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.

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.

Team Building?

So, after a successful week of making friends who spoke my language, I levelled up and decided to try my hand at making friends with people who didn’t speak my language, and even worse, who I worked with.

And it just so happened that a week later, they were doing a team building trip away and they invited me along. I agreed, even as Icy and Zoey weren’t going. They’re the only people on the staff who even remotely speak any English, so I was somewhat nervous about going. But I was also excited as I did want to get to know the people with whom I work every day. Plus, someone said something about a theme park and I am all over the rollercoasters. The more upside downs and the faster the better.

I was told to pack for all weather, because the temperatures could be getting as low as *gasp* 17˚C, if you can believe. It would be so cold! So, I put an extra hoody in my suitcase, just in case. Because you know, it might get a bit nippy.

The only other information I had was that we had to be at the school for 8am on Saturday morning as we would have a coach to take us there. Someone had said the word Chimelong as well, which I remembered being the theme park complex in Guangzhou that included a water park and would be a long journey by bus to get there, so I stocked up on boredom busting activities for me.

Some were unnecessary and it turned that they were also on suitable for me. Three kids joined us on this weekend, and while I love little kids, having worked with them for over a year now, I know how destructive they can be and they were not getting their sticky little paws on my Nintendo, and I was not going to be held responsible for anyone stabbing themselves with a needle, except for myself, and that was because I’m not quite silly enough to sue myself for damages, even if I most definitely am silly enough to accidentally stab myself, multiple times.

As predicted the journey was a long one. What wasn’t predicted was the karaoke they did for the first hour or so. The person to sing was picked by sending a Red Packet on WeChat with a small amount of money in it and whoever got the most money had to sing. I was most unfortunate for this to happen to me, and I had to sing to the whole bus.

Now, anyone who knows me knows that I don’t, in general sing in public. This is because while my voice is okay, I don’t exactly have a wide range and it is only passable. Beyonce I am not. Heck, I’m barely Pierce Brosnan in Mamma Mia! Not to mention I have chronic shyness when it comes to something like this. But it was the rules, and while Connie wanted me to sing a Chinese song, then another fairly recently out pop song (which was at least in English) that I did not know at all, in the end I was coerced into doing a song I only barely knew. It also had rapping in it. I can tell you right now that rapping is not an area that I have any natural talent in. The only rap I will willingly do is the bit in the song “You’re Welcome” from Moana. And that’s only because I’ve practiced it half to death. But with this song (by the way I’m not being purposely vague – I’ve just blocked the memory to the point that I can’t remember what it was and I’m not watching the video I have of it for fear of shame-induced-self-combustion), I decided, in for a penny, in for a pound and tried. It went about as badly as I expected. But then I was done and I could sit back down. The next person who sang did fucking Chinese opera. She was fantastic and I was glad to have got the whole mortifying experience over and done with.

After a mere four hours of driving, with one service stop and one lunch stop, we finally arrived and I was It was called Chimelong Ocean Park, but it wasn’t the same place I had seen eighteen months earlier, even if it had the same name. However, it was a pretty cool place. I did spend some time wrestling with my morals though, because there were a lot of beautiful and highly intelligent sea creatures in small tanks, and I have read about how they aren’t always treated the best.

But it was still fascinating and of course I still got pictures. The best part for me was absolutely the whale sharks as they were freaking huge and absolutely awe inspiring. The tank they are in has a load of Guinness World Records for size and size of viewing dome and so on.

There were also roller-coaster, including a water ride. We were given ponchos to wear, but unfortunately, once we were sitting in the coaster, the poncho didn’t quite cover me properly

There were also shows and my babysitter -one of only two people on the trip who spoke enough English to even have a hope of communicating with me – and I caught one with Beluga whales. Again, I was wrestling a little with whether this was moral, but I just hope that the show in fact gives them some form of enrichment, as they practice and spend time with their trainers to get to do the show. I was once told this by a trainer at a safari park in the UK, even though she said it about sea lions, rather than beluga whales.

By the time all this was over it was getting to the end of the day and we were getting pretty tired, especially the kids (I think – I hadn’t seen them since we arrived), but we couldn’t leave yet, as we had the grand finale to watch. This was absolutely incredible, as it was a light show in the dark night using fire, fireworks, and drones. Basically, everything that China is known for doing really well and to be honest it was spectacular.

By this time, it really was getting late, so once we all met up again, it was off to the bus to be ferried to the hotel. I shared a room with a teacher called Nancy, and it was massively eye opening. She spent an incredible amount of time in the bathroom, and it was just a good job that I don’t spend much time in the bathroom, either in the morning or the evening. As long as I have the chance to shower and brush my teeth, I’m otherwise pretty much good.

Nancy also coughed and spluttered most of the night which was rather unfortunate, but it couldn’t really be helped.

We were up early the next morning as we had team buildingto do. It was done on the beach and we also had to get some official photos, with me in the teacher’s red hoodie. Connie had told me that she would pack one for me, but when we got there, there weren’t any left, or something. There may have been a bit of a translation error there. So, Da Ge (the photography and technology guy loaned me his hoodie so that I looked like everyone else. We had the photos and then did some pretty traditional team building exercises; getting the hoop from one end of the line to the other while holding hands, the sitting down chain, something to do with making shapes from a rope and tug of war. My team won the hoop game and tug of war and the other team won the other two games, so we were actually pretty evenly matched.

Then we had some free time. Everyone else headed down to the shore line to get some pics for their Chinese version of Instagram, but I, being the weird British girl who has spent nearly her entire life living about as far away from the sea as you can get, and who never goes to the beach without paddling (yes, even in February in the UK), pulled my shoes off, ran into the surf and got my jeans wet again. Everyone thought a) that I was mad and b) that the water would be freezing. But, being the weird girl who has paddled in the sea in the UK in February, this was positively balmy. In fact, after I left because folks also wanted pics with me, I went back into the sea to warm my toes back up again, as the water was warmer than the air.

Once we’d had our fill of this, and the birthday girls of that month had received their gifts and the obligatory singalong that goes along with it, we were all given a blue neckerchief which is actually pretty cute, even if I have nothing to wear it with.

