Socialising in a Post Pandemic Society

It seems appropriate that on the eve of the biggest event in the Chinese calendar; Spring Festival or Chinese New Year, I should write about the biggest events in the Christian and Western calendar; Christmas and New Year. Or should that be Western New Year? When I wish people a Happy New Year here at the moment, I don’t specify it as Chinese New Year, it’s just New Year. I am in China after all, and, well, we all know the saying.

Tangents aside, Christmas this year was weird. Weird as in, I was 6000 miles from my family. Weird as in, none of them were together for the first time in forever, I think. While my family, on the whole isn’t particularly religious, Christmas is the big event of the year where we all get together. Of course, over the years, there have been people missing. I distinctly remember running around the house with my phone on a Facebook call from my cousin who was in deepest South America. This same cousin was in India the year of the Boxing Day tsunami. I have also had to leave the festivities early due to working on Christmas Day or Boxing Day or both. My aunt, before retirement worked at the hospital and so couldn’t always get Christmas off. But in general, there was a core of people who gathered for Christmas wherever it was being hosted that year.

This year, surprising no one, it didn’t happen. And, to make it weirder, I actually worked on Christmas Day. Kind of.

Whether it’s in my contract or not, I can’t remember, but what I do know is, that foreign teachers don’t have to work on Christmas Day. School goes on as normal, but I do not have to be there, because it is recognised as the biggest holiday of the year. T

his year, however, the school, in its infinite wisdom, decided to hold its “English Language Show” on Christmas Day. And guess who was the lynchpin for this whole thing? Yup, the only native English speaker in the school.

But it was only in the afternoon, so I did not have to work in the morning. I was also offered Christmas Eve off as compensation, but I felt that I needed to be at school for the final rehearsals, as to be honest, the technical side of stuff still sucked, and the kids who were my co-hosts still couldn’t remember their lines, or come on at the right time.

Anyway, that’s for later. With Christmas Day morning off, I felt that it would be alright for me to go to a party on Christmas Eve. Icy wanted to come along with me. And this proved hilarious. It was a fairly low-key party at a friend’s house, although there were a lot of people there. Because there are next to no cases of Covid in the city, so it is safe. We sat and chilled and had a good time. It was something that I greatly appreciated I could do, as I was acutely aware that my parents wouldn’t be able to see the family this year, and that Christmas would be strange and quiet for everyone this year, due to the pandemic.

This was the first time I got to see Icy drunk and it was so cute. She is normally bubbly, but when she has had a couple of drinks, she gets even more so. And the funny part was that I’d probably drunk twice as much as she had, although I was possibly more hungover the next morning. It was the curse of red wine, which I’d bought a few cases of earlier in December, either for gift giving purposes or for purposes. Four months later, as I finish writing this, it was mostly for drinking purposes and I still have a case or so to drink.

Icy was flirting with a guy named Carlos, and he was flirting right back and I was encouraging it as much as possible, inviting him to come with us when the party disbanded, so that a number of people, including the host could go on to a club. Icy wanted to get a lift from her friends, so we wandered off down the street, and went to her friend’s shop. She made us tea and I drank a lot of it, in the hope that my hangover wouldn’t be so bad in the morning. It was a fruitless endeavor, but the thought had to count for something. But it was getting later and later, I was getting more noticeably drunk and trying to speak the little Chinese I knew (this is a feature for me in foreign countries) and I was also getting really sleepy, so eventually, after much tea was consumed by all, we piled into a different friend of Icy’s minivan type thing and they drove us home. I was just brushing my teeth and generally ablutioning, when Icy called me. She had been locked out of her apartment and could she crash at mine. I quickly tidied up as much as I could, hunted out the paracetamol and a glass of water to lay out for her in the morning as she still had to go to school in the morning, and then waited for her to arrive. I set her up for bed, and then went to bed myself, apologising for the permanently on light, that after multiple people hunting around the entire apartment cannot find an off switch for. It has been on ever since I moved in, as there does not seem to be an off switch. The only time it went off was during a power cut.

I slept poorly, and was awake before Icy. I shooed her off to school, late because I was hungover and thus not timekeeping well, and then opened my few presents, which was strange yet lovely. After a nap myself on the sofa and some general feeling sorry for myself, due to aforementioned hangover, I started cooking. I promised Zoey that I would cook for her, as we all had to provide some food at the Christmas party we were attending that evening. I cooked that most famous of traditional Christmas dishes: Mac’n’cheese. Luckily, I have practiced doing this before, and I had prepared by purchasing all the ingredients earlier. Unluckily I cannot make Mac’n’cheese without making a mess of the kitchen. It’s a biological imperative for me. I did not manage to cook for Zoey so we had to come back after school to finish up.

My Christmas presents slightly dwarfed my tree this year

But before that, I had to go and act not hungover at school in front of all the parents. I even got myself together enough to put make up to go to school and do my best host work.

Now, getting to this point had not been easy, and it had involved a helluva lot of arguing on my part. I had had to write the hosting script and help record every line so the children could learn it. They had put in a lot of work to learn it. Even if they didn’t understand what they were saying they had learned the sounds. And then the head of school decided that the order of the plays to be performed needed to be changed, and she did it a week before the final performance. And so gubbins here, who had worked very hard to put in a little subplot within the hosting script about trying to find their way home, then had to rewrite the whole script but in a way that would a) still make sense, both with the English and with the actual thread of the little story I had written, and b) not require the kids to learn any more lines. It was not easy, but by giving myself a whole lot more lines, I managed it. The kids would have to recite their lines in a different order but they didn’t have to learn any more.

I finished this on the Friday afternoon and on Monday morning, when I had spent the whole practice coaching the kids on what lines to say when, when we weren’t on stage of course, the head had the nerve to be upset that I hadn’t yet learned my lines. This was a low move, because I had promised that my lines would be learned by the performance, which they were, by the way, I didn’t have to learn only my lines, but also the kids’ and I had to be prepared to ad-lib should something go wrong, and the Chinese teacher didn’t even learn her lines but read them off a little cue card! In Chinese, her native language! And yet, admittedly also in my native language, I had learned 5 full pages of script, and where I could change it, should I need to!

