Television, 2015

This was the year that I was most invested in television in my life. Or the first 8 months of it were. The 2015/16 season looks to have had my interest drop sharply off.

2015 was the year that was mostly spent without a TV licenseand when I realised that I disliked most of what is on “regular” TV. With thanks to Netflix and other wholly legal means, I have maintained a steady diet of US TV shows.

This has also been the first year that I have done real television reviewing. Long, long reviews, as detailed earlier in this blog.

Here is what I’ve been watching. In a vague order of memory:

Broad City

Broad City

The best comedy on television right now. Possibly the best show on television, but that’s maybe too bold a claim. Masterful.

The Comeback

lisa-kudrow-in-the-comeback

Some find this an uncomfortable watch. Some should get themselves together. Lisa Kudrow should have won all of the awards. Worth the 8 year wait (or 2 years since I found out about it). I wanna see that!

Orange Is The New Black

orange-new-black-season-3-details

“I wonder when I’ll have time to watch all 13 episodes of season 3?” I thought as I looked ahead at my full weekend. It turns out, that very weekend. It’s amazing how much free time you can muster up. I watched the Chang episode without subtitles and have no idea what it was about at all. No Jason Biggs!

Master of None

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The show that most exceeded my expectations. Aziz Ansari is far more than Tom Haverford. I used to find him annoying but now I think he may be a semi-genius. I watched this while I had food poisoning. It is a good show to watch with food poisoning.

Louie

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A show that I’m sure Master of None took a lot of influence from. Back to its more comedic roots after a darker season 4, but still serious. I hope the Louis CK pervert rumours aren’t true.

Another Period

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Comedy Central really is doing a lot of good stuff right now. A show that I feel I could have written, but don’t let that make you think that it is no good. Parody du jour, or of the past.

Fresh Off The Boat

CONSTANCE WU, FORREST WHEELER, HUDSON YANG, IAN CHEN

Very variable episodes, but it’s refreshing to see Asian American leads and always a pleasure to have a Nahnatchka Khan show on the air. Every time I think that I’m going to give up, something else draws me in.

Fargo

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I came for Kirsten Dunst and stayed for everything else. Funny, dramatic, ridiculous, serious, who knows what the ending was. Brilliant. Filmic. Yes. I could happily watch each of the characters forever and always. Oh yah.

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt

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Another show that exceeded my expectation. I have never watched 30 Rock but probably should, as every 30 Rock fan says that 30 Rock is by far an away the better of the two. But does it have Jon Hamm? It does? For 2016. I watched Kimmy in a weekend. Delightful. Heroin, pinot noir and Xanthippe.

Mad Men

John Slattery as Roger Sterling and Elisabeth Moss as Peggy Olso

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Peggy Olson: hero

I didn’t enjoy the ending, or, to be specific, the final scene (Coke song). Otherwise this is the most that I’ve enjoyed Mad Men for a few years and it has surely cemented its place as prestige television. Hopefully awards will come.

Jessica Jones

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For Krysten Ritter. One of my friends said that it was too unnecessarily dark for them. It has a lull in the middle, but is the best (read: only) superhero show that I’ve watched.

The Last Man on Earth

last-man-on-earth

Only odd episodes, particularly the first and last of each season. An interesting concept with wildly variable results. How much do I like Will Forte? TBD. His beard is rather off-putting, that I can say for sure.

Better Call Saul

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Not Breaking Bad, but not too bad either. Overhyped. Enjoyable enough.

Parks and Recreation

Parks and Recreation - Season 7

RIP. A fitting ending for one of the most likeable shows on television.

Brooklyn Nine-Nine

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Beat the sophomore slump. Another show that Mike Schur has had a hand in and where the whole cast is freakishly likeable. Fun. And the Jake and Amy thing is fine, with the characters developing enough after 3 seasons to make it work.

American Dad!

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Its TBS showing feels sub-par to Fox, but that may be because it’s getting a bit long in the tooth.

Grey’s Anatomy

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Derek’s death prompted my most emotional reaction to any television show ever. I took a day off to grieve. I have stopped watching Grey’s Anatomy. 

Togetherness

Mumblecore blah that was fine at best. The Duplass Brothers have done better.

Jane The Virgin

I loved this so much that I had to stop myself from watching the second season as time is limited and I am quite compulsive. Soapy ridiculousness at its best. Maybe I’ll catch up over summer.

Archer

A middling season. I think I may be one of the few to have preferred Archer Vice.

Married

Another RIP. I hope that both Judy Greer and Nat Faxon get more good work, and soon. Heartbreakingly real, with laughs to boot.

Masterchef: The Professionals

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Because I don’t solely watch scripted stuff. Quite the obsession for me. Predicted the winner yet again. Buh bam!

I should also probably watch Transparent. No freshmen shows from fall have grabbed me.

This year has also been the year that I finally gave up Keeping Up With The Kardashians. It was only in September that I did this, so there is still opportunity for relapse. But it really is just dreadful, and apparently Kourtney, who I previously thought was somewhat of a soul twin, is dating Justin Bieber. In Memoriam.

For someone that thought I was cutting down on TV, I sure do watch a hell of a lot of TV.

Onto the next year!

 

 

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Verona: The Romantic Holiday Continues

Verona is a worthwhile day trip. It cost less than €20 return and took 1.5 hours each way. When in Venice..get the train to Verona.

The train was smooth but I was not. I got lost on arrival. It would be easy to blame the unappealing entrance sequence, but I have grown to learn that my sense of direction is very much magnetic south..

The arrival sequence to most cities is more unappealing than they should be. Train stations, bus stations and coach stations – and especially airports – often have to be positioned in an area that is slightly out of the way of the city’s main beauty, so that the engineering and what not can be accommodated, but still close enough to make it convenient. As a result, most entrances come from a formal industrial zone. Treviso had a much nicer arrival sequence than Verona, though still not perfect. And, of course, Venice, with its waterways and bridges, bucks the trend.

An understated gate and some pesky vehicles, Verona

An understated gate and some pesky vehicles, Verona

I walked and walked and walked as I do, do, do, do do. The area around the river (Adige) was my favourite part. Humans love water. Water and the sun.

Get some! Even walls can be sexy

Love is all around us. Young and old, big and small, passion always prevails.

castel

The melding of old and new in the Castelvecchio is one of the great beauties of modern and medieval architecture. It was the Castelvecchio which drew me to Verona initially, and the building and surrounding fort and river made my trip more than worthwhile (and verified my decision to choose Verona over Palladio country).

churcs

A man in a car saw me taking this picture, honked his horn and told me in broken English that is a beautiful church. I agreed, and commented that it is a shame that it was closed. He laughed and drove off. Some schoolchildren whispered “Chinese” behind me I shot them a glance, they laughed and ran.

I got a gelato (the sole gelato on my trip, in a feat of self-control and miserliness) from a gelateria that had been around since the 40s, and it changed my life. Maybe I was just hungry. Sometimes all you need in life is a gelato and everything is beautiful, a lesson that I would go on to apply to my everyday existence.

