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.

Monday, 14 February 2011

Stray memories #1- the jianbing

One of my housemates asked me yesterday, 'so Becca, what exactly do you do with your days at the moment?' Unfortunately my answer would have to be 'embarrassingly little'. A proper update will come when I have enough material to amuse you with, but until then I shall write some more about my favourite topic: life in Beijing.

I have decided to do a series of entries about the little things that filled in the gaps between the more impressive-sounding stuff whilst I was in China; the features of everyday life that, for me, have become much fonder memories than visiting a famous historical site ever could be.


The first of these is the jianbing. A favourite amongst Beijingers as an on-the-go breakfast food (although I don't think I could bring myself to eat quite so much stodge before noon), jianbings are usually sold by street vendors manning little carts at the very reasonable price of 3 kuai or about 30p. The name literally translates as 'shallow fried round foodstuff' which doesn't give many clues as to its contents: essentially the jianbing is a large pancake with an egg spread over it onto which are sprinkled some coriander and spring onions; a dash of spicy sauce is added and lastly a square of fried crispy pastry is put on top before the whole thing is folded up and popped into a plastic sandwich bag.


My first experience of the snack came about rather by accident- I went out one evening in search of some chocolate fish (another tasty street food) but found that the man selling them wasn't in his usual place. Instead was a lady selling from a little cart with a gaggle of Chinese students standing around it. Without any idea of what she was selling, I tentatively went up to her and asked for one. She asked me whether I wanted every ingredient put into my mystery dish, to which I nervously smiled and nodded, and a few seconds later I was handed a steaming bag of unknown food. Unfortunately upon further inspection I realised that my purchase had a large amount of coriander in it, one of those things which I'm just really not keen on, but my enthusiasm for jianbings (I later found the name of it on someone else's blog) remained.

After telling my Chinese friend Christina about my new discovery, she instructed me on how to ask for no coriander and so a few days later I made jianbing attempt number two. This time I snaffled the whole thing up in record time and it was so tasty that I did for a while consider going back and getting another. From then on I became an avid (some would say unhealthily so) fan of the food and since my arrival back in England have been craving it immensely.

Jianbings are best eaten when cold, hungry or short on cash- if you ever find yourself a little peckish whilst wandering the streets of Beijing then I can think of no better thing to buy! Zaijian!

Monday, 31 January 2011

One week in the Midlands (of China)

Not long after our friendship group (nicknamed 'The Lads'- I was the only female member) had started to take shape, we decided that it would be fun to venture out on a bit of travelling before we all left for our respective home countries. We initially looked into going down to the southern provinces of Yunnan and Hainan but after chasing round a number of Beijing hospitals trying to find malaria tablets with very little success, it was decided that we should visit somewhere we would find interesting yet which didn't face us with the possibility of catching a deadly disease. Eventually we decided to take the following route:



After a three-hour flight, during which we were presented with some of what I imagine would be a strong contender for the title of Worst Airline Food Ever, we touched down in the green, leafy city of Chengdu, the largest settlement in Sichuan province. I was immediately struck by how much more habitable it seemed than Beijing: the skyline was lower, the roads weren't quite as tightly rammed with cars and the air felt far more humid than the biting winds of the capital. Sim's Cozy Garden Hostel, which was to be our home for the next four nights, was nicely done out and had a great cheap-and-cheerful atmosphere. Luckily the seven of us had a room to ourselves and the first night consisted of staying up chatting and giggling like ten-year-olds at a sleepover until we finally succumbed to our tiredness at 4 in the morning.

On our first morning in Chengdu we took a bus to the Tibetan quarter of town and, although fascinated by the glimpse it provided of a different way of life, we were saddended to be presented with the terrible poverty that surrounded us on the streets. The mood was lifted as we had lunch in a traditional Tibetan restaurant and stuffed ourselves with delicious meaty baozi and a new favourite of mine, yak pie.

