Saturday, 8 October 2011

The Chumbawamba Challenge Game

1. You drink a whiskey drink
2. You drink a vodka drink
3. You drink a lager drink
4. You drink a cider drink

You sing the song that remind you of the good times
You sing the songs that remind you of the better times

*repeat ad nauseam*

You heard it here first, ladies and gentlemen!

Saturday, 17 September 2011

Night Life

I am on a 43 bus from London Bridge (Monument, in fact) going to Holloway to change for the N29. I've already travelled about a half hour on the 133. I figured, given some past experience falling asleep on night busses, it would be prudent to write a blog post - mainly as a means of keeping myself awake, so that I don't fall asleep and wake up in Friern Barnet!

Photo found here - thanks!

I was mistaken in my belief that the 141 bus was a 24-hour service.

I should have just stayed in Brixton.

When I travel through London on night buses, by myself, I'm always battling a deeply-hidden "desire" to explore the streets of London, on foot, at night. The 133 took me over London Bridge, from which I gazed in wonder and awe at Tower Bridge and picked out other London landmarks on the horizon.

Tonight I am lucky that I haven't lost any of my possessions. In fact, I am travelling home wearing someone else's jacket (which has a lovely sea shell in the left side pocket), and my favourite blue jumper draped across my shoulders - a jumper which, a mere two hours ago, I had fancied lost in the night, in a dingy, badly-lit pub in Brixton.

Unrelated to all of this, in 3 days I officially will become a student - again!

I seem to recall writing a blog post, maybe 18 months ago, lamenting the fact that I probably wouldn't be able to take on Masters course in an exceptionally long amount of time - mainly due to the high price of tuition fees - but I suspect also because I did not hold out much hope for being accepted onto a course given my 2:ii ranking at BSc-level. I have been fortunate enough to stumble upon a brilliant employer and a brilliant opportunity which has blown all this out the window.

So, what do I know about Economics? Admittedly, at 5am on a Saturday morning - probably not a lot!

Tell you what though, I'm pretty sure I'm contributing to every single globalisation stereotype you can think of, having just got myself a pancake & tea breakfast from McDonalds!

Thursday, 8 September 2011

Magic Moments

I thought I'd share the following story because god knows we could all do with a laugh from time to time. 

Last Thursday I got up and started getting ready for work...unfortunately, it wasn't one of my more leisurely starts, but those are few and far between anyway that I hardly even notice any more. I brushed my teeth, got dressed, packed my bag, probably spent ten minutes fretting that I only had ten minutes left before I had to leave, and then subsequently left ten minutes after that. Walked down the road to the tube station, changed at Finsbury Park, got the Victoria line from there all the way down to Vauxhall and, as I was getting off the tube, swung my bag onto my shoulder thinking I'd seen something dart across the carriage from the corner of my eye - but dismissed it merely as an optical illusion, and went up the escalators to the railway bit of Vauxhall station. 

I got the distinct impression that there were more pairs of eyes on me than usual, but I assumed it was me just being more observant or slightly more awake, so took no notice.

Feeling pretty pleased with myself for being a good eight minutes early for my train, I decided to go and get some cash out, but started getting really confused because they seem to have moved the cash machines from where they used to be located. So I went over to a row of seats to get my purse out of my bag, swung my rucksack over my shoulder and - OHMYGOD - stood there in silent mortification having realised that I'd had a bra dangling from my bag straps for the entire length of my journey into work thus far. Literally, from north to south London. 

Needless to say I've kept my room far tidier in the last week.

Sunday, 7 August 2011

Wood Green Looting

Coming home to Wood Green in the early hours of the morning is rarely dull. There's always a flurry of activity on the main road: kebab shops serving food 'til all are fed, Mr Bagels providing bagels 24 hours a day, the random club on the high street that people still seem to be queuing for at 4am... One might think the constant bustle would be intimidating, but I've rarely felt safer wondering the streets of London at night as I have done during the last 12 months, where I've lived on a road just off Wood Green High Street. Far from finding other people's presence alarming, I tend to think I'm far less likely to be unpleasantly accosted while there's still life on the streets. 

Yesterday afternoon, perhaps 10 hours before all the reported (and unreported?) looting had taken place, I walked out of the back of the Morrisons store to the sound of the Banjo Busker Man - a somewhat regular feature during weekend shopping trips - playing Pretty Woman, his banjo bag a collection of tips, his demeanour clearly reflecting his desire to offer nothing more than some simple musical pleasures to passers-by. I found myself feeling an almost anticipatory sense of nostalgia at the thought of my impending move away from Wood Green, and away from all the weird and wonderful people that shape this community - from the Banjo Busker Man, to the man who stands outside Morrisons talking to everyone as they pass by, and the guy with the crazy eyes who always asks me if I "have any spare change, brother?", the whole hordes of unrelenting charity volunteers with their collection buckets [some of which I'm not quite convinced are actually working on behalf of a registered charity!] and, of course, the countless mothers and their children who try to convince me every week with brightly -coloured leaflets that the God-shaped hole in my life - which apparently I've been trying to fill with sex, drugs & money - can only be filled by God and his love.

