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...

Thursday, 9 April 2015

A Flair For Dramatics - The Stuff I Never Talk About

My life used to be quite ordinary and boring, unusual things as good as never happened to me, but all that was before I moved to China.

Now that I'm in China strange things happen to me all the time. It's kind of fun, most of the time anyway. Sadly I often forget (purposefully, due to lack of time) to write about all those amazing things that I do, like for example when the training school I work for formally requests that I host our annual dinner party. I was of course honoured and flattered by the request and sold on the idea when they mentioned the handsome guy who would be standing right next to me, hosting with me.

As you can see the whole event was very professional with a stage, big screen, microphones, music and a whole lot of other things. Well actually you can't see all that much from the picture, but you can believe me anyway.

I went all out and bought a new (rather expensive) Chinese-style dress, had my hair done professionally (naturally Marilyn Monroe-style, an West-meets-East type of thing) and I also had somebody tend to my make-up.

No hosting event would however be complete without at least one big faux-pas and mine came when I had to introduce the Centre Directors of our five centres here in Hubei and completely messed up the names and centres. I somehow managed to make it look like I'd done it on purpose and got everyone laughing with a joke before formally inviting our CDs up on stage...

I can tell you, hosting (especially live) isn't really my cup of tea, however I would be open to getting more practice. It's nerve-wrecking but I do love a challenge and the opportunity to do something special, something you don't get to do everyday.

Sometimes those strange things that happen to me also include me on a stretcher in the emergency room… Naturally not as much fun as being a host however equally as nerve-wrecking. If you know about my burn accident then you should know that I'm very well acquainted with hospitals in China and also very grateful for the amazing treatment I've received when I really needed it the most. I was looked after and cared for and made friends for life. As such I get quite defensive when people bad mouth the entire Chinese medical system and only negatively criticise doctors and nurses. Things mightn't be perfect but they are certainly not as bad as some people make them out to be...

Long story short, my visit to the emergency room wasn't planned at all (not that a visit to the emergency room should ever be planned) and actually rather scary. The whole thing happened quite suddenly and out of the blue at a dinner with some good friends. That afternoon I went to the hospital since Dr Z, a good friend of mine, had helped me to arrange a check-up at the dentist. Following the check-up I joined him and a few friends for a lovely dinner. Since any good dinner should come with some wine, we opened a bottle of red and Dr Z, who doesn't like it when I drink, graciously allowed me to have two small glasses of red wine.

The drinking of the wine led to an allergic reaction of epic proportions, which scared the living day lights out of everyone at the dinner table. Two small glasses of wine aren't nearly enough to get me drunk or even a little tipsy but for some reason the wine made me feel really bad and not long after drinking it I discovered a rash on my hands and arms. I showed it to Dr Z but thought nothing more of it untiI started to feel seriously dizzy. I turned to my friend and attempted to tell him that I didn't feel so good but according to him I only uttered incomprehensible gibberish. That had Dr Z on high alert and what comes next is his account for I don't really remember. I just recall having trouble breathing and then everything is kind of blank. I only recall bits and pieces and they don't make much sense.

Dr Z and another friend of mine, also a doctor, had to carry me to the car to drive me to the emergency room. Thankfully we chose a restaurant across the street from the hospital that night so it wasn't a long trip and I got the right medication and the right treatment straight away. Apparently finding a vein to stick a needle into me was a bit of a nightmare for I kept throwing up and the nurse was close to tears with despair. Normally I would highly object to being poked with a sharp object more than five times but like I said I was too busy throwing up and struggling for air at the same time. Minutes after I got the medication I started to feel better and relaxed. I had to stay in the emergency room for a while since I had to get some IV fluids, but got released after a few hours.

Yes, so like I said, my life here in China is anything but boring... Watch this space, you might never know what happens next... ;-)

Monday, 30 March 2015

Modelling Times: The Story Behind The Photo Shoot

When my alarm went off on last Tuesday at 7.30am, I was more than just a little perplexed as to why I had decided to kick myself out of bed this early on my day off. It took me a good few bleary-eyed minutes to gather myself and around 8am my brain finally kicked into gear - TODAY WAS THE BIG DAY (not that big day but a big day!) - and I jumped out of bed and skipped into the bathroom to wash my face and brush my face... I don't think I've ever washed my face with some much enthusiasm than I did that morning. On any given morning there aren't many things I do enthusiastically apart from drinking coffee that is.

A couple of hours later, unable to resist the temptation to tease, I dropped a few hints and left some breadcrumbs on Facebook for my friends to ponder over.

The breadcrumb...

Some of my friends almost guessed what I was up to, others were so far off that my make-up artist ended up scolding me quite a few times for bursting into a fit of giggles while she was trying to apply my make-up. I tell you, a make-up artist hard at work is not to be messed with, I learned that the hard way.

