One in a billion, my trip to Beijing


Birds Nest

My trip to Beijing started with a little excitement.  It was 3:30am, and after recovering fully from my illness in hospital I went clubbing in Manila with three girls who I met at the hostel.

We had a great night, meeting up with a large group of locals who were celebrating a birthday, a fitting end to 6 weeks in the Philippines.  So it was 3:30am when I looked at my phone.  Damn.  I had to be at the airport for 4am.

Rushing out of the club, I grabbed a taxi and shot down to the hostel.  Finished packing my things and grabbed a cab to the airport.  I arrived with a good hour to spare, but was feeling a little bit drunk still but more so I was incredibly, no wait, shockingly tired. 

I hadn’t been this tired since I drove to Gatwick airport on my way to Greece last year with my friends from university, The Doctor (Derek), Chris and Rose.  That was, I felt, the toughest thing I had ever done.  There was no amount of Red Bull, Rocket Fuel or loud music that could have kept me 100% awake for that journey but it literally only just did.  I remember getting out of my car, totally exhausted, hopped on the short transfer bus to the airport terminal from the car park and fell asleep instantly.  I then fell asleep whilst checking in, whilst at the bar after passport control and then – very rarely for me, whilst on the plane.

At Manila’s gloriously hideous airport, I searched for the first class lounge to try and get a bit of shuteye.  One of the things I got for my trip was a Diners Card.  It’s a bit like a credit card but has a flat fee of £50 per year.  With this you get access to most of the worlds lounges, a bargain really.  My logic was that as I was trying to do budget backpacking I could steal all the free food and drink, put it in my bag and use that instead of paying for inflated airport and plane food prices.

The lounge was shockingly bad.  Much larger than the broom cupboard that bestows Wakefield Train Station (which I do quite like, it’s cute and cosy), but it was incredibly old fashioned, smelt of damp and the food was ghastly!

So I grabbed a few cans of coke, (stashed a few too!), and started to get a 30 min power nap.  Now power naps.  I’m no good at them at all.  A lot of people rave on about how they have a power nap here, a power nap there and they feel great afterwards.  One of two things happens to me after a power nap.  The first is that after thirty minutes I feel dreadful.  It takes me about 25 minutes to get to sleep normally so my power nap must only last 5 minutes.  The second is that my power naps tend to over run…by a lot.

I remember working from home and after a long and arduous day it got to about 5pm.  I had finished my last conference call and had a couple of more hours to catch up on my emails and work before deciding to finish at 7pm where I’d normally make some dinner (okay, okay, I mean order it not make it).

I thought I’d have a quick power nap to perk me up.  I woke up at 6am the next day.  Slept the whole night on my sofa, all the lights on in the house, the telly (that’s Television if you’re American) blasting away and the cats were still outside, annoyed at me as they had missed two of their meals (and a possible Chinese Take Away which they love).

So power naps don’t really work for me.  And they didn’t in Manila.  The call from my flight came in as quickly as I could shut my eyes.  Zombified a moved through the 70s deco to my terminal and boarded my plane, hoping from some flight sleep – I thought that I was tired enough to at least get some sleep on the plane.

The flight to Beijing was turbulent, as I had begun to discover for South East Asia so no sleep for me.  Arriving at the magnificent airport I got to a cab and headed towards my hostel.

The hostel was a former Chinese courtyard house / accommodation.  Think were Jackie Chan lives in the new Karate Kid (which was a good film!).  It was stunning and the people working there were exceptionally friendly.  They kindly upgraded my dorm room for free and showed me where I was sleeping.

In the room I met a guy called Ashley.  After introducing myself he said to me that I looked like shit.  With this honesty I knew we would become good friends and we did.

Ashley and Me at The Hanging Monestary

Ashley, who was from the gold coast in Australia, was in Beijing to work as a teacher.  A good profession for him I feel.  He demonstrates the kind and caring attitude that you would want from a teacher and was always willing to help others and share his knowledge – this you could see as each new guest arrived at the hostel.

Ashley prided himself on being the first ever guest at this new hostel and has a great relationship with the management and the staff.  This proved advantageous one night when the manger invited Ashley and I to dinner at a local favourite restaurant of theirs with some of his friends and colleagues.

This was a fantastic experience, and I had always wanted to be invited out to dinner with a Chinese resident.  You read a lot about etiquette and rules when this happens and all this research I did was paying off.  I seemed to have followed the rules well I think.