As it happened, I needed this, as Cheryl wasn’t ready on time and I had to adlib a bit. Otherwise, the whole production went surprisingly smoothly, considering how disastrous the previous day’s rehearsals had been. But I vaguely remember from somewhere that a bad dress rehearsal was good luck or something, and that was how it normally went.

After a brief pit stop back at mine for cooking and wrapping presents purposes, we set off.

This party was even better than the night before, for one simple reason: there was a kitten! Charlie, the host, had given it to her friend for Christmas, and he had just received it. Its name was Chairman Miao, Cherry for short, and I was in love with her immediately. I spent a lot of the evening playing with her and letting her sleep in my arms, and generally fussing over this tiny little fluffball. I also drank cider and we played a strange game when it came to the Secret Santa stuff which gave me a vegetarian buffet voucher. Basically, names were drawn out of a hat, and you could choose a new gift, or steal a gift from someone else. That person could then choose a new gift or steal from a different person. And so on, until everyone had a gift. I made a mistake and chose the new gift rather than stealing a better gift from someone else, and so I was a little disappointed with mine, and I still haven’t cashed it in.

Zoey, Icy and I were all quite tired, and the party was winding down around midnight, so we went home. I messaged my mum happy Christmas and called her, and she said they were about to start the family quiz with my parents, my brother, his girlfriend, and her parents and I, being only mildly tipsy, but suddenly wide awake and aware that I didn’t have anything to do tomorrow, I asked to join in. It was great and I even won, while ridiculously tired. Also, my compiled quiz questions that I’d accumulated over lockdown in the UK came in useful, because I could use them on this new audience (many had been asked in other quizzes I did).

Because of all this excitement, and fortuitous placing of dates, Boxing Day and the day after were quiet and involved a lot of napping, as I think it was about 4am for me by the time the quiz finished. And I was back at school on Monday, because there is no rest for either the wicked or those who live in a country where Christmas isn’t traditionally celebrated.

I wasn’t too wicked though, as I only had to work Monday and Tuesday, and had Wednesday and Thursday off in lieu of the overtime I’d worked in the past.

Those five days (one day and recovery) will be chronicled in my next blog post.

Post coronavirus – lesser adventures in China

The massage was the last thing we did that wasn’t affected by the coronavirus, despite there being nearly a week left of our holiday. The hotel had BBC news 24 and CNN news and we had either one or the other on whenever we weren’t out for visits.

Saturday 26th January, we were due to go to Beijing Zoo. We had been told the day before that we wouldn’t be able to go to the Panda Enclosure, but the rest of it would be fine. This was not the case and the entire zoo had shut. But Tracy was a gem and she had arranged for us to go to the Summer Palace. It was the winter and therefore a contradiction of terms, but it was one of the only couple of places in the city left open, because it was all open air. Anywhere that had any sort of enclosed area was shut, because that was the more likely places for the coronavirus to spread. At this point the masks were now compulsory and we were weirdly getting used to them, as well as drying our hands out massively with the amount of alcohol gel and spray that we were using.

The Summer Palace is actually also beautiful in the Winter and we didn’t even get to explore all of it. The lake was frozen and, in the sun, I could see why the Emperors and Empresses liked it. It was also a great place to see the traditional pottery that always gets broken in the cheesy rom-coms where a normal girl ends up in a rich guy’s house and breaks some ancient Chinese pottery, and how it was made. Because we, not being rich guys, couldn’t afford pottery, we instead bought ourselves bracelets made in the same way.

However this was only a morning activity, so in the afternoon we explored the Hutongs, which were very similar to the Old Town in Huangshan, if busier, and the shopping mall next to the hotel, where I lost my hat, and we got very lost trying to find a specific restaurant that Tracy told us about that sold Peking Duck.

I was very disappointed in the duck as it was delicious for about three mouthfuls and then was very oily and greasy. I persevered but much preferred the duck from a couple of days previously. Never mind; at least we had a million sunflower seeds back in the hotel room.

PICTURE OF ME WITH THE DUCK

The next day was far and away the worst day of the trip. Tracy assured us that while we couldn’t see the Terracotta Warriors, the rest of our time in Xi’an would be fine, and there wouldn’t be anything else cancelled. So, we hopped on another 5-hour train to arrive and be told by Milly, the Xi’an guide, that literally nothing was open and we wouldn’t be able to do anything. This was the scary part of the virus that we hadn’t really seen in Beijing. The region that Xi’an is in, Shaanxi, is next to the Hubei province. When we got in the car, we and our suitcases were disinfected. We were given more masks and told that we needed to change them every four hours. We were very worried that we wouldn’t be allowed to check in to the hotel, and indeed it felt like the hotel tried very hard not to let us check in. we had a temperature check, we had to sign a form saying we had not been to Hubei, we had to provide our train tickets to prove this.

Eventually we were able to check in, but had to eat in the hotel restaurant as it was the only restaurant open. Milly tried to persuade us to only stay in the hotel room, but we rebelled at that. While we wanted to be safe, Lauren would never be coming back to China, so we wanted to do as much as possible. The problem was that there was literally nothing to do. So, Milly booked our train back to Beijing for the next day, the Monday, rather than the Wednesday. And we had cocktails after dinner, because what else could we do, plus we needed to relax as best we could.

