Adventures in Xian, China

Our stay was over in Beijing (you can read about that here) so we traveled to Xi’an on a 14 hour sleeper train. We had a cosy little dorm for four with two bunks on top of each other on either side on the room (I say room, it was more of a cupboard) We had a carriage to ourselves as there was so many of us – there was no sharing with the locals (not that they would’ve minded as they liked to take pictures with us) I think we all found it hard to sleep, most of us stayed up until the early hours of the morning but the gentle rocking of the train did become quite soothing. The mattresses were dire, no more than hard foam covered in plastic but the views were stunning and the trip enabled us to see a lot more of rural China.

When we arrived we took our bags to our hotel, Forest City which wasn’t as nice as the hotel in Beijing. The view from our room wasn’t the best either.

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photo from forestcityhotelxian.com

The first place we visited was a Buddhist Temple. I was really excited about this trip because I studied Buddhism a few years ago. I lit a candle in memory of Grandad outside the main temple and we also had a calligraphy lesson.

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The food was very similar to what we had in Beijing, although we did go to a dumpling banquet one evening. They’re nothing like what we have here in the UK – they’re a lot lighter and they served every filling and combination you could think of. (Something I would defo go back for!)

On the second day in Xian, we visited the Terracotta Army. We first went to a place where they made little ceramic versions which they sold in a massive warehouse/shop and told us lots of information about the significance of the warriors. I brought a couple of the mini ones home.

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The back story is actually quite interesting. The army was constructed to accompany the tomb of China’s first emperor Qin to look after him in the afterlife. They were molded in parts, fired and then painted after being put together. It’s estimated that it took 40 years to complete and each warrior was stamped with the name of the foreman responsible to track any mistakes. The first part they discovered, which they named Vault One, was found in 1974 by farmers digging a well. The other two vaults were discovered in 1976.

I thought the whole experience was breathtaking, although it was a bit creepy how each warrior has his own facial expression. The fact that they spent 40 years making an army out of clay is astounding, I couldn’t imagine our next prime minister ordering for this to be done!!

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Some parts are still being restored today.

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Huaqing Palace (or Huaqing Hot Springs) was stunning, a famous imperial bathing pool with various palace complexes and about 10 minutes from the Terracotta Army.

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The Tang Emperor Xuanzong used to spend Wintertime’s there with his favourite concubine Yang (mistress) She was recognised as one of the most enchanting ladies in ancient China and was spoiled by the emperor. He cavorted with Lady Yang all day and all night, neglecting state business and built the luxurious palaces in the area just for their personal pleasure. However, the emperors behaviour finally resulted in the An Lushan Rebellion which damaged the stability of his regime. This ensued in the destruction of some of the palaces on the Huaqing site. When the war broke out, the emperor was expected to lead his troops into battle, however he couldn’t leave her alone. He brought her with him but the men see that he was distracted and order to have her killed, Emperor Xuanzong has no choice but to allow it. Rather than turn herself over to the soldiers, she hung herself in the courtyard of a Buddhist Temple.

Bai Juyi, a Tang poet wrote the poem “Song of Everlasting Sorrow” which is still popular today, romaticising Yang’s love affair.

“But thirty miles from the capital, beyond the western gate,
The men of the army stopped, not one of them would stir
Till under their horses’ hoofs they might trample those moth-eyebrows…
Flowery hairpins fell to the ground, no one picked them up,
And a green and white jade hair-tassel and a yellow gold hair-bird.
The Emperor could not save her, he could only cover his face.”

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Yang Guifei’s Statue at Huaqing Pool

On our final day in Xian, we took the Bullet Train back to Beijing where we caught a flight to Paris, and then home to Heathrow.

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Adventures in Beijing, China

A couple of my readers have asked me to write a post about my travels in China after seeing some shots on my Instagram (you can follow me here) I thought about turning it into a “Adventures In:” series as I’m always hot on photography whenever I go to somewhere new, this will be the first edition.