Verona and the life-affirming gelato

Verona and the life-affirming gelato

This is Shakespeare country, but people don’t appreciate the bard like they used to. Verona must be full of pilgrims of literature, where many other Italian cities are full of pilgrims in the more traditional sense. Pilgrims of love, too, were evidently around.

juliet

Nothing brings cheer to the soul quite like Christmas (and a fogless day). Nothing makes you feel small and young quite like history (or the universe), and in this case Roman remains. Things aren’t built to last anymore, or so they say. In 2000 years archaeologists will surely be talking about the majesty of concrete and glass, or maybe corrugated iron will show its worth after all.

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My day out of the fog, giving me new perspectives on life and love.

Longji Rice Terraces, China

The final stop on the mainland China leg of our tour.

The group started the morning with another excellent breakfast from The Minority Cafe. Having never had banana bread before or since, I can safely say without a doubt that this was the best banana bread I have had in my life.

A run through the rain and hop on the bus.

Departure was at about 1pm and it was a long bus journey to Longji/Longsheng. I looked out the window and spoke little, tired of company after being with the group for so many days and admiring the views which are quite breathtaking in the greater Guilin region. The drive from the airport to Yangshuo was the first time that I listened to my mp3 player on the trip, and I was now making it a habit. I enjoyed the drive and, combined with my tiredness and admiration for the scenery, wished that it would never end. It did.

From the car park at Longji, you have to leave your main luggage (unless you are foolish enough to carry it or swish enough to pay someone to carry it for you) and pack an overnight bag instead.

I am a very poor packer – I get it from my mother – and for this adventure holiday I had packed one large wheeled suitcase and one small wheeled suitcase, which had become a cumbersome pain throughout the holiday. But here, for once, it was of use! I loaded a towel, two days’ worth of clothes, my iPad, and the excessive amount of toiletries that I tend to lug around with me. The other half Chinese girl had a carry on-sized backpack as her only luggage for the entire trip. Apparently her dad was a pilot and in her youth her family often went on last-minute flights which had cancellations and could only bring carry on luggage for some reason. I wish I was more like her.

The coach to the village was rickety.

The walk to the hotel was more so. Even my “light” bag was decidedly heavier than what I should have brought. We spent some time admiring the markets as we walked up, then balking at the prices (which were still far below what you would pay in the UK), and trying to figure out if the hats that people were wearing was actually their hair (it was). The guide bought two jars of chilli which he would finish by the following day.

It took about half an hour in total to walk to the hotel, all of which was uphill. By the final two flights of stairs I overtook the guides, determined to finally be able to put my damn bag down.

Ch-alpine

Ch-alpine

A long but worthwhile walk

A long but worthwhile walk

The hotel was lovely. It reminded me of the Alps. There was that smokiness in the air that you get whenever you visit an Alpine resort, and wooden chalet style houses (and hotels). We were told that as this was so remote we may not get wifi. Instead what we got was the best wifi of our whole trip.

We were taken on a hike. The views of the rice terraces are quite astonishing, in an almost ethereal way. I thought about how tough for a rice picker must be and how I should be more thankful whenever I ate rice as it was a hard life, something that I forgot about as soon as I finished the hike.

Fields on fields on fields. 'Ave it, nature. I'm glad to have visited a country where they took a boring old hill and made it textured and fruitful.

Fields on fields on fields. ‘Ave it, nature. I’m glad to have visited a country where they took a boring old hill and made it textured and fruitful.

Unrelated: fresh green tea roasting

Unrelated: fresh green tea roasting

None of us spoke much. I had a conversation with the 40 year old about the Kardashians, our one topic of commonality aside from both using three-pronged plugs.

Another bus from the end of the trail to the village. I thought I was going to throw up. Thankfully, I didn’t.

Western entitlement and back-breaking servitude

Western entitlement and back-breaking servitude

Back to the hotel to shower. Dinner would be served in an hour, and not a moment too soon. We opted for the banquet, at our guide’s suggestion. He did not partake in the banquet. Clearly as tired of being around people as we were, he ate some traditional food in silence with the owners of the hotel.

He missed out. I don’t know if it was because we were particularly hungry, the food was particularly good, or a mixture of both, but this was the first meal of the tour that we finished. Ordered seconds. Finished that too.

Best wifi. Best food. Best hotel (except the more luxurious Hong Kong). Most remote. Longji.

There is some sort of bamboo smoked pork that is a specialty of the region and most definitely worth ordering a lot of. In fact, this may go down as one of the great meals of my lifetime. Hell, I’ll say that it is.

The room was lovely and, again, Alpine-esque with a balcony looking over the terraces and the mountains which make you grateful for the majestic glory that is our fine planet.

Sleep came easily.

The dog of my dreams.

The dog of my dreams.

Another hike. I thought about how everyone that lived here must have really great butts and strong thighs.

Along the way we came across a Yao woman who asked us if we wanted a hair show. We thought we might as well.

The start of the hair show

The start of the hair show

Work call

Work call

Presenting the hair in its full glory

Presenting the hair in its full glory

Wrapping it up

Wrapping it up

The other Chinese girl wasn’t talking at all, which I took as a cue to mean that I could also get away with not talking. Others spoke, but much more briefly than before. Fatigue was setting in, as was, it turned out, an illness that would hit the group in succession over the next 24 hours.

Rain came and we finally got to use our 10 yuan ponchos. The most stylish troupe in the terraces

Rain came and we finally got to use our 10 yuan ponchos. The most stylish troupe in the terraces

Another sickly bus ride, another phenomenal meal.

The next day, some of us learned how to play Mahjong. Ah, to be an old Chinese woman (in a hat) just whiling away the days playing mahjong.

The long walk down to the bus. Down is easier than up, but a heavy bag is still a heavy bag.

Bus to Guilin. I was feeling better rested and spoke for the first time in a few days, demonstrating my passable talent for doing accents.

We passed a van that had a sole chicken strapped to its roof, one of my favourite images from life.

A free few hours in Guilin. The guy got a McDonalds. I am ashamed to say that I got a McDonalds when I was in Beijing as everywhere else was shut, but learned the error of my ways otherwise. The rest of the group got some cheap and tasty rice noodles from a vendor on a side street. Our guide took us, we wouldn’t have risked it otherwise.

I desperately needed the toilet so ran in as soon as I found one. It was a trough in the floor with no water stream, so as you looked down at this hole in the floor, all you could see was rotting excrement. It smelled terrible. I made a sound of disgust. On exiting, the other half Chinese girl was in hysterics that I had just used the men’s toilet. She was in flip flops and refused to enter either men’s or ladies’.

Supermarket. Bakery. Train station.

Farewell China. I will not miss the spitting.

Venice: A Romantic Holiday With My Favourite Person (Myself)

Work finished for the Christmas break two days earlier than anticipated, so, like the go-getter that I am, I booked a plane to Venice. I even treated myself to a hostel, a step up from sleeping on the street.

For real, as a lone or cheap traveller I would recommend the Generator Hostel. It’s ludicrously cheap and easy to find. It may be on Giudecca which means that you will have to buy vaporetto tickets (€7.50! for a single, €40 for 72 hours, or €28 for 72 hours if you are 18-29, like me woo hoo) but it is just on the waterfront and only 2 minutes from transport. Another seller is the wifi, cleanliness,  and €5 dinners. One of the guys in my dorm said that it was the nicest hostel he had ever stayed in, and he seemed like the kind of person to have stayed in a lot of hostels (“seemed like”, “told me that”).

Hostel from vaporetto

Hostel from vaporetto

I didn’t come here to talk about hostels.

And I didn’t come here to write a typical travel blog post.

