Reunions in Hong Kong

“We should meet up!!”

After months of both me and Amy promising to see each other soon, the chance finally came when I had time off for my student’s mid-term exams. Deciding to meet in Hong Kong, I promptly booked flights from Wednesday to Monday.

My memories of Hong Kong only resurfaced after I asked my mum whether I had been, to which she paused for a long time, before saying that we had a whole album of all of us on cruises and at Hong Kong Ocean Park (the theme park/panda zoo extravaganza).

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the before in ’13 year olds before vs 13 year olds now’

The moment I walked out of the airport exit gate I felt a sense of euphoric nostalgia wash over me. It wasn’t the memories of HK resurfacing but rather the blurry vision of a big non-commy red star in the distance that made my chest tighten.

Rows and rows of chicken avocado sandwiches and hot meatball paninis laid seductively on the shelves of Pret. And so, with the first of my HK dollars, I bought a sandwich and an Earl Grey, all the whilst grinning manically into my phone’s multiple un-censored social media tabs.

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I spent most of my first night wandering around between Soho and Causeaway Bay, oggling at the Beckys’ with the good hair and the Cantonese men manspreading their wares in outdoor bars. Having spotted some retro looking escalators in the middle of a busy area, I decided to ride up them, not knowing that they were part of the Mid-Level escalator system up towards the Peak. As a long time sufferer of fomo, I continued to reluctantly keep riding the escalator up, away from the M&S I saw, away from the halloumi stall, and away from lactic-acid-free calves on the walk down. After riding all the individual escalators up to the top I asked two women whether this was the Peak, to which they barked out a laugh and said it was at least another hour and a half walk up.

As it neared midnight I decided to walk back home, picking up a well deserved sausage roll on the way back.

The next day I found myself waiting in the rain for the no.5. Climbing aboard a humid bus, I non-verbally moaned about the rain with my eyebrows to some friendly old Filipino women who sat opposite me, all of whom were clutching their makeshift umbrellas (folders, bags, husband’s coats). As we wove up the Peak’s misty vistas, we finally ended up at what seemed like a tourist platform, complete with a flashing sign for Madame Tussands.

(I would come to later realize three hours later that this was the main bulk of the Peak’s viewing platforms …)

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Nicest bus stop area i’ve seen

Having let the power of a VPN-less Google Maps get to my head, I followed the route on my phone that seemed to end directly on the little black dot over the word “Victoria’s Peak”. On my journey up I decided to detour from the signposted route through Victoria Gardens, and used my DofE initiative to shortcut my way to the top. Glistening with sweat and smugness, I clambered up the alternative stone steps, ignoring the increasingly bad quality of the path. Just as I was beginning to feel doubtful, I heard some loud voices ahead of me. Speeding up, I entered into misty plain before seeing some fluorescent beings in the near distance. Confused and glasses-less, I walked towards them before they turned around and stared at me. They then sniggered to each other, before resuming work on what seemed to be some sort of huge metal pipe.

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exihibit a: construction worker on far right

Wondering whether the Peak was under construction, I traipsed back the way I came before encountering a sign I had previously lunged past:

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not the Peak basically

I returned to reluctantly take the garden path I had previously scoffed at, weaving through a open garden before getting to a foggy outcrop at the top. Somehow missing the massive viewing platform on my left (it was very misty), I decided to ignore years of Planet Earth knowledge that screamed ‘DANGER’ and took the yellow and black striped path on the right.

Pausing and musing at this sign,

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“I can’t read Chinese…I’ll just go and look anyway”

I continued to climb my way up a steep road up to a massive gated area with trucks moving around inside.

Armed with my cactus embroidered hat and Vans, I bopped up towards the security guard manning the spiked metal gate and asked him whether this was the Peak. He looked me up and down and didn’t say anything, to which I protested at by waving my Google Maps victoriously in front of him. I was literally right on the dot of the Peak, so this had to be it. Grinning like the devilish seventy year old he was, he pointed to the big English sign above him which said “RADIO STATION. NO UNAUTHORIZED ACCESS”. Seeing his eyes linger uncomfortably on my bare shoulders, I decided to jet quickly. It was only upon my descent down that I realized the existence of the viewing platform that I previously walked past. Sigh.

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he was less than impressed with my google maps

“I’ll buy some ice cream” I thought to myself, as I wandered into the tourist complex. Luckily, I didn’t go straight to the bus stop and instead took a wander around what I found to be some of the Peak’s infamous viewing decks. Even luckier, the rain clouds began to clear up, allowing me to spend a few hours watching the sunset fall on the Hong Kong skyline.

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day

 

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Victoria Peak view at night

After spending hours just sitting on the Peak, I finally took the infamous tram down and went to a bar in Lan Kwai Fong called Le Jardin. Lan Kwai Fong is the big square of bars and clubs near HK’s Soho, so it took me a while to find the exact bar where the local CS meeting was being held. Several Aussies, Koreans, Canadians, Egyptians, and hours later everyone had decided to cease drinking as they still had work tomorrow. They were all well-seasoned CS’ers and gave me a warm welcome to Hong Kong, encouraging me to continue the night at one of the other bars/clubs. Thus, I spent the early hours of the morning on a rooftop stage with one of the other locals, before getting intimately acquainted with a chicken nugget on the way home.

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After sweating in bed until the early afternoon, I finally got off my ass and went to explore Kowloon before settling down to see the evening light show across the harbour. Earlier that day I had woken up to a message from my secondary school friend Suyin, who had seen my prolific social media postings of HK and had invited me to come out with her and her friends.

