21 June 2015 @ 20:14
I'd moved rooms up to the third floor, but on my second night in Nanjing, I also slept terribly. Something woke me up on Thursday 2 April at 6am, and as the night before, I found that I just couldn't get to sleep, once I was awake.

So I packed up my bag, checked out and went and browsed the shops for an hour or so before heading to the train station. I did a bit more freelance work before the platform opened for my train, and then I spent the next few hours whizzing north to Beijing.

It's always fun to take the gaotie (high speed rail), and I wished then that I'd opted to travel by train on to Chongqing and Lijiang, rather than flying. Still, there was a lot that I would be cramming in over the next 14 days, and flying would mean I had more time to sightsee in the long run.

The gaotie

So I sat back, enjoyed watching the Chinese countryside roll by, and watched a couple of episodes of 《锋刃》. It was dark when I arrived in Beijing, but still early evening. And after finding my hotel and dropping off my bag (this time without hitch!) I went to get some northeastern Chinese food to bring back to the room with me.

I'd had Dongbei food on the Monday with Emanuelle, and I still find it one of my favourite types of Chinese cuisine. Skewers of lamb, chicken hearts and beef that are barbecued, along with an assortment of fresh vegetables. It really is the closest thing to a summer barbie back home, and this was what would quench my appetite for my evening meal, after the usual junk that you eat when you travel long-distance by train.

Yummy yummy Dongbei food ^_^

I had a good chat with one of the guys who worked in the restaurant, and again marvelled at how good my Chinese has become that I can have such conversations. He told me his surname was Wang, and he asked me all about my travels, whilst I asked him how someone from Jilin had come to work in Beijing.

I will never seize to enjoy the personal stories I pick up from having learnt Mandarin, and I do miss that - had I been in Shanghai - these small encounters end up being the foundation for long-term friendships. I would see Mr Wang again before I left, and natter once more about our different countries and cultures.

But long-distance train journeys always tire me out, and I was happy to get back to the hotel that evening, rather than wander round Qianmen. So I sat in and watched some more 《锋刃》, and did a bit of washing, seeing as my clothes were already filthy!

I then took to the internet to find somewhere that would let me hire a bike, which is what I really wanted to do while I was in the capital. Despite being probably one of the most dangerous cities in the world in which to cycle, I figured this would be the best way to get around and see everything that I wanted to see!

I've done Beijing that many times now, that I wasn't fussed about seeing the Forbidden City, or the Temple of Heaven, the Summer Palace, or anything else. What I did want to do, however, was ride around, and get a sense for how it might be to live here.

After all, who knows, in the future I might be serving as a correspondent here. And as unbelievable as that sounds, it's not beyond the realms of possibility. In fact, if I speak from the present, it's looking more and more likely to be what I'll be doing at some point in the future...

(But more on that another time. For now, watch this space!)
21 June 2015 @ 18:07
Gawd, I've got a lot of catching up to do... but I'm determined to make the effort to do so this next few days, as a lot of exciting things are happening in the present!

But back where I left off, it was the early hours of Wednesday 1 April, and I'd just arrived at my hotel in Nanjing. It had been a hiccup getting there, but I told myself I'd make up for it after getting a good night's sleep.

The first thing I needed to do in more sociable hours, however, was go BACK to the train station, and book a ticket for the next day on to Beijing. What I forgot to mention in my last entry was that I hadn't been able to find a cash machine that accepted foreign cards when I'd arrived, and I needed to draw some money out to pay for said ticket (because you can only do this in cash).

No machine = no ticket - so that was the first thing on the agenda when I did get up. And I wasn't feeling my best when I did - there had been all sorts of noises at about 5am, and these were noises rendering me up for the day, whether I liked it or not -_-.

So I hauled myself out of bed and jumped on the subway, where I then stood queuing amongst the masses, hoping it wouldn't be a problem getting one (even though it was super last minute). I was in luck, however; and with my mind at rest, I then headed into the centre to go and get a McDonalds breakfast, and have a good trawl through the city's Sanfu!

