Goodbye China

I’ve always embraced new experiences, new challenges, new cultures and lifestyles and moving to China for a year has probably been the boldest move I’ve ever done.

Bold but wise. Taking my chance to be an English teacher for young children in China is a daring move that I knew would get me on the right path to my goals. But more than gaining some professional teaching experience (which is already amazing!), I have allowed myself for the biggest doses of personal growth.

My time in China has been challenging, enriching and filled with memorable and special moments. I’ve experienced daily life through a different lens. I’ve pushed myself far out of my comfort zone and everything that I’ve ever known. I’ve had all my habits, familiarities and ways of thinking challenged. There is nothing more humbling and stimulating than throwing myself into the middle of a country and culture I know nothing about.

I have learnt to appreciate the beauty of connecting with someone with whom I speak zero mutual words with. I’ve learnt how to enjoy someone else’s company on the most basic fundamental human level. I’ve had to use all unimaginable resources to make myself understand and to be able to communicate. I’ve learnt how to push my limits and deal with it.

The most interesting part of my adventure is that for a year I’ve been experiencing the authentic and local Chinese life. Not the fancy and glamourous expatriate life that foreigners live when they move to major international Chinese cities like Shanghai or Beijing.

The first city I settled in when I moved to China was Fuzhou. Fuzhou is the capital of southeastern China’s Fujian province. This “small” city of 8 million inhabitants has remained quite traditional and very few people speak English. Compared to the madness of Beijing or Shanghai, Fuzhou is pretty chilled and relaxed. I like it for its temples, its green mountains surrounding the city and the beautiful urban sunsets I never get tired of. [Read more about the life in Fuzhou]

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In the beginning, it was really hard to get used to living in China and after two months I seriously considered going back to Sydney! The feeling of isolation and alienation was very strong. I felt completely lost and helpless not being able to understand my surroundings and not being able to do the most basic things by myself. Without the help of my Chinese best friend Yance, I would have never stayed that long! Adaptation is a long process and it took a lot of patience and wisdom to get through it and see the bright side of it.

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My teaching job helped me to feel better. Wherever you go, it’s not the place that matters the most but what you do. Doing something that I am passionate about every day reminded me of my goals and why I was here. [Read more about my teaching experience in China].

I held on to it and things started to get better. I met wonderful people along the way and I focused on the great sides of the whole experience, the big picture. I have fond memories of my time in China.

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The second city I moved to and where I currently live is Shanghai. When you say Shanghai, everyone thinks of the highly international city, the New York of China, its magical skyline, and its vibrant atmosphere. Which is all true. Every time I go to the city, I forget that I am in China. Everything is so international and open. I love the combination of the historic Shanghai and the strong European influences that bring an “air de déjà vu”. [Read more about the Shanghainese life].

But when you live in the suburbs of Shanghai, it’s a completely different experience. Living a Chinese provincial life has been my biggest challenge since I have been in China. It’s even more challenging than Fuzhou where I had an urban life.

For some reasons, I’ve ended up living in the most improbable place in China. An odd Dutch town of Shanghai called Holland Village. They have recreated a little Holland and all its charming treasures. There is a canal that weaves through the town and is bordered by beautiful weeping willows. A windmill stands in the middle of the river on a little island filled with trees and flowers. Along the main street, the building facades reflect the architectural style of a quaint Dutch village.

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It’s a strange sensation when you walk around. It really looks like Holland but something is missing. There is no life, no soul. Holland Village is mostly abandoned. There are very few, if any, places to eat or get a drink. No one is around except for newlyweds, using the windmill as a backdrop for their wedding photos.

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Although the scenery is picturesque and lovely, I can’t stop thinking that there’s something a little strange about it. It got me to do more research.

How did this Holland town come out in the middle of an old suburb of Shanghai?

I found out that in the early 2000s, the Shanghai government launched a renovation plan to develop and modernise a few suburban districts. Each of these districts was assigned a new town, each with their own country theme. British, Spanish, German, Italian. The place where I live has obviously been assigned with a Dutch theme. You can find today many districts in Shanghai with a complete European design.

The goal of bringing Europe to China was to unclog Shanghai’s urban sprawl and appeal the population to move to the suburbs. However, the Holland village project has not been successful as the place is mostly deserted, but the Dutch architecture remains.

