The Old London Tube

I was in London last week, for the first time in five years, would you believe? And I couldn’t get over how old the tube was. Of course, I was comparing it to the modern subway systems of Hangzhou, Shanghai and Chongqing.

Shanghai’s metro lines are ever expanding, and when I was there last year, the new Disneyland metro station was one of the newest stations, but I imagine that more stations will have been opened since last May when the park opened.

The subway systems in China are (in most cities) very modern and high-tech. Some have recycling machines that give you credit for your travelcard, most have moving adverts along the inside of the tunnel, and they all have voice announcements in English and Mandarin telling you what stop is next and to be careful with your bags.

In London, there are no x-ray machines before putting your ticket in the barrier and there are no tv screens on the platforms that with video adverts or news on, as well as the information of when the next trains are coming. The whole experience in London was totally alien, comparing it to the Chinese one, where the platforms have glass doors between you and the tracks. This is a safety feature, but it’s also good, as above the windows there are tube maps so you can plan your route, and you know where the tube will stop and which way the tube is going, in London I relied on my friends to know if we were going the right way or not.

The London underground is very much underground, you lose service on your phone when you’re on the tube and there’s also a distinctive earthy smell to the underground that isn’t very pleasant. There aren’t any fans in summer, making it hot and sticky either. It’s a good way to get around the capital, and especially with Oyster visitor cards that cap spending to £6.50 per day for people who don’t visit very often, but it’s not exactly a pleasant or efficient se ice, when I compare it with metro systems in China.

Gifts to send abroad

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

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.

Cosmetics

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.

Teaching aids

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!

Chinese vs British trains

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.

Best Places in Chongqing

Chongqing is a massive sprawling city in the west of China. I spent a month living there during winter holidays and here are my highlights.

Eling park 鹅岭公园

This park is not one for you if you’re unfit, there are a lot of hills, climbing and steps, but that means that when you get up to the park, you get amazing views of the city and two rivers (Jialing and the Yangtze). There’s a tower in the middle of the park, which costs 5rmb to go up and you can see even more of the city, unless pollution is high, like it was when I went. It’s a peaceful park and there is a big tea garden where you can get a cup of tea leaves and a huge flask of hot water, making for a bottomless cup of tea. I sat here for a while writing my diary. There were some noisy people with an electric keyboard, singing high pitched songs, but there were also people fishing nearby in a lake.

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Huahui park 花卉公园

I’ve already talked about this great park before, but I think it deserves another mention. It’s pretty, has plenty of activities for you to watch (and join in with!) such as KTV, karaoke, mahjong or just making chitchat with some grandads. There’s also some tea gardens here as well as a boating lake.

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Ciqikou 磁器口

This is an old style Chinese town, that is full of old style buildings, stairways and surprisingly still has an authentic feel, despite being quite touristy. I liked the narrow alleys and the flowery garlands were so cute, I had to get one. If you go right down to the bottom, there is a nice open area by the river, with plenty of food stands and coconut juice sellers as well as…tea gardens too yep! Do you see a theme here?

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Night time scenery on Line 2

The night time scenery in Chongqing is really amazing and my photos don’t do it justice at all. All the tall buildings have great displays and lights on them that are reflected in the rivers. If you take line 2 of the subway from Linjiangmen heading west, you will see amazing views on the right hand side. A lot of the subway is above ground, making it a very worthwhile 2rmb trip. You often find photographers with fancy tripods stood in some of the stations on this line, waiting for the perfect picture or making time lapses.

 

Thirty Two Photos

As I can only access Facebook through my phone I haven’t been able to upload any photos, so here are a few of my recent travels, enjoy!

Blossom The blossom in China was so beautiful, many different shades of white and pink.

Penglai Sunset I went to a town in the north of Shandong with some friends called Penglai. Here is a beautiful sunset we saw across the Yellow Sea and the ‘pier’ in the background is a scenic area dedicated to the Eight Immortals who crossed the sea here according to local legend.

Penglai Pavillion The Penglai pavillion was a scenic area filled with ancient temples, statues, character carvings. Being next to the sea made it very beautiful and the walls surrounding it made me think of the Great Wall (despite not having been there yet at that time).