What is there to say about Venice?

With my vaporetto pass and my trusty feet, I saw most of what this strange lagoon city had to offer.

I visited every district, went into every free church that I could feasibly enter, saw the markets, saw the museums , saw Murano, Burano and Torcello, accidentally got a boat to Lido, and took a day trip to Verona.

Eating

I did not eat well. I can’t look after myself.

On the first day I ate a peanut butter sandwich at 4am then had three drinks in the evening which was enough to make me gone for the night and have a rough boat ride the following morning. Waterways are beautiful, but morning boat hangovers are a bad decision.

On my second day I had my first ever sit down meal in a restaurant, and sent my first ever meal back. I was the only one in the restaurant. The staff were all Chinese and I ordered a seafood risotto. Just as you should only go to a Chinese restaurant with Chinese staff and Chinese clientele, so you shouldn’t trust Chinese people to cook Italian. The rice of the risotto was very undercooked. Rice should be the thing they get right. It returned soaking wet. I was very hungry by this point and didn’t want to walk out or cause too much of a fuss. It could have had more seafood in it. What a disappointing risotto. I read my Kindle distractedly.

The following night I ate alone in the hostel bar, which was a far more enjoyable experience. I watched something on my iPad, and quite a few other people were eating alone so it all seemed fine. I ordered a carbonara, but saw there was also a lasagne.

“Would you recommend the lasagne or carbonara?”

“Lasagne.”

“Ah, I kind of had my heart set on the carbonara I think. Which is more filling.”

“Carbonara is bigger, but lasagne will make you more full. I prefer lasagne.”

“I’ll go for the carbonara.”

I paid and went to find a table. A girl was eating a sad-looking pasta dish.

“Is that the carbonara?”

“What?”

I think she thought I was striking up conversation. She looked mildly excited.

“Is that the carbonara?”

“Yeah.”

“Thanks. I think I’ll change my order.”

I changed to lasagne. The girl probably thought that I thought the carbonara looked good, but it was quite the opposite. I considered asking the girl if she wanted to have dinner together, but I already had my iPad and then would have to explain that her dinner looked disappointing when my lasagne came.

The lasagne was very good. I made the right choice. Always listen to the waitress.

I went to put some more cheese on my lasagne, leaving my phone, iPad and purse on the table. When I turned around a man was walking slowly but purposefully towards my table, only to then meander around “minding his own business”. Ten seconds more and I would have been robbed. That is a lesson to me.

See

This was my first holiday alone. Venice is a great city to go holidaying in alone, romantic reputation be damned!

The romance of fog and water

The romance of fog and water

The reason that it is so romantic, I shall opine, is because of the lack of cars and proximity to water. Humans are drawn to water. It is the danger, the reflection and the calming to-ing and fro-ing of the tides. Humans are not naturally drawn to cars, but do find that it makes life easier when getting from A to B or trying to do a large shop. I am a big wanderer, and one of the pitfalls of wandering is having to spend large chunks of my life waiting to cross roads or not be hit by an errant motorist.

Build a city on water and get rid of the chance for cars to ruin your prospective tourists’ romantic getaway!

There was thick fog for most of my stay, bar the final hour.

I travelled from the 20th-23rd December and would highly recommend this as a time for visiting Venice as there were barely any people. Of course, there were still some people, but I never really had to wait for anything and only had to queue for a total of about 10 minutes on the whole trip.

I dread to think how unpleasant Venice must be during its peak season, particularly in the heat. How does the city, and especially the vaporettos, cope?

San Marco at low low season

San Marco at low low season

I went everywhere that I saw was free in my guidebook. I got frequently lost and spent most of the time rushing around worrying that I wouldn’t see everything. I was concerned about how compulsive I can be at times and how I have a tough time living in the moment. I didn’t eat enough and I think that affected my reasoning, but I lost weight in time for Christmas which is what every girl wants.

Venice felt like a lonely city. This may be because I was alone, but I never really felt lonely, or I hid my loneliness with busy-ness. It was the emptiness of the streets, the fog that hung over it, the buildings that are suspended in the Renaissance, and that everywhere except the main arteries of the city (Canale Grande, La Spagna, etc) seemed to shut down after nightfall. It felt safe (I was literally walking down alleyways in pitch darkness which, in most cities, is ripe for trouble) and indeed I experienced it to be wholly safe. But it felt somewhat like a city that is lacking, or, I don’t know, one where the magic has escaped or something else tacky.

Much of my time wandering (with purpose) was down empty or nearly empty streets, or crossing bridges across empty canals. I marvelled at this city built on water, a former powerhouse against all odds that has manage to survive and thrive for many centuries. The population is an ageing one as most young people leave for other cities where there are more jobs, cheaper living standards, and things are generally more accessible. I wonder what will happen to Venice in the future. Will it become purely a tourist theme park? Or will there be a way to make it workable in the modern social economy? Time will tell.

In the spirit of giving some sort of recommendation of what time see without giving detailed description, here are my top recommendations:

San Marco’s Basilica (for the mosaics and to be obvious) and Piazza (ditto)

Florian: the other cathedral of San Marco

Florian: the other cathedral of San Marco

Gesuiti (my favourite church. Gesu was my favourite in Rome. I like jesuit churches.Jesuits do it right. Jesuits do ornate. Jesuits make Catholics look like Puritans).

Typical Jesuit understatement

Typical Jesuit understatement

St Michel (a cemetery island. I was struck by David Chipperfield’s extension at the back, and the general solemn nature throughout. If I felt lonely in Venice, this is where I felt the most poignantly so. Everybody dies).

Modern-esque cemeteries: not too chipper

Modern-esque cemeteries: not too chipper

Murano/Burano/Torcello (for a point of difference and for an explore. Loneliness prevails. History comes alive.)

Colourful Burano

Colourful Burano

Murano glass as Christmas decor

Murano glass as Christmas decor

Solitary Torcello

Solitary Torcello

Santa Maria della Salute (best round church; makes for nice exterior pictures, moreso when it’s not coated in fog I’m sure)

Not pictured: "nice exterior picture"

Not pictured: “nice exterior picture”

San Giorgio (a Palladio on an island that has little else. The wonders of symmetry)

The foggy symmetry of San Giorgio

The foggy symmetry of San Giorgio

Rialto Mercato and Bridge (I always love a good market, and bridge I guess. No fish on a Monday as per the rules according to Bourdain)

Stylish marketwear

Stylish marketwear

It really is the perfect wandering city.

As for romance? Anywhere can be romantic if you are with the right person, just as anywhere can be insufferable if you are with the wrong person.

La Spagna all abuzz at night. Be still my artichoke heart.

La Spagna all abuzz at night. Be still my artichoke heart.

So it is romantic because of the water rather than for the content. I would say. Some may also say the architecture, but I think Florence, and probably many other cities, have superior architecture. And is architecture romantic? Again, anywhere can or can’t be romantic: it is the person that you are with who really decides it.

If I could go back and do my trip again, I would do it slower. I would watch people more, rather than frantically rushing around. I had a bottle of water and a guidebook in my hand at all times, and my camera around my neck. To what end? I saw it all, but there were only a few highlights. Had I missed things, my life would be no worse. I should plan less (or “overplan” less) but plan better. I did very little research before going and so didn’t properly curate my itinerary. I still had a good time, but I worried myself at how frustrated I got whenever I took a wrong turn. I would have made a terrible travel companion.

