Tuesday, 27 January 2015

The Wuhan Smogcalypse!

Wuhan isn't simply the heart of China. No, if you know your history you ought to know that Wuhan played a key part in the founding of the Republic of China (1911 Wuchang Uprising).

This gorgeous university city, towering on either side of the Yangtze River isn't just famous for its incredibly hot summers and cold winters with no heating, loudly fighting Ayis, the craziest traffic in China, and hot dry noodles, no, its also a city that's famous for being dirty! It's been getting better over the last few years but that sadly only applies to waste management and clean streets and sidewalks...and by "clean" I mean the Chinese interpretation of the word.

Sadly Wuhan's air isn't really getting any better and the last two weeks have been an unhealthy mixture of bad, worse and just downright disgusting. We've been clouded in a milky white veil of nastiness pretty much since my return from Germany, where I had this:

Blue skies and sunshine without a single cloud in sight, just a normal day in Koblenz, Germany.

I keep trying to imagine what Wuhan would be like without its signature smog but I can't come up with anything you might be able to picture. Not that I doubly your ability to imagine but it would be just too utopian to be true. 

I mean pictures this: Endless blue skies, bright sunshine reflecting of the Yangtze River, turning China's longest river into the world's biggest diamond. Miles of sandy river banks that invite you for a stroll with your hyperactive Golden Retriever. A city bursting at the seams with ancient historical buildings, all waiting to tell a mesmerising story or three. Modern shopping malls that invite you to spend money and aimlessly stroll about until your feet refuse to take even another step. Countless parks and lakes that offer tranquility, shelter from the city noise and an endless opportunities to indulge in any kind of outdoor sport you can possibly imagine. Food so divine and delicious that your mouth will water at the mere idea of a meal with friends or family. More than a thousand different seafood dishes, authentic food from all over China, all over Asia even...

...Are you still with me or have you fallen into some sort of coma?

Back to the real world. This past week the air, we're supposed to breathe, has been nothing short of toxic. PM2.5 levels consistently measure in at 350 which makes breathing pure joy. When the air isn't toxic or hazardous it's unhealthy which is what usually happens in the evening when less cars are on the road and live in general slows down a little for a couplec of hours.

Welcome to Wuhan. I snapped this on Sunday morning on the way to work. By lunchtime on Monday the smog was even worse.

The school I work in is located on the 35th floor of a skyscraper pretty much in the heart of the city. I didn't even bother to try and take a picture because you can't even see the building across the road. All you can see is a milky white mess. Staring at a piece of paper will have the same effect on you.

Going out without a mask will make you tear up at the utter joy of the beautiful white veil, Wuhan has been hiding behind for the better part of two weeks, and rasp and the crispy clear air you get to breathe. I'm getting over a smold (which isn't what you think it is but rather a smog-induced cold). Seriously we can easily contest with Beijing and we might even stand a chance at winning seeing since the capital is determined to make the city a better place to live in.

My sexy accessory.

It is utterly crazy how many people in Wuhan don't have the faintest clue about the differences between a fog and smog and it is even more astonishing how many more people believe that a surgical face mask will protect them from the smogcalypse. They don't seem to care but the coughing and spitting sounds all around me play like a broken record over and over again. I try to educate my students and my friends but most of them seem so very disinterested in learning about the dangers of smog and how to protect your own health that it's giving me a headache, though I'm not sure if it's really them or just the side effects of the milky white crap outside my window. It would appear that they have the money to fund their extensive cancer treatment in the future.

Don't get me wrong, I love Wuhan, even when it's as disgustingly dirty as it is now and trying to slowly poison me with his invisibly visible toxic particles, but I fail to understand the lack of interest the locals are showing. Even Beijingers are more concerned about their precious capital city. Why can't we be more like them? Why won't my friends care more? Why does it seem so utterly impossible to educate them?

Wednesday, 21 January 2015

Let's Qing! - Fitness Fun In Wuhan

My personal trainer Bobo, who everyone says is super handsome (and I would feel inclined to agree), and I. I coerced him into taking this picture, although it really didn't take that much coercing.

'Here goes nothing,' I thought to myself last May as I handed the receptionist my Chinese bank card. I had finally found a gym worth joining, a ladies-only gym, and was in the middle of signing the contract and paying annual gym membership. With the contract came four free classes with a personal trainer, which I decided was a pretty cool thing, and which also got me hooked on the whole 'personal trainer' thing.

Taken sometime last year, after a delightful workout. Sweaty but happy.

You see, this all happened about two months after my burn injury and the skin graft surgery, I had to have because of it. More on that here and here, in case you have some catching up to do. My doctor had given me the all clear in terms of exercising, he even highly encouraged me to do regular exercise, and while I felt ready to tackle a new challenge I was also sceptical, very sceptical. My leg muscles had suffered quite a bit from the lack of use during my two-month-long bed rest and there were a lot of movements I couldn't yet do or do properly.
Snapped just the other day after I finished my workout on the treadmill.