As the train was in the afternoon and against her better wishes, once we’d checked out, we got as close as we were allowed to the Wild Goose Pagoda, and got told off more than once for taking pictures. The streets were deserted and it honestly looked like those scenes that you see in apocalypse movies. It was surreal and something I know I will remember for the rest of my life, simply because it’s like nothing I’ve ever experienced before. I know the quiet of a deserted street at three in the morning, and it’s kind of peaceful. This was at midday and it was a frightened quiet. You could sense the fear in the air. You could see it in the half of people’s faces that weren’t covered by masks. You could hear it in the hurried exchanges between restaurant chefs and those who were buying their produce from them, as there was only one supermarket in the entire city of 12 million people, and the restaurants had stocked up for a Chinese New Year that basically hadn’t happened, and so needed to shift the produce. It was visceral. It was fright inducing. It was something that I never want to experience ever again.

We went back to Beijing and were met by a very apologetic Tracy, but she had only known what we had known. We didn’t blame her at all, and made her aware of that. We were very appreciative of what she was doing for us. She got us back into the same hotel, although that was a very stressful experience too, not to mention all the train travel, which is almost guaranteed to be a hotbed of infection, especially for Lauren. For some reason, she was running a little warmer than usual. Stress, layers of clothes, and having gone from a warm car to a warm hotel meant that the temperature was running above 37°C and while that is a perfectly standard temperature for a human to run, they wouldn’t let us check in until it was below 37°C. even 37.1 was too high. We finally managed it, but it took a good half an hour, and we bought out the shop next door’s entire stock of masks, even if they were fashion masks and not medical ones because there weren’t masks for sale anywhere else. And it was essentially law to wear them in public places now.

Beijing was less scary than Xi’an. It still felt somewhat normal. They were fewer people in the streets and the malls were still empty, except for the supermarkets which were heaving, but it didn’t have the air of fear that Xi’an had. And restaurants were shut for Chinese New Year, and not for the virus in many cases.

On Tuesday, Tracy picked us up in the afternoon, after I had purchased myself a new suitcase. I’d been literally dragging the old one around for the past few days, but it was unmanageable and I was worried it would break further. Plus, it was at least fifteen years old so it had had a very good run. And I got a fancy new one with four wheels rather than two, and a solid shell, rather than fabric. It was very nice. And cheaper than I had feared too, thanks to the shops’ desperation to make any sales at all.

We went to the art district of Beijing, which like the rest of the city, was nigh on deserted, but the shops that were open were our kind of shops. Tracy told us that it was where all the young people hung out, and it was true that it had that vibe and Lauren and I would have been very comfortable hanging out there too, you know, if there had been more people. This was where we could truly shop for souvenirs too, in a way that we had desperately been hoping to do in Xi’an. I got my parents’ requested tea set, and a miniature set for myself, and Lauren was able to get gifts for her whole family, something she was getting slightly concerned she would not be able to do.

My virtual pocket very much lightened, we then were whisked off to the Olympic Stadium and the famous Bird’s Nest. It was a stupendous piece of architecture, as was the bubble-esque water park, which excitingly is being repurposed for the Beijing Winter Olympics 2022. They’re turning one of the pools into the curling rink and possibly also an ice-skating rink will be in there as well.

On the way back to the hotel, we drove past tomorrow’s attractions; the Temple of Earth, and the Lama Temple (yes, I did spell that right. Think Dalai Lama but not as awesome) where we wouldn’t be able to go in, but we would be able to look at from outside, and at the hotel, we started packing everything up as we would be moving to an airport hotel for our final night before we headed home.

Or at least, that was the plan. Lauren says, no calls that wake you up are good calls. we were woken up at 7.30am by her company contact. The Foreign Commonwealth Office had advised against any unnecessary travel to China, and so they were bringing her home a day early. Tracy would pick us up and we would go to the airport pronto. I would have to change my flight and bring it forward a day if possible, with Tracy’s help. All systems were a go, and we were both a little panicky.

It wasn’t as frightening as Xi’an but I would be lying if I didn’t shed a few tears, as we were on the phone to our parents to tell them the news after we’d got it ourselves, and again as I said goodbye to Lauren at her security check. I was able to get a flight that day, and for only an hour after Lauren’s took off but it wasn’t a great way to end my holiday.

That said, I saw some amazing things and after we’d had a few days in quarantine to calm down, Lauren and I did agree that we had done a lot even if hadn’t quite been the holiday we wanted or planned. And hey, it’ll be one heck of a story to tell our kids and grandkids.


Quarantine and Return

I was in Shenzhen for four more days before I decided it was time to come back to the UK. I was concerned; Guangdong region was the second most affected after Hubei, and quite honestly, I wanted to see my family for real rather than over the phone. I had planned on staying out there for much longer without coming back to the UK, but this was something beyond our ken and I wanted the security of being in my home country, where, if I did contract the coronavirus, I would not be hindered by a language barrier.

I flew home on a very expensive flight, and I want to thank everyone who donated to help get me home. I appreciate each and every penny donated.

Lauren welcomed me into her home for two weeks, where we served out our self-imposed quarantine as, if in the worst-case scenario, we had contracted the virus, we didn’t want to pass it on to anyone. Lauren happened to have a friend who was a journalist and who wanted to talk to us about it. We decided to do that interview, and it spiralled. We ended up on different local radio stations multiple times and even made it onto BBC Midlands Today to talk about the fact that we decided to self-quarantine. We didn’t want this fame, if you can call it that, but we did want to stress that we were doing it to be better safe than sorry.

Towards the end of the quarantine, we did get tested for the coronavirus, and it increased my agitation and need to leave Lauren’s house more than ever since as soon as we had negative results, we would have been free to leave. Eventually we did get the results. Officially, neither of us have the coronavirus, or Covid-19 as it is now being called. And while quarantine was boring in a way and claustrophobic in others, Lauren and I are still best friends, and are grateful to our families for helping us out during, and after.


This is my last post now until I go back to China. This blog is primarily about China and my experiences there, and while I am back in the UK, nothing too much of note is happening.

This is also my 25th post, being posted on the anniversary of my arrival in China, so it feels fitting that for now, it goes on hiatus.

