Friday, 17 December 2010

Neglect, Visas and Hypnotherapy

A few of the things Kimi and I have got up to during her recent trips to the UK
 I certainly feel very guilty for neglecting my poor blog of late.  The reason is not due to having a lack of things to write about with regards to China and life in the UK, but rather that I have been concentrating all of my energies into other things.

Since my last blog post a lot has certainly happened.  Kimi visited me in the UK on two occasions, the last time being in October.  We have also very recently submitted a rain forest's worth of paper-work to the British Embassy for Kimi's fiancée visa.  Once the application is successful she will once again be returning to the UK where we will get married (we're hoping for early next year).  We are planning on holding a ceremony in Wenzhou towards the end of next year too -- it saves spending a few thousand pounds transporting Kimi's huge family over to the UK, and it means I have a great excuse to take a holiday to my second home!  The visa process is an extremely difficult process, one which we could not have done alone.  Information on the internet is very sparse, with so many different versions of events that we had no choice but to hire an agency to do some of the leg work for us.  I think a possible new direction for the blog may lie within this visa process and how to be successful in applying for one.

In other news, I am now qualified as a Hypnotherapist.  I am just waiting for approval from the Hypnotherapy Association and my malpractice and indemnity insurance certificates to come through.   I have also managed to secure a room to do it from with my teacher and mentor.  It has been this that most of my time has been spent on over the past few months.  I have finally finished writing and designing a website for myself.  I had no idea it would end up being the most time consuming thing I have ever done!  As soon as everything is legal I will be uploading the complete website.  With this I will also be writing a new blogger blog which is linked to hypnotherapy and life as a hypnotherapist.  For now there is not much to look at, but here is my site:  MINDSCAPE Hypnotherapy.  I really fell in love with hypnotherapy throughout the course I took, and have never felt so attached to a subject before.  It really is amazing, and the changes that can happen are remarkable.  Stress, anxiety, lack of confidence, self-esteem issues, and addictions can all be resolved so quickly.  I know this because it has not only worked with others who I have helped, but it has also worked on myself.  I genuinely hope I can share this incredibly simple method of therapy with others. 

I am still continuing studies part-time in Counselling and hope to be taking the next module early next year.  It will take approximately 3-4 years to finish the degree at the moment.  The impatient side of me would rather get things over and done with much quicker, but due to financial restraints (e.g. all of the money I saved up in China ran out) I have had to find a full-time job.  Not only will this pay for starting my hypnotherapy business and ongoing studies, but it also means I will be able to support Kimi when she comes here.  The job I have isn't my idea of a dream career, but the money is coming into my bank account rather than going out, so it is ideal for now.

And that's me all up to date!  I'll be back when my new site and blog are online, and as soon as we hear any visa news.

Wednesday, 30 June 2010

Kimi Coming to England

 As I am writing this Kimi (my girlfriend) is on her way to the UK having just departed from Dubai Airport.  This is the second time she has come to England -- the first being last September when we came together for a short holiday.  Although too short, we had a fantastic time introducing her to my family and doing a bit of travelling around Edinburgh, London, The Lake District and of course my home-town Manchester.

This time is only for a short holiday too, but until we are married Kimi cannot leave her job and come and live with me.  The main reason for this is the one and only gripe for her and fellow Chinese citizens travelling outside of China: the visa.  For Kimi to come on holiday to the UK she has to apply for a visitor's visa (sometimes known as a tourist or travel visa).  Now when I, as a British citizen, go to China on holiday I also need a visa.  This consists of travelling to the nearest Chinese Embassy or consulate, paying about £30, answering a double-sided A4 form with questions such as "Do you have a criminal record?" and "Do you have any fatal diseases?" (I've never really seen the point of questions like this, I'm pretty sure they check out all such information regardless of whether you say "Yes" or "No"), oh, and a couple of passport photos.  But for poor Kimi, as a Chinese citizen, she has to compile a portfolio of information just to get a visitor's visa for a short holiday.  Take a deep breath as I list the requirements of her visa application (just remember this is for a holiday, not for emigration):

