I don’t often write about music here, but I started listening to an album last night, and can’t get enough of it. It’s by Mayday, 五月天, a popular Taiwanese rockband who have been going strong since the 1990’s. The members now are all pretty much in their 40’s, they’re not anything like the young heartthrobs of One Direction.
Their latest 2016 album《自传》(History of Tomorrow) is said to be their penultimate album, and although I haven’t listened to any of their other albums from start to finish, this is one that I keep playing on repeat.
I understand Chinese, but often with songs, it’s harder to tell the meaning on the first time of hearing the words > see misheard lyrics so as it’s only the second time of me listening to the songs, I’m commenting more on the sound of the album rather than the lyrics. But Mayday are renowned and famous for their hard-hitting lyrics that are easy to relate to, talking about courage, patience, heartbreak and other such matters.
This album has a mixture of titles ‘party animal’, ‘what if we had never met’, ‘greatest day’ etc and they’re all pretty upbeat. They’re just an all round great boy band that’s stood the test of time.
Here’s a video to one of their new songs, it has English subtitles too if you switch them on on Youtube. The band are in the future as old men, they open a special vault, go back to the past (present day) and make all these people stop working hard and start partying, including yes, the token laowai (foreigner) and a girl who looks like she’s studying for her gaokao (Chinese college entrance exams you take in secondary school).
I plan to listen to the album a few more times, and look up the lyrics to some of my favourite songs, since Spotify isn’t like QQ Music and doesn’t give you lyrics (unless that’s on the premium version?)
I stumbled on the album by chance, after wanting to listen to one of my favourite soppy nostalgic Chinese songs 《倔强》 also by the band. I thought the band was done with recording, so was pleasantly surprised to hear some new music from them. Keep it up guys, I’m waiting for your last album and next world tour!
I’ve never been a fan of food waste, but when you’re living alone, it’s really hard to avoid wasting fresh food. Usual culprits of what I throw in the bin are spinach, curly kale, mushrooms and potatoes. I’d like to blame the supermarkets for packaging them all in plastic bags rather than selling them individually, but I’m just as much to blame, since I could cook them into meals and freeze them, but never get around to.
Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve been reading up on composting. A blog post came into my inbox about composting and it seemed like a logic thing to do. I would love to compost myself, but there are several issues: compost takes 9-12 months to create and I haven’t lived in the same house for longer than that for a long time, gardening isn’t a hobby of mine and lastly, I live in a contained flat and the house is a corner house without a garden. So yeah, I know the landlord has a rule that says no pets or smoking, and I’m sure indoor composting wouldn’t be approved of either.
But I’m still on a quest to compost the spinach I never get to eat, and the odd apple I throw away after not eating it. I’ve decided the best course of action will be to find someone else in my local area that composts, and simply add my scraps to their compost bin, this is a good idea right? Surely if you’re creating compost, the more stuff you put in, the more stuff you get out? I am slightly concerned it could turn into a situation a bit like a charity shop where this poor composting neighbour keeps receiving my unwanted goods (50 Shades of Grey) that he’s unable to use (or sell) but he still feels obliged to take them, cos every little helps.
Either way, it will give me an opportunity to get to know my neighbours, even if it is just them remembering me as ‘the strange girl who wants to dump her bags of rotting veg on our pile’, it’s worth a go. I’ve got two places that I’m going to target first of all – one is a large house on my road that had a very well kept garden. There are potted plants of all colours and it looks like the person likes gardening. I’m not sure whether to snoop around their bins at the back to see if they have a compost bin, or whether to just knock the door and ask.
Then, there’s Arthur Street. For some reason the postman confuses my street with Arthur Street. I started to think the postman fancied me when he kept accidentally delivering packages for Arthur Street to my door, but he hasn’t been in a few weeks, so either he’s found Arthur Street or they’re not ordering parcels anymore. Anyway, there is an undelivered package for someone on Arthur Street in our hallway. Nobody here (there are 5 flats) have gone to take it round (such good neighbours we are) and when I looked earlier, the package was dated November. So I will take the parcel to their house and whilst delivering their missing parcel, I’ll ask them if they compost, or know anyone on the street who does.