Despite saying I wouldn't buy anything after I'd left Shanghai, I came away with all sorts of goodies, and inwardly cringed as I thought about my ever diminishing bank balance. I'd e-mailed my brother the day I left Shanghai, asking if it was possible I could borrow some money to put my mind at ease these next two weeks, until the end of the holiday.

Though as I headed off to Mochou Lake, I got a reply from him, and felt absolutely hideously guilty. It was an understatement to say he wasn't happy about doing so, even though he'd recently gotten a rather generous payout from work, which was either in the four or five figure bracket O_O

Still, I know that's not the point, and I felt rubbish about asking him to borrow £500 - so that I stayed out of my overdraft and didn't have to worry about my card being frozen. It's really about time I got myself a credit card, but there just wasn't a need while I was abroad, and the one time I did try when I was back in the UK, I was told I wasn't eligible because of the amount of time I've spent living overseas >_<

Anyway, he lent me the money and I told myself I'd get one when I got back. In the meantime, I'd need to hurry up with this freelance work I was doing. I'd make sure that I did some that evening; but before that, I would try to make the most of seeing Nanjing. Of course, I ended up not doing the various museums and temples as I'd hoped, instead deciding that the lake would be cheap, and something semi-cultural I could do.

I had an enjoyable afternoon walking round it, taking pictures and basking in the late sun. In retrospect, it really was a nice way to spend the day, and I came away feeling that I had no regrets. I saw lots of beautiful architecture, the cherry blossoms in their full bloom, and some really nice cultural stuff, like groups of women flag dancing.

A few pictures from Nanjing!

That evening, when I went for a wander in search of food, I also found a crowd of people square dancing in a secluded area. I don't know what came over me, but for the first time since I'd set foot back on Chinese soil, I felt so moved to the point of tears that I had to sit down.

It was one of those things that I'd never really given much thought to when I'd lived there, but coming back to China and now knowing that this activity is now on the brink of extinction, I found something truly poignant about it. Men, women and children, many of whom definitely don't know each other, coming together to sing ancient songs, and dance by themselves or in couples.

Occasionally I find something in China that's so beautiful, it rather breaks my heart, and this definitely felt like one of those moments.

And with that in mind, my trip to Nanjing hadn't been a waste at all. I went to bed happy, and ready to embark on the next stop of my journey - on to Beijing!
16 June 2015 @ 22:38
I checked out early on Tuesday 31 March, and then, loading my rucksack onto my back, headed off for the train station, on the first part of my China roundtrip adventure!

But I wasn't leaving for Nanjing until the evening, having plans to meet up with one more special friend before I left. And around noon, Billy arrived from the outskirts of Shanghai, with his camera, homemade Romanian rice pudding, and a big, big smile :)

No sooner had we met, did we head straight to yet another McDonalds for a drink. The rains of the previous night had gone, and been replaced by a dry, scorching heat.

Of course I can't complain - it was absolutely wonderful to be in Shanghai enjoying a 30 degree climate, especially seeing as it was still MARCH!

I'm not even exaggerating - look! This proves it! XD

But we definitely needed hydrating before we set out with what we had planned! And by the time we'd had chance to get our orders, Emanuelle had finished her morning of work, and so she came to join us for lunch, before the three of us hit Moganshan Road.

This is a famous art district in central Shanghai that has lots of little galleries, trinket shops, and a graffiti street. It's a great area for taking pictures, and so I'd obviously decided I needed to do this with Billy, and his amazing camera skills.

With the weather like it was, it couldn't have been a better day for it, and we ambled round for hours, checking out what each little gallery had to offer. Eventually, exhausted, we sat outside taking polaroids, and ate Billy's homemade goodies.

A few pictures from our art day!

B was then heading up to Hongkou district to meet with some Romanian friends, and Em had some things to do at home. So we all said our goodbyes, and then I entered the train station nearby, and used the extra hour or so before my train to crack on with a bit of freelance work.

And then, off I was, on the two hour or so journey that would take me up to Nanjing. It's ages since I've been there, and I think the last time I went was 2009, when I was still with my ex, and he wanted to spend a weekend there clubbing.

I was looking forward to seeing it properly, rather than through a hungover haze, and doing it on my own and creating my own memories, rather than having ones attached to him.

