Time Zone Shenanigans (and a Wedding)

Early in the month of November, I took three days of emergency leave. There wasn’t an emergency; there was a wedding. But I didn’t have wedding leave. So, it was emergency leave that I took.

It was a crazy five days (the three days bracketed the weekend). I flew home, taking off at around one on Thursday afternoon. I had had the good fortune to be able to book direct flights to and from Heathrow from Shenzhen International Airport. Due to time zone shenanigans, after a fourteen-hour flight, I landed on Thursday evening. The flight had been normal-ish but Shenzhen air has a grand total of six films available. Five of them are Chinese, and on of them was Dutch. They did have four episodes of a David Attenborough documentary (my diary is annoyingly sparse on the details) and four episodes of Spy-Cam. I’d finished them all by half way through the flight.

By the time I made it across London, I had no idea whether I should be awake or asleep, and my nagging suspicion I’d had since I’d woken up that morning that I was getting a cold seemed to be confirmed.

So of course, I had approximately, not enough sleep. Because by the time I went to bed, my brain thought it was time to get up, I slept poorly. Plus, I’d forgotten how cold England was, (it still being around 25-30 degrees daily in China) and had had to forage around in the middle of the night for a pair of socks.

The next morning, my cold did seem to have abated slightly and I was hopeful that it would be a mere sniffle rather than the full-blown craziness I’d already experienced twice since the beginning of September.

Sean and I made our way to deepest darkest Dartmoor, with a quick stop in Exeter to say hi-bye to my brother (in case I didn’t see him that weekend at any other time, and since I wouldn’t be back in the UK for nearly two years if all went well), and pick up Lewis and Heather’s wedding present.

That night was great. I drank Strongbow Dark Fruits cider and played games with my closest friends, some of whom I’d not seen for a long time, and by the time I went to bed, my brain was so exhausted, I was completely befuddled. I had a few jokes with Alex, who had flown in from Philadelphia and was experiencing jetlag in the other direction, as to what day/time/country we were in, over the course of those few days.

I slept beautifully, right up until about 5am. Then I woke up with a raw throat, and a dripping nose. And I knew that on the day of the wedding, my cold had fully arrived.

I made an emergency trip to the village shop that stocked essentially very little, although there was just about enough to supply me with Lemsip and we all got ready for the wedding, dolling up in our Saturday afternoon best.

The wedding itself was beautiful and I may have shed a tear or two. It may have also been my eye watering from the fact that I felt like I was dying, but who can say? We stepped outside for a very chilly couple of photos, and I was pleased and gratified that the Hobbit House pictures were the first on the list. Plus, it meant I could get inside and to the mulled wine more quickly.

I spent so much of the day feeling so ill, that I mostly drank J2O rather than alcohol and I think I drank my weight in it. I also confused many people with my Lemsip as they thought it was a funky cocktail. If only. I did have a wonderful day, even if I couldn’t fully enjoy the beautiful English food, having lost my appetite. But at least at this wedding, I can remember the best man’s speech better than the one in August!

I’d spent the morning talking about how I could curl up in a corner and have a nap if needed because jetlag, but what actually happened was that the playlist was chock full of Certified Bang-gers™ so despite the cold, I danced the night away and had an excellent time

Carriages were at one, and once we got back, I would have headed to bed, except for the fact that for the wedding I’d got talons, and I couldn’t remove my contact lenses with them. Matt was my hero, and helped me out, and then I cried as I said maybe goodbye to everyone. I was being picked up earlyish in the morning by my parents as I was flying out the next day and I wasn’t going to see them in the flesh possibly for a very long time, and I wasn’t sure if they’d be awake in the morning, as the party seemed to be ongoing in the garden.

The next morning, I was once again awake nice and early, and it turned out I had very little voice. I felt better, but I’d spent all night singing along to the Certified Bang-gers™ which had left me with a croak. I had enough time to pack up my belongings and sort out what I was leaving with my parents when they deposited me at the airport, especially as they were to be giving me plenty of stuff to take back with me.