There’s not much to do around but I enjoy the bike rides alongside the canal and wander in the park, watching Chinese oldies dancing and doing yoga.

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I’ve ended up living in this district because of the school where I teach. It’s a brand new school and the competition is less tough in the suburbs compared to the city. This school is actually an English training center designed for children aged from 3 to 12 years-old. The brand is called Cinostar and is present in major Chinese cities.

It’s been a unique experience to be part of the launch of a new school in China. I’ve experienced it twice and observing how Chinese people do business has been very interesting. It will definitely help me with my future plan when I open my own creative school.

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The first time I came to visit the school area, I freaked out. This part of the suburb is called ‘The Old Town” which says it all. Everything around is old and ancient. Like the people living there. There are no foreigners here, the area is typically Chinese and the pace is very slow. It does not feel like Shanghai.

Everything is authentic and very local. The little food shops, the hairdresser, the barber shop. The oldies sitting in front of their old shops smoking cigarettes. The kids playing around in the dirt, the multitude of empty shops selling bric-à-brac, food, animals, clothes, starving dogs rummaging in the bins. It feels like another period of time and we’re very far from the extravagance of the city.

Luckily the area where we live is more modern and lively, probably the busiest part of the suburb, close to commodities, restaurants, and shops. There are a few good places to eat and hang out. Our apartment is spacious and comfortable. I ride my bike every day to go to school, it’s a nice and quiet lifestyle.

Once a week we fulfil our need for excitement by going to the city which is about 45 minutes by train. The fancy Bund, the busy Nanjing road, the lively and lovely French Concession. It’s like living in two different worlds! The authentic Shanghainese countryside vs the flamboyant Shanghai city.

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I am leaving China soon and I feel very grateful for having had the chance to live there for a year, doing what I love and opening my mind in big to a different world. I have definitely learned more about myself and my abilities to adapt to a new environment. My Chinese adventure has been a whirlwind of emotions, the happiness of meeting all kind of amazing people, the fulfilment of teaching the love of learning to young children, the excitement of discovering something new but also the frustration of not being able to understand or communicate.

To me, this is what traveling is all about. Traveling is not just about going to fancy touristic places and taking beautiful photos. It’s about experiencing a different lifestyle, challenging myself to open my world to a new one. Live, eat, act like a local and see what the everyday life is about. The real life. What I love is the fact that travels consistently challenge me to rethink what I think I know. And it’s the biggest dose of personal growth I can get.

In a month, I am back in my country of heart, Australia, [Dear Australia] ready to start my new venture and still chasing my dreams, more than ever.

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If you’d like to discover what’s fascinating about China, read my article: 10 Random Facts about China you need to know! 

 

 

 

 

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Hit the Road Jack!

There was nowhere to go but everywhere, so just keep on rolling under the stars. On the Road – Jack Kerouac

Have you ever done an epic road trip in the far-flung lands of a country with nothing but a backpack, a camera, and complete freedom?

From all the great life experiences, hitting the road and living like a gypsy is probably one of the most memorable and fulfilling adventures. The feeling of freedom is priceless and it’s worth every little misfortune happening along the way.

Road tripping for a year has been my best therapy after running away from 29 years of a comfortable life and quitting an office job in which I buried myself for 7 years.

I’ve tasted the quintessence of liberty being on the road, with no roof over my head but a blazing sun or a sky full of shiny stars. I have never felt so free and happy. I had the best time living an oblivious life, meeting extraordinary people and experiencing things I have never done before or could not even imagine achieving.

I was desperately in search of freedom, of authenticity, and excitement. Sometimes, the feeling itches me: the urge of hitting the road again and live exciting adventures.

What is the point of your life when all the golden lands ahead of you and all kinds of unforeseen events are waiting to lurk and surprise you? Something else much more exciting was waiting for me and the time has come to pursue the crazy adventures I dreamed up while I was a young whippersnapper.

******

1st of October 2013, Mission Beach, Queensland, Australia, 5:30 am. 

A soft ray of sun tickles my face. I open my tired eyes, lulled by the song of the waves. A  pink light dazzles me. The sun awakes and offers me its most intimate moment. A stunning sunrise that I contemplate in silence with a smile from ear to ear.

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I shake my sleeping bag covered with sand. I fell asleep on the beach, the embers of last night’s campfire are still crackling. I look around and see the shape of my traveling companion Aurélien a few metres away, his entire body buried in his sleeping bag.