We left on Friday the 31st of March, meeting at 4am before driving to Heathrow Airport. We flew one hour (by AirFrance) to Paris before connecting to Beijing. I think it took about 11 hours 20 minutes in total including both flights – my first ever long haul journey. (China is 7 hours ahead of London UK)

When we landed in Beijing a coach took us to the Great Wall, I’ll never forget how humid it was. A lot of us protested about there being “no time” to even go back to the hotel and change or shower, even though we had been travelling all day. (Climbing up one of the seven wonders of the world in a green Puma tracksuit wasn’t one of my most fashionable moments!!)

We climbed to the first tower and the views were incredible – you never fully appreciate how high it is when you see it filmed on the telly. Some of the steps are really steep and narrow so you have to watch your footing as well as other people passing.

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We stayed at the Phoenix Suyuan Hotel:

 

 

 

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photo from agoda.com

Our first meal was in a shopping mall which was pretty bizarre (looked more like a canteen then a restaurant) The bathroom experience wasn’t great either. It was located on the ground floor and there was only one cubicle which had a proper toilet in it, the others were holes in the ground. A few girls I was with were absolutely horrified but I had seen An Idiot Abroad with Karl Pilkington so I knew what to expect!! Throughout my stay I actually preferred the hole version (it’s meant to be a lot better for us anyway) however the mall bathroom attendant could’ve wiped the shit off the walls!!

That evening we went to a Night Market which was a cool way to practice my night photography. There was also lots of dancing and pretty lights.

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While we were in Beijing we also visited Tiananmen Square, originally the main entrance to the imperial palace in Ming and Qing dynasties which you can walk through, known as The Forbidden City. I later learned about the 1989 protests that happened in the square (this is all very hush hush and taboo) where the military open fired on thousands of peaceful, unarmed protesters and onlookers.

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The Temple of Heaven was one of my favourite places to visit. Located in Southern Beijing, it was built in 1420 and served as a place where emperors of the Ming and Qing dynasties offered sacrifices to heaven, prayed for rain and a good harvest. A lot of the locals seemed to use this place as a meeting point and they also played games and did tai chi in the grounds.

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We had a meal out in a restaurant every lunch and dinner time (breakfast was served at the hotel) Let’s just say that it’s nothing like the Chinese we have over here in the UK. It’s sooo clean and actually seems healthy, it’s not all just covered in some sweet sauce that’s for sure. Chinese food is absolutely my fave but even I was beginning to become tired of having it twice a day. I think we all went a bit nuts when they served fries one evening (a rarity)

One lunch time we visited the Hutongs, which means narrow alley or street formed by traditional courtyard residences. We went on a Rickshaw to get to a family who was going to be serving a meal to us. Most of us sat round a huge table in their living room and the others sat in their courtyard garden outside. They don’t have any plumbing in their homes so they all share toilet facilities down the street. After lunch we used their local block which just had the squat toilets but there weren’t any doors!! There was a local woman sat over one playing a game on her phone when I walked in!

 

We also of course visited the Birds Nest (you can’t go to Beijing and not see it) where they hosted the Olympic Games in 2008.

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My stay in China didn’t end there. We also went to Xi’an but I will talk about this in another post. Expect photos from Buddhist Temples and the Terracotta Army!

Look out for Adventures In | Xi’an, China.

What It’s Like To Lose Someone

I often speak to my Grandad – I’m not sure whether he can hear me but I do it all the same. When we first lost him back in 2016, there was a couple of occasions where I would smell his home smell; he was always tinkering in his shed, making something or other so he would smell of grease and oil. That was really strange, I’d be going about my day at home or at the shops and I could smell him like he was standing right next to me. I sometimes wonder why and how this happened, and also why it doesn’t anymore.

Grandad was a kind man, a man that would do anything for the people he loved. He made me my first scooter with pram wheels and odd bits and bobs out of a skip. He’d draw and colour me pictures in birthday cards and would come round at half 6 in the morning for a cup of tea. My favourite memories are when I would sit on his knee and he’d recite poems he’d made up or he would ring to say “I love you.” He’d also bike to the rec and feed the birds and ducks.