My parents got lost picking me up and typically there was also no signal in the village that we were next to so it was a bit of an ordeal to get them to the right place, but eventually we managed it. I had no time to get upset as I said goodbye as their being lost had delayed them and we were on somewhat of a limited timeline, if I wanted to see Benedict (brother) and Becci (his girlfriend) before they had a llama experience.

We linked up with them and headed up Dartmoor for a romp around the Tors, and although Benedict and Becci weren’t geocaching at the time, we found a number of caches, which was exciting and we explored the remains of a medieval village that had survived up there when they were all but cut off from the world.

After a quick hot chocolate, and a quick lunch for the B’s, they set off for their llama experience, and we set off in search of a roast lunch. We didn’t have to go far, and it was delicious. And my last real English meal for a long time. I can get Western food here, but it is rather limited and won’t ever compare to real English food until I get back to England.

Then it was time to go to Heathrow. My adventure was over. I had yet another long flight, with a suitcase fully stuffed with my mum’s added extras and I still managed to forget things, as it was a little manic getting everything ready at the airport.

On Tuesday, five days after I’d left, I was back at work, and it was like I’d never left, except that the dry air of the plane had left me with actually no voice, and I couldn’t teach at all that day, as I could not speak above a whisper. I was also completely confused as to time it was and what time-zone/country I was in.

“Welcome to China!” – Parental Panda-monium

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo credit: Sandie Davis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Two Holidays in One Week

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

European Jaunts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


As started in the previous episode, after Hong Kong I was headed home, ostensibly for Josh and Maggie’s wedding, but also because I’d promised my re-eneactment friends that I’d go to Evesham in a beautiful circular event, being that the Battle of Evesham last year was where I’d met most of them and where I’d first enquired about joining a medieval battle re-enactment group and was what set the ball rolling to me actually joining the group later in the year. So I had to go.

But first, I had to get back to Worcestershire from London. I landed in Heathrow at a godawful hour of the morning, except that it wasn’t because also – time zones. I had no idea what time it was or how long I’d been awake, or whether I should be awake or not. All I knew was that sleeping on a plane was neither comfortable nor conducive to deep sleep, and I was cream-crackered.

After a mild panic waiting for my bag to arrive (typically, it was one of the last off the plane and so I endured approximately forty-five minutes of heightened anxiety, thinking that it had been left in Thailand (where I’d transferred)), I finally heaved it off the travellator, briefly remembered the toddler that made the news for fulfilling all of our childhood dreams, and then set off for the Underground station.

Travelling through London during and after rush hour was interesting. I was lucky that I alighted the Tube essentially at the start of the line, and didn’t disembark until after the train had entirely filled and then emptied again with glazed-eyed commuters, and so was able to unashamedly occupy a squashy seat that I was utterly unaccustomed to, being that the seats on the Chinese Metros are metal. Travel took me around two hours to get to Matt, Sean and Pippa’s house, which was then a fifteen minute walk from the station, which I was absolutely going to walk since I was now trying to pinch my pennies, not knowing how much money I had in my bank account and only having about £80 on my person, which may have to last me until Monday or longer (this was Wednesday morning).

Matt, being the darling he is, had left me half a loaf of bread and Marmite for me (although I did have to go on a super-quick foraging mission for butter at the nearest corner shop) and I was able to eat toast and drink squash to my heart’s content. I have been telling everyone who’d listen, and those who wouldn’t that I really miss real bread when I’m out in China because they use sugar instead of salt to preserve it and so it tastes sweet and wrong. So I had myself a lot of toast and made a nest on the sofa to wait for people to come home.

This was basically how I spent the next couple of days in London. Vegetating happily, almost speaking Chinese to cashiers, and catching myself at the last minute, and watching a lot of television.

On the Friday morning, I got up what would be considered early but because of the joys of jetlag, I was waking up at stupid o’clock in the morning anyway, and caught the Central tube line from one end to another of it, so that Lauren could collect me and bring me home.

I have the best friends ever, and needed them because my parents, unable to predict that I would be moving to China and needing a lift home from the airport at this particular time, had decided to book a two week holiday in Kyrgyzstan and so were inconveniently unable to pick me up. I had waved to them on the way over and they were landing that same day, just at a time that was not acceptable to me.