But it was late that I got in, and when I arrived, I was looking forward to sleeping more than anything, then having a long, full day sightseeing on the Wednesday.

...only my initial plan proved rather problematic, seeing as the hotel was an absolute NIGHTMARE to find. In Shanghai, it's a done thing to give a driver the intersection of two roads, although I forget that once you're anywhere else, one road should more than suffice.

But it happened that the hotel I was trying to find was on the longest road in Nanjing - one that stretched through the entire city. The only nearby road any website gave wasn't even a road, but the equivalent of an alleyway(!) and even speaking to a soldier posted outside a state military building, I wasn't any closer to finding it.

Getting a taxi in China has also now become extremely problematic as well, thanks to the influence of mobile apps such as Uber. So for a long time I just walked, hoping to see either a taxi or this side street, while I contemplated what to do.

In fact I was very tempted to just give up and stay somewhere else, when a taxi arrived, and I showed the driver the instructions I'd been given. "Ah, you can't even get to where that is from this road!" he told me, and agreed with me that the instructions were pretty rubbish. I'd looked on various Chinese sites, and determined that it was the hotel's fault, rather than me being dim because I was a foreigner. My driver was great, reassuring me that that was the case, and that hey, that I wasn't too far away, and it would only be another couple of minutes until I arrived.

So eventually we made it... only then I found out that the hotel had given away my room because I hadn't arrived by 6pm!

I explained my predicament, and may have fudged the truth and said something like I'd run out of battery on the train. But I was surprised that I was even feeling the need to do that, seeing as your average expat would have done far less. Again, I had to appreciate just how at home I'd become in China, and that people really responded to that, and treated me with respect, rather than treating me like an outsider.

It was 1am when I'd entered the hotel, and a young girl and an elderly man were the only people manning the desks. The girl was thrown into a panic when I told her about the potential complications of staying somewhere else because of paperwork I'd submitted to the embassy (not strictly untrue, but I probably made it sound like the police might turn up if I was turned away), and she asked me to walk her through what she needed to do.

"You need photocopies of my visa and passport photo," I told her.
"I've never even used the photocopier in this place," she said, "Can you help me?"
"Sure," said the old man, but she refused his help, saying that she was talking to me!

Still, eventually, the three of us figured it out and I managed to blag an available three person room for the same rate.

"We'll get you moved tomorrow," she said, "But noone will mind if you take that now."

I thanked them both enormously, and in spite of the fact it was next to the reception, and with walls like paper, the heat of the day, a lot of walking and the stress of not finding this place meant that I went out like a light, and didn't wake up until late morning. 
15 June 2015 @ 23:33
The weather was grim on Monday 30 March, so I was glad that I had plans to spend most of the day indoors! My first stop - after yet another McDonalds breakfast - was the central train station to get my ticket for the following day to Nanjing, and then I spent the morning in Glasses City getting me some new specs.

I may or may not have mentioned this before, but there's a massive multistorey mall next to Shanghai Railway station that sells every kind of frame you could ever imagine! Owing to my then fascination with 1930s Chinese dramas, I set about getting a pair of John Lennon-esque glasses, and then a couple that can only really be described as very "Alan Rusbridger".

Specs like these. And I look hawt in them... no, no, really...

Whenever I go to Glasses City, I find myself panicked over the stress of the place... endless stalls and frames, and numerous people trying to do business with you. But I always leave feeling that I've got the best possible customer service, and that might be because I've found someone I'm really quite satisfied with in there.

I'm sure Mrs He was the same woman who served me when I went years ago, based on the fact I remember being plied with cake then as I waited, as I was this time! :) And I got a great helping hand in finding the pairs of glasses that I wanted... even if I spent the best part of an hour going over hers, and one of her friend's stalls!

But I ultimately left a satisfied customer, with three brand new pairs of prescription glasses for approximately £80. I had a moment's anxiety again before I handed over the cash, knowing that I'd have to go and make another cash withdrawal, even though I'd only just made one!

Though I reminded myself that for £80, you'd be lucky to buy one pair of specs in the UK. And you'd have to wait for it for a few days. And even then, it might just be the best pair in the shop, and not something completely off-the-wall, because you fancy something a little different!

