There is nothing more discombobulating than coming around from a faint with your brother giving you mouth-to-mouth. On a packed plane. Whilst shouting: “I THINK SHE’S DEAD!”
This was the situation in which I found myself somewhere over a ‘jan or a ‘stan on China Southern Airlines. I’m one of life’s fainters in general and do so quite spectacularly; none of this gentle swooning onto a handy chaise longue for me. I like to choose a spot where maximum embarrassment and logistical carnage will ensue and the front row in economy lent itself quite nicely to this. I also go for the full poisoned corpse look – a ghastly grey pallor blanches my usually pink-tinged face, charcoal-coloured circles ring my eyes and my lips go a rather fetching shade of vervet monkey balls (or at least that’s what the lipstick would be called should it ever go on sale. Google it. They are very blue).
A doctor was summoned, vital signs checked (a somewhat pointless exercise given that I was now wide awake, wiping my mouth down and demanding we never speak of this again) and blood pressure assessed. We (my brother, the doctor and myself) were then ushered into the empty back seats of business class, told in no uncertain terms that this was to ensure other passengers weren’t made anxious by our extraordinary behaviour, and that we weren’t going to get any business class food or drink as a result. I glanced back and saw people scrambling to fill our empty seats. They didn’t seemed overly concerned.
By the time we landed in Shanghai, the nauseousness you feel after a faint was slowly wearing off which was handy given we were then stuffed into a waiting bus on exiting the aircraft and driven what felt like 600 miles back the wrong way. We could have just flown to Tehran instead and saved some cash.
However, moods were improving and upon installing ourselves in a pirate-themed hostel just off The Bund (as you do), we set off exploring whilst the skyline slowly flickered like technicolour fireflies as twilight broke.
Let’s not pretend – we were here as tourists to do all things tourist. No off-the-beaten track surprises or finding those one-of-a-kind eating establishments that a magazine with just a logo for a name has recommended. No, sir. Shanghai Museum? Tick. Oriental Pearl Tower? Tick. The aforementioned Bund promenade? Tick. It’s a slick, shiny and neon-studded city and we thoroughly enjoyed it for the short time we were there.
Then onto a train via a station whose architecture looked like a large hair-and-fluff ball that you find under the bed, to Hangzhou. West Lake was our destination, islands and waterways beloved of artists and poets since time immemorial and now beloved of people like us and day travellers gasping at the enormous lily pads squatting on quietly reflective water.
A flight to Beijing saw us clambering about on The Great Wall (naturally), snapping pics of the not-so Forbidden City and snapping up fabulous fakes at the Beijing Silk Market where diplomats sent their assistants scurrying from chauffeured cars to retrieve Burberry, Mulberry, Gucci, and Prada goods at a fraction of the price of the originals to take back to fawning spouses and teenage children.
The last night I had booked us a hostel room in a hutong – an area which originally housed narrow alleys packed with dwellings (many, sadly, razored to make way for more modern developments). I was exhausted and after dinner packed and went to bed. My brother had struck up a friendship with some other Brits and was having drinks with them.
I woke up at 6am to catch our flight back home. I glanced over at the other bed. No sign of my brother. The bathroom was also empty and he wasn’t in the breakfast room. We had a taxi booked for 6.30am and at 6.27am I was planning the conversation I was going to have with my parents on my return when only I arrived at Heathrow. At 6.29am the door crashed open and he appeared, wide-eyed, wild-haired, disheveled in appearance and reeking of eau de rice wine.
He explained that his new friends had taken him on a rice wine tour of the district and he’d only just found the hotel again after wondering about, drunk as a badger on fermented apples, for the whole night.
He threw up five times in the security queue and once at passport control. Couldn’t really say anything though as he just kept reminding me he’d ‘saved my life’ on the journey over. We didn’t travel together again for a while.