  • One completed and signed 10 page visa application form
  • A current and previous passport and photocopy of recent passport
  • One recent passport photo
  • Household register
  • An invitation letter from my father allowing her to stay in his house and be responsible for her
  • My father's utility bill, birth certificate, photocopy of driving licence, bank statements, home insurance, and council tax bill.
  • Evidence of current employment status including the organization code of the company and business license.
  • Permission of leave from her boss
  • Certificate of employment and income
  • Evidence of her financial status which meant freezing 50,000RMB (approximately £5,000) in her bank account
  • Bank statements for the last 6 months
  • Evidence of her relationship with me including boarding passes of recent holidays, emails sent between us dating back to 2007, and photographs of us together at various locations and times
  • A photocopy of my passport and Chinese working visa
  • Payment of 715RMB (approximately £70)

Shocking isn't it?  And all of this does not even guarantee a successful application.  Luckily Kimi has received hers on both occasions which should stand us in good stead for the future.  It could be a myth, but I have heard that applications can be rejected on a random basis, they just have to reject some for no apparent reason.  For the lucky ones who are successful in their visa applications, they receive a lovely sticker in their passport saying they can stay in the UK for 6 months -- Kimi only needs three weeks.

After all of this hard work, I hope Kimi is enjoying her 20+ hours of sleepless aeroplane travel from Wenzhou to Manchester....

The joys of travel

Wednesday, 23 June 2010 (or should I say for those of us from the British Isles), is a very simple, well designed website which enables you and me to create a sleek looking homepage with relative ease.  The whole premise is simplicity, but it's simple with a spark.  And if like me you have various online accounts such as Facebook, Twitter, Blogger, LinkedIn etc, then can become the core of your online presence.  Also, for those with their own websites, it could be designed to be a striking front page for visitors to launch onto other pages.  It's almost perfect -- with the only flaw being picture uploading.  This is because once your picture is uploaded to the site it will either be too big causing it to automatically zoom in far too much into one spot (which can only be adjusted very slightly); or it will be too small and the picture won't cover all of the page.  With a limited knowledge of picture resizing and a lot of experimenting, I managed to find a width of 1450 pixels to be just about right.  

In this day and age of complicated technology, it is refreshing to see simplicity as a key feature here.  If you would like to see the end result of a homepage, here is the one I designed yesterday: 

Tuesday, 22 June 2010

My Sister's Fundraising Blog

My twin sister, Sally, has recently been successful in gaining a place at one of the most prestigious music and drama schools in the UK:  The Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama.  This has given her the opportunity to study a master's degree in Musical Theatre, which will hopefully lead onto a professional career in this field.

She is, however, facing a problem with this application.  As with so many things in life it comes down to one thing: money.  The cost of studying at these drama schools doesn't come cheap, in this case one year of tuition fees is going to cost  £9,750.  And this doesn't even include living expenses.

Sally has recently begun fundraising, and is writing a blog to keep track of her progress.  Already she has received some money, but it's not yet enough.  I hope you will take a peek at her site here:

Good luck Sally!

Sally's appearances in various plays and shows

Wednesday, 16 June 2010

Illustrating Twitter

Since returning home to the UK in late March, I began using the 'micro-blogging' site Twitter.  More than one year earlier I had jumped on the band wagon to see what all the fuss was about.  I was just about getting to grips with it, when after a couple of weeks, I was cut-off.  That's right, Twitter is another of the many websites to be blocked off by the Great Firewall of China.

So it wasn't until coming back to England that I had the chance to use the site again.  After much experimenting, I have found that Twitter can be a great source of real-time news.  Following friends, news agencies, people of influence, and even celebrities, allows you to have a constant stream of up-to-the-second news at your fingertips.  And with added extras such as you can have a custom-made daily newspaper created for you just from the people you follow and the subjects they link to.   That is not to say there is a fair share of pointless babble on the site, but alas, I am addicted.

There is also a powerful search function where you can search for any topic imaginable and see what people are saying about it.  It also means anybody can stumble across your Twitter feed.  It just so happened a couple of creative people came across my feed a few weeks ago when I was writing, what I thought was a throw away tweet, about the Large Hadron Collider being turned up to 11 for the first time (here is the news story if you can't remember).  They transformed this Tweet into an illustration: 

I was incredibly amused and taken aback by this.  To take one sentence and transform it into a hilarious illustration like this is the kind of creativity I am hugely enviable of.  The people behind this picture are Irkafirka, and every day they will choose one tweet out of the seemingly endless supply of 140 character messages to illustrate.  It is a lovely idea, and one which I hope will continue for a long time to come.

