Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Be Mine...

Valentine's Day (Qíng rén jié)

Valentine’s Day is becoming more and more popular with young people in China and you can find cards, chocolates and special bouquets honouring the holiday in many shops. Having spent a few days back in England I returned to find a wonderful assortment of Chinese-esque Valentine’s Day gifts from Jake….
White roses bouquet complete with cute love bunny teddy bears,
pirate copy of '24' seasons 1-8, baked goods from 'Cookie Time'
(my favourite bakery), toffees and some Chinese wine.
A cute card from the lovely Jonny
We decided to devote a week of lessons to the romantic holiday, introducing our students to the greatest love song ever made (Whitney Houston “I Will Always Love You”), the ‘Elephant Love Medley' from 'Moulin Rouge’ (pausing just before Ewan and Nicole kiss as they went a little crazy the first time we showed it), dabbling in the art of love poetry as well as assuring the Grade 7s that Cupid does not kill people with his bow and arrow.

Roses are red
Violets are blue
Let's put on our shoes
And go to the hotel

Um...thank you Class 4
Roses are Red
Violets are blue
You are naughty
And I love you

…Courtesy of Class 1

Tuesday, 3 January 2012

Have Yourself a Maoy Little Christmas...

Before I knew it I had come to the end of my advent calendar and it was Christmas Eve. I was very excited to jump on the train heading to Beijing. After only two hours door to door we arrived at Helen�s and 365. After settling in to our favourite hostel in the Chinese capital we decided to have an amble around the Forbidden City, once home to many important people, emperors and such. Common folk like us were once excluded but no more. I am not sure why the emperors required 980 rooms but I am sure they put them to good use. Strutting around the 500 year old palace in our santa hats was great...

There are lots of places to hide in the Forbidden City....
Christmas Eve evening was filled with fun, laughter and Chinese Great Wall wine. Naturally Chinese was on the menu for dinner and we entertained/slightly frightened the restaurant owners and other diners with festive Christmas songs, including the full 12 Days of Christmas (led by the lovely Jonny). Then it was on to Sānlǐt�n, bar street, to continue the celebrations. We had been having issues trying to persuade Helen�s (the expat bar attached to the hostel) to play my ipod complete with 52 festive gems, so I was ever so pleased to find a bar that was playing Mariah�s classic (the first Christmas song I had heard since arriving in Beijing). The bar then went on to play Bloc Party and The Strokes so everyone was very happy and we counted down the minutes until Christmas Day, still wearing our Santa hats.
Christmas Eve grub

Out in Sānlǐt�n on Christmas Eve
Christmas Day began with bucks fizz and not so Secret Santa fun (Mike playing the role of Santa). I got some lovely things from my secret Santa, Fiona, including a jewelled panda necklace (very Chinese), oreos (my number one favourite biscuit in China (which I have had to give up for New Year as I will soon turn into one if I eat any more), and some lovely bangles. Christmas dinner was no Roast but it was a fantastic Chinese alternative and all for �4.50 each!

It was then out for the traditional Christmas Day walk, only this year it was around Tiananmen Square to see Mao and do our traditional jump of the day photo.
Christmas Mao
Christmas Jump of the Day: The Girls
Christmas Jump of the Day: The Boys
With 15 of us strolling across the square in Santa hats we attracted a lot of attention, with one guard asking a Chinese friend whether we posed a threat to Chinese national security. We were a kind of walking advert for Christmas, hopefully bringing some festive cheer along with us!
Attracting attention in Tiananmen Square
As the evening drew in we started to wind down; �Love Actually� was put on, three different types of red wine consumed, charades and 20 questions were played endlessly and we all spoke to our families at home (mine still being in bed having not opened a single present!).

On Boxing Day we visited the Lama Temple which is a Tibetan Buddhist monastery. It houses a 26 metre tall Buddha carved from a single piece of sandalwood. It was rather impressive and very beautiful. Again Jake mentioned Jesus when he saw how enormous the statue was.
At the Llama Temple
Our next stop was the completely frozen h�uhǎi lake, complete with ice hockey players, fisherman and professional skaters practising on the ice. It was here that we found the cutest bar/caf� to warm ourselves and play more party games.

Jonny on the ice having been chased by a
Chinese ice hockey player!
Christmas Day fishing...
Having had a wonderful Chinese themed Christmas experience, we rolled onto the train in Beijing and off again in Tianjin, then straight into bed after a very different but superbly Maoy Christmas!

Xīn Ni�n Ku�i L�!!
For New Year we were all out in Tianjin and started our evening at a gem of a curry house. We saw in 2012 with friends, a lot of wine of varying colours and even managed to sing/slur a chorus of Auld Lang Syne. It was not quite the same as New Year�s festivities at home as it is not traditional to celebrate 1st January here but on the plus side, being in China we get to celebrate two New Years in 2012! To see in the new lunar calendar this year, on 23rd January, we will be in the exceptionally exciting city of Hong Kong�.

But for our next stop: the wonderfully frozen ice city of Harbin for their annual ice festival.
Current weather forecast: sunny with an average temperature of -20�C
A glimpse of what we have to look forward to
in Harbin!