So I’ve got a mission – to find a compost bin in my area that I can add my food scraps to AND to try to get to know my neighbours a bit better. Which will be easiest? Will they come hand in hand? I’ll keep you updated.
What is it with guys that want to go swimming when girls do? I don’t mean in general, I mean I’m sure most men go swimming because they want to keep fit and enjoy being in the pool, but within the last week, whenever I’ve told a male friend that I’m going swimming, they have almost exploded with a huge desire to suddenly come swimming with me. If it was running, or yoga, or boxing that I told them I was going to, they would not say anything about it, but as soon as it’s swimming, they get animated. But no, you can’t swim with me.
Maybe I am being selfish or rude or just awkward, but there are several reasons behind my refusal in letting them join me swimming.
1. You don’t swim like I do
After years of swimming competitively, I get in a pool and swim at least 750m for a warm up. How many lengths is that? That’s another reason why you can’t swim with me…swimmers like myself not only swim longer and more structured sets than your average public swimmer, but we count differently too. My standard warm up looks like this
3 x (150 S/K/P per 50 +10s)
which to you would be 2 lengths normal swim, 2 lengths using the kickboard (legs only), 2 lengths using a pull buoy (arms only), then rest for ten seconds after doing those 6 lengths. Repeat three times.
I also use the clock a lot, so will be thinking in terms of ‘red top, black bottom’ (which are the same thing) instead of looking at the actual time, seconds count a lot in my swimming session. There is a huge difference between a 10 second rest and a 15 second rest.
2. It’s not sociable
Swimming with me is not sociable. I get in, I swim and I rarely stop for chats. If you came swimming with me, what would you be doing besides trying to race me or watch me?
3. You can’t teach me
I’m a very good swimmer, I know the weaknesses of my strokes and I have plenty of sets and workouts for myself. Unless you’re a swimming coach with years of experience, there’s really nothing you can teach me that I don’t already know.
4. I won’t teach you
If I pay for a public swimming session (average price seems to be about £3.90 these days) I want to make the most out of my time and session. Teaching a beginner how to swim is hard and it takes months, even years for a beginner to learn how to swim, it’s not possible to learn in an hour.
So, sorry guys, but actually I’m not sorry. You can’t swim with me unless you are a dedicated lane swimmer who agrees with me about these nuances , until then – you can’t swim with me!
I’ve lived abroad for several years in different countries, and I am always so grateful and excited to receive any type of post from home, but when it’s a package, that excitement increases even more than getting a postcard. A huge thank you to everyone who has sent me postcards and letters over the years, I have kept every single one of them and I found some earlier, which prompted this post.
When you have friends of family living abroad, and want to send them a gift, here are some things to consider…not all home comforts can be sent abroad.
First and most importantly, I think you should never send anybody anything valuable. You should send things with the back thought that ‘it might not get there’, because trust me, not all packages arrive. Some are opened by customs or nibbled at by mice before it gets to the receiver and some just never ever arrive at all.
Food and comfort food is always great to send. Always check the date on what you send, as parcels could take from 10 days to 10 weeks to arrive. Coming from the UK, I always request Cadbury’s Dairy Milk and it’s much better to send a multipack of individual bars, rather than a big 500g block. Because if you open a 500g bar, you have to either share it, or eat it all within a few days. 10 x 50g bars last a lot longer. Plain chocolate is always better than anything with caramel or sticky things inside, as they sometimes leak (creme eggs).
I missed cereals when I was in China, and a friend of mine had the greatest idea to send one of those Kelloggs multipack of cereals, you know, the ones for indecisive children. They’re light, so cheap to send and also nostalgic.
Stuff to read
If you’re a book fan, like me, you might run out of things to read. Even with a kindle, there is still nothing greater than a nice paperback book, a magazine or newspaper clipping from home. Most charity shops sell books for between 50p and £1.50, so they are not expensive to buy.
