Monthly Archives: April 2017

Hen Dos, A Night At The Races & General Tom Foolery.

Sunday 30th April 2017

Back in the UK, I hit the ground running, my weekend starting with a friend’s goodbye to singledom sign off. She is the first of my really good friends to tie the knot and I’m gutted that I’ll be back at sea for the actual occasion and miss her big day. At least I was there for the all important Hen Do though!

The day started with a road trip to a clay pigeon shooting centre in Aylesbury, where Richard, our instructor, was incredibly kind and patient with us gaggle of novice girls. Having checked that their public liability and Richard’s life insurance policy were up to date, and after he’d checked that our drinks supply was still untouched, it was time to begin.

I think the expression is all the gear and no idea…

First up, bride to be Sam. She hit an incredible 7 out of 8 clays and we started to wonder if we had a ringer amongst the group, or if she’d secretly been having lessons in preparation. Either that or Richard was feeding her remote detonating, self destructing clays!

Sharp shooter Sam shows us all how it’s done!

The only shot she missed was the one when I was filming her. My job as self appointed official event photographer was off to a shaky start and it only got worse as the day wore on. Fat fingers, wobbly hands and an ability to miss the moment, are the highlights of my picture taking CV.

One of my better efforts. I actually have, shooter, gun and exploding target in the shot!

By the end of the afternoon, all the girls were delighted to have channelled their inner killer instinct, each proving that they had the knack of blowing a small round disc out of the sky, despite all the misgivings beforehand. Over a celebratory cocktail in the pub afterwards, there was even talk of going hand gun shooting for the subsequent occasion!

College Farm Shooting Ground is the place to be.

Next up it was time to surprise the bride with an Alice In Wonderland themed evening at a youth hostel, brilliantly orchestrated by her best friend Zoe who deserves a medal for all her hard work. Unfortunately the theme was something of a surprise to me too though, as I’d only found out that fancy dress was required a few days earlier, when I was still in China.

As I dressed in my hastily thrown together costume of the Knave of Hearts, I accidently smudged my eyeliner drawn moustache when trying to level it out, and realised as I looked in the mirror, that I fiercely resembled a very well known certain German Dictator and looked nothing like the playing card character that I was supposed to be.

Don’t call me Adolf.

Excellant! Trust me to come to a pre-wedding party dressed as Hitler!! I stuck a Jack of Hearts playing card to my chest in order to try and clarify my costume and did my best to try and blend in with the rest of the disguises, whilst we awaited Alice’s entrance. She looked wonderful as she sashayed into the room, that had been cleverly adorned with playing cards and decorative hearts.

Alice and Flamingo Zoe drink “tea” out of cups and saucers.

The food that had been created was delicious and plentiful, followed by the biggest display of deserts and cakes ever seen in one place. After dinner the fun disappeared outside, where we had great merriment making our own fire, and sat outside on logs where, despite a previously issued gagging order, I told my favourite “This one time when Sam was really drunk stories…”, until our faces were toasty and our backsides frozen.

Kumbaya, My Lord, Kumbaya.

The next morning I was up early to catch the train into London and then up to Newmarket, where I joining ex housemate, ex Jockey and current TV presenter Hayley, on an evening trip to the races. On taking the underground across the city, I joined the tube in a carriage stuffed full of Maidenhead Football Club supporters, all on their way to watch a match that could see their team crowned top of their league.

They were a lively bunch, and to mark the occasion, they’d all dressed in fancy dress. One young gentleman had even chosen to go as a blow up penis. We could’ve done with him the night before, and it made me regret washing off my dodgy moustache earlier that morning. Their equally dodgy singing also reminded me why I’m glad that I don’t live in England anymore.

Upon arriving in Newmarket, there was just time for a quick shower before getting in the car and shooting 3 hours up the motorway to sunny Doncaster, which was anything but. That didn’t stop the local girls from coming in their skimpiest finery though and they must breed them tough up North, because they happily swanned about in strapless dresses and no jackets, whilst I shivered in my coat and sweater.

Hayley was presenting the racing on the satellite channel AtTheRaces, so I’d planned an evening of floating about watching the action and placing a few small bets from the comfort of the grandstand.

Hayley and Bob Cooper keep the punters informed with all the latest information from the trackside.

Life is amazingly never that straightforward though, and before the second race, they’d convinced me to go down to the paddock, where the horses were parading before the race, to do an interview as an ex-racehorse trainer turned professional cruiser.

Fame and shame in one fell swoop!

Before I know it, I’m being asked my opinion about all the young unraced horses about to make their debuts and by luck not judgement, I managed to select the upcoming winner of the race.

Thank you number 7 Koditime for following the script.

This lead to Hayley and her co-presenter Bob deciding that I should stay as guest contributer for the entire evening and remaining five races. I frantically tried to study the form, but was like the proverbial fish out of water, having been out of the racing game and out of the country for over 2 years now.

“Friends” start to take the micky out of my fleeting five minutes of stardom.

Somehow we shivered our way through the evening and I’m sure the poor beleaguered Saturday night TV viewers were as glad as I was when the programme finally came to a close. The fun didn’t stop there though, and it was off to Hayley’s Dad’s house for the night, to watch some boxing. Of course I was knocked out well before the boxers, as I simply couldn’t keep my eyes open and fell asleep on the sofa.