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And so, I put on my cleanest bra and met her at a bar; the kind of bar where you get kicked out of for not having a reservation. Regardless, we went on to one of the many rooftops of HK and watched some beautiful people do some unbeautiful grinding. We constantly found ourselves exclaiming at the strange situation we were in, only five years ago we were doing our A-Levels and now we were sitting in a Hong Kong bar with a cocktail that cost more than my newly tanned arm and leg.

When there’s been a lag of five years, there’s a surprising amount of things you don’t know about each other – your university, your dating life, how many of our friends we secretly hate now etc. We decided to continue catching up the next day at lunch, and then roped some innocent falafel eating customers into taking pictures of us: “we like, haven’t seen each other in five years? Soo”. Pics and boomerang video uploaded, we gave each other a warm hug goodbye, with my promise to come back again soon.

That evening I finally met up with my good friend Amy from the Beijing TEFL training camp last August. I hit up LFK for the third consecutive time with Amy in tow, deciding to buy our drinks from the jam packed 7/11 in the area in order to chinese-squat and chug wine like old times (not really). We spent a few hours catching up and reminiscing before we entered the clubs nearby.

At one point we somehow ended up invited to help down a platter of neon shots by a group of Americans. Never ones to turn a large number of dubious alcohol, we gambei-ed with them for a while before going somewhere else.

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budget basic bitches

Sunrise dawned over us and we had sobered up enough to realise that we looked like shit. We left LKF thinking it couldn’t get any better than the group of guys who offended us with an amateur rendition of the disappearing thumb trick outside one of the bars. Upon reluctantly turning down such a magician, he nodded to all of his friends before turning to us with a look of understanding: “ahhh, it’s cos I’m a terrorist right?”. (Nope. Just prefer people with thumbs.)

However, as we were seeking refuge in McDonalds, we were attacked at the ordering machine by some Scottish men. As we loudly debated between clicking 9 or 20 nuggets on the screen, a man on the next machine turned to us, evidently triggered by our British accents:

“Hey, so are you guys British or retarded?” he said with a broad-beardy smile.

“…”

(I decided to opt for the 20 nugget box.)

We stumbled back home as Hong Kong’s fitstagram joggers came out, and promised to try and wake up at a decent time so I could wave Amy back off to Guangzhou.

Rather than systemically going through the Top 10 TripAdvisor attractions like I normally do, I found myself just enjoying the company of friends both old and new. Hong Kong is without doubt the sexiest city I’ve ever been to, with all of her crisp skylines and even crispier prawn dim sum making it impossible not to fall in love.

It was one of the best trips I’ve ever had, and I boarded the plane back with a box of M&S cocktail sausages, a three-day hangover, and a promise to reunite with her soon.

 

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xoxo HK girl
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Grave Sweeping Festival in Xi’an + April Fool’s pranks

Groggily waking up for our 6am train to Xi’an, we packed our rucksacks with snacks and tupperware noodles and departed for the train station. Seven hours passed by smoothly, as I alternated between button smashing furiously on my 3DS and using Headspace to fall asleep on the train (incidently, not how you’re supposed to use it).

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$wag

Arriving at around 2pm, we checked into our illegally run hostel before departing towards the Muslim Quarter. With Ellie having told me it was the highlight of her Spring Festival trip I had high expectations for the impending feast. The crowds began to thicken as we headed towards the main strip, budging pass tourists standing on boulders taking pano’s on their phones. Seeing the popularity of the miscellaneous meat on sticks, we decided to try one out at a stall with the promising characters of ‘lamb’. A little further down, we also stumbled into a wonky line that turned out to be a queue for the ‘pulled lamb burger’ that I had heard about from both Ellie and Lonely Planet. Grabbing a card and waiting in line, we finally received our gravy laden bun after fifteen minutes.

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As we meandered down the alleyways of the Quarter, we ended up at the Great Mosque which we were planning on visiting tomorrow. Whilst musing out loud at the prices displayed at the ticket office, the girl fiddling with her money in front of us told us to go first. As is with all foreigners when they see other fellow waiguoren, we struck up a conversation based on our instant connection (we both speak English.). I was using my octave-higher voice that I reserve for strangers before she offhandedly said the magic three words: “I’m from London”. I then liked her ten times better and wagwanned with her by exchanging our London postcodes and talking pretentiously whilst Em looked on. After gushing at her native-sounding Chinese (she was a Mandarin student), I bid her goodbye.

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wagwan

After grabbing an ice cream, we headed back to the hostel to get an early night for the Terracotta Warriors tomorrow. I was cruelly awoken at 6:30 by my alarm before I padded blindly at my phone to sleep more. Waking up an hour later, we packed our bags and grabbed a taxi towards the museum.

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Pit 1
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:0

Pit 1 was infinitely the best, holding the majority of the soldiers that had been restored. We wandered around all 3 pits before getting the hardest of hard sells from the boss of the souvenir shop. Before I had realized what had happened I found myself handing my debit card over and getting two terracotta archers speed wrapped and boxed for me.

Deciding to move on, we headed towards the exit gate where I assured Emily that I had read both on my brother’s blog and on ChinaTravel that we could get a free shuttle bus to the Mausoleum which was included in our ticket price. She googled it and told me that it hadn’t been excavated yet, and that we had seen all of it already. I was sure there was something else to see, but eventually agreed to go home. After resting at a nearby Starbucks for what seemed like hours (and meeting a UEA student!) we headed towards the bus stop, only to find that it was a free shuttle bus….towards the Mausoleum.