Tonight, as I reflect on the last 24 hours and listen to the screaming sirens of what I assume to be the police on their way to Enfield, I mourn for this community and for the damage that last night’s looting of the High Street has done. The smashed shop windows will be fixed, and new stock will again sit on the shelves of Argos and JD Sports, but people in Wood Green are largely shocked and hurt that this has happened on their doorstep. The lootings of retailers like HMV may be understandable in terms of the high price of items on sale, but mindless smashing of places like Brook Street recruitment agency and Vision Express is something altogether different. Amongst the various independent shops that were hit, the worst-off ones were those selling suitcases - since looters were more than happy to use these cases to cart their stuff to and from their parked cars. The road that I live on was basically a car park for looters all through the night, and even into the morning. I spoke to the neighbours at 6am, whilst two helicopters circled overhead, and a guy in his 20s walked past looking right at us, carrying two skateboards under each arm. Some looters had obviously made multiple trips to and from the shops, and then subsequently to and from wherever they were dropping off their goods.

There is widespread condemnation of Saturday night’s looting and rioting - and rightly so. But I can’t help but wonder how many steps away I or one of my friends could be from indulging in that behaviour. If I didn’t have a job, and if I hadn’t gone to university or a decent school, if I wasn’t brought up with a set of boundaries and a level of respect for others around me, perhaps it would be a different story and perhaps I wouldn’t think it such a big deal to wander off the street into a newly-broken shop window and walk out with an Xbox. It’s easy to sit here and think to myself that I don’t have the capacity for such destruction, and it’s easy to paint the looters and rioters in a demonic light, but I really struggle to believe that everyone who walked away with a pair of trainers from JD Sports is an evil person. Many people believe that the actions of the rioters and looters are not representative of the hard-working individuals and businesses that form the fabric of our communities. And whilst that is invariably true, it is equally true to say that the troublemakers themselves are also part of our communities and wander down the same streets that we do.

Far from wishing to sound empathetic, I’m only trying to make the point that there are obviously some very disenfranchised people in our communities. I recognise that the looting and rioting of this weekend is in no way some significant response to actual political issues, but surely rather than calling for the ‘scum of the earth to be shot’ (or some other similar phraseology that some Tweeters are employing), we should be focusing on rebuilding our communities and working out how to better integrate those who feel themselves standing on the edges. If it’s true that some of the looters were as young as seven [apologies to a link from The Sun, but scroll down half a page to just above the picture of Comet], then maybe we really do have some deeper issue on our hands.

As a closing note, I’d just like to add that I’m finding politicians’ reactions to this weekend particularly irksome. Kit Malthouse (London’s deputy mayor) seriously thinking that Boris’ coming back from holiday would somehow legitimise the disturbances and be “kind of rewarding” to the criminals says more about how out of touch he (and Boris) is(/are) with Londoners than anything else.

The Guardian has a great live feed about current goings-on here.

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Glastonbury 2011

Now that the dust has settled back onto my wellies for another couple of years, and I have finally managed to finish hydrating myself, let me just say that Glastonbury Festival 2011 was probably one of the best experiences of my life!

To be fair, I had two hopes for this year - 1) that no one would die and 2) that I wouldn't (accidentally) smoke a crack pipe. Neither of those things happened so, just by virtue of their absence, this turned out to be a pretty good week!

Unlike (Glasto and non-Glasto) festivals of previous years, I had no real agenda of bands to watch or things to see. I was quite keen to catch a bit of U2 and Beyonce, and I would've gone to see Coldplay too if I hadn't been on shift, but the music this year didn't appeal to me as it had done before. (Ray Davies are you reading this, please come back for 2013!) In any case, come Friday night I was roaming round the Pyramid stage crowds trying to find my friend before U2 so that I had someone to lean on in my drunken stupor. I seem to recall going to and from the 'cider bus' carrying pints of a delicious hot and spiced refreshing beverage and being positively overjoyed upon seeing a sign that said 'Baby Spice - hot cider + shot of Brandy £4.50'. I couldn't at the time understand why they were calling it Baby Spice, but thinking back, I think the sign had two more Spice Girls' nicknames on it and two other shots of liquor... No, I'm still failing to make the 'Spice Girls + Spiced Cider' connection.

