Of course, Beyond its awesome flora, it boasted a temple, the Alter of Land and Grain built in 1429, pavilions, arcades, a statue of Mr Sun Yat-Sen, a peace monument, a rock from Antarctica, a lake, a famous Stone ‘A Slice of Dark Clouds’ an aquarium of the weird and wonderful and even the mangiest feline he had ever encountered. Along with ancient trees, the attraction that he was most in thrall to was a couple of stone lions. Relics from the Song Dynasty who had ruled China from 950 for 300 years, these 1000 year old lions survived the Cultural Revolution in the 1960s when the caretakers buried them to protect them from destruction. His wander through this peaceful, calming setting gave him an opportunity to absorb more of the History and culture of the city and country that was now his temporary home and with every experience, every new day his insight into the world he was inhabiting was growing. It made Nicholas hungry to move further afield and to discover more of the wonders there were to explore in Hangzhou, Guilin, Chengdu, Shanghai and more. He had been fasting after a heavy few days of eating and started to feel weak and once he was home he prepared food for the next day, edited his photographs and video while Peng counteracted his greed over the Long weekend by a gruelling exercise bike ride on Zwift where a fellow rider was in face a 38 year old Nick Quirke from London. He made plans for the next day and with an empty, grumbling stomach he went to sleep.
Nicholas Quirke was in awe of the scenery he was surveying on 5 May 2020, the final day of the Labour day holiday, that had bought hundreds of Chinese out into the mountains. Everything about the journey and location was spectacular. Only 40 minutes into their drive and he was driving past preserved Sections of the Great Wall, which, he reminded himself was one of the Wonders of the World. It felt like an auspicious start to the day in which the scenery got more and more inspiring. They were heading to Yudu Mountain Natural Scenic Area and as they climbed higher and towards the peak the mountain ranges that came into view were breath taking and no camera could ever do justice to the scale of the vista. They had sent off at 7am and reached the location for their day trip by 8.30 and they immediately began with a hike around the beautiful lake that nestled between the peaks. They discovered an open plateau where some of the day trippers were setting up tents and flying kites, they had no tent but aware that there would not be any Vegan food on sale anywhere they had bought a picnic which they consumed slowly and steadily throughout the day. They followed a path through the woods along the river and came across a waterfall and it’s chilling transparent water. They found a path which appeared to be blocked and this inspired them to go off piste and leave the throng of visitors, amongst which he was again the only western face. His presence continually attracted attention and there were several passers by who said hello. They took the forbidden ancient path, the Shinian Road, so called for the huge flour grinding stone long abandoned, through the wood which eventually led them to the Yudu Mountaim Peak and pavilion from which they enjoyed the magnificent sights. Nicholas had bought his sketch book and kit with him and Finding a suitable spot to draw the landscape He sat down and spent a pleasurable hour rendering the landscape in pencil while Peng rested. It was an idyllic spot and day and though he was reluctant to leave he knew that the journey home was equally full of astounding views and he sat back in the passenger seat and enjoyed panorama. They dropped off the car and made their way to the apartment ordering a Vegan Chow Mein which reminded him of the Chinese takeaways he had enjoyed at home in the UK as a teenager. After an enjoyable catch up with his sister, the holiday was rounded off with another movie, The Public, which was a surprisingly gripping tale from Emillio Estevez. The long weekend and its activities had taken its toll and it was a weary Nicholas Quirke who took to his bed that night.
Nicholas Quirke was actually going inside a museum on 4th May 2020, for the first time since he was in Japan in February. Being in a public space reminded him that he longed to be in a theatre and a cinema. He had not felt his world diminished in anyway as a result of the virus, travelling far from his home as he had been, but now with Beijing bursting back to life these activities he took for granted were suddenly greatly desired. 14 weeks since the grip of COVID19 took hold, this kind of entertainment was still prohibited as were swimming and indoor gym facilities, sports etc. He compensated the lack of entertainment of this nature by watching films on the TV and having exhausted himself on the 1st and 2nd of May on the 3rd, apart from a visit to the supermarket, and a face and foot bath Sunday had been spent watching films, of which the Australian zombie treat, ‘Little Monster’, was the most memorable. To ease himself back into the rhythm of his life again and to take into consideration the world weariness that had descended upon him he and Peng went to the Capital Museum. They had booked the previous week and though his Lao Wei presence caused a stir and held him up, he was the first foreigner the attendant had seen there, they got in quite easily. The exhibits were around the development of Beijing from the first Peking man, discovered to be one of the cradle of mankind, to the formation of the new China. It covered ceramics, costume and folklore customs and it was another fascinating insight into the country And city he was temporality living in. They were off on another trip outside of Beijing the next day and needed to collect the car. As they were near a mall and supermarket they went for A light salad supper in a small cafe which certainly had not seen a Lao Wei in there before, then went to get provisions for the next day as they would not be anywhere where there might be a Vegan restaurant. The evening was about preparing for the next day before settling down to watch another movie which held their attention for about 15 minutes. It was an early night for the next big day.
