Will I or Won’t I miss this city?

12 Mar

 

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My time in China is coming to an end and I am feeling quite reflective about my life here. Not only have I almost graduated with a Masters degree I have had quite an eventful 2 years exploring, learning, developing and opening my eyes to the world. So I think it’s about time I wrote the positives and negatives about living in Beijing, or at least some of those things I will and won’t miss!

What I’ll definitely miss:

the chefs from the canteen

the chefs from the canteen

The People

Chinese people have such charm to them. Be it their cute style, family bond or the way their faces light up when they see a foreigner. Without the people China would be a completely different place – the sheer population size can caused havoc at times but the individuals are so endearing. Children are left to wonder the streets safe in the knowledge that someone in the neighborhood will look out for them, and the pure innocence of many people here fills your heart with admiration. There was a time when I was taking photos of children leaving through the school gate, and as I stood there being greeted with friendly smiles on parents faces, I imagined how this same scene would play out in the now Jimmy Savile consumed country I call home.

 

Their warm smile is something I have grown used to (all-be-it sometimes after a long confused stare), I have never been looked at and judged by a Chinese person, nor made to feel self conscious or unworthy and this for me is pure magic. England can be a difficult place to grow up; with a fashion-obsessed youth and our image-fixated media, although I’d like to say I don’t care it’s hard not to let other people’s opinions be quite dictating. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, in China anything goes. If you feel like wearing clubbing gear to go to the gym in – then rock it, if you want to wear your pajamas to the supermarket – why not, judgment is not something that happens often here.

 

But the most admiring thing about Chinese society is the elderly. They are more active than many 10 year olds in western countries today, busying themselves with exercise, collecting recycling, cleaning up the streets, square dances and looking after the grandchildren. You are more likely to see an elderly person up a ladder than feeling sorry for themself. And the culture here pretty much dictates that once the son is married the Grandparents will live in his house and he and his young family will look after them in return for the upbringing they so wisely gave to him. This is something I think is spectacular about their society, although of course many daughter-in-laws would not agree, the closeness of the family unit is admirable.

 

The Culture

I lived in London for 3 years and not once did I visit any of the tourist attractions! – Don’t get me wrong as a child my family treated me to regular trips to London where I excitedly marveled at the Queens’s jewels or gawked at the views from the London Eye so it’s not like I have never experienced them. But when I lived in London it was just not something that interested me. Coming to Beijing it is difficult not to be grasped by the Cultural and Historical attractions, once you have visited one you are desperate to see what else this city has to offer. Although my history lessons about Mao and his little red book are a distant memory coming here re-sparked my interest in the countries relics and past and it is easy to be overcome by just how many stories this country has.

 

But the culture is not just about what was, it is very much about what is. With old people sat on every corner playing traditional games like chess, cards or kicking a feathered weight around. Singing, dancing and traditional music present in every park or open area amongst communities the enchantment of Chinas culture is uplifting to say the least.

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Shameless selfie – taken for the sheer fact the bus was empty that day and that never happens… promise!

 

But first, let me take a Selfie – no shame!

I have seen a young woman stand still in the middle of a busy road with cars buzzing and beeping around her just so she can take that perfect selfie! (For my Nanna a Selfie is when you take a photo of yourself, haha). The selfie is a trend that has been greeted with open arms here in Beijing. Young men and women love a selfie and they don’t care who knows it. Now I’m not going to lie, I have been quite partial to the odd selfie myself but taking one in public requires some tact, posing just the right amount to look your best but not too much so the lady in the seat in front of you on the train realizes how vain you are being! But in Beijing it is a regular site to see people holding their phones at arms length above their heads pouting away (yes the MySpace selfie is prevalent here due to it resulting in the pointed jaw they desire so badly). And this occurs in every situation imaginable: on the subway, in restaurants, busy streets, in class, in public toilets… What can I say – Good for them!

 

 

Saying that there are some things I won’t miss about Beijing!