The Salmonella Incident

As I stated in my previous vlog post, we had an unexpected week off school just before the week we had scheduled off for China National Day, and my holiday with my parents. This was not explained to us when we first found out about it. On Sunday night we were told that we would have Monday and Tuesday off work because the school was closed. There were sick kids with a fever and vomiting. None of us were ill, so we wished them all the best, wished we had known earlier so we could have travelled and got on with relaxing and enjoying the extra time off.

On Tuesday evening, Hannah (the head of English) told us that the school was closed indefinitely and we would be told when it would open again. As she had told us this late in the evening, we assumed that we’d be told at the same time when the school would be opened. We were also still not told what was going on. On Wednesday night, the agency contacted us and asked us if we were “safe.” Our response was “yes, why?”

At this point we were very confused and starting to think that we wouldn’t be at school until after the week long holiday, but we couldn’t be sure. The only extra information that we knew was that there were children in the hospital.

Honestly, I wasn’t too worried about this. I had had two days off school the precious semester with a very bad cold and Hannah had asked me if I was going to go to the hospital. The way that the Chinese react to any illness seems to be to take medicine and go to a doctor.

On the Friday, the school released a statement over their WeChat (China’s answer to WhatsApp, Apple Pay and other stuff) account and we found out that there had been an outbreak of Salmonella at the school. Please see below the poorly translated screenshot I took of this statement.

We were, understandably shocked, surprised, and thankful that none of us had caught it and we hoped that the kids would be alright. We also knew that we wouldn’t be at school at least until after the holiday.

Over the course of my week’s holiday, I kept an eye on the school’s statements as they showed the entire school being decontaminated but we didn’t find out anything more until we got back to school on the 8th October and found out the rest of the details in a meeting with Hannah.

That day at school was in and of itself a very strange day. It was a propaganda day to show how great and safe the school is, even if we didn’t know why. The kids didn’t have to come in until later than usual as they weren’t eating breakfast there. but otherwise everything at the school was back to normal. Except we ate at the nearby hotel. It was a huge operation, getting all those children 100m down the road in a safe way.

And then we had the meeting after school.

Two hundred children got sick. Ninety odd ended up in hospital. The teachers got sick too. It was caused by contaminated egg in the sandwiches that the children had as their afternoon snack. The sandwiches that I’d declined because I was full of Pringles (thank the Pringles god). I was very close to having Salmonella myself.

The parents had been angry at the school for not releasing any details until the midway through the week, when the school found out the details. A lot of parents pulled their children from the school. They protested outside of the school gates. The school ended up offering compensation and to pay for the hospital fees for all the children and teachers. and once the school was up and running, they hired some workmen, with some very interesting health and safety practices to add a foot of fencing on top of what they already had around the school. By interesting health and safety practices, the magnesium soldering was done with the main soldering guy wearing a pair of cheap sunglasses, while hanging off a ladder.

The kitchen staff were all fired. There would be no food cooked in the kitchen until November. There were very few kids back at school. No more children could be invited to attend the school until next year.

The effects of this were felt for weeks. In a way they are still being felt, although we are back to a new normal. We teach multiple classes again, in separate classrooms, when we had taught multiple classes in one room for that first couple of weeks. My KB3 class had had 1 student, Jonas, the first day, and 2, the second. It didn’t creep back up for a couple of weeks. Now there are sixteen kids. And in KB4 there are 22. Before the Salmonella Incident, I had had 28 in each class. BB went from 18 to 9 (although each and every one of those nine kids are the most adorable).

For a month we had to ferry them back and forth to the hotel twice a day. For a month we had to eat truly shitty take away Chinese food. There wasn’t a crispy duck pancake in sight. It was so bad that when the new kitchen staff arrived, they were applauded as they walked through the throng of teachers out to greet them.

Now, the food is decent, (as decent as mass produced canteen food can be) and we are back to teaching our classes as before, if slightly smaller. We may not have any new kids for a while, but things are a little more normal than they could be.

Here is a link to a local news article. It has as much information as we know.

https://www.thatsmags.com/china/post/29695/food-poisoning-hospitalizes-99-kindergarteners

“Welcome to China!” – Parental Panda-monium

After altogether too much holiday, including a surprise week off (explanations and details to follow in the next post) we had yet another holiday at the beginning of October. In this holiday, even though it was a mere month after the kids came back to school, we had week off for the anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China. This was an important year, too, as it was the seventieth anniversary of the founding.

Because I would in fact have a whole week, rather than three or four days like most other Chinese holidays, other than the New Year of course, my parents decided that while they probably had had enough holidays for one year, they could also probably do with another, and so they made their way to the modern city that is now my home. But because the official birthday of PRC is 1st October and coincidentally the first day of the holiday, and we weren’t anticipating a week off beforehand, they arrived on the 1st, and got delayed in Beijing while all flights were grounded for the official military aircraft flyby, that coincided with the rest of the parade that showed off China’s military might. This meant that they were delayed landing in Shenzhen, and so we missed the fireworks over Shenzhen Bay, which were, according to Séan, spectacular. Alas, such is life. Instead we had dinner in the hotel, then my dear father fell asleep over a much cheaper bottle of beer, in the street bar just outside the hotel. To be fair to him, they had been travelling for 24 hours, had covered approximately 6000 miles, and then eaten too much food. For once I’ll let him off the hook. And to be truthful, none of us took much rocking that night.

Day 2 dawned bright and early for me (because I’d set an alarm), but as neither of the jetlagged ones stirred, I let them sleep for an hour. Which they then berated me for as we were supposed to go up a very tall building that day and wanted to make the most of the day. I suggested that we explore our closer proximities than the very tall building then, such as the beach, and so, loaded up on an almost full English, and suncream, we headed for the beach, which was just nearby.