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Oh I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday...

A selection of festive gems from Tianjin No. 1 High School...

Spiderman and Rudolph...a crime-stopping duo!

A great selection of Christmas cards from our students.
If you open the pink and purple cards, top left, you will discover
a flashing 'Happy Birthday' accompanied by the sound of Fur Elise.
This made my day!

A lovely Christmas message from Denis,
complete with joke as follows:
Tommy: How is your little brother Jonny?
Jonny: He is ill in bed. He hurt himself.
Tommy: That's too bad. How dd that happen?
Jonny: We played who could lean furthest out of the window
and he won :)

Christmas corner in the office

Monday, 19 December 2011

Twas the Night Before Christmas...

As I am about to embark on my first Christmas experience abroad, I am starting to feel that I could not have gone much further or reached more foreign climbs than The People’s Republic of China. Naturally Christmas is overshadowed by Spring Festival, the biggest event in the Chinese lunar calendar, and everyone is now gearing up to a much deserved winter holiday with the Chinese New Year festivities beginning very early this year. The whole country will be uniting with family and friends, preparing mammoth feasts and decorating their homes, all under a beautiful umbrella of firework displays. 

Christmas is not traditionally celebrated in China but my city, Tianjin, has done its part and if you find yourself wandering through the city centre you will find a good assortment of Christmas trees or ‘Trees of Light’ dotted around, including a bright pink number covered in silver baubles. You can also see many jolly shop assistants sporting festive headwear and numerous buildings decked in lovely Christmas lights. And over the last couple of days I have even spotted two Chinese Father Christmases or shèng dàn lǎo rén (Christmas Old Man) as he is known here.

With less than a week to go until the big day I am beginning to feel rather festive especially opening the doors of my advent calendar every morning without fail. We have also brought the joy of Christmas time to the classroom in a two week long festive lesson plan.

It turns out that Chinese students are big fans of our much beloved Mr Bean, so naturally ‘Merry Christmas Mr Bean’ went down a storm. I was not prepared for the hysteric laughter that followed Mr Bean’s attempt to remove his head from inside his rather enormous Christmas turkey.

Being a huge fan of Christmas (as many are), I can be festive wherever I am but I think what friends and I have missed the most is the wonderful build-up to Christmas that often begins quite early in the UK. This year we have had to seek out the infamous Coca-Cola trucks as well as Mariah Carey’s ever popular Christmas tune on youtube. I have not experienced the hype surrounding this year’s John Lewis Christmas advert or had the opportunity to amble past the beautiful Christmas window displays at Selfridges which is a must at this time of year.  I still find it strange that Christmas Day is just an ordinary day for most Chinese people. You do have to make a little more effort to feel in the holiday spirit here but  last night I was pleased to overhear a karaoke version of Wham’s classic ‘Last Christmas’ whilst out for dinner.  

I am currently compiling a Christmas playlist for the big day containing the usual festive gems, but if I am in the mood for a more sombre, up-to-date, Christmas number I will turn to The Maccabees and their cover of 'Walking in the Air'.
I will miss spending time with family and friends and being 5145 miles away seems even further as the holiday approaches. But this year will be a Christmas like no other. On 24th December fellow expats, Chinese friends and I will be heading to Beijing to experience what the Chinese capital has to offer over the festive period. We are booked into a lovely hostel on the outskirts of Tiananmen Square and the now not so Secret Santa has been drawn. It is odd to think that we will be celebrating Christmas and opening presents a whole eight hours before our loved ones in the UK, but with the option to switch to UK time during the day, we can legitimately prolong the festivities even further. Our day is likely to include an interesting combination of English and Chinese activities including mulled wine making (and drinking), tucking into a world famous Beijing duck, pulling crackers sent from home as well as playing party games and perhaps a little karaoke which is a must for any special occasion in China. The dress code for Christmas Day is officially smart/cash with a tinsel twist (as demonstrated by the lovely young lady below!).
The temperature in the North of China is dropping rapidly so placing a bet on a white Christmas in Beijing could perhaps be a wise move and, more importantly, would make for my first ever snow covered Christmas Day.

And finally a big thank you to Leah for asking me to be a part of her Expat Christmas project featured in The Telegraph!

Sunday, 6 November 2011

A little country getaway

I love the city but sometimes you do need to escape and see that there is a blue sky beyound the smog that inevitably hovers over Chinese cities. National Day was approaching and naturally the one day holiday is transformed into a week off for most people. So a group of us decided to head to the countryside, about a two hour train ride from Tianjin (and for only 80p one way you cannot fault the price). Upon our arrival in Jixian, we were pounced on by hotel owners, taxi drivers and tour operators, you name it! But once we got through the rabble it all calmed down and we saw a blue sky for the first time in a little while.
Drum Tower in the centre of Jixian (complete with blue sky)
Jake and I decided to stay in the town for a couple of nights before we met the rest ofthe group. In retrospect this was a slight mistake. The hotel was interesting to say the least. The walls were paper thin which does not go well with the tendency for Chinese people to shout. In China I do find it hard to work out whether people are angry or just speaking loudly as they do generally speak at a higher volume than us. Two policemen also came bursting into our room one day which was rather intimidating. They then took Jake away which worried me somewhat. Turns out they just needed to register our details, which obviously requires two policemen.