One of about 100 stalls in Glasses City

So I was really pleased that I had come away with some that were a bit wacky, and I could tick this off my to do list. I now didn't need to worry about buying glasses anymore. Well, for another six months, at least XD

That was the morning then, and after, I headed into People's Square for lunch, with plans to also buy some more last-minute bits and bobs that I could pack into my suitcase.

As I came to the subway entrance, I heard a girl ask me in broken English if I could take a photo of her. I didn't even hesitate this time - I'd nearly been caught off guard by this trick a couple of years ago: it's an apparently innocuous way to scam unsuspecting tourists into coming to a teahouse (and spending eeeeeverything they own).

"Sure, I'll take your picture!" a lot of people think, and then find themselves stuck holding someone's camera, whilst this person uses the opportunity to reel off what they've got to say.

But I was pleased that I didn't even bat an eyelid, and that despite being out of China some time now, it had been all too easy to lapse back into old habits. I was a lot more streetwise than I'd given myself credit for, and felt empowered to learn that I hadn't completely lost these smarts that I'd learnt as a long-term expat. This small incident helped me to feel closer to China, and as I continued shopping, I found myself in a good mood for most of the afternoon.

Of course, one thing that I wasn't being smart over though, was my money(!) as I ended up buying yet more books, some clothes from Zara, and a pretty expensive Sailor Moon figurine.

And when I did eventually get it all packed up, I then made two more expensive purchases, which were my flights from Beijing - Chongqing, and Chongqing - Lijiang. The two of them together only came to about £150 but it all adds up, and even with some freelance work that would bring in a fair bob, I was thinking at this point that I'd probably need to borrow some money from my brother.

But for the time being, I put worrying to one side, and just focused on making the most of what was left of the day! Emanuelle took my case off my hands, and then I settled down in the evening to watch a couple of episodes of 《锋刃》, before falling fast asleep. 
14 June 2015 @ 21:29
I'd noticed coming back on Saturday night that there was a McDonalds near the hotel... and so on Sunday 29 March, that was the first place I went!

An egg mcmuffin and a cup of coffee in my system, I was then ready for the day. I jumped on the subway over to East Nanjing Road, where I then spent a shitload of money on clothes, textbooks, and other assorted bits and bobs.

Emanuelle and I had agreed to meet for a late lunch, so once I was sure I'd bought about all I could carry, I jumped back on the subway and headed to meet her Pudong-side. We met in a part of Shanghai I'd amazingly, never been before (Shangcheng Road), and got drinks while we debated what we were going to do that afternoon.

"What do you fancy for lunch?" she asked me, and I couldn't think of anywhere in particular that I wanted to go. "Let's go somewhere in Tianzifang," I suggested, and so we agreed that's what we were going to do. Only then we got a bit sidelined, as she pointed out the place she normally gets her nails done was nearby.

"Fancy a manicure?" she asked. And how could I resist... especially knowing it would be a hell of a lot cheaper than it would be in the UK!

So we did that, and then very late afternoon headed over to Tianzifang for some pizza and a drink in a little outdoor bistro. We then trawled the little winding streets, and I ended up doing even more shopping, buying a mahjong set, a cushion cover, a mouse mat, and a few other little assorted trinkets.

"I'm going to have to take it easy," I told her, when I went to make yet another cash withdrawal. "I can't believe how much I've spent, and I've only been here three days.

"Although...!" I said, trying to justify it to myself, "Once I leave Shanghai, I'll only have a backpack, so I'm trying to get all my shopping done now. It will get cheaper from hereon out!"

"Yeah of course it will," she said agreeing with me. "I'm done here - shall we go and get a drink at Sinan mansions?" -_-'

So that's what we did, making the most of what remained of the day, and when it started to get dark around 7, we headed back into Pudong. I dropped off my purchases, and asked Em if she wanted to join Susy, Jane and I for hotpot, but she said she'd have to call it a night, so it ended up just being the three of us.

