Socialising Part Two: New Year

After two days of work, as stated before, I had a chance to cash in my overtime for some time off. I’d accrued two days’ worth of time off, combined with the fact that New Year’s Day is a national holiday in China, despite it not really being their New Year, and the fact that it fell on a Friday so I had the weekend as well, I had a grand total of five days off. Although, by the time it was over, it didn’t really feel like that.

The first day, New Year’s Eve eve, I relaxed, and caught up on the household tasks that I had previously neglected for Christmas festivities.

However, I spent much of New Year’s Eve in a state of confusion due to their being a great deal of communication issues about who was going to the Villa that had been rented for our party and when, and also because a number of people dropped out of going to the party. I had a quick catch up with my parents, since I didn’t know what would happen later that night, and ended up getting a very costly taxi by myself to get there, and the party itself ended up being a lot quieter than I initially anticipated. I actually thought that I wouldn’t have a very good time due to the lack of people there, but I misjudged the social lubrication of alcohol on proceedings. And it actually ended up being a better party for me, I think in the grand scheme of things, as it allowed for a more personally satisfying experience.

On arrival at the party, I was greeted by Sergei, the Russian, holding a bow and arrow (not pointed at me, fortunately), so, of course, I had to have a go. My first shot, I knocked the coke can they were shooting at over, and accidentally gave myself a reputation of being a crack shot, because I’d also commented that I had done archery back in the UK and had my own bow and arrow. Jocelyn, a Chinese woman, then asked me to teach her, so I gave her a few pointers, about stance, but I’m really not qualified to teach archery, so I felt a bit uncomfortable about it. Luckily for me, and the poor coke can, it was freezing outside, too cold to hang around for too long, and inside was far too opulent to even entertain the idea when drunk of practicing indoors.

Seriously, this place was obscene. I don’t even know practicing how to explain the grand tackiness of the main room. It was done up like an 18th century French royal palace. The word Baroque definitely applies, but it was all in plaster, because the building itself was probably constructed in the last ten years. Whoever owned this villa had some serious money to spend and questionable taste. But it was also kind of amusing.

After spending around an hour or so hanging around feeling somewhat awkward and bemoaning the lack of other guests, Jocelyn said she had found a Mahjong table, and did we want to learn how to play. I said, of course, because to be honest an evening of board games is absolutely my jam. Eduardo the Brazilian and Sergei the Russian made up the table of four. I had a slight upper hand to them, as I had spent many hours on plane flights trying to work out how to play the digital version, and it turns out that the analogue version is pretty much the same. There are a few variations that I learned later that night, after being shouted at (playfully in a competitive kind of a way, not a nasty kind of a way) in Chinese, when I played with some folks who couldn’t speak any English. Remember what I said about the social lubrication of alcohol?

Anyway, we played until nearly midnight and I won a lot, and then, when Eduardo and Sergei got the hang of it, I didn’t so much anymore. As it got closer to the dawning of 2021, we went outside and had a barbecue and watched the fireworks that one of the lads had bought for the party. It was very nice, even if my kebabs were ridiculously spicy. I called Lauren and spent some time on the phone with her talking silliness about how the future looked better, and just having a little catch up.

Once I’d had my UK catch up time, I went to the Mahjong room again, and the Chinese cohort of guests had taken over, but one of them wanted to leave so I took over their seat and learned when I tried to win, that I wasn’t allowed to do what I did with these new rules, but I did win frequently enough anyway, which I was very pleased with, considering I had only properly learned earlier that night. The times that I didn’t win, I was close to it. I had a great time.

At this point, my sense of time was getting somewhat fuzzy because I was a bottle of red wine into the night, not to mention at least two cups of mulled wine that had been brewed but around 3am I think, I got wind of my other UK friends starting their New Year’s virtual party, and I was getting a little tired of the Mahjong for now. There’s only so much you can play in one night, so I virtually moseyed on over to that for an hour or so, finding a secluded spot to chat to my other friends for a bit.

On finishing that, things were starting to wind down. People were getting tired and starting to retire to bedrooms. I was very lucky at this point, because, due to other people dropping out there was a room going spare so I wouldn’t have to venture out to try and find a hotel nearby.