I had all of about an hour at home; just enough time to shower and gorge on my favourite meal in the world, before I was heading to Evesham to be a medieval peasant and slaughtered mercilessly by the Royal Army for having the gall to be called up by my Lord to fight for him. You know, the casual peasant problems that every one has.

But first was the obligatory squealing and running and hugging of all my friends whom I had not seen in six months, despite their being what they call sweaty. I soon disabused them of that notion – sweaty is when it’s dripping off your chin and leaving a layer of salt build up on your cheeks – and as soon as the tents were put up, we got down to the business of catching up, while eating fish and chips, and drinking cider, as we didn’t have to be filthy peasants/nobles until the next day.

And filthy we ended up being. While the English summer barely holds a candle to the humid mess that is the Chinese summer, I was running around a field, flailing a sword and wearing a quilt. And I was lightly dressed. So, the by-now-familiar sensation of sweat trickling down my back and further was unpleasantly present. But at least I’d worked for it, whereas here, all I need to do is stand in the shade for a few minutes.

Not only that, but I didn’t care. The adrenaline was flowing and I was forcefully reminded of how much I loved doing re-enactment. I’d been reminded just by seeing my people the night before but nothing compares to the blood pumping as you scream and charge at a wall of shields.

The fights themselves were, on both Saturday and Sunday, were frustrating, but I was still having inordinate amounts of fun. The icing on the cake was that my parents came on Sunday to see what I was doing in my free time and brought my grandparents with them, and I felt truly supported by them, the cherry being that my Dad bought me (for Christmas) my own longbow and four arrows to practice with, as archery is something I’ve wanted to do properly for a long time.

And when I got home? Roast beef and Yorkshire pudding. Am I spoiled? Quite possibly but everyone deserves a little bit of spoiling every now and then. And I was only home for two weeks.

The rest of my two weeks were busy but fairly uneventful. I had a lot of things to do and not much time to do them. Doctors appointments, cross-stitching to get framed, train, bus and plane tickets to book, pictures to look at, relatives and friends to visit, washing to do and bags to pack.

Oh and a historic hall to visit, because no trip to the UK would be complete without it. The trip was arranged by Free, who had just said to me “Oh, I’m going to Aston Hall on Wednesday, do you want to come?” And the answer was yes. The answer is always yes. It helped that Rik, one of our other re-enactment friends was one of the guides there and we went on Wednesday specifically because we knew we would be working that day, and luckily for his job, he proved to be a most adept guide. Aston Hall was built in the 17th century by a man who’d just bought his baronetcy from King James I in the first time a title was able to buy, and it has seen a lot of history since then. Having gone through the pictures I took, it seems I have none of the exterior of the property… Oops.

And then, on the final day, when I was writing a blog post. I talked about using my flat key to open a bottle of cider, as you do, and I thought idly to myself, you know, I haven’t seen that key since then…

Cue frantic searching, and emptying all my bags that had been so carefully packed. Cue being on the edge of tears all night as my parents got in on the hunt. Cue elevated heart rate. Cue low panic levels. Cue not really sleeping as I racked my brain for any and all memories of when I had at last seen that key. Had I actually shown it to my mum in the kitchen, or had I shown it to her over a WeChat call while she was in the kitchen?

I still don’t know the answer to that. I emailed the AirBnb host from when I was in Hong Kong, I emailed ThaiAir, I messaged the London folks to see if they’d found it, I messaged Charlie to ask if he’d left yet and to see if he’d be able to pass a key onto me, since it was not anywhere that we looked in the house. And. We. Looked. Everywhere.

After a mildly sleepless night, Mutti and I were up at the crack of cuckoo, in order that she could get me to the airport and home in time for her first patient, even though my flight to Amsterdam was actually at a fairly pleasant time of day. It meant that I sat in the way of the doors blowing cold English air all over my now maladapted body, since the only seats the wrong side of baggage check in were there, as I waited for it to open for my flight.

And then I was off on the next step of my European jaunt – the Mainland!

And that’s a blog for next time.

Hong Koming – Only a Minor Sidetrip

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Guangzhou(nly) a Train Ride Away

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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