Saturday, November 01, 2008

Well-intentioned, ill put into practice


Continuing in my series of photos... Still January 2008. Not entirely sure what this bowl shaped thingie is, haha! But I think it's some kind of religious thing. Located on the grounds of a shrine near Ding An county, East Hainan island.

How cool would this be?! An around the world trip for less than a grand, London, to LA, to Fiji, to Auckland (New Zealand), to Hong Kong, to back home again. If I ever get the chance (and money!) I REALLY REALLY want to do this. As small as it was, I really caught the bug for travelling and seeing different parts of the world while I'm still young and haven't lost the wonder for the world.

- Currently watching Heat on BBC2. This film is amazing, it's just past the infamous Pacino-DeNiro in a cafe . You can tell it's Michael Mann, same gritty and stylistic but not John Woo faux-balletic style slow motion shoot outs; same aerial views of LA by night with a car driving down a yellow lit, lonely street; same high intensity cop; frenetic action scenes. Just brilliant. The cast are all without exception excellent. And Robert De Niro and Al Pacino give performances worthy of their reputation, the excellent blend of sensitive and hard man, loud and quiet and more raw energy in their silent stares than most modern actors.
(and Hank Azaria, Amy Brenneman, young Natalie Portman and 'David Palmer' are from 24 in it, haha!)

- I have signed up for the NaNoWriMo, where entrants write a 50,000 word story in a month. I'm not sure if I can do it, I'm not sure if I have the time and/or the self-discipline. But I have always wondered if I have the mettle for writing, and this is as good a time as any, and maybe there'll be a support network to go with it. Time will tell, but I need like 4,000 words by tomorrow night and I'm currently on 170! :P

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Random photos. Why don't I post any?


The lit courtyard of a shopping mall. Sure, it's a mall, but the lights are oh-so-pretty! - Haikou, Hainan, South China. January 2008

Tomb of Hairu - Haikou, January 2008

Pathway into Evergreen Park - Haikou, January 2008 - Reminds me of warmer times...

The weather outside is frightful

So, the economy sucks, politics still springs up scandals like there's no tomorrow on both side of the Atlantic, it's frickin' freezing outside and I'm piled up with so much work that I may as well NOT have a 'reading week'.

But it snowed yesterday! Albeit rather briefly, and settling only enough to amass a depth of about an inch. But still, it did bring a smidgen of magic to my otherwise rather mundane lifestyle. Spending the day doing Practical Legal Research is hardly an engrossing use of the hours. But ah well, has to be done! But I should really go on a walk soon or something. All I'm currently seeing of London is the inside of restaurants and bars, and on occasion tube carraiges and buses. But it's so damn cold...

Also, the new James Bond film is coming out! I'm actually rather excited about this: I rewatched Casino Royale a few days ago and forgot how polished and slick it is! Daniel Craig will never be my Bond, Goldeneye is still my favourite and so by extension Pierce Brosnan.

In the last month, my playlist of new music has been dominated by:
- Kina Grannis = recently signed up-and-coming acoustic singer/songwriter... this is fast becoming the bread-and-butter of my music taste, isn't it?
- Kings of Leon = SO much better than the last album!
- Jimi Hendrix = fine, not really NEW music, but I'm rediscovering him!

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Find the joy

That's my goal. In a time when opening the newspaper is just a informant of misery (the economy sucks! The environment sucks! The political structure of the world sucks!) I challenge myself to think of something RIGHT with the world, just so in my mind, I can justify the inherent goodness in mankind. Ok, maybe that's a little melodramatic, but I just mean that life's not long enough to wallow in self-pity right? I turned to music for my attempt today, plugging in 'happy' into the search bar of my iTunes, and picking the first song that my eyes sprang to, "Happy Kid" by Nada Surf, I played it then remember how it was actually a somewhat depressing song, about someone being a happy kid with the "heart of a sad punk". Fail!

Jason Mraz does make me happy though. I recently saw him play a gig at the Royal Albert Hall, which was a tad surreal. It was a good set, though not enough old songs for my liking, though he did a couple of amazing covers of "Build Me Up Buttercup" and "Three Little Birds". He had a few brass musicians and a gospel choir backing up his usual bassist, drummer and Toca (harmony and bongo maestro extraordinaire!) But it irritated me a little how a lot of people were just sitting down and not even moving. If you're just going to do that, you might as well not come, just listen to the CD!

"You and I Both" is a great song that makes me happy :)

Monday, September 15, 2008


Time is a strange thing isn't it? It goes so fast when you want it to last, and when you want the time to pass, it seems endless. Now, for the most part, I'd say I've had a good past year, but it hasn't half gone quickly! This time last year, I was about to escape a boring dead-end temp job, but saving up to go travel. That's such a strange idea to me, to think that the moment was a year ago, when it seems so, perhaps a mere couple of months.

Maybe that's what makes life worth living, what can constitute our raison d'etre: anticipation. Whether it's anticipation of the next day, anticipation of seeing someone you love or just anticipation for a life-altering experience in the near horizon, I'd venture we all need something to look forward to. A life that's static and filled with nothing to look forward to is amongst my worst nightmares. But it's never too late to break out of that funk.

But, you know, that just goes to show that cliches do hold true, I suppose that's why they're cliches. Time does fly when you're having fun, and time really is fleeting, it really can be gone in a blink of an eye. I'm sure the people with not a lot of it left would appreciate more than the most of us who take it for granted. Surely we owe it to them to make the most of ours.

(Wow, that was really was a pile of the most awful drivel. But I spent a couple of minutes typing it so it's staying.)