If you are on Twitter, or even if you aren't, then feel free to follow me for real-time drivel from yours truly:  And if you would like to see more tweets transformed into illustrations, then you can follow Irkafirka: 

Tuesday, 15 June 2010

You Are Reading a "Terrific Teaching Abroad Blog"!

I found out today my blog has been featured in a list of 50 Terrific Teaching Abroad Blogs on  I am very flattered, surprised and thankful of this.  Since returning home I have neglected the blog a little due to concentrating on studying (which also includes concentrating on EVERY distraction possible instead of studying), but this has spurred me on to continue writing.  I have so much more to write about my time in China and Kimi's journey to the UK, it would be wasteful to stop now.

Thanks again!  

Thursday, 20 May 2010

Driving Lessons

Sorry about the lack of blog posts of late, I've got so much to Blog about but less time do it.  On top of the studies I mentioned in an earlier post, a couple of weeks ago I decided to add to the pile with a hefty wad of driving lessons.  A lot of my time has been taken up with all of this -- more so now as my first Counselling essay is due in by the 1st of June (insert panic here).

I received my provisional licence more than 7 years ago, and also my 17th birthday present from my parents was payment for some driving lessons.   Due to having little desire to drive at the time, and then not needing it while at university, and later being too scared to do it in China; it's only now that I feel driving is something that is needed in my life -- especially considering the ridiculously high cost of public transport in the UK.

I've been having quite an intensive course of lessons so far, and in many ways I am quite enjoying the driving experience, but I have noticed I have some kind of in built hesitation about other road users -- I wonder if my time in Wenzhou played a part in that?

There is certainly a rather large difference between driving in the UK and in China.  In Wenzhou the traffic is usually so consistently busy that the speed is generally quite low.  In the UK, with there being considerably less people, the speed is generally faster, which could also lead to more fatal accidents.  But, there is a big but here, the following of law and order on the roads is almost completely ignored in China (really I'm only commenting on Wenzhou and Hangzhou here as I have much less experience with other cities).   I saw all sorts of collisions in my time in Wenzhou, from the very minor to the very severe.  For that, I certainly admire my girlfriend, Kimi's success of driving on the roads.  I think I'd be too scared to ever drive there (as you can see below).

One reason you won't catch me driving in Wenzhou (taken from my bedroom window)

Monday, 3 May 2010

Grateful for Home

Recently I've been quite stuck for topics to blog about.  In China, so many things would happen in such a short time that I didn't have enough time to write about it all.  Now, in England, my life is much more organised and...."normal"!  I suppose the biggest factor here is that I saw China through the eyes of an outsider, even the smallest most mundane things to most would have been quite entertaining to me.  Whereas back in the UK,  the place where I have lived almost all of my life, there's nothing much of the unusual going on here -- to me anyway.

This brings me onto thinking about what this blog is actually for.  As I have said previously I am mainly using this to keep a record of my studying, Kimi (my girlfriend who is eventually coming to live with me in the UK), and my memories of almost 1 year in China which I had no opportunity to blog about.  But, I shouldn't stop writing about the place I live in, I have named this blog "Laowai in England" after all.  I used to write a majority of blog posts about Wenzhou, so it is only natural to continue writing about the new -- but also old -- place I'm living in now.

First of all, this is my home:

I live in the suburbs of South Manchester

The back garden faces a primary school
I have lived in this house all of my life, with my parents, twin sister, and cats, before heading off to the PRC in 2007 -- and I took so much for granted.  Don't get me wrong, I loved living in my 16th floor apartment in Wenzhou, but now I am back, I truly am thankful for the most simple of things:
  • Central heating.  The "Wen" in Wenzhou actually means warm, and it's true.  Wenzhou is warm, and sometimes very very hot, and this is for most of the year.  But not all of the year.  From around November to March (ish), the temperature can drop.  Nothing too dramatic, but when none of the apartments in the city have central heating, be prepared to wear your coat indoors (I never got used to that).  Alas, I wasted plenty of money on using a tiny fan heater just to heat my feet in bed at night.
  • Quietness.  Something which really began to grate living in the centre of a busy city, was the noise.  I was genuinely at the end of my tether when it came to being woken up for the millionth time by fireworks, car horns, shouting, alarms etc.  I truly believe that silence is golden, especially at night time.  I am certainly thankful for this.  
  • A soft mattress.  I have yet to find a bed in a Chinese home that doesn't have a mattress as hard as wood.  I know that a firm mattress is supposed to be much better for our bodies, but the comfort factor is 0.  I want a bed to feel like it's one long hug!
  • Drinkable Tap Water.  Not such a big deal this one, as it's quite easy to boil up some water and drink it, and using the water when brushing teeth is not a problem really.  But occasionally, I got very sick for very short periods of time, and I could only think it was one of two things:  Food or Water.  As I used the running water daily, and many times in a day, there was quite a chance that it was making me do horrible things to my toilet.  How often have you accidentally gulped some water when washing your hair?  
This was not meant as a rant, and I am not complaining about China, but these are just some things which I took for granted my whole life, but now am hugely grateful for.  Of course there are things I took for granted in China which now I miss very much too -- I'll save that for another post.

Sunday, 25 April 2010


One of many things I missed while away in China was my cats.  Unfortunately our number of 3 is now down to 1.  But here's a short video I made of Molly -- who is now almost 17 years old -- enjoying some Catnip on my bed.

Sunday, 18 April 2010

Back to School

My Hypnotherapy and Counselling books
 One of the main reasons I decided to come home was because I felt a strong urge to study again.  I really did enjoy teaching a lot, but felt it wasn't fulfilling my purpose in life.  After months and months of procrastinating, I finally came to the conclusion of something that may fill that gap:  Hypnotherapy and Counselling.  Although I originally studied a music degree at university, and I do still have a great passion for music, I feel that I don't want it as the core of my working life (part-time would be nice!).

There are many reasons I have chosen these subjects, but primarily I feel that having a job where you can actually make some sort of a difference to somebody's life is incredibly meaningful.  Also, from my experience of teaching at Web, I have found that I am most comfortable working with either one person or with small groups of people.  This, along with a list of other reasons, has brought me to studying Hypnotherapy and Counselling.  I have now started both courses and am finding them greatly interesting, and even exciting -- especially the Hypnotherapy course.  A huge variety of problems can be successfully treated with this therapy, from anxiety and addictions, to phobias and obsessive compulsive disorder.  The feeling of having it done -- and doing it -- is by itself a worthwhile experience.  Many people believe that you are actually asleep while under hypnosis, but this is a myth.  The best way I can describe it is that of the short period of time when you are just about to drift off to sleep; still consciously aware, but relaxing into the first stage of sleep.   Once the session is over you feel so very relaxed, but also refreshed and ready to do anything.  

At the moment I couldn't be enjoying these classes more, I can't wait for the next ones (I wish school could have been more like this).  I have even finished all of my homework assignments long before I needed to.

Now, I just need to find a job to continue funding the courses....    

Wednesday, 14 April 2010

When the Bombs Fell

This year February 14th to many people was Valentine's Day, but to even more people it was also Chinese New Year.  Unlike the previous year, I was prepared for what was to come this time, the noise!  I certainly wasn't disappointed, if anything it was even louder, and more unrepentant than the year before.  A couple of sleepless nights came to me and Kimi, but it didn't really matter as the daytime was mainly spent eating and drinking, and eating more, and drinking more, and eating a little bit more (and then being sick).

If I had to describe Chinese New Year in as few words as possible before I came to live in China, I would have said something like:  "Dancing dragons, celebrations in the street, fireworks".  But after living in China, I would now say:  "Fireworks, money, fireworks, family, fireworks, food, fireworks, more food, fireworks drink, fireworks, TV".

