Friday, 31 October 2008


Although it does look like a bomb has just blasted outside The Wenzhou International Hotel -- it isn't. It was still a certain type of explosion, but in this case, just (deafening) fireworks. What was the reason for this? A wedding. Not only does the hotel accommodate shops and an English training centre, but also function rooms for weddings to take place. Just before the bride and groom exit their large black car --with flowers glued onto the sides -- the fireworks are set off to let the world know somebody is getting married.

Unfortunately there is little "tradition" left in the wedding procedure here. The bride usually wears a white wedding dress instead of the much more culturally significant Qi Pao. Sometimes the bride and groom will sign the legal documents in private before arriving for the ceremony, but other than that, everything else takes place in a hotel function room. The room is often decorated with things like hearts, pink ribbons, and large photographs of the couple posing in various locales.

When the event kicks off, there will usually be a host who introduces the couple and tells jokes about the family by shouting very loudly down a microphone. The couple will then say a few words, maybe sing a song, play a game, and ganbei (bottoms up) drinks with all of the guests sitting around each table. Food and drink is continually served throughout the procedure with military precision. All of the dishes are standard expensive Chinese offerings, usually a lot of seafood, like Crab, Lobster, Oyster and Turtle.

Unlike a western wedding, nobody brings gifts, instead they will give a red envelope with money inside. Just like the red envelope I mentioned here (but with a little more money than I got inside mine).

It's Halloween tonight, which means I will be working. I have been asked to host the event with a tutor, Candy. Even though it is my day off I still need to go into work to "practise" my lines with her. I get the feeling that the management are taking this holiday far too seriously, as if it is a big occassion like Christmas Day.

I have finally completed my costume -- which took a great deal more effort than I had hoped for. All I needed to find was two simple items: a green waistcoat and white face paint. Only the kindness of others has made it possible for me to find everything. Kimi went to various shops trying to find the clothing without success, and yesterday Michelle, a student, helped me to find a purple jacket and lend me a tie. Finally, the minute after Kimi found a shop that sells white face paint, Johan calls me up to tell me his girlfriend has a ton of the stuff at her school (she is a middle school teacher). If you haven't guessed, I am going as The Joker from the film, Dark Knight. Not an origianl idea if I was in England, but considering I am in a country where the film hasn't even been released, it should be quite surprising I hope.

Another student said something interesting at the end of my final class last night too. She told me the class was "delicious". I didn't feel like I should correct her on that.

Wednesday, 29 October 2008

Halloween, Health, and Huh?

I am writing this entry in my office at work because I've just been handed the rare gift of a cancelled class. For the past twenty minutes I've been scouring the internet on Tao Bao --an eBay style website -- trying to find the clothing for my Halloween costume, all to no avail. I can't write Chinese which is obviously a huge hindrance with this kind of thing.

My manager has asked me to host the party on Friday, which will consist of telling a group of people in a bar where Halloween came from and why we celebrate it. Then, with a tutor, Candy, we will introduce each game that will be played. Games include: mummy wrapping (who can wrap a person with toilet roll the quickest), magic box (students will put their hands in a box and guess what they are touching), and the only traditional game of the lot, bobbing for apples. It should be fun I hope. Just need to find my costume now.

Yesterday I began trying to do some exercise again. Since I came to China it has been difficult to join a gym due to the money I never seem to have spare. For quite a few months I have been using my Nintendo Wii as a convenient way of exercising -- and it really works. I don't have Wii Fit yet (although I would love to get hold of it) because the console is region locked, so buying a copy in China would be a waste of time. Instead I have been playing the only game that came bundled with the machine: Wii Sport. For anybody who doesn't know, you have to physically move the controller in real-life to make a change in the game. For the Wii Sport game you have the option of playing Tennis, Bowling, Baseball, Golf, and Boxing. By far the most physically challenging is the boxing. Each morning I have been playing the boxing for twenty minutes or so, and by the end I am quite exhausted. The game has become so hard I now spend each round dodging punches, which is much harder than you would expect.

However, since I bought the guitar a few weeks ago, the time spent on exercising has been spent on practising instead. Yesterday I decided to switch the Wii back on and try to get into a better routine (I think getting to sleep and waking up earlier would be a good start). Now, as I am writing this, my arms are aching like I've never even considered doing exercise before. It always amazes me how quickly the body can revert once you stop using it.