More thoughts I'll leave you with:
- Some buskers are genuinely extremely talented. Sure you get the odd insane person on a tin whistle that gives the profession a bad name, but then you also get the guy on the acoustic guitar in Covent Garden that makes you stop and listen because they have a quality about them. You can normally tell how popular they are by the number of phones that are taken out to film them(!)
- I really enjoy meeting new people. They constantly remind me not to judge books by their respective covers and that a moment shared is that much more precious.
- Nick Hornby is and writes like a North London lad and that makes me happy.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Brief thoughts

In bullet point form, 'cos I'm lazy and I suck.

- When I was out there, I thought I wanted to come back, but now I wish I was back in Singapore. The weather, and the innocence of life, right now, I would trade for the greater independence of thought and expression I yearned for.
- Law is a tough bitch of a mistress and I hope I can stay the course.
- actually breaks my heart a little inside. People write in on postcards their secrets, in a one-liner, and send them off where they're put on the 'net. As a result people feel the freedom to send off their deepest secrets, those weighing on their mind. Now sometimes it's a sexual thing, but oftentimes it's an insecurity or complex so deepset than when they reveal it, I ache FOR them. I have had (to an extent still do) have more insecurities than I know how to deal with, and I handle them by a large capacity to compartmentalise and push them to one side. For those less able to do so, such outlets are ideal, and it's both liberating and immensely saddening to read other people's.
- I sometimes worry that I 'feel' more due to books, films and songs than I do about my own life.
- The thought of the 'butterfly effect', the phenomenon, school of thought, whatever, freaks me out when I think about it too much.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Thoughts from Singapore

I really am quite an incorrigible sloth. It has been nigh on two months since my last blog post, and for no more excusable a reason than my own inability to motivate myself to do things that don't necessarily require to be done at that very minute. Nevertheless I shall make the most of this no doubt merely momentary pang of guilt to write.

Singapore is quaint. I can think of no word more appropriate right now to describe it. Yes, it's one of the most modern cities in South East Asia, and terrifically economically active considering the sheer size (or rather lack thereof). I'd hypothesise that this is due to mainly the economically-minded nature of the government, ever keen to invite the foreign businesses into the city-state, realising that it is the fastest way to inject capital and enterprise into the country with minimal effort on Singapore's part. Also, it has seemingly taken on a role as a kind of hub from which, at least law firms, like to operate out of as a base in South East Asia. The tax is low, and doubtless the government offers other incentives in a bid to encourage this.

But I digress. Despite the developed and ever-changing nature of the country, there's something rather old-fashioned about the place. It's as if, while the world around it evolves, and Singapore likewise adopts the changes in technology and trends, its heart remains old-fashioned. I'm not entirely sure how I come upon this theory.
Maybe it's due to the highly Asian nature of the country. It's a fairly Westernised country, though the people are some 97% Asian, principally Chinese, then Malay and Indian. So as a result, the old-school family values are still in force so to speak.
Maybe it's the air of slight naïveté. Yesterday, the Prime Minister of Singapore gave his annual national rally (which, by the way, is freaking LONG! 2 hours of alternating between pats on the back, new minor improvements to the public services that were announced with such aplomb, and policies for self improvement – not to mention he then gives the speech in Malay and Mandarin!) during which a key part was how the Singapore birth rate has dropped over the past 40 years, leading onto a conclusion that the people need to date more, marry sooner, and have more kids. Fairly simple premises, one might thing, except the first part is apparently something of a key stumbling point. People just don't seem to date as much anymore! To such an extent, apparently, that the public services are taking affirmative action. Some of the schools and polytechnics (like the vocational colleges back in England, though more academic than those) offer elective modules that are pretty much dating and human relationships 101. I guess in England we take for granted that we know how to meet and talk to members of the opposite sex, though obviously the success rate will vary greatly(!) I'm not entirely certain how this comes about, just that it does, and to my knowledge there is no such formalised education on the matter. The STATE has started its own dating agencies in addition to the private ones in effect, and there is talk of bringing back the Asian mothers' matchmaking schemes. Awww bless...?
Maybe it's the love of simple pleasures that has an air of radiating innocence about it. The average Singaporean family will crave the same material goods as any other in the modern world. Toys, footballs, DVDs... But key among their interests, Singaporeans would almost undoubtedly state food. This is most definitely a Singaporean phenomenon, with families, adults, teens and even kids will enjoy travelling a little further away from their usual circles of activity to grab a certain dish. They will drive for the sole purpose of purchasing that extra juicy durian (a pungent fruit with spiky skin and a Marmite-esque hate-it-or-love-it following), or sampling that delicious fishball soup their friend suggested, or that bee hoon (a kind of noodles) with the extra je-ne-sais-quoi about it, or that satay that brings back fond memories. It also makes the food market terribly competitive, and keeps the prices reasonable for the most part. Which is great for any tourists with hefty stomachs and a willingness to experiment.

Any mention of Singapore in these days would be lacking something if it did not mention the table-tennis. Olympic fever has truly struck the nation, the papers, the McDonald's promotion, the dominating the terrestrial television channels, it's all there. And with that comes the national pride, which this year above all recent years has peaked spectacularly. Singapore fielded a comparatively small Olympic team of 23, with a few key hopes. (I'm going to ignore for now that a not unsizable proportion of said athletes were born in China. Hmmm.) Tao Li, an 18-year old swimming sensation, the table-tennis players and the badminton players. Now, most of the athletes tried their damnedest to bring home a medal but were swept aside by more experienced, and larger countries with greater numbers and resources. But Tao Li managed to come 5th in her finals Butterfly swimming event (I forget the distance) and break an Asian record, to Singapore's delight. But the heroines of the week, and possibly year, were the women's table-tennis team. The trio of Li Jia Wei, Feng Tian Wu and Ms Wang (whom my family monikered the 'Auntie', after her rather more motherly appearance despite her young age) who fought their way to a Silver medal, and notably Singapore's first medal in 48 years, their first since the country gained independence. They were fairly easily swept aside by China in the finals, but apparently were China's longest match, and by no means just laid down and surrendered, putting up an honourable performance. Nary a day would go by since about a week before the Olympics when mention was not made of Li Jia Wei either on the TV or radio, or by people around me. The three are the Singaporeans of the moment, their faces have been everywhere today, and they are being quite rightfully lauded as national treasures. Kudos to them, I say. If not for the sporting achievement, then for bringing a nation together, giving them something to feel proud of and for reminding them that despite the size of the country, it doesn't mean you can't shoot for the stars. It was rather a strange experience yesterday, the gym and pool I went to with my family was cleared out when it got nearer to match time and the hawker centres were quiet until after it was over, aside from the middle aged men who huddled around small TVs making an enormous ruckus.