Penglai Pagoda The pagodas around China are very nice, most are very tall with several layers. I really like the architecture and the design, but after a while they’re all a bit samey, as are the houses – red walls and a colourful roof.

Japanese Blossom In the main park in Qingdao for a couple of weeks the Japanese blossom came out. It was so pretty, delicate and white with a slight pink tinge. The whole park had these trees and it was much prettier than the last time I’d visited when the branches were bare and ugly.

Blossom on Campus Even our university campus is full of blossom trees, the campus is very beautiful and sometimes I forget I’m living in a very polluted city.

Zhongshan Park Here is the main park in Qingdao again, I like this photo as you can see Chinese people just sat down relaxing under the beauty of the tree, unaware of me taking a photo #sneaky.

Flasks The Chinese students don’t have hot water (a daily essential) in their dormitories. They drink hot water as in traditional Chinese medicine, drinking cold or even cool water is deemed unhealthy for women. As there are no kettles or hot water stations in their dorms, there are often places like this on campus where students leave their flasks on their way to class, then when they come back they will fill it up and return to their dorm.

People Mountain People Sea In China there’s a saying 人山人海 it means a sea of people, but the literal translation is ‘people mountain people sea’ and in this picture you can see that on this mountain there really was a sea of people! It’s Taishan 泰山, one of the tallest in China, besides the Himalayas. It’s in Shandong province and it’s a really beautiful place, definitely worth a visit. The scenery was so peaceful despite being surrounded by so many people.

Buddism There’s a lot of Buddhism in China and Taishan is rumoured to be one of the places where Buddhism was discovered/brought to China. Here I am in a relaxed ‘Buddhist’ pose whilst my Chinese friend was worrying that I’d fall off the edge.

Taishan The rocks, the trees, the air and the misty fog/pollution (you can never be sure what’s in the air, but it always seems to be grey!) all made the mountain very mysterious and enchanting. There was a Jade Empress temple at the summit as well as a four star hotel for people who wanted to stay the night in luxury before seeing the sunrise. For those who don’t have the money for a four star hotel, many people climb the mountain with tents and camp out before waking up early to see the sunrise.

Thousand Buddha Mountain The Chinese word for mountain 山 is used to describe anything from a great mountain like Taishan to a small incline on the street or a little hill. The Thousand Buddha Mountain 千佛山 was a park with a big hill. It had many Buddhas in it as well as many tourists. From the top of the hill you had a lovely view of the whole of Jinan (capital of Shandong and sister city to Coventry) and in the very far distance you could also see a glimmer of the Yellow River. Instead of climbing down the hill, we took the slide…yes the mountain had a slide with metal bobsleigh type metal cars, it was fun.

Bluest Sky in China! This was taken in the main square of Jinan, it’s the bluest I’ve ever seen the sky in China. The blue spikes of the monument in the middle represent water as Jinan has many springs and nobody really knew what the silver ball in the middle was meant to be, the world maybe?

Touch a Statue, Achieve Greatness This is a statue of a famous female poet from one of China’s dynasties. My friend told me as a child his parents brought him here to the corridor of statues of great people. If you touched the statues then one day you could achieve their greatness. I chose to touch the poet as I like writing and also because she was the only female there – girl power!

Chinese Dumplings Chinese dumplings are eaten mainly during Chinese new year, you can buy frozen ones but it’s very common to make them yourself. The stuffing of these was pork and Chinese chives. You wrap some of the stuffing into a circular thin piece of dough, then squeeze the edges together tightly because if it bursts in the water you can’t eat it! Mine are the uglier looking ones, it was my first time!

 

University Watchmen

The university have many watchmen on site, but they don’t do a lot of watching in my opinion. They’re usually Grandad aged men who stay in buildings maybe to raise the alarm if there’s a fire, I’m not sure. There are three  in my building who take shifts, the musician one, the nione and the scary one. I think they’re lucky as at least they get interaction, this watch station in the photo is by one of the pedestrian gates and I think it would be very lonely. There are TVs and a bed though, a lot of the time they are sleeping. When I arrived at midnight on my first ever night I woke up five of these watchmen trying to find my dormitory building, some pointed me in the wrong direction, I couldn’t understand any of them and one started shouting at me and pointing at his watch.

