Tianjin: Great Wall of China

One should always travel to the cities that are not particularly popular; I have always believed that you might find hidden treasures that way. I was excited for a number of reasons. Firstly, I was taking the slow train (the oriental express as I would call it for the rest of the trip) and secondly, we were going to climb the Great Wall!

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The train ride was a little awkward. I suspect that not so many foreign travellers take the slow train. I mean, you have the option of taking the bullet trains. An hour and a half of stares, fishy smells and heat, we arrived in Tianjin to get in to a taxi with a mad driver! She was on her phone, laughing and talking to herself and rarely looked at the mirrors. She dropped us off at the address I had shown her. Except, there was no sign of a hostel there. Oh dear! After approximately 45 minutes of charging phones, looking at maps, asking people if they know of the hostel, we took a leap of faith and got in to the elevator with other residents. We got off the 6th floor as the address stated…still no sign of a hostel. We knocked on apartment 601 and with a great sigh of relief, there is was: Marco Polo Hostel. The sign was behind the door! From there on, we came to a realization that Tianjin does not like signage.

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We didn’t want to waste the limited time we had in Tianjin so we went out for a little walkabout. With an over-enthusiastic taxi driver who mentioned Nelson Mandela as soon as I told him that I am South African, we made it to the Italian Quarter looking for pizza, pasta and wine. Nope. Everything was shut except for a place that sold salty box pizza. Disappointed and freezing, we headed back to the hostel for an early night before a day at the wall.

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Early start. We took the bus to Jixian, just outside of the Tianjin city centre. Well, an hour and a half out. Then, from the final stop you can take a taxi to the Great Wall (Huangya Pass). We didn’t get a taxi but we negotiated a return price with a local using his private car. Thanks to Matt, the driver agreed to drive us to the Wall, wait for three hours and drive us back to the bus station before sun set for only CNY 200!

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It was a fantastic experience! My legs didn’t think so, though. After climbing about 10 00o steps, it was time to call it a day! Plus, our driver was waiting for us. Chairman Mao once said, “He who has not been to the Great Wall is not a true man.” I’m a man!

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The Deets

Where to stay: I use Agoda to book hostels around China. We stayed at the Marco Polo Hostel which cost CNY 52 per night.

Transportation: The subway is cheap and reliable. Taxis are also in abundance, just make sure the driver uses the meter. Beijing to Tianjin slow train: CNY 30 . Bus trip from Tianjin to Jixian: CNY 35.

Entrance to the Great Wall: Huangya Pass Entrance will cost you CNY 65.

Tip: Try not to visit the city during the Spring Festival (Chinese New Year). Everything will be closed.

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What They Don’t Tell You

I have had a fantastic weekend in Beijing to see one of the best humans I know. This is enough to keep you happy, right? We explored the ancient hutons, ate amazing dumplngs, danced the night away and caught up. This should be enough to keep me happy.

But something happened.

When I was back in my apartment. Alone. Missing familiar faces. Receiving a cold text. After hearing my mother’s voice on the phone, chatting to my nephews, missing eating breakfast with my family after arguing about who will make it.

I broke down.

What we show you about our expat lives is always about the fun and exciting. Always about discovering new amazing foods, exploring the landscapes and meeting amazing new people. But, we are almost too ashamed to tell the world, to tell our families and friends that we are missing them incredibly that you find yourself pacing up and down your apartment trying to breathe. I had never had a panic attack before. I wish someone had told me that it feels like someone is squeezing your heart and you cannot breathe. Then you have insane thoughts – I can’t die here, I am 11 000 km away from my family. Then the thought of death just makes the entire situation spiral.

What they don’t tell you is that sometimes, amidst all of the amazing adventure, you will sorely miss familiar foods, familiar faces and familiar landscapes.

You will break down.

But, this will make you stronger. You will regroup then think about the mission and purpose. The reason why you opted for this lifestyle. You will have a cup of tea and appreciate the little things all over again.

It happens. It happens to everyone.

With love, x

Settling In..

It’s almost a month since I have moved to Harbin and I seem to be settling in now. I have my own apartment, I take the bus to school and pretty much every mode of transport available to go around, and I have become friendly with some of the people in my community.

I might live in a really old part of Harbin but my apartment is stunning and modern. Also, I like getting the feel of real local living. At the moment, I am looking after a little dog for three weeks before she runs along to her forever home – she is a rescue pup. She keeps me very busy.

I am finally getting used to the routine: the commute, long hours, eating out like its going out of fashion, lesson planning. All of it. I am taking it all in.

