It’s been a week of heightened senses.
The July August soup-a-bowl is here, when the hot wet air stubbornly sits in the hole in the mountains that is Beijing, and doesn’t move for two months. The fresh breezes and clear skies of June are gone. It’s a free sauna. Men stand around like proud peacocks, t shirts rolled up, displaying varying stages of midrift expansion; the sun disappears completely till Sept; and westerners like me forget their “I’m not going to use my eco-murdering air con this year, I can handle it” sentiment within seconds of walking into the house, ignoring all good advice, to stand, semi naked, like Michael Jackson performing Earth Song, and have a good old dry off under the icy blast. This is the first time I’ve been in Beijing since the Olympics, and it’s brought it all back to me. Nowhere else have I experienced such extremes and variations in weather. There’s a pervading dank smell everywhere, which I can’t put my finger on, but it keeps making me want to clean the bathroom.
In said bathroom at the weekend, this writer gurgled a load of disinfectant he thought was mouthwash. Lack of English label aside, I blame the wife, who happened to be waving the disinfectant bottle around when she told me she couldn’t find any Listerine at the shops. It took me about ten seconds to realise my mistake, and only after I’d spotted pictures of gleaming sinks and toilets on the back of the bottle (stars used to portray levels of gleam). The effect was amazing – I could taste it for days afterwards, and my tongue went completely numb for 24 hours.
It came in very handy the next day though, when I went to see Doctor Wong for some route canal treatment. Excellent dentist that he is, the Chinese have a policy of avoiding anaesthetic injections if they can help it. They probe around, they tap, they start drilling, telling you to tell them if it hurts. The idea being that the tooth is buggered, and maybe the nerve’s gone too…. and aren’t we really a bunch of wusses. All OK actually at first. I convinced myself I could be Marathon man, spurred on by my wife, who proudly outlined how she’d had a whole crown done without any injections or pain killers. As soon the drill started grinding into my tooth I knew I was doomed to fail. I spasmed my body just enough to make Larry Olivier aware that I’d felt a twinge. Give me the biggest injection you’ve got, and make it snappy, I don’t want to feel a thing. I made it very clear.
Later that same day, bottom lip curling down to the left, I was squeezed into a corner of Paddy O Shea’s, along with more English people than I ever knew lived in Beijing, and a smattering of Germans. Football’s coming home pinged out from the speakers, and it was more fanatical than being in a pub on home turf. And very very hot. All emotions (including astonishment) were wildly overplayed, in the knowledge that this small Irish island was the only true corner of England (eh?) in the city. Taxis slowed down to look, people stared in at the truly bizarre spectacle of hundreds of (rather mature I must say) expats who should know better, crammed into a bar singing and shouting and misbehaving in increasing desperation. One young inebriated German, painted of face, decided he would spend the last 20 minutes standing by the big screen. Facing the crowd, and draped in a flag, he kept performing something very close to a certain salute that one just doesn’t do. One put out English woman eventually lost the plot with him, and it looked for a moment like there would be trouble at ‘mill. The bar manager (Paddy?) put his hand on the lad’s shoulder and lead him away from view, obviously gauging the tide of growing resentment, fueled by sorrow.
Friday will be BBQ on my friend’s rooftop. It’s for Canada Day, and he is Canadian of Greek descent. An excellent combination for a BBQ I reckon. I’m looking forward to some excellent smells, to go with the Beijing soup.