Our first destination in Asia was Beijing; after a 20 hour flight which we snagged for £200 (money is going to become a very important theme on this trip, so better to start early), we arrived exhausted at 4am and slept until midday. Because of the relative expense of China, we had decided on a homestay where our breakfast and evening meal were included in the price of our accommodation. The additional bonus was that we stayed with a family and were allowed a more insightful stay in China and a more immersive experience of Chinese culture. The family were lovely and somehow kept the tiny flat completely silent until we woke on our first day, either that or we slept so deeply that we didn't notice the noise. Frank and Jessica were both humble and timid, hugely contrasting to the raucous and demanding five year old Jerry. Jerry was a product of the one child policy in China: spoilt and undisciplined. The responsibility of reprimanding Jerry when he came into our room without asking, had a tantrum while playing a game with us or hit Andrew while "playing," fell on us. Luckily for Jerry, he was also very charismatic and cute; a reason I suspected her evaded his parents' discipline so easily. He was also very intelligent; in the month that we lived with Jessica and Frank, Jerry's vocabulary and confidence in English increased exponentially and he could also almost beat us in chess, one of his favourite pastimes with us, by the time we left.
The neighbourhood that Frank and Jessica lived in was awe inspiring: row upon row of towering uniform blocks of flats shot up in every direction. To a British person, this sounds like an incredibly bleak and impoverished way of existing. Estates made up of blocks of flats in the UK bring to mind deprivation, lack of funding, vandalism and crime. However, the estates in Beijing were considerately and logically built, with the residencies revolving around compact green parks, exercise equipment and a play area for the children. There was an amazing sense of community in the estate and the sociable areas are consistently busy, whether it is retired people practising calisthenics, dancing or Tae Kwon Do in the morning or children playing while their parents helicopter around them in the evening. Despite Facebook, Twitter and many other social media being blocked, China has developed their own means of online socialising through WeChat and QQ, the latter of which connects people within their neighbourhood. Through QQ, we acquired two English speaking students who we tutored privately to earn money and were able to learn about another completely different way of life.