29th November – Tokyo Japan

I’m a little fuzzy headed this morning. I get up, get dressed and head straight to Harajuku Bridge on the subway in the hope of spotting the Harajuku girls. Unfortunately there is no sign of these colourful characters hanging out on the bridge but as I walk back down Takeshita Street I see lots of girls in crazy clothes and matching coloured hair. Candy floss pink, schoolgirls, Victorian doll inspired, even some of the guys are dressed like animé characters. I stroll around looking at all of the shops and stalls with whacky wears on display. I buy make a purchase from a shop that specialises in Japanese stickers! I get a free hug off a lady who is standing on the busy street holding up a “FREE HUG” sign, although she is far too gentle, I give her a far more satisfying squeeze. Then I head to some of the designer shops. They too are whacky in their own way. One men’s clothes shop has an old battered caravan parked in the middle with clothes hung off of it. At the MoMA design store I fall for a set of rainbow chopsticks, the ideal traveller’s Japanese souvenir – light weight, flat, reasonably cheap and totally Japanese.they instantly make me hungry. I see a line of people queuing for sushi (a long line is always a good sign). I join it and chat to the couple in front of me who are vacationing from NewYork. Watching the food pass before me, sipping on a green tea, chopsticks poised, about to board the sushi train, I’m in my happy place.

With a full tum, my next stop is Akihabara, better known as Electric City. This place is culturally very different from anything I’ve ever experienced before. A wide avenue lined with electrical stores, selling all manner of electrical items from cables to computers, cameras to iPads. Pretty normal stuff. However scattered amongst these stores are manga comic book stores, animé toy model shops, gaming arcades, lots of very sweet food outlets and the bizarre phenomenon of the maid cafes. Young girls dressed as cartoon maids wearing hair bunches, soft toys pinned to their outfits, frilly skirts, leaning from 1st floor balconies miming childlike songs to the crowds below. Inside a girl dances on a stage entertaining ice cream eaters and beer drinkers – it’s all a bit too weird for me and I refrain from entering this weird world. I do have a look around some of the comic bookshops which is fun but I’m horrified to discover that on floor 3 the comics get a tad explicit. Shifty looking grown men shuffle up the stairs without gaining eye contact. Odd. Very odd. Don’t get me wrong, I quite like the manga drawings and can appreciate the skill of the art, but characters dressed in school uniform, heaving breasts threatening buttons, some totally exposed and skirts far too short – I just don’t get cartoon porn!

I buy a sickly sweet banana, chocolate, vanilla custard, cream and crunch crepe (for the shock!). My teeth sing with each sugary bite. I also buy myself an animé t-shirt and then check out the tax free cameras to replace my broken one. They are so cheap here, and it’s tax free because I’m leaving the country and I get an additional 7% off because I have a 3 day subway card. Brilliant.

I leave the weirdness of Electric City, quite the eye opener, and head on the train to Odaiba, a man made reclaimed island in Tokyo port. I ride on the new Yurikamoma train that zooms over the rainbow bridge. I disembark at the aqua world shopping precinct, for some reason they have a down sized replica of the Statue of Liberty. Tokyo skyline cityscape at night is lovely viewed from here. I look across the water at the twinkling lights of Tokyo but I’m distracted by the illuminating light show on a huge building behind me. Lights in the windows flash and change colour in unison orchestrated to music – it’s quite hypnotic. It’s getting a bit cold so I warm myself window shopping inside the shopping mall, then find a Japanese restaurant where I dine on edamame beans, Skewered chicken with leek and gyoza served on a sizzling hot plate. Yummy! oishi!

I’m so tired riding the subway back to Shinjuku. It’s been a long day on little sleep with a slight hangover. I’m eager to climb into my comfy capsule and sleep. Just before I close my eyes I have good news from Ayumi about tomorrow afternoon!

