Hong Kong

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Latimer: Well, all things must come to an end and Hong Kong is a pretty nice place to end things.

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I was only really there for one day, but I got to go to the cool Sino Centre, which was like being back in Tokyo, with all the Asian drama and anime stuff.

Then I headed across on the ferry to Victoria Peak to check out the views of the city.

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And then it was more or less homeward bound!

Having been out and about travelling a bit again, reminds me that there is so much to see. As the Discworld’s first tourist, Twoflower, once said:

“Sometimes I think a man could wander across the disc all his life and not see everything there is to see. And now it seems there are lots of other worlds as well. When I think I might die without seeing a hundredth of all there is to see it makes me feel… well, humble, I suppose. And very angry, of course.” 

So true 🙂

A Chinese St Patrick’s Day

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Latimer: I know Saint Patrick’s day is long over, but this year was the first I’d spent ‘off world’ and it was a little out of the ordinary!

I didn’t really expect to see any Paddy’s Day stuff in China and just as well because I didn’t. I had to explain Paddy’s Day to my Chinese guide. In primary school we all learned about Patrick from An Bhreatain Bheag (Wales, that’s what we were told anyway), and how he was kidnapped by the Irish slaver Niall of the Nine Hostages and taken to Ireland.

I got a bit of a way into this story and paused.

‘Well, Saint Patrick’s day itself is more about celebrating your Irishness’; the guide looked confused, so I carried on, feeling the weight of the whole of Ireland bearing down on me. ‘It’s for the people that went away’, I smiled, ‘you know like in China when people leave and then they want to feel connected to home?’

He nodded. I’m not sure I explained it well enough in the end!

It’s just an Irish holiday to celebrating your culture and where you come from, or just having fun (or craic – Irish for fun)!

I spent the day in a monastery! I had fun letting everyone back home know I was in a monastery on Paddy’s Day!

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During the day I climbed the Giant Stone Buddha at Leshan, looking for any ‘signs’ of Paddy’s Day –  haha, which I didn’t find!

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There were no signs – no green, no shamrocks, nothing… BUT! When we got to the monastery to check-in we were introduced to our local guide.

Aside here: in China, people take Western names (like Tom, John, Seamus, Charles) so it’s easier for Western’s to say their names (their parents don’t actually call them John etc). These names are usually given to the Chinese people by their English teachers.

The local guide introduced himself; “Hello, my name is Patrick!” And I just started laughing. Brilliant.

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 So that was my Paddy’s Day in China – a simple name had me smiling all day!

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My Bailey’s Irish Cream drink 🙂

What’s for Dinner?

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Latimer: I’ve said this before (a lot!!), but honestly one of the best things about going to a different country is getting to eat their food! And I’m the sort of person who takes photos of the food they eat and Instagrams them – hence this post is photo heavy!

I love Asia food but I wouldn’t have ever said I particularly liked Chinese food. As with most countries, we have Chinese takeaways in Ireland and they’re fine. But having been in China, I don’t think they are making proper Chinese food (I think it’s Westernized to suit our palettes). But, I wish they weren’t, because as it turns out, proper Chinese food is so freckin’ good!

I was asked a lot about the food when I came home – people would grimace, ‘what did you eat?!’ Well, okay, to be honest in Chinese food, they use everything and the food is always fresh (i.e. the fish is alive in the tank then cooked and put on your plate). It’s harsh to look at, but you have to respect that Chinese people know where their food is coming from; we eat the steak and the pork and we don’t think about how it got there.

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Weighing the fish
And here the fish is cooked moments later (it's called Beer Fish a dish from Yangshuo)
And here the fish is cooked moments later (it’s called Beer Fish a dish from Yangshuo)

And they have some amazing food markets! The Muslim Quarter in Xi’an was one pretty cool food spot…

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Muslim Quarter Xi’an
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The yellow stuff is rice cake
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They are making this sticky bar type stuff from peanuts and honey… beating the crap out of it with mallets!
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A prune, fungus drink… wasn’t nice! 😦
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Roasted walnuts
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Kitchen in the Muslim Quarter
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A kitchen in the Muslim Quarter
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Making fried wraps
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Yummy fried wraps
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Squid on a stick!

From hotpots to noodles, to taro chips… I ate well in China!

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Meet in a bun… sooo good… and spicy cauliflower
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Noodles in Xi’an (they’re known for their noodles – this was the only time I had noodles actually! wow)
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Spicy beef
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Yummy spicy cabbage
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Sweet and sour fish in Beijing
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Dumplings in Xi’an
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Some seriously spicy hotpot in Chengdu (they have the best hotpots apparently!)
Do you see the brains? Yup... I did not try that! ah... ha... nooo...
Do you see the brains? Yup… I did not try that! ah… ha… nooo…
Spicy potato... Love me some spuds!
Spicy potato… Love me some spuds!