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After spending a month at the farm in Carwell, we have decided to go up north and stop by Mission Beach. Mission Beach is a little beach town of 5,000 inhabitants and well-known for its stunning 14 km long beach bordered with coconut trees. A real heaven on earth.

We have found the best spot to camp. 3 steps from the beach between two palm trees. I feel like living the adventures of Robinson Crusoe. I literally sleep, eat, cook, and live on the beach. Read a good book, have a rest in the shadow of a coconut tree whose perfect shape reflects in the golden sand. Some simple pleasures that make me forget about everything.

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Being on a road trip is a limitless freedom to enjoy to the fullest.

Hit the road, get lost, retrace your steps, find your way back and get lost again a few miles away. Stop to take a photo of the scenery, have a bit to eat, make a campfire on the beach, hit the road again and get carried away by the wind, listening to your whims and living in the moment. Wake up on the beach, lulled by the sound of the waves, or in the middle of the jungle woken up by the birdsongs. A priceless freedom that I will always treasure.

But driving thousands of miles across Australia has taught me that a road trip is a rock solid logistics organisation. It’s a daily logistical brain teaser to enjoy with true joy, lots of laughter, and a little bit of irritation sometimes!

Here’s my random list of the little things about what’s a road trip like. Please feel free to leave a comment if you wish to add any ingredient from your own recipe 🙂

A 5,000km road trip is…

* To check every two days that the car is in good condition;

* To look desperately for a petrol station because there’re only 2 litres petrol left;

* To do your accounts every day;

* To try to remember what you bought the week earlier because you forgot to do your accounts;

* To wonder where all your money went;

* To wear the same old outfit every day and not care about it;

* To appreciate the simple pleasures of life;

* To look for a free spot to spend the night;

* To have a policeman knocking at the window in the middle of the night because you’re parked in the wrong spot;

* To wake up with the sunrise and watch the sunset every day;

* To take off the bags on the back seat, put them at the front to set up the bed at night;

* Do the opposite in the morning and hit the road again;

* To wear your swimsuit every day

* To stop to change a flat tire;

* To do the groceries every day and buy the same cheap food because even on a road trip you still create your own little habits;

* To have drinks and snacks on the beach every evening;

* To see epic scenery every day;

* To live a simple but beautiful life;

* To get lost in the middle of nowhere;

* To encounter some wild animals;

* To fall asleep on the beach;

* To get the food and the gas cooker out, holdalls and plastic containers full of everything three times per day;

* To have barbecues nearby the beach;

* To play endless card games;

* To get a fine because you parked in the wrong spot;

* To lose your stuff along the way;

* To cook and eat anytime anywhere;

* To eat inside the car/van because it’s pouring outside;

* To do the dishes in the sink of the public toilets;

* To sleep on a wet mattress because it rained and the window was down;

* To smell bad effluvium of food in the car that you end up getting used to;

* To spend the night in the middle of heavy trucks at the petrol station so you can shower;

* To get lost for miles and miles without noticing it;

* To make fire camp on the beach and eat grilled marshmallows;

* To cry out of joy while driving because the scenery is incredible and you feel grateful to live this adventure with your best friend;

* To push and challenge yourself;

* To discover deserted heaven of peace;

* To enjoy nature to its fullest;

* To have no privacy;

* To shower every time you find a shower and shower in public;

* To stop and ask for directions;

* To unpack and pack, unload and load over and over again;

* To constantly look for something and not finding it or finding it when you don’t need it anymore.

* To argue and fight with your traveling buddy because even though you love each other, living with someone 24 hours a day is super challenging!

* To listen to the road trip playlist songs and sing like you’ve never sung before

* To feel as free as a bird and live the most incredible experiences

* To put things into perspective and forget about the futilities and turpitudes of life

* To live an extraordinary human adventure, full of memorable encounters and friends for life;

* To create the most epic memories that you will tell your children and grandchildren one day!

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Now, pack up your stuff and hit the road 😉 !

Into the Wild

Tuesday, 3rd September 2013, Townsville, Queensland, Australia.

I jump off the taxi and hug my traveling companions. My sunglasses hide the tears rolling down my cheeks. After a memorable journey traveling and wandering around Queensland, I am on my way to explore the far-flung lands of Australia. Alone.