28th November – Tokyo, Japan

This morning I have to take care of my weekly laundry ritual. Usually this would involve a bathroom sink, some vigorous rubbage and my smalls hanging from every available room protrusion. But not today. Today is luxurious, no not luxurious because that would mean someone else doing my washing, today is above average. I have a washing machine and a tumble dryer at my disposal, it does however mean hanging around the hotel for an hour or so, so I utilise the free coffee machine and endless supply of pastries.

Once out and about I pop to Shinjuku railway station to collect my Japan Rail Pass. Thank goodness Elaine, a girl at Soul and Surf in India, gave me the heads up on purchasing the pass before arriving as it had to be sent from the uk and couriered to my hotel here. I also purchase a three day subway pass as suggested by Andrew in China, giving me freedom to travel all over the city and give my knees a well earned rest. According to google over 3.5 million people pass through this station everyday! That is just crazy.

Next stop the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building’s observatory. The viewing deck on the 45th floor offers amazing panoramic views of the city and its free! (Thanks Jamie for the advice). Tokyo sprawls out in front of me, the city is vast with so much to see and do. From up here I spot a market down below so jump in the lift in an endeavour to locate it. It’s a second hand market, locals spread their unwanted goods on blankets for other locals to rummage and purchase, like a car boot sale without the car or boot. I catch the subway back to Shinjuku to explore the hood that I’m living in. I wander around the streets passing major department stores, shops and restaurants. Windows displaying plastic versions of dishes sold inside are supposed to entice but don’t appeal to me. I opt for a little sushi train place. The staff welcome me and I sit in front of the conveyor belt watching the dainty delicious dishes pass. I love sushi. I eat with chopsticks and drink copious amounts of green tea. Oishi.

After a little more wandering and window shopping I return to my hotel and get ready for a night out. Tonight I am having dinner with Ayumi, a good friend of Simon and Joe’s, who lives here in Tokyo and has generously agreed to meet me. I leave early, giving me plenty of time to navigate the confusing subway system – I’m kind of getting the hang of it and arrive in Shibuya with an hour to spare. This is perfect as this is the famous crossing intersection. The pedestrian crossing lights turn red allowing all of the traffic to move freely, but when they turn green a mass of people cross in every direction all at the same time. It is quite a sight to behold lit by the huge neon lights and gigantic to screens that surround the crossing. I stand on a wall to take some photos and spot a Starbucks up high with a huge window overlooking the crossing. I head there for more green tea. I watch the masses moving for half an hour before popping to a florists to buy a little posy for Ayumi to thank her for meeting me. We have arranged to meet at the Hachiko dog statue. The most famous dog in Tokyo who used to come and wait to meet his master everyday from the train. When his master passed away the dog kept coming to the station to wait for him every day for 10 years until he too died. The story became legend and the statue erected in his memory. A lot of people are here as it is a very popular meeting place, I’m concerned that I won’t find Ayumi. Ayumi finds me!

It is so lovely to finally meet her as Simon and Joe have talked about her often. We walk chatting all the way to a hidden restaurant called Tagokoro, away from the hustle and bustle. I let Ayumi order. We toast with Japanese malt beer and eat delicious food prepared right in front of us. Homemade fresh tofu with salt and Japanese lime, blow fish skin, tempura shiitake mushrooms, deep fried chicken, octopus, soba noodles with duck broth, sesame cream…. The dishes keep arriving and we taste, chew and slurp our way through them all, knocking back different kinds of sake rice wine. Ayumi is such delightful company and the pair of us get on really well. I tell her all about my travels and Ayumi tells me about her acting career, she is currently training to play soccer for an upcoming tv role.

After dinner Ayumi leads me back through Shibuya to her friend’s cool little bar and restaurant “Badabing”. We sit at the bar and drink red wine, I talk to Kure, the owner, about the issues with owning a business. Unfortunately he doesn’t speak English (and I don’t speak Japanese) so Ayumi translates. Kure hand cuts ice and creates delicious cocktails using Japanese spirits. His friend, known as Jedi on account of his Star Wars obsession, and we all enjoy the evening listening to Japanese reggae! Before I know it it is 3am. Ayumi puts me in a taxi making sure that the driver has my address in his gps before saying goodnight. And what a good night it has been. Good food, good drinks and very good company.

