Thursday, 14 July 2011

Le chinois, je t'aime

I have just watched Paris, Je T'aime in the hope that it might rekindle my lost love for the French language, the missing third of my degree which has not really crossed my mind in the past year. However what I hoped to be an exciting reintroduction to a lost passion turned out to be quite disappointing- I was depressingly reliant on the subtitles and, perhaps even more saddening, I found I didn't really care that much for the language anyway. Maybe my love for French will finally be revived after my month-long course in Dijon at the end of August but, for the moment, I think the spark has disappeared out of our once passionate relationship.

On the other hand I think I am increasingly finding my niche in studying Chinese. Even though I have forgotten a fair amount of vocabulary and grammatical constructions since leaving Beijing, I am thouroughly enjoying my Chinese lessons here in Erlangen and in some ways, I think it has been benificial for me to have a short break in my learning of the language. More and more I am finding I get a 'kick' out of learning it and it is one of the few work-related things which I really look forward to doing. I am already planning to include Chinese in my PGCE (teaching qualification which hopefully I should be starting in 2012) but I am also strongly considering the idea of doing a Masters in Chinese Studies at some point in my life. To do it straight after my degree wouldn't be a great idea- I'd have to take out another large loan on top of my student loan and even so, I do want to become a teacher so why spend an extra year and a lot of money overqualifying myself? However I don't know whether I want to spend my whole life as a teacher so if I manage to get a certain amount of money together, an MA should still be an option for me if I want to pursue it.


On a somewhat lighter note: I think I may have discovered one of the tastiest foodstuffs ever. Milka-flavoured Philadelphia might sound a bit strange on paper but in reality is dangerously addictive and impossible not to eat large quantities of straight out of the tub. Sample at your peril! Except you can't sample any of mine because I've eaten it all.


Friday, 27 May 2011

Ohh, moppie moppie moppie

Last weekend we travelled for 18+ hours each way and spent a ridiculous amount on train tickets in order to spend just over a day in Amsterdam. A waste of time and money? Definitely not!

Amsterdam, we were told, is not particularly famous for any stunning architecture or historical sights; instead it is famous, or maybe that should be infamous, for its liberal take on things, especially the legality of cannabis and prostitution. The city centre is built in the shape of an octagon (with a bit sliced off the top where it meets the water) and has canals running all around it. We spent the morning on a canal ride which was very much like all other touristy boat rides- not much to say there other than that it was very pleasant and watery. The afternoon became very hot and after posing in large letters saying 'I amsterdam' in the Museumplein everyone went for a paddle in a deliciously refreshing-looking fountain.. everyone except yours truly who stupidly decided to wear tights and had to sit out looking sad. We then paid 4€ to go round the Sex Museum and had a good giggle at all of the weird and wonderful phallic-shaped objects it contained.


In the evening we had a wander down to city's the red light district which was massively disorientating and a little bit scary (although I'm not sure how much of this was to do with the muffin I had eaten in a 'coffeeshop' a few hours beforehand) and consisted of narrow streets with prostitutes sitting in glass windows and large groups of men, presumably on stag dos, wandering round gawping at them. My lasting impression of the place was of the scary rubbery appearance of the prostitutes and the horrible leery eyes of the men, and I was glad to escape that area of the city and go and get a chocolate waffle.

As soon as we arrived in Amsterdam I was tinged with sadness that our stay in the city would be so brief, however I think we managed to pack such a great deal into our day that I don't regret it one bit.

By the way, the title is taken from a wonderful piece of Dutch hip-hop (call me naïve, but I didn't even know the genre existed) called 'Moppie', which we heard in the foyer of a hostel. Those interested can listen to it here. Moppie apparantly means 'babe' in Dutch.

Okay, I must dash as we're baking cakes this afternoon! My life has been devoid of banana bread for too long.


Monday, 16 May 2011

An effing good trip

This is an entry I have wanted to write for quite a while now; unfortunately, due to a nasty 3000-word German literature essay inconveniently getting in the way, I haven't been allowing myself to write anything non-academic. However this meant that instead of concentrating on my work, most of the time I just ended up writing nothing at all.

But anyway, this entry is about my recent trips to Prague and then to a small village in Austria called Fucking, stopping off in Salzburg on the way.


We went to Prague as a group of five: three Americans and two Brits. The whole trip was quite spontaneous- three days beforehand it just looked like it was going to remain a pipe dream until someone miraculously stumbled across a hostel with vacancies and so brought it to fruition.


Our first stop across the Czech border was in the town of Plzeň, the homeland of Pilsner beer. We thought that a place so close to the German border would be almost identical to Germany aside from the language.. how wrong we were. Admittedly we saw little of the town outside of the Eastern Bloc-era train station, but unfortunately what we did see lived up to all the wrong stereotypes: grey, grotty and run-down. We did however spot a large Tesco upon arrival, which caused much excitement for Kim and I and much confusion for the Americans. After an interesting 'conversation' with a lady selling tickets who spoke nothing but Czech, neither party understanding what the other was saying, we made it onto our connecting train into the capital.