On the bus that departs from Townsville, I realise that my personal quest starts now. The challenge, the adventure, the real one.

I get off at the bus stop in Cardwell, a small coastal town located 2 hours from Townsville in Far North Queensland. It pretty much comes to one long street, a few shops, and a petrol station. I breathe the heartland of Australia and a very provincial area.

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I am standing in front of the Deli Café, the place where I have been asked to wait to be picked up. It certainly that does not go unnoticed with its huge red crab on top of the roof. The perfect spot for a meeting point.

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I hear a woman hailing me. It’s Chris, the mother of the family with whom I am going to spend a few weeks. I will be helping her with the daily tasks at the farm she owns with her husband Wes.

After quitting my job and leaving everything behind me to move to Australia, I have decided to spend my year traveling and volunteering. It’s as if all those years working in the bowels of a money maker pushed me to run away from it. I am seeking authenticity, wildlife, wilderness, breathtaking landscapes, new lifestyles and cultures but I want to associate something useful with it. Volunteering has appeared the best compromise to me.

Chris warmly welcomes me. She carries my big backpack and puts it in the boot. I open the door of the truck, an old Land Rover over-used by the years. A dog jumps on me and licks my face. I make my way through and sit in the middle of petrol cans, dusty objects, and rusty tools.

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Chris starts the engine. We’re sinking into the Australian bush. Deserted dirt roads, mountains, endless pastures, trees and grass burnt by the sun are all around. After a 10 minute drive, she stops the pickup. We have arrived at the farm.

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I get off the car and look at my surroundings: a vast ground with green trees and a wooden shack covered by a tarpaulin. No walls, everything is open. I spot a “living room” and a “kitchen” under a roof built in sheet metal. A bit farther away, a “shower” and the “toilets” are made of wood and scrap iron.

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I can see two old shaky caravans and some abandoned treasures: an old Mercedes, a broken Jaguar, a van, some carcasses of boats all over the place. There’s also a barn filled with a nameless mess. I can sense a place where all sort of objects, useful and useless, have been stocked for many years.

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I catch glimpse of two horses walking around freely, some dogs and cows. I am not surprised to see some spiders and a few dead snakes. I see in that place everything hostile that the Australian fauna and flora has to offer.

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No electricity, or running water. Life here relies on a generator that needs to be filled with petrol every day. Someone has to start it every morning and stop it every night. To get some hot water, we need to turn on the fire in the wood burner of the kitchen.

Chris tells me that a violent hurricane ravaged the town of Cardwell two years ago. The farm has been entirely destroyed.

Everything that I am seeing could have made me run away. But somehow, it’s making me want to stay even more. The change is extreme and without any transition, but this is what I wanted. These people need my help and the lifestyle is far beyond anything that I have experienced in my life.

I can feel that I am about to live in this place the most memorable and crazy adventures.

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7 am, 15th of October 2013, Cardwell, Queensland, Australia.

The deafening sound of the generator pulls me out of my sleep. I had an awful night. The gusts of wind haven’t stopped shaking the old caravan. I thought everything was going to collapse.

I get up to have breakfast. The boys are already awake. Since the destruction of the farm, Chris and Wes have been taking a few backpackers to help them in the daily tasks at the farm. I end up with two French boys, Aurélien and Franck, to share my adventures with. Rosie, the old mare, is already waiting for her piece of toast.

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It’s now time to work. I sit at the back of the old pickup. Jo, the dog of the farm loves coming with us. As usual, he jumps on the passenger seat. Aurélien starts the engine and after a 10 minutes drive on a stony dirt road we stop in the middle of nowhere.

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This morning we are going to do some fencing which consists in fixing the fences to prevent the cows from escaping from their pen. We have to remove the damaged poles, replace them with new ones, stretch the lines of barbed wire and fix them. The very physical and hard work has left a few scratches on my arms and legs.

After a couple of hours, we are back on the farm for a quick break. Then Wes takes us in the bush to cut and pick up big tree trunks. It’s boiling hot and the place is infested with snakes. I stomp my feet every 5 minutes to scare them away. The heat is unbearable, I can feel my whole body melting. I wanted to know what it was like to work hard under the blazing sun, I know for sure by the sweat of my brow!