At some point later, I will probably type a brief and vague critique of some of the things I've noticed here, but I'm rather fond of the country at present and my Singapore side is rather loathe to say anything too scathing about them today :)

On a more personal note, I'm now on my second law firm internship. Now this one is a deal more interesting than that which I undertook last month. I'd venture that being a larger firm, they are able to offer more resources, in this case, an actual station to work at, and a mentor to shadow and work alongside, as well as better opportunities to go to court and sit in on meetings. On a more juvenile note, I think another contributing factor is that I'm not the only intern this time. I get to unwind at lunchtime and wax lyrical on the mild stints of boredom and occasional spikes of exciting work. And procrastinate with the others with the e-mail thread that is intermittently active. Ahem.

As a little parting memo to myself, perhaps it would be an idea to finally participate in that NaNoWriMo thing I keep finding random mentions to on the internet. For the benefit of any random readers who accidentally stumble across my mumblings, the above is an internet event that happens every year, and, though I forget what it stands for, basically calls upon people to 'write' a 10,000? 100,000? word 'story' in the course of a month, if memory serves, in November. They don't have a bar set for the quality of the work, the aim is merely to get people writing. Such a purpose, I hope, might actually spur me into writing a bit more, and satisfy that little feeling in the back of my mind that I could possible be an OK writer if I put my mind to it. What better way to test it than reading my own mini-novella? I only worry that I might be legitimately too busy to do it, but I shall endeavour. I hope.

Monday, June 23, 2008

When I grow up, I want to be...

When I'm employed, and come into my own as a proper, well-adjusted adult and all that jazz (I don't reckon I'm JUST quite there yet. For one I don't have a job!) I don't know who I'll be. I am by no means certain of what kind of father I'd be given the chance. But after observing people recently, what I want to lay out now, for my own benefit is who I do NOT want to be. Wouldn't it just be fanastically film-like if I turned out to be a right twat later in life, find this, and see the error of my ways?

- I do not want to be someone defined MERELY by his career and salary. Obviously, with any intense and demanding job, this will be harder, as employment will take up the lion's share of one's time. But there is no reason why it should be the case that anyone has NOTHING else in their lives. I want to still keep in touch with the art scene: such as I am right now (which is rather limited to be frank). But I don't want my only exposure to things that are non-work related to be something I accidentally read about while on my way to the stocks section of the FT. Work to live, not live to work.

- I will not be one of those people obsessed by money. There is a world of difference between being careful with your money, and being an overly tight-fisted bastard. Never in my life do I want to end up stopping doing things I want, for and with the people I love, because of money if I am 'of means'. There is a great uncertainty about what this life is about, and how to make it worthwhile. I am of the opinion that part of it, is spending time with others, and influencing them and inspiring them for the better. Being a hermit goes against this.

- I NEVER want to be narrow minded. I despise unmerited racism, classism and belittling of others for superficial and unimportant reasons. Books are more than their covers, and so forth!

I daresay this list can, and probably will continue. But I should leave Starbucks now, despite the free internet! I've been here almost 3 hours, and that's not good! I'd like to write about Singapore a bit, dear blog, and shall do so at a later date.

Friday, June 06, 2008

My current fad

I don't mind admitting that my concentration with respects to anything is for the most part fleeting, my attention span limited and my likes changeable. All I can truly hope for that in my half-hearted and never-ending quest for that song or film that will completely change my life or sum up the current state of affairs in a manner I could never achieve, that I will take something from it that I will value for the longer term.

Or linked memories. "Hey Yah" by Outkast will unfortunately always remind me of 2004, A2 exam year. "By The Way" by RHCP will always aid recollection of 2003. "La Nueva Belleza" by Jason Mraz will forever make me think of the time C.G. and I just couldn't find the strength to revise anymore in 2007 and quite apparently did ANYTHING but. The bands that will hold my allegiance, the Coldplay's, the Jason Mraz's, the Muse's, the Joshua Radin's, The Weepies's, the KT Tunstall's and the Nada Surf's of this world... They will hold special places for me. As will the films, the Shawshank Redemption's, the Big Fish's...

While I've just mentioned Coldplay (thank you, I am the master of terrible segues... on that note, could anyone more linguistically minded tell me why there's no accent on that word?) they've a new album coming out next week! "Viva la Vida" it's called, apparently based on the title of a Frida Kahlo painting? At this instant, I'm listening to a preview of the album on As I did with "Rush of Blood to the Head" I can't tell whether I like it or not. A few tracks, most notably the titular song, "Violet Hill" and the intro song "Life in Technicolour" stand out for me but I suspect the rest will shine as brightly upon a second listen through. I have to make darn sure to get it in time for the 14th though, when I'm due to leave England's green and pleasant lands AGAIN! Going to have to miss people all over again.

Feel I must make a mention of the new Jason Mraz album. That guy is just a wonderful singer/songwriter with such an amazing variety of songs, that'll make you want to alternately want to skip around the room and stare out the window at the sunset. In particular, "I'm Yours" from the album has to be at present one of my favourite songs, it's so cheery and cute that you can't help but love it.

Also, I recently saw the film "The Bucket List" starring Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman. What follows is the comment I felt compelled to leave on Not so impressive or coherent I know, but I did write at a wee hour in the morning.

