Posts Tagged ‘China’

Compliments aplenty in China

About ten years ago, I went to China to trek the Great Wall with a group of people connected to a charity called Quarriers. It was one of those things were you get people to sponsor you and the money goes to the charity.

Apart from waking up on day three, unable to move, it went well. It was loads of fun. We zipwired over a river….

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We were chased off the wall by some soldiers and had to escape through a farmer’s field and persuade the farmer not to charge us for walking through his fields without permission. There were adventures round every corner.

Often, when we started, some of the locals would walk a little way with us, trying to persuade us to give them our bags to carry, the implication being that you give them a little bit of money at the end of the day. Most of us wanted to carry our own bags, to feel we’d ‘done it ourselves’ but occasionally some would cave in and accept help.

This one day, I think it was about a week in, one of these helpers had been with us all day. She was helping a 60 year old lady called Lily and they were steaming ahead, leading the group, while we trailed behind!

At the end of the day, as we were making our way to our accommodation and the lady was getting ready to turn and repeat the day’s walking in reverse to get home, she produced some t-shirts with pictures of the Great Wall on them and asked us if we wanted to buy some. They were quite nice and not expensive so we all had a look. By the time, I looked, however, all the t-shirts my size has gone. She looked at my top half and ruffled through her remaining ones but they were all children’s sizes. Dammit.

“Never mind,” I gestured, shrugging my shoulders and starting to walk away.

“Wait!” her voice rang out, in the way someone might shout ‘Eureka!’ if they had solved some great mystery.

(Are you ready for this?)

I turned back to see what she had found. She was holding a red t-shift aloft and offering it to me.

“I have extra large!” (Actually she said, ‘extra rarge’ but you get the idea)

Now I don’t know how things go down in China but in the UK, if you want to make a girl buy some clothes off you, it’s not by telling her she looks like she needs the ‘extra rarge’ size.

Unsurprisingly, I passed on the t-shirt…..

Looking through old photo albums

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This one is of my brother and I, when I was about two, I think. I had both my legs in plaster when I was little and had very recently had it off when this photo was taken.

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This is me in earlier mentioned plaster, hence I’m in a wheelchair. I look very uncertain about something….

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I think my brother’s sweatband really brings this photo alive.

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Christmas lunch. That’s me in the orange hat. Everyone else was too cool to wear theirs.

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My friend Naomi and I in our best sporting gear (we didn’t play any sport) and centre partings in our hair.

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I don’t know. I don’t know what’s going on in this photo. The curtains hairdo, the Hello Kitty t-shirt, the gold chain thing, the non-smile on my face.

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On the left, in the white jumper, that’s me. Yep, I sported the fringe and bob look then. It wasn’t my best look.

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This is me age 19 on a zipwire thing over the Yellow River in China. Boy, do I look excited!

J is for….

JET PLANE!

As in Leaving On A….

When I was 18, I decided to go on a gap year. I really decided who I went away with in a bit of a panic. Anyone else I knew who was taking a year out before uni had arranged it already. So panic set in and I applied for the first thing I saw. Thankfully, it was brilliant. Before we left, we went on a training course on a little island off the coast of Scotland.

My favourite favourite song, at this point in time, was Leaving On A Jet Plane by Peter, Paul and Mary. When getting to know everyone else on the course, one boy, who was probably the most fun ever, revealed that his favourite song was Leaving On A Jet Plane!

Omygod, no! That’s my favourite song! No, it’s my favourite song. Omygod, we’ve got the same favourite song! This is like fate! It’s totally fate. I love the version Bjork did. Do you remember it? No, I didn’t know she’d done a version. I like the one by Peter, Paul and Mary. Wow. Same favourite song. This is amazing. We’re like so best friends.

And so we went on our gap years, me to Africa, Joe to China. And we spent a few years being here, there and everywhere. Until finally, inevitably, we both ended up in London. And we are still good friends, in fact we met for dinner last week.