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I have been sight-seeing and have had some odd encounters so that will be coming up soon. But for now, I need to walk the pup and get ready for work work work.

With love, x

Hello, Harbin..

After a year of plotting and pondering, I am finally in China. Harbin, to be exact. Leaving Durban was a bittersweet moment – you know, knowing that you finally did it. But, leaving the people you love behind. It doesn’t make it easier that I am not quite a fan of flying. I often choose the window seat closest to the emergency exit. Then, I drink at least 3 glasses of red wine to help me sleep. It was comforting to sit next to another cryer (she was leaving her husband and daughter to teach in Dubai) so both of us had our tissues in hand as we took off.

I was a little silly to buy the cheapest ticket to Harbin; it was the longest 3 days yet. Arriving in Beijing was madness – that’s when the culture shock started. No queues. There were thousands of people at the airport yet it was way after 23:00. Then getting the taxi was even more daunting. I had the address written on my phone in characters yet no one wanted to take me to my hotel (I needed to rest on a bed and shower as I had a 9 hour lay over). It was time to use some Bing Translate. I asked a young gentleman to help me get a taxi to the hotel. To find that the reason why the drivers would not take me: the hotel was too close. Eventually, I made it. And, passed out straight after a much needed shower.

I went in to a restaurant at the Beijing Airport and asked for breakfast. I got noodles with an egg. Even though I asked for a vegetarian option, I still got a chunk of something meaty. I took the China Southern Airline to Harbin which was small and rattle-y. Thank goodness, I was so tired that I passed out. The food: a dry bread roll and milk and one dried prune. I am not even joking. As the pilot announced that we are descending in to Harbin, I looked out the window. Beautifully green.

Two hours later: what a warm welcome. Theo and Sara were waiting at the arrivals gate with huge smiles and somewhat, sighs of relief. With the stares and at times, the outright racism, I am glad I have come here for an adventure.

I have finally sorted my VPN and internet connection so I can write regularly.

With love,

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In the Woods Somewhere..

Today is one of those days when all I want is to hide away in the woods…somewhere. I need an escape from the chase, or lack thereof. It is probably time to take a step back and really look in to what I really want to do.

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I may be having an existential crisis (read: quarter-life crisis). My mind is always doing back-flips and somersaults, nothing is constant up there. Which is a great thing, obviously. But, frustrating at the same time. You know.

I am hoping the universe helps me out along side the long pros and cons tables, early mornings and late nights. Somethings gotta give, right?

I will be standing at this crossroad for some time – it’s all up to me.

No pressure.

With love & confusion,

xcave

Voyage of Self-Discovery..

It’s an on-going journey. You learn something new about yourself everyday; especially during times when you have to deal with people that are not on the same wavelength as you are. Quite frankly, my face normally tells you exactly what I think. It’s not ideal, really.

Yesterday. Yesterday was one of the days when it felt like the world is caving in on me.

I have written in my notebook so I have let it go. This is what they mean by ” choosing your battles” and this was an unworthy one.

I am looking forward to the many beautiful places I will get lost in. Once that trust is gone, it is gone forever – with a partner, a parent, a friend, a colleague.

Life is certainly looking up. And, all of these bumps are life lessons and somehow, it all starts to make sense. So, chin up and enjoy your day; take it all as it comes.

Love & Light, x

Day Dreaming..

Day dreaming of the endless possibilities, personal growth and adventures. It is quite an exciting start to the year with so many avenues lighting up almost simultaneously.

So, it’s finally happening. A little bit of determination goes a l o n g way.

Never stop dreaming. Then, never stop pursuing your dreams. No matter who tries to talk you out of the ‘silly’ ones.

With love, x

PS: no such thing as a silly dream. pfft..

Roadtrippin’ to a New Year..

I have been procrastinating a lot lately. I’ve been on a two week break and I have been the best sloth yet. No, really. I didn’t know what date it was until it was Christmas then again on New Year’s Eve. It was incredibly beautiful to just be with my family (my mother and sisters, in particular). I pretty much tried to avoid shopping malls and people, in general. Where do ALL of these people come from? Surely they all don’t wait for the Christmas break to crawl out of their cocoons. Maybe they do… Who am I to judge?

I don’t quite remember the start of the holidays. I don’t know what I did, or what I got up to. It’s all a bit of a blur. The first night with my mum, I do remember being mauled by silent mosquitoes. You couldn’t see them, hear them but these itchy bumps kept on emerging on my skin. My sister smiled after seeing my horrified face and said, “Ah, they’ve finally got you too, I see.”