We think there was sand there. But honestly, we’re not sure. There were a very very very many people and getting to the sea was akin to an extreme sport. We made it and then, a) being the only white people on the beach, b) being the only people walking while knee deep in the sea (it was warm!), and c) once we’d landed and set up our base being the only people who actually dared to swim without a flotation device, commonly known as a rubber ring, we attracted a lot of stares, and I nearly became the third wife of my dad’s new best friend, aka, creepy green shorts man.

Once we’d finished slow roasting and my dad had made it clear that I was his daughter, not his wife, and that I would not in the near future become the wife of creepy green shorts man, we made our way to look for some lunch.

Tempers and temperatures (Jane Austen’s rejected novel title) ran a little high, and lunch wasn’t quite what we ordered, once we’d found the Chinese equivalent of a greasy spoon and Mother had got her fill of gazing into a squatty potty, but it was decent enough and more importantly, not expensive, especially the beer. I should note that at the beginning of this holiday, while in theory I knew what “two beers please” (I don’t like beer and thus drank my body weight in Sprite) in Chinese was, by the end of the holiday, I knew exactly what it was in practice as well. My parents might even have learned it as well.

After lunch we went for a wander which just so happens to be my parents favourite pastime of holidays. Just having a look around and seeing what’s there and seeing the people doing their everyday thing. It’s not my favourite thing to do but I was with my parents and just spending time with them so I was more than happy to tag along, as I normally am.

Dinner was once again not what we expected. We’d seen a nice-ish looking restaurant – having survived one iffy looking eatery, we didn’t want to push our luck – but it turned out to be a buffet and because we were looking to eat at the scandalously late time of 7.30pm, it was nearly closing. It was a race between us and the staff as to how much we could get on our plates before they took the serving trays away. It was a nice enough dinner, but not exactly what we planned. After dinner we thought it would be nice to go back to the beach when it would be quieter. We were wrong. It was not at all quieter.

Day 2 dawned brighter and earlier as I was not so foolish as to be thoughtful and after bamboozling my father with the speed in which I could call a Didi (Chinese Uber) and have it arrive, we were off to the aforementioned very tall building, also known as Ping. It is the 4th tallest building in the world, the tallest office only building in the world, and has one of the highest viewing platforms in the world. It would have been taller, but something about flight paths and planes and other such minor safety concerns brought its height to below 600m. the entrance to Ping before we even got in the fancy lift was pretty futuristic, even though we are now technically living this future. There were lights that responded to sound, but like fireworks, not clapping to have your bedroom light turn on. There was also a live interactive map of the commercial district of Shenzhen and other gadgety things.

Going up was relatively anti-climactic. We were travelling at 10m/s meaning we reached the top in less than a minute, and all that happened was that my ears popped. You could barely feel it.

At the top, the views were pretty spectacular, although I made sure not to go too close to the edge. My dad was happy to stand on the glass that said “Don’t jump” and “No more than 100kg” and while that meant I was safe, why push my luck? Instead I opted to go first on the VR rollercoaster.

It was one of the scariest things I have done in my life, and I have jumped out of a plane more than once. You sit on a little platform, have a seatbelt and a VR headset. You’re shown to be on a rollercoaster and the platform moves in conjunction with what the headset is showing you. The VR doesn’t look totally real yet, but that didn’t stop me from feeling like I was about to fall when the rollercoaster carriage you seemed to be in looked like it was about to tip off the rails. No matter how hard you gripped the platform you were sitting on and told yourself you were safe, you didn’t feel it. The mind is a powerful thing, but its downfall is that when 2 senses are telling you one thing, no matter how much you argue with yourself, your body believes those senses, and you really think you’re plummeting to the floor.

Photo credit: Sandie Davis

After this harrowing experience and a little bit of tourist retail therapy to stop my hands from shaking, we were on our way to the next place. Except we weren’t. Because I got us a little lost, so we were actually heading in the wrong direction. Who knew that six-month-old memory could be faulty? After several too many false starts, we finally found our way to Shenzhen Museum, via my being convinced for a hot minute that I was in the Matrix, to find it was packed, and had a very long queue. We decided that it was in our best interests to stand in a smaller slower queue to then see that we needed our passports, safely ensconced in the hotel safe for access to the engineering museum, so we gave up museum-going as a bad job and headed for the pub.

I took them to the nearby Western bar that had beer and more importantly, cider and Mac’n’cheese, happy hour and the unexpected bonus of a rugby match on the TV, in other words it was a triple whammy win, which was exactly what I needed after so many disappointments and annoyances from that afternoon of repeatedly being wrong.

The icing on the cake was Ping’s light show and the ladies in mirrored outfits handing out pink plastic devil horns, and doing a little dance for us.

With happy hour over, we headed back to the hotel to pack and prepare for the next stage of our trip – Chengdu and pandas!

On arrival in Chengdu, we were met by an informative and chatty young lady called Molaii, who told us that if we wanted them, she could wangle us some tickets to see the Chinese opera and show that night. We wanted them and it was all set up. It included a complementary ear cleaning or massage. We chose the massage, and all loosened up, we were mesmerised by the show, a lot of which hails from thousands of years of traditions. My favourite was the two stringed instrument player who was also having a lot of fun on the stage, Mother’s was the puppetry. Other highlights included hand shadows, face changing and a pantomime-esque performance.

The next day was pandas! We had an early start because the best time to see pandas is when they’re eating breakfast, otherwise they’ll be sleeping. If only I could do that. We saw many many pandas, including three little black and white fluffballs. We still haven’t decided if Domino (our black and white cat) channels his inner panda, or the pandas channel their inner Domino.

Pandas started dozing, and we were off, to the old markets, also known as Wide and Narrow Streets. they were a blend of old and new, and rather what I imagined Diagon Alley to be, a mosh pit of colours, sounds, smells that invaded the senses and required eyestalks for true appreciation. Luckily both the parentals were wearing brightly coloured tops and easily spottable in the hubbub as we moved at different speeds and kept getting separated.

