Strolling around Beijing's loveable hutongs looking for the next wrinkled face to take a picture of, it dawned on me that we were about to be asked this dreaded question: "What did you guys do today?"
After four weeks of travelling by ourselves and nobody to answer to for our lethargic sightseeing, we were about to meet up with my friend Tom from University who was now living in Beijing, and we suddenly had people asking questions. If you've ever been on holiday with Clauds or I, you're probably already aware we lean towards a slower pace of life. This, coupled with the fact that we'd both been to Beijing twice before, meant that we were intentionally doing zero sightseeing.
The problem now was that we had a wave of new people to meet who would all inevitably ask this same question, and I suspect our vague, meandering answer of not very much was both surprising and frustrating for people who'd spent the entire day at work and would kill for the free time we're lucky enough to have.
I'm laughing as I type this, but we generally aim to achieve one thing per day on this trip, whether it be admin, food, or sightseeing related. It's a nice, manageable target, that allows us the freedom and flexibility to wander. I can imagine this might be frustrating to read if you're sitting in your office, but to treat this 8 month trip the same way you treat a week long holiday would be exhausting. Sightseeing for 8 months is not only tiring, but it would be boring and expensive too.
For this reason, our week spent visiting friends in Beijing and Shanghai, two of the largest cities in the world, was surprisingly relaxing. Handing over our time to people who live in the cities to decide where we should eat was a great break from constantly planning an itinerary. Ranging from grilling a whole leg of lamb at our table in Beijing's hutongs, to eating enough Dutch Pies in Shanghai to induce a sugar coma, everything our friends recommended was top drawer, and it was a joy to put our planning feet up and spend the week catching up with them all.
Everybody we met was from a different country, with Egyptians and Russians ordering dinner in fluent Mandarin. Not only do I admire their determination to learn the local language (not you Tommy P, you've got plenty of work to do) while forging a career on the other side of the world, when was the last time you got 12 friends out on a Monday night in London? Everybody said yes to everything and it was a great inclusive and welcoming atmosphere in both Beijing and Shanghai.
We didn't see the Forbidden City, Mao's strange embalmed orange body, or go to Shanghai's Yuyuan gardens, but we did eat a huge amount of great food, catch up with friends, and got a small insight reminding us what it's like to live on the other side of the world. My advice would be to always make the most of people you know abroad, and learn to enjoy letting them show you their favourite things! Not only that, but to remember that hospitality when people are visiting your home town in the future.