My "Mii" on the left in the blue, I ingeniously called him Chriis.

On a different topic, in my previous class at Web, we were asking questions which somehow got around to the t-shirt I was wearing. I told them it was bought in England, and they thought it was probably made in China, possibly even Wenzhou. I looked on the tag but there was no sign of the country of origin. Then, to my amazement, one of the women in the room said, "Why don't you take it off and you can have a really close look then?". I sat there stunned as she smiled back at me.

Friday, 24 October 2008

Pounds Now on Sale in China

There were many reasons for me to come to China, but there were also a few reasons for me to stay at home. One of these reasons was money.

After finishing university I came out with some debt that needed paying off ASAP. I had previously taken out a couple of credit cards which mainly went on buying music equipment to help with my coursework. My plan was to finish university, find a job, any job, and pay them off. Things didn't run so smoothly as my trip to China came just seven months after finding work (which I was happy to get out of anyway). Then, once again, I used my credit card to fund the plane trip from the UK to China and back. I never expected I would want to come back to China after my holiday, but it felt so much like the right thing to do. I guessed I would be able to pay off my credit cards while working in China -- surely no problem.

In fact, there were many problems, and I found out that it is impossible to transfer money from one bank account to another without being completely ripped off. The final blow came when I travelled back to Hangzhou, went to the HSBC -- who I have an account with -- and failed to put any money into my account. Why? Because HSBC in China only deals with domestic transactions. The world's local bank indeed.

Now, with Kimi's help I have saved up some money and exchanged the Chinese Yuan (RMB) into British Pounds. The first time I did this was here, and the second time was just a couple of days ago. I now have a worrying amount of cash to bring back home with me when I come back at Christmas (all £50 notes too).

It is an especially good time for me to exchange money because of the terrible economic disaster going on in England. I remember four years ago when I came to China, the exchange rate was GPB 1 = CNY 15.4. When Kimi exchanged my money the other day, it was an incredible GBP 1 = CNY 11.8. But today I was shocked again. Things have changed dramatically in just two days. On Windows Vista, my exchange rate gadget is now telling me this:

That is a fair amount of extra money I could have got with my RMB if I had waited just two days. I can only assume it will get worse now that Gordon Brown has revealed recession is happening. I think it is time for everybody to leave England and come to China.

Finally, my seven-day working week is now over!

Thursday, 23 October 2008

Chatting Myself to Death

It has been a strange day today. On the one hand it has been quite stressful and hectic, and on the other, it has been very pleasant.

I say it has been fairly hectic as I have gone through six classes -- not something I am used to. What made things worse was that it was partially my fault I had six in the first place.

Johan and I devised an idea to get students chatting more in English -- something which many of them have said they want to do. We both arranged to try out our idea: to have six students sign up for a class, bring a conversation topic to get the ball rolling, and then have a relaxing "chat" with each other. Johan had his turn on Sunday, and mine was today. I really wanted to have a go at this because many students mentioned how much they liked the idea, but I really wanted to wait until our schedules were lighter. When I checked my timetable on Wednesday (we always get them the day before), I noticed only four classes and the extra chatting class for me -- perfect. Actually it wasn't perfect, because I didn't see that one of my lessons wasn't highlighted on the piece of paper (I don't even look at the other non-highlighted lessons). So at 6:10 this evening, when I was out with Kimi and Ryan, I received a call from Tina at reception:

"Chris, you have a class now, where are you?"
I replied, "No, I don't have a class now"
"Yes you do"
"No, I don't"
"Yes you do, at six o'clock"
"No I don't"
"Yes you do"

At that point I rapidly made my way back to the hotel, almost fifteen minutes late for the class. Luckily I was let off considering it wasn't highlighted on my sheet, and the two students that attended didn't mind at all (or if they did the certainly didn't show it).

To add insult to injury, one of the teachers, Paul, asked if he could exchange a day off with me because his girlfriend was coming down from Hangzhou. He really didn't want to leave her in his apartment all day. I sympathised with him and said I'd do it. But this also means that I am working again tomorrow, taking my working week for this week from six days to seven -- without a day off. What am I doing to myself??