Then we went to a fancy gardens and my parents threatened to find me a Chinese husband in the lover’s quarters where parents do the speed-dating for you (and have been for hundreds of years) before it was time for them to be refined and have tea in a tea garden. I had my ears cleaned, and they itched for hours after. The little bit of fluff at the end just tickles. I would not do it again, because it was uncomfortable in a way I didn’t like, but I had to have a go while I was there, so I did.

As our tea cooled in our bellies, and my ears felt assaulted hunger clawed at us so it was a good job our next stop was yet more old streets that included an area that sold an enormous variety of street food. I wasn’t quite bold enough to try the local delicacy of rabbit head, or cockerel mohawk, but I did find some decent food, for us to happily munch as we wound our way through the streets, heads swivelling so much they were liable to unscrew and fall off.

By now it was only about three in the afternoon and when Molaii dropped us off at the hotel, she told us that we’d be advised to eat earlier so we avoided the rush and gave us the location of a hotpot place nearby that she recommended. We took the recommendation and made our way there. Our fumbling and inexperience with the whole concept of hotpot no doubt gave the staff at the restaurant much laughing fodder at the “silly white people who don’t know how to eat hotpot”, but we had fun, broadened our cultural horizons and tried a local dish. I have had hotpot before, but every place is different and this one was not the same as the one I’d had before so even I was a bit befuddled. But me managed it, and, having learned from previous mistakes, I used good old Maps to get us to a local monastery. As I explained to my parents on the walk, the maps normally gets us within sight of the attraction we wanted to see and then we could make it up from here, and guess what? I was right. We found the Wenshu monastery just as it was getting dark and the Huawei phone camera beat out our traditional ones in capturing low light images as we wandered around and explored the quiet Buddhist haven. There wasn’t anywhere we could leave a donation for the monks to thank them for allowing us to bimble around their home, which was a shame but I supposed it shows the Buddhist way of eschewing personal property so cannot really be faulted.

After this and a little bit of souvenir shopping, we were all tired and had yet another early start the next day, it was time to go back to the hotel for bed.

Our final day together was as early if not more so than the rest, as we were going to a panda sanctuary to muck out and feed the pandas. Which is exactly what we got to do. The panda’s poo is green, if anyone is wondering, and only slightly smelly. It often gets inspected to make sure the panda is healthy, and the panda likes to poo in the most awkward places to clean up.

We also got a chance to smash bamboo which was very cathartic, as you had to slam the bamboo onto the ground to break it up for the pandas to eat (they are spoiled pandas – I doubt they have an on hand bamboo smasher in the wild) and if there is someone who annoys you, you could just imagine their face as you hurled the branch to the ground with all your force. Perhaps worryingly, my mum got very into it and was a very efficient smasher.

Lunch included, wait for it, bamboo shoots, and then we had yet another wander before we got to feed the panda for a second time. As the pandas settled for their naps, we were taken back into the city and left to our own devices again. Tonight we tried retail therapy and were rebuffed at the opera house as I hadn’t bought my souvenir on the night we’d been at the opera so I’d need to buy another ticket, which I just wasn’t going to do, so we retailed (after another hotpot, which we made less of a hash of) in Wide and Narrow and had another chance to explore it.

Then it was back to the hotel to pack and sleep and the next day more serious packing happened and because I had a pesky thing called work, I had to fly back to Shenzhen while my parents continued up to Xi’an, Beijing, and the rest of their grand Chinese adventure.

I had nearly a week with them, and yet it felt like no time at all. I enjoyed spending time with them, even as we had mishaps and “not quite what I expected” moments almost the entire way through the holiday. But as the friendly Did driver who spoke next to no English said on the way to Ping: “Welcome to China!”. I personally wouldn’t have it any other way, as it’s part of this unique country’s charm.

Two Holidays in One Week

My whirlwind first week back at school was over quicker than I anticipated, and all of a sudden it was our second week. Anya, yet another new teacher had arrived and we knew that we had a day off at the end of the week. And Tuesday was Teacher’s Day. I didn’t know anything more than this but I thought Teacher’s Day would be interesting, you know, seeing as I’m a teacher and all. Hannah told us we would have a dinner in the evening.

So we came in in the morning of Teacher’s Day, the same as usual. We go through our usual routine, and when the kids start coming in, they are carrying bunches of flowers and so on. This was cute. what was cuter was when they started giving them to us, and saying “Happy Teacher’s Day.” This continued throughout the day, except that it wasn’t only flowers. There were also chocolates (yum) and inappropriate George got me Hello Kitty soap. Is he trying to tell me something? And the notes that came with the flowers were all very cute as well. Ridiculously so, in fact.

In the evening, there was a dinner in our honour, where we were told we could go home early and pretty ourselves up, as we would be eating dinner and then performing for the other teachers there. Any excuse to show off their performing monkeys. I wore the same dress as at the wedding because I’m nothing if not frugal and that dress is too pretty to only wear once, although this time, I forewent the Spanx. I wanted to be able to move for my dance, as it was pretty active. We were also thoroughly coached on how to say Happy Teacher’s Day in Chinese, which we only learned because we broke it down into syllables that we could remember. The fun thing is that as I’m writing this piece, almost two months later, I have independently learned the word for happy and I know the word for teacher and while happy is in there, teacher is not. And I absolutely cannot remember the phrase. I learned it for long enough to pronounce it on the stage, and then promptly forgot it. As I do with most of the Chinese I learn. Some of it is sinking in, but not very quickly. Although apparently Chinese is one of the most difficult languages to learn, even if that is mostly the writing aspect of it.

Language tangent aside, we ended up being bored out of our minds, as some bloke we didn’t know decided to give an hour-long lecture, without any props and because we don’t understand Chinese, we couldn’t even count his tics. Not that anyone cared that we all ended up on our phones, as even half the Chinese teachers were on their phones. And we hadn’t even been fed properly yet. We were fed at the precise moment when we were called to perform, of course.