Life should be savoured. To stop and appreciate is more valuable than to rush and only half see.

In my final hour ate seafood arancini (incomparable outside of Italy) in a square and listened to a man play jingle bells on the accordion.

Your man, the musician. Your photographer, too lazy to move.

Your man, the musician. Your photographer, too lazy to move.

Buon natale.

The Great Wall of China

Unanimously the peak of the China trip.

In Beijing there is a strange law that number plates starting (or ending) with different numbers can’t drive on certain days, e.g. 3’s can’t drive the third Thursday of the month. This is to try and control the smog. But because of this law, instead of a minibus, we travelled to the Great Wall in a coach. That is a full coach for just 7 passengers. Up yours, excess pollution!

Our guide had told us to wear layers as it would be cooler in the mountains. We all obliged.

The coach driver got lost.

Then found.

We arrived.

There’s a Subway at the base of Mutianyu. Apparently Subway is the most popular fast food restaurant in the world. ‘Ave it, McDonald’s.

Fun trip to the toilet. Toyed with buying lunch but decided my bakery fodder from Beijing would be enough.

We looked up and braced ourselves for the long walk up to the wall itself, lest the following 10km walk that we would have afterwards.

YOUR THIGHS AND GLUTES WILL THANK YOU LATER

YOUR THIGHS AND GLUTES WILL THANK YOU LATER

I was glad that mother didn’t make it into the country as this surely would have killed her. She definitely wouldn’t have been fit enough to have done the majority of the stuff on the trip, so really, aside from the money that she lost from visas and annoyances there, really the travel agent should have been more responsible.

The layers of clothes that we had been advised to wear quickly came off. It was not cold, and the physical exercise made it even less so.

That first climb was tough. Our physical fitness was to improve quite markedly throughout the holiday.

The one guy in our group nearly lost his camera, but thankfully realised in time to retrieve it from where he had left it.

The walk along Mutianyu is borderline unpleasant. I would have said that I am quite fit but this would prove otherwise. A pair of Chinese girls clopped along in heels. Some vendors carried crates of water and other produce up.

Convenience store indeed

Convenience store indeed

I was glad that I had gone gung ho with my water and brought three or four bottles. It was very hot. My back was entirely covered in sweat. My backpack would never be the same again, though has only just given up the ghost. I would recommend the Vango Pac 15 – so much so that I replaced it with the exact same backpack.

Photography, chatter, physical pain. These were the early days of the holidays and the arduous nature of the walk was, combined with the new people, altogether quite fun.

Standard tourist photo

Standard tourist photo

In Beijing I had worn ankle boots. I was told that I should wear more suitable footwear in future. I wore trainers for the rest of the trip, except in Yangshuo and Hong Kong where I wore sandals, but walking boots probably would have been a better option. I think I brought four pairs of shoes with me in total. And a hairdryer. And straighteners. I am phenomenally bad at packing.

We had some lunch before embarking on the final stretch of sheer staircase, which seemingly consists of an infinite number of stairs. Then you reach the top and feel pride in yourself for not dying. This is supposedly a family-friendly wall, but I thought it was hella tough (and that is my professional opinion).

The Great Wall of Stairs

The Great Wall of Stairs

If the Mongolians managed to break in, they were far greater people than I, as even traversing along the wall was tough so to mount over it is just beyond my realm of possibility.

The second part of our wall walk was along an unrestored section of Jiankou. We met with a local guide who was wearing a suit and smoking. He was about 60 and proved that physical fitness would save what smoking undid to your health. I realise that he must have walked the wall thousands of times, but he was far more sprightly than any of us. He was wearing walking shoes at least.

This guy..de

This guy..de

It was this part of the wall that was the highlight of the holiday. No tourists, just history and nature. It was stunning and impressive and mildly sad that it was in ruins.

It was beautiful and we all chatted and frolicked and had fun. The sun made for some nice pictures, particularly on one girl’s Samsung Galaxy S5.

Our bus met us and drove us to thee farm that we would be staying at for the night. We all went to the toilet, having not done so for five hours – sweat is as good as a pee – and then tried to have a shower.

The electricity wasn’t working for some reason or other, and the showers were heated by solar panels. I left the water to run for 5 minutes before deciding that it wasn’t going to heat but I was still gross and sweaty and should just jump in.

I gave up and called for help. They got it working within a minute. I had a nice shower, but was late as a result.

A woman silently showed us how to make dumplings. We all made dumplings. I was definitely the worst at this task. I was recently thinking about taking a cooking class but that surely would be a huge waste of money considering my relative uselessness with my fingers and thumbs.

Dumpling making. I wish I had liked food more back on this trip

Dumpling making. I wish I had liked food more back on this trip

The maestro at work while we had beer

The maestro at work while we had beer

Dinner was lovely. We all had a good time. People got a buzz on. The electricity was out and it was getting cold, but we were bundled in blankets and there were candles so it was like a cookout.

Drinks kept coming. The cold crept in more and more. One by one people gave up. The last three of us were waiting for the electricity to kick in again so that we could use wifi. 11pm, the time that it was supposed to kick back in, came and went. The cold got too much. It was amazing that the temperature difference between day and night could be so vast. Where I spent most of the day sweating profusely, night was filled with shivers and seeing my breath.

I got to sleep quickly.

At about 2am all of the lights turned on. Electricity was here. I got up to turn the light off. The electric blanket turned on, which I didn’t realise. It is the only time that I have ever used an electric blanket and I would highly recommend it based on that experience.

sun great wall

Sleep.

Wake.

Eat.

Hike.

This hike was through a lot of woodland. The route joined the wall again after about half an hour, and it was as rugged and impressive as the day before. We then reached a vertical section of the wall. He pointed upwards. We looked up. He pointed to us then pointed upwards. We looked terrified. He pointed at us then pointed upwards then laughed. He started climbing up. Some people flat out refused. He came down. Somehow, speaking no English, he explained that there was a way around if we wanted.

I wanted to climb the sheer wall, if only to rub the face of British health and safety laws. This was not safe at all and probably shouldn’t have been done, but the whole thing went off without accident and I took a sigh of relief at the top. Several people smoked at the top out of fear and gratitude for their lives.

Always safety first

Always safety first

The rest of the walk was less eventful.

Goodbye Great Wall! Hello again Beijing? Or so we thought. Instead there was a car crash which blocked the whole road up and down the mountain.

I’m surprised that this was the only car crash that we saw as Chinese drivers are quite chaotic. One of the people in the crash was a German man who had come for a run with his dog. He called another driver who met him further down the mountain and drove him away. I’m not too sure how that worked legally.

We waited in the mountains for about three hours. It was quite dull. My patience was tried for the first time in the holiday. There’s only so much you can do on a road.

Eventually the police came, looked at the cars, then they and some civilians pushed the cars out of the way and we were off.

Dinner in Beijing, where our guide saved some tourists who were trying to argue with the staff and I ate some cabbage that was too spicy for my placid half Cantonese tongue.

We went to a fancy hotel to use wifi.

Train station, where we initially thought that there was no need to pay for the premium waiting room then were quickly sold on entering the regular waiting room. A lot of people travel with livestock and drums of oil while conversing loudly and spitting as the odour of stale smoke and sweat clings to them.

