Tuesday, 6 October 2015

A Golden Week Vacation

There's nothing quite as perfect as waking up without the annoying nuisance that is an alarm clock only to realise that it's your day off and you can either grab your earphones and chill in bed with music, roll around and get another forty winks, or get up and make yourself a big cup of coffee.

If you know me even just a little bit, then my choice is obvious:

Starting a day with a steaming hot cup of black coffee is the very epitome of perfection in my world. I totally blame this on my dad, though I'm pretty sure he has no objections to taking the blame. Knowing him, all he'd say is: "I sure raised that kid right."

Although I'm not working today, my Mid-Autumn Festival/National Day holiday is well and truly over. I got to enjoy a marvellous 7-day-holiday from the 28th of September all through to the 3rd of October. On Sunday it was back to work for me but as luck would have it the electricity went out at about half three that day and stayed out for more than an hour. I was already imagining the joys of climbing down 35 floors when the electricity came back and on top of that we got the good news that all classes for the evening had been cancelled. It doesn't happened often that I get to finish work at 5pm on a Sunday so I firmly grabbed that opportunity and raced out of the building straight to my gym down the road to work up a sweat.

I did initially have some plans to go travelling with some friends during the National Day holiday but then again half of China travels during the "Golden Week" so I changed my mind and decided to stay home. Wise decision, the crowds in Jiuzhai Valley National Park, Guangdong or anywhere else for that matter, would have ruined any attempt at a peaceful holiday and I would have come back feeling tired, not in the least relaxed and probably also cranky. Not a good cocktail when you're a teacher, surrounded by naughty students who never really bother to do their homework and speak Chinese all the time. Taking the subway here in Wuhan these last few days were dreadful, the "queuing" crowds (China doesn't really queue) were enough of an indication of the nightmare that would have awaited me had I hoped on a train to somewhere cool.

Despite all, I did have a nice time off. I got to cook plenty of healthy food for myself, sleep in (though that was mostly due to my insomnia at night) and most importantly indulge in my morning coffee, I spend quite a lot of time in the gym, working out, exercising, keeping fit.

Dancing to my heart's content.

Gangsta Style
Pick any Chinese festival, Dragonboat Festival, Labour Day, Mid-Autumn Festival, etc. and you'll always find the gym deserted. Everyone just goes home, or on a mini-holiday, and spends all their time with family and friends, eating and whatnot. I was having a lot more fun in the gym since I had the entire place for myself. Occasionally the one or other lady stopped by to run on the treadmill for a while but apart from that I could follow my exercise regimen without having to wait for some gal to finish checking her WeChat Moments while pretending to exercise her thigh muscles. 

Honestly, those chicks drive me up the wall. They don't even attempt to break a sweat, they just slightly exercise but spend forever checking their phone and chatting to friends online. Most of the time I'm seriously struggling to fight the urge to grab their phones and flush them down the drain. When I finish exercising my clothes are actually soaked with sweat, those ladies however look like they only just started exercising, they don't even need to shower when they finish. It takes insane levels of willpower to control my impulses when I see those ladies 'exercising'. Sometimes I dream of what it would be like if I was their personal trainer, I would so turn into their waking nightmare.

Apart from exercising I also managed to pick up on my studies for my Diploma in Educational Psychology and if I stick with it I might just manage to finish the course before the end of the year. I only have a couple more modules to complete and two assessments to pass. It shouldn't be a problem to finish this before the end of this month even, but I'm extremely good at procrastinating. It took me three days to finally sit down and write this blog post (I deserve a medal actually, three days is a record low). I did start on it on Friday and then again on Saturday, found myself stuck for the right words and just abandoned the post without even trying. On Sunday I made plans to write, finish and post but after about three hours in the gym and an hour of housework I really just wanted to indulge in one or two (maybe even three) episodes of some TV drama or other. 

On another note altogether, I finally took the time to visit my friend's Hotpot Restaurant and wantonly indulged without inhibitions. It doesn't happen every day that the boss of a restaurant invites you to join him for a dinner date at his restaurant, 一味一鲜小火锅. 

Yes I totally am bragging, but so would you if you got to eat mouth-watering food in the company of tall, dark and handsome. *wink* You make of that statement what you want.

Tomato-flavoured Hotpot, mouth-watering beyond words.

I've become quite good at taking Chinese-style selfies.

The foodie is happy.

Wednesday, 26 August 2015

A Butterfly Flitting Between Ideas

Well one thing is certain, a good blogger I am not. It's been almost four months since my last post and in the blogging world that ought to be enough to fall into the 'retired' if not 'deceased' category.