So, due to my inebriation for U2's performance, coupled with the fact that I left about a half hour before their set ended, I cannot possibly provide a critique of their performance. I think, standing in the rain with a belly full of warmth next to my friend on one side and a really hot (Jake Gyllenhaal-lookalike) guy on the other, mixing lyrics up at the tops of our voices, was probably the best way to have spent that Friday night. Without it, I probably would not have been able to get through the mammoth 1am-6am stewarding shift...I spent most of those 5 hours shivering and spotting smokers lighting up in the 'bar' we'd been assigned to, and asking them to leave the comforting cover of the gazebo and please stand outside, since this was a no smoking area, even though it was covered on top, because the sides were open. It was a bit like Minority Report, only I didn't make any arrests - but I did time my walk over to the perpetrators for precisely the right moment when they'd just lit their cigarette and were taking the first drag. That is some mad skillz, right there!

The stewarding was mostly uneventful ... in fact, one of the more entertaining aspects of the shifts was talking to one of the security guys who, as I put it at the time, was probably one of those people who 'hadn't quite evolved with the rest of the human race yet'. A bit harsh, perhaps, but here are some snippets of conversation:

Security Guard 1: Are you religion?
Security Guard 2: ...what?
Security Guard 1: Are you religion?
Security Guard 2: ...I am religious, yes. I am Christian.
Security Guard 1: Oh. Are you religion?
Me: Am I religious? No, not really.
Security Guard 1: What, never?!
Me: Well, my grandma's Catholic, does that count?
Security Guard 1: What type of Catholic? There's different types, ain't there... Catholic... Roman Catholic... Help me out, man!

No smoking!
And the classic

Security Guard 1: Where are you from, then?
Me: London
Security Guard 1: Your name though, that's not English.
Me: No, suppose not. I'm from Croatia.
Security Guard 1: Oh. Close to Brazil, innit.
Me: What is?
Security Guard 1: Your place. Costa Rica.
Me: No, Croatia - that's in Europe.
Security Guard 1: Same thing.

One does wholeheartedly despair, sometimes.

One did not, however, wholeheartedly despair at Beyonce's performance. She closed off the whole thing on Sunday as the headline act - the first female headliner in 40 years! I find that a little shocking! Starting off strong with Crazy In Love and Single Ladies (Put A Ring On It), the crowd were absolutely loving it! Upbeat, fun, firey (very literally, there were a lot of pyrotechnics set up on that stage - at one point the fireworks cleared and there was just a whole heap of smoke rising into the air that I did for a split second think something had caught fire). However, the middle section dragged on a bit, from where she sang Happy Birthday to her friend Steve (who's Steve anyway? What kind of a name is Steve?) and two relatively unknown numbers - Best Thing I Never Had and End Of Time, and the crowd did start getting a bit edgy. If I Were A Boy and Sweet Dreams provided a sort of temporary pacifier, but she lost us again after that and didn't fully command our attention until Irreplaceable and the subsequent Destiny's Child medley. Her performance would only be called 'solid' were she performing to a crowd of Beyonce Knowles fans who had turned out specifically to watch her in concert, but the majority of revelers at the Pyramid stage that night weren't die-hard Beyonce fans, and I think she failed to pick up on that fact, that not everyone would know every line to every song. It was, in essence, what one of my friends called 'over-indulgent in the American sense', and I did have a bit of a chuckle when B pronounced disbelief at playing to a crowd of 170,000 people - 'Er, love, they're not all here to see you, you know, some have gone to Queens of the Stone Age!' I don't think she heard me.

Having said that, maybe next time she's touring I may well be tempted to learn all her lyrics and go watch her down at the O2 because she really does put on a good show...but I'd also expect her to sing a fucking swear word if it's in the song she's performing (/written?!) - or otherwise not do it at all! I've spent an hour trying to work out which of the songs she sang had the word 'motherfucker' in it, because I found it really annoying that she would only say 'mother-----'. You can only go two ways on this really, you either use swear words or you don't. And if you do, then you have to actually sing them! Unless it's pre-watershed - but Glastonbury Festival is definitely a post-watershed type establishment, no wimping out of cursing here please! We are not a Presbyterian parish!

It's taken me two hours to write up this review, and I hardly feel like I've shared anything... which is probably just as well, because the residing motto - as discussed and agreed in the minibus back - of 2011 is: what happens at Glastonbury, stays at Glastonbury.

Testing, Part 2

Go on then, have an image.

Testing, testing

I'm just doing some experimental blogging using my iPhone - emailing my blogger 'Email Posting Address' from my normal email - as apparently this feeds right into my blog!

Monday, 4 July 2011

Waterloo Station

It's a Monday morning and what that typically means is that I'm on my way to work via Waterloo station.

There's nothing strange about that in itself - I do the Wood Green - Waterloo - Feltham thing at least once or twice a week, it's basically the only time I get any reading done.

What does amaze me, every time, is the particular smell Waterloo station has - specifically, the smell as one goes through the ticket barriers and through the ticket hall and up the stairs to the train platforms. It is so unique and hits you just as you set foot on the escalators. I wouldn't go so far as to call it acrid, but an increase in strength of about 35% would definitely put it into that boundary.
Waterloo escalator (from here - thank you!)