Not all foreign countries have the same brands and types of cosmetics as they do at home. Asian countries that attach a high importance to looking pale, use a lot of whitening products in their cosmetics, so it’s nice to receive some moisturiser or hand cream from home, knowing that it won’t bleach your skin. Make sure it’s properly sealed, cos a leakage of creams could be devastating.
If your loved one is teaching overseas, ask them if they need any teaching aids that you can’t get abroad – like blu tac, ‘well done!’ stickers or colouring books to make photocopies of. Blu tac really isn’t sold overseas!
Finding a café in the UK is not so hard, if you need a caffeine fix there is usually 5 Greggs within a mile radius in any city centre, and now chains like Costa and Starbucks not only have standalone cafés, but also now have drive-thoughs, are inside clothes and book shops, you’re never too far from a hot beverage.
But when you want to sit down and enjoy your coffee, whilst working on a laptop or tablet…that’s more difficult.
Parking/walking distance from home
When I first moved into my flat, there was no wifi, so I had to find places to work – in hindsight the library would have been a good choice, but I only remembered that public libraries existed about 10 days into my wifi-less home situation. It needs to be somewhere close enough to walk to, because carrying your laptop, charger, phone, notepad, diary, pencil case, purse, hand cream (etc etc, you get the picture) is heavy, even if you have a proper rucksack. If you drive to a cafe on a retail park, you need to check there’s not some silly maximum 2 hour parking rule if you’re planning on spending the whole day there (which of course you are). Or if it’s near a football stadium on match day and there’s a one hour max or £50 in purchases rule to park there…Don’t think you’ll get away with it cos you haven’t seen a parking warden – ANPR (that’s Automatic Number Plate Recognition). As soon as you drive into the car park, the cameras know you’re there and if you’re even just one minute over your time, you’ll be sent a fine.
Free, unlocked* wifi
And not just free wifi for 30 minutes, or free wifi that only works intermittently, you need a good solid wifi connection if you’re working online and using the Cloud to save everything. Also, I need to be able to connect more than one device. Generally, I trust and can rely on The Cloud wifi hotspots (but sometimes that doesn’t let you use Whatsapp).
This is the bane of my life. I cannot understand why nobody in the UK seems to care about letting their devices run out of charge. Looking around me, I hardly see anybody with portable power packs and there is a serious shortage of plug sockets in BRITISH (the Chinese are on it with the plug socket thing) libraries (even university libraries, let alone the public ones), coffee shops, airports and hotels. Virgin trains must be commended here, they provide plenty of plug sockets and have done a very good job in that respect, but nowhere else are there enough plug sockets.
But seriously, in a cafe like Starbucks or Costa, that will have seats for 60 customers, why are there only 4 or 5 plug sockets? If there were more plug sockets, I would spend more time, buy more coffee and maybe even a cake. C’mon, wake up! Normally, after assessing the wifi, the first thing I will do is scout for a plug socket and plug my laptop straight in, that way I get fully charged so if someone comes along with their phone on 4% I will let them use it. Plug sockets are 98% of the time on the wall and not on the floor, so there’s no point looking at the tables in the middle of the cafe, start by searching the walls. Sometimes in Starbucks they are on the wall but under the seat, so check there too.
There’s nothing worse than seeing your pc screen go darker as it runs into ‘low battery’ mode and then having no way to charge it. I have quite a long cable to my laptop, luckily I’ve never needed to bring an extension cable with me – a trick I learnt on one of China’s slow trains. The train will have one plug socket in each carriage, so that’s what one per 100 people? 200? A woman travelling with her extended family brought 3 extension cables with 6 sockets in each, meaning that one plug socket turned into 15. Everyone probably got a tiny trickle of charge but it was enough and other people used the plugs too, thinking about it, she could have charged a few kuai for letting them use it.
Chair with a back
It’s better to sit with a chair that has a back on it. After getting there, checking the wifi is good and finding a plug socket, you need a chair with a back on. No stools! A table is kind of a luxury, most places have them, but I’m fine balancing things on my lap if there isn’t a table available.