 

The Smell

No matter how much you prepare to come to Beijing there is one thing the guidebooks, websites or blogs won’t tell you. It STINKS! Now there are many reasons for this, and the smells isn’t everywhere but when you get a funky whiff of something it’s hard to forget it! These smells come in all shapes and sizes:

 

Environmental smells: rotting piles of vegetables from yesterdays market, heaps of rubbish stacked in alleys – a collaborate effort from the whole neighborhood and collected weekly by a man with a trailer and a shovel, unclean streets, floors cleaned with stinky mops, stray dogs and cats and the stench of the sewage (which leads to most rivers). Luckily during the winter these smells are not half as bad as throughout the hot steaming summers.

 

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Individual’s smell: Now don’t get me wrong not all Chinese people smell bad, but when you do happen to be pressed face to face with one on the crammed subway you could be forgiven for forgetting that. Body odor, smokers breath, bad dental hygiene, stinky tofu, durian fruit, bright red processed sausages that children love but unfortunately leave a lingering stench on their tongue, the list goes on. Chinese people LOVE food that smells hideous! Don’t ask me why but they seem to be drawn towards the stuff! Oh and do you know what they also love – flatulence! And their not ashamed who knows it, just incase you didn’t know what they had for lunch they will make sure you find out from one end or the other.

 

 

 

The Weather

Being British weather is something that needs to be mentioned here. Now I can’t say much as I come from a country where it notoriously rains all the time. But the weather in Beijing SUCKS! Although spring is charming, with beautiful blossoming flowers, revitalizing green grass with many beautiful parks to enjoy all this loveliness in it doesn’t last long. It is quickly encompassed by the grueling heat of the summer, leaving the packed city sweating and gasping for air amid the pollution and vast population. Not to worry this unbearable heat is soon to be followed by another attractive season – autumn brings with it striking orange leaves, cooler evenings and a less chaotic atmosphere; inappropriately these 3 seasons last for all of… half a year whilst the other 6 months is overtaken by Beijing’s FREEZING winters – the pollution that seemed bad in the summer is a godsend compared to the pollution of the winter. But the pollution is nothing compared to the bitter dry climate. For 6 months of the year I have had to wear long johns and two pairs of socks – 6 MONTHS! A trip to the local shop becomes an expedition when you take into account the time it takes to pile on the layers of clothing that is needed in the hope that you just might be able to feel your toes by the time you return 5 minutes later. If it wasn’t for this horrible season Beijing would be quite a pleasant place to live, but there’s no doubt about it, winter definitely exists here. Next time I come to study for my Masters degree in China I WILL be going south!

 

Although Beijing has it’s wicked side I wouldn’t change my time here for the world and I am so grateful and delighted to have experienced the charm of this city and am sure it will have a long lasting effect on my future.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Sun Village Children’s Home Beijing

19 Dec

 DONATE HERE

I have been living in China for just over a year and have been surprised by a lot of the problems the country still has, but it wasn’t until I heard about what happens to children whose parents are put into prison that I decided I needed to do everything I could to help.

Imagine if you’re Mother killed your Father and was dragged away by police kicking and screaming and then you realise you are left alone in the world. In most countries if a person commits a crime they are more often than not sent to prison, and in some countries (including China) risk facing the death penalty. Many of these people have children, in China once the criminal is locked away the government does not hold themselves responsible for them so they are left alone, to look after themselves or, due to the one child policy making the family unit very small, be looked after by elderly grandparents who are unable to provide them with the support they need.
Sun Village was set up to find, shelter and bring up these children. To teach them life skills, good morals and show them what love is. When I heard about this charity I visited the village and was blown away by the care and love these children receive. There are about 70 children living in the village, the younger ones have full time care whilst the older ones are provided with clothes, food and a bed. The Village also supports these children through schooling; paying for their uniforms, books and tuition, offers counselling to the children (who have all been through incredible turmoil), and insures regular medical checks and hair cuts. The children are taken to see their parents once a year in prison (sometime this journey is a long one if their parents are imprisoned in another province).

