[PHOTO: Taken from the huge wall sized window in the communal room of our “hostel”]
So, if you have me on ANY social media platform (Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Wechat, WhatsApp etc…), you can probably guess what this post will mainly be about.
Work has been non-stop and as crazy as ever. We start to get the hang of our curriculum and the weekly routine, and then BAM a new thing is dropped on us and we’re expected to fit it into one of our five 35 minute lessons a week with the kids. I’m quite enjoying it though, I feel very fortunate I’m in Grade 5 and not in Kindergarten like the rest of my pals. But this isn’t a post moaning or groaning about work… this is about my weekend trip to Shenzhen!
At 11.50am Friday afternoon, I made a mad dash from work, to the bus stop and waited for Kyle, Kim and Danielle. We all headed to Subway (not the healthiest, but definitely the quickest) and grabbed a quick lunch. Kim was hanging around the free WiFi until 1.11pm for the massive Taobao (Chinese version of eBay on steroids) “single-day” sales. Single day is on the 11th of October (the 11th month) of each year, and it’s basically like the western black-Friday times 1000… I left her and Kyle there, munching on their free cookies and hopped on the bus heading back to Dong Yuan (East Garden). It was so cold for a couple of days last week, Friday it was down to about 14`C, bearing in mind less than 2 weeks ago it was 34`C… So back to my little apartment I went, and had probably the most productive lunch break of my life. I did all the dishes left over from cooking the night before, I did a load of laundry and hung it up to dry in my drying-tent, cleaned/tidied the apartment, packed my trusty yellow weekend bag and even had chance to finish reading Frankenstein and rest my eyes for a few minutes! To say I was impressed with myself is an understatement… Back to school on the bus I went (the bus with the little box character somewhere in the name) and caught up on some paper work and marking and prepped for my Monday lessons.
On Friday the kids get to leave early with their parents dropping in to collect them from class. I managed to make my getaway at about 4.55pm, and went out to wait for the bus. The bus is supposed to be every 10 minutes, but, on Friday home-time time… no chance. I waited there in the cold until 5.25pm and had to rush home to change and make sure I had everything together. Thank god for my productive lunch break.
Because of where I live here, kind of in the middle of nowhere and in its own little bubble, we have to use private taxi drivers, our usual is a guy called Sam. So, Sam sent his other driver friend to pick me up at 6pm and he took me to Guangzhou South Railway Station where I was supposed to be meeting Cassie, a Newcastle girl also working for Worlda who I went out with last weekend too. Cassie is not the best at arriving on time, so I was hanging around for a good while until she arrived from the metro exit D and into the station. We took out tickets and headed up to the gate. The train station was huge. More like an airport. Onto the train we went and only 35 minutes later we were arriving into Shenzhen Bei (North). It’s about an 80 mile journey, but thanks to the China speed trains, nice and quick and only about £7 each way.
We had to go from the station to the metro and a couple of changes later, and an infuriating ticket machine or two, we’d met up with Carol and were in a taxi on the way to our hostel. This hostel, I don’t even think we can call it that, but, let’s call it a “hostel” to save arguments… It was called L&B Hostel and, honestly, I think it was just someone’s [very large] apartment that they had converted a few rooms into dorms. It was dodgy as hell but we really didn’t have much choice in the matter as it was pushing 10pm by the time we made it there. As there ware only 3 of us, not the original 6 after the others bailed, we were in a 4 bed dorm room with a very moody Chinese girl. We crashed pretty hard that night and set an alarm for 6.30am.
