While a six month gap between posts doesn’t exactly make the shortlist for blogging tips for dummies, it has been in a whirlwind of visitors from home, moving houses and travelling for actual months on end (never mind actually being employed for, ahem, nearly 50% of the working week) that has catapulted me forwards in time to a much less comfortable chair at a much smaller desk in a very different apartment in a much more central location in a city that feels ever more like home, since so many of my homies (can I say homies?) have been to stay. And what a different six months it has been in many ways from the first achingly over stimulating steps we took on our journey through the portal.
May brought us a change in the weather, the beginnings of a seemingly never ending summer which only now, in the first week of November has shifted startlingly back to a wear-your-hat-and-scarf-in-bed temperature. Skipping China for the bulk of July and August for an extended jaunt around south east Aisa, we were lucky enough to dodge most of the monsoon season and exist in perpetual glorious sunshine – perhaps another excuse for not spending hours on end at the computer. Along with the springtime arrived my Mum, freshly packed and delivered from the UK – our trendsetting first visitor who I think saw almost as much of China in her three weeks here as I had done in the six months prior. Revisiting places that had made me think of her when I’d been there before as well as discovering new ones together, it was an action packed hilarious adventure which I couldn’t have imagined we’d ever have had in any other circumstance. From Shanghai to Xitang to Nanjng to Suzhou & Hangzhou and back again, we stayed in traditional guest houses, art deco hotels, family inns and even an abandoned shopping mall and came back again with the selfie sticks to prove it. With the joy of a fresh perspective on the madness, getting the opportunity to share for real the experience of life out here was something I’ll never forget. Looking back at it now, it plays like some kind of sit-com special episode. And as it turns out, a mother-daughter duo are of particular interest to the thousands of Chinese people who, for no apparent reason, want their photographs with foreigners. We assume we are displayed with pride on mantlepieces nationwide.
After tearfully leaving Mama Brown at the departure gate in Pudong airport, I had all of 2 weeks to find us a new a flat (a task I had naively thought would be straightforward enough.. fun perhaps!) I wish my sense of humour had been in tact enough to take good photographs of the long and winding list of unsuitable apartments that I spent day after day attempting to view in the now unpleasantly hot early summer. Being restricted to areas in walking distance of the school buses, we had seen so many insane spaces that we were moments away from accepting a flat without a kitchen when we came to view one last property which turned out to be the right one. Is it without insanity? Of course not, this is China after all; land without planning permission, playground for interior designers rejected by every other corner of the world. Whole companies dedicated to making spaces “ideal for westerners” – badly reimagining Monica’s apartment from F.R.I.E.N.D.S over and over again then presenting them gleefully to us, as if there were no possible way that fake exposed brick walls, stonewashed purple “feature pieces” and light fittings bigger than the ceiling to which they are fitted could displease us. Westerners, westerners, westerners. It was the most categorised I think I’ve ever felt and albeit well meaning, was not a well realised notion of what I must be looking for. So when an agent encouraged us to view this flat in the name of western taste, it was only that we were less than five minutes walk away that we even agreed. This time western meant that the landlord had fully or partially knocked down every single internal wall but two in the previously three bedroom apartment and had, most bizarrely, replaced the wall between the bedroom and the (not en suite) bathroom with a sheet of completely clear glass. After viewing one flat where to step from the kitchen to the living room one must walk through the shower cubicle, this seemed like an relatively unremarkable piece of design so we decided we could live with that and signed a contract there and then. IDEAL.
More guests from the UK arrived just in time for the one crossover week where we had two apartments in Shanghai, so the last few weeks of the school term before summer flew by in the name of moving and hosting. We got settled in our new digs (Frank, Harry and Rory filling the house with nerf gun bullets à la traditional housewarming) and found the important things nearby (arcade/cheese shop/karaoke booth/escape room game) and tried to pack a 30litre backpack each for our fast approaching two month trip.
Headed to eleven destinations, with a few extras thrown in along the way there is plenty that we saw and did which are deserving of their own blog posts, but in the spirit of catching up here is a montage of the best bits. 1st up HONG KONG:
VIETNAM > Hanoi, Sapa, Ha long bay, Hoi An, Saigon:
Getting back to Shanghai after 46 nights away, we had a few days to remember where we lived before another special delivery from the UK arrived, this time in the form of Morgan Daniels. And what did he bring with him, prey tell? Of course! The worst rain Shanghai has seen in almost a decade. With the worst of it hitting on a weekday when myself and Frank were at work at the school (which incidentally had to close because of serious flooding), Morgan was locked out of the apartment and wandering the streets in the summer clothes I’d told him he only need pack. And while it did stay uncharacteristically grey for the best part of his first week here, we hopped a plane to Beijing for a freakishly pollution free and stunningly clear long weekend at the Great Wall and back in the city. We returned to the same stretch of wall that I’d been to earlier over Chinese new year and found it transformed completely by the summer with perfect visibility. We spent a day and a half out there walking, getting lost and eating and drinking amazing food and cheap beer. Back in Beijing, one week before the military parade where President Xi revealed that he is a car from the waist down, security around Tiananmen square was super high and we were annoyingly but rather aptly not allowed to enter the forbidden city. Still a day spent wandering through Beihai Park and eating dumplings the hutongs was pretty alright. I love Beijing outside of the government heavy centre and was happy to get back there for another weekend and find some new stuff. Its such a different kind of city from Shanghai, It was awesome that Morg got to see that too. Beijing full blog post is on the list. Our flight back to Shanghai, though fine, was tainted somewhat by the not-quite-reassuringly translated announcement right after take off which promised the pilot would “do their best” to get us to our destination safely. To be continued…
You guessed it, we did reach our destination safely. And furthermore, our destination had stopped having shitty weather and become sunny and wonderful again. Perfect for what was left of Morgan’s visit. And low and behold, no sooner had I put him back though the magical terminal gates that produce and then consume people I love when two more arrived.. Anita & Thom
…and thus we did the whole Shanghai shebang again. Infact we did it having so much fun (/sparkling wine) that these are the only two photographs I have of nearly two weeks. Send me yours Anita and perhaps I will cobble together enough memories to write you guys a paragraph. In all seriousness though, Shanghai is a crazy and interesting city and is also our home for now. Getting to show it to my Mum and then some of my best friends in the world was awesome. So many people who have been out here longer than us say that they’ve never had anyone make the trip so we know how lucky we are to get to bridge the gap between our lives here and there, that when the people I can count on to always be reading and the ones that I’m really writing to, have just that bit more of an idea what I’m ever going on about.
MORE SOON… I promise!