Life here in the Middle Kingdom has been anything but boring, loads of things have happened, I just chose not to write about them. Partly because an epic bout of writer's block hit me right out of nowhere and partly because the summer months are busy at work and after a long day of exercising at the gym and teaching five classes all I want is a cooling shower, my air-conditioning and my iPad to watch some TV Series or other.

These last few weeks I had plenty of ideas for blog posts, I usually got those some time in the middle of the night, but I never realised any of them. Until tonight that is... I went on a lovely date, had a fantastic conversation with a pretty interesting (and handsome) guy and most importantly the fish we ate was so darn delicious that I didn't even remember to take a photo before we digged in and let me tell you that's got to mean something.

Here in China all my friends know that the perfect way to keep me happy is to take me out for fish. I've pretty much given up on all other types of meat, though since I'm allergic to beef and lamb, my choices when it comes to meat are fairly limited. There's just something about fish that insanely excites me, probably more than it should. Cooking fish is an art and the Chinese have mastered it. Fish has become by cure of anything. Feel sick? Sad? Tired? Hungry? Angry? Recovering from a hospital stint? A good time with friends? Auspicious dinner? Celebration? Don't know what to eat? Somehow fish is always the answer and regrets are scare since fish is healthy and pretty much fat-free. There are a million ways of preparing fish in China and I haven't had nearly enough time to eat my way through all the different ways of preparing fish, another good reason to continue my stay in China.

I feel somewhat bad for not making more of an effort to share more things on my blog, I keep telling myself that I really need to change things, but my procrastination skills are amazingly strong. Actually it's not so much procrastination that keeps me from blogging, it's mostly time. Since I usually work from 1pm to 9pm I have the morning free to do things around the house (food shopping, cooking, cleaning, etc.) though I have to admit most mornings are spend in the gym having classes with my personal training, doing boxercise, aerobics and working out on my own.

Do you dare?

Exercising has become such a big part of my life that I'm struggling to adjust to the forced break I'm currently on. Somehow I managed to really pull or twist or sprain (or all of the above) my lower back which landed me in the hospital for two days. The doctor is still in the dark exactly what I managed to do to cause myself so much pain but I can tell you, it wasn't fun at all, it was everything but. The last time I injured my back was more than five years ago and the reason for that was too much office work, too little exercise and too much weight. I've since changed all three back pain causing factors but I still managed to injure myself. It seems that I mightn't have stretched very well before/after my exercise hence the injury, but I can tell you one thing, the experience isn't one I'm looking forward to making again any time soon. Needless to say the nurses and doctors in the hospital treated me really well and helped me to get back on my feet as quickly as possible. I've since pretty much recovered and a few more days of rest will suffice before I can get back to what I love the most: working out till the sweat pours!

I'm not liking being on the bench, it doesn't suit.

I'm struggling to recall all the things I got up to in the last nearly four months of not bloggling. There was obviously my birthday in June which I should have really written about because it was just perfect. My friend and favourite doctor in the whole wide world, made sure it was darn special. There was amazing food, great company, laughter, music, jokes, the most delicious chocolate birthday cake, flowers... All I had to do was to show up with a few friends and when you're lucky enough to have a friend who really cares about you then he'll make sure that your special day is perfect.

Other than that most of my time has really just been spend working. The summer months are busy since I work for a training school and am not awarded the luxury of having a two month break. Somehow the heat makes it all seem extra-busy but even that time passes and now it's time for a more relaxed two months with the extra September holiday to commemorate the end of the WWII coming up and then there is of course the Mid-Autumn Festival and the National Holiday. I definitely need to find the time for a vacation, there's no way I can stay at home all this time. I need to leave Wuhan for a bit, change of scenery, see/experience something new. It's probably going to be a solo-trip since I can't find anyone to join me.

There's one more thing I've taken up that I haven't yet had the chance to mention to everyone, I've dug out the inner child and in me and started colouring. Lately everyone seems to be obsessed with a colouring book named "Secret Garden" by Johanna Basford and after initial resistance I finally gave in and got my very own copy (the Chinese version) and some colouring pens and so far I've been enjoying the challenge. I've never been very good at this whole 'artsy' thing but I thought colouring can't be so difficult after all, so here's one of my first masterpieces:

Wednesday, 6 May 2015

An Impromptu Holiday to Changshu, Jiangsu Province

Unplanned holidays are still the best. They generally don't leave you with too much time to plan so you tend to focus on the most important bits. For me that means: packing light. I occasionally tend to over-pack so this time I didn't have the time to over-think the whole mini-break and left with a backpack and my handbag, perfectly enough for a few days away from home.

