Friday, July 13, 2007

Photos, Photos + More Photos

The remainder of the gang, in the No Name Bar. Im obviously happier here than the others (Or so I thought, Meredith and Chris!), as Im getting to go home shortly.

My Dad, Hilary and I at the Forbidden Palace. Gives a good view of the colours that you see everywhere in China. That photo could arguably be taken in any one of the thousands upon thousands of the temples in China.

The Birds Nest. If you don't recognise it now, you soon will. The main Olympic Stadium in Beijing, ready for the 2008 Games. Its as close as you could get at the time we went, but you can still see the design - made like that so to trap the warmth within the stadium apparently!

This is the beach in Beidahei. Reviews on the internet warned us of dirty beaches, the filthy sea and general untidy nature of the place. Well im not sure where they went. We found it absolutely spotless, nice sandy beaches and a great change from the sweltering heat of central Beijing. Admittedly, when we went it was mildly windy and the sea was absolutely freezing. But you can't have anything can you?

Taken on the wall (again, I know), this time we went to somewhere that begins with M, I cant remember the name I do apologise. I shall look it up. Anyhow, slightly more touristy than the first time I went, but still less than the last time I visited. Amazing weather and a toboggan ride to the bottom gave the day that extra gloss!

And finally, a picture that I really like. This is the skyline of the Financial Disctrict in Beijing where we stayed for the last few nights. On the very last night, after a few drinks, we walked back to the hotel. It was perfectly calm, wondrously warm and was, all in all, a splendid way to finish off my time in China.

Friday, June 22, 2007

The End

I Hate Chinese Food, a name created after I had said exactly that, whilst eating a Chinese takeaway merely a matter of weeks before leaving for nine months in China - is pretty much finished. I still have hundreds of photos to upload, ones that I want to show here. So once I have the time (it will be within a month), the last of my photos will be uploaded. Other than that, the writing is done with. No more close encounters with the Police, broken toes, day light muggings with girls from Mongolia or painful massages in Thailand. Well, not that i'm going to tell you anyway.

Friends, food and a lack of stress!

I started to realise what I would miss the most about my time in China during the last few weeks I spent in Shijiazhuang. Walking somewhere I don't remember on my own, the sun was shining and it was a gorgeous day. I'd finished teaching, had a months worth of traveling and hotel visiting ahead of me and I had absolutely nothing to worry about what so ever. Nothing. I wonder how old I'll be before I ever have that feeling again?

Going out for food every evening was a huge part of the time in China. The basics of the Chinese we picked up was done so through ordering food and drink in restaurants - without the aid of any English menus. A tiring and dull day was often picked up with a fun and eventful evening in a local restaurant. Imagine getting together once a week with your best friends. Eating, drinking and having a laugh (i'm sure this happens a lot). Now in China, we did exactly this nearly every day of the week (Even if sometimes we argued more than we laughed it was still amusing).

It would be hard not to become friends with someone who has been thrown in at the deep end in a foreign Country, for the first time just like you have. I won't lie, there were times when I would have loved to have just slapped people across the face with a cold trout. Given the chance, there would have been a queue out the door with people wanting to do it to me thats for sure! But I was undoubtedly lucky getting grouped up with the people I did. And I would even include Meredith in that (One last dig, I couldn't resist). It would have been impossible to stay the full time that I did had I not got on with the others as much as I did.

Yep, the food, the friends and the lack of stress - the three things I will remember most fondly of my time in China.


So? What was it like? What is China like? Did you eat dog? Would you go back? READ THE BLOG! Would I go back is a question that I do feel needs answering - yes, but after the Olympics. I never got the chance to go to Shanghai or Hong Kong and I certainly would like to. So hopefully sometime after the chaos of the Olympics has died down, I will return to see quite how much it will have changed.

If asked to pick some of my favorite experiences, the trek along the Great Wall would definitely have to be included. The feeling of being entirely alone (even in a group of 30) in relation to the hustle bustle of Western life, stood on the original part of the Wall, in scorching sunshine was simply amazing; Kayaking around Halong Bay in Vietnam was unbelievably simply due to the stunning scenery; Sitting atop Mount Taishan, again in absolute silence (something that is hard found in such a densely populated Country I tell you that!) was incredibly surreal.