Sometimes you get the chance to do something ordinary people don't normally get to do, things like having the opportunity to find out what it feels like when professionals take your picture, do your make-up and hair and to top it all of, help you get dressed. The last time somebody helped me get dressed I was in hospital and had just undergone surgery and was too groggy to care about what was happing around me. This time I was in full possession of my senses and I can tell you that somebody sewing you into a dress and then cutting you right back out of it is a feeling that has to be experienced first hand to actually be understood.

I didn't make the choice to have my pictures taken all by myself, although to be honest, I'd been toying with the idea for quite some time. The final decision was made together with two good friends and those two were also present on the day. They too had their pictures taken.

The whole photo shoot took about 12 hours, including make-up, hair and dress changes. We had to get dressed and undressed a whooping ten times and got our hair and make-up done four times. First on the list was a bridal shoot, which we opted to have outside since the weather was lovely, not too cold and not too hot, quite unusual for St. Patrick's Day. From my experience, Paddy's Day in Ireland is usually bitter cold.

I got to wear a stunning new dress with a long train, matching wedding jewellery, a glittering tiara and a veil. The dress was the prettiest thing I've ever seen and I really didn't want to take it off again after the photographer finished taking all our photos. As pretty as the dress looked, it was a nightmare to walk in, especially up and down the stairs and with high heels. I had to gather the entire dress up every time and walk very carefully since I couldn't see the ground beneath my feet... There were also some puddles and those don't go well with titled flooring. Add murderously high high heels to the mix and you have the perfect combination for a sure fire broken bones accident.

Following the bridal shoot we'd originally chosen to take some photos wearing traditional Chinese clothing but after I put the dress on and took one look in the mirror I could only scream in horror. The outfit look hideous on me and even a different colour couldn't make it better. The photographer took a couple of sample shoots to show me the result on 'film' but I point black refused to go ahead with the shoot, telling him I looked like a ghost on Halloween only more terrifying. He laughed and I scurried off to change into a different dress. Since moving to China I've developed a thing for bright red, I call it 中国大红 or 'Chinese Red'. I took one look around the dressing room and chose a stunning red evening gown. The stylist sew me into the dress and found me a gorgeous red necklace and a crown to go with the dress. I chose my own shoes because getting size 42 shoes is a nightmare in China.

While my friends were dressed in traditional Chinese clothing I got 'The Queen' treatment all over again in a solo photo shoot. I felt quite nervous the whole time, dead sure that I was getting all the poses wrong, driving the photographer insane. The photographer, a handsome young gentlemen dressed in black, ensured me that I was doing a fine job and that the photos would turn out perfect. His flattery was relaxing and turns out I'm a natural after all!

Done with the dress, I had to be cut out of it and prior to having my make-up adjusted I jumped into a pair of black suit trousers, buttoned up a white shirt and threw a vest over the whole outfit. The photographer added a tie and the stylist a MJ-style hat. After all that excitement the make-up artist spend half an hour fixing my make-up because my cheeks were flushed with excitement and it looked terrifying. I reckon I was a man in my last life because the suit, tie and hat suits me right down to the T. It made for a fun shoot and the photographer even managed to get an MJ pose out of me.

For the last shoot of the day, I dressed down to pretty much nothing. Unless a man's shirt and a short, black lace nightgown can be considered as fall into the 'everyday clothes' category. At first I thought I might feel surprisingly uncomfortable in the outfit, there were after all a good few people around us, but at this stage I felt pretty at ease around everyone and shooting the sexy photos was a breeze. I never thought of myself as a vamp but apparently I have the sex-factor (to some degree), that or the photographer knew how to tease me just right when trying to get me into the right pose. Get your minds out of the gutter, he was the perfect gentlemen and didn't do anything that could be considered inappropriate. 

'Nuff said, it's time for some photos!

The photographer opted for 'The Queen' style pictures when he took my photos and the result is stunning.

A close up of me with the jewellery, the crown and the veil. Of course, any good bride, even if she isn't a real bride, needs some flowers and my light skin, the white dress and some blood-red roses worked perfectly together.

The dress in all it's glory.

I would love to share more photos, but the photos are exceptionally big and I live in China so uploading them takes about half a century. I have however made the Facebook album with the all the photos public so if you follow this link, you should be able to see them.

I'm going to tease you with very sexy picture from the photo shoot, so if you don't head over to my Facebook album to look at the remaining pictures then you don't know what you're missing because the below photo isn't the sexiest photo there is... Just saying!

Apparently I have the vamp-factor, who would have thought!

The guys at the photo studio are very professional, the price was acceptable and the staff listened to our wishes and requests and were willing to negotiate our deal. Overall I'm pretty happy with the treatment and the result and as such I will recommend the photo studio.

拾光摄影 / Time Shoot Photo Studio
Address: 武汉市洪山区光谷意大利风情街(多莫大教堂)F-2112号 Wuhan, Hongshan District, Optics Valley, Italy Style Street, Great Church No.: F-2112
Contact: 13871280004 (mobile) / 027-87607036 (land line) / 865325337 (QQ)
Working Time: 9.30am to 21.30pm