We visited a lovely temple whilst staying in the town. The Dule temple () is more than 1000 years old and contains the statue of Avalokitesvara with the head of eleven small Budhas on tob. It is one of the largest clay statues in ancient China. Jake wandered in to this Buddhist temple and his first remark was “Jesus”….he did apologise a minute later though! It was deserted when we visited and it was so lovely to escape the constant attention that seemed to follow us everywhere.
The Dule Temple
The ever happy Buddha
We met the others at Jixian station (where I visited the second worst toilet in my life) and we all travelled to a farmhouse near Mount Panshan. Our first meal included a whole chicken (head and feet). The breakfast was great though and came complete with tasty omelette. It is surprising the comfort you get from food that you actually recognise as it is a common occurrence not to really know what you’re eating here.

Chowing down in the chopstick pros!
We decided to climb Mount Pan Shan the next day. We were the only westerners on the whole mountain…I think it must be a very Chinesey tourist spot. For anyone making the epic climb, it is their goal to reach the pagoda at the top. With every new section we climbed I hated that pagoda more and more as it never appeared to be getting any closer. But we kept going and reached the top 5 hours later. The views from the top were wonderful. Then we realised we had to get back down again! We had to take the cable car down the mountain…it was horrible! The glass at the front of our car was smashed and it rocked repeatedly from side to side with the wind..but we made it down in one piece!
In good spirits, half way up the mountain

The close!
It was at Mount Pan Shan that we came across this interestingly dressed young man...
Lost in translation?
We also visited another section of the Great Wall, so more climbing. It was a newly refurbished section and the views were amazing! When we walked along the wall and came to the old part, I thought I may slip and die on a few occasions but it was all worth it and my legs were well and truly toned by the end!
Great Wall fun

We had a bit of time in the town before we left, so Jake and I would rock up and play cards in different places, ice cream in hand. Every time we attracted a group of people who were intrigued as to our existence as well as the card game we were playing (but if you have ever played Shit Head, you will know that it is impossible to guess the rules….the Chinese tried nonetheless!). I had my photo taken a number of times and one man let me listen to Lady GaGa on his mp3 player. Jixian is a funny little place! 

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Ich bin ein Tianjiner

I cannot quite believe that two months have passed since we first stepped foot in China and completed our induction course in Beijing. We have been living in Tianjin for nearly 7 weeks now. Time has flown by really! Tianjin is very big and the city goes on for miles. We have done a little exploring and visited some of the attractions that the city has to offer. We have been up to the top of the TV Tower which is 368m high. Luckily it was a beautiful day and we could see the whole city. Tianjin has some beautiful parks but you are never allowed to sit on the grass!

Tianjin is home to a beautiful house made out of pottery….my favourite part of the house being the porcelain cats neatly placed around the door frames.

The city has some interesting themed areas dotted around including the Italian Style Town (containing Italian and German Restaurants, and of course a Starbucks) and Ancient Culture Street which is full of market stalls and beautiful traditional Chinese buildings bursting with colour. However it is also the most touristy area of the city and we are often papped by Chinese tour groups while we are there.
Painted shop front in Italian Style Town
Being papped by a Chinese tour group in Ancient Culture Steet
There is a lot of street food to choose from and they prepare it for you as you wait.
The street stalls are perfect for any meat lover!
Hot Pot restaurants are also very popular and it makes for a ‘fun and interactive’ dining experience (especially when the dancing noodle man makes an appearance!).
Our Tianjin family in a Korean hot pot restaurant...complete with stylish red aprons
If you want to baggsie yourself a bargain then the best place to head for is Da Hutong – it’s a crazy mish mash of shops and market stalls in what looks like a disused multi-storey car park. You can buy almost anything there but you have to get your bartering head on as well as have the patience to navigate yourself through the maze. But, if we need some home comforts then there is always Tescos....

It is quite nice wondering around the centre of Tianjin in the evening as you see all sorts going on. People often sit around with their pets in the middle of the street which is a little odd but great when you get to cuddle the cutest dog in the world….I was so close to taking him home!
There are also outside gyms in a lot of the parks in Tianjin, which may be the secret as to why I never see any fat Chinese people…
There are not really a lot of places to hang out in Tianjin and the nightlife is not fantastic but we have found a few expat bars including Helen’s (good western food, old school music, lots of random notes and messages written all over the walls), AJOs (a sports bar, but on the plus side it does have a dart board and amazing apple pie so I’m happy!) and Alibaba’s (an entire wall is painted to replicate the entrance to No. 10 Downing Street).

Out and about in Scarlet Bar (conveniently situated above a KFC)
We still have a lot of Tianjin to explore but now we have some wheels (only 299 Yuan/£30 courtesy of Tescos), it has made it a lot easier to get around (I must admit though, I am very proud of myself every time I get home in one peace!).