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trying not to say “i told you so”

Upon arriving at the Mausoleum, we realized that we didn’t know shit about what it actually was about, and thus wandered for 40 minutes trying to find something that looked vaguely attraction-like. Spotting the beacon of hope that was a white guy’s balding spot, we walked towards them and asked them where we could find the nearest Pit. They pointed in the direction they came, before we all shared our bafflement as to the whereabouts of the Mausoleum. Agreeing it must have been the tombstone we saw earlier, we pointed them the opposite direction before bidding them and their ugly toddler our adieus.

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we may have walked past the biggest attraction in the first 10 mins of our 2 hour walk

Our energies waning, we hopped on a coach back to central Xi’an, before deciding to wander around the City Walls. I had heard (from tripadvisor) that it was a must-do at both day and night. As a chronic fomo-sufferer, I insisted we go up and see it at night, despite me having possibly having to pay two full-price tickets (Emily had her student card). Somehow managing to blag a student card for myself, we found ourselves spirited away on top of the quiet city walls of Xi’an. With only my Motorola in hand, I attempted to capture the majesty of the scene, only to be foiled by the fact that it’s 2017 and I have a Motorola.

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digging into a hunk of meat before the wall

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As I strolled down the dark city walls, I saw an opportunity to capture an artsy shot. Running ahead of Em to the nearest lanterns, I flopped myself down on the no doubt piss/tobacco/babyshitted floor and tried to take a snap of the underbelly of the lanterns against the night sky.

After 7 minutes, I managed to get a somewhat passable shot:

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Before Emily informed me that I actually looked like this:

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1like1prayer

Mollified by the reality of my instagram attempts, we made our way to the next exit gate where we were told by an angry Chinese man that it was very late for two girls to be out. Nodding somberly at his advice (whilst silently fuming about the ‘for two girls’ comment), we made our way to the exit and took a taxi back to the hostel, ready to cycle around the wall again in the morning.

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With our bodies exhausted by the foreign levels of exercise, we kipped out on the train only to be disturbed constantly by a group of rowdy children a few rows behind us. Taking out my earphones from time to time, I shouted for them to ‘shut the fuck up’, well aware that this phrase was well known by children their age.

Arriving to school the next day, I was greeted by a group of grinning boys who pushed one of their snotty minions towards me.

“Teacher, teacher! He says he saw you on the train in Xi’an”

“Oh really! That’s cool, in Xi’an or in Suzhou?”

In response, the boy in question enthusiastically shoved a train ticket from his sweaty arse pocket towards me:

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Top: His seat, Coach 6, 16D. Bottom: My seat, Coach 6, 14B.