The only way I can think to describe it is by likening it to the smell one might get if one cooked a kilo of dust in a steamer per person to go through Waterloo, then sprinkled it with a generous helping of iron filings, and added some essence l'aluminium to boot.

It saddens me to think that the benefits I've gleamed through (just about) giving up smoking are probably outweighed by passing through Waterloo station a couple of times a week.

Friday, 15 April 2011

Pretty in Pink

The inner 80s child in me reckons this song should've got to the top of the charts and stayed there for multiple weeks.

The film of the same name, released in 1986, stars 80s teen movie queen Molly Ringwald.

That is all for now. I just wanted to share!

Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Wi-Fi (not) on the line?

So thanks to the fact that lately Twitter has been my major source of info anything-related, it's come to my attention that Transport for London are planning to introduce Wi-Fi services on the London Underground. All well and good, thanks very much. But, given that they're not going to be introducing it on the actual trains, does beg the question - why? If you're using the tube at rush hour, it's never more than 2-3min wait for the next train. How much googling/tweeting does one expect to do in that time..?

However, I acknowledge that it would be especially beneficial to have an outlet for commuters' anger when tubes are delayed/evacuated/too packed.

Though I'd also imagine that pretty soon they'd have to mock up some TfL advisory posters, along the lines of "I will not unwittingly hit into people in stations and on platforms while I've my nose buried in my Wi-Fi enabled device."

(Photo found here - thank you!)

Sunday, 6 March 2011

Four weeks with...China! [Part 1]

Given the fact that I've not blogged since returning from China, you'd be forgiven for thinking I was still on that train from Weihai to Beijing. Alas, my oriental adventure is over and I am back to all the things that I left behind.

My last week in China was mainly spent in true tourist style, ambling round places like the Forbidden City, the Summer Palace and the Temple of Heaven, in complete wonder and awe at these magnificent structures and their painstakingly detailed features (taking a total of 204 photos in 5 days). I don't think my descriptions of these places would do them justice, but there was a distinct sense of grandeur about all of them that I've never quite come across before.

The Hall of Supreme Harmony
The Forbidden City is right in the heart of Beijing, just behind Tienanmen Square, and a portrait of Chairman Mao welcomes you in if you're entering from the south side. It's basically a city within a city - a moat and walls enclose it from all sides - and it was the home of Chinese emperors for almost 500 years. It's comprised of various ceremonial buildings, officials' quarters, the Imperial Garden, and even a concubines' courtyard. I was pretty determined to walk round the whole thing and I spent a good five hours in there, but I'm still convinced there was more to be seen.

White Dagoba

A short walk from the north side of the Forbidden City is Beihai Park; (I assume) it's most famous for the White Dagoba, a Buddhist temple, which has been built on the highest point of the island in the lake (which covers more than half of the park). There were still lots of decorations up in the park marking the 15-odd days of the Spring Festival. It was a fairly tricky walk up to the dagoba, the snow had left a treacherous layer of ice on many sets of stairs and during the descent I did wonder if I'd make it out the park alive...

Mounted speaker

...but I discovered a few days later that, actually, the Temple of Heaven was definitely the most dangerous of all the places I'd visited, since many of the stairs were made of marble and ended up being incredibly slippery in icy conditions. They'd been covered with a sort of string mesh to provide more grip but even this mesh ended up freezing itself into the ice, so I found myself silently praying to the gods of the Temple to allow me to live beyond that particular day.

Imperial Vault of Heaven
The Temple of Heaven is a collection of Taoist buildings, gates and temples mainly dedicated to prayer for good harvest. It's set in lush greenery and along the pathways there are mounted "speakers" playing quiet, tranquil music as you walk past. For me, the best thing about the Temple of Heaven was the Echo Wall, which surrounds the Imperial Vault of Heaven, and has the incredible feature of reflecting sound along its surface -someone stood speaking at one point along it can be heard by someone else stood at another point. I learnt a fair bit about Chinese music and instruments in the Music Administration Building, which is a fairly new addition of buildings, and I found the Palace of Abstinence - where the emperor would go to fast prior to a ceremony - particularly peaceful as no other visitors were around; it was a pleasant and welcome change.

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Wednesday 8th February, 9.15pm, Train from Weihai to Beijing

We've just set off on our train journey back to Beijing. By stark contrast to our first train journey, we have "soft bed" tickets and are sharing a compartment with a girl who is also going to Beijing. We should be arriving tomorrow around lunchtime... so in about 13 hours!

The five days we spent in Weihai were mainly marked by copious amounts of alcohol; the Chinese really know how to make an occasion of drinking! When with a group of people, toasts seem to be the customary way of drinking your beverage. When someone toasts to you, you down your drink. When you toast someone else, you also down your drink. When a general toast is made to everyone, you again down your drink. So it comes to pass that more often than not you end up with with some rather staggered walking and slurred speaking post- lunch and dinner.