Chengdu is home to a large panda breeding centre and so on the second morning we went and had a look. Pandas generally wake early, stuff themselves with bamboo and then sleep for the rest of the day, saving their energy for the rare occasion when they decide to mate (or 'copulate' as the centre eloquently put it) and so at 8am we were already standing poised beside their enclosures with our cameras at the ready . They didn't disappoint- we stood there for hours, mesmerised by these adorable vegetarian bears which lay on their backs crunching through sticks of bamboo. We were then shown a video which told us in detail of the complicated process which goes into getting pandas to procreate and of how, at six weeks old, the panda cubs leave their mother to go and socialise with their 'contemporaries'. We also stumbled across a photo of John Prescott cuddling a baby panda on a visit to the centre which tickled the Brits among us.


Whilst staying in Chengdu we also went for Sichuan hotpot (sounds fun in theory, in reality it was a bit of a faff), drove a long way out of the city to visit a giant Buddha carved into a cliff at Leshan and taught the young son of a restaurant owner how to high-five and give a thumbs-up.


All in all, Chengdu was a lovely place to stay and a refreshing change from dry, mucky Beijing. Perhaps we were all a little too optimistic when we boarded the two-hour train to..


I do not wish to give Chongqing a bad name, but my experience of the place was not pleasant. Even though the grey skies and temperatures on the wrong side of zero didn't do the city much justice, I think that even on a good day it wouldn't be the most aesthetically pleasing of places. We took a hilly bus ride from the station to Ciqikou, the traditional market area in which the hostel was located, and wandered around for what felt like ages trying to find our home for the night. Perfect Time Hostel unfortunately didn't quite live up to its name- it wasn't expensive at £2.90 a night but for that much I still would have appreciated the back door to have been closed instead of allowing a freezing draught to work its way into our unheated bedrooms. We whiled away the evening in the (also chilly) bar, drinking Tsingtao beer, playing pool and murdering various pop hits on the hostel's karaoke machine. I then spent an incredibly uncomfortable night curled up tightly underneath a thin duvet and waking up periodically to nurse my icy feet, and when the morning finally came I wasn't sad at all to be able to wave goodbye to the place as we left for the airport.


Our main reason for staying in Chongqing was that the flights out of there were a lot cheaper than from Chengdu, but there must have been some kind of error with the travel agent we booked with because after rushing to get to the airport for what we thought was an early morning flight, checking in our baggage and passing through security, we looked at our tickets and realised that we had turned up nine hours early for boarding. However what could have been an incredibly boring day with us getting on each other's nerves actually turned out to be quite good fun, with the help of a pack of playing cards and comfy sofas provided by Starbucks.


Our arrival in Nanjing was, for me, somewhat tinged with sadness, as for Dan and I it would be the final leg of our journey and the place where we would have to say goodbye to our friends, not knowing when we would see many of them again. Our base for the three nights we would spend there, the Jasmine Hostel, wasn't too bad, even though Clare and I discovered with horror that we had a heavily snoring roommate who had a habit of leaving orange peel all over the floor.

On the first day we made the unanimous decision to visit the Nanjing Massacre Memorial Hall, a large area devoted to the large number of Nanjingers who lost their lives to the Japanese in 1937. We ended up staying there for nearly five hours which, although interesting, was incredibly intense and by the end we all felt a bit overwhelmed by the melancholy atmosphere and the vast amounts of historical information which were presented to us.


On our second day in Nanjing and our last full day together we took a bus out of town and climbed a mountain that would have been quite pleasant had there been less litter lying about, then took a little road train to Sun Yat-Sen's mausoleum (I don't quite know the details of why he was so important but I was told he was the founder of modern China). Despite the cold winds there were Chinese tourists in abundance and Clare and I were hounded for quite a while by a group of women seemingly desperate to have their photo taken with two white girls.