And there have been various songs that epitomise different times in our relationship. For example, Cool by Gwen Stefani and Goodbye My Lover by James Blunt will always transport me back to the time I spent in Beijing with Joe, around the time that both of those songs came out. On the day I flew home, we walked down a quiet road near his hutong singing loudly and when I got in a taxi to leave, the unfairness of constantly living so far apart really got to me.
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(Us pretending to be fabulous pianists in a hotel in Beijing)

And now we live at opposite ends of the same tube line in the same city! Although we’re no longer 18 and no longer act as if we’re on drugs that make you hyper, I knew that song meant something when we discovered it was both our favourite!

AND to China and Namibia

Ok, everyone, it’s time for Rambler5319 to take over again as it is Wednesday. Get your thinking caps on as last week’s challenge is answered….

First off remember how we finished last week:

And finally on a lighter note – can anyone tell me how it is possible to use the word “and” five times consecutively in a sentence? That means you have to write a sentence that will have “and and and and and” in it with no words in between. Answer next week folks – you didn’t think I was going to give it straight away. Have a think and see what you come up with.

And the answer is:

In UK we have a lot of pubs with names like the “Coach & Horses”, “Dog & Partridge” and so on. Sometimes there are companies called, say, “Smith & Jones”. The answer to the puzzle goes something like this. The owner of the pub called the Coach and Horses was having a new sign made to hang outside. When speaking to the sign writer who was going to do the job he said to him, “the old sign was badly done so when you make the new one I want you to make sure you put a proper space between coach and “and” and “and” and horses. I’ve put quote marks round the “and” just so you can see that when it appears like that it is being treated as a noun (i.e. a word on the sign) and when it is without it is being used as a normal conjunction just joining parts of the sentence together. In ordinary usage the quote marks wouldn’t be there and you would have the 5 consecutive ands in the sentence and it still makes sense. It’s all in the way you say it, where you make a slight pause. You read it as “between coach and and (pause) and and and horses.”

Now onto this week’s subject: China. No not the country of China, the material for making cups, saucers and things like a china tea service or dining set. It can also be used to make mugs. I was given a real china mug recently. Now I have plenty of ordinary mugs: they have a fairly thick lip compared to a cup. Cups can of course be just ordinary thickness or they can be china cups in which case much thinner and more delicate to use. They also often seemed to have handles I couldn’t get my finger into to hold even when I was younger. My gran would only ever have a cup of tea in a china cup. Also my Mum used to leave a china cup at my house, along with a tea cosy, so that when she came over I would make tea (of course brewed in a teapot with the cosy on) and hers would be poured into her own china cup. She didn’t like to use a mug or an ordinary cup. They both said the tea tasted different depending on whether you drank out of a china or non-china cup. Of course I thought it was all just psychological and there was no difference at all. That’s how it continued for many, many years until recently – until I made a mug of tea in my new china mug. Because the lip is thinner and the material it’s made of being different I think I too can actually sense a slightly different taste or at least a different experience. Are there any china cup/mug folks out there?

I’m not a coffee drinker but I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone talk of wanting to drink coffee out of a china cup/mug. Btw, a couple of days ago, I had a pot of tea at a local National Trust Museum place where they made it using those old fashioned things they call tea leaves. I ordered the same type of tea I drink at home and I tell you what – there’s definitely a better flavour from the leaves when compared with tea from a tea bag. Anyone out there a “leaves” person?

Here’s a pic of my new (china) mug.
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(You will notice my standing in the family has now been recognised – I was overcome with emotion as I realised I have now been recognised as a GENIUS!)

Here’s a pic of my normal mug

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Those of you who know of the Pink Floyd album Dark Side Of The Moon will recognise the mug decoration. (Worldwide sales of the album up to 2005 are estimated to be around 50 million. In 1998 the Recording Industry Association of America certified it as 15x Platinum meaning 15 million sales in the US.)

Because of their heights and different thickness of the sides the mugs are of different capacities: China mug smaller in height but larger in diameter.