As a consequence, I've spent three out of the last four mornings waking up at 6am with a parched throat and have had to (drunkenly) stumble round the flat to find some water.

Last week we spent Chinese New Year at Keer's grandparents' place in Zibo. Dinner was a family affair (+ me!) where I got to sample the delicacies of - amongst other things - sea cucumber (very rubbery), pig's skin, pig's face, duck's tongue (surprisingly boney), ... Chinese restaurants are great - in most you can get a private booth and often on the table is a massive disc on which the food dishes get put, and they everyone is free to spin the disc as necessary to help themselves to what they fancy. I think I prefer this way of dining out. You certainly get to indulge your tastebuds.
Year of the Rabbit - me and my zodiac sign

It's traditional to burn yellow tissue paper in remembrance of one's forefathers on NYE, and indeed you couldn't walk more than a few meters down the road without coming across someone's ancestral fire.

The live TV countdown was basically on for the whole of the day (and the night) and there were so many entertainers they could easily put anything on BGT to shame. That was quite interesting to watch, and although I couldn't tell anyone apart, Keer informed me there were lots of groups that were representing the various ethnic minorities in China.

For the last week there's not been a day or night go by where there haven't been some fireworks set off in our vicinity. I don't think they stopped at all on NYE, 'til about 6am on NYD. In fact, yesterday as Keer and I left the flat we managed to walk right into someone's firecrackers which predictably started exploding while we just stood there screaming from shock.

Keer and I have treated ourselves to body massages the last two days at this blind masseurs' place...except not all the masseurs are blind. I'm not sure how I feel about this massage business - it's rather painful and I wonder if the benefits truly outweigh the pain. My bones feel quite sore.

Monday, 7 February 2011

Monday 7th February, 10.15am, Weihai

I've woken up with a horrific hangover. It would be acceptable to sleep it off if we weren't about to go and meet Weihai's Mayor for lunch.

Engaging in "philosophical discourse"
Things I remember from last night:
- indulging in "philosophical discourse" with Keer's dad about the merits of philosophy, with particular focus on the German and Ancient Greek writers
- having an (allergic?) reaction to "rice wine" [though I have since found out it's not made from rice] - it felt like my throat was constricting every time I took a didn't put me off though (?!), until I was told my face and neck had gone particularly red
- eating delicious seafood hotpot (Weihai is on the coast)
- playing some particularly bad pool
- singing some particularly good karaoke
- dropping my contacts and their case on the floor in the bathroom and spending a quarter of an hour - in vain - trying to find them

Things I don't remember from last night:
- how I got to bed
- where I put my shoes
- what it is that I did that has resulted in my tongue feeling like it's been dipped in a bowl of boiling water

Monday, 31 January 2011

Monday 31st Jan, 3.30pm, Zibo

So, as it turns out, the “little town” of Zibo where Keer grew up has a population of five million – that’s the equivalent of the number of cars on the streets of Beijing. And the number of people in Croatia.

We are currently at Keer’s grandma’s next door neighbour’s house, on our second tutoring session with the 14-year-old girl who lives here. We’ve been asked to help for a couple of hours every day with English and Maths. Keer’s in charge of the English bit since she can explain all in Chinese. I’ve been helping with trigonometry; it’s comforting to think that, although I am 5000 miles from home, Maths is still a language I can communicate in.

Last night was our first proper night out in China. The hair dresser that we met on Saturday – who cut and dyed my hair for 80RMB – took us to meet his friends at a club night in the centre of Zibo. First impression of Chinese clubbing – much like my first impressions of everything in China so far – mental! The music was exceptionally loud, the lights were dancing as much as the clubbers, and the strobes showed no sign of letting up at any point in the night.

The most bizarre bit of the night’s proceedings was the “light entertainment” – some singing to Lady Gaga’s Pokerface by a club circuit singer, a guy who made balloon animals (!) and spun bowls and kettles filled with boiling water on various poles (including a spatula) resting on his face, and a man who practised Kung Fu, and spent five minutes straining the air from his lungs into a 10-meter fireman’s hose to blow up – and subsequently burst – a rubber glove at the other end. Then it was time for some audience participation and, predictably, Keer dragged me onto the stage to take part in a “gameshow” contest involving transporting ping-pong balls from one end of the stage to the other, using only straws and the principles of suction. My designated partner and I placed second, and I walked away with a giant teddy! 

Having danced ourselves silly we made our way to one of the other floors of this gigantic entertainment complex (which also housed pool tables, video games, and God knows what else besides) and spent a happy few hours singing along to favourite karaoke tunes. The boys we were with treated us to many Chinese classics, the five of them at various stages of their vocal development.