So my life continues to get more hectic and random by the day. In a few short weeks, I’ve gone from croupier, to cow girl, to Co-creator of a toy in China, to chief Hen Do photographer, to TV wally. As Feris Bueller said “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.” And we’re only half way through the weekend…


Around The World. Twice.

Friday 28th April 2017

So this is it. My journey home has finally begun. I’ve literally been around the world, twice, taken 19 mostly long haul flights, and visited 34 different countries, since I was last in the UK. Which was only 10 months ago. For those travel boffins, here they are:

  • Ireland
  • France
  • USA
  • Canada
  • Fiji
  • New Zealand
  • Malaysia
  • Amsterdam
  • Majorca
  • Corsica
  • Italy
  • Sicily
  • Spain
  • Portugal
  • Gibraltar
  • Gran Canaria
  • Antigua
  • St. Maarten
  • St. Kitts
  • Barbados
  • St. Vincent
  • St. Lucia
  • Bequia
  • Tortola
  • Aruba
  • Curaçao
  • Bonaire
  • Grenada
  • Martinique
  • Guadeloupe
  • Dominica
  • China
  • Hong Kong
  • Russia

Around the world twice in 311 days.

The trip to China has been amazing. A chance of a lifetime and a real eye opener. It couldn’t have been made possible however without a lot of help from the good folk of the Web out there, so I thought that I’d name some of them now, firstly to thank them for their excellent services, and secondly, just in case other people are planning a trip and need the resources.

Number 1 on the list is obviously Google. Here you can find pretty much anything and everything you need. Expert when you’re in China, because it doesn’t work! Which leads me to point number 2.

2. Get a good VPN if you want to use any Google, social media, or news websites. As well as signing up for WeChat (the Chinese version of WhatsApp etc.). A VPN will help you past the Great Firewall of China. ExpressVPN offer you 7 days free, but if you’re staying longer than don’t be afraid to pay the $10 or so for 30 days coverage. Especially if keeping in touch is important to you. You don’t have to be a tech genius to figure out installing the VPN, just make sure you active everything and know what you’re doing before you arrive, otherwise the site helping to get you past blocked sites could be blocked.

The impressive Canton Tower landmark right beside my hotel.

3. Get a good translation app. I downloaded Google Translate and saved Simplified Chinese for offline use. I also downloaded a Chinese keyboard on both my phone and computer so people could help me by typing in places that I needed or phrases that could then be translated for me.

4. For fun and a really easy way to learn Mandarin using flashcard type pictures, I downloaded 5000 Phrases and 6000 Words, two apps available from the Google Play store from Fun Easy Learn. It’s a great way to increase your vocabulary and I’ve used it in the past for other languages too.

5. You can’t get to China without a visa, unless you’re planning a trip less than 72 hours and are staying close to one of the major airports. Please check official websites for up to date information. After an unproductive visit to the Chinese Embassy in Antigua, I was forced to send send my passport back to the UK.

I used 5 Star Chinese Visa in London. They were awesome, I FedExed my passport from the US with all the correct forms etc. and they FedExed it back to me in the US. Yes, you do pay more for using a company to do it for you, but it saves tons of hassle and two trips to your nearest consulate, which for me, was not near at all. It’s also super fast if you’re in a rush.

They even organised the photos which I sent them digitally, after my orignals were vetoed due to me wearing a tiny silver necklace. Again check all government websites etc for specific details and read all the info as it’s very important. China is very strict. About everything.

It might be hard work, but it’s worth it when you get here.

6. For trains in China I cannot thank China DIY Travel for all their expertise. The cost for their service is minimal, but you may think why do I need someone to book my train tickets for me? Unless your fluent in Mandarin, have a Chinese bank account and have travelled a lot in China before, I implore you to use their services.
To book a simple ride on the railway in China you need a to do it well in advance, collect you tickets at the station and confirm all the details with you passport which is used to verify everything. Like I said, for the small fee that they charge China DIY Travel are unbeatable.

They will even send you instructions to hand to your taxi driver for them to drive you to the correct station and they also send a guide with masses of info on how to get to the correct platform at the correct time, plus links to short videos to guide you through the scary process of boarding bullet trains, etc.

Catching a train may seem simple, but we’re not in Kansas anymore. CTrip is another popular one. I ended up using them too for shorter, last minute journeys to Shenzhen and Dongguan.

Also don’t be afraid to use the subway or metro. They’re super easy to navigate, everything is colour and number coordinated. They announce stops in English and it will also be written in Latin characters on the platform signs and on the scrolling screen on the train. I wasn’t brave enough to try the bus, though they also look efficient for the true explorers amongst you.

Taxis are cheap, and it’s not like there’s a lack of them, but the train is just so much more fun!

7.  I’ve used Booking for years, for all my hotels, from the Middle East to the Mid West and they’ve never let me down. The guest user reviews are usual fairly accurate and the App couldn’t be easier to use. You can even book a room for the night standing right outside its front door if necessary. Most China Hotels offer free cancellation, so you can book anything to confirm your stay for your visa requirement and then cancel it and make new plans once you want to plan your trip for real.