Before this movie, only one other movie has made my eyes water, and that was Big Fish. I think what made that happen was the idea that Albert Finney's character in Big Fish found fulfilment in his son's acceptance of his ways and in the embracing of the characters in whose lives Edward (I think that was the character's name?) had made such a profound impact. In the same way, here that these two men found fulfilment in each other touched me profoundly.

The film is in its own way so very simple. Nothing spectacular happens, and in a way nothing needs to. As you can predict, it doesn't take a genius to gather from the plot that Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman (in not quite career-summing-up breakout performances, but more than adequate and moving turns here) die, and it's in the simple yet deep things that make their life worthy, and enables them to "find their joy" before they finally succumb to their inevitable deaths. In the quest to complete their Bucket List, they seek, in a way that's only fantasy for others, to wholly and completely tie up their loose end before they kick the bucket, and the sheer closeness they achieve through the sharing of their combined destinies and rejoicing in both their similarities and differences. I found Morgan Freeman's character was a little more fleshed out, in that he got given more nuances to work with, but Jack Nicholson was on form in the same vein of more mature movies he finds himself excelling in.

In all, a good film, certainly worth a watch and Morgan Freeman, Jack Nicholson, and the scriptwriter have here a movie of which to be proud, and that will mean a lot to many people.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Teaching commences Monday...

So there's a massive chunk missing from the blog, I haven't written about Dali or Kunming. Will probably do so at a later point, apologies :P

So I've finished travelling and been placed at a primary school in Haikou with a girl (incidentally, Catherine, the one I went travelling with over February) and other pairs and triplets have been similarly relocated (with the exception of 3 who are staying in the hostel). We've been put in a flat which I can't decide whether is nice or not. The bedrooms and living rooms are quite nice, although there are pencil drawings on the wall, but the kitchen and bathroom are pretty pants. The kitchen has no fridge or oven, just a microwave, which I don't think works properly, leastways the dish can't spin, we'll have to get that fixed, a rice cooker which I think works, a kettle, which does, and a single hob which doesn't. It's a shame, was looking forward to making omelettes and so forth! It'll hopefully get fixed very soon though. The bathroom has a gas powered shower (which is operated off a gas tank which we have to remember to turn on and off on pain of having a cold shower), a sink, and most depressingly of all, a Chinese-style toilet. Guess I'm going to have to get used to it now!

The area I'm in isn't too far from the hostel, probably about 15mins by car, but it's just in something of a random area in which we've never previously been. It's just around the corner from a BIG market, with the biggest array of open air fresh food stalls I've seen for a long time: lots of fresh fruit, veg, fish and meat. And eggs, obviously. Very important. And just down the road are lots of shops and banks and this internet cafe, so all in all, apart from the random location, not a bad area in which to live! (Wow, this no preposition at the end of the sentence rule is making me write in a rather weird manner, no?) We start observing English classes on Monday, and presumably start teaching proper as soon as possible. I have been given my schedule, it turns out I will be teaching 7, 8 and 9 year olds. The icing and cherry on the massive cake of apprehension is the fact that we have been told the classes will be between 50 and 60 kids large. Ouch. If the kids actually listen to me, it'll be a laugh. At least it'll be an experience, right?

The most noticable thing is the lack of other people around. Myself and Cat were just watching a DVD on our rather large TV last night, and when it ended we were at something of a loss of what to do! Guess that'll be why our predecessors went out most nights, helps kill the monotony? Will keep my fingers crossed that all goes well!

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Anyhow, Team Old Towners are fricking hardcore! We walked along the Tiger Leaping Gorge about a 2 and a half bus ride from Lijiang. It was quite a hardcore walk/climb: we hiked for the better part of 5 or 6 hours yesterday and 4 or 5 hours today. Today was pretty easy comparatively, but part of yesterday's trek was mental! It was an uphill section called the 28 Bends (though various other maps call it the 24, 26 or 30 Bends). Needless to say, there were a lot of bends and it was a tough, sweat-inducing, bend-cursing climb. But the views all along the way are incredible, and genuinely recollecting of Lord of the rings, from the green pastures, the waterfalls and the blackened, mist-laden, Mordor-esque mounts. Every so often we stopped to catch our breaths, take photos or just absorb the beauty.

Overnight we stayed at the Tea Horse Guest House, which for location alone made it one of the better places we've stayed at. Yes, the room was fricking cold and there WAS an electric wire hanging over my head while I slept, but when you've been climbing your little legs out, anywhere with clean shelter, a picturesque location and a generous menu including beer, your expectations are slightly lowered. We also met some nice people along the way. I, and later the others, Will somewhat begrudgingly, got up early to watch the sunrise over the peak of the Jade Snow Mountains, which stand at around 5700m, worth it completely, even if I was freezing my butt off first thing in the morning. There was also a caged monkey in the back near the simple squat toilets and basic shower facilities, a dog which barked JUST when we were trying to sleep, and a cardboard box in which there was a dog and its two immensely cute puppies.

Today's walk was a little easier, being mostly downhill but only slightly less breaktaking. After a bumpy rocky minibus ride to Qiao Tou, the starting village of the route, we got another minibus back in Lijiang, much to our reliefs. It was an amazing excursion, but it feels good to rest the legs :D

Sunday, February 17, 2008


[Again extracted from a Facebook message thread. Sorry, can't generally be bothered to type it out twice!]

The Old Town-ers are in Li Jiang which is beautiful. It's so pictoresque in a manner reminiscent of old European towns (Alsace for example) or Canada, in that it's modern, and in its cleanliness and the facilities that it is POSSIBLE to find, but still very much aware of its roots and its place in its natural and mountainy beautiful surroundings. It's old school without being grungy and traditional without being backward.

Our hostel is near the heart of the Old Town, which means even a short trip to the post office is a worthwhile voyage. This morning we saw some Naxi ladies in costume (though they mostly seem to remain so irregardless) dancing in circles! Random, eh?