Horrified, I didn’t have the heart or the hypocrisy to later tell off that kid for using the phrase “fuck your dog”.

~~~~~~~~at school~~~~~~~

To celebrate April Fool’s Day (/week) I decided to play a little trick on my kids. Walking into my classroom with a face like a slapped arse, I slammed the door shut with a *bang* to convey I meant business today. As I waited for them to settle down I opened class with a:

“Buenas dias a todos!”

Beginning to stand up, the students automatically started to say “Good Morning teacher” before fading out, instead turning to look confusedly to their classmates. Crossing my arms, I raised one eyebrow and pointedly repeated my Spanish to them; huffing for extra emphasis. Slowly, and not without much giggling, they repeated back to me:

“Beanas dies Louise?!?”

I opened up the slide to this:

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I used google translate dw

At which point, all hell broke loose.

I calmly continued to tell them instructions in Spanish (and by Spanish I mean I threw some GCSE discoteca and biblioteca in there) over the sounds of their escalating confusion. Banging the blackboard angrily, I shut them up before miming with my hands what they had to do. I had specifically chosen an exercise we have done before, so that they would know to watch the short video and write down 5 things they thought it was about. After they had come up and written some of their ideas on the blackboard, I decided to see how far I could push it.

As they all settled back into their seats, I picked up a book and slowly opened it to the middle spine before placing it on my head stony-faced. I then walked over to a student and mimed for her to do the same before gesturing at everyone else in the class. Delightfully confused (yet still obedient), they all began to balance their notebooks on their heads. Trying to not laugh at the sight before me, I decided to do some dictation:

Me: “Uno!”

Class: “Uno?”

Me: Dos!!”

Class: “Dos!”

Me: “TRES!!!!!!”

Class: “TRES!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”

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Boy in front: “I came out to have a good time and I’m honestly feeling so attacked right now” 

After another round of Spanish numbers, I quickly whipped out my phone to take a picture before they all realised and ducked under their desk with a cry of “TEACHHHHHHER!!!!”. I then revealed to them the next slide:

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Cracking up from the absurdity of the lesson so far, I explained to them the meaning of the day over them giggling, heckling, and banging their desks in outrage.

As we continued on with our lesson like normal, I erupted with laughter when I came across one of the girl’s notepads, on which she had actually written down some of the Spanish on the Powerpoint as if it was the new vocab of the day:

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top of the paper: she even did the accented “i” #dead

I was later punished when I walked into Class 16, which happened to be one of my favourites. Before I could even begin my Spanish prank, I found I couldn’t write my usual “0 minutes” on the board (to demonstrate they had been quiet at the start). As the students began to roar with laughter behind me, I tried the other side of the chalk with no success. Genuinely confused, I looked at the students questioningly, before picking up another piece of chalk.

At this point, some of the boys had fallen out of their chairs dramatically, and were now clutching their sides on the floor. Pressing the chalk with unnecessary strength still didn’t work. It was only when some of them started shouting “shui! shui!” (“water!! water!”) that I realised they had wet the tips of not one, but ALL of the white chalks with water so it had hardened to an unusable point.

Banging my head on the blackboard I gave a begrudging thumbs up to the class before taking a deep breath….

“BUENAS DIAS A TODOS!!”

“…………..eEHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH???????”

shit hairdressers + valentines day

After a glorious six weeks holidaying, the prospect of going back to a classroom full of Chinese tweens throwing protractors at each was enough to make me want to rip my hair out. And thus, after a gloomy night of looking at fit Korean girls on Pintrest, I booked a hairdresser in Shanghai.

I should have known by the guy’s extensive biblical neck tattoo and cunt hat in his wechat profile pic that he was up to no good.

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heavy on the ‘maybe’

Having been promised a 2 to 3 hour long hair appointment, I dragged Emily with me to the hairdressers after persuading her to pop her dye virginity. As we approached the hairdressers, two boys styling poo pants and Jedward hair who sat on either side of the entrance looked us up and down before saying something in Mandarin. Showing my conversation with Leo, they gave a “Ahh” and sat us down in their steampunk inspired leather chairs. Furiously typing on his fake iPhone, one of them unceremoniously shoved his phone in my face where a translator app read “Leo will be here in 5 minutes”. Twenty minutes of listening to the salon’s Kpop playlist later and ‘Leo’ arrived in all of his 5″5 white tracksuit glory.

Having been informed that we needed to bring a picture beforehand, I brought a picture of a Korean idol, making sure the hairdressers knew I wanted to be fresh af when I walked out:

A Pink - Naeun:
so cute

An hour later than our original 2pm appointment, the 22 old year old “hairdresser”s finally started doing stuff. Whilst Emily had Leo on her nice PR-worthy foreign head, I was given some 21 y/o novice chump who applied bleach to my hair with the finesse of a 21 y/o novice chump applying bleach to my hair.

His nonchalant attitude was clearly reflected in his work, as Leo kept leaning over and tutting at my hair. Not particularly reassured,  I asked Leo whether anything was wrong, to which he replied only with a coy smile and a wiggle of his bleach blonde quiff. As the hours passed, I watched with disbelief as bleach began to turn my black hair uneven colours of brown, orange and yellow. There was even some black at the back which the useless idiot had managed to miss. Leo’s reassurances that everything was still okay was only slightly dampened by his nervous laughter and the fact that there were now three hairdresser’s furiously re-painting my hair with high-strength chemicals .

The result of the bleaching: (the smile is not indicative of my mood, but rather the need to update my Snapchat story)

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The very tissues I used to later cry in to.

With Emily’s head slowly disappearing with every wrap of clingfilm, and the smell of my hair follicles dying, we had hit the 4 hour mark.

As the shit novice began to put colour dye over my newly bleached hair, I felt my mood sour as it became more and more obvious that he didn’t know what he was doing. My mood worsened even further when it became evident that he had fucked up AGAIN, and Leo had to once more come over and redo the color.

As we approached the sixth hour, I could see my hair turning a light grey. I was even more doubtful when I showed Leo the picture again, only for him to nod and point at my hair, as if grey and brown are the same colour. Thinking that perhaps it would look different when washed out, I continued to play on my phone until I turned to my left…and saw that Emily’s hair was going pink at the ends.

As the light grey began to creep over my hair, I felt my eyes grow moist as my dreams of being a member of Girl’s Generation disappear. To my utter humiliation, Studio Ghibli-esque tears began dribbling out of my incontinent eyes as I stared at myself in the mirror opposite. From the corner of my misty eye, I saw Emily contort into her concerned-awkward face as she tried to access what to do (she later said she could tell that if she asked something I would cry; which was true).