The best thing about using Booking in China is that it shows you your intended address in both roman and logograms, which is the technical term for hànzì or “Chinese characters”.

The view from my delightful hotel in Lishui.

8. I also read some good blogs and downloads about everything from etiquette, to eating, to entertainment. They’re all listed below, and many many thanks to all the authors for sharing on the old interweb.
Josh Summers excellent; 10 China Travel Hacks the Seasoned Expats Use

Marshall, Jon & David enlightening; What It’s Actually Like To Visit Factories in China As An Entrepreneur

Christine Syquia’s reassuring; How We Had Our First Product Manufactured In China

Most importantly allow heaps of extra time when travelling. At major train stations you’ll queue to collect your ticket, queue to enter the train station. Queue to get through security and then queue again to get into your platform. You’ll also be security screened pretty much every place you go. Keep you passport handy and never take pictures of the police!

So what are you waiting for? Buy your flights, book your trip, feel the fear and do it anyway! I’m going to go now, I want to finish watching the end of Gone With The Wind before we land…

Frankly my dears, I don’t give a damn.

I’ve Been A Busy Little Beaver…

Wednesday 26th April 2017

I know that most of you think that I just float about on an oversized yacht in the perpetual summertime, playing cards every night, for most of the year, before enjoying 6 weeks of “vacation” time. But I’m here to set the record straight.

Whilst all of the above is strictly true, I do work up to 9 months straight without a single day off and I also do not get paid for my vacation time. In 6 months, if you work a normal Monday to Friday kind of job, you get 2 days of weekend for every week that you work. Over 26 weeks, that alone adds up to 52 days of not working, which is more than 7 whole weeks in total. More than I get for working 9 months. And that’s without the 4 weeks paid holidays that regular folk earn annually. Plus my hours are hardly 9 to 5. On a day at sea we can work from 8 in the morning until after midnight.

I’m not complaining though, I do enjoy my job, and you’re right, it is basically shuffling cards and playing games for a living. Plus I do get to wake up in a different place every day, my commute to work is ridiculously short and not only do I get my board and food included, but I also don’t have to go to the supermarket, cook, clean, wash up, or change the sheets. I even get my uniform laundered and passed for me. All I really have to do is wash my smalls, bikinis and shorts. So yes, you were in fact right, I do have a pretty easy life/cool job!

Because my life is so leisurely though, I’ve had to find ways of filling it full of other stuff to make it more challenging. If something is too easy, then where’s the fun in that? We’d all get bored of living the good life eventually wouldn’t we?

So, I’m going to tell you all now the real reason that I was in China. It wasn’t just to see the sights and discover the previously unknown hidden depths to my culinary talents, but it was all part a plan that started nearly one year ago…

Looking for ways to keep my mind sharp, I agreed to team up with a fellow crew member, who’d enlisted my help in a secret project. He wanted to create something that would help a special young friend who has Cerebral Palsy, with her fine motor skills.

As we could find nothing on the market that fulfilled all of her needs, we decide to create our own toy. The lovingly hand crafted creation was instantly the envy of her friends and other families, so we looked into making and producing them for a wider audience.

During the last year, we’ve done just that. We’ve designed, sketched, prototyped, and tested out our very own idea, all from the glamorous headquarters of our cabins. 

We’ve also camped out in various coffee shops and restaurants and other places that offer free WiFi. One particular spot in Aruba became like our second home and we’re indebted to the lovely staff of the Coffee House for their patience and kindness not to kick us out, after we poured over our computers for hours on end every other Tuesday, whilst draining their internet dry!

The dream started to become a reality when we commissioned a couple of factories in China to start making real live samples for us, after whittling down the competition with online interviews and e-mail interrogations.

Now this is some place for a board meeting!

With the project nearing fruition, my job was to go to China to sign off on the final prototypes and make any final changes, before mass production could start.

Where the action happens.

So that’s what I’ve been doing for the last 2 weeks. I went from Shanghai to Ningbo, then on to Lishui and Yunhe, which is the official Wooden toy capital of the world! (Even the hospital in the town is shaped like a toy castle!) And finally from Wenzhou on to Guangzhou, and nearby Dongguan and Shenzhen.

Yunhe. The whole of the town is built like this!

The guys that we’ve been working with have been super. From our amateur ideas and self drawn computer templates, they’ve created something marvellous for us. It was fascinating seeing the production process in action and rubbing shoulders with the likes of Fisher Price and Disney who they also produce goods for.

Kid in a toy shop? I am big kid in a toy factory!!

Wanting to make the most out of my trip, the last few days have been spent perusing at the 121st Canton Fair, which is a MASSIVE trade exhibition where manufacturers try and woo potential clients. The place is incredible. Just enormous, with every kind of item imaginable on show. From kitchen sinks to coats made of mink. I heard that one guy sent home 150kgs of catalogues the first year he went!!

A tiny piece of the Canton Fair complex.

The toy expo took place on 2 floors of the smallest of the three arenas. And it took me two days just to get round that bit of the mammoth place. It was great to make some new contacts and see what the “competition” is up to!