With my mind being on holiday mode already, I recall forgetting my handbag in my sister’s car and her driving off with it. There goes my cellphone, car keys, driver’s licence and purse with my money, oh and not forgetting my lip balm (seriously, how do people live without it?). That’s when I realised that I could be quite a write off of an adult. I made it though after a few phone calls off a landline.

I got roped in to going to Sea World with my nephew. The thing is, my family knows I love animals and I hate seeing them enclosed. I am not particularly fond of zoos, circuses and sea world-like places. Somehow though, they always talk me in to family quality time. Who can resist that? It was a fun day in the sun with some Dolphin giggles and splashes. I suppose I am incredibly fortunate to have seen Dolphins in their natural habitat when I was on the Rainbow Warrior in early 2015; happily swimming and splashing about and “chasing” the ship as kids would do.

My kind of holiday means travelling to a new place to meet new faces.

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Open roads, singing along to Green Day and making a couple of stops along the way. Okay, let’s not forget about getting lost for half an hour — driving in the opposite direction of our destination and ending up in the middle of nowhere. That’s all the fun, innit?

We were actually looking for the Nelson Mandela Capture Site (It is on the R103 in Howick, KZN). We found it, eventually 🙂 And, the entrance was f r e e !

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So happy to have ticked that off my list.

Then, next stop: Piggly Wiggly.

Fresh bread, cheese, red onion marmalade, pizza and locally brewed beer! Stunning day to have a gorgeous, fresh pizza (you watch them knead the dough to perfection!) and to people-watch! There are many shops to browse through and many more drinks to try and wine to buy. I didn’t get a chance to find it but I hear there is a Belgian Chocolate Waffle place on the same road; frothing!!

Final stop: The Bend in Nottingham Road. A 148 km drive from Durban. This would be the place I would be saying a slurry “hello 2016″.

It wasn’t a very slurry greeting. It was a stunning one.

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After breakfast and cleaning up, we decided to spend the day at the dam.

After tubing, zenning and making flower head bands in the scorching heat, it was home time.

Of course, the day was not over. I had to visit a dairy farm. I wish I hadn’t though. I watched a cow getting impregnated by a human! No, not that way but syringes and odd appliances were involved. It’s a really dirty job and I wish dairy farms were about lush fields and cows treated like royalty. It was awful and it reinforced my morals; why had become vegetarian. Consuming less dairy and ultimately becoming a vegan (ey, play nice – don’t roll your eyes at me) did cross my mind.

It was a glorious time away. Lord knows, everyone needs to take a break from the city.

This year is going to be a treat despite what the sordid horoscopes read! Ew! This year involves a lot more travel, relocation and a bit more reading. I would say 2015 was quite a splendid year, I would do it all over again.

With love & happiness,

x

Aging is Not Lost Youth..

So, the dinner that I was a little too excited about blew me away. It was phenomenal and way beyond my expectations. For once, I had an outfit co-ordinated (by myself, of course) with Purity Ring and Oscar & the Wolf as my background music.

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I arrived 9 minutes late. Fashionably so. My best friend organised such a beautiful affair! The dinner and drinks was at S43 in Umgeni. Quite the hipster place to be.

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I knew straight away what would be on my dinner plate – there was only one vegetarian option. That’s good enough for me! A giant-sized chickpea and spinach burger. They also have a banting diet option where the bun is replaced with large portobello mushrooms. There is something for everyone to enjoy.

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A cosy, friendly ambiance. A beautiful evening at S43 followed by a nightcap at a local pub to watch the Rugby World Cup 3rd Place Play-off.

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Biggest stoked face – thank you, thank you, thank you! I would not have had it any other way.

Also, I l o v e sparkles 🙂

With love from a 25 year old, x

Her Heart was a Secret Garden..

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I decided to take a walk. Just before I could take an afternoon nap last Saturday, I stopped myself; I decided to go to the Durban Botanical Gardens. I was an hour late for a meeting that would have been held there and I thought it would be pointless to join the team that late. I had a little conversation with myself, flipped coins in my head and I decided, “why not?” I took a lovely walk around the gardens, saw many happy faces picnicking and many more weddings. I stopped to watch a rather huge Hindu wedding at the amphitheater. It was such a colourful, bejeweled festival; it looked absolutely stunning! Before people thought I was a creep peering through the woods to see what was going on, I decided to move along swiftly. A lovely afternoon spent walking about. Laughter, cackle, birds singing, drums beating in the distance.

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This was better than taking an afternoon nap.

“If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need” – Marcus Tullius Cicero

With Love,

x