I do think that you get a much better taste of a country if travelling by train; whilst coursing through the Czech countryside we saw beautiful fields and forests which we would have missed entirely had we gone by plane.


Prague station was a world away from the one at Plzeň and it set the stage for Prague as a whole: a historic yet modern city full to the brim with tourists. The shopkeepers and waiters in the city spoke near-perfect English, and although I don't like to rely on others speaking my language when abroad, the handful of Czech phrases I had learnt for the trip wouldn't nearly have been enough to get me by.


As we were in the city over the Easter weekend, there were a large number of market stalls and food stands in the Old Town Square including a lot of places selling a Slovakian speciality called trdelník, a tasty sweet pastry grilled on a stick and covered in sugar and cinnamon. Another Easter tradition in the Czech Republic is for the boys to whip girls on the legs with wicker sticks called 'pomlazka', the tradition being that they bring youth and good health to those they are used on. Kim, Jenny and I (although we didn't know this background information at the time) saw some pomlazka in a shop, were drawn in by their charms and so bought one each. Needless to say a lot of whipping ensued.


We were all sad when our three days in Prague drew to a close, but less than twelve hours after arriving back home we set off again for our next adventure:

Salzburg and Fucking

This trip was possibly the longest and furthest journey I would ever make to have my photo taken with a rude-sounding road sign. Before reaching the unfortunately named village of Fucking in the Austrian countryside, we had a six hour journey ahead of us to Salzburg, near the German-Austrian border. This, however, brings me to another reason why I love train travel- party time! Our large group of international students occupied the whole rear carriage of the train and, thanks to a swift trip to Lidl during our changeover in Landshut, we had with us copious amounts of alcohol to help pass the time.


I am ashamed to say that I managed to polish off quite a lot of beer during those few hours and by the time we arrived into Salzburg I wasn't sure I wanted to get off and would quite happily have stayed on the train for another round of YMCA. As a direct result of my beer consumption, my memories of us all venturing up to the castle and enjoying the beautiful panoramic views from the top are hazy at best.

Our hostel was huge, painted orange inside and out and played The Sound of Music every night in the foyer, although we didn't stay there very long at all due to having to get up at 5:30 the next morning to set off for Fucking. The journey from Salzburg to Fucking was a complicated one: first we took a bus, then a train, then a coach, then the last part we did on foot. The weather was beautiful, as was the countryside we passed through, and as I had managed to escape a hangover I quite enjoyed the walk.


The village of Fucking bears no relation to its vulgar title: it is just a very unassuming settlement of pretty houses and farm buildings with the odd car passing through every so often. Nonetheless we had great fun posing in front of the signs and also managed to befriend a local cat who we tried to get into a photo of us but ended up vomiting just as the camera's shutter clicked.


I shall treasure my photos of the day we went to Fucking- definitely one to bring out in fifty years' time to prove that I was once young and interesting! This weekend a group of us are going to Amsterdam and I cannot wait for our next adventure.


Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Ice creams and elderly bicycles

Aside from my previous blog entry which largely consisted of me whinging because I couldn't afford to buy beer and bratwurst, I haven't updated you on my new life in Erlangen, a small town in northern Bavaria. Possibly one of the reasons why I haven't yet written anything about my German exploits is that this country doesn't feel terribly foreign: apart from the obvious language differences and presence of dirndls on the hangers in C&A, it feels very much like home, especially when compared to Beijing.


However, that doesn't mean that life here has been boring- there are (contrary to my fears before arriving) a large number of Erasmus students from around the world and the social life here is incredibly active. Unfortunately mine and my friend Kim's halls seem to be a long way from anywhere, especially where parties and the like are concerned, and so the best option to counter this was to somehow acquire a bike. I didn't really fancy spending too much on a bike and so when I saw a notice in the corridor advertising one for 60€ I enquired straight away. An hour later I was the proud owner of a pink and purple ladies' bike, complete with wonky saddle, one brake and a dodgy chain. Whilst riding it into town for the first time the other day I grappled with mixed feelings of regret at having bought such a death trap and the whimsical notion of 'oh well, at least it's got character'. Updates regarding my hospitalisation post-bicycle collapse are possibly to follow.

Our term doesn't start for another couple of weeks and so far our only contact with the university (the snappily-titled Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg) has been a three-day orientation course which included a session entitled 'cultural training'. We were told of the exacting nature of German people, warned never to annoy them by being late and, strangely, advised of the optimum distance to stand away from someone you don't know well (1.2 to 3.6 metres if anyone's interested).