Buyers from every corner of the earth and every nation under the sun were in attendance at the Canton Fair.

The whole process had been incredibly hard work. We’ve spent hours, night after night, day after day, adjusting, correcting, readjusting, and perfecting our invention. We’ve come a hell of a long way, we’ve learnt masses, but we’ve still a long way to go before it hits the streets.

These are the carts that are lined up to ferry people across the 1km long walkway between the complexes.

All I’ll say for now is they look AMAZING! It’s quite something to see a vision that’s been in your imagination for so long, and has taken up every precious spare minute of your thoughts and time, finally come to life. And it goes without saying that I owe a huge thank you to Pavel, the brains behind the whole operation, for introducing me to a whole new world and appointing me as co-collaborator on the project. It’s been one hell of a journey my friend!

Iron Chef Amy!

Sunday 23rd April 2017

I bet you’ve all been wondering what the hell I’ve been eating since I ventured to the Far East. Well let me enlighten you all on that very subject now…

I have a huge phobia of fish eyes. Looking at them, them looking at me, eating them, finding them in my soup… You name the time and the place, and they creep me the hell out.

I was so worried in fact, that I’d be fed nothing but fish eyes and fish eye soup during my journey to China, that I stocked up in Walmart before I left and brought we myself a small non perishable “survival kit” so that I wouldn’t starve.

Mmmm, yummy!

Honestly though, a bit like finding the huge Western style Malls in Ningbo, I was equally, if not more disappointed by the abundance of fast food joints in the places that I’ve visited so far. OK so I wasn’t really relishing tucking in to monkey brains and Guinea pig ribs, but I also don’t want to eat burgers and fries every day either.

The dam Colonel and his ridiculous smug cheesey image, bedecked with striped apron, are leering at me bloody everywhere. He appears to have the monopoly on the Chinese transport system and there’s been at least one inside, and one outside, of every train station, airport and subway that I’ve visited so far.

Not that I’m an enemy of the white haired fellow’s secret blend of 11 different herbs and spices. In fact I’m a big fan of his delicious chicken gravy, but there’s a time and a place for KFC and it’s when you’re actually in the state of Kentucky, or at the very least somewhere in the United States.

It’s not just dam Colonel Sanders that’s got his lickin’ good fingers all over the Chinese map, but Ronald Mcdonald and the King of Burgers have a huge presence here too. I guess it’s a bit like the rest of the world having a Chinese takeaway on every street corner. Variety is the spice of life so they say.

Stop smirking at me you smug beardy old man.

Well I’ve successfully managed to shun greasy chicken bits, in favour of some real authentic native fodder. Everybody said that real Chinese food isn’t like the imitation dishes that they deliver to our doors back in the West, but I don’t really buy that. A lot of what I’ve eaten is very similar to what you might find on the take out menu that lands on your door matt every week.

The first proper restaurant that I visited was in Ningbo. I’ll be honest and admit that I actually it was a sushi style place when I first glanced at the people eating. I went in and motioned that I’d like a table for one. The guy gave me a menu with pictures and a pencil to mark off the items that I’d like. Awesome. Paint by numbers for food! I was really hungry, so frantically started ticking most of the boxes. It all looked good to me.

After completing my little crossword style menu selection, I was shown to a table with a large griddle in the middle of it. When the food arrived, it was raw. There was a selection of cooking implements on the side, so I guessed it was time to roll up my sleeves and get grilling.

The problem with this was that I’m terrible at cooking. Not only am I bad at it, but I also resent doing it to. Especially when I’m ravenous. Not knowing the first thing about how to heat meat, I was sure that I was going to give myself an extra large dose of food poisoning. How would I know when it was done? How bloody long would I have to wait before I could finally satisfy my longing stomach? I didn’t help that I didn’t even know what the hell kind of flesh was in front of me. It had all the ingredients of a recipe for disaster. 

I grabbed the the tongs and haphazardly started lumping the chunks of meat all over the hot plate, taking great delight as they hissed and sizzled as they hit the scalding metal. Maybe this was going to be more fun then I thought!

I even slapped some of the vegetables onto the grill, in fact everything had a go at being toasted save the lettuce leaves that I’d apparently ordered. There was so much food that the waiter had placed it in front of both chairs seated at the table, making it look like I’d been stood up.

Table for 2? No Sir, this is in fact a table for one very greedy, very hungry English girl.

In fact when I looked around the restaurant, I was definitely the only person dining alone. I was also getting some quite strange looks. I’m not sure if it was my solo status, the lack of cell phone surgically attached to my palm, my blondish hair and big blue eyes, or the huge plume of smoke that was now emanating from my table. Looks like dinner’s ready!

Wolfing down the piping hot, slightly blackened cuisine, I did suffer a few third degree burns on the roof of my mouth, but it was so totally worth it. The food was absolutely delicious and that was after I’d butchered and burnt it. I can only imagine how good it would taste with a real cook at the wheel. I quickly dumped some more rations onto the stove, now that some space had been freed up, by the bits that I’d already eaten.

Then came the super confusing part, trying to work out what had been there longest and which slabs I should consume next, especially as the smoke was now reaching critical proportions. A lady even came over motioning that she ought to change the grease proof paper on the cooker thing before I set the whole place on fire.