Hopefully it won’t be the last time I see Ayumi, as during dinner I told her about my failure to get a ticket to the Ghibli animation park. As luck would have it Ayumi’s manager also manages some of the voice artists who work on the Ghibli films and there is a possibility that she may be able to wangle tickets! Watch this very excited space!

27th November – Tokyo, Japan

Wake up in my womb, I mean room, I actually mean capsule after a surprisingly good night’s sleep. I will probably however wear my ear plugs tomorrow as these Japanese don’t half get up early! This morning I am very excited to use an electric toilet for the very first time. It does not disappoint. The lid lifts automatically to welcome my bottom (excuse the graphics), all toilet lids should do this as touching a publicly used toilet is one of life’s big bacterial unpleasantries. There is a pad on the wall next to the loo that requires a masters degree in understanding Japanese technology, luckily the hotel have put a few English hints. I can change the temperature of the seat. I can press the bidet button – I won’t go in to details, but you can control both the heat and pressure. There’s a full and half flush option. My favourite bit is the fake flush. If you are concerned that things may get a little audible and, shall we say, windy, there is a button you can press that just plays the sound effect of the flush to mask any embarrassment! (Ad, you’d love this toilet!)

I enjoy the free coffee and pastries that the hotel provide, I avoid the fish option! and get ready for a day out in Tokyo. My first stop is Lawsons, a convenience store, that conveniently sells tickets to the Ghibli animation park, somewhere I’ve been particularly excited to visit. Unfortunately I probably should have booked 2 weeks ago as purchasing a ticket at any time during my time in Tokyo is a failure. Never mind, got to leave something to come back to do!

Today I walk. I love walking around an unfamiliar city, it is such a good way to get a feel for a place, especially if you just wander like me with no fear of getting lost, thanks to the maps.me app. I Start with Yoyogi park. A huge oasis of green in the city and home to the Meiji Jingu Shrine. Before entering it is customary to wash both hands (left first) and swill out your mouth, I copy the locals. I visit the shrine where I bow my head twice, clap my hands twice and bow my head once, before heading over to write my blessings for the world on paper, pop them in an envelope with an offering and post it in the box. It will be placed within the shrine later today. I hope it works as I have wished good fortune for everyone.

I walk through the massive park to a sacred well. I watch the massive coy carp swimming in the lake, it is like looking down on Japanese artwork. A kind Japanese gent gives me a peanut to hold out in my hand, way up above me from the autumnal red, orange and yellow coloured leaves a tiny little bird swoops down and sits on my hand pecking at the peanut, I feel like Mary Poppins!

At the end of the park I walk over Harajuku bridge, somewhere I am keen to visit on Sunday as I hope to witness the Harajuku girls in all their animé outfits. Across the road is Takeshita Street (there’s a joke in there somewhere!), a narrow avenue of shops selling all sorts of crazy fashion. I cannot help but buy a pair of underpants that have pink cable knitwear printed on them! Amazing. I refer to my map to get me to the Apple Store, today I finally replace my iPhone thanks to my travel insurance. It feels so nice to finally be back in contact with the world, travelling alone it’s nice to know that you can call someone should you need to. Talking of support I stop to purchase a knee support! How old am I? The Nepal damage is still niggling and I don’t want to stop walking and walking and walking.

I planned to walk through the gardens leading to Akasaka Palace but there are guards on every entrance so I’m guessing someone very important is inside. I’m happy enough taking a photo through the gates. I stop for some lunch at a little Japanese place on the side of the road. I order ramen with breadcrumbed Pork served alongside rice and pickled radish – it is delicious – or as the locals say, “oishi”!
I unfortunately just miss the 2015 Sake competition where, had I been a little earlier, I could have joined in the public judging, probably just as well as I wouldn’t have made it to the National Museum of Modern Art. I love a gallery. So peaceful and calm, some of the artwork is a little beyond my understanding, but I enjoy having a look anyway.