Goodbye to one of the great wonders of the world, its smoggy nearby city, its vast country, and this long damn travel memory that I have finally finished some 20 months after the fact.

 

Xi’an, China

The year is hurtling on and so are the recaps of my China trip.

We arrived in Xi’an from Shaolin having got a fast train. The fast trains show that Chinese people do indeed know how to do good trains, but that most of the country just can’t afford it yet.

Xi’an was our guide’s home city. He gave us a free day which may have been part of the itinerary or may have been a chance for him to visit his wife. We were all happy though. Apparently his train back from Hong Kong to Xi’an would take 48 hours, which makes me wonder what other jobs must be like if this is the lifestyle that you’re choosing to lead, especially as he didn’t seem the most dynamic person, or the type of person that you would usually think a tour leader would be.

It was raining on arrival which made me think of home.

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A pretty chill mask in the hotel room. I took the slippers.

The hotel was another Home Inn. As with the Beijing Home Inn it was dirty and vaguely smoky, but it was substantially better than the Shaolin school accommodation.

We had noodles at a place near the hotel. The average cost of a dish was 50p. I misheard what the dishes contained and ordered spicy noodles which I could hardly make a dent in.

I think that was it for that day. The sole guy in the group went to a club.

The next day, all of us except the guy and the guide went to the Terracotta Warriors. Looking back, I am still very impressed that we managed to find it as navigating in China was petrifying. We met an American girl on the coach who got talking to us and bragging about her China knowledge, which I think she may have been overegging.

We got a guide at the Terracotta Warriors. It is advised that you get a guide. I remember now. Our tour guide said that he couldn’t take us as he wasn’t an official Terracotta Warrior guide. What a load of hooey. I’m pretty sure people could walk around unaccompanied. Also, if you say you’re a student and show literally any form of ID, they will give you discounted tickets. I was the youngest in our group but I had left all of my IDs at home, for fear of losing them, so a 40 year old woman got student ID and I had to pay full price. Life isn’t fair sometimes.

You are always the most grateful that you are paying for a guide when they read information off the wall at the exhibit.

“Oh, I didn’t know that. That’s interesting!”

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The ever enthusiastic but mildly enthusiastic guide just before she was berated for handling the objects

She was a sweetheart. She picked up something, saying that you could because it was a replica, only to have a security guard run quickly over and tell her to stop.

Ah, whatever her name was.

The Terracotta Warriors themselves are stunning and mind boggling and, expense be damned, are definitely worth the admission fee.

I hope that one day I will be mad and powerful enough to demand that a full army of terracotta people be crafted and buried so that they can protect me in the afterlife. A whole underground city, too, with working plumbing. Truly astonishing.

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The largest of the pits of the Terracotta Warriors. Breathtaking in scale and detail.

My favourite fact of the day was that the Terracotta Emperor died from mercury poisoning as he drank mercury every day, thinking that it would make him invincible. Those crazy old kooks!

We found our way back okay too. What success!

We told the guy in our group how impressive the Warriors were. He googled them and saw that they are regarded as the 8th wonder of the ancient world and was momentarily regretful that he didn’t go, then concluded that he was hungover and his day of massage, laundry, gym and college basketball was a good choice.

To the Muslim quarter!

I haggled down some sunglasses and several other items for members of the group. The sticker price is a real rip off, but who are we rich Westerners to refuse to pay anything more than tuppance for shoddy wares from people who rely on this as their livelihoods? Bargain hunters, that’s who.

Apparently the street food in the Muslim quarter is quite famous. I didn’t have any that evening. There are also apparently some 700,000 Chinese Muslims in Xi’an.

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Muslim Quarter street vendors

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Begging for a haggling

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Another street vendor, loving life

Dinner was Muslim/Chinese food, of which lamb and another meat kebabs are the only part that I can remember. Oh, and soup dumplings. I tried the lamb kebabs but still my dislike of lamb hadn’t gone away. The meal was fine.

We watched some of the street performances in the night. The others went to a bar but I wanted to go home.

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Bell or drum.

Having walked there with ease, I figured that the walk back would be fine. It was not. I got horrendously lost and had to get a tuk tuk home. I tried to barter with the tuk tuk driver which is astonishingly difficult when you don’t speak the same language and also don’t have any change to try and barter down with. I gave him my hotel card (always get a hotel card with their address for such an occasion as this) and I went on a journey that I genuinely thought would end in my death.

I paid and exited. He saw someone he knew and they both laughed at me.

Bed.

The morning brought a cycle around the city wall. The guide tried to impress us with the history of this city wall, which dates back to the 14th century or something, which I quickly dismissed as not being as old as Canterbury’s city wall.

Another chance for cycletography.

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View from the wall: light exercise

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View from the wall: rhythm and funk

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In which I inadvertently nearly ruined a road race

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A ‘Where’s Wally’ of a street market.

The group ambled along the wall, trying concurrently to avoid the foot race that seemed to be happening and to take pictures.

If you are trying to photograph Xi’an, I would recommend doing so from the city wall. It’s around 14km all in all. The bikes are not comfortable.

About half way around, we realised that we had spent 3/4 of our allotted time covering very little distance and that now we had to race around the latter half.

Others cycled ahead of me, and I ended up in a pair with the other half Chinese girl. We were both concerned that we were going to be the last, so we stopped infrequently.

The cobbles and the non-suspension bike made for quite an uncomfortable ride, particularly after the half way mark.

The city was less interesting at speed.

Somehow we were the first to arrive back at the meeting place. How we missed that we had overtaken everyone I will never know. The others took a good five or ten more minutes to arrive, meaning that we could have afforded to be much more plodding, and to stop for more photos.

The afternoon was more free time. We were all a bit annoyed at our guide’s giving us so much free time. One of the joys of a group tour is not having to think of what to do or eat or much of anything really. This is why I enjoy yoga classes: the teacher even tells me when to breathe. Several of the others had travelled with this tour provider previously and had said that their other guides were better.

We went again to the Muslim quarter and tried a famous Chinese burger. It was good, but possibly not worth the 20 minute queue. If there are a people that enjoy queuing more than the English, it is the Chinese. As I am half of both I should super love queuing, but instead they have cancelled each other out and I find it one of life’s great labours which should be avoided at all costs. The potential of food poisoning is preferable to a queue in my book. When we got a plane later that day, our in flight meal was a burger, which further rubbed salt into the queue wound.

We returned to the hotel and departed for the airport. I am eternally grateful that my fellow travellers had a workable sense of direction as otherwise I would have spent most of my Yuan on taxis.

I think this was the stop that most people clocked that the German/Cypriots were lesbians. Mother picked this up within half an hour of meeting them.

Xi’an was my favourite city in China (we didn’t visit Shanghai) and, while I got lost, it felt vaguely navigable, had good markets, and was a gateway to many an impressive relic.

The smog was dissipating.

Treviso: The Romantic Holiday Begins

When  gong to Venice, you will most likely land in Treviso. I urge you to take three hours out of your trip to pay this little town a visit. Land on a Sunday for the full market experience. I can’t speak for the rest of the week.