It wasn’t long before I was full, but that didn’t stop me cramming every last bite into mouth, to the point where I could barely chew any longer. I refused to be beaten and left feeling very satisfied and very very full!

I still really wanted some sushi though, but the raw delicacy had mostly eluded me to that point, so I was delighted to stumble upon a place the very next day, which combined raw fish with the same kind of cook your own affair, which I believe is called a Neolithic DIY barbecue.

This place was another level up from the day before’s establishment, as although it too had a picture symbols menu, the tick boxes to confirm your choices were on an entirely separate piece of paper, with no clue as the which photo corresponded to which food item, save some fancy Chinese writing. Excellent. Now this would be a real treat of my non exisitent Mandarin skills.

It was like a bloody multiple choice exam paper. One that if I got wrong could well end up with me eating fish eyeballs and insect casserole.

The waiter bless him was incredibly patient and kept politely wandering off to give me more chance to complete it, every time he came back to check on my progress. Finally, after about thirty minutes, I was ready to place my order. I’d started to give each of the little symbols names like 的 ladder with ear and 容 square roofed house.

Neolithic Barbecues are my FAVOURITE!

Before I could get too cocky, the food arrived and it was time for me to rustle up some more cordon bleu cuisine. Did you know that there are over 10’000 “Chinese characters” or hànzì! Well I’ve mastered about 3 of them so far. Only 9’997 to go…

The food was exquisite. Mostly because the salmon sushi didn’t need cooking and the kindly waiter helped ease the burden by assisting me with my fire pit oven. He must’ve taken pity on me, either that or there was a warning poster up in a 20 mile radius telling restaurateurs to be on the look out for a little British arsonist.

To be quite honest, except for the chocolate that I ate because I felt that it would melt in the terribly hot conditions here, I’ve hardly touched my emergency rations. In fact I’ve eaten so bloody well that I’ve actually put on about 6 kilos.

It does make me smile though, that when eating with my local hosts, they keep trying to order me the blandest meals. They’re very concerned that I won’t be able to handle anything the last bit spicy. That and they’re terribly worried that I won’t be able to use chopsticks. “Have you been practicing?” They say. Fascinated that I can actually shovel food into my mouth using them. Er yes, for about thirty years. I guess like I’m surprised my the plethora of fast food joints, they don’t expect that we eat hot Chinese food the times a week!

Check out the sweetcorn pizza thing on the right. It was really tasty.

The Adventure Continues…

Wednesday 19th April 2017

So after the palaver getting from Shanghai to Ningbo on public transport the other day, I feel like these memoirs are turning into a cross between a Top Gear Special and Bridget Jones’s Diary. I’m not sure whether I’m more Captain Slow or the Hamster, but I’m certainly no Jeremy Clarkson swanning about in a big Merc.

I would have like to have hired a car for my trip, but China forbids internationals from driving over here, until they’ve passed their Chinese driving test at least. Having observed some of the motor skills that are on display, it seems to me that there are only two rules.

Q) Who has right of way?

Number one: Give way to scooters, mopeds and other miniature motorised vehicles at all costs. This also includes bicycles, rickshaws, tuktuks and preferably pedestrians, but the last one is more optional. However God forbid you should cut up a scooter rider, they will curse, swear and run you down if they have to. The two wheelers definitely rule the road in this part of the world and upset them at your peril.

A) The scooter maniac of course. How dare you black car be in his way?

Rule number two is: blare your horn as often as possible. Seemingly it’s used to display a range of emotions, including, but not limited to; danger, anger, delight, disgust, happiness, frustration, boredom, loneliness, look out, impatience, get out of my way, this is my lane, fear, fear of silence or just because you can.
Other than that, it seems like the highways are a bit of a free for all. You can undertake, overtake, carry dangerously large and unsecured objects wherever you see fit, get out of your car at the traffic lights and inspect the windshield if you so wish. Hell you can even drive along with your miniscule boot/trunk half open, with some poor tourist’s luggage hanging out of the back of it if you really want to.

Oh and by the way, my pants might not be the same size as the infamous journal Queen’s, but my ineptitude is definitely on a par with hers. Having said that though, mostly due to my extensive planning, I am actually still alive. Despite most people betting that I’d be dead in a ditch or similar by now. As one of the cowboys on the ranch said in response to my quip; “Well what’s the worst thing that could happen?”, when he found out that I was going to China alone, “You gonna f**kin’ die. That’s what gonna happen!” He said in his a Wyoming drawl.

Well thanks for the vote of confidence guys. I do like proving people wrong. It gives me immense pleasure. As does living, so it’s a win win really. And not only am I still breathing, but I’m having a ball!

Everybody wondered how I’d get by with my lack of appropriate language skills, but surprisingly, it’s going swimmingly so far, thanks to a mixture of charades, nodding, smiling, pointing and the occasional cheat text translate. I’ve also been churning out my favourite go to phrases “Hello!”, “How are you?” and “Thank you!” with alarming regularity. Plus spicing it up by splashing out my new best phrase “Chin tie chi waa…!” Which means “Please take me to…!” And nobody has yelled at me yet. I haven’t made anybody cry. I haven’t cried. Really it’s all going great.