Apart from that, the rest of my day has actually been very pleasurable. In my first class a student, Purple (yes, I know), kept saying very nice things to me. One thing that I really felt meant something was when she said how comfortable and confident she feels when speaking English in my class. When I started this job I was worried I couldn't match the kind of personalities of the other teachers at Web, some were so lively and funny, I couldn't be like that. But comments like Purple's today remind me that being myself is important. I am me, and that is OK.

Also, later in the day, my chat with the six students that signed up was very enjoyable. All of them were in my list of favourite students, a huge bonus for sure. We talked about a variety of topics from religion to movies, and crime to ghosts. It really felt worthwhile, and before any of us knew it, one hour had past. Brilliant.

Yesterday, I mentioned that Web will be hosting a Halloween party (58 RMB per person). I saw that posters had been put up all around the centre to advertise the event. I am fairly embarrassed to be associated with this "most authentic American Halloween". Why oh why oh why didn't they run the English past one of the teachers first, or even ask one of us to write it? Again, I am baffled.

Numerous copies of this poster are pinned up all around the "English Training Centre"

The English text from the poster (click to enlarge)

Wednesday, 22 October 2008

Indian Summer in China

Thankfully the pollution I talked about in this post has completely disappeared, replaced with sunshine, fluffy clouds, and a temperature that can only be a result of global warming (see right). It has been about 30 degrees centigrade for two days and it is nearly November! It certainly felt like Autumn last week here, but now we have gone back in time to summer again. I don't know what clothes I should be wearing from day to day.

I have vivid memories of November 5th --Bonfire Night -- in England. At night we would be stuck outside shivering around a fire and watching the fireworks exploding in the sky. Usually it is a requirement to wear thick clothes, a coat, woolly hat, and gloves as it is always so cold at that time of year. To think that now I am sitting here exactly two weeks before Bonfire Night with my fan on and wearing a t-shirt because it is still too hot at 10pm, is completely baffling to me. I'm sure it wasn't anything like this when I was in Hangzhou one year ago.

Next week is also Halloween, and of course we have to celebrate it at Web. I was asked by Grace, my manager, to accompany her and the boss to check out a bar yesterday night to see if it would be a suitable location to hold the party. I didn't really do anything when we arrived, I just said it was great and walked around. It is the teachers job to think of some games to play on the night, apart from bobbing for apples I have no other ideas. They have also asked me to find some suitable music for the night. Apart from Michael Jackson's "Thriller" I'm out of ideas -- again.

On a side note, I was also quite shocked to note that many people (including a couple of the teachers) seem to think that Halloween derives from America. When I mentioned to somebody that the holiday is an ancient Pagan festival from the Celts in Ireland, I got the retort "No, it was the Pagans who came to America who started it then." I must have missed that History class when the Celts came to America one thousand years before Christopher Columbus even discovered it.

When I returned back from looking at the bar, one of the students had brought their dog with them, it was half the size of one of my cats (see below). I have found that little dogs have become all the craze in Wenzhou now. Everybody is required by law to have two things to be a real citizen of the city: a huge Porsche (one of these), and a dog small enough to fit in your wallet.

One of my colleagues, Mabel, with the tiny tiny dog -- which peed all over the carpet less than a minute after taking this

Monday, 20 October 2008

A Red Envelope Day

In China it is customary to give a red envelope with money inside as a gift on special occasions. Whether it is a birthday, Chinese New Year, or a random act of kindness, if you are giving money to somebody you are required to use one of these.

At Web, a policy came into place three months ago where each teacher would be assessed at the end of every month. Whoever received the highest marks would win a small cash bonus of 500 yuan presented in the traditional red envelope (see top left), and be known as the "Super Teacher". I didn't like the idea, the thought of competing with workmates did not motivate me in the slightest. They seemed to think this would be a great incentive for us, it wasn't. However, I was actually lucky enough to win the prize a couple of a times (I wrote about it here), which boosted confidence in my abilities greatly.

Yesterday Johann was announced as the winner for the month, and well deserved too. Then Grace -- our manager -- had some news for us. Our boss had decided that the rules of this scheme would change to make things fairer. Now, the assessment period would still be at the end of each month, but the prize will only be given each season -- once every three months. OK, no problem, I can understand that they will get a clearer picture of each teacher's performance from this. But here comes the completely ridiculous part: the cash prize will still be 500 yuan each time, not three times more which would be expected. Once again, it all comes down to money and the fact that they don't want to spend an extra penny if they don't have to. We were given a lame excuse about other branches of Web adopting this method, so it was up to them to follow suit. But I know for a fact they do not comply with many of the other branches' policies. In fact, as they are all franchises they can all do what they like up to a point. It is certainly reassuring to know that my employers have no problem clicking their fingers and changing contracted policies just like that.