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“…and then Sophie said “you fucking bellend you’ve ruined my hair, I asked for brown you utter chode””

With tears silently streaming down my face, Leo promptly whipped out his translator app to ask me what was wrong. There’s no accurate word for ‘useless cunt’ in Mandarin so I settled instead for saying that the hair wasn’t anything like the picture. He gave the phone translator app back to me, on which it simply read: “Yes. The same as picture”.

At this point I just stared dead into his eyes. And I saw nothing but simple little Leo. Sweet little Leo who was only 22 and couldn’t tell the difference between brown and light grey.

Simple little fucking Leo.

 

A Pink - Naeun:
Expectations
957821119
Reality

 

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Expectations no.2
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reality no.2 + Pizza Express ambassador Em
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Reality no.2

After going to their backroom to pose for their WeChat twitter feed, we departed around 10:30pm from the salon. That’s a full 8 and a half hours after we walked in. That’s 5 hours more than the estimated length of the appointment.

Having already started drinking straight from our bottles of M&S wine in the last hour, we were only slightly tipsy when we arrived at our pre-booked hostel, only to find out that Emily’s lack of passport meant we couldn’t stay there, or in fact at any hostel in Shanghai at all.

“It’s impossible to stay here now that we know she doesn’t have a passport said the hostel guy, “but you could try book a room down the road and sneak her through the back?”. Nodding sagely at such savvy wisdom, we went down to the next hostel whereby I casually booked a room. With the elevator needing a card to move floors, I put my things in the room and went back down to fetch Emily who was lingering nearby it, seemingly just waiting for the elevator. We settled into the room crowing with delight; all the while chugging white wine from the bottle. Mid-chug, a loud knock sounded from the room door.

I turned to look at Em. Em turned to look at me. A voice came from outside the door: “Nihao? ………..*some Chinese i don’t know*…..”.

Walking towards the door, I gestured frantically at Emily to hide, watching her debate between the curtain and the bed before she ungraciously threw herself on the floor between the two. I opened the door with what I hoped was somehow a half-seductive, half-innocent smile. A portly middle-aged Chinese man stood outside, and inquired as to whether there was anyone else in the room?

Eyes as wide as eyes like mine can go, I professed my innocence at such a question, “It’s only me in this room” I said.

I gestured behind me with a flourish of my long slender hand.

Unimpressed, he pointed at the ceiling where two cameras were poised in our direction. “We have CCTV. I saw you and a woman come in here” he said, looking into the dark room behind me. “Is there someone in your room?” he repeated.

“Uhhhhh….Yes! But she’sonlyhereforhalfanhourwhilstwegetreadyforabirthdayparty!!!!?!!!>!” I vomited. (Except I didn’t know how to say ‘get ready’ in Chinese so I just waved around my eyes, where some semblance of a cat-eye was forming on my left eyelid).

He seemed almost unapologetic as I he listened to my broken attempt at explaining the fake birthday party situation. With a deep sigh, he repeated that she couldn’t legally stay without a passport. Some back and forth occurred, before my methods of persuasion (persistence) finally broke him down and he let us stay to get ready. He toddled off, but not before reminding me sternly that she wasn’t allowed to sleep here tonight.

“Of course, of course!” I said down the hallway, shutting the door when his stout figure disappeared around the corner.

(We came back at 5am.)

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everything is better in Valencia

In other quick news:

Last week I did Valentine’s Day, and the end activity was for them to write a love story using two of their classmates. They love doing anything that has potential to embarrass someone, and so they took to the activity with much glee. The chaos reached a crescendo when I wrote the word “kiss” on the blackboard, and said they were allowed to use such filth in their stories.

Whilst doing my usual rounds around the classroom (to check they were actually doing it), I came across some budding poets…

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just one sex!! no more than that!!!

The back of the room is usually where the giant 13 year olds reside, fed by a daily diet of Chinese UHT milk and sippy yogurt. It’s in this part of the room that I usually spend the most time during my rounds, as they’re usually playing too cool to work.

However, in this particular lesson I had spent most of my time during the activity at the front, trying to define what bisexual was using stick figures on the blackboard. Having been distracted for a good five minutes, I could tell as I walked towards the back that the ‘bad boys’ had decidedly not been doing their work.

Leaning over one of their shoulders, I saw a boy try to hide his paper whilst his friends erupted with laughter around him. Wiggling it out of his hands, I tried to figure out what he had been drawing. I rotated the paper a few times, before saying “is that a flower?”

At which point I had clocked, it was not a flower (sort of) but was instead…

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He enjoys that POV category

 

Baby it’s smog outside – The Chinese Christmas Edition

 

…And just like the smog epidemic of China, Christmas had crept up on me; surprising me with its frosty breath of carcinogens.

Despite my enthusiastic reassurances to friends in China and back home that Christmas was still the most wonderful time of the year, my 21st Christmas felt particularly subdued. Doubtless, the lack of decorations and Christmas stalls (bar the saxophone playing Santa that grocers have year-round) had its part to play. Older folk who I used to call Scrooges used to say that the magic of Christmas faded with the passing of their years. Looking back, I wonder if my fervent denials that this would ever happen to me was actually a reaction to me knowing that deep down, I was losing the Christmas spirit.This year, the combination of China and the big 2-1 meant that for once, I became my own enemy; nodding sagely in agreement at all the Grinch memes on Facebook.

Regardless, any excuse to style out a Chinese style top in schoolcleanerblue in front of a hundred Education Bureau members and I’m there, Christmas spirit or not.

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#just finished cleaning out the squats!!1!!

Our Christmas work party was on the 23rd, and not realising the “mandatory” performance wasn’t actually mandatory, I signed myself up to read a Christmas poem. I thought I did a pretty damn good job until Alex said that the people on his table were ignoring my calls of “O dASHer! O PrANceR! Blitz-…” and were chattering loudly to themselves.

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Other activities included various games and other performances. One of which was a ‘fashion show’ by all the foreign teachers. Except it wasn’t really a fashion show, more like walkuponthestageposeandgetoff. When we first were told about it, we all imagined Chinese dresses, exotic fashions etcetc. What actually happened was we were shoved on the stage in our “outfits” and were asked to wave miniature Chinese flags. PR-perfect.