The beautiful city of Ningbo.

In Ningbo, my hotel was handily situated next to two huge malls and due to a bit of a scheduling change after I’d booked my train tickets, I ended up having a bit of time to myself. Excellent! I’m off to do the tourist thing. First stop, the shops…

Imagine my disappointment then, when I discovered that the mall was stuffed full of H&M, Gap and Tommy Bloody Hillfiger. I could buy that can of gear anywhere in the world. I wanted cool kitsch Chinese chic. I was out of luck. This was all very much regular brand names. There was even a Tesco selling Florence & Fred sweaters with the word “England” emblazoned on them. What a let down.

I ended up not buying a single thing because a) I really hate shopping. b) It was the same kind of standard style items that you could pick up any High Street Store, with very similar sized price tags. c) All the jeans I tried on looked more like shorts on me, and I’m a long way from tall. d) My luggage is already packed to the max. & e) I have no money anyway.

Well on to the more exciting sites then. Next stop the Ningbo Museum please driver.

The very obscurely shaped Ningbo museum.

The museum was a maze of history of the city’s importance through the years. Ningbo is a big coastal city, an hour or so south of Shangai. It’s a very important port area and has long held trade routes to Japan and the rest of Asia, as well as the Middle East and Africa.

Pottery people making pottery.

There were some fascinating exhibits of items dating back over 4’000 years. There was also a huge bamboo carving exhibition as well as a cultural room showing how old China and new China are currently mixing it in the city.

An Oriental Knight in shining armour.

After my fill of artifact admiring, I relaxed in the sunshine in the park, before upsetting a local vendor whom I’d tried to buy some kites from, for my sister’s children, but we’d been unable to reach an acceptable price. Maybe I lied when I said nobody had yelled at me yet. She shouted at me all the way as I walked off down the street. And not in a good, OK you can have them at that price kind of way. Somewhere out there, there is a very angry elderly Chinese lady wanting to beat me to death with two cartoon coveted kites. I knew it was all going far to well…

A nice way to spend a sunny afternoon.

The Ride Of Your Life!

Tuesday 18th April 2017

Arriving at Shanghai’s Pudong International Airport, there was really no other option, than to ride the World’s fastest train into the city. Of course in reality there were plenty of other choices, a taxi, a bus, the regular subway train…, but who wouldn’t want to take a ride on a magnetic levitating train at speeds of up to 430km per hour, and arrive in style?

The 50¥ (about $7.25 / £5.80 / €6.80) one way ticket seemed like a snip and I was soon elegantly gliding down the escalator, with all my luggage, from a zen like waiting atrium, to the very calm platform. The fact that this train only goes from the airport to Longyang Road Station, in the outskirts of the city proper, and back, means that it’s not your usually chaotic train station with people frantically crisscrossing each other, but a rare peaceful and ordered railway environment.

Having heaved my suitcase into the rack by the vestibule, I sat back and waited to be wooshed into town. The Maglev, as it’s known, is exactly that; a magnetic levitating series of carriages that “float” about an inch or so above the track, or guideway to use its technical term. Essentially, it has no moving parts and is elevated and propelled forward using just magnets. And I’m guessing a hell of a lot of them!

The ride was surprisingly smooth and quiet, and if you weren’t looking out of the window at the world whizzing by, you’d barely notice that we’d left the station. I was a little disappointed that during the early evening, when I took the train, that the top speed was limited to 300km/h (186mph) not the usual dizzying 430km/h (267mph). Still, when we passed another Maglev going in the opposite direction, I was fairly glad that we were only in “half speed mode”, as it felt like we might being going to orbit into space.

Go East my friends!

It wasn’t the stomach churning ride I was expecting at all. It was virtually silent, the glide was super smooth, the tilt when you turned a corner was a bit like being in a bobsled run, but it felt effortless, and although the scenery slid part fairly rapidly, it didn’t make me want to throw up my recently ingested aeroplane food. Plus, as soon as it had maxed out, it was virtuality time to start slowing down again, as we neared our destination, the entire journey lasting just 8 minutes and ten seconds.

Buoyed by the ease of my trip so far, I decided to take the metro most of the way to my hotel for the night, rather than copping out and hailing a cab. Beware if traveling to China with lots of luggage though, you do have to screen you bags upon entering every train/subway/Maglev station, which involves manhandling then onto the x-ray belt every time.

Finding my way round was much easier than expected. I even purchased my tickets via an automated machine and swanned through the ticket barriers like a professional. The trains have TVs (showing weird little cartoon adverts), WiFi, and even advertising images projected on the walls of tunnels to look at, as you travel from station to station.

Mobile phone addicts anonymous.

From the subway, I ventured back above ground and hailed a taxi the rest of the way. The traffic was kind of insane, but by now it was rush hour, so it wasn’t much different to any major city at its busiest time of night. By the time I arrived at my pre-appointed place of rest, I was fairly wiped, and after a shower just fell into bed, grateful to finally be able to stretch out and sleep.