This is a part of the night that I am not proud of, if I’m being honest. I claimed that it was a British tradition to kiss someone on New Year’s. My hope had been that one of the good looking young Chinese men would take me up on the offer, but instead it was Sergei the Russian. Now everything was completely consensual; it was what I found out later that tainted this a little for me.  But yes, Sergei and I kissed, and then I had a little moan about how I couldn’t find my second bottle of wine – not that I wanted any more to drink at that time, I just like to keep tabs on things, but then I retired to my room, to call my parents, drop in on another zoom party held by friends, and then try to sleep. I was still awake around 5am when Sergei knocked on my door, having found my wine and wanting to come. I said thanks for the wine, but didn’t let him enter. I’m not quite that naive, plus I was really ready to sleep.

I woke just before 8am with a stinking headache but I was just about awake enough to video call my parents to welcome them into the new year, before I mucked about on my phone for a few hours, and then had a long hot shower to try and wash off the feeling that you get the morning after the night before. My hangover was not dispelled by this and actually got worse throughout the day.

Around eleven-ish I ventured out into the sun and regretted all of my life choices leading up to this moment. I then sociably played on my phone. I was sociable because there were people around and I wasn’t holed up in my room. At midday to one o’clock ish, when Eduardo had told me the day before that he would be leaving (he had offered me a lift in his car when he had heard about the price of the taxi) because we needed to be out of the villa, he finally emerged from his room, and told us we could stay for a while, so we played a few games of Mahjong. However, I found it to be a bit too taxing on my poor dehydrated brain, so instead I vented my pain by shooting arrows at coke cans and plastic bottles with Sergei and Jocelyn.

I was starting to get a little peeved with Eduardo, because I hadn’t eaten all morning, and I had my heart set on a McDonald’s to try and wipe up my hangover with all that oil and grease and fatty foods, and he still didn’t show any sign of leaving. Maybe this is my uptight Britishness coming out, but when someone asks that you “check out” at a certain time, even if they say it’s okay for you to stay longer, I think it’s only polite to try and leave as soon after that time as you can. The others, did not seem to share this opinion.

Eventually we left, and after some argument, where Jocelyn and I were for going straight home and Sergei and Eduardo were for spending the rest of the day (what was left of it) on the beach, I thought we compromised by driving the scenic route home. We ended up at Dameisha Beach, where I had been with my parents, more than a year previously, although I could hardly believe it had been that long, because Covid had affected my perception of time in 2020. Then the others got out of the car and decided to go to the beach.

This is where I once again did things that I actually regret, looking back on it. I will say that by this point any humour I had had left was gone. My head hurt like crazy, my stomach was unsettled and all I wanted to do was go to my apartment and sleep.  So, I insisted on staying in the car and trying to sleep there instead. The others tried to get me to come with them, but I can be a really stubborn ass when I want to be. They went off to the beach and left me with a bottle of water. I watched the cars go by feeling very sorry for myself and kept thinking that I would just flag one down and go home by myself anyway, never mind the cost.

But right before I committed to this idea, the others came back. They were feeling really bad about how they had ignored my wishes to go home and they now wanted to get food and go shopping at the outlets, so they were going to get a taxi for me. I felt deep shame at this point, but I still just wanted to go home, so I accepted and thanked them as profusely as I could muster. I tried to pay for the taxi but they rejected my money.

I slept in the taxi on the way back, and when I got back, I got my McDonald’s, at last, went to my apartment and only just finished eating it before I slept on my sofa for several hours.

I needed the entire next day to continue to recover and I had a heart to heart with Jocelyn where I apologised profusely for my behaviour and for being such a grumpy guts in general, and then I found I was apologising for something out. See, it turns out that Sergei had asked Jocelyn out before Christmas but she hadn’t exactly been sure about it, up until she found out that he had kissed me and tried to come into my room New Year’s Eve. She turned him down at that point and I felt awful. If I had known about that, I would have turned Sergei down and not gone through with the silly New Year’s kiss thing. But I hadn’t known. I just accidentally caused drama.

It was February, I think by the time I got to speak to Eduardo again, properly. We had seen each other a few times at various socials, but hadn’t had a chance for a heart to heart. When we finally did, he also apologised for New Year’s Day but he had been trying to play cupid for Sergei and Jocelyn to get them together. Which was why he had wanted to go to the beach and do everything there, so they could spend time together.