When I step back outside it is dark and my map app has stopped working! Uh-oh. I do however know that there is another Apple Store just a few stops away on the metro so I head to Ginza, Tokyo’s most famous upmarket shopping, dining and entertainment district. It is so fancy. Shops I would feel uncomfortable stepping into wearing a top man hoodie! Neon lights, Christmas decorations and every exclusive brand I’ve ever heard of. I find the Apple Store and a member of staff sorts out my location services issue. I ask him what he would suggest I do as I am in the area. He says I could do with a Tokyo friend, but failing that advises dinner under the train tracks at Yurakucho. I’m so glad I listened to him. Under the train tracks is a labyrinth of tiny restaurants teeming with the post work posse. Through the windows suited and smart clothed Japanese locals sip sake and down beer, chopsticks in hand, chatting and eating, enjoying their Friday evening with no worry of work tomorrow. I ask for a seat for one and I’m shown to a tiny table lit beneath the lantern strewn ceiling. To my right two older ladies cook dried fish on a little table top stove, to my left two gentlemen in suits are laughing and enjoying each other’s company. I feel a little lost. I have no menu and the staff don’t seem to be aware of my existence. Getting eye contact is impossible. The ladies see me struggle and pass me a menu – the menu is big and not everything is translated and some of the things that are quite frankly scare me! Chickens feet, heart and entrails! The gentleman sitting opposite me obviously sees my concern and asks if he can help. Before I know it I’ve got an Asahi beer in one hand, chopsticks eating chicken yakatori in the other and my new friends, Terry and Seiichi, have pulled their table up to mine. I have such a lovely evening chatting and getting to know my business buddies, Terry works in IT and Seiichi at the British Embassy (should I need him!). They buy me sake rice wine to try, a plate of noodles with a raw egg on top, then Terry is eager for me to try a dish that translates to “gut pot”! A gas fuelled contraption is placed in the middle of the table with a lidded wok bubbling away on top, the food cooks as we talk. It tastes so good, but it’s a little chewy in parts. Terry and Seiichi laugh a lot. I have a fantastic evening, in wonderful company. Both gents give me their business cards, “just in case”, then Terry, who needs to catch the same train as me helps me buy the ticket and makes sure i get the correct connecting train. I wave to him from the platform as his train pulls off.

I get safely back, my hotel plays really annoying background music on the first 3 floors, luckily it also pumps it out onto the street – It’s the first time I’ve ever located a hotel by sound! I speak to mum and Anne before showering and bed. What a bloody brilliant day!

26th November – Beijing, China/Tokyo, Japan

Saying goodbye to China makes me so happy. I eat porridge at the hostel before my taxi arrives to whisk me off to the airport. Getting to the plane is like a security joke. I am swabbed on entry to the airport to be checked for explosives, my passport is checked at check in, my passport and boarding pass is checked and stamped at immigration, then checked and stamped again at credentials, checked at security scanning (coins are loose in my hand luggage so must be removed for re-scanning), checked at security scanning baggage pick up and could be checked at customs except I get through without being pulled. One final check before I board the plane – and relax. I hope my luggage has made it onboard as I’m sure I saw a sign saying no external battery chargers! As I leave the runway I leave the whole China nightmare behind me and, afresh, welcome my next new adventure – Japan.

Touching down in Tokyo I’m already smiling. I’ve had a whole row of emergency exit to myself, 2 cans of lager and some sort of pork dish. Tokyo airport is efficient and clean and the people smile when I talk to them. The helpful lady on the information desk gives me a marked map with where I need to go on the metro then calls for an assistant to show me how to use the train ticket machine. I ask a group of people on the train if I’m heading in the right direction and they tell me when to get off and which train to catch next. Out of the window I get my first glimpses of Tokyo, manga cartoons on billboards, animé advertisements and giant neon signs. People queue in uniform lines to get on the train allowing the disembarkers off first, so efficient. At Shinjuku station I find the south east exit, as booking.com suggested, and I’m wandering the streets of Tokyo with absolutely no idea where I’m going but enthralled by all of the colourful lights and new visual delights. One shop has a robot selling tickets, someone is dressed up in a red ball outfit having their photo taken with passers by, people queue for a restaurant that has a raw egg in a bowl on a sign outside! Computer game music plays, people are moving about the city in pollution protective face masks and I’m bedazzled by it all. I have a word with myself, as I could wander gawping all night, and ask for directions from a lady handing out flyers. She has no idea where I’m headed either and doesn’t speak English, but still gets out her mobile, types the address and a dot flashes on a map. In a few hand gestures I know exactly where I’m going. I like Japan already.