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We stopped off at a local woman’s house for lunch in Yangshuo. This green stuff (a type of lettuce I think?!) was soooo tasty… I could have ate the whole plate!
These were homegrown in the above woman's garden... yummy!
These were homegrown in the above woman’s garden… yummy!
Taro chips.... They could give potatoes a run for their money!!
Taro chips…. They could give potatoes a run for their money!!
I went to a cooking class and this was my end result.... not too bad?!
I went to a cooking class and this was my end result…. not too bad?!

If you ever go to China know that you are going to eat well!

And to round things off you’ll find some nice drinks too!!

This beers quite nice... and bloody massive - I could hardly hold it for this photo!
This beers quite nice… and bloody massive – I could hardly hold it for this photo!
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Strawberry soda
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coffee art… how can you drink it now!!
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More coffee art… so cute!!

 

Monkey Madness

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Latimer: Who knew walking up a Chinese mountain to stay the night in a monastery could lead to close encounters of the wild monkey kind? I sure as hell didn’t, but it happened!

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Our Chinese guide said the monkeys of Mt Emei Shan were well-known for jumping onto people’s backs, opening their bags and stealing food (and anything else they could get their hands on). Sometimes they mistook phones and cameras for food and on realising that they couldn’t eat the precious electronics and priceless memories, they’d toss them over the edge of the cliffs.

Nice!

The monkeys had adapted to the influx of people climbing the mountain to see all the temples and monasteries. They were being opportunists – ‘okay cousin humans, you can traipse around our home, but be aware, we are going to steal your crap!’ And, because the monkey’s had no fear of human’s anymore, the human’s had turned them into a tourist attraction (but of course!).

You can buy nuts to feed the monkeys so that they’ll jump up on your back and you can get a photo with them. Wooden bridges have been built along the mountain to allow people the chance of a close encounter… and there are even people called ‘Monkey Police’ (who scare the monkeys away for you if you are about to be robbed).

The monkeys are so unafraid of humans that they get mad when you try and stop them stealing and they get pretty aggressive. So, we were warned to be careful. We were given bamboo sticks to scare them away (not hit them, just smack the ground and scare them). The sticks were cool because walking along a mountain is not the same without a stick!

I didn’t want a monkey to jump on me, but I did want to see them…

On the walk up the mountain the only monkeys I saw were on the ‘encounter bridges’.

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A few people from my group went out – brave souls. One had a monkey jump up onto his back and the rest of us started shouting – “He’s trying to open your bag! He’s trying to open your bag!”

Seriously the monkey was pulling at the zippers; he knew exactly what to do. He didn’t have any luck though, our group member sauntered back, indicating his double-zipped super bag and in a cool American accent, smiled; “This isn’t my first rodeo!” 🙂

I was half-disappointed and half-relieved not to have had more of a monkey encounter. We all made it safely to the monastery on the mountain – the walk to which nearly ended me! I thought, ‘they’ll have to leave me here, I’ll learn Chinese and live off the land!’ – it was rough!

There’s a small kitchen/café near the monastery – the oddest most remote place – and they had the best pancakes, and half the world thinks so too judging by all the messages people had left on the wall – all talking about the pancakes.

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I found some Irish one’s, so that made me smile – these girls, they have v.good Irish!

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It’s a husband and wife duo that run this kitchen (and live above it); I got some photos of the kitchen, xie xie (thank you :-)) to the woman for letting me! Isn’t it an amazing place?

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And this was the monastery we stayed overnight in…

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We stayed one night then headed back down the mountain in the wee hours of the morning – I thought that was the end of my potential monkey encounters… but OH no… they’d only just begun.

The monkeys are very active in the morning as it turns out. There were big groups of them. By the time I’d realised that we were surrounded I was at the back of the group with the tour guide and local guide, when holy crap this big angry male monkey appeared (he was massive!).

I fear feeling fear in front of animals, because I’m always thinking; ‘they can smell my fear!’

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All I could think was the warnings we’d been given; if they jump on you don’t scream (yeah right!) and don’t show them your teeth (that’s an act of aggression in monkey speak).

The tour guide tried to scare the monkey off with the bamboo sticks, and you know what this monkey did? He paused, took one measured look at the stick, and the man to which it was attached, and seemed to say; ‘I’ll have you!’ and charged back at the man, swiping his hand at the stick, trying to whip it away from the guide!

The guide managed to ‘scare’ the monkey away in the end and I scuttled off down the path. It was pretty scary!

