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A letter to London’s pigeons

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Dearest Pigeons,

I am writing with regards to the recent unpleasant experiences I have had with you and fellow members of your species.

If I may, allow me to begin by drawing your attention to the typical quirks of British behaviour, specifically the values of the Britons residing in London. The City of London is a cosmopolitan one, and – I like to believe – inclusive. Yet, I am sure none need reminding of the unspoken and unwritten conventions that regulate public behaviour. One need only think of journeys on the tube to know that London commuters favour minimal eye contact; exchanges between strangers rarely ever extend beyond “Hello, how are you? – Fine, and you? – Fine”, before both parties move on; and, unlike in the colder, northern recesses of the country*, Londoners are not over-friendly, and never too close.

Your kind, on the other hand, despite starting out more British (in this particular regard) than we ever were – flapping away as soon as a fellow human got a little close – have become so accustomed to our presence, that our behavioural norms concern you no more. No longer do the habits of Londoners influence you. Oblivious to our customs, it is as if you have lost all regard for our personal space, caring not for offending us with your total disregard for it.

Allow me to take this opportunity to remind you that, I, for one, value my personal space, and consider your ‘closeness’ to me an invasion of privacy. Swooping directly above me – flaunting your superior ability of independent flight – is tolerable,  but flapping your wings mere inches from my face is NOT okay, and trying to eat my sandwich with me is most definitely NOT okay.

On behalf of my fellow citizens, I request and implore you to adopt more British values, to learn from the way we interact with each other and implement your findings in your interactions with us. While I understand that societies and cultures are constantly transforming, and in fact, I encourage societal and behavioural advance, the changes as dramatic as the ones you are attempting to enforce take many generations before being accepted.

I would very much appreciate if the issues highlighted in this letter are considered seriously, allowing us to work together to foster a relationship of mutual respect and distance, benefiting both the humans and the pigeons of London.

I look forward to working with you, and thank you in advance for your cooperation.

 

 

 

*It’s called a joke, guys. I’m pretty much one of you; take no offence.

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新年快乐 – Happy New Year!

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Before the surprise even registers in your mind, yes, yes – I am still around. Just quickly accept that and pretend this post is nothing unexpected. I know I’ve been quiet for over 6 months, but now is not the time to offer any reasons or explanations for my absence. Rather it is the time for fresh starts (perhaps not for my blog though), and even though I’m still late on the bandwagon with this, Happy Chinese New Year!

The truth is, I’ve been missing China more than usual in the past couple of weeks, and the New Year celebrations only served to make me more nostalgic. Last Friday, in an event organised by us, a SOAS lecture hall was transformed into a Chinese scene, for an evening of performances and food to inaugurate the Year of the Horse. I have a few pictures of the evening, and though they’re not particularly clear (in fact, they’re pretty rubbish quality, but there’d be no substance to this post without the pictures) many of the performances themselves made us very nostalgic.

Some of the decorations: a fish represents bountiful wealth

Some of the decorations: a fish represents bountiful wealth

The group below had come from a primary school in Beijing. They gave a performance to be admired, especially given how nervous they must have been!

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The girl below in the red dress performed a traditional dance from the Xinjiang province. It was probably my favourite performance, particularly because my own trip to Xinjiang was unforgettable and amazing (which you guys don’t really know, because I never got round to finish writing about it…) Either way, it brought back good memories of my travels and experiences, like the time we tried on Kazakh style dresses exactly like the one she is wearing, on our trip to the Heavenly Lake. *sighs dreamily*

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In a presentation about Chinese culture, this picture just goes to show the important role that alcohol has to play.

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And finally, despite not being the final performance, the last pictures I have are of this very traditional Han dance, complete with fans.

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Xinjiang: Urumqi, Day 1

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It’s been a while since I posted. Again. As mentioned in my last post, my laptop has been totally unusable from a few days after final exams finished, then I was off travelling, and then the last week in China was pretty hectic anyway. Yes, I’m now back in London, but I can still say that I was in Beijing last week! That’s something, right?! I arrived back last Friday evening, and… I already miss China. It feels very surreal (still), and I have this feeling like I’m still supposed to be going back. I can’t be staying here, like, permanently now,  can I…?

Don’t get me wrong, London is an amazing place to live and I love it (don’t talk to me about prices, don’t talk to me about prices, don’t talk to me about prices….) but my year abroad in China has been full of so many amazing (and some less so amazing) experiences and I am 100% glad I did it. No regrets whatsoever. More of that later, maybe. But for now, I’m gonna go back almost a month to the 11th of June – the start of my travels to China’s far West: Xinjiang.