I’m sorry but when did I manage to step into a Rom-com? And why do I get the role of the hapless obstacle the two protagonists have to work past?

At least we are in the happily ever after now. I heard through the grapevine that after a few weeks of grovelling, Jocelyn finally forgave Sergei and they are now very happy together.

The rest of my time off was a complete write off. It has been a long time since I was that overtired and hungover, that’s for sure. But luckily, I didn’t have to work too hard the next week. Because the kids were once again being indoctrinated into a cult.

A Feast for Mosquitoes

Now that I had the basics down pat, and a room full of laundry bags that I wouldn’t be opening unless I had the proper motivation, it was time to find the other expats. It is something that I have noticed in my time here in China, if you live here and aren’t Chinese, anyone who is in the same boat is automatically your best friend. It’s natural. We like to hang out with people who have a shared experience, and what is more share-able than moving halfway round the world to live in a country whose language is so different to yours. I say it that way because a significant number of them are far more accomplished than I am and can actually speak Chinese, and a significant majority don’t even speak English as their first language. Half way round the world isn’t entirely accurate either. Of all the people I have met recently, I can count the countries of Iran, Bahrain, UK, Brazil, USA, Australia, Russia, and Ghana to name a few. And these were only the people that I talked to.
I will admit that this time around I did have help from Icy. She added me to a couple of social groups that really helped me. There is one group that multiple times a week, get together and play Uno, before going to a nearby bar. And, even, better they are all in my general vicinity. By that, I mean within an hour and a half’s walk from my place.

It took me a few weeks to get there, as I still needed to get settled, but once I was in my flat, I felt like I needed a social night, so Friday night, I gussied up and wearing a skirt and tights, (this is important later), walked to the usual meet up place. It wasn’t the most pleasant walk as my tights were slightly too efficient, and didn’t go all the way up my leg, causing a little chafage. But I got there, and met some lovely people, whose names I won’t bore you with. What I can say is that they were certainly a number of nationalities.

After a few rounds of lively Uno, we headed out to the bar, and due to one of them knowing someone, (or something; I’m not entirely sure of the details) we each got two free drinks, which included large glasses of wine. This was certainly a pleasant turn of events, and helped me out with what happened later.

We ended up playing dice, and it turns out it was basically the same game as what was played 800 years ago in the UK. Apparently simple games stand the test of time well. Every time someone lost, they had to choose truth or dare. This went exactly as expected. The group of people who didn’t all know each other that well, asked each other semi sexual questions.

It wasn’t the most fun. No one was choosing Dare. Which, if you ask me, is the fun part of truth or dare. So, I chose dare. Due to this, I got the WeChat contact of a very sexy model, and a dude who was out with his boss, and whose boss bought me a beer. Which was very nice of him. I even drank some of so I had the gumption to do another of the dares: get down by myself in an open area near where our table was and not near where the dance floor was.

Was I a little embarrassed? Yes. But I was also enjoying having fun with these new people who I’d only met that night.

I did have an ulterior motive for turning up that night – I was hoping to have my house warming on Sunday, and I didn’t want an empty house. Even though I’d only just met these people, I really hoped they would turn up.

I’d also secured my invite to Thanksgiving later the next week as well, as this would be soon and would also be my first ever Thanksgiving celebrated.

I eventually called it a night at about 2.30am which for me meant it was a very successful night. I got a taxi home and had a lovely chat with Lauren for my safety and because I was slightly drunk and so wanted to talk to her. Sometimes having an eight-hour time difference can be a good thing!
My ulterior motive worked as well. Come Sunday and my housewarming, although it was a slow start with Zoey and her two-year-old daughter Jasmine, and her friend being the only people in attendance to start, mostly due to Jazzy’s age, once it got a bit later, my new friends arrived and a lot of wine was drunk. We even played Uno around my coffee table, and what do you know, it was the perfect motivator for me to get the majority of the flat in order. No one was allowed to look in the second bedroom, as all my old colleagues’ stuff had been unceremoniously stuffed in there.
But it was all in all a successful night, even if the fact that the majority of them turning up late caused me to worry that they weren’t going to come at all, and I would have a dud house warming party. This was also exacerbated by Zoey’s friend and a friend of Icy’s leaving early, before the most of the others had arrived. But all in all, I had a good time, and I had significant cleaning up duties to do later, which to me, means a successful party. I had also tried sugarcane for the first time. While I normally like sweet things, this was not a good experience for me. You don’t actually eat sugar cane. You bite a chunk of it off the cane and chew it so that the sweet liquid comes out, and when there’s no more sweetness left, you spit out the carcass and go again. So, you don’t actually consume the cane. It was not pleasant. While I have enthusiastically taken up some Chinese snacks, (hello spicy beef and sunflower seeds), sugar cane is one I will not partake in again, much like the chicken feet.
Sunday wasn’t wholly pleasant for me. It turns out, that tights and white woman O+ tasty blood is a veritable feast for mosquitoes. Plus, this was the time of the year when it was still warm. I am writing this encased in a down jacket and bobble hat, because while it isn’t exactly freezing, at approximately 15˚C during the day and 10˚C in the morning, it’s that temperature constantly. In the house and out of it. Due to excessive heat during the majority of the year, houses and flats in this part of the country are designed to get the heat out of the house. And the air conditioning doesn’t have a heating setting (trust me, I’ve tried) so if it is ten outside, it’s ten inside. And the constancy of the cold gets to you more than it actually being cold. Admittedly, this is unusually cold. Normally you’re looking at over 15 overnight and getting up to above 20 during the day, but still, getting out of bed in the morning at the moment is not fun.

Zoey and Icy’s friends came along

But anyway, I digress. Massively. The end of November was still warm enough to go out overnight without a jumper, and I was only wearing tights as a precaution that I didn’t need. Not that they helped. I was covered in mosquito bites. I’d only had a couple since I’d arrived back in China this second time around, so I hadn’t bothered with bug repellent which was a huge mistake apparently. While I’d gorged on new friendships, the mosquitoes had gorged on me. The little buggers. I had to look out my itch relief cream and scratch as little as possible.

Apologies for the poor quality; I do not have a great camera on my phone

And then within a week of this it was Thanksgiving, and I’d had to make a dish for it. Having practised making chocolate brownies the week before for Zoey and Icy, I went for the same thing again, which was useful in using up all the leftover ingredients. They also were better this time around, thanks to the practice. So, I baked them at lunchtime and then headed off in the evening, armed with them and some alcohol. As usual, I got a little lost trying to find the right place, but I had time to do so as I’d left my flat with enough time to walk should I have to, but I was lucky enough to be able to flag down a taxi, since Didi still isn’t working for me.

But it did mean that I was super early to the party. In the end I didn’t mind too much as I had to leave early too, due to having to work the next day and my promptness meant that I got to take part in the turkey game, won before anyone else arrived (pretty much) and got a bottle of wine for me efforts on leaving. It was all very lovely.

The rest of the evening itself was good too. There was a point when I was three glasses of wine down and hadn’t eaten any food, which was a little concerning and we were all started to get really hungry. The issue was that Charlie, the host had promised to wait for some people to arrive before we ate and they didn’t get there until gone 9pm so everyone was drinking on an empty stomach. But when we did get to eat, the food was all fantastic. It was a great mix of both Western and Chinese food and it all tasted delicious.

I had some really interesting conversations as well, even if I can’t remember the final points of the later conversations. Charlie was an excellent host in that she kept plying me with wine even when I told her I needed to switch to water since I didn’t really want to be hungover the next day at work. (Spoiler alert: I was. Very. hungover at work the next day). but the gist of the conversations were race relations in China, and did I want to be on someone’s podcast. I did. I still do, if you happen to be reading this, new friend.

Hong Kong Disney Part 2 – I’m now(t) a Pro(tester)

Early December and it’s Alice’s birthday. Since she arrived in China, she has wanted to go to Hong Kong for her birthday. We all signed up for it, and as the weekend drew closer, we all got a little concerned. The protests in Hong Kong, where we would be staying for the whole weekend, had been getting more violent and more violently responded to. We heard that the MTR would be closed at weekends and that taxis were therefore astronomically high. Alice had invited some Chinese teachers along, but they declined because they were worried about the protests. In the week before I left my mother told me she wouldn’t tell my father until after I’d been so he wouldn’t worry. Hannah, the head of English worried for us and repeatedly told us to be safe.

Nothing happened.

