Posts by Country

Monday, December 29, 2014

West Lake

On Sunday, the 28th of December Anita and I said goodbye to Waji and got on a train to Hangzhou. After arriving we hopped on the subway and then a bus to get to West Lake where we checked into our hostel (about $5 USD/night!). That night we watched a musical fountain show on the lake.
The next day we hired some bicycles and went for a ride around West Lake. We had breakfast and then, while we were riding, we saw many picturesque scenes, including the Leifeng Pagoda (tower) and many people relaxing and boating on the lake.
After Anita and I got separated, I went to the Chinese Tea Museum and, even though it was closed, I saw a lot of cool traditional buildings as well as the expansive tea fields which radiate out from the main museum area.
That night we had dinner at our friend Ocean's for the second time. Ocean is originally from up North where he started work at the ripe old age of 12. Before he even reached adulthood, he and his brothers had saved up and opened their first restaurant. Now about 22 years old he has opened up several restaurants with his brothers and, even though he's obviously doing quite well, he still spends all day, every day, cooking at his restaurant in West Lake. Many his age might let this kind of success go to their heads but Ocean is still a supremely humble and friendly guy. He continues to send me WeChat messages with the intention of teaching me Chinese and assures me that he has had success with this method before. So, who knows, I may end up learning Chinese through an instant messenger!

Saturday, December 27, 2014


On Saturday, the 27th of December we headed out to Gulangyu Island. For 36 yuen the taxi took us to the terminal and from their we took the ferry over to the island. After eating and walking around a bit, we ate some more at a place where we got everything we wanted for about 15 yuen each (much cheaper than the first shops you see). Next, we went to a museum which had a lot of stuff from the history of Xiamen and Gulangyu - primarily artifacts from the early interactions between East and West.

Finally, before leaving I had to get some of the famous Gulangyu dried meats which really are quite good. Back on Xiamen, we all took a nap and then went for dinner at the markets. We had more kebabs and Taiwanese food found there as well as some really nice french toast with ice cream.

For the rest of the evening we went to the beach and sat on a big boulder looking out at the water.

Friday, December 26, 2014


On Friday, the 26th of December Anita, Waji and I went on our trip to Tulou - the local way. We took a taxi, bus and train to a bus depot. At the bus depot we had our first experience of local pushers trying to get us to pay their marked-up rates. They told us that the bus wouldn't come for over an hour but, of course, we knew this wasn't true. So, we waited for a few minutes and, instead of paying 50 yuen each for private car, we paid 2 yuen for the bus to the next depot in town. At that depot we paid another 15 yuen and finally got a bus to Tulou! So far we had spent about 50 yuen to arrive in just a couple hours and the tour, at over 150, would have still had us waiting at our hostel to be picked up! At this point we paid 15 yuen for the bus to take us from the visitor centre to all of the sites. At the first site we took some shots from above (picture above) then went down into the community to see it all from the inside.
We were told that the departure time was uncertain so we looked around for a while and then realized that our tour had left. After talking to a few people and trying our best to figure out our options we found that we only had one - start walking. 
It was probably about half an hour of walking, and being offered a ride by a guy on a little scooter (for a price), before we were picked up by some Hong Kongers who were also on holiday. We caught up to our bus at the second site and this time only had a short look around before going back to the bus to wait.
The second site had much bigger structures, with far less clutter, and even had another structure within the structure. The third site was more of a standard village but had a river running through it which actually made it quite picturesque.
After visiting the third site, we had to arrange some transportation because, according to the driver (who we now know was actually just making a quick buck on the side), the last train would be gone by the time we got back to town. This private car that he arranged took us all the way back to Xiamen for a total of about 100 yuen each (about $15 USD). This put us a bit over the cost of the tour but it was really worth it all things considered. The driver actually put us right at the street market that we wanted to have dinner at so the whole deal was quite convenient. 
At the market we bought some tasty goat kebabs and walked around a bit before taking the bus back to our hostel for just 2 yuen.

Welcome to China!

On Thursday, the 25th of December I met Anita and Waji at Kowloon Tong Station and the pushing began. First, we pushed our way onto the crowded train to the border. Then we pushed our way into immigration. It was here that we got in the line for "Chinese Nationals" because there was no other option presented. As it turns out, we were supposed to go to the last line (also for "Chinese Nationals") and present our foreign passports there... So, already late for our train and having waited in line for half an hour, we got into THAT line. At this point we had no chance of catching our train so the tenth security check that they then put us through didn't make any difference nor did the unusual token system for boarding the subway. What DID leave us feeling hopeless were the endless lines at the train station for picking up and changing tickets!

What was really AWESOME was when we realized, after an HOUR of waiting in line, that we were, in fact, in the WRONG line... What's more, we had to wait in two other lines because the people who exchange tickets don't give the refunds for the old ones nor do they give you tickets which you have already ordered. Needless to say, our whole day was spent standing in lines...