During our travels, I wrote the old-fashioned way, on paper – so here goes typing it up and inserting pictures, of which there are many!

Arrival in Urumqi

After landing at the airport in Urumqi, one of the first things I noticed that I thought was pretty cool was seeing signs in Chinese, Uyghur AND English.

Good English, as usual…

We made it onto a shuttle bus into the city, on which the only seats remaining were one right at the back squashed between luggage and the men to which the luggage belonged, and one seat up at the front next to the driver. Coordinating where we should get off wasn’t made any easier this way, shouting across the minibus, earning us stares from the other passengers. Nevertheless, by the time we got off somewhere on the road our hotel was on, both Beth and I already loved the city. Unfortunately, local buses still confused us, after getting on two that didn’t get us to the right place, we took a taxi…which drove about 2 minutes back up the road, and dropped us off opposite our hotel.

After dropping our stuff, we decided to go to one of the city’s main parks which wasn’t too far from us, Hongshan Park (Red mountain park), named for a red pagoda at the top of a hill inside the park. As soon as we left the hotel and made to cross the road, Beth grabbed my arm and shouted “CAKES!” and started pulling me towards a little shop she’d noticed just a couple of doors away from our hotel. Of all the little bakeries and similar places I’ve seen in China (mostly Beijing) this one was by far the best…it could win on one factor alone: It was clean.

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The fact that the cakes/biscuits were tasty and looked delicious was just a bonus 🙂

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We bought a few each, sat down and ate, at which point I counted all the different baked goods on sale and panicked when I reached 30, realising that would mean eating 10 a day if I wanted to try them all before we left Urumqi. Yeah…they were that good.

This little bakery was where we learnt our first word of Uyghur: Thank you – which is pronounced ‘rahmet’.

As we were entering the park, we saw a guy selling yoghurt…and decided to buy some. We realised that if we wanted to keep eating this way, we might as well forget set mealtimes. Who needs mealtimes anyway, when you have so much to choose from all the time… and so little time to actually choose?

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A cooling yoghurt snack/drink

He filled cups with cold yoghurt out of his mobile fridge, added sugar and nuts on top, and only half-smiled when we said ‘rahmet’. But when we asked if he could tell us how to say ‘tasty’ in Uyghur, he smiled more and replied: I don’t know, I’m not Uyghur, I’m Hui.
Oops.

Hongshan Park is lovely: white picket fences, plenty of shady greenery, a bit of a fairground inside, including but not limited to a ferris wheel, from the top of which we had a (clear, unpolluted!!) view of most of the city. From the top of the hill where the pagoda stood, there was this sign on a railing, beyond which was a rocky drop down to the main road…

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Beyond the railing

The sign on the railing

The sign on the railing

I don’t think anyone who wanted to cherish their life would willingly try to cross that road…from up there.

On another part of the railing, there were countless padlocks crammed onto any free space, engraved (scratched, to be more accurate) with the names of friends or couples… Beth correctly pointed out the romance in what the padlocks symbolised in terms of relationships.

After the park, we tried to find the well known International Bazaar because the hotel reception desk had told us that the Wuyi Night Market (famous for its many different food stalls) had closed down, something we  had not come across in our research. We found another small bakery on the way to the bazaar, got caught in a torrential downpour and incredible winds that pretty much forced us back inside the shops, which were selling headscarves and abayas! That’s not what you think of when someone says China, right?

And what about this scene? (The picture doesn’t do it justice, take my word for it: it was beautiful!)

Beautiful scene

Beautiful twilight scene

The stormy weather meant that we found a little underground market, but didn’t find the actual International Bazaar. I went into a mosque to pray, the first time I’d done that in a long time. Trying to avoid the storm meant that it had become quite late by the time we got back to the hotel. Lots of places started closing what we thought was quite early, but maybe this was because of the weather, rather than the time?

By the end of Day 1, or even halfway through the day, Beth and I have both already decided that we are coming back to this city. That’s gotta say something about the place.

Beth’s input
“I want to live here forever. I want to get a padlock and go with my hypothetical boyfriend to lock the padlock onto the railings in Hongshan Park and then go back after I’m married to find it. And therefore I have to live in Urumqi when I’m older!”

Good logic there.

Attempting to describe Urumqi, I’d say it’s definitely much greener than expected, we both expected barren deserts or something, it’s definitely much greener than Beijjng, there are way less people, it’s hilly (Xinjiang is a mountainous region) and the air is fresher! There are less people smoking, less dogs (in fact, I can hardly remember seeing any today), no spitting spotted yet, and there are dessert places! Yum! Urumqi is a city with a totally different look to any of the other Chinese cities I’ve visited.