I've never really been good at sports and I hated P.E. class throughout my school years, especially gymnastics which I always refused to do. It drove my teachers nuts. I did enjoy playing basketball and volleyball was kind of cool too but I just never made it into the club of the "sports fanatics". That's all changed now though, I'm finally part of the "in crowd". I go to the gym almost every day and as you've already guessed I even have a personal trainer. Yeah, I'm one of those cool people who has a personal trainer. A really cool and funny guy who will turn over backwards to arrange classes for me and with me. Someone who cares enough about my health to design customised meal plans for me and check in with me when I don't show up for my workout for two days. And I don't even live in L.A.! I'm also not famous nor would I consider myself rich.
Summer, my health manager, who's a pretty cool gal with a super cute son and a great attitude. She's fun, a little crazy and about seven kinds of awesome.

Living in China does have its perks. The annual fee for my gym membership wasn't all that expensive and while the classes with my personal trainer are nowhere as expensive as they would be in Ireland or Germany, they definitely aren't cheap. They are worth it though. Spending money on keeping healthy and fit is so much more worth it than an all day shopping trip. I've been working out with my trainer for a good few months now and to have someone at your side to push you and cheer you on is definitely better than having to find all that willpower to continue on your own. I won't kid you, I have my moments sometimes, but I now have an iron will to keep up with my fitness program, I don't find any excuses to not go to the gym and I feel genuinely happy working out. My trainer and I have a really good relationship, a bit like 兄弟 (brothers, best buddies), although I'm a girl and in China a girl and a boy would never be considered 兄弟. That term is exclusively reserved for the all-boys-club, not that it's stopping me from barging right in. I guess Chinese girls just don't have the same type of humour as Western girls. I wouldn't last a day with a female personal trainer, I can tell you that right now. I need a bit of testosterone by my side to keep me motivated, to occasionally tell me off and remind me that I'm always wrong about how much I think I can do and how much I can actually achieve. My trainer knows me better than I know myself and that's something that doesn't happen often.
My personal trainer snapped this after I achieved one kilometre on the exercise bike in under seven minutes. He was pretty proud of that achievement since I was the first one to complete the challenge. I did while he and my health manager Summer idly stood by and chatted about whether I would manage to actually complete the challenge or whether I would fail. Such things don't sit well with me so I pedalled my arse of, determined to show my trainer that I could indeed do it. It stunned him into silence and he now knows exactly how to get the best out of me. Mind you, he did know that before this happy incident but ever since I bascially I've handed him the best way to get 110% out of me he uses it whenever it pleases him and I'm at his mercy. not that there's anything wrong with that.

Also, it really doesn't hurt to have someone handsome to look at while you're sweating your arse off!

In terms of how my life has changed since I decided to join the gym, and exercise regularly, well not only do I feel relaxed after a good workout, but I also manage to keep my temper in check. I generally feel healthier and more energetic. I try to juggle all my interests but fitness comes first. I've learned that trying is everything and I now know how to box. I've learned that asking my trainer to "exhaust me" will mean he'll have me want to crawl home and moaning about the exercises will get my no sympathy at all while completing them gets me smiles, pats on the shoulder, congratulations and a whole bunch of other sweet stuff anyone likes to hear. We are suckers for compliments and it's amazing what we'll do for one.

Of course, I have my off-days when I don't perform so well but those are far and few in-between and when one does hit me I just remind myself that I'm only human and can only do so much. I do get annoyed with myself for not performing as well as I should have but then I try to push myself harder the next time to come out on the other side.

Just a typical day on the treadmill. Ninety minutes of fast uphill walking. Piece of cake.

I have really good relationships with everyone at the gym and what with the amount of chatting I do I sometimes find myself wondering how I manage to squeeze the workouts in. My health manager is fantastic and just like my personal trainer she bends over backwards to make me happy. We've become really good friends and I brought back some gifts from Germany for her and also for her son.

If you're a female expat in Wuhan and you're looking for a good gym the I recommend: MS. 蜜思女子健身 (MS Fitness Club). They are located in Wuchang, Zhongnan Road 11 (武汉市武昌区中南路11号) and not only do they offer great facilities for fitness but the showers and changing rooms are in perfect condition, everything is clean, the staff is wonderful, funny and polite and to top it all off they have yoga classes, aerobics classes, dance classes and a SPA where you can relax, get facials and massages. They have a movie theatre and also a great place to relax after your workout where you can indulge in free tea, Wi-Fi, magazines, music and extremely comfortable sofas. I swear you won't want to go home ever again. (I'm not getting paid for saying all these wonderful things, the place is just generally great.) In case Wuchang is inconvenient for you, they have another, much larger gym in Hankou with a swimming pool and tennis courts and whatnot. I've never been there though, so I couldn't give you a first hand review. The Hankou gym is a mixed one though and has been running for a couple of years. If you want more details I can get them for you, just get in touch.

Thursday, 1 January 2015

New Year's Eve, Bye Bye 2014, Hello 2015

Sunrise over Frankfurt am Main.

Sometime between 4pm and 6pm CET my phone got flooded with New Year's Messages from all my friends over in China, who are mostly seven hours ahead of me. This somehow makes it feel like it's already 2015 which in return makes me wonder what it is that I am waiting for tonight and why the heel I'm not in bed yet. Actually I am, in bed that is, well actually just on top of it surrounded by a mountain of pillows, blankets and my duvet. I'm sitting on the very bed a cranky teenager grew up in and spent way too much of her time on.