Still, it's been so long since I've had Chongqing hotpot, and even longer since I've seen my former colleague Susy! I think the last time I saw her was early 2012, shortly after the four of us (Susy, Jane and I, plus Kay) all finished working for the worst manager in the world. She went back to Sichuan for a bit, and a year or so later, we found out she'd got married!

So we had more than enough to talk about, and had a really pleasant evening, with some absolutely incredible food. I didn't realise I'd be so ravenous for Chongqing food, but it really is incredibly addictive. We all ate more than our fair share, and then it was back to the hotel for a long sleep after another fun-packed day!

I was conscious at this point that time really was catching up with me, as the Monday would be my last full day in Shanghai. So the plan for then was to make sure I had my tickets, and to get absolutely everything packed up. Because then indeed - it was just going to be me and a backpack (and nowhere near enough clean underwear) for the entirity of the next two weeks! 
14 June 2015 @ 12:11
Right, so I'm now only... 79 days behind with my writing >_<

Although that's because I've been incredibly busy these last couple of weeks, putting the final touches to this large document for the Chinese service that I've been doing!

My trip to China in March feels like a million years ago now, and I'm starting to miss it all over again.

And so it's quite a comfort now that I've finally got some free time, to delve back into the archives of pictures, text messages and the likes, and take you back to my stay in Shanghai, on Saturday 28 March...

I'd clearly managed to combat jetlag pretty fast, or else the fact that I'd filled the previous day with activities meant that when I got in on Friday 27 March, I had a completely uninterrupted sleep.

I was then up first thing on the Saturday, and heading to the subway for the long journey into Jinqiao, central Pudong. My morning plan was to go see Kim and her husband, as well as their adorable little girl, who I haven't seen since last summer when they were over in the UK and came to visit Sheffield.

Caffeine withdrawal hit me again, but I managed to locate a City Shop for an overpriced latte and some posh biscuits as a makeshift breakfast. I then found Kim and her daughter coming out of their ballet class nearby, and after a big hug, and some animated chatter about how much her little girl has grown, we ambled over to Element Fresh for an early lunch.

I amazed at the transformation that Kim has made now that she's fully embraced motherhood. Almost every minute of our conversation, she was responding to the latest antics from her daughter, who it seemed the moment I took my eye off, was doing something else potentially dangerous.

What a sweetie though - and it's great to see her now that her personality has come into full bloom! As we were finishing lunch, Kim's husband came to join us, and because the weather was nice, we then took the opportunity to spend some time out in the sun.

Scott had brought his bike, so I rode it slowly through central Pudong while Kim and himself took turns to hold Chrissie's hand.

We then sat in a little park blowing bubbles and watching Chrissie have fun on the slide, before I had to head off, and meet Jane for an afternoon of catch-up, and fun!

Chrissie <3

So off I headed to Lujiazui, where Jane found me being coerced by an animated Chinese tourist into having a selfie with her XD We then sat outside with coffees outside the breathtaking Oriental Pearl TV tower, nattering in Chinese, whereby I realised my Mandarin really has come along leaps and bounds. It's easy to think that while I'm in the UK and at work, not having much opportunity to use my spoken Chinese, that my Chinese has probably gotten a lot worse.

On the contrary though, I've realised that my listening is the best that it's ever been, and at no point whatsoever did I feel the need to switch into English. Well, not until Emanuelle arrived that is, having finished her morning Chinese class - she was keen to join us for dinner.

We went into one of the nearby malls and had a massive slap-up Korean meal, followed by tea and some ice-cream topped waffles. It was still pretty early, so we had plenty of time to do something else, and first spent an hour or so in the arcade, playing an assortment of games :D

Of course then Jane suggested we do KTV (karaoke), and Emanuelle and I both jumped at the chance and went to book a room.

And we all had a great, funpacked evening singing ridiculous English and Chinese songs. Aside doing some proper power ballads and a bit of rap (Queen - Bohemian Rhapsody, Linkin Park - In The End, Kanye West's Golddigger!!!) I also finally sung some proper Chinese songs: 庾澄庆's 爱你的只有一个我 and 周华健's 刀剑如梦 that I now know how to sing after watching The Voice of China.