Park selfie

 

There are many nice parks in China, with boating lakes, beautiful trees, open spaces and ancient style architecture. China is so big that they have a lot of space for big parks, man-made lakes, huge squares etc. This park was in Beijing, me and my friend sat on the grass next to the boating lake. As some of the Chinese people rode/sailed? past us in the boats, either the parents would tell the children to smile at the foreigners, or the children would point us out to their parents. Foreigners are still quite foreign in China and we’re a spectacle.

 

Pagoda Ceiling

The pagodas that are in the parks I mentioned are always very intricately decorated, especially the ceilings. I have a feeling they decorate it to represent the heavens but that’s just a guess, maybe it’s an optical illusion.

Temple of Heaven

 

This is at the Temple of Heaven in Beijing, the shapes of the buildings here are all round as Chinese ancient legends/beliefs are that circular things are found in heaven and square things are on earth. It was very nice this place, there weren’t too many people and there was lots of open space.

Qianmen Street

Our hostel was near Qianmen, a long pedestrianised shopping street with a tram. I like the gateways in China, even though the street is just for shopping, the gate makes it feel grander. The stone building in the background is, actually I’m not sure, maybe it’s something to do with Mao, maybe it’s an old city wall. I never asked.

Flower Architecture

On the buildings in the Forbidden city there was amazing designs and patterns, even simple things like this coloured flower I found really beautiful.

Forbidden City Theatre

In ancient times the emperors liked their theatre and this is an example of the private theatre. It was complete with pulley ropes, trapdoors and underneath the stage was water, I think the water was to amplify the music/actors voices, I’m not sure as our guide was speaking Chinese and I wasn’t paying much attention. I found it very interesting though how there was even a theatre in the depths of the Forbidden city (which is huge by the way).

Visor Selfie

As Chinese people like to take pictures of foreigners (often without asking) me and Faith invested in these hats, you can lift the visor up and it’s a normal sun hat but you can also pull it down and look like a welder. It’s very reflective so nobody can see in but we could see out. This is a visor selfie on the Great Wall.

Great Wall Aldake

This is for my Aldake teammates in La Palma, Spain. My previous running group asked me to take their club t-shirt with me to the Great Wall and I did. I was planning to run a half marathon on the great wall, but as it was aimed at tourists you could only buy a package deal which included tourism in and around Beijing for three or four days for about £800 and I was no way going to spend that much.

Foot Massage Parlour

This is the ‘Olympic foot massage parlour’ mentioned in my previous post where I got a really amazing foot massage but an equally scary palm reading. The tour guide told us that in 2008 all the athletes came here after their races to relax, I wonder if Usain Bolt got the same treatment as I did after he broke the world record.

Water Cube

As I mentioned before, heavenly things are circular and earthly things are square, which is why the 2008 Olympic Games water cube is square shaped…do you understand? Because I don’t. Even so, it is now a public swimming pool and I’m a little, actually extremely, disappointed I didn’t get to swim where Phelps won those eight amazing golds. If I go back to Beijing I will definitely take my swimming costume and goggles and go for a swim.

Dragons on the Corner

On the corners of ancient Chinese buildings there are always dragon heads, normally nine, I think it is because there are nine legendary dragons. The one right at the corner of the building always has a little man riding a dragon but I have no idea why, it’s all very interesting and so different to Europe where old Gothic churches have gargoyles or angels on the walls.

Hardest Character Ever

 

This has to be the hardest character to write ever. The pronunciation is biang and it’s a noodle dish famous in Xi’an. I never got the opportunity to try it but I have tried writing it and have failed every time.

 

Chinese Gate

This is another one of the big grand Chinese gates/archways? that I like so much, the red pillars, blue and green backgrounds and then gold writing. On these types of structures you read from right to left…if you can read the writing – it’s usually in traditional (rather than simplified characters) and the ‘font’ is difficult for me to understand.

Terracotta Army

 

The Terracotta Warriors was a bit of a disappointment for me. Many of the warriors haven’t been dug up yet because they’re trying to discover a way to preserve the colours that the guards armour is, when they expose the statues to air they discolour and turn brown within minutes. Like here, some of the statues are missing heads and it’s a little creepy. Also I didn’t like how all of the faces were different. If they were all the same it would have made them feel like just some statues, but the individual facial features makes them seem like real people preserved in stone.