I’ve been making a mental note of the Chinese “adages” we’ve been privy to; a couple of my favourites –
[upon noticing the goldfish at the hairdressers’] “Goldfish are a sign of prosperity!”
[upon entering aforementioned neighbour’s house] “Fat faces bring fortune!” The neighbours were rather excited to see a white face – “This is too good!”. Wondering round the streets of Zibo is what I imagine it might be like to be a Z-list celebrity – people stare as you walk past, trying to figure out if their eyes are deceiving them, and at the same time wondering if such interest should genuinely be warranted.

Saturday, 29 January 2011

Saturday 29th Jan, 2.50am, Train from Beijing to Zibo

Four hours into our six-hour journey, we are sat next to the carriage door – me sharing our suitcase with a 20-year-old girl, and Keer on sitting opposite on someone’s duffel bag. Just as well, because the condensation on the bendy bit (where we’d been stood earlier), has rapidly been turning into ice – we are officially travelling on a train with an interior temperature below zero degrees. If I stare long enough at the ceiling, I may make out the change-of-state when the drips turn to stalactites.

The mood has become more jovial as everyone starts sharing cigarettes and realising- to borrow David Cameron’s phrase (originally coined in High School Musical) – we’re all in this together!
My breath is coming out as white mist and, despite donning on my spare pair of socks (and my York hoodie under the newly-bought ski-jacket [200RMB from Silk Street]), I may or may not have frostbite in some or all of my toes – especially the big left one.

Friday, 28 January 2011

Friday 28th Jan, 11.30pm,Train from Beijing to Zibo

Our train was at 10.48pm. We turned up with about 40 minutes to spare. Beijing Railway Station (image courtesy of this blog - thanks!) was absolutely mental! Hordes and hordes of people were packed outside the entrance forming an incredible unmoving mass. We befriended a Jamaican man on our subway journey to the station who’s lived in China for eight years teaching English, French & German. He hopes to start work for the Jamaican embassy in two years. If his English is anything to go by, there are going to be a lot of crossed wires between China and Jamaica.

I half-carried, half-dragged our joint suitcase through the crowds. Chinese officials were trying to direct the (literally) thousands of people into some sort of ordered mess. Our Jamaican friend was convinced we wouldn’t make it to the train on time. Keer pulled my hood down, telling me to “show them your white face” – a phrase she’s used a lot lately – and the three of us, with our mix of white, black and yellow, somehow managed to blag our way through the masses and to the front of the station.

Luckily the Jamaican guy was catching the same train as us; we ran alongside him for a full five minutes before reaching our platform. I’ve never seen such a long train in my life! Carriage after carriage fit to burst with bodies every which way. The Jamaican had been fortunate enough to get a “bed” ticket, and we left him some four carriages from our own – carriage 7 – lucky for some, but not so much for us. Upon reaching it, there seemed hardly any space to board. Keer translated the train guard’s authoritative barking as “Move down, move down, make space for our foreign friends!” No idea how the two of us – officially the fattest people in China – got on with our suitcase. Genuinelly did not think there was an inch of space for any more travellers – how very wrong I was! A group of about five people turned up, all demanding to be let on and allowed through as they had “seated” tickets. It all got a bit tense – everyone convinced they couldn’t move any further, and one of the girls from the newly-arrived group kept poking me and askimg me if I too had “seated” tickets – “No!” – and could I let her through – “Keer, tell her I have nowhere to move and the guy in front of me needs to move first as there is a suitcase between me and him, so I couldn’t possibly let her pass!”

Anyway, I suppose the total lack of space was merely an illusion as we’ve found ourselves in the bendy bit between two carriages with definitely enough room to at least do a 270-degree turn. It’s also become quite evident why there are only four of us stood here – there’s condensation forming on all surfaces and dripping down. Like an indoor rain cloud.

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Tuesday 25th Jan, 7.20pm, Beijing

I have found some LAN internet access where we are now staying – in the centre of Beijing, in an apartment, kindly and quickly sorted out by Keer’s father. I am zipping Keer in and out of various dresses as she potters about getting ready for our night “on the town”.

Spot the Westerner
Yesterday we queued for train tickets to Zibo...for four hours. Four hours! Upon reaching the ticket office and requesting a train for the 31st, we were told we’d have to come back on the morning of the 27th as they can only book as far as five days in advance. Given the already fragile mental state we’d put ourselves in as a result of this first set of queuing, we decided to purchase tickets for an 11pm train on Friday 28th – on a 6-hour train journey with no seats. I’m suddenly very glad I bought three fat books “just in case”.

Another day, another wander through Silk Street Market. This time I had a list of items to purchase – adapter plug, watch, shoes, gloves. Sorted all out for less than £20! It quickly became apparent in our 4-hour wait yesterday that my boots are just not thick enough for this shattering cold. (It also became apparent that next time Keer says somewhere is not colder than London, I should probably still double-check with the world’s met office.)