I had an awful night’s sleep worrying we’d missed the alarm and were too late to make it to the Colour Run that morning. We grabbed a taxi at just gone 7am, a proper meter one now we were in the city, and headed to Shenzhen University Park on the outskirts of the city. We were all pretty damn tired but excited none the less. We seemed to be some of the first to arrive and we picked up our “event bags” which consisted of: a sports drawstring bag, a t-shirt, a sports-head-band, flower lei, a sachet of colour powder, an event number, some temporary tattoos, and probably something else I’m forgetting! We waited patiently (in McDonald’s) for the event start time, and joined the crowds of Chinese, and few westerners under the big inflatable START arch. There were photographers, press and even drones everywhere ready to capture all the moments of this annual event. We snapped plenty of pictures and selfies along the way while we walked the 5k and chatted the whole time. At each 1k (I think) point there was a big “colour station” where volunteers would sprinkle, throw, douse, and bombard all the participants in flurries of a certain coloured powder. Each station was a different colour and there was music blasting to add to the party atmosphere. Half way there was even a foam station which I’m not sure was a great idea with powder paint! It was fun anyways so that’s all that matters I guess! As we reached the finish line we were given a medal and another packet of colour powder. This was when everyone celebrated and threw their paint about and at each other. It was amazing. Colour and powder everywhere! Random people throwing a fist full of coloured powder at people they don’t know, releasing some pent up anger!
The after event wasn’t the best, it was, unsurprisingly, all in Chinese and was a lot of crowd rallying with very little response from the crowds. We stayed for a good while though, threw some more paint powder, and got some more photos. We then walked a good 20 minutes to the nearest metro station, stopping in on a mall called Coco’s, which supposedly had a bar strip somewhere, but we couldn’t find it! We headed back to the hostel, a 50 minute metro ride with a change or two, and well and truly flopped. We intended to do a quick turnaround: shower, change, food and back out… but this obviously didn’t happen. The paint was much harder to get off than expected and there was only one shower for the 3 dorms on our side of the “hostel”… Me and Carol tried our best to do some research to find out where we should go for a drink or two that evening, and most importantly, the location of the Shenzhen Beer Festival.
Much later than expected we made our way to Fumin Metro station and started our journey out into the night, unsure of what lay ahead. We ended up in a pretty cool end of town with more BBQ stalls than we could ever count. The streets were literally lined with them, the alleys were overflowing and the roads were at gridlock. We walked a little further until we came to a white tiled pedestrian street and turned in, hoping to find the beer festival. Obviously, because this is China, and that would have been way too easy, we did not find the beer festival, just a bar for one of the breweries that was attending the festival; “Bionic Brew”. It seemed we weren’t the first to make this mistake but we were already so hungry we decided to stop for a drink and some grub before correcting our mistake and hopping in a taxi.
In the taxi we were a bit wary because our “hostel” wasn’t exactly central and we didn’t want to end up stranded in the middle of Shenzhen while taxi’s refuse to drive us so far home probably at about 2am later that night. The taxi driver stopped, seemingly in the middle of nowhere outside an abandoned building site, and motioned for us to get out. A little uneasy we stumbled out of the car and thankfully caught sight of a big banner: “THE 2ND ANNUAL SHENZHEN BEER FESTIVAL” Getting pretty excited now we made our way through the first deserted warehouse, and we bumped into some rather drunk westerners holding each other up as they wobbled back towards the main road. Finally, we knew we were heading the right way!
Through another building site or two, down a path lined with storage contains, and around the corner, we could hear the music pumping from speakers and hurried our pace. My eyes lit up as we eventually got to the entrance gates. A long avenue of trees, fairy lights, beer stalls, and at the very end, a live band… we’d made it! The event had started at 1pm; it was now closer to 9pm, so they knocked off 20rmb for us. We paid 80rmb for our entrance and in return we were given a proper festival style fabric band, and a token for one free beer of our choice, from any of the stalls. Completely overwhelmed by the number of foreigners in attendance, and the crazy amount of choice of breweries to choose from, we wandered down to the band in silence, eyes flitting left and right, taking it all in. We swiftly moved on to finding which beer we would like to spend our free token on, and tried a few testers before handing over the small black disk. I’d spotted a brew about halfway down that had an option of the ever elusive and hard to come by, cider. I made my way through the crowd, listening to all the English conversations around me, and asked for a glass of Demon Cider, unfortunately, due to my excitement, I forgot to take down the name of the brewery at which it was made! I did chat to the owner on my 2nd trip to the stall though, and he said that he had been brewing since the 70’s but only brought his craft to Shenzhen in the mid 2000’s. The cider went flat pretty damn quick, but my god was it good to taste that golden liquor!
