London to Beijing. January. 2004.
I look down through the window, beneath the clouds at the rough, mountainous terrain of Mongolia, wondering what it would be like to crash land in the middle of nowhere; if I’d end up having to eat any of my fellow passengers; whether we’d get rescued by a bunch of tribesmen on horseback; or pretty tribeswomen who’d take us back to their tents, forcing us to be their slaves.
The girl beside me is Asian, fairly attractive, and I guess she’s just entered my daydreams.
She’s from Beijing, her name’s Anna, she’s the same age as me and has been studying in England for over a year. We talked about how I’m now doing what she did. Except it’s kind of the opposite. Ha ha. I’m on my way there, she’s on her way back. Ha ha. Except she’s been learning English and … well, I’m a teacher and she’s a student so that’s kinda flipped around too.
“A teacher?” she asked, impressed.
“A TEFL teacher,” I replied. A twenty-two-year-old English teacher, trained for one month on a Mickey Mouse course with a Mickey Mouse certificate in his backpack, about to start his first real job in Asia’s famous capital. And ever so slightly shitting himself.
“So, can you speak Chinese?”
“Yeah,” I say. “A little.”
“Ni hao ma?”
“Ni chu Beijing jiao yinwen duo jiu?”
I’m having to use my phrase book to write this down. My Chinese isn’t as good as all that and rather embarrassingly I had no idea what she was on about. She laughed though, a little patronisingly, and explained that she’d asked how long I’d be teaching in Beijing.
“Six months,” I replied, to which she feigned mock surprise.
Anyway, I’m not going to write the whole conversation down. We swapped emails and chatted for a while about the places I should visit, things I should eat and how as an Englishman I’d be happy to know that the beer is cheap. How I’m starting a Masters next autumn but six months feels a long time for me because this is my first time to be going abroad for more than a couple of weeks.
Eventually we ran out of things to say, which was a bit awkward, so instead of trying to keep our conversation going for the rest of our fourteen-hour flight, I pretended to fall asleep until she actually did fall asleep and now I’m writing this - staring out the window, feeling kinda lonely, deciding, albeit weirdly, that I’d much rather eat her than some dead old person.