We went to a village called BaiSha today and the nearby monastery with its awesome decor and frescoes. We have just been generally absorbing the atmosphere of this most beautiful of towns (so far) and trying out the local Naxi food (Naxi bread, cake, sausage - something akin to black pudding, yak meat, yoghurt and fried goat's cheese).

Tomorrow we intend to go to Tiger Leaping Gorge which should be awesome! Though we just heard a rumour Lijiang is going to be hit by snow soon which is fairly worrying! Everyone apart this one American couple (omg, another Chineseman who doesn't know Chinese! Met an Aussie girl in Chengdu too! Don't feel as stupid anymore! Score!) says it'll be nice though, including tourist offices and websites so we're probably going ahead anyhow :D

Monday, February 11, 2008

Chengdu 1

Team Panda (just thought that up, sounds pretty hench to me) has just arrived in Chengdu after a 26 hour train trip. It went pretty quickly considering, perhaps because we slept for some of it, perhaps because of the immense bant (me and Himesh and our after hours subtle abuse of Guilin) and perhaps because we were in a soft sleeper carriage. It's fairly basic, but like the First Class of Chinese trains. We felt like we were on the Hogwarts Express. Well maybe just me and Himesh.

The place we've just checked into (the Loft no. 4 Factory) is pretty cool, basic, but it looks like a converted factory, so youthful, and perhaps most important, we have found an in-house bar which has Tsingtao for 10kwai and JD and coke for 16. We know what we're doing tonight!

Thursday, February 07, 2008


On our last full day in Guilin, we went on a Li River cruise, along the river that runs between Guilin and Yangshou and a myriad of other places besides. It's such a pictoresque place and I have no regrets for doing it, if only because in that two hours, I got a wonderful selection of pictures, such as one imagines when one thinks of China, as in the paintings most commonly found on restaurant walls. But I couldn't help thinking that:
- It would've been a sight more deep blue and bright green in the summer months
- The cold and lack of warmth in the boat marred the experience a TAD
- After a time, mountains do start to look rather same-y :P
Also the guide left us in the middle of nowhere between Guilin and Yangshou just pointing in a direction. A little worrying for a short space of time! :P

Yangshou Tales:

Chinese New Year was ok, a little boring actually. We had dinner in a very Chinese place (through pointing and my very stunted pidgin Chinese I'm being the spokesman of the group, I don't know if I'm getting better or I'm just very good at pointing) where we had the local specialty, beer fish. It was ok, but I've had better in Guilin. People were letting off fireworks near the riverfront, but just small families, there was no massive firework display as such! We tried hard to find a good place to get a drink, but failed! Everywhere was just too empty, too crowded, too pricey or too outright gay! Not sure any of us bar Will wanted to go into the place with the gay grinding guys with cowboy hats. He claims he wanted to bail when he saw them.

We ended up, at the stroke of midnight, in an OK place with dice and a couple of Aussie girls we met at Guilin. Had some jokes talking about the differences between our two fair countries (we're POMs, they're crims), dissing various accents (apparently I sound like Hugh Grant, and I retaliated with a stinging comeback about their appalling syllable elongation. Well not so much much elongation as creation. Dammit, 'ear' and beer' have ONE syllable each!) and general bant-astic times. But the Aussies hated the Buble, which was a shocker to say the least. Not pleased. We met some other randomers from Israel and Germany who were nice enough. The phrase from Fight Club came to mind, they were perfectly satisfying 'single serving friends'.

Today, we got up a deal later than we had to and walked the 8 odd kms (it was meant to be like 6, but we got lost along the way. Ahem. Chinese roadsigns are misleading!) to Moon Hill, so called because at the very top, the loop of the hill or mountain resembles an upside down crescent moon. It was a pretty tiring trek up, but well worth it for the views, and we rather tragically felt a few Lord of the Rings comparisons. Felt obliged to yell "Buble!" off the top. Obviously mine echoed the most... Will's was just plain feeble. Lots of wonderful scenery along the way, I was a terrible, and probably immensely annoying, camera slut, taking photos of absolutely anything I deemed even slightly photo-worthy.

Tomorrow should be awesome as we're going to the Longsheng Rice Terraces. Though we do have to meet outside the tourist office at 7.20 in the morning and the trip is 3 and a half hours there. Better charge the old iPod, eh?

Monday, February 04, 2008

Guilin 2

[Again extracted... sorry, I'm lazy! Michael Bubles are... pretty self explanatory :P Say his name slowly... I'm not 21, honest!]

Anisha/Wolmar/Ali - We have heard Yo Mei Yo and also that 'Round, and round, and round we go!' song as well. Also, the music in the hostel is muy shite-io. Saxophone covers of 'classics', Mariah Carey (not even the good ones) and just not good.

Our fellow hosteliers are pretty funky, met a couple of Aussie girls (now in the unforgiving clutches of Paul), a New Zealand girl and gal, a couple of guys from Macao (the portugese one was lovely but would not shut up and leave me alone! :P)

We're having a lazy day today, got up at 11, and will just have a walk around later... it's a little warmer today which is pleasant. Yesterday, we had a very very good day (at least in my opinion, but I would venture the others agree). In the morning, we grabbed a few of those breakfast kruller things and waited for a bus to the Reed Flute Caves, which were brilliantly lit up with different coloured lights. Like nothing I'd seen before, though Paul has seen better! Obviously... Photos to come on later. We also paid 10kwai each (down from 20... skanky bastards) to see apparently 1000-year-old turtles, though we remain sceptical as to the age. We just ended up feeling sorry for them however, they were just sat on a rug or in small ponds or tanks. They all looked unhappy, still or at best lethargic. Never again do I want to pay money to feel sorry for entrapped nature.