The Capsule Hotel Anshin Oyado is hilarious. It is a hotel for gentlemen only as it has a communal washroom. I check in and the double ponytailed receptionist pulls out a big box, presses a button under the counter that starts playing some crazy music, the staff all shout something in Japanese and I am encouraged to put my hand through a hole and pull out 5 balls – if I find a red one I win a prize. I don’t win but love trying. I’m given a wristband that has a locker key and a computer chip allowing access to the bedroom. I am taken to the locker room where I can put my clothes and change into the brown pj’s that are provided and then exlpore the hotel. It is on 7 floors, floors 4-7 are the capsule bedrooms. Floor 2 has a cafe and library, everything is in vending machines and most of it is free. 100’s of different drinks and snacks. From what I can gather the books are mostly cartoon animé. I have a pot noodle and some peanuts, washed down with melon Fanta! Floor 3 is the washing facilities, washing machines and tumble dryers with so many different liquids to choose from, a communal washroom and a giant communal hot bath. Adjoining the washroom is the drying room filled with all manner of lotions and potions, hair dryers, combs, brushes, cotton buds, tooth flossers, razors, creams, hair products etc… I take a shower, which is in a small booth with a little stool. Everything I could need is here, shampoo, conditioner, body wash, a mirror and the hottest water known to man. Clean and refreshed I dry my hair and head to bed.

The bedroom is like a luxury morgue. At a capsule hotel the beds are stacked in two rows and each person has their own private capsule. I climb the steps to mine, as I chose the higher capsule, and crawl into my space. I have a pillow, a puffy duvet, a flatscreen tv with headphones, earplugs, a bottle of water, a tablet (like my iPad) to use for surfing the net and ordering stuff from reception (I can’t change the language from Japanese, but it’s ok because I don’t need anything), an alarm, a personal air conditioning unit and a blind to pull down separating me from the room. It’s surprisingly comforting being locked in, what for all intents and purposes is a horizontal cupboard. I watch some tv and cartoons in Japanese, then turn out the light and fall fast asleep.

25th November – Beijing, China

I wake this morning still pondering and troubled by yesterday’s blip (that’s how I’m referring to it so as not to keep blowing it out of proportion). Back home, due to time restraints, I had to make a decision between applying for a Chinese visa or an Indian visa – now I realise I made the right choice not choosing China. It really has put a bad taste in my mouth, tainting my already tainted China experience, but I try hard not to think about it so I must try harder not to write about it – nonetheless my foolishness is bothersome to me.

Today is one of those days that I know will be etched in my memory forever. Today I visit the Great Wall of China. It begins with an early start. I sit by Andrew, an American studying tourism in Australia, also staying at the Leo hostel. We chat at the back of the mini bus as we collect other tourists from other hotels, obviously they have booked too many people on board but they continue to crush them in and we make the cramped journey to the Great Wall. Lisa, our guide, from her seat up front, delivers several (what I can only describe as) monotone speeches at such a speed I feel like I am being machine gunned against a wall (the Great Wall perhaps!). It is like she has taken an almighty deep breath in order to bombard us with the day’s schedule, a brief history of the wall, a ridiculous amount of statistics and what we can expect for lunch with no verbal punctuation breaks whatsoever in English with a strong Chinese accent. When she finishes I feel like a woodpecker has been pecking my forehead for 20 minutes non stop, to my horror she now has to say the whole thing again in Chinese – which to me sounds as if someone has pressed rewind – I shut my eyes and succumb to the second round of rapid fire.