On new year's eve, I decided to take a short walk outside as midnight beckoned.  There was an annual television show playing, which is quite a large draw in China.  It is a variety show of sorts, with many singers, comedians, dancers, and a magician (doing tricks from the 80's) all having their own segment where they can wow the largest audience in the world.  It is mostly performed live, but some of the bigger stars usually decide to mime their way through a performance or pre-record their part (e.g. Faye Wong).  Anyway, the show was going through an incredibly tiresome comedy sketch, and for some reason the English subtitles on CCTV9 only stretched so far as to explain the premise of the sketch instead of just translating what was happening -- lazy!  So, as I said, I decided to take a stroll outside, with my camera.  What I experienced was nothing short of terrifying.  It was as close as I could imagine to being in a war zone.  The culmination of all the fireworks simultaneously going off around the centre of the city made it sound and feel like bombs dropping from the sky.  And by the way, these fireworks were not an organised display, this was a free-for-all.  I even saw somebody firing them out of their apartment window.

The following day -- New Year's Day -- Kimi and I went to have a very enjoyable family meal at her uncle and aunt's home.  They very kindly cooked an assortment of vegetarian dishes for me, and at one point I didn't think it was going to end.  New dish after new dish was coming, but as they were all so delicious, I just stuffed myself.  And of course, I had to do my fair share of drinking.  On more than one occasion I have sat down at a dinner table and a bottle of red wine has been presented to me which I am expected to drink all of.  This time was no exception.

The table of devoured food, notice my whisky glass and wine bottle in the bottom right
Alas, the fireworks didn't stop, but we were shown a new year's ceremony where food was given to Buddha, drums were drummed, and a paper boat was paraded around.  For me, it was refreshing to see some real traditional elements playing a part in between the eating and drinking -- even if I didn't understand why some of it was happening.

A slightly different table of food.  Not too sure if Buddha is into Pig's head though, but I'm sure he won't complain....
Other days in the week were spent very much along the same lines.  More eating, more drinking, and more listening to the cracks and bangs of fireworks outside.  We also met Kimi's uncle's new dog, a beautiful Golden Retriever:

I didn't intend to write all of this, what I was really getting around to in this blog post was telling you about the short video I edited together in response to the aforementioned fireworks.  It shouldn't come as a surprise that I called it:  "China Bombings":

Friday, 9 April 2010

For Sale: China Photo

Edit:  Sold!

My father is a picture framer and photographer who frequently sells his own pictures in his shop.  His website (which hasn't been updated for a while) is here.  After looking at some of my pictures from China, he surprised me today by framing one of them.  Tomorrow it will be available to buy in the shop for the considerable price of £67.  I am very flattered to think that any picture of mine could actually be bought by someone.  The shot is a close-up of some colourful hair-pins I found in Shanghai when my sister visited me last May (an event which I will blog about very soon).

Get it while you can

Thursday, 8 April 2010

Running with Nike+

Today I did my first run using the quite remarkable Nike+.  For those who don't know, Nike+ is a system of planning, tracking, and measuring runs while listening to your favourite -- or most motivational -- music.  To do this you need to buy a few things first:
  • An iPod Nano and Nike+ Sports Kit (which consists of an oval-shaped sensor and a rectangular receiver that connects to the iPod)
Alternatively, if you have an iPhone or iPod touch you only need to buy the sensor -- which is half the price on its own

Also, to make full use of Nike+ you can sign up to the Nike running website where you have the option to choose training programs, make a calorie/distance/speed goal, or compete with friends on the site.  I am currently trying a program that will train me to run a 5 km marathon within 3 months.

So far so good, but Nike still wants you to purchase more of its gear before you can actually hit the concrete:  a pair of Nike+ shoes please.  The only reason you need a special pair of trainers is because Nike (or someone in a sweatshop in China) have carved out a small oval-shaped hole in the left shoe under the innersole where the sensor sits (see below).

Of course, a quick look on Amazon will show you that if you already have a favourite pair of running shoes there are numerous pouches and holders that will adapt your shoes for the sensor.

Now you've got the gear, got the shoes, and signed up to the site.  Ready to go?  Not quite.  I personally find that the earphones supplied with iPods can fall out quite easily (as tested when running for buses, trains, planes, etc).  A good pair of speciality running earphones are probably in order.  I went for a pair of Sennheiser PMX 80 Sport headphones.  They loop around your ears and behind your head so they don't move at all when running.  After my first run today I can tell you they work perfectly, completely solid, no jittering, and crisp clear audio.