We danced to “I like to move it.” We’d practised for all of twenty minutes the week before, with about ten minutes practice that afternoon, to make sure we hadn’t forgotten it. The thing is, we hadn’t prepared this song for the Teacher’s Day Dinner, as we’d only been told the day before that it was happening. This was a dance that we’d found on YouTube and simplified so the kids could dance to it for their morning exercise. That was it. It was an incredibly easy dance to a catchy song. Pro-tip: it would seem that Chinese people like that sort of thing, as they all clapped and cheered for us in a way that they did not for the other teacher’s who did a beautiful and complicated dance using fans and umbrellas that they’d been practising for days. But what really took the roof off? Us stumbling through the Chinese that we’d been coaxed to learn earlier that day. All the teachers loved it, and we were able to bask in the adulation for the thirty seconds it went on. And suddenly always making friends on the Metro when I’m doing my Chinese lessons makes sense. They appreciate that I’m trying. In this far flung part of the world, where English is finding its way in, and becoming universal here as well, where parents spend a fortune on their two-year-olds learning English because they can see it’s a solid financial investment, people see you trying to integrate into their way of life and they appreciate it.

The rest of the week was the new normal of far too many lessons to teach, but we were getting used to it. And then for the Moon Festival, we had the Friday off. On Thursday afternoon, my KB3 class had a moon feast that primarily consisted of fruit and Moon Cakes. It’s worth trying a moon cake, just to say that you’ve had it, you’ve tried it. Kind of like everything else I’ve tried in China. But I wouldn’t have it if I could choose it. In fact, despite being given several as a gift on Teacher’s Day, they ended up in the bin. They are, an acquired taste, I believe, given how much the Chinese seem to like them. The kids kept trying to give me more moon cake. And all I wanted was grapes and a yoghurt. I couldn’t even have the yoghurt as there weren’t enough to go around the kids, and they always have priority.

They also all wore their traditional clothing, in one form or another. Which was adorable. Tiny people in traditional costume is never not crazy cute.

Anyway, because we had the day off on Friday, we decided to visit Window of the World, which happens to be a theme park type place in Shenzhen that I hadn’t yet managed to visit. It was a lot of fun, meeting up with folks and visiting miniature versions of all the world’s most famous monuments, even if we were all melting like the unaccustomed-to-the-ridiculous-humidity-expats we were.

And that was it. Two holidays in one week. How spoiled we are. And don’t let us get used to this.

European Jaunts

This week, I am progressing in my little timeline I have made for myself and you are joining me as I regale the events of my short tour of the European mainland, mostly managing to confuse myself as to what language I should be speaking at any one time.

I am a millennial and so the first thing I did when I touched down in Amsterdam was to turn my phone off aeroplane mode and tell those who needed to know that I had landed (Free and my folks). I had an email from ThaiAir and no luck on the key there. Nothing from my AirBnb host. Matt couldn’t find it. And then there was a message from Charlie. It told me that he hadn’t dropped his key off yet and he would leave it in a secure location for me.

My legs went weak. I don’t know if I’ve felt such crippling relief before in my life. I was nearly crying. I thanked him so profusely he probably thought it was completely fake, but he was literally the only way I could get into the flat. I had been lowkey panicking for twenty-four hours and I don’t think it’s hyperbole to say that I may have lost five years of my life to it.

Free picked me up at the airport and took me for pancakes which was a fantastic idea and a small hint of what was to come in my next week of exciting Dutch culinary surprises. Pancakes are apparently a Dutch national dish which I embrace wholeheartedly while loosening my belt. And they are not done properly if they are not lathered in maple syrup, sugar, icing sugar or all three. I had to do my guestly duties of course and sample all this.

It was delicious. In fact, all the food I ate all week, even the food I didn’t think I’d like but tried because I had to be polite (beetroot) was so good that I had seconds.

So I had three full days in Delft, a lovely city that seems to be close to a lot of the major cities in the Netherlands (although that might be because the Netherlands is not a very large country) and I realised why a dish the Dutch love is full of sugar and yet there doesn’t seem to be too much obesity problems (I was not looking for it and I didn’t notice it – that is all I know and I’m too lazy to look it up), would be because of the cycling. Cycling is so easy to do here. There are bicycle lanes everywhere and while cyclists don’t necessarily have right of way, if there is an accident involving a bicycle, the cycler is always right. And when you can cycle fifteen minutes into the middle of town, or thirty minutes into a different city when driving would take the same amount of time, plus finding somewhere to park and then walking into the city centre, et cetera, why wouldn’t you?

So the first day, we cycled into Delft, and saw the Leaning Tower of Delft, only slightly less famous than that in Pisa. The thing is, in Delft in the Olde Kerk, they noticed it was starting to lean and so corrected it while building, so instead, it’s more of a bendy tower.

Inside the Olde Kerk, I saw the burial sites of a lot of “Dutch Heroes”, of whom I’d never heard, even though one of them “invaded” the UK by sailing up the Thames into London. Of course, I have forgotten which one did that, as I got distracted by a Dutch name I did know – Johannes Vermeer, who lived and died in Delft, and who, when he died was not very wealthy, and so was buried in an upright position, so they didn’t have to spend so much money on his grave.

Then we went to the Nieuwe Kerk (New Church) so named because it was built in the 14th century while the Olde Kerk was built in the 13th. And I saw the OG William of Orange’s tomb in all its finery. This is not the William of Orange that became King of England, since he was the third of that name (and coincidentally the third King William of England as well). This was the first William of Orange of the Netherlands, who led a revolution and was assassinated. It’s actually kind of convoluted and confusing and I had a very interesting time trying to learn about it and giving myself a headache. It also happens to be the tombs of the current Royal family, so whenever any of them die, there is a huge procession and stuff for them to this church in Delft, which is pretty cool.