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ellie loves china

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Having been starved from the buffet for too long, some of us decided to invest our energy in playing some of the games instead. Me, Alice, Kate and some of the boys had to run around the room and collect as many items from the audience/room that were called out. (In my eagerness to win, I shucked off my shoes before realizing mid-sprint that it was maybe a little inappropriate at such a formal event). The winner was the team with all of the items on their tray at the end.  Think Dale’s Supermarket Sweep except the bonus item was not an inflatable banana, but the leather trouser belt of an unsuspecting VIP. (Which in hindsight, isn’t too far off.)

The list of items being called became increasingly difficult to source. What started off as just an apple then migrated to bits of clothing that inevitably required stripping of some sort. Some of the items I ended up on my tray with were:

  1. A tie I saucily unraveled from a 80 year old man
  2. A straw (?)
  3. The contraceptive pills of a poor woman I accosted
  4. Hats, scarfs, belts
  5. The car keys to a Jaguar

The room soon became a frenzy of foreigners running around the hall, begging for coins, makeup, stationary, and mostly clothes. When the time stopped, me, Alice, and Kate regrouped feeling victorious, having gathered everything on our trays successfully. However, much to our shock and mild fury, the 3 middle aged Chinese women in Team 1 had pipped us to the post. I grumbled quietly that it was a lot easier to strip your husband of his belongings than it was with your boss.

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our boss + “TELL ME WHY”

Nevertheless, the game had put us in good spirits and we sat down to watch the much-anticipated performance of our resident Beyonce (Shireen), singing ‘Last Christmas’. We all agreed it was a wonderful performance, and an improvement on our usual drunken KTV renditions.

The real gem of the night however, came in Shireen’s ‘surprise performance’. Even amidst much speculation, no one could have foreseen what happened when she got on that stage in front of all our bosses.

If you ever watched RuPaul’s drag race, you’ll know there’s a section at the end where RuPaul screams:”IT’S TIME TO LIP SYNC FOR YOUR LIFE”. The ensuing battle is one I thought only existed on reality drag TV shows. But maybe that’s because I’m obviously boring and I have never had the pleasure of being with someone as awe-inspiring confident Shireen. I felt my mouth dry up as I gawped at her slut-dropping on stage with one of our bosses; who she had somehow coerced on stage. Best thing I’ve ever seen after the Chicken Connoisseur.

Hungover like a bitch, I still managed to crawl out of my moist cocoon blanket and walk down to my friend Ellie’s house. We trickled into their home in varying states of hungover-ness, before ordering Papa John’s and sitting down to watch Love Actually. The night went by with frequent wonderment at the plotholes of the film that we never properly analysed when we were 15 / remembering with despair that Alan Rickman was dead. Inhaling my pizza, I felt the familiar sting of my old friend lactose-intolerance stirring in my bowels. ‘Feels like home’ I thought to myself, as I described what lewd acts I would enact on Karl the Hot Office Guy.

Stuffed with stuffed dough, we groaned our Merry Christmas’s to each other as midnight hit. Finishing up our episode of Peep Show, we all made our way back home. I took the time to bask in the quiet early hours of Christmas on my walk back, reassured by Buble’s croon that all he wanted for Christmas was me.

THE BIG DAY

Christmas had come! With a tinge of bittersweetness, I opened the stocking my mum had lovingly sent to me and gobbled down an M&S truffle before getting ready. We were due to meet at Ann’s English Tea House for our Christmas lunch at 1, with me arriving late (but having enjoyed a delightful 20 minute conversation in Chinese with my taxi driver).

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fanks mummy huynh and family ❤

“And on Christmas Day, the Hungry Chinesipillar ate 1 pork pie, 1 bowl of soup, 1 christmas dinner with the trimmings, a mince pie, and 3 glasses of white wine.”

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it was homemade
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they’re looking at my pie

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soh veentage

Choosing to forget the enormous bill I had racked up, I snuggled up in the warmth of Kate’s jumper as we overlooked the serene views of Jinji Lake from the balcony. After five merry hours, we decided to take our leave of the emptying restaurant. Whilst many continued on to Kate’s house, I took a taxi back home to Skype those back home. Seeing my little family open their presents on my screen was surreal, and was tinged with homesickness. However for the most part, I watched their Christmas morning unfold happily, knowing that despite any nostalgia, I wouldn’t choose to be anywhere else other than Suzhou this Christmas. Feeling melancholy (but not lonely), I wished my family a happy Christmas and took a taxi back to Kate’s. I lamented loudly on missing the Camembert, but indulged in drinks and rounds of Werewolves/Mafia instead.

Five heated games later and I decided to call it a night after getting some late night street food with the gang. As I went upon my sobering walk home, I thought to myself that maybe I still had some Christmas spirit in me yet.

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So totally culture (+so totally discriminatory)

“So how do you think people will react to a British born Asian?”. Having prepared for this question in the British Council interview didn’t mean I was anymore prepared for the presupposed opinions of me when I actually began living here.

Having years of people asking me ‘Where are you really from?” back home (from tapas bars to southeastern train platforms) meant that I had took an immediate defensive stance whenever I thought a conversation was even mildly going that way. Upon arriving in China, the idea that I could be both British and Asian continued to baffle and confuse everyone, to the point where I gave up trying to insist that I was British; as much as my face screamed Chinese. Occasionally bitter, there have been times where I’ve assumed I’ve not been chosen or appreciated because I’m not considered truly British. Sometimes I’m wrong, but many times I’m also right.

Story time: I had already told my boss, alongside Alice and Kate, that I would be happy to judge the middle school speaking competition happening in a few weeks time. A fortnight after we were first told about the event, we were told we had to contact someone about wanting to do it.

The conversation with one of the organizers that ensued left me speechless. I questioned whether cultural differences were an excuse for such actions, or whether I was just to meek to call out something that I thought was inherently wrong. It was a stark reminder that a lot of what the bureau (our bosses) ask us to do is for PR, rather than our teaching skill. I’m ashamed. Because there have been many times I automatically put myself down as worth less than a white blue eyed blonde girl, unconsciously deferring to a narrow minded view that some take, and agreeing that yes, it would be better for me to stand at the back next to the other Chinese people. I’ve literally plonked myself in the front of pictures before because 1) I thrive on attention and 2) because I’m almost waiting for people to dare to ask me to move.

 

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I’M SO SORRY HONEY I nearly popped a vein