Monkeys (and apes) are so intelligent; there’s a new series on the BBC called Monkey Planet and it highlights some really interesting traits that monkeys and apes have! When I watched it I kept getting flashbacks to the smart, scary, monkeys on the mountain!!

The Art of Terracotta

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Latimer: Overnight trains in China are an experience, let me tell you! On my tour I think I ended up taking 4 of them. I was really worried about the first one, because I like my creature comforts; I’m not proper backpacker material at all!

So, standing in an unbelievably crowded Beijing train station waiting to board the overnight train to Xi’an, my mind was racing with the thought – “I really don’t want to do this…”

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Coming from a small Island where the longest journey from one end of the country to the other is probably about 6 hours, I sometimes get overwhelmed by the fact that 14 hours on a train doesn’t even take you from one end of China to another, not by half. It reminds me how vast the country is – I thought you could go to Beijing, see the Wall, then pop off to Xian and see the Terracotta Warriors, almost in the same day – oh what a fool!

The train to Xi’an could carry up to 1,000 people, and it felt like there were 1,000 people waiting to board it. I must have looked like a caged animal – there are more people living in Beijing than there are on the whole island of Ireland, I was well out of my depth!

The train ride wasn’t so bad in the end and by getting to Xi’an I was off to see the glorious Terracotta Army!

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Pit 1
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Pit 1
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Pit 1
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Pit 1
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Pit 2
Pit 3 (a lot left to find eh?!)
Pit 3 (a lot left to find eh?!)
Pit 3 (broken statues!)
Pit 3 (broken statues!)

The Terracotta Army belongs to Emperor Qin Shi Huang – he of the Great Wall fame.

He became the first Emperor of China at age 13yrs and started planning his tomb straightaway. He is buried inside a man-made mound that is overlooked by Mount Li (a scared mountain), in a valley that is considered to have excellent Feng Shui. The Emperor’s body is said to rest with his feet towards the Yellow River and his head towards Mount Li, because this is Feng Shui (which means ‘wind-water’).

The Emperor’s tomb has never been opened – it’s said to be an underground palace with rivers of mercury and Terracotta concubines. The reason it hasn’t been excavated is the technology doesn’t exist to open the tomb without damaging it. And the tomb is booby-trapped.

It’s also said to be full of great treasures. In fact, the whole city of Xi’an is said to rest on top of enough treasures of jade and gold to purchase the whole of America (I might take that with a grain of salt though!). No one’s excavated so it’s hard to know, but if it’s true there could be more amazing things yet to be uncovered in China!

The Terracotta Army stand in battle formation around the tomb of Emperor Qin Shi Huang. They face outward, ready to be led into battle by the Emperor. Each of the men in the army has a different face; this was a mandate by the Emperor, each warrior had to look as unique as any person did. If the artist failed to do this, he was executed and the warrior destroyed.

They used to be brightly painted but once they were excavated the paint faded and was destroyed. They were painted green, pink, gold and blue; bright colours that were lucky and said to fend off evil spirits. The one’s uncovered in recent times are sprayed with special chemicals to keep the paint from fading.

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When the Emperor died and was entombed, the army was buried in underground pits and covered over with wooden planks and grass to hide them from the rest of the world.

But after the Emperor died, there was a rebellion in China (called the Farmer’s Rebellion) and the rebels broke into the Terracotta Army pits to steal the bronze weapons that the army held. On the way out of the pits, the rebels set fire to the wooden planks, this caused a cave-in that smashed and buried the statues, so that today they find the warriors in pieces. There are always archaeologists in the pits trying to excavate the statues and piece them back together.

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3 pits have been uncovered to date. They contain; infantry, chariots (and horses), archers, lieutenants and generals. In the first pit there are estimated to be 6,000 warriors and only 1,000 have been excavated.

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The warriors were discovered in the 1970s by farmers. They discovered the head of one of the warriors in their field. They thought it was bad-luck (evil spirits) to their families and the village, so they smashed the head and brought it to a priest. The priest sent to the cultural department in Beijing and the excavation of the field began.

Today you can meet one of the old farmer’s at the site and shake his hand if you like!

Seeing the warriors, was amazing 🙂

On my way off the site, I managed to pick up my own mini warrior – it’s the General (pronounced Jun-Jwin in Chinese)… 🙂 well I couldn’t leave China without one!

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Previous post: Walking along a Wall

Holiday Food

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Latimer: After my study woes, I’m at last contemplating a holiday – and what’s one of the first things I dream about when I think of a holiday? Food, oh food; I am such a fan of food.

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I’m not a good cook, I try sometimes and I make a mean Kedgeree if I do say so myself, but I don’t try often enough to be considered ‘a good cook’.

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So it’s always a big thing for me, going on holidays and looking forward to eating some nice food!