Emanuelle after tried to persuade me to go on to a bar, but jetlag must have been catching up, as I was dead on my feet, and ready to head back.

So we went our separate ways, me vowing that we'd do something the day after. It had been another busy day, but a ridiculous amount of fun. I'd already crammed so much into my first two days here, and I wanted to make sure I got a decent night's sleep so that the next few nights could be just as epic!

And indeed they were, especially as on Sunday, I had shopping on the mind! It goes without saying that Shanghai is a shopper's paradise, and I was looking forward to spending alllllll my wages.

But I'll tell you more about that later - it's that time of the week to crack on with my cleaning! Back in a bit!
25 May 2015 @ 17:50


I knew I’d get round to reading The Hunger Games eventually, because in terms of the types of books I like, it ticked all the boxes. Still, being from an earlier generation, and hearing it referred to as “an American Battle Royale," I wasn’t sure how much I’d be able to appreciate this book, especially knowing that it was written for a teenage audience.

But it did surpass my expectations and kept me absolutely hooked from beginning to end. Collins takes you deep into Katniss Everdeen’s world of Panem, and the horrific life of a tribute being prepared for a fight to the death is brilliantly told.

I found the imagery that she conjures up particularly powerful in making her characters come alive. The small detail about Katniss’ sister’s shirt coming untucked at the back and looking like a "duck tail" is one such example; the yellow-golden eyes of Prim’s hatred cat Buttercup is another. When I moved on to the second book, I felt as though every individual character had come alive to me, and I could easily remember them because of these small details that the protagonist associated with them. Collins’ imaginatively formed world is complex, and yet it was all to easy to find myself within it.

I hadn’t had any preconceptions from the film to know anything about the plot, so I was kept in suspense right up until the end. The lead-up was racked with suspense, and the fighting scenes powerful.

Really can't praise enough; I loved this book and am highly recommending it. Even if I am several years too late in doing so!!!

RATING: 9/10

23 May 2015 @ 21:01
I woke up at around 2am local time on Friday 27 March, thinking, "jetlag, well that was inevitable."

But it was probably partly down to excitement as well, and I lay awake for the best part of an hour or so, sketching out what I wanted to do on my first full day in Shanghai.

Suddenly, it felt as though I hadn't scheduled having long enough in this city, and I was anxious to make sure I did everything that I wanted to, before I'd have to move on to Nanjing.

When morning finally came, I decided I was going to start by getting the subway back to my old university - going back to my roots, so to speak - and remind myself of what I'd done in order to be doing the incredible job that I am doing today.

But first things first, I was hit by a strange feeling, something that wasn't jetlag. A growing headache which signfied caffeine withdrawal, and a desperate need to get some coffee into me before I even thought about doing anything else with the day.

I'd never really thought before about how much coffee I normally drink, and over the course of the holiday I would have crippling headaches every morning until I got myself to a local McDonalds. Eventually, I managed to wean myself off it in exchange for tea, and started feeling a lot fresher throughout the day.

Of course, now I'm back in the UK I'm back to having my cafetiere and then another cup at work. But it was something to think about in the long-term, either cutting down or giving up altogether. That being said, I don't drink alcohol as it is, and you've got to have some luxuries in life!!!

So I caught the subway over to Dongbaoxing road and decided the first thing I would do, was surprise my former colleagues. I'd only just got a Chinese sim card, and hadn't even thought as far as contacting anybody. But I was in the area and knew that it would give them a pleasant surprise! Provided they were still there, that was.

I rode in the elevator of our former building, and finding the office, saw someone arranging books on a shelf who looked very much like Sarah from behind. I wasn't fully sure, so waited patiently until she stopped, ready to ask if not where I might find my former colleagues.

It was her though, and the look of surprise on her face was brilliant. "What are you doing here?!" she asked in high-pitched Chinese, and I overexcitedly told her, gushing over how amazing she looks since she's had her kid. Shortly after, Chloe arrived, wearing the same gobsmacked expression and even though it's not really the done thing in China, engulfed me in a hug. We then all had a good chat, further hugged and took some photos, before I headed off to do the other things I had planned for the day feeling fully moved and with a definite spring in my step.