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I had to use the in-app translator for a lot of what she said, because she didn’t want to talk to me in English like she did my friend Kate.

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There’s only so much humor I can give situations like these, and what was upsetting most was that people didn’t understand why I was upset. One has to wonder whether people would be happy to receive a bunch of British Asians as their PR fodder next year.

 

Anyway..

Every Tuesday we have a culture event and this time we were making pastries and paper cutting in the aim of getting the much coveted Paper Crafting certificate..

We were taught how to self twist some pastry and cracked up at the endless possible innuendoes that rubbing strips of sticky dough allowed us. We admired the varying sizes and shapes of our twists, feeling the amused gaze of the catering students as we started throwing around dough in their kitchen.

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Mine….
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and what they’re supposed to look like.
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*cue childish jokes*

Then, the highly competitive paper cutting ensued:

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The secret life of an TEFL teacher

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As adult life as a graduate loomed closer, the question asked and answered by everyone on campus was the same: “So, what are you going to do after graduation?”. In a sea of understandably unsure answers, I replied each time (and not without a touch of smugness) that I would be teaching in China. With each assertion I became more and more sure of my decision, and on August the 15th I stepped into the skeptical gaze of 35 Beijing summer school students.

Any trace of confidence that I had conned myself with previously vanished almost the second I walked in. As the unexpected toil of teaching set in, I began to feel deflated at the prospect of a whole year still to come. As the first week drew to a close, I found myself face down on my bed contemplating all the things that went wrong that week. From misunderstandings, insults, and worst of all boredom, the experience with the students gnawed away at my confidence as a teacher and as a person. I began to question the purity of the instincts that drove me to China. Did I really always want to teach? Or did I just like the presupposed image that being a teacher gave me? Someone who was patient, resilient, and selfless was the version of me that I had never quite achieved, but had always wanted. Perhaps I thought teaching would push me nearer that goal.

 

However, after three months of living and teaching in Suzhou (where my permanent school is), I’m beginning to feel more confident in my choice of a teaching career.

It’s been a long journey to get to this point…

September:

  • Terribly planned lessons and games, whereby I got annoyed at the students for not understanding the rules rater than admitting it was the fault of my own sub-par comic sans instructions.
  • No idea how to punish bad behavior except for maxing out my voice box.
  • Fruitless and shameless attempts to embarrass bad students who refuse to answer a question, leading only to my own self-disgust.
  • Holding a grudge against the class jokers who would say an unknown “………..(teacher)…….” in Chinese, much to the enjoyment of my merciless kids.
  • Newly discovered regret at my own bratty behavior in Spanish class. (Sorry Senor Moren).

 

October:

  • Beginning to set a routine with “good morning” and “goodbye” as well as gradually receiving back the register papers I gave out to each class for them to sign with their English names.
  • Understanding classroom management more. Warnings and countdown issued to the effect of everyone staying behind in class.

Simile Week:“Teacher is angry like a tiger”. “Teacher is tall like a mountain”. Taking a trip to the time-capsule cafe to write myself a letter berating my bi-polar teaching style.

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Can you tell he’s the class playboy? – “Your clothes, are they pumpkin?”
  • Worksheets shut them up for at least 5 minutes.
  • (So do sweets)

Movie Week:  After 8 different classes, I final cracked that “Arm Man” wasn’t some Chinese amputee movie like I initially thought, but was actually a botched attempt at saying “Iron Man”

  • Introducing a stuffed animal that the class could throw around before I shouted “stop!”, thus randomizing the students picked to read/speak.
  • Not giving up your class for one bad kid. You can’t win over everyone.

Halloween Week: Storytelling involving people, places, and situations relevant to them. Real enthusiasm for the work set.

 

November:

  • Realizing that I could do more exciting things than just use the “Swivel” animation entrance on PowerPoint. Making interactive games like Pairs to use in class.
  • Dropping in Chinese that I learnt from my lessons to keep them on their toes and minimize backchat.
  • Using the class jokers to start a task, and letting their enthusiasm carry the class along.
  • Using the board‘s potential by dividing up sections for new words, grammar points, and games (as opposed to scribbling anywhere).
  • Letting slip to the children that I was a human too. Once the girls found out I knew who Exo-k was, I was literally trapped in a mob of students asking for my favorite member. Freedom was only granted when a teacher passing by heard my pleas of help.
  • Making light fun of those who don’t participate: “I spy with my little eye, a quiet little bird wearing blue and red…”

Heroes/Superheroes Week:

Me: Picking on a student to stand up. “Okay so what does a hero look like?”.

Student A: She straightens her back before saying confidently,“A man”.

(A gasp from me and a smattering of berating from her female peers)

Me: 2 minute tangent on Feminism. Picking on a different student.“oKAY, so what about you? What do you think a hero looks like?”.

Student B: He stands up and…“White”.

Me: 2 minute tangent on Racism.

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clever and rich I can half-accept, but an intervention needed to happen for the others – even if just for myself

(They probably didn’t understand most of my impassioned ranting but I think they got the main bit about equality…I think)

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You’ve seen Paul the Octopus, but have you seen Crayon’s (real name) presidential prediction? – Taken hours before the results

Demo – 15/11/2016

Every teacher is required to do a demo lesson to the boss, their teacher peers, and their school’s Chinese English teachers.

After a restless night, I woke up early and role-played the entire lesson in order to try and pick out any potential misunderstandings the students might have. Over the next two hours I continued to nitpick at my presentation, obsessively moving text boxes a few centimeters around in order to relieve some of my mounting panic. As my peers trickled into the office to heckle/reassure me, a sense of dread fell over me. What if I ballsed it up big time? I ran off to print some last minute worksheets off before heading upstairs to find…an empty classroom. As I paced up and down at the front of the classroom, students finally began to fill the room. Realizing that I might not actually start on time, I jogged out to the stairway where I shouted ‘快点!’ (hurry up you shits) and ‘上课!” (lesson’s starting!); watching them lazily jog up in response.

I came, I PresentedPracticedProduced, and I attempted to conquer. My lesson about Space was enough to get them interested, and thanks to the kids I had enough fun that I didn’t worry too much about the fifteen beady-eyed teachers observing at the back.