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It’s finally lunchtime and we’re heading back to the farm. Chris has made some tasty sandwiches and salads that disappear in a flash. We promised Wes to sand the floor of the “living room”. It’s 50 degrees in the sun and the heat is intense but a promise is a promise. With courage and good humor, equipped with pickaxes, rakes, and buckets, we joyfully start the work.

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At 4 pm, we stop our duty. Time has come to relax and rest. As usual Aurélien, Franck and I go down the river. There’s not much going on near the farm and the river has rapidly become our main playground.

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I find interesting the fact that without nothing to do around, there’s actually more space for creativity. We have come up with the idea of building a makeshift raft with two wooden pallets and two inner tubes from a truck. Let’s see if the floating system is on point! Jo, our loyal companion, is always the first one to dive into the fresh and crystalline water of the river.

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Our beautiful raft with the tricolor flag, whose approximate floating system has led us straight to sinking and hysterical laughter!

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After a happy return to childhood acting like kids, it’s time to get back to the farm to…

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…fill the generator with petrol so we can get some electricity.

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…turn on the fire in the wood burner to have hot water.

…and eat a generous dinner! Chris has cooked and the smell tickles my nostrils. It’s a gravy dish with meatballs, mushrooms, onions, mashed potatoes, some cheese and some bread. Not the healthiest but definitely very tasty and well-deserved.

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After dinner comes animated conversations, laughter, and endless card games listening to the sweet sounds of nature.

9 pm, lights out. Time to turn off the generator. Silence takes place, finally. A dark night envelops the farm whose presence can be only guessed under the light of the starry sky.

Life at the farm is far from being easy. The work is hard and the living conditions are difficult. However, I feel like home. I push and challenge myself every day, I learn, I discover and discover myself. I had no idea that I could achieve that much.

Fix cars, build a henhouse, run after chicken and ducks, drive a tractor, a Jaguar, a pickup, fix and repair fences, feed animals, sand the floor, pick up woods, cut it, garden, dig holes, clear lands, load trailers, unload them, work in the bush under a blazing sun, live with insects, spiders, snakes, frogs, toads, and all sorts of poisonous creatures…

I feel like living a second life, thousands of miles away from everything I have known, far away from my familiarities, my habits, my routine and the turpitudes of the modern world. Here, I manage to live in the moment intensively, without fearing what tomorrow will bring. I am not scared of it. I embrace it.

 

 

Egyptian dream

5th of May 2006, somewhere in the White Desert (known as Sahara el Beyda), Farafra, Egypt, 4 am.

A strange sensation pulls me out of my sleep. “Something” is licking my toes and for a second, my whole body freezes out of fear. I open my eyes and slowly raise my head to see “what” is getting down to lick my foot. In the obscurity, I catch the glimpse of two long large ears on a small head with fluorescent eyes. I release a sigh of relief. It’s a fennec. Those cute little foxes living in the desert. It must have been attracted by our stock of food, and probably the smell of my feet.

I am glad I did not scream out, waking up the whole camp for nothing. I am looking around, everyone is peacefully asleep. The campfire is slowly dying but I can still hear the crackling sound of the flames. The millions of stars are shining bright, I can’t find my sleep anymore. I get out of my sleeping bag for a walk. I want to enjoy the surroundings at dawn, when the desert awakes.

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The scenery of the White Desert is quite unreal. It is strewn with alien shapes and boulders of glossy white, which stand up right from the surface of the desert. The rocks are coloured from snow white to cream colour. I feel like walking into space, on another planet or in the setting of a science fiction movie. The history of the White Desert is incredible, it makes the place magical and completely out of this world.

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70 million years ago, the sea covered the east part of Egypt. The White Desert used to be a seabed for 30 million years before disappearing. During this period of time, some white limestone was built upon the ground, reaching a thickness of 300 metres. After the withdrawal of the sea, the erosion has never stopped to shape and work the limestone. That is why the White Desert is famous for its spectacular white stone mushrooms, shaped by the wind erosion and contrasting with the ergs of yellow sand.

There are also many fossils left by the sea and its marine flora like seashells and other non-identified objects shaped in the most improbable ways.

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It’s hard for me to believe that I am here. Standing next to these massive stone mushrooms and contemplating a masterpiece that only nature can create. I feel little, so little. Silence and wildness prevail on human marks. It’s a place of solitude and there’s something very spiritual about it. The White Desert is a yellow and white planet filled with giant stone mushrooms and curious objects left by the vestiges of the past.

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As I keep walking, I can see the boulders, crowding together at different places, creating shapes resembling animals or humans. As dawn crawls in, the shapes seem to shift with the constant change of natural lighting. The furtive silhouettes of fennecs wandering around are the only living sound that I hear.

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I stop my wander and sit on the sand for a little while. The sky becomes lighter. The shiny stars slowly disappear. The pastel colours on the horizon and the yellow shades indicate that the sun is going to rise soon.

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I stand up and shake my bottom covered with sand. I’d better get back to the camp.

******

10th of June, on the way to Khan-el-Khalili, Cairo, Egypt, 10 am.

“I would like to go to Khan-el-Khalili” I say to the taxi driver with my very poor Arabic skills.

The taxi driver shakes his head, meaning get in, get in! I jump in and I have not closed the door yet that he starts to drive.

I am meeting my friend Karima for a coffee/shisha and a stroll at the zouk. Khan-el-Khalili is the main souk in the historic centre of Islamic Cairo. The bazaar district is one of the most popular attractions and probably the most lively area of the city.

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I get off the taxi and wave at Karima who’s waiting for me at the entrance. I met Karima when I arrived in Cairo 3 months ago. She’s French with a Moroccan background and we rapidly became inseparable.

“How much are the slippers?” I ask the woman of a little shop filled with hundreds of colourful oriental slippers.

“400 EGP,” she says smiling at me.

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“Don’t be a fool, she is trying to rip you off, it is not worth that much, let me handle it,” whispers Karima. After an animated conversation in Arabic, Karima turns back with a proud smile on her face.

“I got them for half the price.” Since I have arrived in Cairo, Karima has been my white knight, saving me from the unscrupulous merchants.

Khan-el-Khalili lives day and night. The souk is a busy little village that never sleeps. The first time I went there, it made me dizzy, the heat was unbearable and the cacophony of sounds was intense. Then the places become more familiar, every time I visit. The merchants know me well now and greet me politely.

I like wandering in the narrow alleys, there is always something new to discover. It’s a real cavern of Ali Baba in there. The warm colours, the smell, the shiny carpets and hessian on the walls make the place very welcoming and cosy. My favourite stalls are the spice ones. I love the palette of bright colours, yellow, orange, red. The mountains of spice powder in their jar are beautifully even and symmetrical. The scents emanating are strong in flavour but I like it. It makes me want to cook.

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The delicious smell of the pastries always tickles my nostrils when I walk past the pastry stalls. I love Arabic pastries, especially the gazelle horns called Kaab el ghzal. These little Moroccan treats stuffed with almond paste make the taste buds dance in my mouth.

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We decide to stop with Karima at a café to have a coffee and smoke a shisha.

Also known as “hookah” or “nargila”, shisha is the ornate, Arabian water pipe through which Egyptians while away the hours, toking contentedly on fruit-scented tobacco.

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Smoking a shisha alone, or with some company, forms the basis of much Egyptian social life. The first time I tried, I liked it because of the flavour and the bubbly sound of the water when you inhale. I naively thought it was healthier than a cigarette but rest assured that a shisha contains as much as nicotine and other nasties as cigarette tobacco.

Egyptians usually smoke apple flavoured shisha. Other flavours such as strawberry, watermelon, orange and even coffee also exist but they are mainly for tourists.

“Wahad shisha tufa min fudluck” (One apple shisha please), I ask with my clumsy Arabic accent. It is probably one of the only sentences I can say properly.

We also order a Turkish coffee. The thick texture and strong flavour surprised me the first time I had it. But like many things here, I got used to it.

I’ve found out that Turkish coffee is made by boiling very finely ground coffee beans with water and usually sugar, then serving into cups, where the grounds are left to settle.

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After our little coffee break, we’re strolling back in the zouk, wandering around until getting lost. What I like the most about Khan-el-Khalili is that the place is always brimming with little treasures that are delightful for the eyes and the senses.

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15th of July, Alexandria, Egypt, 3 pm, 

“Wow!” I shout, not able to contain my astonishment and waking up the whole study room.

“Shhhhht!” says the man at the reception with a reprimanding look.

I can’t believe I am inside The Royal Library of Alexandria. This monument used to be the largest library in the world and the most significant library of the ancient world. It was dedicated to the Muses, the nine goddesses of the Arts.