He was a proud man and hated going to the doctors. One day Aunt made him have a check up which landed him a space in hospital for some tests. I remember visiting him on the Wednesday evening with Mum and Dad. He seemed cheerful and was cracking jokes and telling stories, mainly because they said he was OK to go home. I remember kissing him goodbye on his leathery cheek, his stubble scratchy which was unlike him as he normally shaved everyday.

Grandad never did come home – his test results came back and they’d found a shadow on his lung. They thought it was asbestosis due to him working in old buildings when he was young.

The next time I visited was the following Saturday. I did a morning shift at Screwfix and Dad didn’t have good news when he picked me up. He told me that Grandad had a big stroke in the early hours and had gone into a coma. “But he was fine on Wednesday,” I remember saying.

At the time Mum and her sister had fallen out making it awkward around Grandad’s bedside as her, my Uncle and cousins were also there. I stayed close to my sister as I didn’t know what to make of the situation, we also hadn’t spoken to our two cousins either.

Grandad looked so different compared to when I last saw him. His stubble had grown considerably and I’d never seen his hair so long. He was connected to a drip and a breathing machine – his inhales were deep and loud and the machine would often beep. I said to Mum that if Grandad could talk. he would’ve wanted to be clean shaven.

He was on a ward with other elderly patients but they didn’t seem to be as ill. I always felt sorry for them and their visitors, watching the drama and tension between two families and a comatose man in the middle. However, I was more concerned and angry that Grandad wasn’t able to have his own room and more privacy than just a thin curtain, he deserved better than that.

Mum’s brother would often pop in, his wife Sharon worked at the hospital so she organised us a family room which led out into a courtyard.

Over the weekend Mum and my Aunt started talking over their differences, a gesture for the sake of Grandad to begin with. Although, I think deep down they needed each other.

My sister Kelly and I sat at his bedside a lot, holding his hand and talking to him through the tears. We learned that it was possible he could hear us as hearing can be the last sense to go. We told him we loved him and that we had been feeding the ducks custard creams (there’s a pond at the front of the hospital where patients and visitors can sit)

Before the weekend was over, it was apparent Grandad was dying. On the Sunday Mum and Aunt told him that they had made up and that he didn’t have to worry anymore, his three children were going to be strong and look out for each other. We left the hospital in silence, the nurse’s words that we may get a phone call through the night on our minds.

The phone call didn’t come and we went to the hospital Monday evening. The tension between our two families had gone and it was almost like there hadn’t been a divide.

We were sat by Grandad’s side, something that was beginning to feel a bit normal when the heart monitor started beeping erratically. I remember Kelly looking at me in panic, grabbing my hand as she shouted for a nurse. It all happened so fast after that, the nurse running in and ushering us out of the ward, yanking the curtain around his bed.

We sat in the family room all together for what felt like an eternity. I started to feel cold so I asked Uncle Richard to get my hoodie which I had left on the end of Grandads bed in the commotion. He returned, but his face had fallen and his eyes were watery. My Aunt asked him, “what’s wrong.” He only shook his head.

The room erupted then. My Mum shouting, my Aunt at my cousins feet while she had a panic attack. I just felt numb. I remember finding my feet to look through the window of the door. There was a glass room the size of a small cupboard outside which looked into the ward. It contained a computer with a display of the readings connected to the patients on heart monitors. There was only one that was flat line and I knew who’s it was.

Auntie Sharon came in and confirmed what my Uncle had said. She explained that we could go in and see Grandad if we wanted to. I decided I wanted to go and say goodbye even though Mum protested that she didn’t think it was a good idea. I don’t think I had processed what had happened, I don’t actually think I knew what to expect.

I went back into the ward with Dad, taking a deep breath outside the curtain.

I will never forget what I saw. Grandad was laying on his back with a white sheet pulled up to his shoulders. His mouth was partially open and his skin yellow. I didn’t know what to do or what to say. Where had my Grandad gone and who was this man? I kissed his cheek a final time and said goodbye.