Nuts, raisins, chocolates – clean and tidy!

A painted electricity box, showing a woman holding Xinjiang’s famous ‘nang’ (naan)

It’s a lovely city with a friendly vibe, beautiful weather, a bustling lifestyle and plenty of small cake shops to satisfy those sweet cravings 🙂

Bakery no. 2!

Skies, sirens and Summer!

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I’m sitting here, pretending to revise for an exam tomorrow, and looking out the window at the sky.

It’s a strange colour.

A disgusting colour in between yellow and grey.

Apparently this is what you get when you cross Mongolian sandstorms with Beijing pollution.

It is a sight extremely off-putting. If I could take a picture that would accurately depict it to you all, I would, but alas. It’s probably for the best anyway, the weather wherever you’re reading this from is definitely better, no competition.

In other news, earlier today we heard a lot of sirens. This might sound like a completely normal (but of course, unfortunate) occurrence to most of you, but it took us a while to register that those indeed were sirens we were hearing. This was unusual. Extremely unusual. I can safely say I can count on one hand the number of times I have heard sirens here. Wait… make that, ‘ on one finger’. I have NEVER seen any flashing lights here, not a police car, not an ambulance, not a fire brigade, let alone hear them often. So it turns out, the sirens apparently only get used for official government business, or something. I wish I knew more to tell you, but I don’t. The reason however is probably linked to the fact that today is the anniversary of the Tian’anmen Square massacre. Contradictory, to this article, my internet is not acting up today….

However, yesterday was the deadline for our SOAS research project, and in true China style, our internet totally died on us on Saturday night! Since we had to renew our internet sometime in December, it’s been doing this occasionally, and each time we just unplug everything and restart the router. (We clearly know a lot about techie stuff…but to be fair, when it happened the first time, we called the internet company guy, he came round and did exactly that, which is where we learnt from..) Sometimes, it takes a few tries before we’re able to resurrect it, but this time, after multiple restarts (and multiple hours) and still no luck, we did what we could sans-Internet, hoping it’d be back Sunday morning. Of course not. Luckily, a few friends live really close by, the closest being across the road from me, so I went and camped out there to steal her internet, finish my project and send it off. Phew. Our internet really knows how to pick the perfect time to strike.
It’s all fixed now, obviously.

In yet other news, I had my last class at uni in Beijing EVER on Monday. It also so happened to be that annual day where you must add one to your age, which obviously called for… PARTY!!! Obviously. Naahhhh….. Bang in the middle of final exams, and essay deadlines, perfect timing! But soon to all be over! As much as I’m looking forward to finishing uni this year, being done with exams, and going back to enjoy the amazing place that London is, I’m starting to really notice the little things I’ll miss about Beijing. The pollution is definitely not one of them.

And oh my God, this time next week, I’ll be in Urumqi, Xinjiang!! Bring on the Summer holiday!

The Bird’s Nest

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A long, long time ago, in a land far away…

We went to Beijing’s Olympic Stadium, aka The Bird’s Nest.

This is why it is called the Bird’s Nest:

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One of the few aesthetically-pleasing sights in Beijing

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Detail of the exterior

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My kite will go on

These kite things are pretty cool when you’re actually there to see them; they just go on and on and on… And they’re surprisingly ‘heavier’ to keep hold of than they look. Beijing’s wind can get very strong! In fact, today was extremely windy. Outside were lots of fallen branches, and inside, all I could hear through the flat was the sound of wind trying to blow the door down.

Back on topic, the stadium has a capacity of 80,000, and being inside reminded me of being inside Old Trafford Stadium (that was a fun road-trip, eh? You know who you are 🙂 ).

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Somewhere near the top

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Somewhere near the bottom

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Some Olympic-torch bearing, colourful dress wearing, running women outside the stadium

It was a bit of a grey day that particular day:

The three of us before we went in

The three of us before we went in

And unfortunately, it began pouring down…

The three of us

The three of us after we came out

We were taking shelter from the rain under one of the few covered areas at very-far-apart intervals down the side of the very-long-and-completely-open-to-the-elements walkway back towards the metro station.
There is a Chinese idiom that describes the above picture perfectly, in my opinion. 落汤鸡 luo tang ji = literally, like a drenched chicken, aka SOAKED THROUGH.

This brings me to the Water Cube.

Isn't that just so smart?!

Isn’t that just so smart?!

The above was a picture I took of a floor tile, inside the Water Cube, the colloquial name for the Beijing National Aquatics Centre, which is built alongside the Bird’s Nest.