Then we were on the bus and headed to what appeared to be a smaller version of the Forbidden City in Beijing. This was Zhuhai however, and so they offered the opportunity to dress up like a Chinese Empress. Everyone was egging me on to do it, so I did. I loved it. I am a nerd and I love dress up and I will no longer be ashamed by that. I was given the full works, including false eyelashes and I needed to be helped to my seat because a Ming Empress couldn’t be wearing glasses, so I had to leave them behind and I couldn’t then see anything. I also couldn’t really see because of the fake eyelashes which weren’t exactly applied very well. But it was fun and today my babysitter was Connie, aka the big boss. She was like a paparazzo or something because she really wanted me to do it and she took photos of every step of the operation. She then took me on a super speedy tour of the rest of the palace, and we found a place that would do a poem to my Chinese name in gorgeous calligraphy on rice paper. The only problem was that I didn’t have a Chinese name, and they couldn’t do it with my English name. So, Connie and I consulted, and I now have a Chinese name, that is 戴凯蒂 which kind of sounds like my name but also reflects the original meaning of the name Katie, or Catherine, since that is where it’s derived from, aka, pure. It’s pronounced dai kai jie, since the surname comes first in Chinese culture.

Then there was just enough time for a mediocre lunch before we set off on our long drive home. I was okay because I was still equipped with my boredom busters, but most people slept on the bus. Chronic overtiredness is not just a Western thing, especially when you spend the whole day working with energetic excitable young children. But at least this time, we were spared the rigours of karaoke, and it was an uneventful ride home.

And I’d done it. I’d survived my weekend with the teaching staff and while I had been pretty quiet a lot of the time, such is what happens when there is a language barrier such as what there is between us. I just hoped they could see my personality within my actions instead.

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.

Gotta Get Back to Montai

Now that my enforced quarantine was over, I had a measly 7-hour train ride back to Shenzhen. I was due in at half eight or thereabouts in the evening, so although the tentative plan had been to get my stuff from storage and move me into a flat within a couple of days, that was not what happened at all. Due to the lateness of the hour, I just got a Didi (Chinese Uber) to a hotel that Jennifer had booked for me, which was a small box room without any windows. It was fine. Small but perfectly functional. It was only booked for a couple of days. It also turned out that getting a Didi was difficult for me at the moment, because people were just not accepting my calls for a ride. Which was a full pain in the rear end. I hadn’t actually ended up using the app to get to the hotel, even though the driver and I were both on Didi, because it didn’t seem to be working that well. Although it was a bit sketchy, nothing happened to me and I was fine, but it wasn’t something that I really wanted to repeat.

The next day, I met up with Icy, the Chinese English teacher at school who was there to replace Hannah who had left the school to move closer to her hometown. She told me that she had asked the parents if it was okay for me to be there and teach the children, and that they were waiting for the response and hopefully I would be able to teach by the Friday, which would be the day before Halloween and would be the day of the school’s Halloween party. I wanted to be back at school by then. I had wanted to be back at school by the 1st of September so I was nearly two months late already.

On Friday, I wasn’t able to go back to school either. Apparently, some of the parents were still nervous that I had coronavirus, despite my multiple tests, that I had given Icy, and all the medical records from my quarantine in Zhengzhou. On that Friday, I had waited for Icy to help me get a taxi, as I had tried at least twice to get a Didi and no one had been taking the requests, but she told me just to ask the hotel staff to get me a normal blue taxi instead. I had waited all day for her response which meant that my Friday had felt entirely wasted.

I won’t say that it was exclusively because of this feeling of having wasted a day that I got up at 4 in the morning to join in with various’ friends Halloween parties on England time, but it might have been a consideration. It was slightly hellish especially as there was quizzing and drinking involved. But I did engage in this foolhardiness, and only after I was done, did I brush my teeth and head out to get another coronavirus test in Shenzhen, because, obviously, anything done outside of Shenzhen cannot be trusted at all.

It was a highly stressful day. It was not helped by the fact that I managed to forget my portable charger, so I had no way to charge my battery poor phone. My phone’s battery is a pile of shite, and I am not exaggerating. I need to charge it at lunchtime veery day and if I want to use it in the evening, I need to be charging it then as well.

I couldn’t get around in China without my phone. I need it for translation purposes, for paying for things. Pretty much for everything. People talk about how we’re addicted to our phones nowadays, and that is no different here in China, if not worse. So, I already started the day stressed, because I realized on the taxi ride to the hospital that I didn’t have my charger.

On arrival at the hospital, I asked multiple people where I needed to go for a Covid-19 test, and no one actually knew. I ended up asking someone, who may not even have been a nurse, because she knew as much about the hospital as I did, to talk to Icy over the phone (my phone), so she could explain what was going on. They had a conversation and this lovely lady then took me around the hospital, trying to find the right place.

Mysterious temple that was shut, and a fisherman

Eventually we did find it, and they were shutting for lunch. A two-hour lunch break. Which was great. All I needed to do was fritter away two hours of my time. Except that I had no way to do so, as my book, my podcasts, any way of entertaining myself was on my phone and it was already getting low and wouldn’t last two hours of entertainment. I went and found a cheap restaurant, which did a very nice soup and did something I haven’t done in literal years. I entertained myself, with my. own. mind.

Time traveled very slowly. I’d turned my phone off as soon as I figured out what food I was ordering and I wasn’t going to turn it on until I had to pay. So, I took one of my book ideas and noodled with it in my head. I wrote several scenes, except I had nothing to write with so now they are most likely all forgotten with very little staying in my head, and I watched my watch tick by so very slowly.

You had to use the stepping stones to get across

By some miracle I actually managed it, and not only that but when I got back to the testing site, my lovely lady from before had arranged for a nurse to look after me here and take me through all the steps as my own personal assistant, which I sorely needed. Finally, one gagging incident later, it was all over. After I called Icy and she spoke to the nurse, and determined I had to come back the next day for my results, which was a bit of a pain, but I could at least bring my charger this time and not be so panicked about the whole thing. If I had been Chinese, I could have got the result on my phone, but no such luck, of course. Being a foreigner always makes things more difficult.

Then came the exciting part of my day, that also probably would have terrified my mother if she’d have known about it. Outside the hospital they had electric bike taxis. It was the first time I’d seen them, and since my Didi wasn’t working, I couldn’t get a car taxi to take me. It took the guy who got my custom a long time to work out where it was that I wanted to go, but eventually, he and about three of his bike taxi buddies worked it out, told me it was free and off we went. It was a lot of fun and now I want an e-bike, much to Mother’s chagrin. She thinks I will be killed if I have one. I think I’m more likely to die after being hit by one while I’m walking around. Regardless of our little disagreement, I got back to my hotel room in just over half an hour rather than the 2 hours plus it would have taken me to walk back which was my only other option at that point.