 

Dead Warriors

Then there were the broken ones, just discarded like cadavers from a war zone. Despite the history being very interesting – China’s first emperor (209 BC over 2200 years ago!) had the statues carved and buried with him to protect him in the afterlife. There were archers, generals and even horses carved out. This wasn’t documented so nobody knew it even existed until the 70’s.

 

Xi'an Bell Tower

I was going to finish with the Terracotta Army pictures but I think they’re a little grim so here’s an old bell of the Bell Tower in Xi’an. I can read a few of these characters but don’t know what it says. They now only ring it a few times a day and I doubt it can be heard very far away as the Bell Tower is in the middle of a big busy roundabout in the centre of Xi’an.

 

That’s all now, hope you liked my photos.

 

Disclaimer: all photos used are my own and I do not give permission for them to be reproduced on other websites.

The Trouble With Keeping a Diary

I’ve kept a few diaries whilst I’ve been abroad, starting in Chile. I found it a good way to de-stress at the end of the day and spend some time in my own little world after being surrounded by people all day at school or in the internado. I could lie down, snuggled up in the covers, change my handwriting on every page and write about the mundane things that happened on that day. I started my current diary in India…two weeks after I’d arrived. somehow I always manage to start my diary a good few weeks after I arrive in a new place, it’s never on the first day.

Now I’m in the long process of catching up on my year abroad diary. I’m still six weeks behind and it’s really frustrating at times, well all the time, especially as some of my daily notes to help me remember what I did on those days are more like clues that I have to decipher for example:

  • wup early do nada 11 go bus DESTINATION UNKNOWN. park kites field marriage corn. cute girls are u foreign? bus windy chicken on stick. squat toilet. chill chat
  • holiday. Matilda, dye, yoghurt, blossom, spring
  • write essay for AA* think about life choices, no decision made.

Whereas before in Chile, my diary was a type of escapism now it’s a little like a chore. I have a lot of free time in the afternoons at university in China and I normally spend this time alone doing homework, watching TV or “sorting out my life”. I’m never that motivated to write my diary as I already have a lot of time by myself and although when I start to write I enjoy it, finding the motivation to get started is difficult.

Do you have any ideas on what can motivate me to write on a daily basis? I am determined to keep up with my diary as I don’t know when I’ll next be in China. Some things that have happened here also have to be documented somewhere as they have been outrageously funny, strange or cute. It might sound silly, but I think when learning languages it’s really important to keep up with your mother language. I can now write passages in Chinese about things that have happened to me but I don’t want to forget my English grammar.

Maybe being constantly six-seven weeks behind is holding me back. Right now I have 70 days of life to write up and leaflets, receipts and tickets to stick into my diary. If I sit down for an hour to write, I can normally write two or three days worth of entries but then I don’t write again for another four days, setting me back again. 

It’s not really writer’s block as all I have to write is what I did/saw/experienced on that day, which I all have in note form. I have the inspiration, the facts, the memories, the paper and the different coloured pens. The trouble with keeping a diary? It’s the writing part. 

*AA stands for Advantage Award, an extra module I’m taking at university, not Alcoholics Anonymous

Things to do on a megabus

Us students love cheap travel and megabus is brilliant for that. I’m currently on a £3 bus from Coventry to Manchester. So here is a list of things you can do to pass the time on a megabus (or any other bus company).

* Read a book/magazine
* Eat (don’t drink though as bus toilets are never nice)
* Facebook/ twitter/ snapchat etc (megabus has free wifi and plug sockets which is perfect for phones and tablets)
* Enjoy the views of British countryside
* Look out for different farm animals, extra cute points if you spot llamas or baby animals
* Wave to lorry drivers
* Sleep!!
* Listen to music
* Study (I spent 30mins practicing Chinese characters)
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* Chat on the phone (everybody will listen to you though)
* Chat to the hotty you’re sitting next to
* Contemplate how they make profits with such cheap fares (what’s the catch?)
* Fidget to try find a comfy position
* Update your blog 😉

Any other suggestions? Comment below!