Some of the food on offer 
This dish was fab, but I can't remember the name of it

For example, when the host pours you a drink, they then toast and (by their request and more often than not) you down it one.  You then return the favour (by pouring them a drink and toasting).  Now this is great when the drinks are nice, like they were that night, but I remember on my trip back from Datong to see the hanging monasteries (video is on YouTube) an elderly gentlemen nearly got me wasted drinking some horrifically strong rice spirit.

The meal in the restaurant was delicious and despite me offering the host that I would pay, again a tradition, it was all very kindly paid for.

This luck of free things continued a few more nights at a place I hadn’t expected.

Ashley, myself and a few others decided to head out for a drinking session.  We went to a few bars, had a bit of a boogie, and met up with a group of girls who were on vacation and were looking to go to a club.  Ashley had heard of this popular nightclub, I think it was called CN, and so our large group headed over there.

We arrived at this huge club, and on entering if looked really posh and swanky.  The place had a large reception lobby with chandeliers and statues; it resembled a magnificent hotel that you would find in the likes of London or New York.

Heading in to the club there were small round bar tables with groups crowded round them and we went to one of the spares and was served by our own waiter.  The music there was brilliant and we started to have a good night.

Ashley disappeared, and came back to me and said ‘Dave I’ve just met the manager, follow me’.  So I headed out and met the manager who spoke really good English.  The three of us chatted, and god knows what we said, but we exchanged phone numbers (I having a China phone number by then) and he said ‘Right, don’t worry about drinks tonight, they’re on me’.  So that night we had free drinks all night – and boy did I take advantage of it. 

As the night began to close we thought this couldn’t get any better and the manager approached Ashley and myself again and said that tomorrow night (the Saturday) was the best night of the week, it’s jam packed full of people (it was pretty busy on the Friday to be honest) and what he’ll do is reserve us our own table and waiter.  And we thought that’s pretty cool.  But he continued.  ‘No cover charge’.  Great, we don’t have to pay to get in.  And then the clincher.  ‘Free drinks for you all night again’.  It was a great result by Ashley as I still to this day have no idea what he said to him to get us all this but it worked – in fact I doubt Ashley could remember either.

Now returning home I decided to wake a new friend of mine Michele up with a rendition of the circle of life (at 4am), but rather than tell you that story you can check out her blog for her version of events….

So my early few days in Beijing were brilliant.  Two amazing free nights in a night club.  I visited the birds nest stadium ( which was stunningly impressive.  Ashely and I embarked on a trip to Datong (  And the other thing was I watched the film Rio in 4D!  4D is basically 3D but with motion in your seats, wind, scents and rain.  Pretty cool to be honest but doubt it will catch on that much.

The cinema 
The 4D sign

Rio in Chinese

A funny thing did happen after the cinema however.  I went with a girl called Lisa who I met at the hostel and was from the US.  I was eager to go to a 4D cinema but nobody was game, but thankfully she wanted to watch Rio so a win-win.

After watching a fantastic acrobatic show in Beijing, which I strongly recommend you go and see if you visit the city, we headed back to the Olympic park where the 4D cinema was based.

Next to the birds nest and nestled underground is a large shopping mall, however unlike any other shopping mall this one was completely empty with the exception of a McDonalds and large cinema.  It was really weird, but there were just loads of empty units – like a ghost town in a way.

Well when the film finished we were the only two in the cinema, the most at any one point during that film including ourselves was four.  As we left the whole place was dark.  All the lights were out (it was just after midnight).  As we found our way towards the exit of the shopping mall the doors were locked.  All of them.

Bugger, we were locked in we thought.  So we started to find other exits.  Going through back corridors, looking for emergency exits, but there was no way out.  For a moment I thought damn we might have to spend the night here!

Eventually two security men, in Men In Black suits approached us.  We told them that we were lost and couldn’t get out.  They didn’t understand us and they began to escort us somewhere.  For a moment we thought we may be arrested.  Thankfully it was not the case.  After about fifteen minutes they led us outside to a waiting taxi where we scurried off back to our hostel as quickly as possible.

So that was my first adventures in Beijing.  The next chapter was to embark on a prebooked tour I had with a company called Gap Adventures that would take me from Beijing to Kathmandu via the highest train ride in the world (and some may argue the most beautiful).  So more on that in my next post.


  1. Very cool Dave... keep em coming :) x

  2. The horror/zombie movie comparisons were numerous. I still can't believe you said you would trip me :(


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