I couldn’t comprehend the emotions I felt. My body didn’t know how to catch up with the events that had just happened. There were no more visits to the hospital, no more updates, but you don’t think “it’s because he’s died.” The realisation didn’t hit me for a long, long time.

The funeral didn’t take place until a month after his death.

While we were waiting for the funeral date, Mum said to me that she was going to go see him in his coffin with Kelly. I thought to myself that it might be a good idea for me to go too as I kept having nightmares of him in his hospital bed. I thought that seeing him dressed in his clothes with his face shaven and hair combed by the funeral service may erase the previous image I had.

The experience ended up being just as bad as the one before. They had dressed him in his favourite green body warmer and corduroy trousers, his glasses balanced precariously on his nose. I asked Mum why he wasn’t wearing his watch. She told me it had gone missing in hospital, or it had been stolen. She had warned me beforehand that he may look different since I last saw him in hospital but I didn’t understand what she meant until I saw him myself. His cheeks had sunken and his nose looked thin, his skin white and cold to touch. He looked like Grandad, but I knew he wasn’t there.

His funeral was the first I’d ever been to. My cousin held my hand the entire time and sat with me in the car as we didn’t have significant others. She brought red roses with her which we put on top his coffin when it was placed in the ground. The realisation that Grandad wasn’t coming back slowly started to sink in.

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It was really difficult writing this. I was worried that it would upset some of my readers but it’s an experience I wanted to share and get off my chest.

My nightmares stopped after I had therapy, but the experience has definitely had an impact on my life. It’s taught me that life is short and to hold my nearest and dearest close. I never go to sleep on an argument and even though I’ve always said I love you, I say it even more now.

There was one time when I lost my Nans tiger eye ring and I hunted for it high and low. (I keep all my rings in a vintage glass dish that Mum brought me but it was empty) Close to tears I suddenly asked Grandad out loud to help me find it. I looked some more, re-checking the dish and there it was. I can promise you it was empty when I first started looking. It’s pretty bizarre because the same thing happened to Mum when she lost her engagement ring. She looked through her jewellery box many times but found it in there after asking Grandad for help. Whether they are coincidences or not, they still bring us comfort. We still think that Grandad was never fully ready to move on until Mum and Aunt had made up.

I still don’t fully understand death, but I know Grandad is in a place where he’s no longer in pain; I hope he’s surrounded by birds and Fry’s Chocolate Creams.

I know he is watching over me and I sure hope he’s proud.

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Happy Father’s Day Fatty!

To the first man I ever loved and the first man I ever respected, happy father’s day.IMG_3063

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As he is true to his nickname, Fatboy, (mine is Knobby!!) I made him some choccys. One is milk chocolate with dark chocolate and coffee ganache.

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The other a milk chocolate truffle.

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And lastly just plain milk chocolate.

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I will also be celebrating fathers day for my late Grandfather Harry, a man who would go to the ends of the earth for his family. I love and miss you, but I know you’ll be watching from heaven. ❤️

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Disappointment is an Understatement

At the start of the year, Sam and I made a pact that we’d be in our own house by the end of 2019, or at least started the mortgage/house buying process. It was all going swimmingly, but then something really shitty happened which has brought everything to a halt.

My Dad has been with Openreach (BT) for nearly 20 years, working as a telegraph pole engineer. He’s been trying to get me on the company since I could walk and the older I’ve gotten, the more interested I’ve become.

I applied for a trainee engineering role around Jan/Feb 2019 and started the lengthy application process. I passed the first test, multi choice questions on the role itself and ‘what I would do if’s;’ I then passed the online interview and made it to the last stage at the assessment centre. Dad drove me to Ipswich for this where I had two interviews, a practical and maths/English assessment. I actually really enjoyed the experience as I met engineers who were a couple years into the role and the managers seemed laid back. The practical was a piece of cake as Dad brought his tools round and taught me the basics before (life saver)

I got an email the day after saying I had been successful and passed the assessment centre. I was thrilled and sooo excited to get started!! I’ve always enjoyed working outside and being hands on (tomboy since day one haha) so the role was perfect. An amazing basic wage which is a lot lot higher than what I’m on now and the possibility of loads of well paid overtime on the horizon, my career had finally taken off!!! Dad said to me that I just had to wait for a start date which apparently only took a couple of weeks and then I’d be off to Yarnfield and Peterborough for training!