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try explaining to multiple classes that they shouldn’t objectify the girls

After a round of goodbyes, the teachers all left the classroom to go discuss my lesson. Exiting the class last, I couldn’t hide my pride in everyone’s performance; giving them all an ecstatic clap on the back and a promise of sweets next week. In the meeting room, the usual constructive criticism started whilst my boss pulled me aside to talk. All the shit of the last few months was made worth it when he told me that I was a natural at teaching, and should ‘seriously consider investing your career in teaching’. I told my family happily of the ‘stellar performance’, but mitigated the bit where he said that I would lose my voice if I continued teaching as loudly as I did just then.

It’s been the longest and hardest three months I’ve ever had, but I can’t wait to see what other milestones the next seven will bring.

 

Halloween in Shanghai with Em

With Shanghai being only 25 minutes away on the bullet train, I decided to spend the Halloween weekend with one of my best friends Emily, who had recently moved there to do an internship.

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Having agreed to meet her at 11:15, I waited outside the exit of the station for her to arrive. I texted her the exact details of my location and lingered in a nearby Starbucks. Soon enough my phone pinged with a flurry of texts from Emily detailing her discovery that 1) she was going the wrong way on the metro line and 2) that she was going towards the wrong railway station. When I looked at the metro map later I found out that both the railway stations were on the same line as her home anyway, leaving me baffled to this day as to what happened…(such a tit). An hour late, she apologetically hurried into Starbucks and we hugged each other enthusiastically before setting back off on to the metro.

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Nanjing St
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Much excitement at English brands

Having been starved of Western food, I demanded that we go to a Pizza Express that I had heard resided near the centre of town. Making our way towards East Nanjing Street, we walked around and browsed the huge shops that lined the street. Every shop seemed to lead us into a shopping mall, and before long we saw the familiar blue logo that signaled I was about to eat a shit ton of cow products.

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“Em, look candid” “…”

Munching on our pizza happily, we sat and chatted for a few hours before realizing it was getting dark. We strolled our way down towards the Bund arm in arm (stopping at Forever 21 on the way) and reached there just before 6. Unbeknownst to us, we had got there just before the lights turned on, meaning that we were lucky enough to ooh and ahh with the rest of the crowd as the Shanghai skyline lit up with its signature neon lights.

 

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Enlisting the help of one the numerous foreigners that flocked the scene, we took some pictures with what was one the clearest Bund nights the Shanghai folk had had since coming.

 

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Deciding it was getting late, we bought some Chinese paintstripper spirits and sprite and made our way back to the student complex where her hotel was.

Typical of a large group of girls going out, I was introduced to her friends one by one as they peeked into her room, all of whom were in different stages of drawing their eyebrows. The usual routine of going out ensued, with many lamentations of not being ready in time and the usual gushing of “wow you look so good” being parroted every few minutes. Roping in one of the boys on the hotel floor, we forced him to take pictures that we were unable to achieve from just an selfie-arm’s length away. With the unspoken dress code being ‘the usual + more eyeliner’, the all-black girl troupe hailed taxis towards the Shanghai World Financial Building on the Bund for what was we assured ourselves was going to be a bignaiteout.

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Upon reaching the famed skyscraper, we encountered a massive crowd of people trying to get into the exclusive elevator up to the 92nd floor. With a ferocity of determination only seen at british music festivals, we unapologetically shoved our way to the front and past the guards as the last 30 guests in. Zipping up the elevator with a sweating harley quinn and an unravelling mummy-zombie, we were met with yet another crowd trying to get into the actual party. After ten minutes, we were finally granted free entry with a codeword given to one of the girls a few days before.

The floor was lavishly decorated with silk coffins, dismembered limbs, and hanging skeletons, and was comfortably busy with other party-goers. Having been slightly sobered by the frosty air and crowds, we decided to buy a vodka and coke for a whopping Y80, requesting no ice so we could watch hawk-eyed at the amount of spirit being poured in. Carefully cupping our drinks with both hands, we danced to a mixture of Latin-American and chart songs  whilst succubuses belly-danced on the stage.

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i wasn’t the best photographer at this point

We were soon invited to party with the rich kids behind us, and we entered the VIP section with unadulterated glee. With most of them having been educated in America, we chatted with them whilst indulging in the buckets of Grey Goose and champagne that were freely available. Somewhat cautious at the beginning, we soon realized that everyone was innocent enough in that they just wanted a mixture of young foreigners and Chinese people for good social media/promo pictures (with some of the party working in the very building we were in). With our drinks continually topped up, we danced for hours before deciding to join the increasing number of party-goers leaving.

The end of the night was celebrated with some street grub, before merrily skipping our way back to the hotel.

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ballers

 

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Emily + street food

 

Having drunk a drastically different quality of alcohol to our usual, we woke up with only a touch of grogginess and discussed the night’s antics with the trickle of girls that came into our room. After eating our leftover street food we left to see the Propaganda Poster Museum, of which we had heard was notoriously hard to find.

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PPAC

We wandered tentatively into a housing block before asking a security guard if he knew where it was. Pointing at what seemed to be a block of flats, we wandered nearer before seeing a small sign saying to go downstairs for the museum.

The museum had a Y25 fee, which was more than worth it for what was roughly two hour’s worth of rare posters collected from Mao’s reign, each accompanied with English captions about the poster’s significance. No photos were allowed inside the exhibition but a gift shop was provided for those who wanted to buy both originals and copies. We debated whether to buy a print, before agreeing that there was nowhere we could hang a cartoon of Chinese toddlers crushing the USA that wouldn’t clash with the colour scheme of our houses. Each opting for a small postcard instead, we left to a nearby restaurant to eat some burgers and rest from our intensive cultural foray into Chinese politics.

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Not-so-sneakily taken from inside the museum

We ended the day with a wander near the Jade Temple before leaving Emily with the promise of seeing her soon in Suzhou.

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❤ ❤ ❤