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I was curious to see what their different volumes would be so I got the ruler out as they’re quite similar but you can see obvious differences:

Ordinary mug (inside measurements) – 8.8cm high/deep, 7.5cm diameter

China mug (inside measurements) 8.2cm high/deep, 9.0cm diameter.

Now do you remember back to your school maths (or math in US) for the formula for the volume: πr2h.

Substituting my figures gives –

ordinary – π x 3.75 x 3.75 x 8.8 = 389cc

china – π x 4.5 x 4.5 x 8.2 = 522cc

where π=3.14

Now I know you wouldn’t fill to the brim but it does mean I have to fill the china one to a lower height or I could be drinking nearly a third more with every mugful!

So what’s special about bone china? Basically it’s to do with how it’s made. It has a very strong construction which is why it can be made thinner than other porcelain. It is called “bone” china because quite simply bones from animals go into the making of it. (This is why some ethical/green folks won’t buy porcelain made like this.) The first attempts at making it were in the late 1740s but it wasn’t until the 1790s that Stoke-on-Trent based Josiah Spode developed what turned out to be the best mix of the various elements required to make it: 6 parts bone ash, 4 parts china stone, 3.5 parts china clay. (Some of you may have heard of Spode china.) That mixture has remained the standard ever since.

Sadly in 2009 the company went into Administration (bankrupt) and was bought by the Portmeirion Group (which owns Portmeirion Village). Head of this group is Susan Clough-Williams who is the daughter of Sir Clough Williams-Ellis who was the architect of the Italian style village called Portmeirion in North Wales. Some of you may remember that the 1967-8 TV series called The Prisoner starring Patrick McGoohan (as Number 6) was filmed on location at Portmeirion.

(A 2009 updated version, starring Sir Ian McKellen & Jim Caviezel, which aired on the American cable channel AMC, was filmed in Swakopmund in Namibia. It’s about an agent who wakes up in a strange place and doesn’t know how he got there or why he is there.

If you didn’t catch it here’s part (10 mins) of the first episode to give you a taster.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8LXsb4COaEM

Perhaps, I wonder, has LLM been there or know anything of the place? (He gets to the Village at about 4m 10s so you can see the residence buildings then a bit later the town itself.)

And there you have it: this week a journey from AND to china to the Dark Side of the Moon to Portmeirion to Namibia.

Narnia and I

Our relationship goes way back. Anyone who knows me well, knows about my Narnia-love.

I had probably read The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe at some point as a child but then my dad got me the box set in my teens and I read all seven chronicles. It took over my existence for a while. I rejoiced when they defeated the White Witch, when Caspian beat his uncle and reigned over Narnia, when Jill and Eustace broke Prince Rilian free from his spell and when Peter triumphed in the last battle. I despaired when Aslan was killed on the ancient table, when Nikabrik tried to overthrow Caspian and when Edmund and Lucy were told they had to leave Narnia. And I wept for the second half of the last book because I knew the end was nigh.

When in the Narnia zone, it becomes a very real place to me. It is the pleasant background to my normal day. Things are just generally nicer and more storybook, even when I’m just at work.

Right before going on our gap years, my friend Joe and I had walked from his house into Reading, which had taken about four hours. We had talked about Narnia a lot. It was one of those lovely days, early in our friendship when everything we said or did became a nice memory, stored up to take away with me. He left for his gap year before me so I sent him all seven books in the post to China and, miraculously, nothing happened to them along the way. I took a copy of the books with me to Africa and we started to read them on the 16th December, countries and oceans apart, to prepare for Christmas.

In fact, one day, whilst discussing Narnia with a bit of alcohol in our systems, two friends and I jumped into the rather big wardrobe we had in our room in Namibia, and searched around in the back for some snow or trees. We found neither.

Every year since then, I’ve started reading them on the 16th so I’m usually on book 4 or 5 by Christmas Day, and I keep reading till I finish them.

When my friend, Jay, started basically living on our sofa when we were at uni, I had started reading them as usual and I would always stay in the front room with her, on the other sofa. And we used to read the books to each other, a chapter each, until she got tired and I would keep reading until she had fallen asleep.

So last night, a few days later than usual, I picked up The Magician’s Nephew and started to read. All the lovely feelings of being on familiar ground and being in for a great read were ignited and I sipped my cup of tea and smiled.

“This is a story about something that happened long ago when your grandfather was a child. It is a very important story because it shows how all the comings and goings between our world and the land of Narnia first began….”

Songs that remind me of stuff

Mariah Carey – Heartbreaker album
I was big into Mariah when I was younger. I’d sit warbling away to My All or Always Be My Baby, imagining a life where I was christened The Voice and asked to sing for the Queen and made people get a little teary with my beautiful singing. In my late teens, I still listened to anything and everything she sung but kept it a little quiet and pretended I was listening to Destiny’s Child. When I started learning to drive, my instructor was a slightly older gentleman who was a bit of a pushover. I wasn’t supposed to have any music on but knew he would let me, so made a mixtape of all my favourite Mariah hits, mostly from the Heartbreaker album and would listen to it on my driving lessons. There’s an area of Liverpool called Garston, that we drove through a lot so I always think of Garston when I hear that album.

Leaving on a Jet Plane by Peter, Paul and Mary (or Bjork)
When the gap year organisation that I went away with did the training session I was on, there were a few country groups being trained together. Us Namibia volunteers had been put with the two Mozambique volunteers, the two Bolivia volunteers and the really huge China group. There were about thirty of them going to different projects. Two of these volunteers, a boy called Joe and a girl called Robyn became my new favourite people. We were glued together most of the time, finding everything ridiculously funny and just generally having fun. Somehow, a discussion of our favourite songs came up and Joe and I had the sane favourite song – Leaving on a Jet Plane. And we all were about to leave in jet planes for our gap years! I loved the original by Peter, Paul and Mary. He loved the cover by Bjork. So this confirmed it. We were destined to be best friends forever. In case you were wondering, Robyn and Joe and I are still good friends. It must have been the mutual song-love.

Dispatch – The General
When I was on my gap year, my friend Lucy used to listen to this song all the time. This reminds me of foolish nights out when we had first arrived and didn’t quite know what we were doing and had a load of friends over, post-pub, talking nonsense for hours, despite the fact that we would be teaching a few hours later.

Lauryn Hill and Bob Marley – Turn Your Lights Down Low
We were on the longest bus journey in the world, my friend and I, travelling from Ho Chi Minh City to Phnom Penh. It was Cambodian New Year so the traffic on the roads was horrendous. Instead of taking six hours, it took twelve. My friend had a combination of things wrong, an ear infection, really bad bites, vomiting. It was really worrying but there was nothing we could do except wait to get to Phnom Penh. Being the non-doctor I am, I had diagnosed possible malaria. It was all quite scary. He was sleepy so I leaned awkwardly and lay his head on my chest and stroked his arm in an attempt to comfort him. After an hour or two, I had extreme backache, sideache, neckache, shoulderache and everything else but couldn’t move as Chennour was finally sleeping. I gingerly leaned around him and got his iPod and plugged myself in, hoping to tune out from the pain for a bit. Somehow, Lauryn Hill and Bob Marley had been set to repeat and I couldn’t figure out how to stop it. So I spent the last few hours of that journey extremely uncomfortable and listening to Turn Your Lights Down Low on repeat. Painful/humorous memories.