Luckily the weather has for the most part been absolutely beautiful in Erlangen and, aside from trips to the zoo and various nearby towns, we have spent many an afternoon sunbathing in the town's gardens armed with ice creams and sunglasses. I'm sure the holiday feeling will be dissipated fairly swiftly with the arrival of lectures and studying, but for the meantime life in Germany is beautiful.

Saturday, 9 April 2011

Niedrige Gefühle

I have spent two weeks in Germany and right now I am finding myself nearing my lowest ebb. A week ago my purse went missing (I have a suspicion it was stolen) in Ikea, complete with 100€ and my bank cards. One of my friends has kindly lent me over 100€ in order for me to pay for essentials but I hate having to depend on people in such a way and I am sorely missing any financial independence I had prior to the disappearance of my purse. Today I have so far eaten three 15 cent rolls and as such used up the last pieces of shrapnel in the bottom of my bag, and if I don't receive any money in the next few days I don't really know what I will do. My parents have tried to send me £200 to get me by before I get my replacement bank cards through but as yet there has been no sign of it and now the situation seems to be getting ever more hopeless.

Just over two weeks ago I was back in England with my boyfriend, my fantastic housemates and my money. My mantra to get me through these times so far on my year abroad has been 'it will get better' but at the moment all I want to do is to get on a plane (or train, or boat.. I'm not fussy) and escape back home.

Monday, 14 March 2011

Another countdown

After having faced another three-hour trip back to Aylesbury this evening, I have found myself in a rather industrious mood. However, rather than cracking on with the Chinese essay (in Chinese) that I really should be doing, I have strayed back into writing my blog and somehow deemed it necessary to give you a round-up of my life as of late.

Some of you may not know that my return from China has not signalled the end of my travels- in just under two weeks I will leave the safety of the UK for the perils of, erm, Germany. Okay, so it doesn't rank quite as highly on the adventurousness scale as China did, but still the nerves are starting to make themselves felt and I have subconsciously begun to count down the days until my departure.


For me, the past week has contained two rather exciting happenings: the first being my four days at Crufts, the world's largest dog show, and the second being my first gig as a hired photographer. I have been to Crufts every year since I was eight and it was, as always, great fun. The photography job was brought about by the fact that my housemate Dave was directing a play and knew that I was keen on taking photos, and so asked me whether I would fancy being the photographer in return for a free ticket. I accepted with much enthusiasm and so on Wednesday night I came down to their dress reharsal armed with camera and lenses in order to get a set of decent images. I was a little worried as the last thing I wanted was to disappoint Dave and the cast, but I have been told that they were all very impressed with the results which gives me a great sense of accomplishment. I am now hoping to get a few similar jobs when I am back in Birmingham next year which is an incredibly exciting prospect and another step in the journey to possibly becoming a semi-professional at some point in the future.


For the next three days I shall be observing language teaching in a local school as required by the teaching course I am hoping to apply for- details of which I'm sure will follow shortly. Until then.. zaijian!

Wednesday, 2 March 2011

Danny's Holiday

Now for my first entry based on the little white silhouette in the corner of this page- my dog Danny. Dan is a nearly-ten-year-old Shetland Sheepdog and has been my pride and joy since I was eleven. He has qualified for Crufts many times and has even taken me to the Young Kennel Club's agility finals in the NEC Arena.

Sadly in recent years he has suffered quite a few health problems such as arthritis, diabetes and a nasty malignant tumour, but still he has a very sweet nature (albeit slightly timid) and is, in my eyes, a very special boy.


During my first two years of university and most of this year (unsurprisingly he couldn't join me in China) I have had to leave Dan in the care of my parents and although he is happy at home, I do miss him a lot. Fortunately the house in which I am currently staying with my friends doesn't seem to have a clause in the contract forbidding pets so when my parents went on holiday last week we decided to see how Dan would cope at being a student dog.

I was slightly worried about having Danny come to stay, especially as a male dog with a previous for cocking his leg against people's sofas, but I am pleased to say he has coped admirably, so much so that even after my parents' return he has stayed in Birmingham to keep me company. My housemates seem to enjoy having him around the house and, after a lot of bribery involving prawns and cheese, Danny is slowly making friends with them too.

The biggest test came on Wednesday night when we had a large number of people round in the evening and I was slightly anxious that Danny would be reduced to a nervous wreck. However I needn't have worried- I left him up in my bedroom with a bowl of water and after a short while came to check on him to find him asleep on the floor, cool as a cucumber.

The best thing about having Dan here in Birmingham is that having a more active lifestyle seems to have taken years off him. He appears to really enjoy being in a more busy environment and has been much brighter here than he does at home, where he tends to become a bit lethargic after a while. He even came with us to the letting agents when we had to sign the contract for our new house- not something that many dogs can claim to have done.


Now that I know Danny can handle the student lifestyle I have my fingers crossed that our landlord next year will allow him- here's hoping! I am so proud of my little boy.