After all that (and once you’ve found that perfect spot and reserving it in the truly British style by putting your coat on the seat), it’s probably time to go get a drink. By this point, I don’t care about roasted arabica beans or rainforests or decaf or skinny and any of the rest of that coffee talk. I just want something warm, that I can sit with for a while, so the baristers will leave me alone to enjoy. Try to keep hold of your mug for a while, so that when new staff come on shift (remember, you’re playing the long game) they won’t turf you out for not having purchased anything. If there is free tap water available, take a glass of that and leave it topped up on the table. If they take your mugs/cups/plates away and although you probably won’t be directly asked to leave or purchase something, you’ll be made to feel guilty by other customers (looking at that plug socket you’re hogging) or staff who wonder why you are here, alone, sitting on your laptop and haven’t moved for a good 2 hours. You’ll see it in their eyes.
In summary, finding a suitable working café for me involves (in this order):
Ease of access – free parking, or within walking distance of my home
Good, reliable wifi – that I can use with no time or device limit
A power source – the more plug sockets the better, and they should be in reach of my table
A chair with a back – for sitting back in and resting – no stools
Drink – reasonably priced hot drinks available – preferably loose green tea with a huge flask of hot water for refills, but I haven’t found such place yet.
*This isn’t China any more where you can guarantee that 98% of the time, locked wifi passwords in places are either 88888888 or 12345678, or less common but still good to try if the first two don’t work – 66666666.
I was waiting to take a train from Coventry to Birmingham a couple of days ago, and amongst the chatter on the platform, I heard some Chinese speakers. They were complaining that the train was delayed, and in fact all the trains were delayed by at least a few minutes that day for several reasons. It was then than I started thinking what Chinese people must think of British trains. I mean we do have a good system here in the UK, but the Chinese system probably has the edge (I’m talking about the Chinese high-speed trains, the slow trains are a totally different matter).
In China, you have to buy your own ticket, with your own ID, be it ID card or passport, so nobody can sell their ticket on to anyone else. When you enter the station, after an ID check, there is a security check and a metal detector…usually people pile mountains of bags on the conveyor belt, and a sleeping officer will be ‘checking’ the screen for weapons, but on the whole it feels slightly more secure than any UK train station where anyone can walk in and anonymously buy a ticket.
Only after these checks, are you in the train station. Therefore, everyone inside the station has a ticket to travel that day. Whereas in the UK, anyone can buy a ticket, at the machine or at the counter, and anyone is allowed inside the train station, where there are restaurants, shops and ATMs. Now, with ticket barriers operating at major UK train stations (including Coventry now, no skipping the fare!), you have to scan your ticket to be allowed on the platform.
This happens in China too, but in China, there are never platform alterations, and you’re only allowed onto your platform when your train is coming. If you’re waiting for the 11.05 to Hangzhou from platform 2, you can’t go and wait on the platform at 10.40 when they open the gates for the 10.45 train to Beijing. You wait in the large waiting room, rather than on the platform.
Also in China, everyone has a seat number and carriage number, there are some standing seats available, but not many and even if you have a standing seat, you will be told which carriage to stand in. On the platform, 5 minutes before the train arrives, everyone stands in a very neat line according to the marks on the floor which say the carriage number. When the train arrives, people first get off the train, then people get on the train in a very orderly fashion.
Flip back to the UK, where on platform 2 you could have people waiting for the 10.58 to Birmingham, the 11.05 to Bournemouth and the 11.12 to London on the same platform. Everyone is crowding around and then suddenly, a voice comes on the tannoy saying that the 10.58 has been delayed, and it will now depart from platform 4 at approximately 11.03. Everyone for the Birmingham train will barge past the other passengers, trying to find the stairs to get up and go across to platform 4. The train arrives and people will always try to get on whilst others are getting off, and nobody ever knows where they should stand on the platform. Sometimes you have a reserved seat, but the UK sells a lot of ‘open return’ tickets, meaning you can get on any train and don’t need to wait for a specific train, so lots of people don’t have seat reservations and sit in any place.