We broke for lunch, during which I backhanded a wasp by accident and didn’t feel bad as it was trying to eat my pastrami sandwich, and it wasn’t as dazed as the one I yeeted (yote) across the square with a menu for trying to get into my Fanta, before we tackled the New Church tower. It was very tall, and out of my comfort zone in two ways. One; it turns out that I can jump out of a plane no problems, but standing 500ft off the ground in a structurally sound church was not a good thing for me (I channelled Donkey’s mantra: “Just keep moving don’t look down”) and two; steps that have gaps between them cause severe discomfort in the form of hugging the central pillar or the handrail when someone is trying to pass me in the opposite direction and not talking while on the move (although on the way up that might have been due to lack of ability to breathe too) all the while wishing that I couldn’t see through the steps down below where I was standing or up to see how far I had to go.

But comfort zones are there to be scoffed at so I went to the top and marvelled at the view while reconsidering my Ravenclaw house status, since the common room is at the top of a Tower too. Just kidding (mostly).

Incidentally, the tower here is also pretty interesting, as they first started building it in the classic red brick, but they wanted the tower to be fancy, so they continued it in white brick, and then ran out of money, so had to finish it with cheap white brick which over time goes black, so the Nieuwe Kerk tower is a tricolore. The height you get up to is in the black part and it is very high.

After my shaky legs continued to be my biggest fans and supported me back down the stairs of Doom, Free suggested ice cream and I think I said yes before she stopped speaking and it was delicious.

Unfortunately, it also put me into a sugar coma during the boat tour and I ended up falling asleep, despite my best efforts to stay awake. This was much to my chagrin as it was a really interesting tour and I learned a lot during the bits I was awake for.

Then it was time for cheese. I was sad at first because I didn’t think I could take any with me, because China has some funny import laws, but it turns out you can take pasteurised cheese with you, which Gouda generally is. I bought some before you could say cheese and I have enjoyed it immensely.

Then, with a quick detour to a windmill (because Netherlands, duh) it was time to cycle home.

Day 2 was arts day. Today we went to The Hague, and my bottom told me that I was definitely not cycling fit and that it protested against a repeat offence. This may have been due to the fact that Dutch people are tall and the Beerses’ bikes at their lowest levels were still slightly too tall for me. This was only a problem when I had to stop, and nearly toppled a couple of times; I could still cycle fine. But my bottom didn’t like it.

Luckily the Hague wasn’t too far away, and I was rewarded with the possibility that I might have ended up on Dutch TV, as we walked behind a reporter person doing their thing while being watched by cameras as we passed through the Dutch parliament. We saw their PM’s office and then went to a museum and William of Orange’s personal art gallery, during which I saw literally the funniest painting I have ever seen and cannot get over. Even looking at my photo of it makes me laugh aloud.

I also saw paintings by famous artists that I had heard of: Rembrandt, Vermeer, Rubens, and by those who are supposedly famous but I had not heard of: Gerard ter Borch, Carel Fabritius, Jacob van Ruisdael and Paulus Potter, to name a few. It was very interesting going to an art museum with an art historian, something I’d never done before as she told me several things that were actually really interesting. I have to admit that I have never been much for art or art history, but that’s because I realised fairly early on in life that I didn’t have much talent for art and so I wrote it all off in one go. So having someone there who knew their stuff and also knew how to not make it boring was pretty awesome. And I saw some famous paintings up close, including Scarlett Johansson.

But as an art luddite, by the end of the day, I was all arted out, so with aa stop at the supermarket for ingredients for dinner, it was time to go home for more delicious food! The Netherlands food is fantastic and I love it.

In the evening, it was almost compulsory for us to watch The Girl with the Pearl Earring, so we did, and as some of it was filmed on location in Delft, it was somewhat disconcerting to see Scarlett Johansson and Colin Firth travel around the same places we had just been the day before.

My final day was much quieter, due to the fact that Free had to work, so I did some work of my own before heading out into the sun and catching some rays of European sun.

The next day we were up bright and early for I was travelling by coach to Germany! I love that I can do this in Europe. In China, it takes me two hours to get across the city I live in. two hours in Europe can get you into a different country.

Ten hours can get you stuck in traffic in Frankfurt, but I’m really not complaining, honest. There’s nothing like being stuck on a warm bus while it’s a beautiful day outside and you are being driven through actual story book countryside. It took me too long to find my camera to get a picture of the most stereotypical German town I’ve ever seen, but the image will stay in my head forever.

Despite all the travel I had a lovely evening with my friends in the Airbnb we were at, catching up and having them ribbing me gently about how often I spoke about China. It was just like old times and I loved it.

The next day was the wedding itself and let me tell you, organising twelve people through the shower wasn’t easy but somehow we managed it and we were all suited and booted and ready to go on time. In fact, the car comrades were early enough to sneak in a quick bev before the other guests started arriving, although Lewis did have a misadventure with alcohol-free beer.

I cried. Everyone cried.  We all needed tissues, seeing our two closest friends express their love for one another, Maggie doing it in a language that was not her native tongue. It was a magical moment, made even more so by the very apt addition of some Lord of the Rings music. And then the festivities began, and much drinking was done. I tried to be careful and not overdo it immediately, and I’m afraid to report I only partially succeeded. I remember the whole night, up until when I fell asleep by the fire, but the clarity of my memories does fade in and out, as attested to by the killer hangover I woke up to the next morning. But breakfast and plentiful water cured it in time for a quick jaunt to a nearby lake for a cooling swim.

The rest of that Sunday passed lazily as we were all fairly tired, and most of us had to get up early the next morning as we all departed to various corners of the planet. I completely unpacked and repacked while we played games and casually watched Hot Fuzz and Ghostbusters.

The next thing I knew, I was getting up at six thirty in order to catch a train, to catch a plane, to catch the MTR, to catch the highspeed train, to catch the Metro, to catch a taxi, back to my flat in China. My European tour was over and it barely felt like it had started. But other than one aging twenty-four hours, I had a total blast that was comp

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.