So far, I don't miss the teaching and I don't miss the students. It will always annoy me that I always got the impression that the huge majority of the students did not seem to wish to use the foreign teachers as a source of information. I'm not sure how that sounds, but the best way to explain is to give Brock as an example. And I am not doing this to mock, but to show what it was like. I remember clearly during our first ever week of teaching, Brock turning up for his first class, dressed smartly, armed with his laptop and lots of ideas on things to teach. Fast forward to a few months later, and Brock (as were we all) was all out of enthusiasm. We weren't working the students hard, in fact compared to their normal lessons our 40 minute slot was farcical. If one student had just put up his hand and said 'please tell me....', or 'what's it like....' etc. But no. We were treat worse than that teacher everyone always used to have that no one listened too or took seriously. It's hard to convey in one paragraph what I am trying to explain, and there were certain students who really were a joy to teach, but overall I would have to say that the teaching aspect of my time in China was a disappointment.

Its all over

Sorry for not posting sooner - yes i'm inherently lazy but also i'm working every day God sends covering the cash I spent in China! Well, that flew over didn't it. Seems like two minutes ago I was flying down to Heathrow to meet up with Charlie. Nope, nine months has now gone by.

The last time I posted, I was merrily getting drunk at the coast. After this we went back to Beijing for another three nights - my last in China. No sight seeing this time, just nice food, even better drink and lots of time spent in a swimming pool that wouldn't have looked out of place on MTV's Cribs (The Westin - Financial District - THE hotel to go to in Beijing should anyone decide to visit!). I also had a fun time buying my Mam a ridiculous amount of bags from The Silk Market.

My last day in China, how will I remember it? Laying in a shivering wreck on the bed suffering from food poisoning. I have certainly never experienced anything like it. Nine bloody months in China and I get as bad as a dog on the last day (I had hoped for something a bit better for Hilary, but alas it was not to be). I lost half a stone in weight during 12 hours. Death would have been more favorable to the way I was feeling that long long day. Anyhow, by about the evening time, after saying goodbye to Hilary for the last time - I went back to the Executive Lounge for the free drinks and food that was offered to sophisticated guests such as ourselves.

After traveling for what felt like days, even though the clock claimed it was apparently no time at all, I left the heat of Asia (It had been over 30degrees C for the entire previous month pretty much) and arrived in Newcastle. And it has hardly stopped raining since.

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Hi Holly Hou

Our hotel in Qinhuangdao is outstanding. Made even better by the superb Holly Hou. No query goes unanswered, no request goes unsatisfied and she makes a mean Gin & Tonic. Well my Dad insisted I have a photo taken with her, so here she is -

While we're at it - this is the Executive Club room - all the snacks you can eat. And trust me, where testing that to the limit.

If you ever get to a point in your life where your mam feels inclined to take a photograph of you in McDonalds, surrounded by a miriad of Chinese people - who are all blatantly thinking 'idiots', then you will understand why I could not stop shaking my head or laughing.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

No updates

Blog? What blog? Oh yes, I remember. The lack of updates recently is due to the fact that in the past 6 weeks I haven't been in one place for longer than 6 nights and that was only once. I've moved from Hotel, to hostel, to appartment - so thats my excuse anyway. Where now? I'm in Qinghuangdao, two hours east of Beijing, on the coast - with Mummy and Daddy. Leaching off them as much as I can. I have been showing them the sights, with The Forbidden City, The Wall (it was great), The Summer Palace, the other Palace - a.k.a the Silk Market, to name but a few. With Beijing offering more restaurants than one could shake a stick at, it will amuse those of you who have been to know that my Dad has made us eat twice at the Chinese restaurant next to the Jade Youth Hostel because he likes it so much. Ah well.

We're at the coast as I thought it would be a nice change of scenery, a rest from the hustle bustle of central Beijing. The sun is shining and the sea looks alluring - but im viewing this from by bedroom window with little intention of leaving today. The reason - the room is amazing and is equipped with a 50inch TV that comes with one of those built in internet thingys. I can sit on the couch and read The Times or emails (honestly what I am doing) on the massive TV. Sorry, but the beach can wait.

Sunday was the last time I will see the Americans (other than Hilary who is joining me in Beijing, more for the free breafasts than for my company). After cocktails at our hotel, we went to Fuku for dinner. I have faith in Chris' abilities not to turn American, being the only Englishman left there now.

Thursday, May 24, 2007


Time for some photos of the trip. First off Hanoi -

  • Typical street in the Old Quarter of Hanoi. This is the little junction where they sell great - ice-cold beer for 2,000Dong a glass (7p).

  • This is one of the buildings next to our Hotel. I didn't know this, but im sure it is common knowledge, but the reason the buildings are narrow but tall - an old tax that increased with the width of the house. See, you learnt something everyday, or at least I do!