That night we went out to a nice duck restaurant near the hostel and sat around making toasts and laughing about the fun times we'd had together. We ambled back to the hostel's bar where the chatting and joking continued, with Dan and I drinking celebratory shots of baijiu forced upon us by the others. We then had a surprise as Jack and Alex had made up songs for each of us which, although hilarious in parts, left me with tears streaming down my face by the end. Thinking back to that night still leaves me feeling sad as I remember how none of us really wanted to go to bed because that would signal the end of our journey together.


Unfortunately this story doesn't have a very pleasant ending- Dan and I were rudely awoken at 4am in order to catch our flight back to Beijing and we parted with sleepy, tearful goodbyes in the freezing cold. We arrived back to a very empty-feeling Building 17 but made the best of the next couple of days with trips to the Forbidden City and down to our local on the last night.

And that brings me up to the start of my previous blog entry.. if you've read through all of this then congratulations! Zaijian!

Monday, 24 January 2011

Rounding off a square peg

At 7:25 am last Tuesday morning, after an unsuccessful attempt at a night's sleep inside Beijing Capital Airport, I boarded the plane that would take me away from the new life I had been living in China and plant me back into the my old one in the UK (via Dubai). As I watched the city disappear beneath me I struggled to balance feelings of regret and sadness at leaving behind my friends and my Beijing life but also immense excitement at what awaited me in Birmingham- I had told my boyfriend that I would be back in February but planned to come back three weeks early as a birthday surprise for him. Despite a couple of instances which could have proved disastrous and ruined my plans, including my entry on the guestlist of a ball I wasn't supposed to be able to come to and drunken Skype calls which I later analysed scrupulously to make sure I hadn't slipped up and told him, the surprise went perfectly and his reaction as I nonchalantly strolled through the door of the kitchen was absolutely fantastic.


I hadn't envisaged that I would experience reverse culture shock and rather expected my first trip back into the centre of Birmingham to be accompanied by a rush of excitement and a wave of immense happiness similar to greeting an old friend; instead it was grey, drab and a bit of a disappointment. I wandered around aimlessly whilst reeling at the extortionate prices of things in comparison to those in China and, deciding to try and bring back a bit of my Beijing life, bought two large packs of frozen dumplings from a Chinese supermarket. I realised that I was in a similar position to when I was away and trying to seek out things that reminded me of my life back home- now I was doing the opposite and looking for things which I had back in China in order to cling on to the memories of the good times I had out there.

That said, being reunited with my family and friends has been nothing short of amazing and my slight feeling of being a bit disconnected doesn't at all mean that I was disappointed to see them. On Friday night I was treated to a second Christmas dinner with my family, complete with crackers, a tree and Shakin' Stevens- a little more traditional than my Beijing Christmas but highly enjoyable nonetheless.

One amusing result of having spent nearly five months in another country where few people speak English has been the loss of my inhibitions about saying anything I want due to people not being able to understand me. I think I embarrassed my brother the other day when we were standing in a queue at the Co-op whilst waiting for a train and I was loudly whispering 'come on, come on, stop faffing about!' before realising that everyone was probably thinking to themselves what an impatient so-and-so I was.

I have yet to update this blog on the adventures we had during our week of travelling before I left China but I think that belongs in another post to stop this one from becoming too long. Zaijian everyone!

Thursday, 6 January 2011


I have never felt so torn in my life. In the same way that it felt surreal to think that I was going to Beijing in the weeks leading up to my departure date, it is now hard to properly take in the fact that the time I have left here is so limited. I had to drop everything and completely put my life on hold to come here and in doing so I feel as if I have entered a bubble on the other side of the world- a microcosm of the real world where I had to start afresh and create a new life out of nothing. But what a fantastic life mine has been here: I have seen amazing sights, eaten a wide range of weird foodstuffs and have had experiences which I could never have dreamt of before coming to China. However the memories which I think I will treasure the most are those of the times I have shared with the people I have met here- whether good or bad, drunken or studious. I have had the privilege of getting to know such a vast range of characters from all around the world, people who have managed to put a smile on my face every day, that I now feel as if my heart is caught between here and home and I imagine it will take a fair amount of time before this feeling goes away.