An already dismal idea for staff moral has been turned into a scheme that is completely irrelevant. The only perk of the prize was the money, and 500 yuan over a period of three months is ridiculous, almost insulting.

In other news, my guitar practise is going quite well. My left hand finger tips have stopped hurting and I can string together seven or eight chords. I wish I'd taken up this instrument sooner. I hope my neighbours don't mind me practising, and if they do I can call it payback for the all the hammering that occurs at 6-7am on certain mornings.

Thursday, 16 October 2008


The picture below was the first thing I saw of the outside world today. Was it rain? Fog? Or pollution? Maybe it was a bit of all three, but I would certainly put most of my money on it being the latter.

I don't want to completely berate Wenzhou -- I have mentioned how clear the skies can be in an earlier post. Quite often the air quality is OK, but today was a worryingly new level of smogness.

On the left, Wenzhou's "World Trade Centre" one morning a few weeks ago. On the right, the same scene today.

Today is my only day off this week because I had a three day weekend last week. Matters have been made worse because I have another "English Corner" to do tomorrow -- the third this week. I hope Web can hire some new teachers soon, it's becoming very draining maintaining the same workload that we had over the summer holidays. Let the six day week begin!

And finally, thank you to everybody who has left nice comments on my blog (you too Kimi!), it is nice to know someone is reading this instead of just me.

Wednesday, 15 October 2008

Blog and Beans

It's a little late now so I'll keep this short. As I arrived home tonight I almost felt like I needed to post on my blog just to keep the ball rolling. I fear that if I don't keep this thing semi-ritual then it will suddenly be three months later and I won't have posted anything. Momentum with all things like this can be difficult I think, but I really do want to continue my blog. 

The purpose for starting this diary was to keep a record of my time in China. Before I began blogging there had been too many events and experiences that had come and gone....and then forgotten. I really don't want this time of my life to end up a distant memory in the years ahead. And what better way to keep a diary in the 21st century than a blog? So far I have found this new experience to be very rewarding and also very enjoyable, I forgot how much I like writing.

Back to my week.  So far there have been no surprises (good or bad) which keeps the blood pressure down.  Most of the tutors at Web arrived on Monday with an array of new clothes, it was like being stuck in a fashion show.  It also seemed that they had followed my idea of having a haircut over the weekend because almost all of them were sporting brand new hair styles.  I think this means that Autumn has officially landed.

It's still not too cold to eat ice creams though. Today I was bought an interesting ice lolly which is popular in China but probably not anywhere else in the world. I've seen the flavour many times in the shops but didn't dare to spend my money on one. The lolly in question is of the green bean (runner bean?) variety. As it was purchased for me I had a go....and it was surprisingly -- very surprisingly -- not bad at all. A complete mixture of sweet and savoury, I can only describe the taste as sugary peas mashed together with ice (!).

A green bean ice lolly, not too blurry I hope (that's what I get for holding the phone in my left hand)

Sunday, 12 October 2008


Here is another video, this time it is of Kimi and I taking a rickshaw in Wenzhou (my trial period for the video editing software Sony Vegas was on "two days left" so I wanted to make the most of it before it ran out).  It's a little dark and I couldn't see where I was pointing the camera half of the time, but I hope it can be of some interest:

National Day Holiday Part II

Here are the videos from my trip to Quanzhou and Xiamen. YouTube wouldn't allow me to post a single video which is longer than ten minutes, so I had to divide it into two parts. You can see pictures of the trip and my original post here.

Part 1: Quanzhou

Part 2: Xiamen

P.S.  I think my haircut turned out ok in the end, it's almost the same as before actually.

Saturday, 11 October 2008

Massage and Haircuts

Kimi and I went for another foot massage yesterday at the same place we tried in August. It wasn't quite as pleasurable this time, I had a man who didn't quite have the same golden touch as the previous woman. Some of it was actually quite uncomfortable but the resulting effect was still very calming.