  • Taken at the Army museum - a big mound of plane wreckages shot down by those friendly Vietnamese. I never realised what a delightfully pleasant, whiter than white bunch of people the Vietnamese are - the Americans being barbarians, cut throat and rutheless. That is, until I went to the ridiculously one-sided museum.

    (I may be wrong, but I think the planes actually fell, conveniently - into this nice little pile.)

  • St Joseph's Cathedral I believe. And yes, I know, its a really good photo.

  • This is the bridge that leads over to the island that sits in the middle of Hoh Kiem Lake, in the centre of the Old Quarter.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Oh China!

I must have walked into the hostel in Shenzhen with a sign round my neck saying 'Mug'. 'How about we upgrade to the Japanese styled room for one extra pound?' I thought and asked. 'Yeah, why not?' I decided. If you've ever wanted to create an authentic, Japanese style room in your own home, here is how - remove the matress, that wont be needed and only adds wasted comfort. Remove the bathroom door, privacy isnt needed after all. And to top it off, take away the duvet cover, a sheet is all that is needed for that authentic look. Don't get me wrong, it looks like it has been taken straight out of an Ikea showroom, but somehow I get the feeling we are the only ones who opt for this upgrade!

So, yes, I'm back in China. The Country that never fails to amuse me. The trip is so far going to plan and as long as two more train journeys go as planned then fingers crossed, everything will have gone perfectly.

Had a slight episode in Bangkok. Went to KFC for lunch in a huge air-conditioned mall (I was hotter than Pavarotti in a pastry shop in Bangkok). After finishing, we left and headed back to our hostel. It was only after about 10minutes that I realised I had forgotten my wallet somewhere (as I very often do). I stormed back, sweating like never before (all my money was in it) and looking like a fool. Anyway, would you believe it, there it was, on the floor next to my chair. In open view. Untouched. The Manager had even come and cleaned the table, surely seeing it, but nevertheless leaving it be. I smoothly checked the contents and walked off as cooly as I could. Now I may be over exaggerating a bit, but I reckon that had that been in Hartlepool, the second the outside of my wallet had touched the floor, some little tinker would have swiped it with his trotters - never to have been seen again. I imagine had I been in Middlesboro it wouldn't have even touched the floor. But here, in Bangkok, where I cannot believe nobody saw it, nobody touched it. 'If we just leave it where it is, the owner will surely return'. Yup. I did.

I must just mention Macau. Being as culturally inept as I am, I had no idea that Macau used to be ran by a bunch of Portugese. We had the day to spend pottering about, waiting for the 18:00pm ferry to Shenzhen. We had driven in the taxi past the huge Casinos which I knew to be there, a brand new MGM Grand being built that looks fantastic. But it was the City centre I wasn't expecting. Thanks to the Portugese, the streets have what I would have called a Spanish look to them had I not known any differently. Yellow buildings, white balconies, fountains and even McDonalds was blended into the architecture so not to stand out. Where I had been expecting to spend the day eating rice and noodles, bored out of my mind, turned out to be one of the more relaxing days of the trip. I'll have to show you the pictures, which will be uploaded once I remember to bring my camera with me to the computer to show you what I mean.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Traditional Thai massage

Whilst Hilary talks to her Mam on Skype - ah the wonders of technology, I thought I would just let you know of my experience getting a traditional Thai massage in Bangkok. Before I go any further, I will let you know now, this is entirely PG Rated.
To waste the day we had in Bangkok, Hilary went to get 'girly' things done at the massage place. With 30 minutes of time on my hands - I decided a Thai massage was what the Doctor ordered. In my mind, what could be better - a nice young Thai girl sensually massaging me whilst Hilary goes through hell. Excellent.
Everything went to plan, up to a little room I went, into the loose fitting outfit I got and then the door opened.... and in came a nasty looking old woman. 'Lay down' she ordered. Uh oh. The best way to describe the next 30 minutes would be a series of differing amounts of pain. Slowly working me up to it, eventually I was lying flat over her knees, balanced in mid air. My head next to hers and my feet dangling near hers somewhere. The agony of my entire body resting on one small part of her knees is something I will struggle to forget. After 30 minutes of being too ashamed to say 'please for the love of God stop', the times was up. I went and sat down stairs, feeling like I had been drinking for twelve hours then mountain climbed all day. As Hilary came and joined me, I looked up at the price board. Right below Traditional Thai Massage, for the same price, was 'Thai Oil massage'. I could have cried.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Koh Phangan

The highlight of the planned trip - Id hoped for white sandy beaches, clear water and hot hot sunshine. Well this place is exactly that. We paid a bit extra than most for a beachfront bungalow and it was definately worth it. Step off our bungalow and we are literally on the beach, no need even for a pathway etc.