After lunch we took a bus the other way to FuBo Hill, which wasn't nearly as high as the Ding An mount we climbed, but still impressively surrounded by little hill/mountains (or as we unanimously agreed 'Surrounded by Michaels/Bubles *). There was also a little cave thing to walk around, including a cave of a thousand Buddhas (the Chinese seem to love that number), and there were quite a few carved into the rock, a little alcove with a Buddhist candle-lit shrine, and some curiously located Chinese calligraphy carved into the cave wall faces.

* Himesh remains irritated by my incapability to use acute accents over the 'e' in Buble

We came back and chilled in the hostel (Himesh and I played pool with the New Zealanders, the girl was a definite 7/8 :P) and then had dinner in a nearby restaurant. We all had rice (and of course, stomach of the bottomless pit Will had another fried rice in addition) and Cat had a rather spicy beancurd, Will a rather unsatisfying beef and celery, and me and Himesh had the spectacular, local delicacy, actually-made-my-day-complete, 'Beer Fish', a really tender white fish fried with a beer sauce. Came back and played Shit Head (some things don't change) with Paul, Aussie girls and a London copper named Glen, who is admirably taking a 5 month trip to see half the Pacific ring seemingly! Then got accosted by the newly arrived Macao peeps, and the Portuguese one called Diogo was so sodding friendly I felt incapable of telling him to sod off!

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Guilin 1

[Extract from group facebook message]

First night in Guilin

Team Guilin are doing well. We had what sounds like the least complicated ride in, not to rub it in anyones faces. Cab to the airport was fine, though I was stuck in the middle. Things were crushed that nature did not intend to be. Flight not delayed, and hey, isn't the airport a damn sight nicer to look at than it did when we arrived, eh? Flight itself was short and pretty fine, though I may have wasted the window seat by completely conking out before we'd even taxi'd, waking up about halfway handily to Catherine telling me they were handing out unexpected sandwiches... in your face, Easyjet! They also gave out what I'm told were REALLY nice coffees but I wasn't feeling it at the time. Also fell asleep right after that. We were wheeling back in when I woke up and Catherine laughed in my face when I asked if I'd missed the landing.Guilin is very cold, but not as bad as we were expecting. No signs of snow etc and we are told we'll also get some sunshine soon! It is also a lot more developed than I'd envisaged when we sat in the hostel missing you all more than we cared to admit. It's like Hong Kong but with wider streets, cleaner, and just a rather interesting place by night (we have yet to see it by day). We had a pretty easy and scenic cab ride in, with only a very minor confusion with address on the driver's part. Turns out he'd taken us a mere block away.

The hostel seems nice, if a little on the rustic side, with a brick and wooden panelling finishing reminiscent of a ski lodge. Unfortunately, it has all of the cold and none of the open fires and heaters. In our shared 4-bed dorm room, we've made it rather more manageable with hot air spewing out the air conditioning unit. It's got white people in too! Mental... we briefly chatted to a couple of Aussie girls and an Israeli guy whom I strongly suspect was gay and... let's say lonely. After a rather overpriced Dan Chow Fan (egg fried rice to those not in the know ;p) and soup noodle we returned to hostel. Cat and Guilin (immeasurably pleased to be back in his namesake and spiritual home) are sleeping and I'm here typing like a FB addict with Himesh reading over my shoulder and playing pool with Paul, who is as ever a veritable font of interesting stories(!)

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Quick one.

[Written on Sunday for Cathy]

So it's been a pretty weird weekend. We (the group of other volunteers on the same scheme as me) went to a different part of the island for a bit of a trip, left yesterday morning and came back in time for lunch today. Saw a nice bit of scenery both days: on Saturday we went to this Temple (I'm still not ENTIRELY certain whether it was Buddhist or Taoist) located on a mountain, which meant the walking to the top bit was a little tiring but the views were AMAZING. The actual temple and some of the features (gaudily painted buildings, stone stairs and water features) we heard, were actually a mere several years old, which slightly detracted from the pictoresque charm of the place. (Ancient Buddhist temple, from the Oriental range, available now from an Ikea near you!) Slightly mortifying though was the fact that my camera ran out of juice, pretty much as soon I took it out, all the views were, in that way, wasted on me. Bummer. Will have to instead resort to stealing off others on Facebook, the classy way, eh?Today we went to this lake, which was really pretty, and definitely worth a few photos (Dammit.) but you know how it is, after a while, it just becomes an expanse of water. Skimmed a few stones, ooh'd ah'd then left. Must have spent a good 3 hours in the old minibus these past few days. Awesome.Last night we went to a bar and picked up a stalker! Now, group leads to immense fascination everywhere we go, from random outcries of "Hello!" every now and then to just plain outright staring. But there was this guy who was royally royallly pissed off his head, he spilt beer over someone, fell over and nearly overturned a table. And then when we tried to leave he was a little overfriendly... paying for the pool games a few of the others were playing, and kept following us and offering to buy us dinner and paying for our hotel rooms and so forth. Our native guide (ha!) advised us it would be a bad idea to do so... hardly something we needed telling from the state of him. One of our number, a 6'9" beast of a guy, kept wanting to lamp him, despite/due to being pretty inebriated himself and we had to tell him not to. One of the girls was crying (albeit for good reason, which I will not going into now), one of the guys was... in a bit of a state too. Anyhow, stalker came INTO the courtyard of the hostel and tried to hunt us down, which freaked out the girls no end, to the point where they were frantically locking their doors and locating penknives, which would've been hilarious were they not so upset. He left, later after Martin (our guide, a brilliantly patient and helpful man) calmed him down and convinced him to leave. So, bit of an interesting night really!

Songs that won't get out of my head:
- Apologize - Timbaland and One Republic
- Turpentine - Brandi Carlile
- Can You Feel The Love Tonight - Lion King OST

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Things I'm missing...