Nicholas Quirke was escaping Beijing again on 2nd May 2020 for a mountain retreat. This was what he was here to see, some of the natural beautiful landscapes of China and now that most of the travel restrictions were being lifted he could get out of the city and breathe in the cool clear mountain air of the Huairou County. Their first destination was Shentangyu Natural Scenic Area, a national park, where a relatively well preserved Relic section of the Great Wall had been an important fortress for Beijing during the Ming dynasty, Despite their early start at 7am there was already a lot of traffic on the roads, full of Beijingers anxious to make the most of the holiday and the lifted restrictions. They took a 7 km hike up hills, across brooks and streams, through paths hewn into the rock, drinking in the gorgeous inspiring and romantic scenes. The weather was spectacular, The skies blue, the sun scorching. They were able to pick up a park cart which would take them back to the car and as they waited took advantage of the Shijiazhuang, outdoor gym, Their next location was for lunch at another exotic Buddhist vegan restaurant where every member of staff smiled benignly and bowed a greeting. The food was delicious and gave him the energy to enjoy the next stop at the ancient Hongluo Temple, built in the Originally built in the Yuan Dynasty. The temple and its various Pavilions, built on the side of a mountain was swarming with visitors all making the long, steep climb up 800 meters, along side a number of shrines, which seemed to weary even the most robust and hearty of the Pilgrims. As they moved through the paths of this exquisite ancient monument Nicholas found himself deeply moved and almost unable to speak, as he stood in the presence of two Gingko trees, a male and a female , that had stood in that spot for over 1100 years and his thoughts turned to the experience, the knowledge the advances of mankind that had happened in the time and the trees had borne witness to. At the top, surveying the vista he was struck by the beauty of the pavilions, appearing to be floating in a sea of green forest. It was a haunting and memorable sight which fuelled his imagination as they made their way back down the temple path. They encountered a Zodiac park which had sculptures of the 12 animals which marked the passing of time and reminding him that it was now his birth year and the Rat sculpture was being especially honoured throughout the period. It had been a wonderful if exhausting day, it had been a long time since he had been so physically vigorous and even more tiring for Peng who had driven them around and the slow traffic on the way home added to the enervation both felt. This did not stop them from stopping at Solana Mall to visit tribe for a tofu wrap and some Vegan chocolate Cheesecake. Even though they were physically drained, the heat compelled Peng to clean air con. Finally they sat down to end the evening with a film by Tim Burton which despite a couple of scares proved to be an aid to sleep.
Nicholas Quirke was feeling a little homesick on 1st May 2020. A Facebook message group had developed into a celebration of a production of Twelfth Night from 2012. This included the resurfacing of a video on YouTube of One of the performances. It had been a joyous production to work on and seeing all the actors and participating in the chat with everyone, gave him a yearning to be back in the directors seat and creating fun and frolicsome theatre. He suddenly realised how much he missed it, though the level of stress that it sometimes bought was a relief to not have to endure. Speaking with his sons, Harvey, the night before and Cole that evening also made him yearn a little for the pleasures of home. The feeling though did not last long as his day, which seemed on the surface, looking at it from a morning perspective, to be leisurely, ended up packed with incidence. It was the start of a 5 day holiday for Peng and they were on a Vegan explorers mission to the northern outskirts on Beijing, to the Changping district that has a disproportionate amount of vegan restaurants and cafes and known as Vegan town. The day began with a ride to Tiananmen Square, to The National Museum to see if he could get a ticket for Monday but it seemed that only Chinese Nationals with an ID card could get in. As they were there and Peng has not been into Tiananmen for nearly 30 years they breached the security measures again and ventured into the vast space. Their arrival coincided with an explosion of music and the fountains of Tiananmen Gate Dancing in time to the voices of a children’s chorus as there was a simultaneous changing of the guard. The manner of celebration was too much for Peng and they departed quickly for Vegan Town which was a long Subway ride away. It took him a while to understand why, in such a seemingly run down area there was a plethora of Vegan Places but there was a small neighbourhood of western Style apartment buildings and these were quite well people whose tastes erred on the Vegan and here in China, every restaurant provides Take Away and therefore the community needed a number of places. They ventured into every establishment and each had its own speciality from noodles to jiǎozi They tried Pizza in a beautiful exquisite Buddhist restaurant, hunted for Vegan cakes and bread, had a bowl of salad and faux meat in a cafe, went back for some bread but they had sold out. The sun was blazing again and the temperature very high so they looked in Uniqlo in a mall to find some cooler garments for Nicholas before they headed off to ride bikes of a spacial 7k sky bike track. The area they stopped at to start the ride was the most desolate he had seen since being in Beijing and he felt it was probably the equivalent of being in Edmonton or Tottenham in London. He was glad of the exercise as he felt they had consumed a great deal. They then travelled to Peng’s parents, who seemed very pleasant, though he later learned they thought he looked like a street criminal, as he was picking up their car for the next adventure. The final stop, in what had turned out to be a very active day, was at another beautiful restaurant Blossom another Buddhist establishment with more exquisite dining. It was late by the time they got home and he was excited to find that the sketch kit he had bought for a mere £4.00 had arrived and he was now armed correctly to go out and develop his drawing skills. He had a catch up with Cole and then as it was an early 5.30am start, bed beckoned.