The next morning, I was up early and after another shower and a bit of rearranging my luggage, it was off to nearby Shanghai Hongqiao Train Station, billed as Asia’s largest Railway Station, at a whopping 1’3000’000 square meters. All I had to do was get there.

No for those of you who know me well, you’ll be surprised to hear that I actually did quite a bit of planning into my trip. Going alone to China for the first time, having absolutely no handle on the writing or the lingo, I was going to need to be prepared. I even bought travel insurance for only the second time in my life ever. And I’m not ashamed to admit that I’ve been carrying around my passport and cash in a bum bag or fanny pack for the Americans.

Downtown Shanghai. I’m a tourist!

The extensive research that I’d done also told me that without a Chinese bank card, that I’d need to pay for virtually everything in cash and to book my train tickets in advance. There’s no rocking up and hopping on a train out here.

Despite having pre-ordered my tickets, I still had to collect them at the station, and my lovely helpful train ticket sales people had sent me detailed instructions, (including a video to watch!), of how to collect my tickets and a piece of paper to hand to the clerk with all my details in Chinese.

If it sounds complicated, that’s because it is. You even need to give your passport details just to book the ticket and verify your passport when collecting them. You also need your passport to enter the station proper. Plus if you want to collect any tickets in advance, to spare yourself the drama of queuing on the day, then you need to pay an extra 5¥ (72c / 58p) per ticket if it’s not the train station that you’re leaving from.

With this in mind, I set o5f from my hotel a full 2 hours ahead of my train time, not the usual 12 minutes to go like I normally would in Europe, despite the fact that my hotel was only 5km from the station. I was starving having not eaten the night before, so figured I’d have time to grab some brunch before my train left.

On checking out, I politely asked in my best/worst Mandarin for a taxi, but was waved outside, with the kind lady motioning that all I had to do was flag one down on the main road in front of the hotel. Even though the early morning rush should be starting to die down, the roads were still chock a block with people fervently blowing their horns. I stood by the busy highway waiting patiently for a free taxi to saunter up to me, like a knight on his white horse, but soon got disillusioned, so crossed the street to try my luck there instead.

Unfortunately this was equally fruitless and I was not the only one trying and failing to catch a cab. The few empty ones, displaying their green vacant signs, angrily waved off not just myself, but the waiting natives also. I decided a new plan was needed, so wandered off down some side streets to hawk myself their instead. The plus side was that their were far less people trying to stop taxis here, but also far fewer taxis as well. In fact their were none. So, I kept walking and waving frantically until finally, some forty minutes later, I stumbled across a metro stop.

BINGO! I could ride the subway to train station instead. I still had about an hour and a quarter before my train left, and even with the fact that I had to catch three different metros to get to where I needed to be, I should still make it. So I bought another ticket, heaved my bags onto the x-ray unit, picked up a map and set off in search of the light blue number 9 line platform.

Unfortunately the map I’d picked up was in Chinese, but even in Chinese it was still far easier to navigate my way around then when going anywhere on the Paris Metro. If you can master that French maze, than Shanghai will be a piece of cake for you. Hell you could even do it blindfolded if you wanted. Actually not being able to see is probably an advantage over here, because there’s hardly a square inch of pavement or sidewalk or flooring, that doesn’t have telling little bobbles on it to assist the partially sighted.

The visually impaired of China must be dancing in the streets with such a comprehensive system of tactile paving, but when you’re humping around a 23 kilo suitcase plus hand luggage all day, you’ll begin to absolutely detest the textured flooring, as it rips your pathetically wheeled bags from you weary arms for the fiftieth time.

I mean it is very good and I do understand the need for it to be there, but is absolutely everywhere, like a huge blistery rash that’s spread uncontrollably. That and the lack of escalators or elevators through many parts of the subway, started to sour my love of the underground network. Thankfully my knight in shining armour finally got the memo and pitched up just in time to save me.

Step in a very friendly young local gentleman who helped heave my big bag up and down the many steps in my first transfer station. He was great, and with lots of pointing and smiling I managed to convey my route and between us we navigated the way to my second train.

Time was ticking on, but I still wasn’t unduly concerned and started up a text translate conversation with my new travelling companion. Trying to explain that my weighty bags were due to the fact that I’d been at sea for the last 9 months and that this was the sum total of my worldy belongings.

When you think that I’ve been to Alaska, Canada, New Zealand, Europe, The Caribbean, The US and now China, all without going “home” (wherever that might be!), 1 regular sized suitcase and a small wheelie hand luggage isn’t actually too bad considering all the different climates that I’ve visited. But for those of you who’ve already contacted me requesting gifts, souvenirs and reduced priced items from out here, then you can forget it! I’ll bring you back some good thoughts and happy memories and that’s your lot!

When I got to the next interchange station, my new friend insisted upon taking me all the way to the next platform, despite the fact that it was miles away and he was going in another direction. What a guy! I felt mortified. He was smaller than I was and in no better shape to lug my big bag up and down steps than me, but he valiantly heaved my belongings from the number 3 yellow line all the way to the number 2 green track. Bravo young man! You are an honour to your country and pathetic English damsels in distress and I can’t thank you enough. I felt that I’d burdened the guy enough, so didn’t want to hassle him for a selfie, and let him escape once he’d waved me onto my final train. Total legend.

