Top Tips on Making it Through Lockdown

As the UK goes back into lockdown, I’ve realised that I’ve got a bit good at this quarantine thing. And I specify quarantine and self isolation as I’ve done both of those a couple of times whereas I’ve done lockdown the same number of times as you have: precisely once.

Snow leopard at Dudley Zoo.

But, having quarantined twice now; once on returning from China with Lauren and once on returning to China, by myself, in a hotel room, I didn’t find it the worst thing in the world.

Lauren and I on a socially distanced walk on the Malverns

However I will admit that I am an introvert who in the before times would occasionally fantasize about having time home alone with no reason to go out and no interruptions. So I understand that the more gregarious of people who read this may find it a lot harder.

Baby giraffe at Dudley Zoo

But I can say that I managed to survive with my sanity (mostly) intact, so I thought I’d share what helped me get through my quarantines in the hope that it may help someone else.

The best selfie I’ve taken with my Dad, ever.

Disclaimer: I’m not all knowing and this helped me. Please approach with caution. Not proven to get anyone mentally well. You know your mind better than I do. I hope.

Domino, my baby, being a babay

->Keep busy. This may seem like common sense but it is really helpful. Write yourself a To Do list and try to cross off at least one thing a day. Include jobs that you’ve been meaning to get round to for years but never quite had the time for. Include jobs that will probably take hours or even days to complete. always include write to do list at the top of your to do list as it really helps me to see that first little tick at the top of the page. Include your hobbies because there’s nothing like feeling productive when you’re reading a book. I found that an utterly unproductive day was bad for my mental health but a single solitary tick turned that mood upside down, especially if it was a project that I’ve been meaning to complete for the last eighteen months. I frequently include my cross-stitching on my list, because I can then be productive while watching TV.

My pandemic cross stitch

-> Keep a routine. Again, this seems obvious, but the quickest way to an unproductive day, at least for me, is to wake up later than normal, and then not wanting to go to bed until much later than normal and realising that you actually have to be up at 8am the next morning, while also realising that the majority of the day is gone without actually having done anything because you were asleep/in bed/thinking about moving and doing something soon, and then realising what’s the point because it’s already the evening.

Arctic fox with summer coat at Dudley Zoo

Of course, if a nocturnal cycle is one that works best for you, then go for it, but I find that unless I have something due the next morning, I am functionally useless after about 7pm regardless of what that thing I should be doing is, or what time I actually go to bed. I work better in general if I keep to a routine. During my Chinese quarantine (as opposed to the British one), I knew that food would be delivered to my room three times a day, and I had to submit my temperature twice a day, during a specific time frame. Now, I was still suffering from jetlag, so I’ll admit that my 8.30 alarms were occasionally ignored, but I was able to build my own structure around that which I was given.

Being functionally incapable in the evening is a family thing

-> Nap. Now, this may seem counterproductive to the last two of my points, but I argue that it should be built into your schedule and routine, the way that Chinese schools do. In fact, I am writing this while my Chinese colleagues are napping, and I haven’t joined them, because honestly, their napping location isn’t the greatest (however, since I wrote this I have napped twice at school, during our lunch break), doesn’t look comfortable (I napped at my desk, which was also uncomfortable), and I tend to get home and become about as useful as a dried up marker pen (I am only typing this up in the evening due to today’s nap).

I made some things, that I then had to model, obviously.

But the reason I advocate naps is, as well as them being refreshing, that they eat up time. You may have found that you are one of these weird, uber-productive people who isn’t adding to-dos faster than she can tick them off (Hi!) and so you have ploughed through your to do list and can’t add anything more until the 3 socks and single pair of pants has finished in the washing machine and you’ve eaten a meal to create washing up (if you are, please tell me how you do it. i really want to know!), how about taking a nap? You’ll be surprised at how much time can pass (it’s not wasted, honest) while having a little snooze, and when you wake up, you can make washing up while you cook and you can hang the socks to dry, while searching for the missing of the pair.

Socially distance walking with the famalam

Plus, if you wake up befuddled, as I often do, you can lose track of what day it is and that really helps time slip by.

A friend’s kittens, napping. They know what’s up.

-> Make use of technology. And no, I don’t just mean Netflix. I mean, Zoom, Google meets, or hangouts, or whichever is your preferred platform. I know, trust me, I know it’s not the same as a real person – as my new besties, the English speaking folks who emerged from quarantine at the same time as me can attest to (I’m sorry that a- I talked your ears off and b- started a load of anecdotes without finishing them), but it does help keep the loneliness away. And if my severely technophobic aunt can do it, so can you. I believe in you.