A river runs through it, but it can hardly compete with Venice. At its core it is still an old town, but it is slowly being impinged upon by those blasted modern buildings to accommodate our blasted modern ways of living.

arvi

Even in the more provincial towns, Italians are a stylish folk. I fall in love fifty times a day in Italy. It is fabulous.

bike

It does not have the best Duomo in Italy, but on Sundays the area is still the beating heart of the town.

duomo

But this may be because of the market which takes over much of the town and culminates in a large spread in the piazza outside. Christmas music was piped through the town. The sight of stalls crowded by families out on their Sunday outing, music from Christmas past, and the spicy smells of seasonal treats made me feel Christmassy for the first time that year and lonely as a result; Christmas is for family.

amarket

ahard

Italians are a curious and appreciative people. I have never felt rushed in Italy, which makes it all the greater shame that it is a country where I have most rushed. “Live like the locals”, my mother tells me. “But there is so much to see!” I reply, guidebook in hand, trainers tied tight.

intrigue

bird

The streets are made for wandering. The textures of the buildings are to be admired. Unfortunately it is over all too soon, with three hours enough time for me to wander around Treviso in its entirety.

streets

But its people are where the story of Treviso is made. Children play, parents look lovingly at their children’s enjoyment – even in the near desolate funfair, a common occurrence in Europe – and laughter and gossip echo through the streets.

ball

buonf

auber

skate

It makes us lone souls stand out even more.

stand

shadow

The train to Venice is quick. After the glorious sunshine of Treviso, the fog is quite a hit. I am pumped (fist pump jump jump, Jersey Shore baybeee!) for my pre-Christmas solo romantic holiday.

Shaolin, China

On with the China trip from March/April 2014.

We got the sleeper train from Beijing, which was far better than I had anticipated that it would be. On arriving to the city, “one of the smaller ones in China, with a population of only 12 million”, we spent 20 minutes trying to find a toilet. The supermarket was unappealing to me, but called to most others.

A bus ride.

Ah, the countryside, China’s brightest currency. It is such a shame that the Chinese countryside is dying in favour of the cities as it really is the part that I most enjoyed and which would bring most tourists in, surely? I didn’t really talk on the bus ride. In fact, after the Great Wall I didn’t really talk much at all.

The bus arrived at the school. We were staying in a school. A school is not a hotel. It was not clean. During “peaks and pits”, several people mentioned the cleanliness of this accommodation as their pit.

While the accommodation isn't great, a Chinese arch is still a Chinese arch

While the accommodation isn’t great, a Chinese arch is still a Chinese arch

The sole guy in our group went to the toilet. He came back, horrified, having seemingly just trudged through human excrement.

We all thought that they said that we had shared toilets. Thankfully they didn’t say that, and each room came with its own private toilets.

There were hair and toenails on the bathroom floor. It is definitely a bathroom for sandals.

We had lunch in the school. It was tasty. We had dinner there too. Also tasty.

I wandered around the school grounds alone. For a while I had wandered with some of the girls in the group, which drew a lot of attention from the students. The school has around 5000 students, and it seemed that the only girls were international and in the international class.

The school wasn’t much to look at, but it was quite something to see kung fu classes at every turn.

I took photos.

shaolin school mountains

shaolin school training

shaolin school 1

The only white people for days

The only white people for days

We went to the temple, watched a kung fu show, offended the monks by trying to take a fun, touristy picture, and left.

Old Chinese ladies squad

Old Chinese ladies squad

Mood

Mood

Other mood

Other mood

Some of the group did a kung fu class. I took pictures. (Pictures not pictured)

One of the other girls and I awoke at the crack of dawn to watch the early morning training that the whole school did. It was quite phenomenal to see, and also quite scary to think that so many small children could so readily beat me down. The sunrise, the mountains, the physical fitness are all things that I will remember into old age. Several people in the group said that they would happily have skipped Shaolin, but moments like that are really something special and unlike anything else that you can experience in the vast majority of our fine planet.

Morning workout

Morning workout

Breakfast in the morning was the only breakfast included in the trip. I enjoyed it immensely, but was the only person to eat congee. Congee is one of the least appealing foods to the eye, but it tastes decidedly bland and is an excellent way to kick start the metabolism. Others were also not convinced at how much meat there was, clearly forgetting what constitutes a fry up. I ate like a queen, they ate like picky children.

A blurry picture of the dining room.

A blurry picture of the dining room.

We got a fast train to Xi’an, to slightly cleaner albeit more urban climes.

Hong Kong

In March and April 2014 I went on the “trip of a lifetime” (this is what my boss who begrudgingly gave me time off called it at least) from Beijing down to China. It was supposed to be with my mother, who would show me where she grew up (Hong Kong) and also to visit China for the first time. She wasn’t allowed into China. I later met her in Hong Kong. Here is the tale of our reunion.

Mother in Hong Kong

Mother in Hong Kong

Mother have mercy on those clothes

Mother have mercy on those clothes

We took a night train from Guilin to Shenzhen, the city at the end of China. Where the first night train that we got on the tour, from Beijing to Luoyang, pleasantly surprised me with its relative comfort and quiet, though less than optimal toilet facilities, the train to the end of China was much louder, smokier and dirtier. Someone dumped a whole bowl of noodles into the sink, which then became increasingly filled with toothpaste and spittle, but not soap, as the Chinese rarely use soap I found out.

The whole group were tired and on the brink of illness by Hong Kong, and that miserable night only made the situation worse. The last thing that you want when you think you’re coming down with a cold (maybe not the last thing) is a throat full of second hand smoke which has been inhaled over the course of several hours.

The train left at about 11pm so we got into bed quite quickly. The conductor was much less of an authoritarian than our previous conductor. Having a conductor with an authoritarian edge seems to be the way to go.

It was a 13 hour trip and, although we slept for most of it, with the bonus of doing this horizontally – the conditions of third class beggars belief #FirstWorldProblems – it still felt overlong. I was excited to finally reuinte with mother after all this time, and was particularly looking forward to saying goodbye to the group.

The border crossing was laborious, mostly down to queues and my cumbersome luggage choices, but quite straight forward. They scrutinised my passport for a hot second but let me through swiftly.

I needed the toilet since I left the train but held off until we were in Hong Kong. And what a choice it was! Toilets with seats! Locks on the doors! Toilet paper!! What luxury.

Nothing says civilisation like Chanel

Nothing says civilisation like Chanel

Several groups of school children passed us. Well dressed people passed us. We made our way to the MTR.

MTR platforms are very ordered. Train stations in China were borderline harrowing, with hordes of people fighting over the little space and cages of chicken and drums of oil being as acceptable a luggage item as a briefcase or vanity bag. I realise the MTR isn’t a mainline train station and I never tried the Chinese underground, but the little boxes on the platform telling you where to wait are far and away more orderly than anything that I witnessed in China. I got into trouble on several occasions for not standing correctly in the station. Even England is barbaric compared to Hong Kong.

I got a seat quite separate from the group. I was glad. I thought and watched as the New Territories hurtled past us and the buildings grew denser. The train got more full with people who looked more sprightly and Westernised than the mainland Chinese. Writing was in English and Chinese, as were announcements.

We got off at Yau Ma Tei. I wished there was a lift out of the station, trudging along with difficulty.

The hotel was around the corner. I was told that mother was already checked in. And thank goodness! It was a growing concern during the journey that she and I may never meet again. But here she was, just nine floors up.