When Ridley and I went to Tokyo, I was always putting out my hand before she could eat; “WAIT! I need to take a picture!” She got so used to this she’d actually wait sometimes, staring at me, holding her fork poised over the food… “Hurry up.”

I think the food-photo-taking started in Tokyo, but that trip was a major food event. There was so much yummy food to be had… and yes I have a food-porn collection as a result!  

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I also have nice photos of afternoon tea in London…

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I love taking my own photos of food (because it’s like you can then remember how tasty the food was) but I also like seeing other people’s food photos!

There is an amazing artist from deviantart (Jo aka cartoongirl7), that we now follow on Instagram and she takes some amazing food pictures – so amazing – check out her foody photos (she has seriously good taste mwhaha)! http://instagram.com/myrollingstar

Seriously, after the joy of actually going on holidays, food-joy is definitely next on my holiday joy list. I can’t wait to take lots of food photos on my next holiday 🙂

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So It Begins

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Latimer: And so it begins… Christmas shopping… the last ride of the Rohirrim… 

Okay, that might (might) be an exaggeration! But I saw this funny post on Tumblr and it sort of fit:

It’s Christmas, you have one of two feelings:

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Or

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I’m not totally one way or the other, but it feels like this year, Christmas sneaked up on me – then knocked me out with a sledgehammer.

As I stumbled around half-dead for three weeks, I now find myself madly shopping in a delirium of, sweat, confusion and panic, blind panic!

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Over the past few years I’ve found myself buying children’s Christmas presents for nieces and nephews. The last time I had been in a toy shop was to… well, be the one who people were buying presents for! I was the last child I knew!

Now, I have five nieces and two nephews to be buying presents for!

And I panicked. When I stepped into the big toy shop to do my ‘buy, buy, buy SOMETHING… ANYTHING’ Christmas shop last weekend, I faltered. I got confused; really confused.

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I reverted back in time. I stood staring at the Sylvanian Families, laughing; “Aww, still as expensive as ever… oh! The Badger Family, I remember you!” 

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I was a child again. I forgot why I’d come to the shop.

I started looking at all the new dolls, thinking they were cool. Asking myself if a three year old could handle the awesomeness of gothic dolls based on monsters (no, thankfully I came to my senses on that one).

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I bought myself some glitter glue; which I needed for making my Christmas present tags for the kids, but it was weird because, I’ve not had glitter glue since I was a kid!

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Thankfully I did manage to leave the toy shop without going too crazy.

Although my last giddy thought as I left was; “I have money now… I could buy things if I wanted…I could buy the Sylvanian Families cottage/barge/windmill! Oh the POWER!”

I pray the power of the toy shop will not have grown stronger by next Christmas!

Gift Giving

ID-10037232Ridley: So it’s a bit early to be talking about Christmas (well actually never too early in my book!), but I have to say it’s my absolute favourite time of the year. I mean, when do we have such an absolutely fantastic combination of being able to eat loads of chocolate and at the same time give presents? Like, you have Easter, which is great for the chocolate side of things, and then there’s birthdays for the presents, but Christmas is like Easter and a Birthday smushed together! (and obviously I know the whole point of Christmas isn’t just presents and food, but work with me on this!)
Anyway, I love getting presents for people that suits them, it’s fun to see their faces when they open up something they’ve always wanted or least expected and never knew they wanted. So, while it’s still early, I have begun to look for the unusual presents you can only get online and that can take awhile to get here once ordered. In the interest of helping others with their present searching (cause I’m nice like that), here are some of the best things I’ve found for sale on my favourite craft site, Etsy.com (and yes, it is a case that I’ve been just sharing all my internet procrastinating haunts, but they’re good!!)

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Absolutely beautiful and colourful handmade jewellery. They’re a little like stain glass, aren’t they?

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Have a charm bracelet or want to start one? Here’s some Christmas charms! So dainty!

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PaperMatthew

Paper sculpture, so brilliant, there’s real craft gone into these. Usually the actually sculptures are a little expensive for my wallet, which no doubt reflects the skill and amount of time that’s put into them, but they currently have a sale on, and you can pick prints of the sculptures too.

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asherjasper

Handmade wool and felt toys! So unique, and you can get custom ones made for you!!

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Kreativlink

I absolutely adore unusual notebooks and journals, here some beautiful and unique ones!

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Some really cute artwork and designs. Mind, there’s loads of fantastic artists on both etsy and on deviantart, maybe if you wanted something unusual for that special someone, why not think about supporting some of these unknown but absolutely fantastic artists?

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And everyone, just to get you into the Christmas spirit, here’s the new John Lewis Christmas ad. It really almost brought a tear to my eye. Absolutely stunning!!