It was a great relief as I wasn’t too confident that my specialist doctor would recommend going back to work with my eye issues so I wanted to have something lined up just in case.

Sam and I started going to mortgage advisers to see how much we could borrow on my new starting wage (the amount we could borrow on my wage now is a pittance) We began looking at houses in our new range and it seemed that we could have a lovely first home. All we had to do was wait for my contract to come through and we could apply for a mortgage.

A month had gone by and Dad and I were beginning to get impatient. He had tried speaking to the recruitment manager he knows to get an update and the guy promised he’d have a look once he got back from holiday. The weird thing is that this guy had then disappeared for an age and Dad couldn’t seem to get hold of him. I decided to send the recruitment team an email myself on Thursday, enquiring about what was happening.

I got an email back yesterday with bad news. Apparently “they don’t have any vacancies suitable” and “there are no roles matched to me.” Like WHAT!? They said they’ll contact me once they have something (they couldn’t give any time frame obvs) and I will be fast tracked as I’ve already passed all the stages.

Wow, ok then.

My hopes and plans feel like they have been whipped from under me, and I guess for Sam too.

This probably means that I won’t get a look in until next April which is when they take on another load of trainees (they normally take between 2,000-3,000 a year) so unless I magically find something else that I really want to do with a great basic, the house hunting and mortgage will have to wait (which means where ever Sam and I end up staying, together or apart, could be a bit longer than temporary)

The main thing I’m disappointed at is they didn’t tell me all of this when I got an email saying I had passed the assessment stage. So for a month I have been on shitty statutory pay when I could’ve looked for a new job (my company sick pay has run out) waiting patiently for this start date which was never actually coming.

Dad went absolutely BOOLOO and has sent some strongly worded emails to this recruitment guy I mentioned earlier. He thinks I have been treated appallingly and wants more information about why we have wasted time and money going to the assessment for a start if there aren’t any vacancies. It’s a good thing I’m signed off in a way as I would’ve handed my notice in as soon as I got that last email and most likely would’ve been out of a job now.

I’ve never cried over a job before but I had everything resting on it.

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After everything that’s happened in the past couple of months; the house we’re living in being sold so we’re having to move out and find a new place to stay, being signed off work for eye issues that I thought weren’t a problem, trying to scrape together every last penny for a mortgage. All this pressure has felt it’s been for nothing.

The part of me that believes everything happens for a reason, thinks that there is some sort of logic as to why I haven’t been offered a role. The superstitious side of me thinks maybe something bad was going to happen, or that something better is on it’s way which I couldn’t be a part of if I was doing something else. I don’t know, it just isn’t my time at the moment.

I just need to concentrate on not falling deeper into a hole. I’m feeling very shitty right now – my nightmares where the people I’m closest to keep leaving me (Sam in particular) have returned which I know is a sign of feeling insecure about myself.

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Is Cannabis my Grandma’s Solution?!

For a number of years Grandma has had auto immune hepatitis. She has to take medication every day which prevents her body from rejecting and attacking her liver. It’s a real shitty disease to have – it makes her muscles ache and mobility difficult, even more so as she also suffers with bad arthritis. It’s awful to watch, a woman once sprightly and active who rode her bike daily even when she became elderly. Now she climbs the stairs on all fours and has trouble sleeping.

Sam came up with idea of Grandma taking CBD oil – it’s one of many phytocannabinoids found in large concentrations in cannabis sativa hemp plant. Internal cannabinoids are neurotransmitters which are chemicals that are able to pass messages within the body in places such as: the central nervous system, brain and peripheral nervous systems.