Next stop after that was Sanfu, my all-time favourite shop in Shanghai! A discovery I'd originally made in Chongqing, it's a chain from China's Fujian province that sells clothes that are New Look prices, but Zara quality.

I bought a few bits and bobs and then continued walking north, looking at how much that had changed. I was amazed that all of the little shops that used to be next to Hongkou Stadium had closed down, no doubt being forced out in competition with the supermall that had sprung up next door.

I called in there briefly to get a few essentials from Carrefour, and then walked the short distance to my old university, which refreshingly, looked exactly the same as it used to.

Still, trawling the area nearby, I saw that the surroundings had become a lot more westernised. There was still the Italian bistro Aroma that I used to go with Billy, Sexy etc. which eventually catered to my morning's much-needed caffeine kick (even though its service is slow and the prices are extortionate).

But there were loads more other western restaurants and cafes as I walked round the outside of the uni grounds. We'd not had much choice when I'd been there - it was Aroma, Ciao Cafe in my last term, or nothing. It seemed the whole area was developing to cater a lot more to an international market.

Fortunately, despite all these new openings, not a lot had closed. I was overwhelmed to see that Rainbow Roll was still in business, and called in there for my lunch. This is my all-time favourite Japanese restaurant, and yet it's so small, you'd likely never find it!

I was still able to have my usuals as well(!) of a Motorola and a "Danny" roll, before heading on again for a stroll round Luxun Park.

The weather wasn't great, but I didn't care, I just wanted to take in everything around me. The sound of traditional musical instruments, the sight of kites and things you only really get in China, like pensioners doing tai chi.

I wandered round for hours, just absorbing it all, and then continued down the historic Duolun Road. The hours just seemed to fly by, but it was invigorating: just being back in the action, watching everything going on around me and breathing all of it in.

Emanuelle soon rang me to say that she'd finished work, and asked where we should meet for dinner. Seeing as I was near line 10 at this point and she was too, we decided to head to the Bund, and go to one of our favourite little joints, Captain's Bar.

But unfortunately, the kitsch little terraced bar overlooking Shanghai's dazzling skyline was closed for renovation(!) so we had to have a rethink. And we eventually decided on heading over to Jing'an, for Mexican food at Cantina Agave, followed by drinks at an eclectic little bar we've been a few times before called Lune.

We had a great evening, and a proper catchup without her boyfriend being there. It sounds as though everything is going great, but I was reminded of just how good friends we are, and how much I've missed our chats. And also, what a significant person I am in her life too, which I've never really thought all that much about.

But she said something that evening that really moved me, that she'd been a bit lost after I'd left the country for good. I'd never actually anticipated her saying that after I'd left, "the city had changed", but I was touched to hear that she'd missed me to the extent that her and her partner had thought about relocating somewhere else.

She'd told me that he'd been here for something like 10 years, and she just didn't feel she had friends here that were hers, rather than his. I was conscious of how concerned I've been these last few months about burdening my friends with problems, rather than taking a step back and thinking about the large presence I play in their lives.

I left that night thinking what brilliant friends I have, but also what a great person I am. And this was a good starting point to build upon while I was on this long trip away from work. Renewing my belief in myself, and having the comfort of knowing that I do have such a fantastic set of mates who are there and miss me, despite the fact my UK life can sometimes feel a bit lonely.

I've come back feeling that the world is a much smaller place, and that China's not so far anymore! And with that in mind, I was already promising that I would be back within the next six months. Still, there was much more fun to lay ahead this trip yet!!!
23 May 2015 @ 18:32


My decision to read this book came after watching the (extremely confusing) film, thinking that by dipping into the original, I might understand and appreciate the story a whole lot more.

And indeed, I did, and found this to be a thoroughly engaging read. John le Carre is a captivating writer, who has a fascinating and intricate story to tell about the UK’s Secret Intelligence Service (SIS). He also proves an interesting narrator as he has a very dry sense of humour, which comes up occasionally at odd moments in this book.