After FINALLY sorting out our tickets, we went to get something to eat. Unfortunately, my bank was locked because Hong Kong banks, unlike my American bank, won't allow you to use your card outside of Hong Kong unless you tell them first. Thankfully, the place we went for food had wifi so I was able to skype my bank back in Hong Kong and have them unlock my account for use in China. The fun was not over yet though! No no, I still had to order my food and use a toilet before leaving and in China, of course, these things are not as straightforward as you would expect!...

See this food? This is sweet and sour chicken... kidneys. Of course, it couldn't just be normal chicken meat. No, not in China - in China, it has to be strange like ORGANS. In Hong Kong this happens as well, but not without you knowing it. Rather, somebody would ask you in English, "are you sure you want kidneys today, sir?"

Okay, so I tried my best to finish what tasted like, well, kidneys, and then went to use the toilet before going to catch the train. Of course, this being China, they don't put toilet paper, or even soap, in the good ol' WC (in case you're wondering, that's European for "water closet" AKA toilet). Luckily I had some tissues in my bag that I had forgotten about and was able to finish my business without incident. After that we ran to our train and continued our journey to Xiamen.

Well, if you're tired of the complaining you'll be happy to know that this is where it stops. After arriving in Xiamen we to the BRT and then a taxi to our hostel for 39 yuen (about $5 USD). At our hostel a nice Taiwanese lady helped us plan our trip to Tulou for the following day without the cumbersome and time consuming, yet rushed, tour companies. Also, our hostel was super nice and clean with all the comforts of a upscale hotel room and, at about $10 USD a night, it was a pretty good deal.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Sunset Peak

On Sunday, the 21st of December I went camping at Sunset Peak with Chu Sum and Anita. After a couple hours of pollution-free hiking, we arrived at the top - and it was windy! In fact, we couldn't even make a fire to cook our food, at least, not outside...

Eventually the wind did start to die down and Chu Sum got some great shots of the night sky. The next morning we made breakfast and started back down the mountain. On the way, we met a Kiwi guy who owned one of the holiday huts at the top where we were staying.

According to our new friend, these huts were built way back in the days when missionaries were living in Hong Kong. The missionaries would come up the mountain during the Summer where the temperature is a good 5* Celsius cooler. Here they built these huts out of concrete and steel beams, beams which were pilfered by rather desperate individuals during the depression. This destroyed the roofs of the huts and gained the thieves a few dollars for a day of hiking down a mountain with heavy steel! Now our Kiwi friend, and many others, are reconstructing these huts as holiday homes. Sitting high above the city pollution and intense Summer heat, these huts are probably the most practical investment in Hong Kong. Of course, some of the stuff needed for the repairs can be a real pain to haul up and down the mountain, as we were told, so it's not always so relaxing as it may sound!

The next evening I went to have dinner with Chu Sum's family for the Winter Solstice and the following day I finally got my Chinese visa!

Friday, December 19, 2014

Teacher Appreciation Day

On Thursday, the 18th of December everyone went to Shek O Beach for the school picnic. At first I thought it would just be a casual hour or so of eating and then the students would get bored and want to go home. As it turns out, these kids really, really love barbecue! For over three hours I watched as they all cooked and ate everything that they brought which, in some cases, meant whole chickens and about 30kgs of meat!

After the school picnic I had to get to Kwun Tong for another gathering with all the teachers who work for Headstart Group. This time the food was prepared for us and we did a secret Santa activity so everyone got something to take home.

The next day was Teacher Appreciation Day and we had a bit of a show to put on... All of us NET teachers had to take turns singing Chinese songs, that only we could hear, while our students tried to guess the songs. This was not easy but somehow we managed to pull it off... kinda.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

A New Place

On Monday, the 10th of November Anita and I cycled from Tei Wai to Tai Po. The path goes through Sha Tin and took about two hours. The next day we celebrated my birthday with dinner at Bel Cibo and then went to the laser show at Victoria Harbour.
A few days later my school had another sports day to end the week and then I spent the weekend with friends. On Saturday, I went with Anita to visit some of her friends and then we went to the Flying Pan to see if the Denny's of Hong Kong was any good... it was okay. While the atmosphere was a really cool 60s diner theme, the breakfast food was far too dry for my taste - not enough butter! We were slightly less disappointed by a flaming dessert we had later in the week.

About a week and a half later I met up with my friend Ayden and the others for a Thanksgiving feed and the next two nights I had dinner with my Italian friend Massimo, who I met in New Zealand, and my friend Joe who lived in my flat - we had surprisingly delicious frog and pigeon, a great local tip!

About another couple weeks later on Monday, the 8th of December I finally moved to my new place and the next night I had dinner with my friends Peter, Sarah, their kids and Joe from work. I actually met Peter on the plane on my way to Hong Kong and he introduced me to his wife, Sarah. Sarah and I had already met up a couple times to talk about teaching in Hong Kong among other things and it turned out that she might be able to help Joe find a local position at an international school - this is why Joe joined us for the evening. In any case, we enjoyed a big hot pot at the Temple Street night market and Joe learned a bit more about his options here in Hong Kong.

Also probably worth noting is the continuing protests that have been going on for a couple months now. About a week ago I was woken up at three in the morning by this protest march through the streets which clashed a bit with the local police: