Sanuk: Thailand Diary 1

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What can I say about Thailand that hasn’t been said already? Well it’s just a wonderful country really, it’s a perfect blend of respect for the monarchy, a love of food, religion and family: all tied around concepts such as ‘sanuk’ which I’ve learnt loosely translates as a striving instinct to have fun in what you do; making an effort to gain pleasure in your daily life;

I must admit, on a the plane ride over to Bangkok, I was a little nervous; I’ve been many places on my own; but; as soon as I touched down, took in the tropical air and bantered briefly with my taxi-driver (Who’d heard of Swansea simply though watching the footy) It was beginning to feel like I’d never want to leave; later when I came across a group of monks praying in the evening then I realised that I’d definitely never want to leave. 

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So what did I do in Thailand? It seems like I’d wandered down every single soi by the end of it, taking in the street food; inhaling sticks of Moo Ping (grilled pork) and carrying the heavy burden of a young coconut each and every morning: I’d eaten things I’ve later had to google and things that I’ll never forget; without needing a guide; The highlight of the trip was a morning spent giving alms to the monks at the dangerously early time of 6am; Unfortunately for the monks,I was only willing to share half of my street food offerings.

 

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Getting up early!

Along the way, you get a sense of the streets from the people and Thailand; I was basically a sunburnt, Muay Thai short wearing wreck; with long badly dyed hair; oh how I wish I’d cut it before I’d left; but hey ho; thai street vendors resemble pirates and there’s always a golden buddha everywhere you go, sometimes wrapped in plastic on a street corner.

Each and every temple has hooks on the top and it’s almost like they’ve been fished out by a Buddha or one of his many relations; Buddhism is the superhero religion; it’s a legion, rather than a singular force; and It’s something that’s endlessly fascinating to someone as fanatical as myself; who can turn away from a religion which features mermaids and dragons in the same mural?

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Buddhism literally has everything; but what it doesn’t have is the fire and brimstone platitudes that can be found elsewhere; it’s temples alone just bring about a curious peacefulness, similar to the sort found in nature: Bangkok’s temples give you the feeling that you’d love to go back in time; just trade your whole life; in just to see the gleaming wats and elephants down in Banglamphu.

Ayutthaya was another escape in Thailand; a tour group none the less; but I slipped away; I wouldn’t say it was the highlight of my trip; but as i’ve always maintained; perhaps a temple has to be living space; rather than a stomping ground for tourists. In fact; I began to feel that I was correct in avoiding Siem Reap altogether.

Ignore all the warnings and stay in Banglamphu, I first stayed at the Bed Box Hostel in Khaosan, which was basically empty and Sourire at Rattanakosin and found them to be well suited for sightseeing, some like to stay in Sukhumvit; due to a skytrain; but you are only a boat ride away from the flower markets, a half hour walk away to Yaowarat and most importantly; surrounded by actually a few decent rooftop bars in beautiful; old town Banglamphu.

Granted; maybe as a couple you’d have a more romantic time not surrounded by half dead backpackers clutching Singha; but on the other hand; there’s plenty of  ‘Deathpats’  who have been sucked into the seedier side and emerged mangled and confused on the other side.

Admittedly, now that the holidays have waned; it feels like a long time to go until I can explore again; though It’s good to come back with a fresh outlook on life; It’s now time to finally visit Disneyland; maybe even meander to Macau and try to get some Sanuk into my life!

 

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Travel: Just some late night meanderings.

So December passes in a haze, January drags past so slowly, the last real adventure was a long planned solo jaunt to Hong Kong; I like to travel alone; there’s a freedom in knowing you can do whatever you like to do, eat wherever you like and ironically you sometimes even meet people you’d have never connected with; I’ve had many moments like these; meeting a girl in a Sushi bar; or in Hong Kong’s case; a bunch of western bankers who took me to a gay bar and had to surrender my solitude to listen to them (I had to flee before the wine bill came)

Safe to say; I love Hong Kong; I love it’s frenetic energy: it’s unique fusion as a place that is both foreign and western, despite it’s uncertain future; Getting a boat into Causeway bay will always be a pleasure: I had booked my Hong Kong solo trip while nursing a Bloody Mary in a hipster bar; just meters from Man Mo Temple: In the same bar; my mother had received the news her dog, a naughty mutt called Betsy had escaped; We had made memories for life in Hong Kong.

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Needless to stay; I should stick to the photography; Not doing “One Drawing a Day” quite yet…

 

The last time I visited; it felt like after a day; the magic had evaporated like a lonely Wonton sinking to the bottom of life’s bowl; I began to see only the commercial side; maybe it’s really harder to drink a cocktail alone; maybe that’s why barflies usually clutch beers; it’s cheap, it’s quick and you don’t have to wait and take in the silence. 

But that was all the way back in December and I’m still thinking of new games for my classes, getting better at my Chinese (Gong Xi Fa Cai) and how to keep exploring China within the limits of my life in Guangzhou; I think I’ll need to keep planning; with the world being still so undiscovered; I want to see Seoul; I want to see Tokyo…I want to see: Hang on…I’d quite like to go see Bangkok again…

So..

My next trip happens to be Thailand, specifically Bangkok when I’m fresh and excited and Hua Hin for when I want a more relaxed pace; I’ve made lists; I’ve done the research; I have 2 weeks, just enough time to wander around like an aging backpacker, visit karaoke bars and read books without feeling like the sands of time are hurrying me along.

I won’t write too much now; you can over plan; life is not a checklist; Sure, I’ll probably take thousands of pictures; eat dozens of crazily fresh foods and maybe even throw in a beer; but I’ll update you when it’s over; As crowds begin to thin out as Chinese New Year approaches Guangzhou; I’ll see you at The Mandarin, at some market somewhere; or maybe just having a massage(Though the last Thai massage; I got more than I bargained for; overall Happy Chinese New Year!

 

 

Movie Review: Wonder

 

 

wonder__2017___fanmade__by_mintmovi3-dbebhsjA boy lingers outside his high school, it’s the first day jitters that every child will know; for me; I have vague recollections of a photoshoot at my house, an unflattering uniform and a sense I was going somewhere alien; but what if; you felt like you were the alien?  Wonder; directed by Steven Chbosky most recently known as the director of The Perks of Being a Wallflower; another story which explored similar themes of alienation in high school.

Wonder tells the story of a child born with severe facial deformities and all of the baggage associated with it, which comes to a head within the narrative of this heartwarming drama. This is the kind of story that makes you teenage acne feel like a birthday present; we really don’t know how lucky we are to be born with everything in the supposedly right place.

We begin at the birth of our protagonist:  Auggie played sensitively by Jacob Tremblay, it’s no easy feat to play someone with a disability with such grace, a less skilled performer would have delivered something more Edward Scissorhands than anything serious and this is one of the strongest points of the film; it’s believable; despite not exactly being entirely realistic.

Auggie grows up; homeschooled by his mother; crashing around in an astronaut helmet: he’s constantly surrounded by his childhood imagination and all the trappings that come with it; he has a good family; Owen Wilson is his dad…(I’d trade a normal life for this alone) and his mother Isabel; played by Julia Roberts is somehow a stay-at-home mom and a science wiz; which later comes in handy with one-upping the bullies.

If there’s anything negative that could be said about Wonder; it’s the lack of realism that comes from telling such a story: It’s a story fully worth telling; but its need to clean everything up, so that Auggie is accepted fully: robs it of some of it’s emotional power: but this is a “feel good” movie and I for one think that the fact Wonder was adapted into a film at all a sign that we haven’t fully descended down the greasy pole lined with superhero movies and remakes.

Some of the high-school extras feel like they are straight out of Saved By The Bell or any American television series set in a high school: You have the stock bullies over here; the kooky, yet charismatic science teacher: all the tropes are here; you have to suspend your disbelief somewhat and Wonder does a great service in showing you a child’s imagination: as various characters from Star Wars show up to support Auggie along the way:

One thing that really came across is how students can be so cruel in comparing those who are different with any manner of pop cultures figures that they may have come across,sniping at each other mercilessly and without constraint;

Anyone who’s experienced this; either as the bully or bullied will find something here and you could argue that Wonder should be shown in schools, in-order to at least get children thinking about this issue. Why not have more anti-bullying workshops in schools? It would be better than gym class; where all these insecurities and petty fights occur in the first place.

The narrative structure here is what makes Wonder stand out; we begin with Auggie’s perspective; but it rightly takes into account the varying characters such as his long suffering sister; who has been out of the frame in their family portrait. Overall, Wonder is indeed a wonder and despite it’s Americanized setting; will appeal to those in Britain.

A Wizard in Guangzhou…

 

 

 

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So today marks 7 months since I took that fateful journey up to Heathrow, listening to Alexei Sale’s Imaginary Sandwich bar on Radio 4 in-order to chase away the quiet fact that I’d be trading in my whole life to work abroad in Guangzhou, China.

The night before, we’d gone for a farewell blowout of Fish and Chips, a beer: washed down with the last sights of the sea. It felt like it had been months of awkward goodbyes.  I had spent weekends in Bristol and London, just getting as much culture as possible: Seeing theatre shows, dining out and generally trying to get a feel for the cities of Britain that had always seemed underappretiated.

Since then, I’ve grown as a person dramatically in that I’ve been able to learn how to communicate with children and hopefully teach them in a fun and engaging way.  Living in a metropolis, I’ve been trying to pick up the language, try the local food (Still not keen on Congee) and develop a sense of home.

I’ve visited Beijing to dine on Catfish and roamed the gothic streets of Nanluoguxiang. Those streets were full of secret nooks and crannies, though I doubt that I could live with the ever present ‘fog’ that greeted me every morning…

Guangzhou is far more traditional than Beijing, though the smog is lighter and I’ve found local places that many a food critic would covet: Toriken: a wonderful oak paneled Japanese restaurant, a world renowned hotel chain which I haunt like Jack Torrance and even a place to buy Tomato Juice. 

It’s no surprise that in 2018: Michelin are coming to review Guangzhou. Back home, I’ve gotten gigs reviewing restaurants, guided by my departed hero AA Gill. Something I’d love to continue in Guangzhou.

Christmas was a mild affair: two beers and Harry Potter: all the while pondering on various aspects of the Wizarding World. It’s sometimes the hardest part of expat life: On Christmas day; you trade in a celebratory meal: with everyone at their most hedonistic for a typical Sunday night.

Next on the agenda is a Chinese New Year trip to Thailand, not only to sample the delights of Raan Jay Fai.  But to connect with a deeply religious and spiritual culture that probably has me at my most soppy and believe it or not: my most pretentious…Not only is the cuisine of Thailand one of the greatest in the world; but it should also be included as one of the greatest countries for people watching, and generally being a flâneur.

I’ve now spent more time in China than I’ve spent in Nigeria working with Voluntary Service Overseas. Where I often find myself nodding in  the direction of many an expat who has visited a bathroom and found they feel a lot dirtier coming out of it. 

Being an expat is just as challenging sometimes as being a teacher: but let’s make 2018 a feast of experiences just like the Great Hall dinner featured in Harry…oh you’ve got me back on about the Wizards…Well anyway; Happy New Year from a Wizard abroad…I’ll be likely blogging about Thailand frantically; trying to capture my time off; See you soon…Muggles!

Diary of a Beijing Vampire Hunter

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I was hungry and had decided to venture down to Nanluoguxiang, I live in one of the suburbs of Beijing and it’s very impossible for me to get away from my mother; always; the questions came croaking out of the woman’s mouth: Why aren’t you married? Why are you get fat on only soup dumpling; but that night; I knew that I’d show her that I really had true purpose: I was a vampire hunter first and foremost: Part of an order that had all but disappeared in China apart from in my apartment.

The night I first saw him; I knew I’d found what I was looking for: he looked like a little fresh meat; or Karry Wang, yet there was something a little disconcerting; a little off about him from the moment we casually passed in a bar; he regarded me with distain at first; like I was a bad meal at a fancy restaurant.

I later forgot about the incident and found that; after a couple of drinks; just to get away from my mother; it was time to split; the street hawkers were out in full force; the first time I saw him the flash of silver was hard to detect; but then; the sight of young college geek; pushed to the ground and ripped to shreds by my target; his cloak; the whole get-up was like Dracula cosplay; something I hadn’t expected from the young, much more handsome young man: a man I will now formally refer to as ‘The Count’

He spotted me and if he hadn’t been full, I doubt I’d have survived to commit this to record;  he’d have eaten me up like a pack of Lays chips; but somehow; he was put off eating me; I hadn’t washed that morning: there were toothpaste stains all over my band t-shirt; he was just repulsed and disappeared into the nearest Hutong and was done with me; taking the young, bled out geek he’d snacked on with him as a take-away; the blood stains themselves; seemed to evaporate;

I’d recorded this in my vampire tracking diary as a process known as; ‘Batmobiling’ where a vampire can seemingly summon the powers of an āyí in less time than it takes to boil instant noodles, ridding the scene of the crime; the mess was gone and I was left; standing alone; craving one last beer to get over the shock on the man’s face as the beast drained him of his powers;

This innocent looking fellow looked like he played World of Warcraft; had experience with a virtual axe and maybe even a steady relationship; all taken away by this thing; this fragile entity that looked like he advertised KFC or a cellphone; while probably sucking the blood of young virgins.

Luckily; while I was a virgin; I was not young: I was possibly greying at 27 and my commitment to vampire hunting meant that a relationship could be dangerous; one day; you could be taking selfies on a day out with a girl; then she could end up in a bowl of pho noodles; a Hanbaobao’; or even worse turned into some kind of Cheese tea by the creatures of the night; their appetite was insatiable; which led me to my next calling point in-order to track the count the very-well documented fact; They love KTV.

I had done KTV of course; many nights spent drinking whiskey and eating Watermelon; at first with a ragtag group of friends I’d met online; followed by various cousins and aunts that had taken pity on me as the years went by: but it was that fact that had trained me in my particular keen sense of smell; the ability to seek out vampires; Their specific choice of songs helps; vampires tend to prefer the moody sounds and rock anthems that are not on the list of every Chinese teenybopper; 

They tend to bring their own candles and beer is not on the menu; but sticky bloody Baijiu is bound to make an appearance: just as crucial as hot water is in Chinese culture; Vampires must feed on blood in very much the same way; that night; I had seen vampires feasting on the delights on Karaoke; they don’t get drunk in the same way that we do; they just get more energy…they then go out and pick little girls off the street like little pieces of dim sum and it’s just too much to bear and sometimes even I think about hanging up my steak and giving up the noble…ancient…art of…uh…

Sorry, maybe I lost my train of thought there: it’s hard to keep track of my diary at times; but one thing is crucial to note; Vampires are a real and ancient threat, especially to the hutong people and young people visiting Beijing for an insight into our rich and prosperous city:

I worry for my mother; returning home with Jianbing; what could possibly happen to her one day; returning back from 7/11 to find her with the unmistakeable marks of a Chinese vampire; the little chopstick size holes in her flesh; my mother reduced to street food: so just recording this to remind you all to be vigilant on the streets of Beijing; lest our values be reduced by these creatures of the night. I’m online at all hours, tracking the threat of Cyber Vamps and their whereabouts if anyone needs any help.

Christmas at Kang Wang by Rachel

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Christmas at Kang Wang is a full sized party set in a regular sized frosty the snow globe; all the dress, decor, dancing and fun of a party, set in the smallest of spaces.

It’s just one step past too tight of a holly jolly hug, but just tight enough to feel the love.

Our eight hundred or so kids love the cup of cheer, and their laughter sparks ours! Right?

Just a short sleigh ride past the two front doors, or two front teeth, of Kang Wang, the weather outside is frightful, but it certainly makes up for Guangzhou’s lack of festive decor, which is less than delightful.

It’s beginning to feel a lot like Christmas, yet still only looks just a little bit like Christmas. Most holiday music playing in public places is in English, which is nice to hear, but other than jingle bells rockin’, what do the non-English speakers hear?

For me, Christmas time in the city is a theme, it’s a season, it’s a whole month of good vibes and all things peppermint. For guangzhou, it seems to be just a fa la la la la fad, but I’m more than happy it has caught on. Even an ocean away from home, this true fad gave to me, my Starbucks red cup, an excuse for an obnoxious manicure, and twelve or so other  reasons to smile, and aside from you, that’s all I wanted for Christmas, so for these few seasonal treasures, I am grateful.

 

Three Birthday Poems.

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I’ve had nothing to do with these; It’s my birthday today; So I’ll leave them here; it’s not a warm day; the world is waking up; I’m going out for cake and to peeve on rumors of an art gallery: I still have no idea whether to go to the wanky restaurant:  Anyway, I was going to post a longer more meandering article, possibly written after two gins in the sun yesterday afternoon.

1. Simple Pleasures

I love crunching toast

it should be available on NHS

I love the lovely mess

the world is

after gin fizz.

I love the chewy sweets and restaurant seats.

people watching and poching 

poncing about 

twist and shout

in and out.

cups of tea

mumbles sea

nasal gazing

the word 'amazing'

passports 

airports and long walks

saying hello

write and send:

happy birthday 

from an old friend.
2. Edibles:

I want to eat the beach

I want to quench my thirst on a memory

chew on rain clouds 

nibble on your thoughts

Pick at a particular flavor of sky

get drunk on walking across the sand

as an aperitif, I want to feel your hand

reaching that particular sweet spot

savor your dance 

gnaw at my thoughts

and get fat on your smile. 

open wide: 

and take a great big gob of the day

as a side dish

there's your laugh 

and then 

it's just salt and pepper

to hear the birds sing and remember

the thoughts you had on the first of December.

you know that feeling when 

you just open a shopping bag and eat as you walk down the road?

and you get to the end and you've eaten

like the end of a baguette 

or a box of chocolate?

and then you feel a bit guilty

when someone spots you

and you know it's time to go home?!

that's what life's like
3. First Poem in China

I was gonna go to the poetry night,

but I got stuck on line 10

so close to a Chinese man

I thought I was having sex with him

I wander around shopping malls 

staring in at the karaoke booths

looking for some great truths

in a love song I don't understand 

All I can ever say is ‘Wo Ai Ni’

as a couple walks past dressed the same

and I've lost face

But still I walk around 

passing five hundred menus 

trying to forget the letter

feeding my Instagram

Cause you can't live on dumplings

I've seen the consequences 

I've seen the double chins

so easy to spend your nights 

munching rice

so I wander 

putting toes through hell

the first time I tried hotpot

it's something I'll never forget the smell of:

still I wander a new Chinese bigfoot or monument

and I'm just an empty shell of...

influenced by 

a collection of people

I've never met or heard of

with a passport.