We stayed there until it was all over, chatting to some others, mingling a little, and strangely enough, Cassie bumped into a friend she’d made while visiting Japan who just so happened to now be working in the city and at the beer festival too! Crazy how small the international circuit really is. We were a little worried about what to do next; when the event closed we’d be ushered out into the streets, a long way from home, or even another bar. Thankfully, we managed to grab a few seats on the free bus they’re organised to ferry those of us not ready to end the night, to a bar of one of the local breweries, and yep, you guessed it, we wound up back where we had started the night; Bionic Brew! This time however, it wasn’t just the 3 of us with a few other randomers, there was roughly about 50 people hanging around and drinking on the pedestrian street.
The beers in the Bionic Brew; yes they were craft beers in fancy glasses and probably tasted amazing to a connoisseur of the fine liquid, but… I am neither rich nor picky when it comes to my beer. So, myself and a few others, shamefully, grabbed a few £1 beers from the next door BBQ place and joined the crowd. We stayed for a good hour or two and around 1.15am, me and Carol shared a similar look, a look of; I’m tired, nothing interesting is going to happen, lets head home… Cassie, the 3rd member to our trio, was having too much fun catching up with her friend and was way on the way to being very drunk, while me and Carol… not so much! Cassie stayed out with her friends and partied the night away while me and Carol hailed a cab and made our way back to the “hostel”. I forgot to mention, we also had a curfew… The guy at the hostel, the one who spoke the most English had asked us what time we would be back… We looked at him a bit clueless and said, we’re not sure, depends what happens! This answer was not sufficient, it turns out we didn’t get a key or entrance pass of any sort, so basically, this poor lad had to stay up in the communal area until all guests were back safely tucked up in their (rather quite lovely and large) beds… poor guy! So when we got back to the “hostel” at 1.45am (15 minutes before we told him we would arrive home), he was fast asleep on the sofa. We gently woke him and sent him off to bed while we relaxed and munched some crisps while chatting about the evening we’d just had.
It was a really good day. Busy, long (my god so damn long, I swear the two events were on separate days?!), eventful, and at some points, okay, a lot of points, made us cry out “Oh China! Why do you do this to us?! Why is everything so hard?!”… But hey, I’ve not had one of those days in a while, and at least I had 2 others to share my pain with. Plus, what did we expect, we were trying to do 2 really cool things, in a city none of us were familiar with, with very little planning… we should have just been thankful we made it to Shenzhen at all! The evening was one of those nights where we had such high hopes, such high expectations, we were planning on drinking a lot, partying a lot, and having a really incredible time… not much of that actually happened. We had a good time, don’t get me wrong we really did, but it was tainted a little by how much effort and time it took to FINALLY make it to the beer festival, and how many road bumps we hit along the way while trying to get there… It was one of those nights that nothing went right and it just didn’t really get started. BUT like I said, we really did have a good time…
The next day was a total write off. Me and Carol were fine and headed to Starbucks for breakfast, while poor Cassie buried her head in her pillow and was dead to the world, only awaking to finish another can of Fanta. Carol’s bus was leaving at about 4pm, so she headed off pretty soon to make sure she was there on time. Me and Cassie on the other hand, our train wasn’t leaving until 7.03pm (annoyingly I thought it was 7.30pm, which almost caused an issue… keep reading…). While Cassie slept the day away, I caught up on a little bit of reading, and, yes, also kind of slept the day away. She finally arose from her slumber, got herself sorted and packed and we headed out of the “hostel”, leaving about 3 or 4 hours after the very generous 2pm check out time. And so began the hectic and stressful journey home on Sunday night.