I wasn’t entirely comfortable on the back of the bike, as evidenced by the stiffness my fingers from hanging on to the seat in front of me, but I was able to look around while the driver was pootling through the city. I saw a lovely park and even better, I saw an actual bank for my bank – Bank of Communications. This is very exciting as these are the people that I need to talk to so that I can transfer money to my English bank account and pay my bills that are still ongoing while I am out here.

The next day I got another taxi to the hospital and picked up my results within about half an hour. It was super easy, which I was not prepared for, judging by everything else that I have done since arriving here and living here the second time.

My negative. Blue marks are my pertinent information that I don’t think should be on the interwebs

This time, because I had my charger and an abundance of time, and a windowless hotel room waiting for me, I decided to walk back and take the two hours to get back to said hotel room. It was a lovely warm day, and I wanted to explore the park and the river that I had seen the day before on the back of the e-bike.

It was fantastic, and I really enjoyed it, although I did get a tiny bit sunburned, just on my face. It was warm and sunny, and while I got really tired from it, because I was not yet used to walking so much each day, I truly enjoyed my day. I found another cheap little restaurant for lunch and generally had a lovely time. The photos interspersed throughout this piece are from that day.

With all that done, I was finally allowed back to school on Monday which was great, although it wasn’t the last of it. It was strange though, my first day back at school. When I saw the students I had taught, they just looked at me in confusion. There was only one class that recognized me, and it wasn’t even my class! It was a class that Sean had taught last year, but hadn’t graduated because they were too young to go to school yet. After a few days though, all the kids warmed up and began to remember me, which was so lovely, and I really began to remember why I wanted to come back to China, despite all the difficulty getting here. This was what made it worth it.

The next weekend, I had to go to hospital with Icy for no reason – the school doctor had told us we needed to do some sort of test, but then the doctor who did that sort of test wasn’t there at the weekend.

I was still in the hotel room which was ridiculously humid, to the point that it broke my phone. I couldn’t charge my phone for 2 days and then the only way that I could charge it was through a wireless charger, which was very slow. I thought my phone was permanently broken, but once I finally got into my flat, which took three viewings and several missed school meals, I finally got a nice one, with a western toilet, no random holes in windows or walls, and a table to dine at, and type up blog posts at (literally my only criteria), and my stuff was finally delivered to me from storage, my phone started working again. The battery is still rubbish, but it does at least charge with a cable again, which to be honest is all I need. I still have nearly a year left on contract with this phone, and I don’t want to have to fork out for another one yet.

It’s a cone shop! Where they make cones! I might have got a little too excited by this

Icy and I also went to yet another hospital to get this random health test and this time around, they took blood from the back of my right hand. It didn’t go all that well, as my vein started blowing up in a very disturbing way. It looked like I had a pea in the back of my hand, and when I pointed this out to the nurse, she told me off and told me to put pressure on it. It still bruised massively and hurt quite a lot, but by this point the Chinese government have taken so much of my blood, I’m starting to wonder if they are actually vampires and just use needing medical tests as an excuse. It would also explain their aversion to the sun, and Icy’s need to constantly check that I’m not going to burn when I go out in the sun. I may be pale, but I’m not actually a ginger!

Bridge from the stepping stones

At the hospital (the 4th I’ve been to since October, and my 5th hospital trip), I was able to correct someone’s stereotype for the first time. The blood sucking nurse didn’t think I could be British, because I wasn’t blonde. and while blondes may have more fun (yes, I see the hypocrisy and I don’t care), I would not look good as a blonde.

So yeah, my first few weeks outside of quarantine weren’t exactly easy or fun, but they were eventful. and now I just have to make friends, because, while I was doing the flat viewings, I was told that there won’t be any more English teachers coming to this part of town. So that’s going to be fun.

The Hospital

As i said in the last blog post, surely the arrival in China signalled the end of my woes, right? This was not the case, not the case at all. In fact, this was when the stress really began.

I’d already been told that on landing, officials would board the plane and check everything was as it should be before they would escort us off the plane and into the airport. This is, in fact, exactly what happened. But what nobody had told and what I hadn’t thought about was that having a hundred plus people on a thin metal tube was that things would get warm. Very warm. I started doing the one thing that you really don’t want to do when one of the main indicators for a worldwide pandemic is a temperature: I started to overheat. I could feel it happening, and fanning myself with the “What to do in an emergency” card didn’t help at all. Nor did taking off my hoodie.

I felt a little better when we were finally allowed off the plan and escorted through the airport, and I even managed to pass at least two infrared thermal imaging temperature check things that I passed through.

However, it also turns out that I have a physical reaction to stress, and that reaction is to get warm and having many well meaning but not understanding fully people trying to help me get an app and fill in a form that I already had and had already filled in, made me more stressed because of the not entirely understanding part, and the fact that all of the officials were in hazmat suits, multiple pairs of gloves, with a hairnet over the suit hood, and old style goggles that I last saw in my school chemistry class, a mask and visor. If they weren’t hot in all that get up themselves, then I’m a goose.

Finally, after an age of waiting I got to the official health check where I presented my phone to give proof of having the app as it had a required QR code on it, and I was given an old style mercury thermometer for my armpit. There were a couple of what were considered to be irregularities with my form, because I hadn’t included Finland, the stopover and in the interests of being entirely honest, I had included Exeter, the city, because I didn’t particularly fancy the $1000 fine. But, since these officials didn’t speak a lick of English, and in my stressed tired etc state, all Chinese I knew completely abandoned me, they didn’t understand Exeter, and after some back and forth with the help of a translator (device, not a person) in a bag, about whether it was a country or whether I had left England at all , other than Finland en route to China, it was removed.

My temperature on the mercury thermometer turned out to be 37.5˚C. The Chinese limit is 37.3˚C. I have no proof of this other than anecdotal – that I saw the temperatures of approximately 70 Chinese people every day twice a day for two weeks – , but it seems that the Chinese run at a lower temperature than Western people, as they would consistently record temperatures at 36.something low, and I couldn’t get my mercury thermometer below 37.9˚C (I therefore used my gun zapper thermometer) which I think is partially why they have a lower threshold compared to the British 37.8˚C.

This 37.5˚C didn’t budge, so I was taken away. Literally, I was walked down an arm where you’d normally board the plane and then down the fire escape to a concrete bunker, whereas everyone with a temperature below the beloved 37.3˚C went further into the bowels of the airport.

In the bunker, my passport was taken from me and I was doused in disinfectant. I will admit that by this point, I was crying. I wasn’t hysterical but I was incredibly scared and confused. I didn’t know what was going on and honestly, it was my worst nightmare. In all the planning and preparing to come back to China, this hadn’t really crossed my mind. My temperature had never been high enough for it to be an issue. Now I was thousands of miles from home, with no way to contact my family, not that they would answer anyway, since it was 3am UK time. I was tired, starving, overwhelmed and my release happened to be crying.

After disinfection, I was interrogated, for want of a better term. The officials asked me what date I’d left China, and although I initially gave it confidently, I then lost confidence in it. It didn’t help that when I tried to tell them that I’d gone from Shenzhen to Heathrow via Frankfurt, they didn’t seem to get the via Frankfurt part. From what I could tell, from the screen in Chinese, they seemed to be trying to find the passenger manifest, so they could corroborate my story, which they wouldn’t if I’d accidentally given them the wrong departure date, or if they were looking for a direct flight to Heathrow. They kept checking the date and city with me over and over and over and over and over again as if they were trying to find a hole in my story, but they didn’t exactly seem all that interested in my answers either, especially when I tried to clarify that I might have got the wrong date and that I went to Frankfurt, then London. This wasn’t exactly helping with the crying thing, either.

They did, in their own inimitable Chinese way, try to comfort me once. They told me I didn’t need to be scared, that China was the safest country in the world, and that I’d be welcomed and surrounded by my Chinese family and Chinese family values (paraphrased).  This was, of course, not at all helpful, but I did appreciate their attempt. They took a break from the interrogation to give me a Covid test, which was a nasal swab that tickled my throat and triggered my cough response in an attempt to dislodge the intrusion. This was in both nostrils, because just the one was clearly not sadistic enough for them. I then got a face full of disinfectant and tissue, before they moved onto the throat swab which just so happened to trigger my gag reflex. They were lucky I hadn’t eaten in a few hours or they would have had to clean up my vomit. Yum. Next up, they told me not to be afraid, but they also needed to take my blood, which was honestly the easiest part. So long as I don’t have to look at the needle puncturing my skin, I’m good.

They tried a little more interrogation, but it didn’t really work as I had literally told them everything I could, so I was finally given my passport back with my entry stamp, and told to wait outside for the ambulance to take us to the hospital. I was with one other girl, a Chinese national whose temperature had been 37.4˚C. If they’d taken my temperature then, as I was sitting outside in 15˚C and a light drizzle with just a t-shirt on, I probably would have passed with flying colours, but it was clearly too late at this point.

Inside the ambulance
This is the look of an overwrought Englishwoman

We got lights and standard horn to the hospital, rather than the sirens, but it still seemed to work quite nicely to get us there. At the hospital we had to wait in the ambulance, presumably so that they had time to prepare our rooms and a crowd full on gathered while we waited. Some of them even had their phones out. I actually wondered if this was what it was like to be a celebrity. I also took a couple of pics myself. It was an experience, and I wanted to document it. On the ride, I’d also spent all of my phone credit on my English sim card to let my parents know what was going on, and I was still confused as to why my Chinese sim card didn’t work.

A curious crowd

When we were finally shown to our rooms, I told the nurse through the Chinese girl who had a very good grasp of English, that i had no internet and they made their phone a mobile hot spot for me for the afternoon. My room consisted of a hospital bed, bedside monitoring machine thing, a squatty potty and a sink. This was not idea, because the stress had also had a negative impact on my bowels, but I guess that’s just another Chinese experience to cross off my shower list (opposite of bucket list – the list of things you really don’t want to have to do in your life). they had also not provided loo roll, so I had to carefully ration my tissues and wet wipes. I did have a jug of boiling water and the promise to refill it whenever I needed.

Using the mobile hot spot, I was now able to talk to my mum – cue more tears, of course – and the company to tell them what was going on and the situation with my phone. It turns out, that if you don’t top up your phone for 6 months, the number gets cancelled so that was fun.

In the evening I had, of all things, a CT scan. It was focused (I think – I’ve never had a CT scan before and I got distracted by the pretty colours on the inside of the machine) on my lungs. Understandable, I suppose, given the nature of the virus. I also asked about my suitcase, as I had no idea where it was and I only had the clothes i was standing I and had been wearing for well over 24 hours by now.

At 8pm my Wi-Fi went off as the nurse whose phone it was had to go home, and at midnight, my suitcase was delivered. I had been trying to sleep as I’d also not done that in about 24 hours either. I’d managed to sleep a little on the London-Helsinki flight but hadn’t on the longer leg from Helsinki-Zhengzhou. But once the suitcase turned up, my jet lag kicked in and I couldn’t get back to sleep. So I ended up listening to several hours of Harry Potter.

The next morning, bright and early, I had another blood test and throat swab. This nurse decided that my best veins were in my wrist, and so took the blood from there, which hurt way more than the crook of my elbow and left me with a massive bruise.

I got an ouchie!

The rest of the day was spent in a haze of boredom and napping. I was afraid to sleep for too long or get too much out since, as far as I was concerned, I could be told at any time that I was leaving. My temperature had been back to normal since I had arrived at the hospital the day before and as far as I was concerned, I was Covid free. In the evening, I asked the nurse who came to take my temperature, when I would be leaving and she said that it would be the next day, as long as my morning test came back fine.

I nearly overslept the next morning, and had to rush dressing before the test when I asked again when I would be leaving. I was told the afternoon. By noon I had pretty much packed everything, and could be ready to go within a couple of minutes. At around 3.30pm, I was told to get ready to leave and I was allowed Wi-Fi for about another half an hour. I rushed to pack my last few bits and then lay on the bed reading on my phone, checking the door every few minutes to make sure that I wasn’t left behind (as if Chinese efficiency would allow such a thing).

At about 5.30pm the nurses all came to my room and asked for photos with me. Given that Zhengzhou isn’t exactly a tourist destination, I was the only white person that they had treated. So i was an anomaly to their usual work day that they wanted to record. It has made me wonder over the last few weeks, in a way that I never have before, how often I’m mentioned to a spouse or a roommate as a weird or unusual thing that happened that day. Its rather unsettling to think about. But anyway, I dutifully posed for my new fans and snapped a couple of my own cheeky pictures, then got my things. Oh nope, not yet; I had to wait for the bus.

Welp, it wasn’t a bus but an ambulance and this time we were treated to the lights and sirens. But in fairness it was half an hour to the hotel through rush hour, so I hate to think how long it would have taken without them.

At the hotel I finally had permanent Wi-Fi and wasted no time in reporting on my new confinement chambers that had both a shower (I hadn’t been able to wash since England) and a Western style toilet. Now all I had to do was choose a bed and wait out the rest of my quarantine.

I’ve gained a story, and experienced a Chinese hospital (I’ve now had a few more, but that’s next week’s story) and all it cost me was a mere 3000¥ I didn’t have and my 482 day streak on Duolingo, which to be honest, I’m most annoyed about.

You’re Doing What, Now?

“You’re crazy.”

“It’s not going to happen.”

“But what about Covid?”

“What happens if something happens to you and you’re all that way away?”

“It’s not going to happen.”

“Is it worth it?”

“It’s not going to happen.”

“But what about your PGCE?”

“I don’t think it’s a good idea for you to go.”

“I really don’t think it’s going to happen.”

These are just a few of the things that I’ve said to myself and others have said to me in the last three months or so. Because that has been how long my return to China has been “in progress.” Perhaps even longer.

I was expecting to leave for China in the middle of august. I knew I had a two-week quarantine to complete, and I wanted to have that finished before the school term started on the 1st September. So, I handed in my notice at the caring job I’d managed to get in the middle of July. That was my first step, and honestly, it was the easiest one.

At this stage, I wasn’t certain that we would make it out to China, again. I knew that I wanted to go back, although I couldn’t explain why to anyone who asked. And believe me, many people asked. I just felt, deep within my soul, that I hadn’t finished in China yet, that I was meant to go back. And as someone who believes science above all other things, and who has been flirting with atheism for many years, how could I explain something that has felt like the closest thing to fate that I could get to?

Especially as the process to get back has been so frustrating, so difficult, so bureaucratic, that it sometimes felt like it wasn’t meant to be. I have been through the whole range of emotions to end up back in this country that I can’t help but love.

I would say, my mum, and my newest friend, Jo, were the two biggest voices of caution. And I don’t blame either of them. In fact, I thank the both of them, from the bottom of my heart, because if it hadn’t had been for their concerns, I wouldn’t be so certain in my decision now.

In fact, my mum was so unsure of my actual ability to return, (as was I, if I’m being truly honest), that she encouraged me to apply to do my PGCE, starting this September, as that was to be my final aim, come September 2021 anyway. It took a few weeks of encouragement and some fights, but in the end, I had a personal statement I was happy with. Now all I had to do was somehow retrieve my degree certificate from a storage locker in China, and decide which universities I wanted to apply to.

This was not as easy as it sounds. I picked three universities, and by the time I had come to hit send on the application, except for the personal statement, two of them were full. So, I picked a couple more. They maybe weren’t as prestigious but they still had places available. And they weren’t bad universities. I would be very happy to attend them.

Except, when it came to filling in the personal statement part and actually hitting send, one of them was full. At this point, I was willing to put in any university that still had a place. I think I searched nearly every university whose name I had heard of for an early years PGCE. And I finally hit on one, and sent off my application.

The interviews came in very quick succession after that, and, of course, they happened during the two hottest days of the year, meaning, I near melted while trying to remember how to do maths, after nearly ten years of the most basic maths if it was ever required of me, and trying to remember how to structure an essay style question.

Luckily the heat didn’t seem to affect me too much, and I got offers. Which meant that I then had one of the most difficult decisions of my life. Do I give up on my dream of going back to China in favour of pressing forward with finally achieving a career or do I potentially submit myself to doing the same thing again in a year’s time, with all the stress and anxiety that goes with it?

It turned out that I didn’t need to do either, as Winchester University, my first choice, said that I could defer my entry by a year. Which, with the deepest and greatest joy in my heart, I did. I could still go back to China, and even better, I had a place at Winchester university lined up for me when I got home. Talk about having my cake and eating it too!

This came at just the right time for me, as by now, TeachTEFLinChina, the company that I work for in China, were badgering me to fill in the online portion of my new visa application. Despite still having a valid visa, until January 2021, I was required to apply for a new visa. This caused stress in and of itself, as it was one of the most in-depth applications I have ever filled out. They asked everything, including what I had for breakfast and for my first born.

As soon as I was finished, I told the company, and they told me that I would probably be going to London on 14th September to the visa office and to hand in my passport. I told the Care company, as I had indefinitely extended my notice, because I needed the monies, and gave my last day. This was on a Saturday in early September. On the Thursday the company contacted me and asked me how I was doing with my visa. I very nearly head-desked and sent them the same information I had sent them at the weekend, and then I asked them when I would definitely be going to London. A week later; the 21st. I wasn’t exactly happy but, in the end, it couldn’t be changed, even though I had wanted to have been in China for a month by this point. But this is how things work. Apparently. I contacted the caring company and got a week’s more work. of course, by the time I’d gone to London twice, once to drop off the passport and once to pick it up, I was told that I didn’t need to have done that, as the new regulations meant I could have got in on my old passport. So all that stress of finding the cheapest and easiest way to get to London, making sure I got there and got on the various trains on time, trying to eat and drink while wearing a mask (the second trip I had half a bottle of Fanta and two Pringles all day), desperately hoping that I had the right paperwork as the three people in front of me were turned away for not having it, not to mention the added stress of travel during Covid Times, was for nothing. Gotta love bureaucracy.

Then comes the most frustrating part of the whole experience. The booking of the plane tickets.

It was a nightmare. Literally, figuratively and metaphorically. I couldn’t escape by sleeping, because I was also having nightmares about it.

I looked for flights that were a) less than £1000, b) didn’t criss-cross the entire world, and c) didn’t involve “self-transfer”. The worst hyphenated word in existence. If you’ve never come across it, you’re lucky. Now, surely, these criteria are not too difficult to apply, right?

You’d think. What actually happened was that I found flights that would go to Hong Kong, have you hanging around in the airport for a mere 18 hours before going on to Shanghai. I booked the tickets twice, spending nearly £1000 each time, through one of these intermediary sites that supposedly finds the best flights and prices for you. A few hours later, I’d get an email telling me that they’d been unable to book the tickets for that price, but if I gave them another £1500, they might be able to do it. Or I could request a refund that would take up to five days to process.