Olympic Pool

Olympic Pool

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The diving pool

It was all beautifully blue inside, and I really liked it. Admittedly, I don’t remember watching much of the Beijing Olympics (or much of any of the Olympics for that matter… >_> ) but imagining that records were broken in the stadium and pool I was in on that day is pretty exciting!
There was also a little scene out of London inside the Water Cube, which I posted pictures of recently.

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A sign on the door on the train… Nice.

Last week, I saw a station on the subway called Biomedical Base. Doesn’t that just sound so suspicious? I imagine some undercover experiments going down, with other branches around Beijing.

To positivity!

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Well, what a difference a day makes… A few days, even – because over the last few days, I’ve definitely reconciled myself with the fact that despite the approaching deadlines being such a bad way to end a year abroad on, and despite the fact that so many of us are just looking forward to going home, myself included, there is no escaping the fact that time is running out, and it’ll never come back. So seeing as going back home is determined for that date, why not really go for it and actually ENJOY what time is still left? Because I’m sure before I know it, I’ll be back in London, full of regrets for having let those last few weeks slip by, and well, in the end, we only regret the chances we didn’t take.

I started out saying that this blog would include my feelings and thoughts while in China; if it’s the case that my feelings and thoughts happen to be negative and that’s what I want to record, so be it. I’m not going to censor out the bad and only include the good, if that’s not the case. I want it to be a true representation of how I feel/felt during the course of my year abroad. There have been good and bad times in equal measure… definitely more good than bad actually, but the bad tends to stick out, doesn’t it? However, the current of melancholy that’s been running through some of the more recent posts ends now.

Besides, there is still so much more to tell, I still haven’t written about some major tourist spots, such as the Great Wall and the Forbidden City (from way back in October, when my parents came!, and which I don’t remember details of clearly now… ), or the more recent trips from the Labour Day holiday, when I went to the Olympic Forest Park (beautiful) and Happy Valley Amusement Park (let’s not try summarise this in a single bracket just yet…)

Anyway, London exists in Beijing too…

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There’s no phone inside, but let’s continue pretending you hadn’t noticed…

Photos taken at the ‘Water Cube’, Beijing’s National Aquatics Centre, constructed for the 2008 Olympics.

Optimism is an attitude that will serve me well for the next few weeks!
To positivity! Ganbei! (Cheers, in Chinese 🙂 )

Conflicting emotions, don’t you just hate them?

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At the moment, I’m going through some big-time conflict regarding my attitude towards China and my feelings about the very short time left here. With recent events, I’m finding it a little more difficult to be as excited and positive as I was about these last weeks.
I know I had wanted to make the most of it, and I know that I should. I know that this is a once-in-a-lifetime chance, and though I’m sure I’ll come back to China in the future, I’ll never get a chance quite like this. Logically, I know all of that. But I still can’t get past this feeling of…restlessness that’s crept over me so suddenly. I’m looking forward to going home, to be back in familiar surroundings, to be around my family. Restless, because I know it’s coming – In two months from today, I will be back in London – but because I’m also aware that I still have to get through the next few weeks. This is the crux of the conflict: I want to be home, but I also am aware that I should spend the remaining time in a way such that I do not regret it in the future, possibly even as soon as I land back in London :p (And I know that as soon as I am home, I will want to be back in China. Sigh, why are you so troublesome, emotions?)
Despite logically knowing all this, it’s always easier said than done. The point of all this was to say that I think blogging is a good outlet, and I’m going to try and post every day, in the hope that using this blog as somewhere I can record what I’m doing might help me to keep focussed on what I need to do. The sooner I get out of this rut, the better, considering the limited time left!

The List
Currently, the list of what I need to do largely consists of completing this 6000-7000 word research project – deadline 3rd June; planning what I’m doing/where I’m going after our term finishes on 7th June, and university exams, which, we think, are going to be sometime during the week of 3rd – 7th June. Oh, also to do anything and everything I can – I’m only a student in China for one more month, after all! Ah, that reminds me… maybe do the work we get given from university too.

Plan of action
Be a perfect student and work a little on the project every day (hah!)
Don’t worry about researching travel destinations. Book a ticket somewhere and take it from there. (Sounds like a plan, no?)
Say ‘yes’ immediately to anything and everything friends suggest, within boundaries of eating and sleeping. (…Apart from the Great Wall Rave this Saturday. Getting myself drunk is not something I wish to do)
Spend all your spare time studying for university… (Spare time is the time left over AFTER procrastination, right?)

Update coming soon!

P.S. I’m kinda actually looking forward to comparing this post with a post written in my actual last few days in China. It’ll be interesting to see how quickly this change comes about, I’ll be sure to let you all know when this fresh burst of positive energy makes itself known to me!