Sun Village spends 5000RMB (or £500) per year on a child. As little as £4 pounds insures that the child is able to telephone their parents in prison every month for a year. And £12 covers the annual cost of their daily necessities (shampoo, toothpaste etc). So, no matter how little the donation seems in terms of Western economy in China it goes such a long way. Which is why I want to make this appeal international, whatever you donate will be of huge importance and will make such a difference.

I have spent some time with the children at the village and am surprised about how positive and happy they are, I was expecting them to feel sorry for themselves but they just get on with it. They work very hard both at school and during their free time; committing themselves to doing their best in their chores, homework and jobs. They all have very polite manners and such patience with my dodgy Chinese. I am greeted every time I visit with big hugs and smiles. The village is full of laughter and kids just being kids!

Although I am sad to not be celebrating this Christmas with my friends and family at home in a warm house, I am grateful as the Village has invited me to spend it with them! They will be having a party, singing Christmas songs and playing games. I am so lucky that they have accepted me so warmly and would really like to repay their hospitality by collecting some money to give them for Christmas and for the Chinese New Year (which is like our Christmas).

This it the charities official documentary. It shows the full history of the villages throughout China. Though it is quite dated I am actually in the planning process of making a more up to date documentary for them.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l6pbZiCFNIc

Here is a breakdown of how Sun Village budget for each child, there are about 70 children at Sun Village in Beijing. 10RMB is about £1 / $1.6

Items Costs per year (RMB) Explanation
Meals 3000 250RMB per month
Tuition Fees 600 60RMB per month
Medical Fees 660 55RMB per month
Visiting Parents 300 At least one opportunity will be provided to visit their parents
Daily Necessities 120 10RMB per month, other funds will come from donations

I really appreciate the time you have spent reading about this campaign! And would be incredibly grateful if you could SHARE SHARE SHARE to get this message spread and to try and raise as much money as possible!

 

 DONATE HERE

10 reasons to study in China

6 Dec

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RGzUJue8pbk  A video I made for Westminster University to encourage students to study at my University in China.

Sun Village Beijing – 太阳村 - TaiYangCun - (北京)

12 Nov

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I have just spent a few days volunteering at a village in the north of Beijing called ‘Sun Village‘. It is not your normal village and the very moment I heard about it my heart melted! Sun Village is a home for children who’s parents are in prison. These children are not cared for by the Chinese government so without the support of Sun Village they would otherwise be living on the streets or with elderly grandparents who are unable to take care of them.

I had an incredible experience getting to know the children and helping out wherever possible. These 3 girls were the ones most interested in me and my friends and we became their Jiejie’s (big sisters) straight away. The other children were initially cautious of us (I think because we were foreigners) but by the time I left they were beginning to warm to me.

The north of Beijing is incredibly cold at this time of year and I spent the whole timing wearing my coat with 5 layers underneath! I was lucky enough to be joined on the first day by my friend from Spain and a chinese girl called Bramble (who stayed for 2 days with me).

Day 1.

We arrived and were immediately designated the task of folding newsletters into envelopes, sticking on addresses and sealing them with glue (Chinese envelopes don’t have those sticky licky things we have in the UK so we had to physically glue every envelope, and most of the glue was dried out so it was a much harder task that first thought!). The newsletter is produced monthly by a lovely 77 year old man who was an author in his heyday, and he is now volunteering at Sun Village where his wife works. After a delicious lunch of noodles, meat (might have been rabbit not too sure) and bokchoy soup we ventured to the farm to help the children. There we were picked up by two young boys driving a wagon at a rediculously high speed and the three of us precariously perched around the edge and held on for our lives as we took off to meet the children who were picking chillies. The group was led by a 13 year old girl who insured they did everything properly. That’s where we met the three youngest girls who seemed to love our attention and were full of laughter and fun. As the sun began to set we took a bright yellow bus back to the children’s home for dinner.