We arrived on Friday night, having split immediately after work, and even having got permission to leave work early for once. Our train to Hong Kong was booked for an incredibly tight margin to get to it on time. I might have thrown my suitcase in front of me to make sure I got on the metro. It might have lightly collided with someone. I did apologise, but desperate times called for desperate measures and I really don’t like running. We had to run anyway but I wasn’t to know that at the time.

And we made it to the train on time. Sweating and out of breath, but on time. It would not be a repeat of the weekend we didn’t go to Hong Kong.

Once in Hong Kong, Anya and I (who had a different Airbnb to the others) got lost because Google Maps might now be allowed but it got confused by WeChat. We had an all you can eat Korean, but because the others had arrived forty minutes before us, they’d already eaten all they could eat and were impatient for us to finish so they could go and look at some neon lights. I told them that the neon lights were all around, (because I’ve been to Hong Kong before and therefore, I am a pro) but they wanted to wander. I called off, because I have a hurty knee that hurted more after running and standing and it was nearly midnight already. I got lost trying to get back to the Airbnb because all the roads looked the same, and had a lot of neon.

The next day we were up bright and early for Disney. So bright and early that we arrived before the gates were opened. This was the opposite of when Lucy and I came. We did many things that were different to my trip and I saw a different side of Disneyland. I met Olaf (this was just after Frozen II came out so everything was Frozen in eighteen-degree-heat), and Iron Man, and we saw a show after hanging out with one of the cast members for a few hours. She was illegally pretty, and super talented to boot. She couldn’t go on any of the fast rides, because then she would scream and wanted to make sure her voice was in tip-top condition for the show, but I was happy to sit with her occasionally as I’d been on all the rides before. I got myself a new t-shirt and hoodie because the hoodie was on mega sale and I like having clothing of the place I have been to. I know I am going to use/wear it and so it can’t be a waste of money. I also got new Anna and Elsa keyrings to replace the Mulan one I lost when my flat key went walkabout. And I had a lovely time. It was a different time but that’s because I was with different people and that made it more interesting.

It was quite late in the day when we called it quits at Disney and headed back to the Airbnbs to change and pre-drink for the big night out. Anya and I stopped at Mark’s and Spencer for the most important pit stop of the whole weekend.

The pre-drinking was important. I didn’t realise quite how much until we arrived at the bar, and adorable place called the Iron Fairy and we found out that it was at least a tenner a drink. That’s in English money. We were being charged at least 100HKD for a drink. It was insane and I didn’t buy anything. I had one drink bought for me, and I stole a hat, but that’s a different story, and I had a good night out while sober. I had not pre-ed hard enough. This meant that by two am I was flagging, and decided to leave at two-thirty. Sean decided to join me, because despite his cheeky TC outside the Iron Fairy, he didn’t want to buy another drink just to get into the dance floor of this new place, and water didn’t count. So we got an expensive taxi back to my Airbnb and then Sean apparently drunkenly yelled at Kieren for the five minutes it took them to walk back to theirs from mine for not getting the taxi to their door after dropping me off.

Anya slept at the other Airbnb, and got a little lost making her way back the next morning. Folks were feeling rough. I was laughing. I enjoy getting drunk as much as the next person, but due to the prohibitive costs of the drinks and not being drunk enough to say “sod it” on arrival to buy the drinks anyway, I felt chipper if tired the next morning. And I took great delight in it.

Once anya was back, we left our baggage there, since we could, and went exploring in the local area shops, before our lunch at the Hard Rock Café. And I found more Tubi-grip since I actually have two hurty knees, and I just have to apply the one Tubi-grip I have to whichever knee hurty the most, so now I can apply to both hurty knees.

The food at the Hard Rock Café was delicious and not too expensive and they were very understanding of our need to take all of the leftovers home with us.

On the way back to the train station, we passed a lot of native Hong Kongians, and a high proportion of them were wearing dark clothing, but we thought nothing of it. We were tired and wanted to get home. I wanted to get into bed with my cheese puffs and eat them until I fell into a cheese-puff-induced-coma.

It was only the next day when we saw the news about the protests that weekend that I thought we might have passed the protesters on the way to the protest, but that was literally as close as we got to any protests, and honestly? Despite all the fears, it was kind of what I expected. The bonus is that those fears are keeping tourists away from Disneyland, which is all the better for us! It was a wonderful weekend, so thank you Alice for suggesting it and for inviting me along!

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