Another cross stitch I did, in about a week. Honestly, I credit cross stitch with my continued good mental health

-> Be forgiving, especially towards yourself. Look, humans are naturally social creatures, so locking yourself away is against that nature and is going to have an effect on you, and the people that you cohabit with. I’m sure that in quarantine with Lauren, we squabbled a bit. And I definitely had a couple of spats with my mum during lockdown, but we forgave one another and moved on, which was honestly the only way we could deal with it healthily, even if there were a couple of hours or more of avoidance beforehand, if only so our tempers could cool.

Cross stitch I designed and made in honour of the NHS and Pride

And due to our social natures, isolation means that some days it is hard even to get out of bed. I didn’t, a couple of days of quarantine, or if i did, it was to fetch my laptop, my food, and to pee. but i forgave myself and tried again the next day. it helped that something like “taking a shower” was on my to do list.

Lynx, at Dudley Zoo. He also knows the importance of self-care

And also, please remember that the world is a dumpster fire, and we are in (I’m shuddering as i write this overused cliché) unprecedented (ugh. so much ugh) times. nothing is normal and so if all you can manage everyday is feeding yourself, I’m proud of you, because I even struggled with that for a couple of days in quarantine and I didn’t even have to cook for myself. it was only when I felt dizzy from standing too quickly that I realised I needed to eat more than two yoghurts and a satsuma each day.

Peacock my mother and I found on one of our government permitted walks.

-> Hobbies. We all saw on the news how everyone started baking during the first lockdown, and honestly, kudos. i couldn’t have come out the other side relatively unscathed if it hadn’t have been for my cross-stitching. if there is something that you have always wanted to try, now is a great time to start. i also did a free psychology course, much to my parents’ chagrin as they became my test subjects and a friend of mine started to teach herself programming. there are so many resources online, and a lot of them are free. so go, master that language, learn to write in calligraphy, or knit a scarf that rivals Tom Baker’s.

Even more cross stitching

Look I can’t pretend that self-isolation is easy, and I have a naturally optimistic outlook which is something I am very grateful for, and yet I still had anxiety and depressive episodes. I’m just sharing what I found to help me, having had to endure it twice now. It’s okay to struggle as long as you keep fighting.

Teeny tiny, randy marmoset from Dudley Zoo

Now go forth. Except don’t. Stay at home. Go forth mentally. I know you can do this. I believe in you.

Domino also believes in you

P.S. I hope you like some pictures from the summer (since it won’t get its own post anytime soon).

Hong Koming – Only a Minor Sidetrip

A mere two days after we’d returned from Guangzhou, with just enough time for me to procrastinate packing, and for Lucy to retrieve her passport from TeachTEFLInChina, we set off for her final adventure; three days in Hong Kong. After the success of arriving in Guangzhou late at night, we were doing the same for Hong Kong, and it worked well. Arriving in the middle of the day had caused us to take an hour at least to get through immigrations; this time it was hardly longer than twenty minutes.

Our first day, we headed to Ocean Park, which was an aquarium, theme park, and safari park all rolled into one. I somehow managed to get zero pictures of the rides (including upside-down ones – something that was lacking at Disneyland Hong Kong) I did get many of the animals, so here’s a dump of them.

The park was split in two, on either side of a mountain, connected by a train that went through the mountain, or a cable car that went over. We obviously opted for the cable car, and I realised that I was no longer as saccharine about floating over a hill as I once was, although I did fairly quickly manage to relax, my heart rate didn’t come to its resting rate until I was on an awesome rollercoaster.

Because it was a Friday, Ocean Park was actually pretty quiet, compared to everywhere else we’ve been and we thought it was because it was a Friday, but it was a pretty common theme for the whole weekend. Its possible that due to the weeks of protests beforehand, there were fewer tourists in general, or we were just lucky in the places we went.

Ocean Park took up the entirety of that first day, and, like Chimelong in Guangzhou, we didn’t get to see it all. At least we didn’t get rained on this time, except for on the water ride when we both got pretty drenched.

Once again I was limping, however as my blister had migrated from the heel of my foot to the side of the heel and was developing into a blood blister. Because of my fun feet fatalities (at least, that’s what it felt like), we headed back to Mongkok, the shopping capital of Hong Kong, and quite by coincidence, our home for the week. We wanted to go to a Chinese food place, since Lucy would only have sup-par takeaways when she got home, but we managed to find a Japanese food place instead, and it was actually one of the best meals we’d had in a while, despite our successful foraging at Mark’s and Spencer for lunch.

Day Two we started out by going to the Sky Tower, which you can only access by tram, which while currently undergoing upgrades, looks very old fashioned, and I managed to only get some pictures on my phone, which at the time of publishing was not cooperating, so sorry about that. But the pictures from the tower are across the commercial sector of Hong Kong and the shopping district as well.