There is a hammock on our porch area, where I dozed this morning, reading a book in the sweltering heat. It is as perfect as I could have hoped for. So far the weather is superb, something I was worried about given that it is out of season, though if this keeps up, we will have timed it to perfection.

The island is known for its Full Moon parties. Where like minded folk gather together for tea and scones, enjoying the atmosphere and singing hymns. This however takes place on the first of every month, so we missed that. They do organise a Half Moon Party, to cater for those that msised the big event, takes place on the 16th, which just so happens to be the day we leave. The Black Moon party, to cater for any who missed both of the above, takes place just before we arrived. So somehow, I have booked the resort at the only 5 nights in the entire month where we are unable to go to a Moon party of any description. Great. I couldn't have done that on purpose even if I had tried!!


Our flight to Bangkok was fine, 1hr 40 mins. First thing that hit me, the heat and humidity! Even though it had been raining, it was still hotter than anywhere else I had been. Our hostel specialises in Meat Pies. Twenty mins after checking in I was tucking into a Beef and Onion pie - delicious.
That night we met up with Will, a friend from Law School. Four bottles of Chang beer and some food left us both with bad heads the next morning (it is 6per cent!). We pottered about the next day to waste time, doing a bit of shopping etc, before getting on the train for the overnight journey south. We are staying another day or so there on our way back home, so ill do more 'touristy' stuff then.
The train was fine, though the fact that the air-con broke made it impossible to sleep. A 2 hour bus journey followed by a 3 hour ferry took us to Koh Phangan.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Halong Bay

We're back and the good news is i'm sunburnt. What can I say about Halong Bay - it really was as good as I had been told. Even though on Saturday the weather was still English like (I mean English like when i'm home, not the tropical weather its getting now!), the junk boat we had more than made up for it. The boat, we were told, was brand new and looked it. We had a very nice fish meal whilst the boat sailed towards the islands.

The first day was spent looking in caves, climbing to the top of one of the islands and sitting on deck in a gazeebo type of thing. Beers were 30,000 dong a go, thats just less than $2 (no pound key on keyboard) and yet that is still ridiculously expensive given the normal price in Hanoi. So I opted for 6 bottles of the local brew for half the price, bought from a tiny little boat shop that sails from Junk to Junk selling cheap goods. Like a floating Spar.

The night was great, never again will I be able to say I watched West Ham v Bolton play live on TV, in Halong Bay on a Junk Boat, not that I necesarrily would want to!

Sunday gave us the chance, thanks to the scorching weather, to kayak around the islands. Undoubtedly the most amazing scenery i've seen since leaving Hartlepool 8 months ago. If you can imagine that beach on the film The Beach, we went under a tunnel in the side of one of the islands and found ourselves in a mini-bay, complete with bay, completely still water and not another person in sight. Had we actually been allowed to take cameras with us, I would have taken photos to show you.

Well the sun is shining, my legs look like beetroot and i'm off for our last full day in Hanoi. We fly to Bangkok at 12:00pm tomorrow.

Thursday, May 03, 2007


Hello all from our hotel in Hanoi - the Mahn Dung Guesthouse.

Arrived about 5pm Tuesday evening, with a journey that was a lot more straight forward that we had hoped for - due to meeting up with an English couple on the bus across the border. First night was spent in another Hotel, but as they didnt have the room we had booked (only had a more expensive room) we moved two buildings down to this hotel on Wednesday.

So far so good. Weather is great, easily well into the 30's and only this afternoon has it got a little cloudy as thunderstorms look set to hit. We spent Wednesday browsing the Old Quarter, trying to get our barings and drinking lots of tea and ice drinks. Today we got round to some 'propper' site seeing, going to the Army Museum first (nothing like some good old propaganda to get the morning started) and then on to the Temple of Literature in the afternoon.

Havent really had any real Vietnamese food as of yet, most of the places around here are western cafes and restaurants. But we have a few that were going to try, quite looking forward to something other than French sandwiches.

Our trip to Halong Bay is booked for this weekend, two days and one night spent on a resort in the middle of the Bay. Looks too good to be true on the photos and as ever probably will be! Im off for some of the local brew, found a great area where they sell it for 2000 Dong (6p) a glass, ice cold, tastes like cats urine. Just how I like it.