Kimi waiting in the massage room

I'm getting my hair cut today and am a little nervous about it. It's been two months since my last trim and I would like something a little different this time. Whenever I make any kind of change I fear I will end up looking like an idiot, especially as my usual hairdresser seems to enjoy doing things her way, partially ignoring all of Kimi's instructions. I usually fall asleep as soon as someone touches my head, so by the time I come around it's too late to say "No!". Oh well, here goes....

Thursday, 9 October 2008

Tian Na!

I took my usual route home from work tonight which takes me past: a noodle restaurant, a couple of bakeries, a large shopping mall, a café, an electrical goods store, KFC, and a handful of small restaurants and shops. As I walked past the noodle restaurant I heard the sound of a running tap very close to my right ear. Something about this didn't work out in my head:

"Running tap + unusually high placement for a tap + not remembering a tap ever being near this restaurant before = it can't be a tap."

So I took a glimpse to my right, and what did I see? A BOY PISSING OUT OF A DOORWAY!!

I couldn't believe it. Standing about six steps up, there he was, calmly firing right into the street. Sure, I have seen a lot of things since I moved here, but this was a new one. The boy was well over the age-barrier to be let-off for this kind of thing, he must have been five or six years old at least. I was certainly in splashing distance, but lucky for me I came out unscathed, however I don't know if the guy with the nice leather bag behind me was so fortunate. If this boy had been raised by dogs he would have learnt the courtesy to do it up a tree or lamp-post, and if he was under the care of a cat he would have learnt to completely bury all traces of it. It's just unfortunate for him he has been brought up by humans.

Moving on, I had two great classes this evening. In one, we were talking about direction and location. The students had to draw a map on the board, each one telling the one drawing exactly what to draw and where to draw it. I don't want to sound like a primary school teacher who enjoys displaying their student's artwork (see below), but after doing this class numerous times before I thought their map was by far the most excellent (bear in mind these weren't children, they were fully grown adults). I actually had good fun in this class, and I think they did too.

"Dyned City"

This has been a painful entry today -- the finger tips on my left hand are killing me from practising the guitar. It's not all bad though because I can now semi-successfully string together 2 chords: E major and D major. I only have to learn one more and I'll be able to play the whole of Status Quo's back catalogue.

Tuesday, 7 October 2008

Money-Making: The Chinese Way

Last night I had a rare quiet moment at Web and was chatting with a couple of my favourite students in the "Web Café". One of them, James, asked me if I could go to his apartment after work to give my opinion on something. His home is very close to mine so I thought it wouldn't hurt to take a look.

He lead me into the same building that I previously mentioned here. This time it was to the seventh floor. As we made our way up the floors in the lift, I asked him how much he pays to live in such a place (it's a standard question in China, not taboo in the slightest). The price he gave me was astonishing, only 550 RMB (about £45) a month. After my painful experiences of apartment hunting in China, I couldn't believe such a good area and modern building could be so cheap. Why couldn't I find such a deal? I was given my answer as soon as we came to the front door -- which was already open.

The apartment was divided into seven different bedrooms, with two people in each. There were two bathrooms and one laundry room for everybody to share, but no kitchen. It was like a halls of residence for first year university undergraduates. I was also surprised to see one of my colleagues, Cucu (pronounced "cuckoo") there. At first I asked her, "what are you doing here?", not even thinking that she would be a tenant. When she replied that she was indeed living there, it hit home that as a lao wai in China I am getting paid considerably more than my local workmates. It's not fair and I don't like it, but it seems to be the way every school in this country is being run right now.

As I sat in James' bedroom the conversation came back to the original reason I was there: for my opinion. I was very interested by now to know what he wanted my point of view on. He walked to his wardrobe and revealed a grey suit jacket. In fact, it was a fake Dior suit jacket (see top right), and he wanted to know if he could make any money from selling them. I couldn't help but think, "why has he asked me here for this? I'm the last person who knows anything about clothing." He told me why: apparently I wear stylish clothes and if I think it's good he'll think it's good too (which is ridiculous, but very flattering all the same). Of course, my first question about the jacket was how much it cost him to buy one. He told me, 100 RMB (about £8). Wow, even in China that is a bargain. We spoke a little longer and discussed selling them together on eBay to the UK or USA. If there is a market for it I am convinced we could make a little more than £8 for each suit jacket online. He's going to buy twenty more and we might give it a go....