I requested the refund. I got a loan from my parents. I tried again. I cried. I got the same message. I cried a little more. After all this effort that I’d gone through to get this far, would I really be denied at the last hurdle?

I’d been trying for a flight in the first week in October, and it seemed impossible. Spoiler alert: it was.

I contacted the company to tell them the trouble I’d been having. They got back to me to tell me that someone else had found a flight to a city called Zhengzhou, via Helsinki on 12th October. And even better? The layover was only five hours. Small fry compared to the prospective 18 I’d been gearing myself up for.

And, success, at last. I booked the tickets. Not that I could relax though. Relax? Don’t know her.

I still had to get a negative test result within 3 days of my second flight, which wasn’t as bad as it had been at first with the whole 18 hours thing. Both my flights were at least on the same day. But guess what had been in the news for the whole month of September?

Don’t be silly; I know you know. Who hasn’t been aware of the news for the past 8 months? It was the lack of tests and delays in the results, of course! So, I stressed about when to get the test, my mum stressed about when to get the test, the company stressed about when to get the test.

I had to get it in enough time to get the results to email to the Embassy and get their reply (oh, you didn’t think it was just about the result, did you? My sweet summer child!), but also have it within 3 days of the flight. And the Embassy “work at the weekends, but don’t expect any answer from them during Saturday or Sunday”. My flight, was predictably Monday morning. My results could take anything from 24 to 48 hours to come back. I would have to contact them at the weekend.

Honestly, I don’t think my heart is ever going to recover. This process may well have cost me years of my life.

I took the test late on Thursday evening. Trying to book it through signal gaps while deep in Devon didn’t help, but I got it eventually. I got the result about midday Saturday. The Embassy sent me the Certificate of Health around midday on Sunday. And sigh.

All my ducks were finally in a row. My suitcase was a little heavy, full of food that I couldn’t get in China. I was ready.

The flights themselves were fine. Fun fact: I was on the inaugural first flight between Helsinki and Zhengzhou, which was exciting. Another fun fact: all the crew, except for the pilots wore hazmat suits. I had my temperature checked four times before getting on the flight. Once again when we were on the descent.

The crew in the background, chilling in their hazmat suits…

And finally, we touched down. I was in China. I had made it. This was it. I could relax, right?

Oh, if only that had been the case…

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.


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.

China Adventures – Pre-coronavirus

Now that term was over, I had a week to prepare the flat for Lauren to come and visit. Ever since I found out that I was moving to China to take this job, Lauren said she was going to come out and visit me, and we would have a grand Chinese adventure.

Finally, she was able to afford to come out, and we were able to plan it with the idea that I would fly back to Shenzhen at the end of the trip, at the same time that she would fly home. But that’s the end of the story. The beginning was procrastinating cleaning the flat until the day she arrived. And I also managed not to pack for the trip away either, because I can’t work unless I have a deadline, and the deadline for packing was still a couple of days away.

Lauren was arriving at a stupid late time on Friday, because time zones mostly, and an incredibly stressful for her layover in Chengdu (see this link for my adventures there with my parents) and I had arrived at the airport before her flight even landed, due to the fact that if I’d tried to arrive later, the metro would have stopped running and I’d’ve been stranded somewhere in Shenzhen and it would have been quite difficult and more expensive to get to the airport.

After picking Lauren up, it was time to get back and get ready for bed, as she was tired from long distance travel, and I was tired because it was past my bedtime. It didn’t stop me from nattering Lauren’s ear off in the Didi on the way back, and she was game enough to make it seem like she was listening, even if she was nodding off a little bit.

The next two days were days of chilling. we got our nails done; I took Lauren to Brew, my favourite pub in all of Shenzhen, because of a) the light show, and b) it was Western food. And while Lauren was in China to experience some parts of the Chinese culture, including the Chinese New Year, and probably Chinese food, she also wanted to see what I did and where I would go and what it was like in my part of the country. While I don’t get my nails done regularly, I thought it would be nice to have pretty nails for our adventure. On Sunday, we went for a walk in the local park and we got a massage. I let Lauren go first, and I took the second lady that became available. And boy, am I glad I did. It was the most painful massage I’ve ever experienced, and the way the lady was acting, it was quite possible that my back was an entire mass of knots and that there wasn’t any unknotted muscle left. She pressed very hard and had very pointy elbows. Lauren had expressed concern about the massage because of her back and it not being what it used to be, despite operations, and if her lay were to press too hard, she would have to speak up. Luckily, she didn’t have my masseuse. And luckily, I don’t have back problems.

At some point during this time, Lauren asked me what I knew about the coronavirus. I said I hadn’t heard of it. It was barely in the news at this point in the UK, and it wasn’t even a thing in China at all. But she was a little worried about it, and because we were going to Beijing, which is known for its poor air quality, I took my mask along. It was a good job I did, too.

After a weekend of ‘splorin’ my hometown (so to speak), it was time for the adventure to begin for real. We flew from Shenzhen to Huangshan and the Yellow Mountains.

Because we were flying for a few hours, we landed late-ish at night and were taken to a hotel close to the airport, to begin the adventure proper, proper the next day, which also happened to be my birthday. Lauren had been a gem, and had carried various gifts’n’bits from my parents and relatives over, rather than try to rely on the Chinese postal service (my mother had sent a parcel at the beginning of December and it arrived on New Year’s Eve) and she also brought balloons and bunting to decorate the hotel room with. Birthdays are a very big thing for her, and I appreciate that (even if I didn’t seem to because I was overtired at the time).

First order of the day was a little gift from the hotel to say “Happy Birthday.” It was a nail care set, of which I’m very appreciative, because my nails are always pretty bad when I haven’t got large acrylic and paint on them. Our hotel for that night was also upgraded to the best one in the area of the Yellow Mountains that we were staying in, paid for by the company we were travelling with, as a gift for my birthday as well, which was very nice.

Second order of the day was Xidi village, which is a very old village, where the residents still live according to their traditions, and in a traditional way. Lauren got squicked out by the killing of a chicken, and all the corpses of chickens and fish being dried out around the village, but honestly, watching it, there wasn’t much if anything to see. Luckily for Lauren we arrived a couple of days after the ceremonial pig-slaughtering, but there was still blood on the floor where it hadn’t been washed away by the weather yet.

However, they did still have Wi-Fi at the local shop and café type place, because everywhere needs Wi-Fi, right?