After dinner we all went to sit in the big hall to greet some high school students who were visiting from Singapore. The children smiled and polity posed for photos as the Singaporeans gave out gifts of pens, pencils, notebooks and keychains. The students then went on to sing a song for the children. After they left the books and keychains remained a distant memory and several of the children tried to give me their keychains (I guess they didn’t understand the use for them as the buildings don’t have locks on them). Over the cause of my time with them they must have been visited about 20 times with people all posing for photos and bringing gifts so I presume all this excitement has become quite mundane in their eyes.

By 8pm we were sent to bed, and to be honest we were ready for it! Our dorm was amongst the children’s and the outside was painted bright orange and decorated with Winnie the Pooh paintings – something that hit home a bit as I remembered my childhood full of this same character but in a completely different setting of family, love and warm hearts! Nonetheless the dormitory was quite dirty and freezing cold as the heating was not on! We went to sleep wrapped in 2 blankets and wearing our hoodies! (although I have to say it was the best nights sleep I’d had in a long time after being both physically and emotionally exhausted!).

Day 2.

Although our second day there was a Monday the children (who are enrolled in the local schools) did not have to attend because of a big event in Beijing at the moment called APEC which means all the schools are closed. So the Monday was treated as a weekend and the children set up the jumble sale type stall that they set up every weekend with the hope that people will come and buy some of the extra toys and stationary they are given and have no use for (it seems money has much more value here than toys; food, heating and warm clothing are paramount). It was the job of three children to do this, one of the girls who we met picking the chillies, an older girl of 10 who speaks some english and a boy of 8 who’s job it was to make the popcorn, which took him about an hour to fill the cabinet, whist the girls spent about 45 minutes setting up the toys. They all waited patiently for the guests to arrive, after an hour I started to realise the guests weren’t coming, an hour later and with still no visitors the children happily and almost systematically packed away the toys and threw the popcorn.

After the market we had lunch and then went to the farm. Today the item on the picking menu was carrots and the children did the digging whilst Bramble and I sorted the biggest ones into bags to be sold.

Day 3 –

I was super scared to be left alone on Day 2 as my Chinese language skills are very poor and no one there speaks english (with the exception of some of the older children who know some basic). But I woke up at 6am as we had done the day before and went for breakfast, greeted by the girls who we had been spending our time with and then, after cleaning my dorm (as this is what the children also did after breakfast) went to the main reception and carried on folding the envelopes! The children all tried to speak to me, some of which I understood and could reply to, but most of which I either agreed and had no idea what I was agreeing to or they realised I didn’t understand and laughed it off. At one point the youngest girl started making noises and pretending to talk to me (I remember doing this as a child – where you have a conversation with someone through humming without opening your mouth) so I replied in the same manner, whilst this fun game carried on I laughed to myself – if only she realised that is pretty much what my whole day had been like! Vaguely understanding the odd word through the distorted sound but the majority being a complete blur!

I was told I would go to the farm at 3pm, so I waited in the reception and carried on folding and glueing and sealing but 3pm came and went and the car that was supposed to collect me didn’t come. By 4pm I decided that maybe the car wasn’t going to come and resigned to continue the newsletter task (although it was fun, your hands and neck do become a bit stiff after so much folding, and glueing and sealing!).

I decided I would leave at 5pm as it was a 2 hour trip home. I said my goodbyes and headed for the bus stop when the man who was in charge of the farm saw me and beckoned me onto the back of his electric bike. I thanked him and expected him to take me to the bus stop which was about a 10 minute walk, but when we passed the bus stop I though maybe he was taking me to the farm to get his car to drive me to the subway station, but no… then we passed the farm, we went for about 20 minutes before we had to stop because of a road being closed (due to APEC) and I tried to ask him where he was taking me (knowing that the bus was the other side of the road and headed in the other direction) eventually I became more and more scared with him telling me he’s taking me to the next village and something about more comfortable! So eventually I called my Chinese friend and he explained to her that because of APEC the bus I wanted to get was not running and he was taking me to another village to get a bus that would take me to a more convenient subway station! – Thank god I called her as I was about to run away! I think that was the first time I have ever actually put myself into a situation that I didn’t feel safe in – but thank god it turned out to be a much safer situation and the man took good care of me and saw me onto the bus and instructed the ticket lady to look after me!

I arrived home exhausted and filthy as I hadn’t had a shower in 3 days and was happy to wash and fall into bed by 9pm! What a wonderful experience and I promised to return this month (maybe next time I should keep my friends with me!).

My ‘High Street”

5 Nov

 

So I was talking to a Chinese friend about what a high street is and when trying to use our local area as a comparison I realised that actually the ‘high street’ where I live is nothing like anything in England. The shops are mostly family run businesses with very few chain stores, so I thought it might be fun to do a sort of comparison between these tiny cute little shops in my area and the big chain stores from the UK!

 

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Unlike your typical high street in the UK my ‘high street’ which we call Xi Jie (西街)or West Street is a scatter of small shops either market stalls, single story shops or on the groud floor of apartments, hotels and internet cafes.

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comet

 


 

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shoe-zone

 


 

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la senza


 

 

 

 

 

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WHSmith KEN HIGH STREET


 

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McDonald's

 


 

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Busy bee!…

20 Oct

Sorry I have been so busy this past month that I haven’t made the time to write. To be honest I am still busy so this will be a quick post but I wanted to just share some photos from the past couple of weeks. The autumn is upon us and the smog has been really bad this year (I was talking about this earlier with some friends and it’s much worse than last year), but on the positive side it is definitely warmer this October than last!

I am currently filming and editing a documentary for my class work – about black women dating Chinese men. It has been an eventful few weeks and we have been keeping ourselves busy filming different activities and interviews. Last week we decided to place my friend (a black woman) in the street holding a sign that asked if anyone wanted to go on a date with her – a novel idea and one that was received with some laughs and a lot of stops, smiles, hands to bag, taking out of phones, taking photos, and walking ons!

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After 2 hours of embarrassing Danielle, we decide to call it a day, so we started filming the close when a police office asked what we were doing, we showed him the sign and explained, he asked to see our passports – which we didn’t have. He preceded to call 5 other police officers who all, in turn, asked for our passports to which we replied, in turn, that we didn’t have! Although we had student cards these weren’t good enough, and after the oldest and meanest looking one ended a 10 minute phone conversation with out teacher we though they would let us on our merry way.

But I am in China. Nothing is that simple here. Instead they marched us to the police car, instructed we got in and drove us 10 minutes to the nearby police station where we were told to sit and wait. Gradually more and more police officers came to look at the spectacle that was the foreigners, they gathered around smoking and talking whilst we sat patiently waiting (and taking selfies) to hear their verdict of what to do with us. Eventually after they realised we had done nothing wrong, our visas and passports were valid and we were actually quite nice people they let us go, by which time it was 11pm and we just managed to make the last tube home! An experience to say the least and one I will be trying my damned best to be avoiding in the future!

It was my birthday at the end of last month, the second I have spent in Beijing and I had a great time with my friends. We went for dinner and then to a club. My classmates surprised me with an ice cream birthday cake and my boyfriend surprised me with a massive bouquet or roses! I am a happy and lucky girl and it’s another one I will remember forever :-D!

Instagram is blocked in China

30 Sep

So yesterday I woke up to find that Instagram (a photo sharing app and the the only real social media platform I am using over here) has been blocked! The app still opens but when I press refresh nothing loads. I thought maybe it was just like a one day thing, but it is still blocked today and rumour has it that it’s permanent, or at least as long as the Hong Kong activities persist. Even though I have a VPN (which allows access to blocked sites) it still won’t let me login (although it will let me view photos). So for those of you on Instagram I’m sorry that I won’t be posting any photos until I can figure this out.

Now everyone is talking about what will be next to be blocked!