Labour Day (May 1st) is a popular date for a short holidays here in China. The weather is usually good, it's not too hot and not too cold, perfect for a long weekend away. My days off were almost perfect so when my friend out of the blue suggested for me to come visit, I took the chance and asked for a day off which gave me four days off in a row. I spent the first day in Wuhan honouring some commitments and set off early Wednesday morning. The high-speed train from Wuhan to Shanghai stops in Wuxi which is less than a stone's throw from Changshu. My friend has a car and didn't mind picking me up. I arrived around lunch time and my first thought was that Wuxi was a heck of a lot colder than Wuhan. In hindsight, the platform of a high-speed railway train station is not the greatest place to judge the temperature of the city you've just arrived at. Especially not when there are trains thundering past you left and right.

It is however worth noting that there are about 800-something kilometres between Wuhan and Wuxi and Wuhan is known to be one of the hottest cities in China. Still, it was bearable. After I got off the train in Wuxi, I miraculously managed not to get lost. China's high-speed railway train stations tend to be bigger than China's airports. My friend's direction's were pretty good and I found his car pretty much right away. We didn't linger but set off for Changshu straight away.

Changshu (常熟) is pretty impressive. It looks clean, much much cleaner than your average Chinese city. Compared to Wuhan you can eat off the pavement in Changshu. It's quiet, very green and not very crowded, yet the city has a booming industry. According to my friend the house prices in Changshu are nearly as high as Shanghai (Changshu is only an hour drive away from the financial capital of China) and most people don't shop in Changshu but take their money to Suzhou or Shanghai.

Like any decent Chinese city is has a lake, this one goes by the name of Shanghu (尚湖), the perfect location for a weekend picnic, afternoon stroll or lengthy bicycle ride. We chose to spent the day strolling about the Shanghu Scenic Area which requires the purchase of an entry ticket at the cost of 80RMB in a hall where colourful ancient Chinese umbrellas rain from the ceiling...

There isn't much I can say to describe the scenic area, the photographs I took don't even do the place justice. The place wasn't at all crowded (possibly because most people were still at work, sweating in the heat and looking forward to their long weekend) which was just perfect. I'm used to noisy Wuhan and it doesn't bother me much but everyone needs a little bit of tranquillity every so often. We were surrounded by peace, sunshine, a pretty much cloudless sky, calm water, fish, bridges, trees, little paths, flowers of all shapes and colours, beautiful stone sculptures, little hideaways and small meadows, a temple... Oh just look at the pictures already!

The water all around us was either a deep green or a crystal turquoise with plenty of fish swimming around.

I've no idea what this flower is called but I came across it almost everywhere and I have a thing for purple things...or does this still fall into the pink-category?

A small temple, though I'm sure not real, with gifts at the "altar" and wishes strung up all around.

If you enjoy your stroll and take some breaks here and then it'll take you more than three hours to walk from the entrance back to the entrance.

Following my modelling experience I now tend to pose on every picture.

We debated a good ten minutes about the name of this flower and still haven't agreed on what it actually is.

Beautiful blue-green water.

Clear enough for you to watch the tiny little fish play hide and seek between the rocks, algae and roots at the bottom of the lake.

We founded a little meadow and I decided to sprawl out on my throw for an early afternoon nap.

Amidst a see of flowers. 

Happiness is simple.

I found some wild peppermint growing near this little terrace and plucked a few leaves to carry around with me. The scent of enchanting.

A blue, pretty much cloudless sky, beautiful scenery, sunshine and good company. A gal doesn't need more to be happy.

Came across this beautiful lady but sadly didn't check who she is.

Again, I have no idea what this plant is called but I like the fact that it's neither blue nor purple. It's something of a hybrid right in-between.

Every good day should end with fabulous food and my friend knew just how to satisfy my cravings: fish!!! I have a thing for fish and if I don't get to eat it at least once a week my mood goes downhill. Everyone here in China knows that feeding me fish is the easiest and most fool-proof way to keep me happy.

Mine, mine, mine!!!
Mind you, every other meal we had during my three days in Changshu was also good. There was a seafood hotpot night snack, Chinese pancakes, dumplings, Hunan cuisine, wontons, noodles, Starbucks and fried rice.

Last but not least I got a free porn-show during my last night in the hotel (audio only) for the couple next door to my room where having a lot of fun and she screamed for half an hour straight. I told you, my life in China is anything but boring...