Sunday, 11 September 2011

Start of the write up: Map

I've been planning on writing up our summertime adventure around western and northwestern China for a long while, and finally have got round to the first step: plotting our route on a map!

As you can see, we took a very, very long route over seven weeks. According to my (incredibly) rough estimates, we covered just over 6,000 miles - all by train and bus. 

I will gradually get round to detailing the itinerary properly... promise.

Thursday, 18 August 2011

Home sweet home

Just a quick post - we're home safe and sound, and maybe even a little sad to be out of Chinalands! (but very glad to be back with a kitteh)

In the next few weeks I'm going to be updating this blog rounding off our time in China, just in case anyone is interested in going to some of the places we visited on our grande route home. I'm going to write about the transport, accommodation and stuff we did along the way to update the world wide web on some of the new and exciting developments in tourism in western and northwestern China...

Wow, eh?!

Friday, 17 June 2011

The good side of teaching

The photo below shows one of the ways in which my time teaching wasn't all bad...! Wang Mei was one of my best students and she was completely adorable. If she wasn't actually as old as me I would feel much better about using 'adorable' to describe her, but there you go.

As you can see, my students were ever so slightly smaller than me even at University... 

But most definitely even smaller in the schools.

So to the end...

Teaching is over and people are departing Nanjing... above is a photo of our celebratory night out at all-you-can-eat-all-you-can-drink Teppanyaki restaurant last Saturday. It was a most fun night which led to much drunken dancing and a lot of pain the following day (or two). I actually can't really remember saying goodbye to most people, but maybe that's the nicest way to do it. I remember having a similar approach in Hong Kong at its big ending...

Iain however had to teach until today, and so we are a bit behind in the leaving trend. We are in fact now leaving on Monday rather than tonight as originally planned, and cutting out Chongqing as a result. The weather in Nanjing is currently so bad that any more time spent in a rainy, humid and polluted city would probably not be the best start to our trip anyway, so it is so long, farewell, etc to Chongqing... 

Instead we are heading directly for Chengdu and panda territory, so wish us luck. No real updates on the Tibetan areas blocked off, so fingers crossed for a bit of luck there too! I am still most excited about Xinjiang and the end of our trip and so cannot wait to get going. We are all packed and ready, I've had my goodbye dinner at SEU and Iain has said his adios to Nanwai... the time is nigh!

As we get started on our adventure we won't be able to get on any foreign websites, and so this (sparce and pretty lacking) blog will have to come to its end. See you all back in Europe on August 9th!! 

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Nearly finished...

And after one year of teaching, what have I learnt?

I hate teaching.

Bye bye classroom!


Thursday, 2 June 2011


Researching places to stay on our trip this summer....


In other (non-gay related) news, certain places on our route for this June have been closed off by paranoid Chinese authorities. We think it's related to a monk setting himself on fire in protest in a Tibetan area of Sichuan, as it is only in Sichuan province that any areas are closed off - Tibetan or not. So fingers crossed for Gansu and Xinjiang staying 100% open and free... 

Thursday, 19 May 2011

The light at the end of the tunnel...

Long time no see blogspot. Nothing has been happening recently really hence no real need to update... however teaching is fast approaching its end (three weeks left, HURRAH!) and we’re now beginning to finalise our plans for summer adventuretime, so I thought I should share with you all where we’re planning on heading.

 Around June 18th, we will begin our whirlwind 7 week tour of Western and North Western China. First stop: Chongqing. We’re only planning on a couple of nights in the ‘sweat city’, purely to get in some spicy Sichuanese food and experience the only city in China that could possibly be muggier than Nanjing. We’ve heard that Chongqing is like Hong Kong on acid... so, great! It will take us a good 26 hours by train to get here, so we’ll be in need of some excitement...