Here’s some maths for you - a single journey on the Beijing subway costs 2RMB – the equivalent of 20p. For the cost of a 1-day Travelcard (for zones 1-6) on the London Underground you could make 75 journeys here! Mental! But not as mental as the motorised rickshaw Keer and I got in today – the driver was a proper loon, going against the traffic, in between the lanes, on and off the pavement – and then hurriedly ushering us off so the police wouldn’t see! Well, if nothing else, the rickshaw certainly pumps up the adrenaline.

We got some Chinese medicine yesterday to sort me out – the pharmacists said I was stressed and his remedy would get rid of the “too much fire in my head”, apparently.

I had my first experience of potential scamming today – we took a trip to Tianenman Square and were strolling along, as you do, taking photos and the like, whilst random people were coming over and saying “Hello! Where are you from?” and, of course, me being completely naive and unsuspecting, I struck up a conversation with two girls who were keen to “practice English” with us, were going for some “coffee and fun drinks”, and wondered if we “want to enjoy together?” I was all up for it – whilst in China, why not make friends with Chinese people? Anyway, in the end we didn’t go because Keer was convinced there was more to the scene than met the eye. Quite a few other “Westeners” were also being accosted by pairs of girls. It was all very odd once Keer put the shadow of doubt in my mind – and then my mind went running wild – “Well, they can’t have been trying to offer us sex because we’re not men...OH-MY-GOD they were trying to capture us and lure us into the sex trade!” But on a serious note, Keer said one of the latest scams has been the setting up of fake bus stops to sell advertising space. And later we found out that, yes, the two Buddhist girls (who refused to be in a picture with us for religious reasons [or because they didn’t want to be recognised in a line-up]) were indeed wanting to take us to some bar and get us to pay for overcharged drinks. And all this under the watchful eye of Chairman Mao’s portrait – tut tut!

Sunday, 23 January 2011

Sunday 23rd January, 9:30pm, Beijing

It’s Sunday night in Beijing. I’m sat with Keer’s mum watching the Chinese equivalent of “Take Me Out”. (...“watching” is a strong word in this case...) The Party have obviously decided to opt for a host far less irritating than Paddy McGuiness – but perhaps I only think that because I can’t understand him. First impression of Beijing – rather impersonal. Crossing the roads is absolute madness. Being well-versed in the London approach of stepping in front of cars regardless of the traffic lights is definitely an advantage, but it only gets you so far – motorists do not seem to share my view of “if they run me down, it’s them who’ll face the manslaughter charge”...perhaps it’s more the case of “if I run her down, it’s her own stupid fault.”

Wandered round Silk Street Market today with Keer while she tried to locate a nail parlour – when we finally stumbled upon it, it was closed for (Chinese) New Year (3rd Feb). Eventually we found an alternative, and indulged in one of the more pointless leisure activities in life – manicures. Keer also got a full set of acrylic nails moulded on. I, on the other hand, have enough trouble with my chopsticks as it is, and opted out of the fake claws. The market vendors were quite literally yelling at and following me – “Hey girl, want to buy some jeans/bags/Louis Vutton/shoes for you/your boyfriend/your husband?” At first I tried politely declining, but then quickly realised it was best to catch no one’s eye and play deaf/dumb/mute, because the list of potential items and relatives could go on indefinitely.

The food so far has been AMAZING - nothing like Chinese take-away in England, which I am really not a fan of. We’ve had lamb kebabs (not quite the Turkish Wood Green way), liver kebabs, some sort of bean curd soup with fried dough for breakfast (weird texture!), and various dishes at the Peking Duck restaurant – apparently the best duck place in town – the duck pancakes were indeed incredible. Keer’s mum cooked dinner tonight and made us eat all the green vegetables otherwise they’d have been thrown away. There was a dish of what I thought were fine beans – apparently not, it was the green stalk bits on a clove of garlic! Garlic is good for the heart – it can “heal” a broken one, apparently. (Broken in the very literal sense of a “hole in the middle”.) I wish it could heal my sickness, my eyes/nose have been oozing since before we even got here. I think I drugged myself up on about twice the recommended dose of ibuprofen/paracetamol on Friday. A lot of people wear face masks while walking around; perhaps they can hear me sneezing my way over.
Keer’s little sisters are absolutely adorable. They’ve been picking up our (post-ironic) use of the word “blud” – it’s hilarious to hear a 7-year-old Chinese girl saying “Come on blud, let’s play hide and seek!” in a semi-Mancunian accent.

Tomorrow we are going to go and queue for train tickets and hunt down an open mic night for later on in the week. I’ve also been contemplating buying an acoustic guitar over here, if they’re considerably cheaper...

Friday, 21 January 2011


I'm typing furiously on a tiny, tiny Netbook at Heathrow Terminal 4, with blocked sinuses and ear drums fit to burst at any given moment.