The brand we ordered from was HempuraThere’s loads of helpful information on their website and you can even have a look at the lab report for the items you brought! It’s a cool way to know exactly what you’re getting. We felt at ease and trusted the company – this is important especially as it was going to be for Grandma.

This is what the lab report looks like for our 1000mg Full-Spectrum CBD Oil:

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The price for this is £64.99 and has 200 drops per bottle.

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The company also offers a range of other products such as capsules, vape liquid and chocolates so there’s something for everyone.

We told Grandma that we had brought it for her to take, even though she was a bit suspicious. However, she remained open minded and said that as long as her specialist doctor said it was okay to take then she would use it.

We were really excited waiting for it to be delivered as we just wanted her to be pain free, or at least for her pain to be more manageable. You just want the best quality of life possible for the people you love.

Unfortunately, when Grandma returned from her appointment she didn’t have good news. She explained that the doctor thought it was best if she didn’t take it. I guess there isn’t enough studies, especially in the NHS for there to be confidence in these sort of products. There may also be a risk of it affecting the medications that she’s already on. We’re pretty disappointed as there is no chance Grandma will take it now. I know the doctor is just covering his arse and it’s not always the best idea to recommend or advise something that you don’t have any experience with, but it’s still discouraging.

I wish there was more research in the NHS because it would benefit a lot of people if these products had medical backing.

I think Grandma was a little disappointed. It must have been disheartening, presumably due to the fact that we had discussed how she may feel better in herself after taking it.

The oil we brought won’t be going to waste, don’t worry. Sam and I have started taking it – 4 drops under the tongue in the morning and the same again before bed. I thought it would be particularly useful as I’m training at the moment for the 5k Race for Life Mud Run (you can read my post about that here) It can help with muscle recovery, reduce inflammation, general relaxation and well being.

I’m not sure whether Grandma will ever change her mind, unless the doctor says different – I just hope that her pain doesn’t get any worse.

Cancer plays dirty, but so do we!!

On Wednesday, I got an unexpected message on a Whatsapp group from my cousin. She said that she had signed her and my Aunt up for the Race for Life Pretty Muddy event on the 21st of July and was wondering whether my sister Kelly, my Mum and me wanted to take part.

It was pretty bizarre because I had seen it advertised on the telly a week or so before, and I thought to myself how fun it looked. Of course, Mum and I signed up in a heartbeat, our inner tomboys crying out for attention. Kelly took a bit of persuading, complaining on what would happen if she got mud in her foof and that she’d have to wear a swimming hat and goggles (which I would defo pay to see!) She did sign up in the end and we’re pretty excited to cake ourselves in mud, especially for a good cause.

Once you’ve signed up, it creates a sponsor page, however you don’t have to raise any extra money. If you just want to pay the £19.99 fee to take part then that’s fine.

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As I’m still signed off work, waiting for my referral appointment to come through (you can read my post about this here) I thought it’d be a good time to do some preparation!

I downloaded an app on my phone called Seven’ which you can find on the App Store (it’s only available for IOS devices)

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It’s really helpful, especially as you can link it to your Health app.

Yesterday I did a 30 min workout on the app above and walked 15,000 steps!! The app doesn’t have anything for warm ups and cool downs so I just watch YouTube videos – knowing me if I’m not careful I’ll injure myself (accident prone!) Here is what I accomplished yesterday:

 

I have a water app which also links to Health (it’s called My Water) – it’s brilliant as it gives you hourly reminders to drink and you can track how much you’ve had. Obviously water is crucial when you’re exercising!

I also feel that I should do waaay more exercise then I do already – I was starting to feel like a couch potato!! I’m not overly self conscious of my body however I’m not as slim as I used to be and I miss feeling confident in a bikini. This plan will hopefully tone up everything as well!

I have taken some photos of myself to track my progress, I’ll perhaps show my results after a month in a before and after.

Today I’ve done my 30 minute workout and I’ve set myself a goal to match the 15,000 steps I did yesterday. Mum and I have planned a walk around a local field local to us which is 1.5 miles (fingers crossed it doesn’t rain!)

I’ll keep you updated!!