Guitar lessons have been going well so far, I found a great website with some well-structured lessons on it. Results have been quick and I'm finding the lessons pretty easy. This false sense of security is only due to my brief learning of the guitar previously, and the fact that I know all of the theory already. I am waiting to hit the brick wall of progress in a month or two. For anyone who doesn't know, this is the time when improvement suddenly becomes painfully slow, only motivation and sheer perseverance keep you going.

I've also started keeping a diary of Chinese words that I learn during each day. I had become fed up of forgetting everything that people tell me. If I come across a word I consider to be helpful or necessary I will write down the pin yin in my little green notebook (see left). Unfortunately I'm constantly having to carry it around with me in my pocket for it to be of any real use (which isn't too bad because it makes me feel a bit like a homicide detective). To memorize the words I will attempt to read them before I go to bed at night and then again after waking up in the morning.

It looks like October is a good month for starting new things.

Saturday, 4 October 2008

New Guitar

I spent some money on myself yesterday and bought an acoustic guitar (see left). Now, I can't actually play the instrument yet, but my hope is to teach myself to get my head around a few chords and go from there.

In the music shop Kimi found they had an impressive array of acoustic, classical, and electric guitars. The man in the shop demonstrated a couple of them for me that were around my price range. I guessed he was trying to flog me the more expensive one, even going so far as to tell me that an obvious cosmetic defect on one was designed to be like that. In the end I went for this black one, and got a classy tuner thrown in too. Not bad for about £50.

I've been wanting to get back to playing music for some time now. Recently, the more I listen to music the more I want to play....something, anything! When I finished university I was tired of playing my two chosen instruments, the Piano and Trumpet -- the latter of which I have played since I was eight years old. I felt like I needed a break from them with what I originally guessed would be quite a short time. Obviously I had some distruption in my life by coming to China, and now, all of a sudden it's been two years since I properley played either instrument. About a month ago something triggered inside me, and now I'm desparate to play some music again. The time, effort, and motivation needed to play the trumpet is not winning me over at the moment, and buying a piano is simply out of the question. So, what better instrument to choose than the guitar?

In fact, I briefly began teaching myself to play in my final year at university after my parents bought me a classical guitar as a gift for Christmas. I was begining to get into the routine of practising and making progress when the workload of third year university caught up with me. After I graduated and decided to take a break from playing, I just never got around to picking it up again.

Here's hoping round two is more successful....

Friday, 3 October 2008

National Day Holiday

October 1st is National Day in China, a day to celebrate the forming of the PRC. It is also a time when a massive proportion of the 1.4 billion people in the country have a holiday for three or four days -- this year I was one of those people.

A rare spark of generosity meant that I had a completely free time courtesy of Web International English. The decided locations were Quanzhou and Xiamen, the latter being the place Kimi and I wanted to travel to anyway. Just like our previous outing to Wuzhen and Xitang every single detail of the trip was planned, including coach, food, hotel, sightseeing spots, and duration of stay in each place. This makes for an easy ride and fulfilling holiday, but results in a very tiring experience due to the constant moving and lack of down time to relax. We had three days to cram in our trip, here is how we did it....

Day 1

Once again Kimi and I had to wake up very early (5:40 this time) to arrive at the coach on time for it's 6:40 departure. It was much less of a rush than previously because the coach left from outside the International Hotel (where I work) which is only a ten minute walk away from my apartment. Most of my workmates from Web had come on the holiday which was very pleasant to see, although only Chuck and I from the "foreign teachers" had decided to join in for one reason or another. Everybody on the bus seemed excited, some were very excited indeed. We left promptly and the eight hour journey commenced. We watched a few films, tried to sleep, and listened to the horn....a lot. By about two o'clock we finally arrived at our first destination, Quanzhou.

As we were entering the city I began noticing a large array of stone statues, all kinds of things from dragons to emperors. I guessed this must be the trademark of the city. We were dropped off outside a stone archway which was the entrance to what seemed like a large park. Although it was quite warm the unique feeling of sea-air was brushing against my face, then in the distance I caught a glimpse of the water reflecting the sun above it. As we began our approach into the park we were introduced to some traditionally dressed Quanzhou women. Apparently the women will only show you their ears if you are married or will get married to them. We didn't see one male worker here because another ancient tradition is that the men stay at home all day and the women go out to work (seems fair enough to me).