If I can recall, from the mass of information, the wall is split into four sections and the part we are visiting today is known as the Mutianyu wall. We arrive, purchase cable car tickets and begin the walk up to the entrance. I befriend Chris, a 50+ friendly chap from Manchester. Like me he suffers with knee issues, mine are still sore from Nepal, so us kindred spirits stick together. The view from the cable car is breathtaking, jagged mountains, distant undulating hills and trees all covered in a blanket of snow. The highest peaks and joining mountain passes are topped with the Great Wall. A magnificent feat of ancient architecture (if Lisa is to believed) spanning 22,000 kilometres(?). It winds and stretches, zig-zagging and twisting over the many pinnacles meandering into the distance and out of sight. This moment is awe-inspiring, like the Victoria Falls of Zambia, the Burj Khalifa of Dubai, the Taj Mahal of Agra, the Great Wall of China is unforgettable and hard to contemplate that I am actually here.

It is freezing and the conditions dangerous. I witness several people slipping and sliding on the snow and ice covered stonework. Andrew falls down twice and he is standing still! Chris and I carefully make our way to the first turret, stopping often to take in the scenery and to take photographs. Arriving so early means very few tourists so we can enjoy the wall pretty much all to ourselves. As I have come to expect, within minutes, my toes are completely numb despite the two pairs of merino wool socks I put on this morning and no matter how much wiggling I do I fail to encourage them to wake up and join me in this amazing experience (I’ll tell them all about what they missed later when they thaw out).

Trying to imagine being a soldier on guard back in the day sends a shiver down my spine. I’m bundled up like an Eskimo with 5 layers, 2 scarves, mittens and a bobble hat and I’m still close to frostbite. Luckily, it isn’t snowing today and, intermittently, the sun shines through the grey clouds warming my face but if it was windy, snowing or raining the conditions must have been unbearable. I totally was not born to be a soldier. The wall is built following the mountain’s ridges, topping each pinnacle with a turret. The mountains are steep and treacherous – how did they get the bricks up here? Off, away in the far distance, the silhouettes of the Wall’s turrets topping the mountain horizon can be seen.

At one particular turret the wall climbs incredibly steeply upwards. Chris and I stand and watch the brave/stupid tourists prepared to risk their wellbeing to reach turret number 21. I decline, happy enough here at turret 19. More photos and scenery gazing before we make our way back to turret 14 and the cable car back down. My 3 hours spent at the wall have been brilliant. The Great Wall isn’t just great, it’s terrific.

We eat at a restaurant near the minibus, the food is surprisingly good and the hot Chinese tea even better. On the route back to the hostel we come to a complete standstill, for over an hour, the motorway has been closed for dignitaries. I join my toes and fall fast asleep.

Back at Leo Hostel Andrew and I warm up in the bar with a hot chocolate laced with whiskey. Then head out for dinner. It’s thanksgiving tomorrow so in order to celebrate Andrew and I share Peking duck. It is delicious. Succulent slices, crispy skin, plum sauce, spring onion, crunchy cucumber all wrapped up in paper thin pancakes, with egg fried rice and green beans stir fried with chilli. We wash it down with Chinese beer. I thoroughly enjoy dinner, Andrew loves talking, as do I, and we have a really enjoyable evening dining out amongst the locals.

We chat with some new arrivals at Leo’s who head to the Wall tomorrow and are also hoping to try Peking Duck, so we tell them about the restaurant just down the street, advise them on wrapping up warm and wearing suitable footwear. Then everyone heads to bed.

Under my duvet, inside my silk sleeping bag liner my feet finally wake up just as I fall fast asleep.

24th November – Beijing, China

I think it is totally fair enough that I wake at 11am, though my reflection suggests I should’ve succumbed to another bed alldayer! I cannot bring myself to shower due to the wet hair/freezing temperature thing that China has going on, so dress in several layers and make my way to the bar to see if I’m too late for breakfast. The all day breakfast menu fills my cold heart with warm joy and I couldn’t be happier when my face is steamed by a hot bowl of porridge with sliced banana and sultanas and a perfect cappuccino. I don’t care how unchinesey that seems, it makes me happy.