Focused on the character George Smiley, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy takes the reader into the off-the-record investigation of whether a senior SIS official is a double-agent for the KGB. It identifies several senior suspects within what the narrator calls “the circus”, and gradually unpicks them to make sense of whether the murmurings about an in-house spy are true.

Some readers might be put off by the fact that not much action happens in the book; a large part is either seen through reflection of earlier events, or in the unravellings of Smiley’s mind.

Despite this, however, I found this a difficult book to put down. It’s intelligent without being supercilious, and is a real “thinking” book: one you put down and ponder over while having your tea!

Of course, having seen the film, I probably couldn’t appreciate fully the fact that I already knew what was going to happen.

But as an introduction to le Carre it was a good one, and I’d definitely read more of his works.

RATING: 7/10

10 May 2015 @ 18:28
I ended up coming in to work on Saturday 21 March, deciding that I would carry my full five days over, and have a day to wrap up all my loose ends before escaping for a month.

So I rattled off a few e-mails, set up my out of office, and then used the remaining time to print off subway maps and the likes, which would help me getting round the areas of China that I didn't know.

This took me until around noon, and then I was commandeered over to the bar by Eric. And because it was the rugby six nations, the staff had made an assortment of culinary goodies: hot dogs, sausage rolls, cake etc. Some of the managers who normally come after work brought their dogs and kids, and so along with Rhys, we ended up sitting around there for the rest of the afternoon, eating and drinking whilst watching the box.

I played Sims in the evening, with a view towards then having a very lazy Sunday 22 March. I got a few chores done, reorganised my work bookmarks (coz I'm cool...) and largely just compiled a list of all the things I had to do before I set off.

Then Monday 23 March I made a start on said list - getting the house cleaned mainly - and set to work on the packing. Tuesday 24 March I got the remainder of my chores done: headed into town to buy presents for everybody I was going to see; threw food out, and finished loading everything into my case that I'd need for my three week trip.

And then Wednesday 25 March I was a bundle of excited nerves. The date of my holiday had finally come, and the knowledge that I was heading back to China had me feeling the most alive I undoubtedly had in months.

I had a quick cycle up to the office to collect some post in the morning, and then early afternoon, I caught the train from Reading over to Birmingham International.

There was then a long wait, during which I battled through the book I was reading (A Passion for Killing), and then cleared customs with a bunch of overenthusiastic and very tipsy Uni of Edinburgh rugby boys.

The flight was delayed, but that didn't do anything to stop my excitement. I had a good chat with the expat next to me on his way back to Taiwan, before we changed at Charles De Gaulle and caught our connection for the remaining long stretch.

And I did the best that I could to sleep on the way, but it really wasn't easy. I knew that I was only hours away from a completely epic adventure, starting with the place that I felt I'd very much left my heart. There was so much I wanted to do in Shanghai when I arrived, but I wouldn't get in until the evening of the 26th. And yet already, I was itching to ride the subway, talk to people in Chinese and just become part of the culture again as if it had never left me.

When I did arrive on Thursday 26 March, I in no way anticipated the full force of emotion that hit me, being back on Chinese soil. I was moved by all the most insignificant of things, and hated myself for having left my return visit as long as I had. I felt like a part of my identity had been restored, and a kind of happiness that I just can't put into words.

Still, I was completely sleep-deprived, and wasn't looking to do much past eat some food, and get myself checked in for the night. In a bizarre coincidence, Emanuelle's apartment was the same subway stop as my hotel, so she came to meet me after my long ride over from the airport. And it was amazing to see her in the flesh again - I've missed her so, so much.

We went for a big bowl of beef and rice with her boyfriend, and then went to find a cash machine so I could draw some money out for the following day. Only during this, the trip nearly became an instant disaster, as an extremely slow ATM looked like it might swallow my only international card O_O

Some of the first pictures from the trip ^^

Still, after pressing an emergency button and cursing blue murder, it shot out, and my nerves were somewhat restored. I then paid the deposit on my hotel and as soon as I got in, went bang out, like a light.

And I'm looking forward to telling you all about how the next 19 days went, because it really did turn out to be one of those holidays of a lifetime. After this initial disaster, there could really be no more, and I had an absolutely thrilling time exploring a country that is exotic, mystical, magical.