Faith Hill
This is another Namibia memory. We were trying to get to Cape Town for our Christmas holidays. We had bought bus tickets and needed to switch buses in a town called Keetmanshoop (pronounced Keet-mans-hoop, not Keet-man-shoop, which we did for an embarrassingly long time until someone corrected us). We got off the first bus and waited for the second bus. And waited. And waited. Two hours late, the bus arrived, everyone else got on, Lucy and I, ever the Brits, queued politely at the edge of the crowd and were last to get on. There was only one seat left, we were told. We got ready to fume, we had been sold tickets, we demanded to be allowed on! Not to worry, we were told, there’s one a few minutes behind. Ok, that’s fine then. We sat down and waited. We looked up and down the road, we took turns falling asleep on our bags, we ate everything we had brought for the journey, shops closed for the night then opened for the morning again, 9pm turned into 7am. We were two 18 years olds, in a town in the middle of nowhere, with bus tickets we couldn’t use and no other mode of transport available. Then a man approached. Your typical prematurely-balding, pale, wide-eyed, plays-the-psychotic-murderer-in-a-film type. And offered us a lift. We jumped at it. Bags were grabbed, common sense was left behind, and we jumped into the car with this potential torturer. He asked if we wanted any music on. The silence was a bit awkward. All I could find was a Faith Hill album, so I put it on and played it all the way through. Then pressed play when it ended, to keep the silence at bay. And pressed play again. And again. For the entire seven hour journey…..

Damien Rice
I’ve forgotten what his first album was called. I got it in first year at Glasgow Uni and would listen to it every night to try and block out the booming noises from the floor above. I don’t know whether the banging upstairs was music, I could only hear extremely loud thuds, like someone bashing the floor with a hammer. Awful. I hated them. Every time I hear a Damien Rice song, I can still feel the annoyance of the bangs from upstairs but also see the view of the park out of my window, which was nice.

Gwen Stefani – Cool. And James Blunt – Goodbye My Lover
These were both out around the time I was in China climbing the Great Wall. When I’d finished, I stayed with my friend Joe (same one as before) in Beijing for a bit. He was living there, studying. These two songs became about the distant nature of our friendship. We’d spent so little time together but still had an amazing time whenever we did see each other. These songs always remind me of those early days of our friendship, when we had to travel the world to see each other. Nowadays we just have to travel across London. Much easier.

An ode to my tooth

Tooth, we have spent many years together. There have been highs and there have been lows.

In our 27 years, 2 months and 25 days, we have seen plenty of action. We have sampled the local spicy delicacies in Laos, lived off rice in Namibia, eaten strange unnamed bits of animal in China and devoured our fair share of chocolate. I always showed you the best things, focussed on homemade. I even homemade tomato ketchup for us to enjoy with our fish and chips.

Ok, so I didn’t always pay attention to you. When I was younger, I was too busy naming my millions of cuddly toys or hurtling down the stairs in a sleeping bag to remember about looking after you. When my parents would shout up the stairs to check whether I’d got you ready for bed, cleaned you up, I’d shout back ‘YEAH!’ with my head in a Famous Five book. That was disrespectful toward you and I apologise.

But I was young then. I looked after you better as I got older. The past few years I’ve showered lots of attention on you, bought fancy expensive things to keep you sparkly, visited a hygienist for a thorough clean.

I was warned about two years ago that I should break it off with you, that we should go our separate ways. I was warned you would hurt me, but I was faithful to you. I dismissed their opinions as scaremongering. They didn’t know you like I did. I didn’t want to lose you.

But now… Now it is time. We both know it’s the right thing. We aren’t happy together anymore. Maybe you have grown dissatisfied with me because you have abandonment issues from our childhood? Or maybe you don’t know how to resolve things so you go on hurting me, knowing that I will eventually end things between us?

I don’t know. But the other night, I was so upset about how things are going between us that I was awake at 2am, my head in my hands, knowing I had to end it. It hurt me so much, but I knew what I had to do.

And so today will be our final day together, last tooth on the bottom left. I have been told that a replacement awaits it’s turn to push through and emerge. It seems that, in the words of Beyonce, “I can have another you in a minute.” They call it a wisdom tooth and say it will grow into the empty space that you will leave in my life.

I regret that it will end this way, in such violence, tearing you rapidly out. I’d like to say I will regret our parting but the dentist has assured me that I won’t feel a thing. I guess there has been too much hurt between us. I will feel horrible after it happens though, I won’t be able to eat a thing, I know it.

So now I bid you farewell, dear tooth. It has been amazing, the years we have spent together. I think we both know that our separating is for the best. We are not making each other happy anymore.

I will miss you. Always.