Next up we wandered around a church like wot you see in Europe before making a late-in-the-day decision to head to Ngong Ping, aka, Giant Buddha, accessible only by cable car. Lucy and I thought, as the ride drew to a close, that we were supposed to have just taken our seats and any photos should have been taken from those seats, but because we were the only two in the Gondola, we wandered around as we saw fit to take the pictures we wanted, including far off photos of the giant Buddha.

Although we managed to sneak our way up to the Buddha after it had officially closed, we were not so lucky at the next-door temple, and so we got a closed-door photo of it. But otherwise, it was also an interesting trip.

Because we had tiny appetites and had shared a pizza to the point that we both felt like we were about to burst, we weren’t particularly hungry for dinner so we just at raspberries and called it a day, although I did find my favourite foreign cider in the world (Somersby) and then had an adventure trying to open the bottle without a bottle opener. After a fateful failure in India, I did not use my teeth, but instead spent ten minutes with my flat keys prying it open. It was as good as I remembered, and just what I needed.

Our third day in Hong Kong dawned slowly for us, the same as the previous days, and for once, this was not the ideal, as the fish market that we had wanted to see in Aberdeen only ran in the morning, so by the time we got there, it had already finished for the day. However, a nice old lady coerced us into a boat ride on her son’s boat, and then proceeded to tell me in great detail about every single one of her three hundred (or thereabouts as it felt) children. Her son, during the tour was fascinated with telling us the prices of everything that we could see from the boat, including flat prices per month, how much the fancy yachts cost, and the price of a plot of land at an overcrowded cemetery. However, without any tutelage, he was able to work my camera better than I can.

After yet another supposed-to-be-Chinese-but-ended-up-Japanese meal we ended up at the Avenue of Stars, which I’m sure is fascinating for Chinese and Hong Kong-ian people, due to them all being stars of the Chinese silver-screen, but held little interest for me, as I barely knew any of them.

However, seeing the Sky Tower from the other side, so to speak was interesting and I was happy enough to sit there and watch the sunset, seeing how the colours of the river/water change, and the lights come on, on the “traditional” boats (the sails were for decoration and tourists; they were actually powered by motors).

And then Lucy was leaving and I had twenty-four hours left in Hong Kong during which I did nothing before I came home for my European leg of this crazy year of adventure.

For those who are concerned, despite the fact that this was the first weekend that the protests in Hong Kong expanded to the airport and started to become violent, we saw literally nothing save one sticker about it, and one MTR line had a live news feed. But at no time were we near any of it, and we saw nothing in regards to it, which in my opinion, was the best thing we could have hoped for.

Guangzhou(nly) a Train Ride Away

After the whirlwind of the end of term, we only had one day to recover before Lucy and I headed on our next adventure: Gunagzhou. And it was an adventure indeed. We did a lot; we went to a safari park and saw pandas, we saw really big Buddhas, I took a sneaky picture of a man, I found The Dress, my feet died, we ate actual Chinese food. And I took several hundred pictures.

We hit a snag right from the off. I’d tried to book a train the day before as we knew that the trains to Guangzhou get fully booked regularly, but when we got to the station, the booking code was not legitimate and even now, I haven’t received confirmation of booking, although that might be because I cancelled it. So we had to buy tickets all over again. We were at the station at around 2pm. The next train available was 9pm. We had a lot of time to kill. We were both pretty hungry so now that we had our tickets, we headed off in search of food, and we found an Italian restaurant. We ordered food and abused the bottomless drinks situation. I had an utterly delicious carbonara that I inhaled until I was full and then ate very slowly. We also shared a garlic bread, and after a couple of hours, we both just about had enough space for a pudding. And we were on holiday after all. We wandered the shopping mall for a while after, as many tables had been filled and emptied in the time we sat there. We found massage chairs and both of us made the mistake of enjoying the first massage so much, that we got a second one, and it hurt a lot. The chairs did very deep massages, and two was too much. But hey, you live and learn. We found a Swedish shop which was very dangerous and we both bought too many souvenirs there. And finally, we got the train to Guangzhou. Once there, we got a Didi (Chinese version of Uber) to the apartment we were renting as we were too tired to try and deal with the Metro. It was a very cute little apartment, with just enough room to swing a kitten, but it had everything needed.

The next day, our adventure started for real. Lucy had found a safari park and after slow start, we went there. the park was insane. It was incredible. We saw so many animals and so many baby animals. They seemed to have a great breeding programme across the board.

We saw pandas, tigers, white tigers, giraffes, hippos, bears, elephants, chimpanzees, monkeys, mandrills, ostriches among others. So let’s have a look at some pictures.