The residents were all getting ready for the Chinese New Year, which meant cleaning their houses, although a few were practising their very specific crafts and selling them. A young teenage was very confused when we asked to see his feet, but that was because he was using a traditional warming method, which looks like an old wooden bath with a raised seat. The person sits on the seat and in the basin below they put hot coals and a grate and rest their slippered feet there to keep them toasty. It was very warm and I was tempted to try and join him, because, as Lauren had laughed at me a couple of days earlier, I was finding 20°C in Shenzhen chilly, and the weather in Xidi was hovering closer to 5°C. I was cold.

We also saw where the women still do their clothes washing in the stream that runs through the village, as shown by the bottle of clothes soap affixed to the wall next to the very precarious steps that lead down to the stream. Unfortunately, I wasn’t quick enough on the ball to get a photo of that, but we did see other villagers drying their crops for future use, and making the most of the sun, as it was a nice day and the rest of the week was forecast to be rubbish.

We were ushered out of the village quickly and to our surprise the driver came to pick us up. We had hoped for a bit of time to wander around and maybe pick up a souvenir there, but we hadn’t explained this to Jerry, our guide, and so we didn’t and were instead whisked to the Bamboo Forest and Mukeng Village, which happened to be a very exciting place, where the film, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, was filmed. At least, the scene where they zipwire across a bamboo forest was. I don’t know. I have yet to see the film, but I am planning on seeing it at some point now. Since I’ve been to the live set. Mukeng Village was similar to Xidi, except it was half way up a mountain and more difficult to get to, and they produced tea. I saw my first tea plant, and honestly, it looks like a little box hedge. And that day was the day they were washing their bedding. Which held a lot more fur than in the hotel. It was interesting and it seemed like a nice simple life that they had there.

Once we were done here, it was time to venture into the Yellow Mountains proper, and go to our hotel. It was mid-afternoon, which we thought was a little early, but Jerry reminded us about the hot springs and we got excited.

The hot springs were what they said on the tin, and we were lucky that they were open, because the week before Lauren flew out, we had been told that they were closed because there was no water in them, since there was a drought in the area and there hadn’t been enough rain to fill them up. It had rained since, but not all the pools were full, so they weren’t at full capacity yet. We decided to try the “Ore” pool first, which we thought looked somewhat low on water, but by this point we were up a mountain at four-thirty or so in the afternoon and only wearing swimming costumes. If it was warm, we would lie in it just to warm up.

It was full of little balls of clay. We stepped in it and shrieked a little when we sank up to our knees, much to the amusement of the family that were already sitting there. I, being me, manged to get the little balls in my unmentionable areas, forgot about it, and caused a potential slipping hazard when I went to the toilet later and they all spilled out of my swimming costume (except for the five or six that somehow managed to make their way into the lignin of my costume). We got our revenge though as we got to laugh at the next hot springs goers that came along.

There was also a Lemongrass Pool, yellow and smelling of lemongrass, a Rose Pool, with rose petals, a mixed flower pool that was a toasty 41°C (all the others were around 37°C) and too hot for Lauren, a Chrysanthemum Pool, a Red Wine pool (not drinkable I’m afraid), a Ginseng Pool, and a Milk Pool, where we channelled our Inner Cleopatra’s and then got talking to some very curious Chinese children. With their broken English and my broken Chinese, we were able to have a limited conversation but I really like it when we can make those sorts of connections.

After two hours of sampling all the pools, save for one, we were very pruney and rather hungry, so it was time to head back to the hotel and dry up. Lauren, because she is a star, had brought a cheeky bottle of prosecco with her and we had that before dinner. It was just as well; dinner was a little disappointing. There weren’t many options; just the hotel we were at, and maybe another hotel across the valley and further away than we wanted to travel, so it was the hotel restaurant we went to. Then when we got there, the waitress didn’t like that we ordered a load of dishes and said we were only allowed to order four. So, we did, and then I burned all the nerve endings in my mouth because of how spicy it was. However, the fried rice was delicious and we gorged on that along with the bottle of red wine we’d bought for dinner, so much so that we took the wine with us back to the room to finish while lying on our beds and rejoicing in their softness. After all it had been a long day.

The next day we were up early as well, because we had to go up a mountain to look at some amazing views. We had been under the impression that we were walking up the mountain, which would take three hours, but when we got there, Jerry bought us tickets for the gondola. So that’s the way that we went. Even going up the hill in the gondola was pretty incredible and I got excited by the small amounts of snow that I saw while on the way up. At the top of the mountain, as soon as I could scrape enough snow together for a micro-ball, it was thrown at Lauren.

The views were absolutely stunning and genuinely the photos do not do the mountains justice. It turned out just as well that we went up in the gondola rather than climbing the mountain as after only a couple of hours of being up the mountains, the clouds came down and we could barely see ten feet in front of us. We retreated for a tactical hot chocolate and Jerry advised us that we would be unlikely to see any more that day, and in his experience, it would start raining quite heavily in short order. So we beat a hasty retreat back to the gondola, and realised that we were happy not to have eaten at the hotel where we’d had the hot chocolate, because we saw all the porters carrying everything up on their shoulders. They were aged and the packs looked very heavy and Jerry told us that they were paid a pittance, but they’d rather work than fade into old age, and they were still trying to support their families. It looked a horrible gruelling job and they had very little chance to rest. Apparently, the pay was based on the number of loads they carried, so they just had to keep trudging up the mountain.

Because the day had been cut somewhat short, Jerry offered to set us up at the hot springs again and we sprang at the chance. This time, I took my phone with me into the pools in a waterproof casing, and it was a good idea, because we also decided to try the fish pool. They had those fish that eat your feet but you could sit in the pool and have them eat all our dead skin.

By the gods, they tickeled. And we had a lot of dead skin to eat with us. It was akin to torture having to stay very still so as not to scare the fish away so that they could do their jobs, but also the urge to twitch the tickle away was incredibly strong. We also sampled the other pools again as we had to make sure they were just as good as the day before, then returned to the hotel for another evening of slightly disappointing food. I decided to take some of it away with me, as there was no way I could finish it and Lauren was a little underfed, because the noodles that were supposed to be for both of us contained meat.

The fish had done their job though; our feet were silky smooth, and our legs felt smoother too, even though neither of us had shaved. It was great.

Day 3 of the adventure proper was a travel day; it was time to head to Beijing. This was the day we found out about the coronavirus from Jerry. This was the first time it was mentioned to us beyond what Lauren had told me. But it wasn’t concern at all. It was just that there was this virus that people were getting. There was no suggestion of any sorts of precautions being taken on the train when we got it, even though we were the province over from Hubei.