I speak to the friendly front desk staff and leave having booked and paid for a Great Wall of China Tour tomorrow and an airport taxi ride the following day. Grab my bits and bobs from my room, don my Nepalese knitwear and brave the bitter brisk. The centrally located Leo Hostel is perfect for sightseeing. I walk to Tiananmen Square, passing the Chairman Mao Memorial Hall, the Great Hall of the People and the Monument to the People’s Heroes. Arriving at the Gate of Heavenly Peace I am devastated to realise that the fences and heavy military presence suggest that the Forbidden City is literally forbidden. I refer to the Leo Hostel map that the kind lady gave me at the hostel reception to see what else of tourist interest is in the area only to realise that this isn’t the only Forbidden City entrance and perhaps the city isn’t that forbidden after all.

I take the under road walkway and get chatting to two ladies who are on holiday for a few days from further south in China. They too are heading to that city that is tantalisingly forbidden but are going for a warming cup of tea first. They are so friendly and when invited I decide to join them. We go to a shabby tearoom and I let them order the tea. We sip green tea and barley wheat tea and exchange stories of ourselves, our lives and my travelling experiences. Luyan and Tongtong speak perfect English and are so interesting and interested. When wine is suggested, as it’s traditional to toast new friends, my arm is easily twisted and I treat everyone to a glass. (More about that later!)

Luyan has forgotten her necessary ID card to gain entry so Tongtong and I explore the Palace museum together. The snow has started to fall making the whole experience all the more wonderful. With names like The Palace of Earthly Tranquility, The Hall of Mental Cultivation and The Palace of Rigorous Old Age it is impossible not to be enchanted.

On my long walk back to the hostel my feet go totally numb and my cheeks redden in the bluster. I warm myself with a cup of Jasmine tea and a Tsingtao beer, the perfect accompaniment to stir fried sweet and spicy chicken and vegetables.

I check my wallet and put the receipt from the tearoom earlier through my currency converter. My heart sinks when I realise that I have been scammed by the two (lovely?) ladies earlier. With hindsight they must have targeted me and very cleverly encouraged me to join them. I feel horrible and gullible and full of hatred for China. Being duped is such a kick yourself feeling and I relive the couple of hours over and over. Everyone warns about scammers and con artists here and I thought I was far too sensible to be caught out – I feel so stupid seeing the best in people. I spend the evening in tonight and get to bed early. Tomorrow is a new day, an early start and one I have particularly been looking forward to for a long time.

I’m determined to have one good day in China.

23rd November – Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia/Beijing, China

I wake early to make the most of the little time I have to explore the city. Shower, dress and leave my hand luggage with concierge ready to hit the streets of Bukit Bintang and a waking Kuala Lumpur. Earlier, from up in my room, I planned my route looking out of the window. I make my way through KLCC park watching the morning joggers, power strollers and tai-chi’ers. The park is a city centre oasis of green surrounded by soaring grey skyscrapers. I make my way to the famous KL landmark the conjoined Petronus twin towers, their windows and metalwork glinting in the sun. Under the towers is a luxurious shopping centre selling Gucci, Louis, Versace and other designer brands mostly ending in an e sound. Inside it is reasonably quiet, the shops don’t open until 10am. I find a nice little breakfast spot in which to feed.

Caffeine fuelled I go walk about. Ursina had told me ages ago about a map app that works without wifi. Why did it take me so long to download it? This would have saved me all those long lost hours being lost in Kathmandu! Using the app I easily find my way around the city streets. Visiting the bustling Central Market with it’s craft stalls, souvenir shops and throng of tourists. I mingle with the masses in Chinatown, visit ornate temples and gaze upward at the giddying height of the Menara Kuala Lumpur Tower. I drink iced coffee, shop and sweat. It is incredibly warm and humid today. I walk miles reawakening my dodgy trek knee! The morning whizzes by and I make my way back to the ZON to check out and collect my bag, Shazren picks me up in his taxi at 2, as promised, and speeds me back to the airport. There was no need to rush as I now have hours to kill. I take the train to my terminal and eat a big bowl of beef noodles followed by that most Malaysian of snacks – a snickers! Catch up with home on FaceTime and prepare for boarding.