Traditionally dressed Quanzhou women

As we walked further the genuine culture we had witnessed seemed to wear off rapidly. More and more stone constructions kept popping up: cats, books, dogs, laughing Buddha's, it was neither culturally nor historically relevant in the slightest. On top of that, all of the statues were practically brand new. These thoughts disappeared in a second when I saw the beach and the sea.

We sneaked away from our tour group and walked around some large -- mildly dangerous -- rocks (see right). This brought us to the beach, which for some reason instantly reminded me of Scarborough. It is obviously quite different, but the shape of the coastline is almost identical and they even share castle-type buildings in the distance on top of their respective cliffs (see below).

On the left, Quanzhou, China, on the right, Scarborough, England

Me filming (taken by Chuck)

Kimi's feet in the sand

Kimi looking very happy after playing in the sea (taken by Chuck)

The paparazzi found me on holiday (actually taken by Chuck)

After spending some time admiring the beach and taking in the breeze, Kimi and I stumbled upon an area of hammocks. We gave them a go and relaxed for half an hour.

The hammock area, 1 RMB for five minutes

View of the trees from the hammock

Our time relaxing by the beach was over far too rapidly and we were called back to the coach to make our way for the next stop: a temple (there are always temples). After weaving around the city for some time, we arrived outside the temple to find that it was closed. The plan was to come back again in the morning to see it. We backtracked away and headed for dinner. The pre-planned food for the holiday was identical to our previous trip: quick, easy, cheap Chinese food. I left the restaurant still feeling hungry, but next stop was the hotel, so back in the bus we climbed.

First impressions of this hotel were a little better than our previous experience in Xitang, although I've learnt not to trust my instincts too much now. When we opened the door to our brown and pine 1970's furnished room (complete with brown leather sofa), Kimi instantly saw a cockroach scuttling away from the light -- brilliant. We threw down our bags, exited the building, and strolled around the area looking for places to eat. In the end our choice was a Japanese chain restaurant, I ate sushi and deep-fried cheese rolls.

It was back to the hotel and straight to sleep, for another early rise was ahead of us the next morning.

Day 2

The plan was to get up early, eat breakfast in the hotel (more cheap Chinese food) and head back to the temple. Instead Chuck, Kimi, and I bought a McDonald's breakfast and ate it on the coach while everybody else looked around the temple. In hindsight we definitely made the right choice. By the time I had finished my Egg McMuffin they were all finished and climbing back onto the bus again anyway.

Our time in Quanzhou was over, and the short journey to Xiamen would begin. It took about one hour in all, but for most of the time the tour guide was telling us a bunch of facts about the city. For example, Xiamen is the cleanest city in China and the word 'tea' originates from the ancient local dialect. I will be googling those facts later.

First stop was another temple, if one wasn't enough for one day already. Next door to this particular temple is Xiamen university, one of the most famous in China. Once again we decided to leave our tour group and check out the local uni. It was quite spectacular, like a small fortified city. Inside the grounds there were lakes, trees, green grass, and even a private beach.

The grounds of Xiamen university

Relaxing with one of the students (taken by Chuck)

Angel and Chuck

The halls of residence -- for years 3 and 4 only

We walked through the grounds of the university with Chuck, Angel (his girlfriend) and Grace (my manager) and her fiancé. We were about to cross over a bridge to take a look at a beach when Grace received a phone call from our boss, -- who had surprisingly decided to join us on the holiday with his wife and daughter -- we were late. He told her that everybody was waiting for us. We speed-walked and ran back through the school grounds, dodged each water sprinkler, and weaved through some of the holiday traffic. Finally we arrived outside the temple entrance and found our group who were mostly wearing white "I love Web" caps.

The bus was now becoming a second home, and we piled back on and headed for a mainstay of Chinese tourism and complete ripping-off -- the tea house. I was told that this kind of activity is simply for the tour guide to make some real money off the tourists. For the third time in two days we quietly crept into the shadows and ran away. This time to an unusually quiet beach next to the tea building. Why this area was completely ignored by the guide is beyond me. The islands we could see from this beach -- and later Gulangyu Island -- are all owned by Taiwan. On a clearer day it's also possible for Taiwan itself to be seen from Xiamen.