It's been a fair uneventful time in Haikou these past few days. We have, for the most part, been having lessons in Chinese (handy!) and teaching (pointless). I have finally opened the little book I brought with me and am now making some attempt at writing a diary. Yes, I may have written only 2 entries, but I'm making an effort! I just think I'd like to have something to read back later on when Hainan is but a memory, something more tangible than fleeting recollections. Though what I classify as noteworthy is fairly limited, though it'll be the little things, the banter, the nights out and the in-jokes that I'd really want to take away with me. Thus far anyway - once I hit China proper in February, THEN I'll have some disgustingly cool memories to take away with me. On that note, I've realised I should really take my camera around with me more...

I have also experienced a little of the awkwardness that I was afraid of getting before I came out here. Shopkeepers expect me to speak Chinese and me, my fellow travellers and the shop assistance all get a little disappointed when I fall completely short. I have also once been laughed at (I felt about 2 feet tall) but overall they're alright with it.

And so, as I have nothing great to report (do you really want to hear about the time I went to the shopping mall and bought peanut butter? Little tragic that shopping for little things is now our life...) I'm going to instead list out things I'm missing about the little island I call home:
- Rather depressingly, the ability to mess about on my iTunes. I have my playlists by mood and so forth, and my moods are changing now I'm out here and I'm having to go back to old ones. IT may sound a little sad, and I daresay it is, but music has always been a part of my life and so the altering of my ability to thus control it is a little frustrating.
- The green of non-tropical trees, grass and plants. Around the area of Haikou we're staying in, there are mainly main roads and heavily neon-ed buildings, but there are certainly no shortage of trees but they're all palms, and there is a street where there are about 12 flower shops where the bouquets are wonderfully colourful, but somehow artificial in their beauty. I miss the deep, darker green of the trees around Victoria Park, not that I could name them for you.
- All you guys. The people here are all pretty sound, though as I may or may not have said, I'm starting to see the divisions forming, not in any kind of harsh or spiteful way, more the sad yet inevitable ebb away... But I can't help but think this experience would be all the better if I had just one or two of you out here. As is rather predictable, I keep seeing and hearing things that remind me of London (to me, London is the Londoners, ie you, rather than, say, the tower of Big Ben) and that gives me a short pang of longing for the familiar voices and faces. For example, I met a couple of the group who have heard and love Jason Mraz's "I'm Yours"... that's not the most common song, so obviously I think of a few of you (you know who you are, if you're reading this, KN, CG, SH...)
- The feeling of complete safety just walking about on the streets. It's rather strange. I'm not at all scared walking about, just a little ill at ease and feeling as if I have to keep alert. In some ways, Hong Kong and Singapore prepared me for this experience but I felt alright there, as if I could get by if I needed to (Singapore more so... the language definitely helps) but here I feel perpetually like a stranger.

We're going to a temple on a mountain or something like that this weekend and staying over for the night. That should be interesting and worth a story or two... I shall keep you in the loop :)

p.s. Nick, if you read this, I bought seasons 1 and 2 of "How I Met Your Mother" on fake DVD for like one quid, how cool is that?!

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Wo xi huan Hainan

And so my little stint in the Motherland continues!

We started the Mandarin classes today. I had a little of an advantage when it came to the initial pronounciation sections, as I obviously have more of a wealth of experience to draw upon, what with the exposure to words and so forth. But as we're now on the process of learning the phrases, any advantage I had has now swiftly disappeared. I still feel the obligation to be at the top end though, it'd be a shame if I wasn't... it's meant to be my mother tongue and all that.

The days here as the same time, oxymoronically (or just moronically? It's late and I've had little sleep!) seem to go really quickly and really slowly. The days seem to extend quite a lot and so as a result we get a lot packed into the days, although a little less so now, as we start to fall into the lesson schedule. Thus far, we've visited, as said, Holiday Beach, Evergreen Park (again reminding me uncannily of Singapore), the tomb of Hairu (apparently one of the early chieftains of Hainan), a few shopping malls here and there, and a couple of small things here and there.

And gone out a fair bit also ;) It's not completely our faults the beer is so cheap, nor that locals insist on buying rounds of drinks and ridiculously priced chips in the clubs for us! Upon requesting that they allow us to get a round in, we get rebuffed and besides which we have been told it would be considered bad manners and poor form to reject them. They're not all ideal though... last night, we returned to 'Allen's Bar' after a terrible terrible mockery of a KTV (karaoke) attempt in the place actually just across the road from us. W.V. we suspect, may have gotten his drink spiked, and as a result was... 'ill' throughout for a long time, to the extent that I felt compelled to stay up with him for until I was sure he was OK, but it wasn't too bad as I did have company for it for the great majority. But that's not the kind of thing Palin would write about is it? :P

What he might have written about is how far the pound stretches out here (the local cornershop sells a crate of 12 700ml beers for a slip over 3 quid), how the locals are for the most part friendly, more than keen, though shy, to talk to us as they would love to be able to tell their peers they spoke to a foreigner. Obviously with me this is a tad less of an issue, though I'm pretty sure I nevertheless bemuse them with my level of English.

I'm not overly certain what to write anymore, which is something of a strange occurence. Due to laziness, sleep deprivation (10 and a half hours in the past few days!) and not a small degree of lack of commitment, I'm obviously adverse to type up the entirety of my day's content, but the more I can write now the better for later, I suppose. And of the experiences I have undergone on a day to day basis, what becomes newsworthy on a daily scale?

However, I AM excited by the:
- prospect of teaching, strangely. I may end up with the opportunity to share a class and take a few adults for a conversational class tomorrow.
- the travelling in February. Myself and WS and CH have decided to travel to Guilin and the surrounding area by train for the few weeks we get off during the Chinese New Year (though they refer to is as the "Spring Festival" here) break. It should be more useful and give rise to more useful stories at a later date, what with the prospect of the awe-inspiring scenery, the Chinese New Year celebrations, and a lack of purpose-filled itineraries. We shall see.

Monday, January 07, 2008

"The Great Firewall of China"

You have to go via a proxy to get to the BBC website! What the heck? Though I'd hope not to the same extremes, surely there is in that something reminiscent of the Second World War, where people on precious stored radios listened to the BBC World Service to get news about the progress of the war. Obviously that's again being somewhat overdramatic, that's just the brief vibe I got upon receiving that particular bit of information.

So it's Day 3, and my interest is still not waning! Woo! Currently sat in a darkened internet cafe surrounded by highly excitable Chinese kids playing Warcraft III and yelling each other in relation to it. It's an improvement on the other night, I suppose, where there was a man sitting in the corner watching porn and... well, he was quiet, and his face intent and his hands not on his keyboard. Ahem.

Not really been doing anything too hardcore at present, nor have I really been trying out the old Mandarin, but I expect that will swiftly change when we get chucked into schools. We're about to start the learning, of teaching skills and basic Chinese language, and that should be pretty useful. I'm feeling a little too overconfident about the teaching part, I guess my Kumon experience and other stuff has given me more than the average amount of exposure to teaching kiddies, but I expect the scale and so forth of what we're about to do is somewhat different. I have at least lost the feeling the small feeling of dread I had just before I left. Everyone is really nice and it's all fairly close knit. It's actually somewhat reminiscent of Fresher's Week: especially due to the communal dining room we all hang out in and spend the majority of our spare time in the building in.

Had a couple of excursions here and there also, taken a few photos, and still a little uncertain how I'm going to get them onto the old facebook but that's not really an issue. The 'Holiday Beach' about 20 drive away is really nice, but yesterday we only spent a little over an hour there... we intend to go back on our day off on Sunday, should be a laugh.

The whole place reminds me a little of the less developed areas of Singapore, the same sense of the urban being plonked into the middle of a tropical rural area, with the (albeit planted) tropical trees around, the villagers around... it's a very varying area though, with the environment changing from mile to mile down the main roads. The locals treat us,mostly the others obviously, with the expected level of awe. It seems as if they'd been blessed the presence of a unicorn or something. Some are friendly and curious and say "Hi" to us, and grin the widest smile when we respond positively.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Should auld acquaintance be forgot and never brought to mind?

On a random note, is there a living person who actually knows all the words to this song off by heart? Or the full national anthem for that matter? I'd like to hope that there is, that somewhere exists such a bastion of the Britain of the old school, for it would surely be a shame if not.

So, I actually had a good New Year's Eve this year. I can't even remember what I ended up doing last year, the year before that I was ill with the mumps, and the year before that I was on a plane over probably the Middle East at the time.
Anyhow this year I went to a friend's house for a New Year's Eve party (Thanks L.B. if you ever get around to reading this! It was a truly awesome night) and it was nice to spend the night with a bunch of friends, and more food and drink (muhaha... strawberry vodka...) than could ever realistically have been consumed on that night, and to be honest most likely another one too. I'm going to stop short of giving a full play-by-play account, because it did get rather convoluted and, indeed, confusing at times (eating chocolate while wearing Arctic gear game? Sounds a great deal more fun than it is... the game where winning can in fact just feel like losing). New Year's is renowned as being one of the biggest overhyped letdowns of the year, and ha, to be fair in terms of an ACTUAL New Year celebration it wasn't the most successful. We somehow ended up with two separate countdowns (one from the TV and one of L.B.'s own inebriated imagination) but M.S. made a gallant effort with her inspired provision of party-poppers! But it was a brilliant knees-up, that is not in doubt. Ring of Fire, Guitar Hero 3 after drinks... it was just very very fun! :-)

On Wednesday I had a farewell curry after work. Curry was fine, had a drink and the customary go on the It Box. And tonight, I went and watch "Enchanted" (which, I'll agree is somewhat kiddie and cheesy, but a part of everyone has to love the Disney. Plus, Amy Adams is hot! *shrugs*) and attempt to have a quick sneaky bevvy before I had to go home and sleep (clearly, that's not working out so well, I have to be up in 5 hours! Screw it, I have all of the flight to sleep, I suppose). But that wasn't the point I was trying to make. What I was attempting to get across is the strange feeling I got those times somewhere between my gut and my chest... the same feeling I got in a much smaller measure when I left work for the last time earlier on... I suppose it was preemptive homesickness. Perhaps not in the strictest sense of the word. As much as I love being a Londoner, the Finchley house for some reason hasn't really felt like home for... a while at any rate, and I certainly won't miss the weather... the cruel bitter cold that stubbornly refused to bring at least the consolation snow along with it. But I will certainly miss the people (most of them at any rate)... each of the farewells, some of them over the phone, some of them rushed yes, felt a little like I was a cup, and with each goodbye some of the liquid I was holding was being poured out. At the moment, when the reality and enormity has finally hit me for real, I feel somewhat merely half full (but not half empty!) and it'll take a little bit of time to get back up to full... fullness. A friend tried to tell me that this feeling is fleeting, that while parting may, as it is said, be such sweet sweet sorrow, I shall get over it in a couple of weeks. I don't personally believe this, and half of me wants to believe this is true and the other half not, but only experiencing it will tell, I suppose.

Pardon my melodrama, it is rather late and I am rather tired from my long week! Farewell sweet England, with its green and pleasant lands, and the wondrous people living therein. In less than 30 hours I shall be halfway across the world, and if this blog is lucky, perhaps a little less fond of hyperbolae ;-p

I shall try to keep you posted.

Random musing of the time - should I be like a child or a superstitious sailor and give this blog a name?
Song that won't leave my head - it WAS Muse's "Knights of Cydonia" but now it's "That How She Knows" from Enchanted! It was so thoroughly implanted after the film ended that I unpacked my iPod and put the song on it :P So I'm a crazy insomniac, what else is new? :P