I burst into the room and she was making tea, having clearly had plenty of time to set up camp already. We had half an hour to kill before meeting the group again. I showered, and it was by far the best shower of the trip. And best hotel. It was fortunate that this came at the end of trip, making it feel like somewhat of a reward. For the people doing the Hong Kong to Beijing trip, they certainly would have peaked too early and be left disappointed by the rest of the accommodation.

We met the others and walked to Victoria Harbour. We had a few group photos and were then given free time. Mother and I decided to go to the Peak, the others wanted to wander round Kowloon.

Three hours free time.

Star Ferry across the water.

A 45 minute wait time for the tram to the Peak. We would not be going to the Peak today.

Instead we went to the park, which was a well landscaped (without having too much landscape) urban park. There were turtles.

A wander and a catch up. Mother’s accommodation for her two weeks in Hong Kong hadn’t been great. She decided that she didn’t like the city much, far preferring the countryside. She had managed to get to the country a few times but could still see buildings so didn’t consider it a true enough countryside experience.

At one with nature

At one with nature

We couldn’t find the MTR, a problem that we were to have again two days later, so walked back to Star Ferry and back up to the hotel.

Inside the Star Ferry, like the stars that we are

Inside the Star Ferry, like the stars that we are

We were an hour late.

The final dinner with the group was one of the best of the trip. Our guide was grateful that mum was there as he couldn’t speak Cantonese and she could. The Cantonese fare was not unlike a lot of the Chinese food that you have in Britain, and people seemed to like it, even if they thought it not spicy enough. We did peaks and pits, and the unanimous peak was the Great Wall of China. Pits varied and were inconsequential.

We said goodbye. The guy from the group said that he could see where I got my good looks from (mother). He is married now. I saw one of the other girls the next day in the lift, and we said goodbye forever again.

For the remaining three days in Hong Kong our hotel was to be in Quarry Bay on Hong Kong Island: a “4* hotel”, as mother kept bragging. We hauled our stuff across Kowloon, the MTR and up to Quarry Bay.

A 4* view indeed

A 4* view indeed

It was a snazzy hotel, but I preferred our Kowloon hotel. The room was bigger, the shower nicer, and there was free wifi. The cost of wifi at this hotel was £30 a day. Crazy.

Prices in Hong Kong (food, transport) are more expensive than China but still a heck of a sight less than England. A dim sum feast for two for £20 is hard to come by.

Before our trek to Hong Kong Island we returned to the same restaurant that we had visited for the final group dinner. Mother got chatting to a sole female diner next to us who said that we needed to order an extra dish because it was some sort of death holiday. We did and were quite full (this was pre-my glutton life).

After dumping our stuff at the new hotel, showering, and having many cups of tea, we went to a nunnery. It was a newish nunnery, but still had its charms. It was made to look much older than it was, so the charm was in its deceit. There was a nice garden next to it. Mother was dressed like a crazy person. She commented on how it was such a shame that high rises were billowing from everywhere.

“What a nice mountain that should be.”

We hung around in a shopping mall to steal wifi.

We went back to Kowloon to explore the Ladies Market and Temple Street Market. I got a silk kimono from the Ladies Market, which I have since seen in several markets in London and also once on the hit Showtime show Californication. Sometimes all I want is to be unique.

Market ahoy

Market ahoy

A dinner of crispy seafood noodles was had at a dai pai dong. This is one of my favourite meals in the world and I had high hopes for real Hong Kong. Young Cheng in London remains my restaurant of choice for crispy seafood noodles.

The glint of desire

The glint of desire

Two tourists came up to us.

[Slowly] “Do you know where Temple Street Market is?”

Mum (who  has an English accent and speaks perfect English, quite contrary to what her face may suggest): “Ladies Market is better. I got this [tacky] top from there.”

One of them [slowly]: “Temple Street Market.”

The other: “Oh. I wasn’t too impressed with Ladies Market….”

Me: (considered mentioning the impressive stretch of sex toys along one street; decided against it) “You just go down this street, carry on for about two minutes and you’ll see it on both sides. You can hardly miss it.”

Them (clearly pleased that they could communicate with the Chinese so well): “xiexie”

Swing and a miss. As English people, we had communicated to them in perfect English. Also, everyone knows that thank you in Cantonese is “mhgoi”.

There is a nightly light show at the Victoria Harbour at 8pm. Do go along.

Used some wifi from the 7-Eleven across the street from the hotel. Used the gym. Then went to sleep on one of the most comfortable beds I have ever had the pleasure of lying upon. Four star, baby!

The next day was pretty much the whole reason for coming on this trip: we were going back to where my mum grew up. I was excited and nervous and quite unprepared for just how long the journey there would be.

The light show. Doesn't fit in with the text, hey ho.

The light show. Doesn’t fit in with the text, hey ho.

MTR to Fanling. Mum suggested we got some more real dim sum here. There used to be markets in Fanling where my grandmother used to sell produce. All of this was gone. In its place is a “soulless” mall. There were a fair few restaurants but only one dim sum place which was – unsurprisingly, especially considering it was a Sunday (family day) – rammed. We took a ticket and waited, only to be seated far more promptly than initially anticipated.

We made some faux pas when ordering, though the exact details escape me. The other people on the table (you get seated where there are seats) were kind enough to point out our flaws. Chinese people are often only nice when they are able to show either how you or wrong or how they are better than you. The dim sum was phenomenal. Cantonese food will always be a cuisine that I hold dearly.

Next a bus. Then another bus. (We got on the wrong bus first. I am so grateful that I was with someone that could speak Cantonese).

Sing Ping village.

Water

Water

Fire

Fire

From what my mother had described throughout my life, I had expected something far more rural. I think I had pictured the countryside from My Neighbour Totoro, which was, fun fact!, the first film that I ever saw. This was not My Neighbour Totoro, it was a rather unattractive Hong Kong village.

Mother commented that it had become rather industrialised since she last came, which meant that there were now a few more telephone poles and buildings.

The house that she grew up in was still there. Her brother owns the land around it so she thought we would have a mooch. There was a community group there having an event which she was outraged about (my aunt was also outraged when I told her) though I thought it was nice that the land was still in use.

There are two houses on the plot: her family home and her uncle’s home. Her uncle has been dead for a while but his wife still lives there. Mother said that we should say hello. The aunt answered the door and they had a curt conversation in Cantonese (which sounds rather curt even when expressing the most tender of sentiments) on the doorstep. We were in the pouring rain. The aunt and mother did not get along. They abruptly said goodbye and we went to explore her childhood home.

In the mid-1990s, one of my aunts suggested that they got air conditioning as comfort was king as we approached the millennium, and it has remained so ever since. The air con was fitted by “a cowboy” and shortly after installation it went up in smoke. My grandfather has held it against that aunt ever since. He is quite a bitter man.

It was the first time that mother had seen the house since its fire. She looked sad, then angry that it looked to be purely cosmetic, rather than structural, damage and could have quite easily been fixed were it not left for twenty years.

We looked in the windows. Ruins.

The shell of a time gone by

We opened the door to the kitchen. Poor safety but great for intrigue.

Mother told me a few stories from her childhood, which I can’t remember specifically.

I was struck by how small the house was, particularly as they had five children. We walked around the gardens. I went to the toilet in a port-a-potty (still better than most toilets in mainland China) and mother was annoyed that there was a port-a-potty in her childhood garden.

She pointed out that where the community event was going on used to be a pig shed. She hid there once when she tried to run away from home. Could have tried harder on that front. Running away to the front garden isn’t really much of a statement.