A fortuitously calm, quiet beach

Me looking wind-swept

The strict schedule had to be kept and we weren't going to be late this time. We entered the tea house and waited for the group to come out of the money-grabbing tour. I stood observing the area and noticed a picture of a familiar figure on the wall, it was Margaret Thatcher. It seems she had visited and drunk tea at this very place a good few years ago.

For the hundredth time in the holiday, we were back on the bus and headed for the next stop: Gulangyu Island, famous for it's history of British and European inhabitants.

To get to this island we had to get on a large ferry boat that took us across the water. Usually this would be no problem, but considering it was holiday time this meant for complete chaos. Standing in the waiting area for the boat to come was what I imagine cattle feel like when they are jammed together in a farm. Worse still, when the doors opened people were barging, pushing and desperately trying to get into the boat as fast as possible. At this point I stuck my elbows out and moved with the traffic. Once on the boat it was actually quite pleasant, although it became clear that October in Xiamen still meant soaring temperatures of plus 30 degrees.

I was expecting the island to be a tour of European architecture from the
1800's -- and it was later -- but for some strange reason our group was forced into another queue for something completely different. We were queuing to see a dolphin show. I have mixed feelings about these kinds of shows, I have no idea what situation the animals themselves are in and I can't enjoy watching them thinking that their lives could be better spent in the wild. There was no way out this time, we were trapped. A short sea lion and dolphin show commenced while security guards continually shouted down mega-phones to get people to sit down on their seats for the duration. After the show ended we were taken around an aquarium which we quickly got out of -- it was starting to feel claustrophobic with so many people around. Outside we were given the opportunity to see some real interest, a group of fishing boats attempting to dock.

A group of fishing boats arriving from Xiamen to Gulangyu Island

After a long stroll, the call came through that our group should meet and proceed to the tour of British and European buildings. By this time a large majority of people had purchased some massage sticks that when hit, made a fairly annoying sound that would continue until returning back to Wenzhou ("clack, clack, clack").

At the meeting place with (from far left to right) Lisa, Erin, Candy, Pinky and Olive (taken by Chuck)

A church -- one of the many European buildings on the island

Unfortunately I had succumbed to wearing the "I love Web" cap too

We walked and walked and walked until we came to one of the piano museums which Gulangyu is also famous for. It was interesting to see so many varieties of piano -- no photos allowed unfortunately -- and it was impossible to touch any of them, not even one. Outside of the museum we walked across a small bridge to another beach. Here we could relax at last, but this was a very difficult task due to the millions of people crammed onto the sand (can you see a recurring theme here?).

The bridge from the piano museum to the beach

Not quite as peaceful as one would hope

We didn't stick around for too long on this particular beach, and instead found a quieter grassy patch to lie down on for a few minutes. Of course, as soon we relaxed the time flew by, and we were approaching the meeting time for the ferry boat back to the mainland. I was completely disorientated and had no idea where we were on the island. We began in one direction and found ourselves in an old European-looking town. All of the buildings were shops and restaurants, it was a lovely sight, even though we were running right through it.

Just a few minutes late, we managed to scramble our way back to the dock -- there were one or two people there, you could call it a bit of a crowd.

Just a quiet day at the dock (taken by Chuck)

The boat arrived and the chaos began again, this time because there were even more people it meant more pushing and shoving. By the time others had sacrificed limbs to get on board, a few of us were left freely on the dock to wait for the next one. Looking into the cage of people who were still trapped behind us, it really did make my image of cattle come to life.

Factory farming

Once back on the mainland we checked into another hotel. I was initially nervous but completely surprised by the quality of this one, it was actually....nice. We went for dinner with most of the group in a famous Xiamen restaurant, walked up the large shopping street called Zhongshan Road, and finally collapsed in bed at the hotel, exhausted.

Day 3

There really wasn't much of a third day of the holiday. We awoke at about 9 o'clock, made the most of the free breakfast buffet (they actually had toast and butter), walked around the local area looking for any interesting sights and met back at the hotel entrance at 11:30. We promptly left Xiamen and began the final eight hour journey back to Wenzhou. It was much more uncomfortable this time, backs aren't built for constant coach travel. Finally we arrived outside the International Hotel in Wenzhou at 9pm, drained and hungry.

** I am obliged to point out that all photographs were taken by Kimi and Chuck (where marked). I was on filming duties for the holiday, I hope to have an edited video finished and uploaded soon. I must stop writing these huge blog entries, I get carried away far too easily.