Our taxi driver was way too busy playing poker on his phone to pay attention to where we asked him to take us, or to even pay that much attention to the road, and I’m pretty sure this is why we got so off track. The taxi ride was only supposed to take 20/25 minutes, and about 15 minutes into the ride, he asked me again where we were going… this made all my confidence drain form my body and slip into the sticky backseat flooring. I showed him our tickets and he then made a swift U-Turn in a huff. At this point, I opened up the maps app on my phone to check our location and to get a rough gage of how far off we were from our destination. To our dismay (but not surprise), we had not been heading in the right direction at all. Imagine a clock face. Our hostel was at 5pm, the train station was at 2pm, our location at that time in the taxi was 9pm…
I looked at Cassie (who was still looking a tad worse for wear) and said “Oh well, at least we’ve still got an hour!”… she looked back at me, worry spread across her face: “Charlie, the trains at 7.03, not 7.30… we’re going to miss it.” Well, sh*t son! With nothing we could do to make him drive quicker, we sat back and watched both the clock and the blue blinking dot on my map, making its way slowly towards the station. Unbelievably we made it into the huge station with 15 minutes to spare. Cassie did a mad McDonald’s dash while I waited with the bags and looked for our gate. Thankfully there were 2 gates we could go through to get to our train, and we were slap bang in the middle of them both. Finally, one point to us! (So what does that make it now? China 5, us 1?) The short journey back to Guangzhou South went with ease; we just spoke about the previous night and sorted out some rough plans for the last weekend of November (I’ll come back to that in a minute).
So, we’d made it back to Guangzhou, the last stretch. For Cassie, it was a metro ride, for me, another taxi. It’s safe to say my taxi experiences that weekend were not going well, and this was no exception. There were 3 different taxi ranks, I had no idea what the differences were, so I started at the one closest to the building. Nope, after waiting in a queue of about 20 people, I got to the front, showed the driver my address, just for him to wave me away and pointed to the next taxi rank. Off I trot; thankfully the first one was the only one with people waiting for their turn to hop in a taxi. Again, I showed my address, same response. Obviously the one I needed was the last one, the ones furthest away, and the one that had only 2 taxi’s waiting, and both drivers sat around smoking. The guard came to me and looked at my address; he very kindly smiled, nodded and opened up the taxi door for me. All the while, the driver was chunnering away in Chinese, getting in a right huff with the guard and motioning for me to get out of his backseats. The guard stuck by his guns, and insisted I stayed where I was, and had a few very loud choice words for the driver who eventually stubbed out his cigarette and got in behind the wheel. He pulled away and took my phone to read my address. He read it back to me. And read it back. And read it back again. He turned to look at me (while driving) and said it one more time, and made the universal gesture of “phone someone”. Who was I to phone? I shouldn’t have needed to phone anyone! I live in a very well-known community complex that was only 20 minutes away from the station. Anyway, I rang my Chinese speaking friend Kim (the Canadian) and asked her to just tell the driver where I live. I handed the call over to the guy and he simply said “Wey? Wey…wey? WEEYY!?” (which is like their version of: hey/hello/yes – basically they say it to start every phone call conversation.) He threw the phone back to me and to my dismay; my lovely 3/4 year old phone had taken this very moment to do one of its favourite tricks… to not allow me to hear what the other person on the phone is saying. Yay phone!… Kim sent me a voice-clip of my address which I managed to play back to the driver. Still no clue. He was driving alongside other taxi’s and shouting the name of my community complex to them in hope of being told where to go. No luck. Kim then sent me her address (which is less than a 5 minute walk from my home, but outside of the Country Garden walls) thinking this would be simpler for him to head towards. Again, no such luck. He continued his very slow meandering drive repeating my address to himself, and calling god knows who on his phone. I then found the card for the Country Garden Resort Hotel in my purse, which has a full address on it and a map of Country Garden. Surely this would get me home!? … I’m truthfully not sure where I would have ended up if I hadn’t have stopped him as soon as I saw anything familiar! Would I have ended up at my front door, on Kim’s road, at the hotel, or somewhere in-between? Who knows! I jumped out at one of the Country Garden gates (Xie Yuan – West gate, the opposite end of where I live) and waited for one of the free internal busses heading to Dong Yuan… Finally I was on home turf and 100% heading in the right direction for home.