 Our second stop will be a mere two hours away from Chongqing, at Sichuanese capital Chengdu. Iain doesn’t seem as bothered about this destination as I am, mainly because my motivation to visit is fuelled by furry black and white bears... Only stopping again for a couple of nights, we’re going to say hello to Mr. Panda at the conservation site, have a wander around the much prettier city and get in some more tasty Sichuanese grub. Then it will be onto our next, and last, stop in Sichuan...

Jiuzhaigou! At the very north of the province, this is one of the top tourist destinations in China (sadly) and will no doubt be packed, but it is well deserving of its popularity. A huge nature reserve, we will spend a day or two there depending on entrance fees – apparently it’s pretty steep! – hanging around with the lakes, mountains and birds, as you do. The BBC did a documentary about China a while ago that covered this particular area, and hopefully despite the crowds it will live up to our expectations...

After saying goodbye to Sichuan we’ll head up to Gansu province, first stop Langmusi. The whole journey will be taken by little bus journeys through Songpan and Zoige, and may take a day or more. But the route is supposedly tip top scenery-wise, so it should make up for our cramped legs. This town is actually split between Sichuan and Gansu provinces, right through the centre of the area, but as we’re heading north, for us it’s going to count as Gansu. Aside from its split personality, Langmusi is known for Tibetan monasteries and their ‘sky burials’, aside from being crazily beautiful. We’ll finally be away from the crowds and be free in the countryside... bliss. From Langmusi onwards our travels take us as far as you can possibly get from Han China (the majority ethnicity in China). Take that to mean whatever you like...!

 From Langmusi we will journey on to Xiahe, famed for being the location of the Labrang Monastery. This is one of the most important Tibetan monasteries outside of Tibet itself, and we’ll be definitely making a visit to the site. Other activities will include lots of sighing at the beautiful scenery and (if I can persuade Iain) maybe one of my usual horse rides on a poor creature way too small for me and too exhausted to move. We’re expecting to find Langmusi and Xiahe temptingly relaxing and welcoming, but we’ll try to keep our wits about us and move on from each after three days or so.

 After Xiahe we will head back into big city territory and go to meet Xining, the capital of Qinghai province. This is kind of a quick stop over, just to make a short cut through Qinghai to get straight to northern Gansu, no frills attached. It should be interesting to see the growing mix of ethnicities as we work our way north, even if we will be glad to get out of the city life again only a couple of nights after we arrive. There’s a fairly sizeable Hui (Muslim) community as well as Tibetan, all nicely mixed in with the Han majority...

Next stop will be back into Gansu province, with one of our most anticipated stops: Jiayuguan. This is the spot famous both for being a part of the Silk Road and the Great Wall of China – the end of the civilised world as considered by past Chinese dynasties. Our main excitement is to see the old parts of the Great Wall, surrounded by the desert and the obligatory camels. We may also venture out into the desert for some exciting activities...

 From there we will venture onwards to Dunhuang, another highlight of our current plans. Dunhuang is an oasis in the middle of the desert, but not only does it look spectacular completely isolated in the sand, but it also is the jumping-off spot to visit the Mogao caves. These Buddhist caves were intricately carved and painted in the 4th century, which are protected these days but in previous times suffered a lot of looting (shifty looks for us Europeans...) We’ll probably stay here at least three or four days purely for the oasis living...

From Dunhuang we leave Gansu and approach our final destination: Xinjiang. This is the province both me and Iain are most excited about visiting, and our first city stop will be Turpan. It is supposed to be fairly touristy, with a nearby town called Jiaohe boasting an ancient ruins site, but it will be a great introduction to the northwest of China. We’re going to wander around the city and make all the necessary day trips out within four days before heading out into the wild Wild West... Kashgar.

 Kashgar is a good two days train ride away from Turpan, but it will definitely, definitely be worth the pain of the long journey. It is the place I’m most excited about, simply because it will be the least ‘Chinesey’... We’re also planning to spend the longest time here out of all our destinations, maybe even getting on for a whole week. This is because there is a very, very exciting road trip out from the city on the KKH Highway, from which you can stay overnight at the Karakul lake.