With a bit more organisation, in the UK too we could write the numbers (well, letters) of the carriages on the floor so people know where to stand waiting on the platform, we could make stations safer by asking people their names to write on the ticket, we could have unreserved carriages for people with open tickets and travelling by train could be a smoother process. Delays and platform alterations are bound to happen when you’re only travelling a short distance and signals, bridges and weather affects the times of trains, so not everything can be avoided.
I just feel sorry for those Chinese people who are used to travelling by high speed train, who come to the UK and have no idea what to do at the train station, because there’s so much chaos in their eyes.
When I go to a specialist hair shop in the UK – you those ones with all the wigs in the window, I am taken aback. There are hundreds and hundreds of products for people with black or caribbean hair. There is much more than what you’ll find in Boots (and it’s cheaper too).
Usually, I try to go in and find something new or good for my hair, but I have no idea where to go. Me and my sisters all have different types of hair, and I have never learnt how best to manage it. These shops are usually not staffed with helpful assistants (like Boots is), where people who have thick locks of curly hair can tell you what does and doesn’t work for them. Normally, there is a man behind the counter who doesn’t have much hair at all – maybe I should consider cutting it all off and buying a wig for £14.99 does often go through my head, but I know that my curly hair is really a blessing and there are so many people who are jealous of my hair, or would go into a hair salon asking to have curls like mine that would only last for a couple of days.
Back to these shops…Shea butter, cocoa butter I’ve heard of, but hair cream, hair mayonnaise, hair custard…what are they for? What do they do? Are they really for putting on your hair or can you eat them too? Cos it’s not always clear to me!
I’ve tried plenty of hair products from different brands and some of them leave my hair greasy, some of them leave bits in my hair (was probably supposed to wash it out after a day but of course the bottle never tells you that), and some of them really aren’t as tangle taming as they make out to be.
If you know me personally, you will know about my hair, and only in the past couple of years have I become more confident about wearing it out (yes out…my hair doesn’t go down, it just goes out) in public. Before I would always tie it up. Now I wear it out more often, I do wish to find products that will keep it moisturised, easy to handle and smelling good without grease or slime!
I am going to have to try to find a blogger on the internet with hair like mine and see what advice they have, because going into those shops and being confronted with too many choices is just too overbearing!
I bought a rice cooker a couple of months ago and it is the best investment I have made in a while. In my new flat, I have an electric hob, and well, we all know how difficult it is to cook rice well on a gas hob without having the rice sticking to the pan or burning…let alone on an electric one where it’s harder to control the temperature.
The one I bought also has a steaming tray, so it is already multifunctional in that sense, but last week I used it to cook something even better!
My friend came over, we made Chinese hotpot in the rice cooker and it was such a good meal. The paste was £1.50 from a Chinese supermarket and all we really had to do was chop the vegetables (we had a meat-free hotpot).
Hotpot is a real winter staple in China, and it’s different from a normal soup. Using chopsticks, you cook your own food in the pot bit by bit. There are things like potatoes and tofu which kind of fall to the bottom and are difficult to grab again, and broccoli and sweetcorn that float on the top. Once your pieces are ready, you can eat them straight from the main pot, or leave them to cool a little bit in your own personal bowl. Typically, in Chinese restaurants there are various bits and pieces you can mix together to create your own sauce – my favourite being peanut sauce, sesame oil and garlic.
It’s spicy, warm, filling and all done in my new favourite machine – the rice cooker. It’s now going to be a staple piece of equipment for my home.
I’m proud to be British. At the same time, I’m very proud to be an international, global citizen. Lately I have found some people, (or maybe it’s British society itself?) that have an issue with these two words. They believe you must be one or the other – a Brit or a foreigner…you can’t be both.