Stylin' in the HK country

Stylin’ in the HK country

Next she showed me the area that used to be her family’s land, but was now owned by other people and technically meant that we were trespassing. The land wasn’t as big as I had thought that it would be; maybe growing up in Kent has given me a skewed view of what land plots should be.

While walking around in the rain, as guard dogs barked and residents wondered who we were, mother described the fun that she had in her childhood her. I wouldn’t call my mother a very sentimental person, but as she described the happy memories from her childhood I could hear, for one of only a few times in my life, that maybe she felt some regret. She moved over to the UK when she was 13, where she lived in a bedsit (surely there should have been some child protection thing?). Her older sister had moved before her, and mother decided that she would have better education and employment opportunities, so she left her ancestral home and her family for a new life overseas where she led, from what I can tell, a life that was quite fractured from her siblings, but for whom she sacrificed a lot for.

She isn’t close to them at all now, but until her older sister got married, they remained quite good friends. After 40 years, the UK is definitely her home. She says she doesn’t miss Hong Kong at all and wouldn’t visit again. It has changed to much, she says. She may not miss Hong Kong as it is now, but I could definitely see that there is a nostalgia for her old village that she still feels, even if she can’t admit it to herself.

This whole experience was quite emotional for both of us. As Aziz Ansari put very well in an episode of Master of None, the children of first generation immigrants rarely think about what their parents have been through. I absolutely cannot comprehend what kind of life my mother lived before I was born. I can’t imagine growing up in this village (though when I was born mother asked her mother if she could look after me, to which she was told that this could only happen if I was sent to Hong Kong, meaning that this could have been my life), I can’t imagine leaving my family at such a young age, I can’t imagine having independence thrust upon me at 13, I can’t imagine having to go to school somewhere where I didn’t speak the language at all, and I can’t imagine having to make so many sacrifices for family all through my teens and twenties.

My understanding of and relationship with my mother has changed since this visit, and my respect for her has grown exponentially. I – and many people my age – am quite a self-involved person, and I am incredibly grateful tat her sacrifices have allowed me the freedom to lead my self-indulgent lifestyle.

We went to the ancestral grave, where mother said she used to swim.

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The sweet swim spot

We wandered around the sad village some more.

Mother wondered out loud whether her mother’s best friend still lived in the village. We went to her house and knocked on her door. She wasn’t there, but her daughter was and said that we could wait. We waited. They came. Cantonese chatter. I ate soup. Then more soup. Cantonese chatter. We were given some type of..I’d like to say sweet, but whatever it was, it was the least pleasant thing that I have ever eaten. They gave us some mushrooms and tea, all of which were out of date. I took photos of them and was mildly upset that they didn’t comment on how good looking I was, which had been a feature of interaction with Chinese people throughout my life. Thinking about it, I probably looked awful at the time.

Journey back to Hong Kong Island. Sauna. Sleep. I dreamed about the mattress.

There is a free bus from the hotel to Central, and on the free bus there is free wifi. I sent emails and admired the skyline.

We went to the Peak. There was a queue, but it wasn’t as bad as the queue from two days beforehand. The tram is quite steep. The walks around the Peak are nice, and, after two weeks of many hikes, it felt good to be back among nature after a few days in the city. It was moderately foggy. I expect on a sunny day the views are quite stunning.

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Chinese desserts are underrated. My favourite Chinese dessert is the custard tart (a Portuguese dessert..). There is a shop atop the Peak that a Hong Kong politician apparently goes to where they sell exceedingly good custard tarts. The base is cookie rather than the usual filo (is it filo?)  but they are filled deeply and sumptuously and come in several flavours.

We went to the zoo and the park and I got frustrated at how poorly signposted the MTR is.

Packing. Wandering. Travelling to the airport.

My flight was delayed. Mother’s flight was fine, so off she  went. There was potentially going to be a 24 hour delay, and they would tell us more in 5 hours. They got me on a flight with another airline, Finnair, who I would wholeheartedly recommend that you avoid unless you enjoy no legroom and a poor movie selection.

The arrival to Helsinki is beautiful.

Home.

There ended my China excursion. I was exhausted. And grateful that mother didn’t manage to get into China. Four days in Hong Kong with her was quite enough, and China would have been the living end for her. The universe works in mysterious ways.

Peak: Great Wall of China / Sing Ping village

Pit: the second night, where I thought that mother would throw all of her money at this trip and end up stranded / Hong Kong airport

 

Films of the Year: ‘The Lobster’

The final of my longform articles on the films of the year, again in no particular order as all three were favourites in different ways.

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This was the only film from London Film Festival that I had any inclination to watch, though not at the film festival itself. No, I would happily wait until it was on wider release and I could watch it cheaper.

Wider release didn’t really come. I googled regularly, but even in central London it was hard to find. One day I walked past The Barbican and it said “now showing: The Lobster”. For three days only at The Barbican, the most indie of independent cinemas. It was sold out, but I went, on the advice of the man on the phone, to see if there were any returns. Thankfully there were. I even got a great seat. Middle and centre. Cinema 2 at The Barbican is one of the most comfortable cinemas I have been to. Cinema 1 is among the least comfortable.

I went alone. This is a great film to watch alone, or, to put it another way, a bad film to watch on a date. There was a couple in front of me. They kissed. They were watching it wrong.

The premise goes that in the world of The Lobsterif you are single, you have 45 days to find a suitable partner otherwise you will be turned into the animal of your choice. In the case of Colin Farrell’s character, it will be a lobster – hey, that’s the title of the film!

The film opens with a short scene of a woman shooting a horse. From this point, I knew that I would enjoy it immensely.

The first half (maybe two thirds?) takes place in a hotel where singles have to try and find their mates. A guy forces himself to have nosebleeds so that he can match with a girl who has nosebleeds. When they go to a yacht, the purgatory between the hotel and the safety of land, they are given a child – just like nature’s way of papering over the cracks of a relationship.

John C. Reilly doesn’t have much luck.

Neither does poor, hapless Ashley Jensen.

Or the woman with no heart, who had some of my favourite scenes in the film. The drowning scene. The suicide scene. Not the dog scene. She got her’s.

This part of the film is narrated by Rachel Weisz. As is the first part in the woods. I spent a long time wondering if she would ever feature. She does! She doesn’t have much luck.

I enjoyed her narration, and the odd rhythms that everyone spoke in. And how it was shot. And cut together. It is dark and dry and exactly my sense of humour. I found it hysterical. The woman next to me was fidgety; I expect that she did not find it as funny and particularly didn’t find it funny that I found it so funny.

If I had a complaint, I would say that the final quarter may be overlong, but I had such a good time during the first three quarters that my good will carried over.

The ending shot is hard to watch.

Though I suppose that this can be said about most of it.

I wouldn’t recommend this to many people, but apparently quite a lot of people have been recommending it. It is odd. It is wonderful. It makes me glad that I am single.

Were I fit enough, it is a film that makes me want to run for miles. As it was, I ran/power walked the whole three miles home the fastest I have ever managed on foot. I felt great. I felt energised. I felt completely (personally) sold on the cinema as an event, a place where films are put on a pedestal above the smaller screens (alas, this realisation has come quite late in life). Here is a film that made me fall deeper in love with film, writing and, importantly, myself.

An odd film for an odd person.