After spending a couple of nights in a ger in Mongolia, I can’t wait to do it all again in another jaw-droppingly stunning location... Also in Kashgar itself we’ll be visiting some of the mosques, old town buildings as well as the bazaars of course for some retail therapy. We purposefully planned to visit Kashgar as close to the end of our trip as possible so we’d have more of an idea of how much money and time we would have left before having to get back for our flights home, and we’re hoping that we will be rewarded for our advance loyalty.

Then our last destination: Urumqi. Our last stop will only be for one night, just to have a brief peek at the city before getting the two day train back to Shanghai. We’ve not heard the best things about Urumqi... that it’s been overrun by the Han and it hasn’t retained much of its heritage, being just another ‘big Chinese city’, so we won’t linger. And judging by the photograph, it will probably be a good idea.

And finally, 7 weeks after we left for our adventures, we will be heading from Urumqi back to Shanghai. We’ll probably spend a couple of days back on the east coast, getting last minute Chinese stationary and various other types of crap, and preparing ourselves for our flights (BA flights nonetheless!) back to the UK on August 8th. Adios Chinalands!

Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Hangzhou, oh...

This weekend we took a merry trip to soothe our post holiday blues (yes, they've lasted a month... right into late, late March) all the way down south to Hangzhou.

Despite it only being 4 hours south of Nanjing in real factual terms, it did seem quite appropriately far away weather wise. Nanjing's weather recently has been utter utter rubbish... cold, rainy and miserable, whereas upon arrival Hangzhou was sunny and smiley.

Sadly the improvements stopped there. Hangzhou minus all the following complaints is actually idyllic. The West Lake is lush, with beautiful rolling hills surrounding the large area of calm and peaceful water. However, here follows our woes with Hangzhou:

  • 1. Chinese tour buses (too numerous)
  • 2. Chinese tourists (too numerous is an understatement)
  • 3. Chinese bicycles (too numerous and too small)
  • 4. Chinese cameras/photography (too numerous and pointed at us too often)



It can definitely be concluded that my fondness for curious citizens wanting photographs has well and truely ended. Iain tried to come to the rescue on many an occasion when it looked like my hair would be the feature of another holiday snap, one such occassion answering "no photos right now sorry, we're too unhappy".

An interesting weekend overall, but not for the reasons we'd quite hoped.




As a last note, take a peek at this not too rare sight...


Naturally a man should always push his Poodle in a pram. 

Sunday, 27 February 2011

A series of photographs... #4 Animals

Our favourite animals from the trip...

Most unfortunate looking animal. As seen in Kuala Lumpur.

Friendliest animal. As seen on Koh Lipe.

Most 'hilarious despite it being wrong to laugh at disabled legs' animal. As seen on Langkawi.

Most famous animal (can you spot baby Nemo?!) As seen in the waters of Koh Lipe.

And finally, the 'most ridiculously cute thing you have ever seen in your life and it makes you want to cry just looking at it' animal.

A series of photographs... #3 Odd Sights

The first in the odd sights category is this gem taken in Kuala Lumpur. Obviously the Chinese New Year lion holds up the shopping crowds as he takes the escalator up to his favourite shop... it's an everyday occurrence. 

The second is this marvelously named shop... no explanation needed surely?

Winner of the best 'looks like is photoshopped but honestly isn't' photo 2011.

For all you All American Rejects out there.

Weirdest combination of images in one photograph possible. I promise this was not photoshopped... clearly I am more artistic than I originally thought.

A series of photographs... #2 Looking Up

The second: Looking Up. We craned our necks a lot this holiday.

A series of photographs... #1 Feet

I'm going to present a few series of photos that we took on our recent holidays... 

The first: feet.

Saturday, 26 February 2011

Back again

The time has sadly come to update again from Nanjing. Yes, this means holiday adventuretime is truly over now, sniff sniff. We have been back one whole week as of tomorrow, and it already feels like we haven't been anywhere at all.