I work with international students, and host events for international students. This in no way means I exclude all home students and British students from events. Once at a party, the bouncer tried to turn away a group of British people who had come with their Spanish friends, saying that this was an event for ‘international people only’. I know as a nation we voted for Brexit, but in no way do I see the word ‘international’ as an antonym to ‘British, English, local’ etc. How could he possibly turn people away from not being international enough?
I once went to a ‘Global Lounge’ at a church and although they didn’t turn me away, they certainly made me feel very unwelcome for trying to attend a ‘global’ event as a British person. They told me normal services are on Sundays, and this event wasn’t really designed with British people in mind. It was all very ironic, given that my first real contact and participation in a church was when I was living abroad, and I had never really read any Bible verses in English at that point. Why did they want to discourage someone who had only read and heard the Bible in Spanish from a ‘global lounge’? It really surprised me and I never went back there, not even on a Sunday for ‘normal service’, I was so disheartened.
When people ask me where I’m from, I have a similar issue…my passport is British, but over the past 6 years, I have spent almost half of that time out of the country, speaking totally different languages and spending a lot of time actively trying to avoid contact with the Brits (sorry).
And when I do tell people I’m British they say in shock ‘really?? but where are you really from? you don’t look 100% British’ and all the rest of those questions that make words like ‘quarter, half, hybrid, fully’ come up. Sometimes it’s a cultural thing, in Chinese the dictionary definition of 混血 is given as hybrid, but come on, which mixed race person would ever call themself a hybrid?
Through socialising in the international crowd, I have discovered that asking ‘where are you from?’ is actually a really insensitive way to start a conversation with someone. It’s too generic and as someone who is asked this question a LOT, you never know if the person is asking
in which city were you born?
where did you spend your childhood?
which city have you spent most time living in?
what passport do you have?
which country do you feel most at home in?
where do your parents live?
where did your grandparents live?
I have met people who for each of the above questions could answer with a different city or country.
We live in an ever more intercultural and diverse world, so British people, I urge you… drop the British label, think bigger. Learn a language, watch a foreign film, do something to make yourself not only proud to be British, but proud to be a citizen of the world.
When you get a delivery of something larger than your letterbox, it’s a pain. Our system is outdated and very inconvenient, as I have found in the past few weeks.
I live in a house that’s divided into 5 separate flats, but the buzzers and doorbells don’t work to any of our flats, so when the postman comes and rings the doorbell, nobody hears it. Sometimes I’ve heard people knocking loudly at the front door, but that’s only if I’ve got no music on and usually they don’t knock, despite all the notes left on the door.
So they can’t make the delivery…I don’t know if it’s a local system, or a general UK one, but our parcels never go to the neighbours house, we always get a red slip through the letterbox, saying our parcel will be ready to collect from the nearest sorting office from the next day.
It happened to me last week that my colleague sent some tickets by guaranteed delivery, I was in all day, and expecting the mail, but didn’t hear the doorbell, when I went to check the post at 12pm, I saw that familiar red card that said the postman had called just 15 mins ago, and I had missed it. Although my tickets were here in Nottingham, I still had to wait another day to go and collect them… to add insult to injury , the delivery office that parcels are sent to is 4 miles away.
Then when you get there, you can’t even collect parcels for other people in the same building…it really is problematic!
Now take China, where online shopping and e-commerce has boomed in the past 3 years. You order something online and most of the time, they won’t even attempt to deliver it to your door. They will leave it in a secure box within 200m of your house, and then text you the password to go and open that box and collect the parcel whenever you’re ready. Or they will leave it at a local store, whether it’s a supermarket, a hairdresser, an electronics store…just whatever is on your road. Again, you’ll get a text telling you where it is, then you go to the place, tell the person your name, phone number’s last 4 digits and address and you can pick up your parcel like that… no ID, no fuss, no driving and you can collect parcels for your friends too.
I much prefer the Chinese system, even if sometimes boxes and parcels are left out on the street, or it takes you 20 mins to decode the text and figure out where your parcel actually is, it’s much more convenient than having to go at a certain time to the office which is miles away the day after you had a failed delivery.