We didn’t get a chance to see everything there, partly because it was just so big, and partly because about half way through the day, the heavens opened (there was the minor issue of a typhoon hitting the coast and weren’t far from the coast) and while neither of us minded getting wet because of how warm it still was, we were concerned about our technology – cameras, phones etc. We didn’t want them getting wet.  We must have spent about an hour cowering under the insufficient protection of two umbrellas; Lucy’s and one of those used in the UK to shelter our weak bodies from the sun, before we made a run for it and found ourselves in one of the gift shops. It was doing a roaring trade in floor-length-extra-large macs. Of course, Lucy and I had to get in on that, as we were both of a stature to have room to spare in these coats, under which we could shelter our technology and still see the rest of the park. And so we carried on, but the time spent sheltering from the downpour meant valuable time wasted not seeing the animals. However the damp tiger cubs were cute.

By the time we got kicked out of the park and got back to the Airbnb, we were cream-crackered and just wanted to go to bed, so we did.

Day two saw me making possibly the biggest mistake of the trip. Instead of wearing my slightly damp trainers, which we tried, tested and proven not to give me blisters, I decided to opt for my sandals, which I knew weren’t all that nice on my feet, but I hadn’t realised how much they bullied them. I was regretting the choice before we even got to the Metro but I was foolish and stubborn and so ignored my feet. By the end of the day they were hotbeds of agony, with enormous blisters on the bottom of my heel, and I was limping.

But my woes aren’t important, the tourist spots are. The first place we went was Guangzhou Museum, hosted in Zhenhai Tower.

The tower dates back to *checks Google* 1380 even though it has been destroyed and rebuilt five times during its history, which makes me think of the Only Fools and Horses bit about the broom. If the handle and head have each been replaced a number of times, is it the same broom? But anyway, it had a lot of exhibits, that were very interesting, and a lot of silver ornaments, as well, because silver stuff was very important to do with the growth of Guangzhou and general trade in China too.

Then we walked to the Temple of the Five Banyan Trees. Not sure what those trees are but they must be important, since the temple is notable for them. I think I found all five of them, but since I didn’t know exactly what they are, I just found five trees in the courtyard that looked the same.

We had two for one day, as the next stop was yet another walk to Guangxiao temple. En route, I found The Dress. The Dress was the dress I’ve been looking for since I arrived, that I can wear to my friend’s wedding in August. There have been many contenders for the dress, two of which I actually bought, but I wasn’t completely confident with either of them. And then I walked into a tiny little shop full of beautiful dresses and the little old lady started basically throwing them at me, calling them all beautiful, and trying to convince me to buy more than one. I tried on maybe five of them, including one with pockets, before I found the one that fit beautifully (the little old lady knew my dress size just from looking at me) and was just gorgeous and I knew I had to get it. There aren’t any pictures yet, because I’m not going to wear it until the wedding, and because these are available to everyone on the interwebs, I’m not even going to describe it. All will be revealed in a few weeks, once the wedding is over.

There were many very large Buddhas all decked in gold, some fat and laughing, some thin with big earlobes, and it was really interesting to see the Chinese people paying their respects, donating foodstuffs to the temple and generally worshipping Buddha. It was also not the most comfortable experience, as we weren’t there to worship. I don’t know Lucy’s religious affiliations, but mine definitely lean more towards atheism than any other religion. But we paid our entry fee same as the others and our respect towards it was in the photos that we took, even if one particularly sanctimonious woman told us off for taking them

The next event was our first proper misadventure of the trip. Following Google Maps to Chen Clan Ancestral Hall, took us to what felt like a dodgy back alley of apartment blocks, and we walked around in circles for a few minutes, although by this point, my feet were weeping in their fabric prison, so we gave it up as a bad job, and decided to head back to the Airbnb so that I could change my shoes, and we could regroup before heading out for food. Google was able to take us to the nearest Metro station and lo and behold there was the Ancestral Hall. There were only 45 minutes until the Hall closed, but we thought that was better than no minutes. But when we got to the ticket gate, they needed our passport or ID card to let us in, which of course neither of us had, because we are sensible tourists and had left them at the Airbnb where they would be safer than in our bags while we were touristing. So we didn’t go in and instead sat on the square outside the hall, listening to a small child play the violin incessantly.

After I worked up the courage to stand again, we followed our original plan, and spent a blissful hour with my feet in the air before I whimpered as I stuffed them back into my trainers so we could head out to Canton Tower.

The tower really is beautiful at night, and was one of the highlights although it was by far the biggest tourist site that we’d been to, and both of us were uncomfortable by the numbers. We were also hungry, so we headed away from the tower to find some food, and it gave us some better perspectives of the tower, since while it is impressive up close, taking pictures is easier from further away.

The next morning was the day we left, but we wanted to see one more thing; the Sacred Heart Cathedral, which was the closest tourist attraction to our Airbnb, so it was a short walk there to find it closed, because that’s what happens to Christian cathedrals on a Monday. But still the outside was pretty impressive and really quite incongruous in the middle of a Chinese city.

Then we were on our way home to collapse and sleep as we were very nearly touristed out.