Our holiday was vair nice though, even if it is now a distant memory (can you tell I'm happy to be back?!) We visited Hong Kong again and got all nostalgic, even eating in our old canteens again... 'canteens' because I ate at the good canteen and Iain used to eat at the rubbish one over by the Tiananmen Square statue. I got my beautiful Veggie Malaysian Curry, and it was just the same as two years ago - perfect. Basically all we did in HK was eat in our old fav restaurants... although we did manage to see our friend Keno and even managed to get into a club opening night with him, free champagne included!!

After HK we took a whistle stop tour of Cambodia, Malaysia and ended up in southern Thailand, on Koh Lipe, where we stopped for an entire week simply because it is literally paradise. Snorkelling took up most of our time which was great (see the underwater photos soon to come on facebook!) but also meant at one point we both looked v tanned on our backsides and pasty white on our frontsides. The food was pretty tasty, I have to admit I ate green curry more or less once every day... I tried to venture into new terrains but it was just never as good.

Now, however, it is back to work, back to teaching, back to having many a dilemma (no hot water in our entire building for starters...) We have already eaten in all our favourite places here so it's the old cycle route of restaurants starting again, and I've been to Ellen's bar twice... home sweet home! This semester I am determined to up my Mandarin skills, even though I am stubbornly rejecting any real hope of being even mildly good at it. We're also planning activity weekends in Huangshan and Hangzhou... and soon we will be on project summer adventuretime - watch this space!

The most interesting news update however is this - we have rats in the building. Not the actual animals, but human rats. I have played the reluctant detective under the management of a close Chinese friend many a time this week and the conclusion is this: one of our door guards has secret showers when on duty. SHOCKER! 

Friday, 7 January 2011


Packed and ready!

We jet off on our travels tomorrow, first taking the train to Shanghai, then the uber fancy Maglev train to the aiport, then catching our flight with a Chinese budget airline (fingers crossed for our safety eh?!) to Hong Kong! From Hong Kong onwards our trip includes Bangkok, Siem Reap, Kuala Lumpar, a bit more adventuretime in Malaysia, then island hopping over to Thailand, eventually winding up back in Bangkok. Hopefully Thailand will sell us some good clothes, as we're basically taking nothing:

Size to scale: the shoulder bag next to our rucksacks is just an average sized shoulder bag. Pretty impressive light packing! (for me anyway)

Adios then until mid February...

Saturday, 1 January 2011

Christmas and NYE in Nanjing

Not surprisingly, Christmas and New Year's was slightly bizarre here in Nanjing. Christmas was bizarre in a great way - Sieb visited and was my little Dutch pet for the weekend, we had a lot of fine food (albeit not v traditional) for our Christmas lunch with a big lovely group of people, some amazing presents were both given and received, and we watched a sufficient amount of Christmassy films. I personally was given a Totoro cushion with hand holes to keep your fingers nice and toasty, two plants, Inception, three books courtesy of amazon.netherlands (haha) and an excellent secret santa of a grey snood and a cat mug (see picture below!).

NYE however was bizarre in both a good and a bad way. We saw in 2011 on the 49th Floor of the Zifeng tower (see below) with our Americano friends, watched Shakira perform live on Jiangsu TV's NYE countdown show, and also watched a fair few people dance in the room's hot tub. And when we were departing the lift to leave the hotel, we managed to walk into none other than Ms. Shakria herself! We had heard she was staying there but the timing was rather impeccable. We stared like true Chinese citizens, watching her bodyguards look protective whilst a doting Chinese fan got her autograph and a photo. She is literally a tiny tiny person, and she was quickly bundled into the lift we'd just stepped out of and that was that.

(Shakira also seemingly visited the Great Walll...)

Then for New Year's Day I had a treat - the wine I'd drunk (Great Wall if you want the details) was definitely not a fine wine, and I have since been v. v. v. ill. Happy 2011 one and all!