It turned out that this wasn’t actually my final train, as a couple of stops before the end, the train terminated and deposited us all in the platform to wait for a separate shuttle to the airport and railway place. Excellent. I was now running seriously short on time. I knew from my video research that I’d have to get up to the departures hall. Through security. Find the correct ticket booths that accepted foreign passports. Figure out where my train waiting area was. Get through check in part and onto the platform at least 5 minutes before my scheduled departure.

Yeah, that was never going to happen. So by the time the fourth and final metro dropped my at my destination, I didn’t even bother to hurry. The ticket queues I knew to be legendary, so even though I was still technically in time for my train,  I didn’t bother to try and sprint for it and instead conceded that I’d have to try and rebook for a later service.

Thankfully my little Internet travel fairies had even provided me with this phrase…

Show to ticket lady and smile apologisingly.

God bless them, they must’ve known it was me coming! When I finally got to the front of the queue, the poor harassed attendant looked less than happy to see a tardy little white girl stood in front of her, but we gamely battled our way through and she got me set up in a later departure that meant I could get food before I left (yay!), at no extra cost, and even let me collect the rest of my tickets for free because I didn’t have an AliPay card and she refused to accept the cash that I kept trying to shove through the window to pay the 5¥ collection fee. I think she just wanted rid of me, as did the millions of restless locals all queuing patiently behind me.

Success at last! I even had enough time to eat some “local” fast food, shunning both McDonalds, Burger King and KFC in favour of Dicos, where I pointed at the most edible looking item on the board, which turned out to be soup with rice and chicken or fish.

I know the roundy thing is an egg at least.

It was a bit like being back on the ship and not knowing what your eating, but if I had to guess I’d say it more likely had wings than fins when it was still alive, although it could just as easily have had paws or hooves in its previous incarnation, but whatever it was, it tasted darn good and set me up to find my train in the gigantic waiting hall.

If this is the biggest train station in Asia, does that mean that there’s a bigger one somewhere else in the World???

I found my platform number on the supersize information board, went to the waiting area, checked in and successfully found my carriage. I didn’t have a seat because they’d had to squeeze me on as a last minute booker, so for the first time on the trip, my luggage actually came in handy, as it made a very comfortable pseudo seat.

Now all I had to do was not fall asleep and get off at the correct station, which wasn’t too difficult as they did announce the stop names in English as well as Chinese, although when said with a thick Mandarin accent, a lot of the places did sound suspiciously similar. I calculated the approximate journey length though, and sure enough, right on schedule, we pulled into Ningbo, my place of residence for the next few days…

My Magical Mystery Tour Revealed.

Friday 14th April 2017

So after a fab overnight stay in Denver with Sally Ann, where we went to a Korean restaurant and ate way too much, it was back to the airport and off on a new chapter of my life.

I think Sally Ann was trying to acclimatise me to my trip by taking me to the Korean place, as it was a very authentic restaurant. It was patronised by heaps of Oriental folk speaking a dialect that was absolutely incomprehensible to an idiot like me, complete with menus crammed full of complicated squiggly writing, detailing delicacies such as fish intestine soup and deep fried insects. I’m not even joking.

If she wanted to scare me, she’d definitely succeeded. Even with the menu being translated into English as well, it was still darn complicated to decipher, but I did my best to bluster my way through with plenty of bravado, only baulking at the batter wrapped crickets and the raw octopus legs, the latter of which I did make an attempt at, but was unable to chew my way through.

Overwhelmingly good food.

With my taste buds now adjusted to my new timezone, it was time to take to the skies once more. First stop Seattle, next stop Shanghai…!

I’ve done a whole lap of the globe since I was last in Seattle in the summer. Home of the Seahawks and the Space Needle, which you might be able to spot in the far distance.

I think I’ll wait until next time to tell you the true purpose of my trip though, and although Shanghai is not exactly my final destination, we’re getting a lot warmer. I’ve got to keep you all in some kind of suspense right? All I’ll say for now is that I’m not going to the Great Wall of China. Sadly. Oh how I wish I was. If you want to guess my destination, answers on a postcard to 艾米韦弗 (Amy Weaver), 1 Yemen Road, Yemen.

Chinese is a decidedly difficult language to master, especially for those of us used to Roman letters, not hieroglyphics or whatever the correct name for their funky little cartoon character alphabet is. So far I’ve “mastered”; “Hello.”, “How are you?”, “Yes!”, and “Thank you.”. I can’t for the life of me remember what “No.” is though.

No means no right? How many different ways can there be to say this vital little two letter word???

I definitely feel life it’s a huge case of Karma kicking me up the backside for duping guests into believing that I was actually Chinese and spoke fluent Mandarin, back when I was safely on the comfort of the boat, just a few short weeks ago. (See post: Oh how I regret that now. I’m certainly getting an extra large helping of my just desserts.

So there you go. I’ve just arrived in the People’s Republic of China. I’m alone. From now on I’m going to be relying upon the great Chinese public transport network, and I can only say 4 things in Mandarin, one of which isn’t “No.”. Like I told you, this is probably going to be the trip of a lifetime, and very possibly the last trip of my lifetime…