But first, we had requested that we have a chance to go souvenir shopping, because we hadn’t had a chance yet. Jerry took us to his friend’s tea shop where we had the tea ceremony and sampled the tea so that we could buy some for our families, even if I couldn’t deliver it home for a while. Luckily it would be good for a couple of years because I asked and checked. I was appreciative that we had gone to this place, because the lady’s family owned the tea farm where she got the tea and it was a thirty-minute drive from the shop to the farm. The shop was in the old part of town, which also included a famous bamboo carving shop, where Lauren and I got some lovely bookmarks. And we saw an ancient pharmacy that was around five hundered-ish years old. And we were finally taken to a famous artist’s shop and no joke, the artist looked like he had stepped out of a Chinese film set a hundred years ago. He looked great and I was awed by the quality of the paintings in the shop.

Once we’d finished there, we had a bit of free time to explore the old town before we had to go to the train station. There I found out that my suitcase was broken – one of the wheels came off, and that the oily noodles I’d saved from the night before had leaked all over the bottom of my hand luggage bag. Luckily, they hadn’t soaked into much. The worst casualty was my face mask, that I wanted to wear in Beijing if the air pollution was really bad. The bag and the mask stank of oil. I was able to use a plastic bag to protect the rest of my stuff from the oily bottom, so that I could tend to it once we got to the hotel after a six-hour train journey

The journey itself passed well enough and we were met at Beijing train station by Tracy, our new guide. It was too late in the day for us to eat even, since the restaurants were shutting early due to the Chinese New Year, so we had instant noodles in the hotel room, after a quick drink at the bar, so that we could have an early night for our first big day in the capital of the People’s Republic of China.

The next day, we met Tracy for an exploration of the Temple of Heaven and the Forbidden City, but the first thing that she did was give us face masks, because of the coronavirus. She wasn’t too worried about this, but the company wanted her to be better safe than sorry and we agreed. So we wore them, and instantly disliked them. Let me ask, do you know what the smell of your stale breath is like? It’s not nice. And it’s something that both of us got used to very quickly. The worst part is when you take the mask off for pictures, then have to put it back on again, because after a time you go nose blind to the smell, but taking if off re-sensitises you.

The Temple of Heaven was a beautiful temple, and very old. It was a sacrificial temple, where the emperors of the Qing and Ming dynasties would come annually for their prayers for good harvests. It is one of the oldest buildings built in the column style that it was, and it is all entirely symbolic. There are 12 columns for the 12 signs of the Chinese zodiac. It is also unique in that while made entirely of wood, no nails were used at all in the construction of it. It is typical of China, in that it was not in very good condition and got meticulously restored in time for the Beijing Olympics in 2008, where it played a somewhat important part.

Once we were done there, we headed for Tiananmen Square to see Chairman Mao’s mausoleum and also the Square itself, but it was all closed off, as there were government buildings there as well, and the governments was in session, having lots of important meetings.

The Forbidden City and Summer Palace were just as awe-inspiring and a second film was added to my “To Watch” list; The Last Emperor.

This was where Tracy left us, but we wanted to see the temples and pagodas on the man-made hill behind the city, made because it was good feng shui to have the river (also man-made) in front and the hill behind. The views from there showed off nigh-on the entire city, and although the day was very clear, you could see the famed pollution, lying as a layer of brown before tapering into the blue of the sky

After this it was time to head back for lunch, as we were to see the Kung-Fu show that night, and we hadn’t eaten since lunch. We were so hungry by the time we got there, we attacked the sunflower seed provided to us by the restaurant, and to our great surprise, we really liked them. I introduced Lauren to the joys of fried pancakes, and she was given the largest fish I have ever seen as her meal, and my duck nearly didn’t come. When it did, it came with precisely half its head, just the same as the rest of the duck was sliced in half. However, it was a most delicious duck.

I nearly didn’t make it into the Kung Fu show. Due to the efficacy of my hat at keeping my head warm, it was a little over the accepted temperature allowed into the theatre, but a couple of minutes de-hatted and I was good to go, even if we did have to spend the entirety of the show marinating in our own stale breath smell. It was an incredible show, and the few pictures I dared to take did not do it justice, so I gave up and just enjoyed the experience instead, especially their fantastic feats of acrobatics and fighting – which, to be fair was most of it. I was surprised that the majority of the speaking in the show was in English rather than Chinese, but of course, it was for the tourists so it made sense and did enhance the show as such.

The next day was truly an early start as it was a long way to the Beijing Wall, and we wanted to beat the crowds. And so, we did. We were also told that the Forbidden Palace had shut and so we had been lucky to have gone the day before.

The Wall is awe-inspiring in a way that words cannot capture. We were there on a beautifully clear day, and could see the Wall for as far in either direction as the mountains would allow, including a watch tower on the sleeping man’s chin.

To get down from the wall, we could have taken the cable car back, but there was a faster and more fun option; tobogganing. While the signs said not to stop, it was unavoidable as unfortunately, we were caught behind a slow person who kept holding up the line of people behind them. But it was still fun when we did manage to get up to speed. On the way back from the wall, we had our first bit of coronavirus related bad news. The Terracotta Army in Xi’an was shut and so we wouldn’t be able to go and see it. We were also told that the Wall had stopped letting people on at midday that day, but because we had arrived at ten, we’d been okay.

We also stopped at a small rural town, to see the marketplace and see a little bit of more common China. We saw a lady selling bagsful of sunflower seeds, and on mentioning to Tracy that we’d discovered them and liked them the day before, she bought us about a kilogram of salted sunflower seeds and 500g of plain ones. I still have some plain ones left. Yes, a month later. There were a lot of sunflower seeds.

For the rest of the afternoon, Tracy had arranged for us to have a massage each, which ended up with the both of us having our feet bathed in “medicine” by the masked masseuse. It looked like tea. It could well have been tea. It was interesting to say the least and the massage itself was much gentler than those in Shenzhen.

After the massage we headed out for food, but because tonight was the night of the New Year and the big New Year show was on, everywhere shut very early. The only place that was still open by the time we stirred ourselves after the massage was McDonald’s. but we had the evening of TV and once again some spectacular feats of gymnastics and other abilities by Chinese people in the show. We also had sunflower seeds and cards and it was a very good night, even if the food was subpar.


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!