It's a strange feeling to be back in my old room, the room I last full-time lived in when I was 17/18, the very room that looks like my 17-year-old self found a time machine and propelled herself into the future to find out what happened to her now 27-year-old self. Odd. The young woman I am now seems to have nothing in common with the girl who once lived in this room, except maybe that she loves her dad more than anything and can be way too hot-tempered for her own good.

Two weeks into my holiday I'm definitely over the jetlag so I've taken to blaming the excruciating tiredness I feel every day on the fresh air, which, don't get me wrong, I'm loving but when you come 7pm feel like a truck rolled over you several times over, it's hard to have fun. I'm young and I'm supposed to be out with my friends, partying the night away or over-indulging in some other crazy celebratory event. There should at the very least be a glass of red wine in my hand but with the exception of a couple of glasses of mulled wine before Christmas, I haven't touched any booze. I'm probably getting old... Or maybe I'm already old, I'm not really sure. My views on that vary depending on my mood.

Somehow dad and I managed to take a selfie with my phone but look at completely different cameras, don't ask me how that worked out.

So far I've had a fantastic holiday, of course like any family reunion it's not been without its ups and downs, but for the most part it's been really good to be home. I'm shamelessly enjoying my dad's cooking and the coffee he makes for me every morning. There is just something cool about popping your head into the kitchen in the morning and not having to say what it is you want because the person sitting at the kitchen table knows exactly what you want and how you want it.

As for the hype that is New Year's Eve... I've plugged my earphones in because I'm sick and tired of the noisy fireworks outside. It's nowhere near as bad as China but I find it distinctly annoying and distracting, especially when I'm trying to read which, as you can gather, didn't really work out. I'm not focused enough, probably result of spending most of today feeling more than tired. That damn truck rolling over me sure is annoying. I'm going to blame this on my crappy teenager single bed. I spent my eight years in Ireland sprawled out in a spacious double bed and one gets used to that kind of luxury. I also have the pleasure of a very comfortable double bed in my lovely little apartment in Wuhan so this single bed stinks. I almost fell out of it a couple of times since I'm just not used to paying attention to which way I toss when I turn.

What with 2014 being almost over I made the last minute decision to pen a few words but I'm struggling to find the right words. 2014 wasn't really a fantastic year for me. It did have some perks, I made some amazing new friends, finally saw 王力宏 Wang Leehom live in concert and fell in love with working out at the gym but apart from that the better part of 2014 simple sucked. I mean, seriously, can you top a second degree burn on the front and back of your thigh on bloody Valentine's Day of all days? I was kind of warming up to that day and then somebody turned up the temperature to more than I could bear. For all its worth, that nasty accident also taught me that Chinese's hospitals aren't that bad and neither are the doctor's and nurses so I really have no idea what all these Chinese expats always seem to moan about.

A couple other big things, including one incredibly sad thing, put the damper on 2014 for me but living in the past never did anyone any good, or so did my friend remind me when I hit rock bottom. The past is all but a page in the story book of my life and I'm looking forward to 2015, here's to a chance to start over with a clean slate!

I haven't made any grand plans for 2015, but I do have some things that you could I suppose call "resolutions", loosely anyway. Mainly I would just like to spend the better part of 2015 happy and in order to do that I think I will have to try and make the following things come true:
Practising Yoga at home on my brand new yoga matt, a present from my gym. 

I'm definitely going to put a lot of energy into my fitness program and my lessons with my trainer. It's going to be a bunch of fun. I just bought myself some new clothes and I can't wait to slip them on and get sweating in the gym. I'm planning to drop a good few more pounds and I know I'll achieve that goal together with my trainer. He's allergic to laziness and is the person to keep me going when those pesky nagging thoughts about "taking it easy" creep in. I also want to dance more at the gym, not because I'm especially good at it but because I love it. Improving my yoga is also quite high on my to-do-list.

I hope to do some more travelling around China and Asia in the coming year and I have something lined up already but I'm not going to share just yet, you'll have to patiently wait for the blog posts I will write.

I'm quite certain that my two lovely cameras hate me because I keep them locked up in my drawer instead of using them every so often. I'm always snapping away with my iPhone but I would really like to at least try and use my cameras once in a while. I wonder if I still know how to use it.

Chinese / Studying:
I've plans to continue my plans to continuously improve my Chinese and while I would love to say that I will take another HSK exam this year, I highly doubt that putting that out there will make it more likely to happen, but we'll see. You never know. I've also started an online course for a Diploma in Educational Psychology which I find immensely interesting, I just need to put more effort into it.

That's really pretty much it. I could load my plate some more but I also need time for myself, I need time to cook and write and clean and sleep and if I plan to do too many things none of these will come true so I'll leave it at that for now. I can always add on more later on.

I do wish all of you a wonderful start into 2015, whether the new year already began for you or you still waiting for the last day of 2014 to fly by, making room for a new year with new surprises.