The flight passes in an amalgamation of consecutive movies. My mind mixes the story lines as I move onto the next not fully digesting the last. A frequent flyers long haul flaw I feel!

It’s late when we land and the temperature has plummeted to -6, as I disembark my body shivers in response to the cold air seeping through the gaps in the airport concertina walkway. I follow my fellow sleepy passengers to immigration where I am refused entry. A problem was flagged by my travel agent, Pete at STA Travel, way back in my trip. To obtain a transit without visa (known as a TWOV) in China you can only visit one city for 72 hours. I didn’t have time before I left to apply for a tourist visa so made the decision early on to just visit Beijing. Pete changed my original flights to China as there was a stop off in Cheng-du which would result in the refusal of my TWOV. Obviously overlooked by Pete was my onward journey from Beijing to Tokyo that has a stop off in Shanghai (a stop off that I was totally unaware of!). I am faced with a stern face, a dry rubber temporary visa stamp and a worry weighted wait. My passport has been taken to the other side of immigration, where I would like to be, by a uniformed official talking tempestuously on a telephone – meanwhile I am left in no man’s land.

Passportless I am told to take a seat and wait, the officials talk fast in foreign tongue. A gentleman with a big friendly flat face approaches with my passport to explain the situation. He doesn’t work for immigration but assures me I will be let through if I book a direct flight to Tokyo from Beijing. I am on FaceTime to my folks explaining the situation, they, in turn, are on the telephone to STA Cardiff complaining – I wish I had a working mobile. Long story short, friendly flat face books my ticket in Chinese on his mobile, STA agree to pay for it and I am accepted, with the welcoming thud of a TWOV stamp in my returned passport, into China!

I collect my lonely luggage from a still carousel conveyor – such a sad sight. I close my eyes and cross my fingers following a tentative press of the enter button requesting currency cash from the ATM, all too familiar territory with each new territory touchdown. I am rewarded this time, enough bad luck for one night (or so I think!). It is freezing outside. Snow is on the ground. It appears that the entire world wants a taxi. I join the queue. We all emit plumes of steam and teeth chatters. I can’t find my gloves and there is a limit to the amount of time I can expose my hands in the numbing air. With pocketed fingers I push my trolley with my hips, no mean feat when I have to press down on the handle to release the break without hitting the Achilles heals belonging to the lady in front. I wish it was acceptable to huddle with strangers like penguins for warmth, in a perfect world it would be.

30 minutes later I am at the front, iPad in icy hands, accommodation address pre zoomed. I am pointed to a taxi, the anticipation of in-car heaters is overwhelming. The driver attempts to read the address in my shaky hands and shakes his head, as does the next driver and the next and the next and the next. This cannot be happening. The only person around who speaks English, and knows the address, is the taxi tout who, according to all online opinion, should be avoided like an overpriced plague. I have little to no options. From my pre-arrival research I know that 200 Chinese yuan is the going rate to get to the city, so the 400 he is asking is ludicrous. I ignore him. He asks how much I’m willing to pay? I say 250 max. He ignores me. It’s getting colder. His price lowers, mine, like me, is frozen. His lowers more, mine remains and I walk away. Winning technique.

The heaters turn on in his lovely car and I melt, physically and mentally. My driver and I make friends. The journey is fun, his English is good and we chat The Walking Dead and Game of Thrones while listening to Shane Ward and Akon! It takes about an hour and I arrive at the Leo Hostel at 4am. Check in, run to the local shop for water and collapse into my double bed in a private room with the heaters on full blast to defrost my frozen feet.

Welcome to China.