Sunday evening, I collapsed into my bed, tea in hand, and stuck on a movie (or did I read my book? I can honestly say I don’t remember). Despite being so bloody tired, it would have been lovely to have a chat with some of the family, but everyone back home had had a busy weekend themselves: Mum, Sam, Dean, Sheryl, Taff etc. singing their hearts out at the rugby celebrating bald-man’s birthday. And Dad and Nat were doing various outdoorsy things with Nat doing a crazy big cycle for charity and dad, both working and being there for support. Nana and Grampa were probably busy trying to tame my very nosey and inquisitive bunny who has, I’ve just been informed, got the balls (not literally, sorry Brain I took them from you when you were a pup!), to venture into the kitchen. He now officially thinks he rules the roost!
I’ve been missing home quite a bit the past week or so, not so much I’m crying myself to sleep at night or anything! (If anything’s going to make me cry into my pillow it’s my phones lack of ability to charge fully and work properly meaning sometimes my alarm doesn’t go off…) Bonfire night made me miss the UK, seeing everyone’s clips and pictures of them all wrapped up warm, sparkler in hand and fireworks booming. The Teal/Bromley/Parker/BW clan heading to Cardiff made me wish I had mums luxury to just nip home for weekend trips. Alice being back from travelling means my lot are back together again for nights out and catch ups. And Dad sending me pictures of the every so beautiful, yet sadly aging, Pip, makes me crave a night at Oakwood in the garden, in front of the fire, pups at my feet, and conversation with Dad and Nat about everything and anything. I’ve also been trying to think of and plan peoples Christmas presents, which is making me thing of family and friends even more. But, hey-ho, I get through it! I’ve not yet got to the level which makes me reach into my envelope from Hannah and tear open another “Open when…” card, although I’m sure I’ll need to soon.
I’m trying to keep myself busy, trying to get back into the habit of being a yes person again. I’ve put my name down for a council run 6k walk around Foshan that takes place on Saturday. Although they grossly misjudged the amount of interest this would accumulate and they now have to select a lucky 300 from over 1000 applicants, so I’m not holding out too much hope. One thing I jumped at the chance to say yes to and book tickets for however, was Clockenflap festival which is in Hong Kong on the last weekend of November. I’d heard about it a month or so ago but it had completely slipped my mind until Nick (a Kiwi in grade 5) mentioned that him and a friend had booked weekend tickets. I rushed home that evening and ignored the huge stack of marking I had brought with me, and booked my ticket (for the Saturday only though sadly). Cassie, Mickey and Carol have also now all bought tickets so it should be a really good weekend. How amazing is it that I can casually book a ticket for a music and art festival in Hong Kong and just nip over on the Friday night (by train, bus or ferry) and then be back in time for a good sleep before work on Monday! I may not be able to head down to Cardiff for a family rugby weekend, but I can do that, and that’s pretty cool.
So yes, this weekend is a possible 6k wander around Foshan seeing the sights. The weekend after is going to be more than eventful at Clockenflap. And then BAM we’re in December and I’ll have left home over 3 months ago, Sam & Dean will be heading to Basel, moving into their new home and celebrating Sam’s birthday. Nana will no doubtably (not sure if that’s a word) will be paying a visit to Manchester Christmas Markets which I still miss dearly. Sheryl and Taff will have been over to see mum and the markets there too. A busy time for all of us, but hey, when isn’t it?!
As always, how to end? This post ended up being much longer and dragging out more than I expected, so I’m sorry for that. But, as I now sit down to eat my noodles and veg at 8.30pm on a school night, I’d like to leave you all with yet another quote I’ve found on one social media platform or another, and fallen in love with: