Cultural Exhaustion eventually overpowered our group and a relaxing trip down Regent Street was prescribed to restore our energy. Out in the commercial world Chinese texts popped up here and there, 'made in China' clothes and objects brought soothing familiarity and the stress of strangeness receded somewhat.
Unable to help with the search for typically English food, I accompanied my friends into PizzaHut, where we battled our way through the complexities of ordering food we might recognise and possibly enjoy, from an unnecessarily complicated menu and a stressed waiter.
Pizza proved to be remarkably similar to a Chinese dish that is folded and eaten with the fingers, but the cups of tea that accompanied and preceded our meal did cause our frazzled waiter some confusion.
Arriving back at Waterloo we presented me to a man with the label 'assisted travel' on his fluorescent jacket. He accompanied me to our train and instructed the surprised driver/guard to get a ramp and let me on to the train: job done.
The same driver/guard took on the responsibility for getting me off of the train when we arrived at our destination. He did have other duties to perform first, luckily it was the end of the line.
Stuffed crust fingers wave modestly,
not daring to venture far from the plate,
but still adamant in their desire
to be noticed. Their small cheesy
claws protruding from stubby fat digits,
they hesitate, wave from the wedge
that is tidily folded and eaten
Via Westminster Bridge and a complex of old buildings with a clock tower, we attempted to reach Trafalgar Square. Olympic Detours and fenced off areas took us through Whitehall and a photo opportunity with some gentle, patient horses standing beside a big label warning that they might kick or bite.
Along our route, a long, long queue of London taxis, progressing slowly and very noisily with much horn honking, was the cause of much laughter.
The prominent Olympic Countdown caused mild amusement, but the young people drawing flags on the paving, and the 'would-be' statues standing motionless on soap boxes, attracted the most attention.
With a passing nod to the lions in the Square, we made our way into the National Gallery.
Secretly hoping to steer the party towards the Sainsbury Wing and Metamorphosis, I nevertheless resisted the urge to cheat and followed my guests on their whimsical travels through the complicated unsignposted space. Looked at through Asian eyes not much of it seemed to make sense, but the individual talents of the classical European artists on display, were much appreciated.
Do you have a guide?
Oh no, we have far too many rooms for that.
Well some way of finding our way around?
We are a very big place, we get many visitors
we could not possibly afford to do that.
Perhaps just a map of the layout?
There is a Plan. At the entrance. And her tone speaks:
idiot; but maybe she didn't know
they don't have one in Chinese.
And maybe she is unaware
of cultural diversity.
Visiting London with Chinese friends seemed like the perfect opportunity to see the place as a visitor with almost no English; apparently it's supposed to be especially well geared-up for visitors right now.
Approaching the Capital by train, I was a little shocked to discover that my ticket was the most expensive of our party since I did not seem eligible for any of the offers available to the ambulant travellers.
Buying a ticket for a wheelborne traveller, did not alert station staff to the need for assistance or a ramp. No-one noticed me or my access problem. We were in real danger of missing the train, until hurried enquiries, in English, led us to the correct person to handle a ramp.
My arrival in London was totally unexpected; UK train staff might not have any means of communicating between staff, trains or stations?
I was stuck on the train until somewhere on Waterloo station the correct person was found to produce a ramp, and she appeared to be unfamiliar the item.
From Waterloo we wandered towards the festive atmosphere of the Southbank, and chuckled about two gigantic figures, one leaning over from a roof and one climbing up or down the wall of the building. Maybe they were robots? The building was decorated with columns of strange, green plastic bowls and didn't seem to have a main entrance.
Alongside the famous river we saw a lot of word-boards strapped to the railings. And some large empty crates that it was possible to roll through in my chair, amusing my friends. On one of the crates was a picture of brides in White Wedding gowns - one of the brides was a man with a beard and this caused prolonged laughter.
Keeping our eyes open for street art and entertainment, we were aware of posters advertising an evening dance event somewhere in the vicinity.
The multicoloured 'rainbow sandpit' where children were playing, was a curiosity that awakened some concern. Was it natural? Was it safe?
Pretty-girl crocodile, weaving through the crowd;
pointing toes, high then low and counting spaces,
snaking, swaying, dipping rhythms; curls of spine.
Supple bodies, sensuous arms, splaying fingers;
dragon-cousin crocodile: breathless, chanting.
Happy laughter woven into swirls and leaps,
arabesques, pirouettes, and smiling faces.
No special dress, no explanation, dancing
all we need to know.