....and they're nice and yellow
 Surely there's nothing else to buy?  Well, maybe one more thing.  You need somewhere to put the iPod as you're bounding around the streets.  Placing it in a pocket could be OK, but the iPod is so small it could easily fall out if you don't have a zip.  The solution is either to hold it or buy an arm strap:

Can be bought for just a few £'s from eBay or Amazon

And that's it -- well, apart from the actual running!  As I mentioned earlier, today was my very first session using all of this newly bought technology.  I certainly felt like a runner, and I kind of looked like a runner, but after a few minutes on the road I literally thought I was going to die.  I just about managed to finish my target of 1.7 km, but I have no idea how I'm going to do the 3.2 km that's waiting for me on Saturday.  I did find the option of a "power song" (where you press the centre button on the iPod and it plays your most motivational song) helped for a short time when I started to lose power, and the inner-geek in me finds some motivation in uploading runs and keeping track of my progress.  Overall I am very impressed with how it works, and once it's all running, how easy it is to use. 

Here's hoping I'll still be alive to do 5 km in 3 months....

P.S.  Although it may look like it, I am not an employee of Nike or Amazon!!

Monday, 5 April 2010

I'm Alive....

Just to prove I am indeed living
....because you may have thought I was dead considering it's been almost 11 months since my last blog post!

I'm sure you can guess the reason for my absence by just reading said previous blog post.  Just one thing stopped me from writing pages and pages of more drivel:  The Great Firewall of China.  I did try to use a proxy server (a computer network that will connect to websites on your behalf making it look like you are in another country), but found that the terribly slow speed and lack of security was too much of an issue to ignore.  After a few failed attempts at logging onto Blogger I very quickly learnt to live without blogging in my life.  I could have tried an alternate website, but the fear I had of other blog sites being blocked put me off.  You see, Blogger was just the beginning of a new internet crackdown in China.  Twitter and Facebook soon faced the axe, and even IMDB was blocked at one point.  It seemed no site on the planet was safe from the over-sensitive internet police of China.

"How can you be writing this blog post now?"  I hear you ask (oh no, that's just the voice inside my head).  Well, two weeks ago I managed to climb over the wall and escape to the safe island state of the United Kingdom -- which really means I've come back home.  It was not an easy decision to make by any means, but I felt the right time had come.   Almost 3 years in China had flown by so incredibly quickly, I could very easily see myself staying in the same position in another 3 years, and then 6 years, and then 12 get the idea.  Another factor that was calling me to leave was because I had finally decided on something I genuinely would like to study and do as a career.  I was just torn as to whether to stay in China for longer or not.  The itch to make a change became too much and I took the plunge of leaving the life, love, and friends I had made.  Now, back home with my family in Manchester, England, I am starting on a brand new path by studying two subjects that will lead to the career I really want:  Counselling and Hypnotherapy.

The most difficult part of leaving was having to part from Kimi, my girlfriend.  She had known for a very long time that I hadn't intended to live in China forever, and she was a big deciding factor as to whether I should come home now or not.  Luckily for me she was very supportive and understanding about my decision.  Now we are working on the long arduous visa process so that she can finally come and live with me here.  For the next 12 months we have planned to make sure we see each other via holidays.  She will come on holiday in summer and I will go on holiday back to China at the end of the year.  It is by no means a perfect solution, but it's the best we can do considering the circumstances.

That's pretty much my life updated.  Next blog post will be sometime in 2011 then....

Not really!  In fact I have a host of subjects I would like to write about over the coming months.  As mentioned above, I will certainly be updating progress on Kimi's move to the UK over the next year; I will continue to write about China as I still have almost one year's worth of stories to look back on (which was also the reason I decided not to start a completely new blog); Also, I would like to document my progress with regards to studying, job hunting, and living in the UK -- something which is quite removed from life in China.  But the main reason I have decided to start writing on my blog again is the same reason I started blogging in the first place: to keep a diary.

In all honesty I have sorely missed doing this, just writing about anything seems to rattle the dust from my mind.  I look forward to more blogs to come.  

P.S.  If anybody is reading, then I hope you like the new design -- it took me bloody ages!!