HOWEVER, I am less than 24 hours away from a 4-week spell in China!

So, a brief update on last week's abstention:

Cooking. Perhaps not traditionally something that one would think would be difficult to abstain from. But I love cooking! And although I don't cook every day, I do try to make an effort to hunt down different recipes. When my sister was staying with me, we used to have "Breakfast Saturdays" (or, depending on any lingering hangovers from a Friday night, "Breakfast Sundays") and we covered a whole host of breakfast foods, including blueberry pancakes, savoury pancakes (just like the blueberries but with an assortment of cheese instead of berries) and, my proudest achievement, eggs benedict with hollandaise sauce. Poached eggs are actually quite tricky, but hollandaise sauce is just a load of butter and egg yolk and vinegar.

Anyway, what did I learn from my cooking-free week? That the mere definition of "cooking" can cause disagreements! My housemate and I spent a good 15 minutes debating whether the microwavable soup I was eating was a "cooked meal" - in my eyes, definitely not - putting a pot into a microwave for 4mins and stirring half-way through is the equivalent of shoving a pizza in the middle of the oven. But apparently my "no cooking week" was misleading, as my housemate assumed I'd just have to live off takeaways! This would not have been financially viable. In fact, no cooking meant very little expenditure in Morrisons. Instead of wandering round the aisles looking for different ingredients and inevitably buying a cheese board, my purchases were limited to (the aforementioned) soup pots, fruit, and a load of bread. Definitely ate more apricots last week! No ready-meals made the list - maybe if I shopped in M&S I wouldn't be so put off by them... And I was not averse to accepting others' cooked foods, so I visited my parents for dinner too.

All in all, definitely decreased calorie intake - although that wasn't really the point. And found out that Sainsbury's have great reduced items if you go past 10pm.

I also inadvertently didn't drink alcohol for a week due to a course of antibiotics for an ear infection. This was slightly more difficult as last Friday was quite a draining day, both emotionally and physically, and I would have appreciated a drink to relax with - but life goes on, and I found solace in Mafia II on PS3...I had to play the first mission four times because I'm shockingly bad at video games.

Next few posts will be dedicated to my China trip - hurrah! I'm not sure whether or not blogger is a blocked site there - only on way to find out, I suppose..!

Thursday, 13 January 2011


I have a new favourite word - "hippocampi"!

As in, the plural of "hippocampus" - "a complex neural structure (shaped like a sea horse) consisting of grey matter and located on the floor of each lateral ventricle; intimately involved in motivation and emotion as part of the limbic system; has a central role in the formation of memories." [Definition courtesy of Princeton people]

And I would direct everyone to read this article, wth its very many interesting points. Namely, we all have the potential to be geniuses/genei (both words are acceptable, apparently). And that the Nature v Nurture debate has no clear winner.

Saturday, 8 January 2011

1 Week Without...

Firstly, HAPPY NEW YEAR! We have officially completed 1 full week, so only 51 left to go!

So, this year I am doing something a little different for my new year's resolutions.

As ever, I have one main thing to do battle with - the same thing I did battle with 2 years ago, which defeated me three-and-a-half months in. You might have guessed it, you might have not, but point is I have again become a non-smoker! No more "quick-cig-with-a-drink", on a Friday/Saturday(/Anyday) night, which inevitably leads to social smoking downfall. The trouble for me isn't the physical addiction to nicotine, it is the addiction to the habit that helps break up monotony, the habit of standing in the garden with a coffee and a fag, the habit of drunken conversations outside any alcohol-serving establishment, no matter the weather.

In light of this abstinence of mine, I had a brainwave to make the quitting more interesting. If I gave up cigarettes for a week (with the intention of giving up indefinitely), what else could I give up for a week? Or what could I take on for a week that perhaps I hadn't done before? So, my idea for 2011, to make the year more interesting, is to take out or add in little bits of "stuff" in life and see how I go!

As mentioned, first week has been cigarette-free (...with one slip-up last Sunday night, wholly uncalled for - and actually later that evening I also got out my shisha pipe for about 10mins, but no other indiscretions, honest!). It' been quite a drag (ha!), but I know it's worth it and it's been quite pleasant to feel my lungs clearing up, and to not be spewing crap up all the time.

Other ideas of potential cutbacks, as follows:

1 week without...
- sugar
- caffeine
- mobile phone
- social networking
- cooking
- public transport
- meat

...and so on. I thought it might be interesting to note how it goes. It also means practising a hell of a lot of self-restraint and -discipline, something I often think I lack. A few of the ideas I have in mind might have to be taken on for a number of weeks in order to actually feel like a challenge - alcohol, for example, I don't necessarily drink every week, but within the space of a month there should be enough social gatherings and/or birthday parties for me to really practice alcoholic self-restraint.

So, any other ideas anyone has for things I could live with (or without) for a week (or more), comment below!