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The ruins of the Great Library of Alexandria

The heritage is colossal and I can feel the extraordinary history behind these walls. Even though, the library has been restored today by modern infrastructures.

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There’s a mythical atmosphere reigning in this place. As I am walking around, exploring the rooms, I am learning the incredible story of a monument whose mystery still keeps inspiring and haunting the minds.

The Great Library, with its impressive and unique collections of works, books, scrolls filled with knowledge of many ancient civilizations, lecture halls, and gardens, was part of a larger institution called the Museum of Alexandria. It was a place for arts, literature, philosophy and science. Many of the most famous thinkers and writers of the ancient world studied there: Homer, Plato, Socrates and more.

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It is popularly believed that the library has been destroyed in a huge fire around 2,000 years ago and its voluminous works were lost. The destruction of the Library has haunted the imagination of poets, historians, travellers and scholars, who have lamented the tragic loss of knowledge and literature.

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As an old Literature student and very passionate about it, it is quite unreal to be in that place. I spent many years learning and studying about these great thinkers, reading and analysing their philosophy and masterpiece. And now I am standing where they stood, I am walking where they walked, I am thinking where they used to think. I feel extremely moved, honoured and grateful to be here.

I leave the Great Library fulfilled and dreamy, my imagination filled with pictures of a glorious past.

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Shanghai Mon Amour

Sunday 31st of December 2017, 5 am, Fuzhou, China. 

My alarm clock pulls me out of my sleep. I slowly open my eyes with a big smile on my face. It’s time to get ready!

I could not find my sleep last night. It always happens when I am too excited. Today, my friend Yance and I are flying to Shanghai and it is the most exciting way to end the year and start a new one.

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On the way to the airport, I am thinking about the NYE and the one before that. Two years ago, I was contemplating the fireworks over the Harbour Bridge in Sydney. Last year, I was in Auckland, unpacking boxes and drinking champagne with my ex-boyfriend in our new apartment. This year, I am in China, free as a bird, and I am going to spend NYE in Shanghai with my dearest friends. Life is truly unpredictable.

The icy air of Shanghai instantly freezes my face as I get off the bus. It’s much colder than Fuzhou and today is a bad day. The air pollution is quite high and a giant misty cloud covers the city. An unusual palette of colours gives the surroundings a vintage look and feel. Yellow, brown, grey, I have the impression to discover Shanghai through the reels of an old movie.

My first Shanghainese discovery starts at a lovely suburb called The Former French Concession (FFC). The French Concession is the area of Shanghai that the French government administered from 1849 until 1946. Time seems to move a little slower here and an air de déjà-vu brings me back to Europe. I love the gorgeous tree-shaded avenues, which invite lingering strolls and exploration. The architecture, the fine old houses, the many wrought iron fences and stair railings remind me of Paris.

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As we walk, I spot many restaurants, breweries, concept bars, boutiques, art galleries and antique stores. I am amazed by the beautiful streets, quaint and pretty with outdoor cafés sprinkled here and there. The French Concession is brimming with little treasures that are delightful for the eyes.

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A lovely window of a café catches my attention. “Pain Chaud“, a French bakery. My craving for French food pushes me to open the door. A familiar and exquisite smell tickles my nostrils. The myriad of pastries, croissants, croissants aux amandes (almond croissants), pains au chocolat and baguette sandwiches make the taste buds dance in my mouth.

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After feeding our greedy bellies, we are setting into our Airbnb where we will be staying for the next 3 days.

“What the hell,” says Yance at the doorstep once we’ve arrived. We look at each other, both wanting to laugh and cry at the same time. We’re standing at the door but the place looks like an old barn that is about to collapse.

We’re starting to ask a few people and look around, but for a moment we’re thinking that we got scammed! As the last attempt, I dive into a little street a bit farther away, when I finally see it. The wooden door, number 46 that we’ve been praying would exist. In our defence, how confusing is it to have two 46s in the same area?

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Filled with excitement, we open the door and the most charming vision enchants my eyes. The place is a cosy little loft with a very artistic design. Each detail has been well thought out and put together, resulting in the most original decoration. There’s a smart combination of hippie, natural and vintage style. The atmosphere is so peaceful and details like a turntable, a vintage retro projector, and a ceiling rocking chair make me want to live here forever.

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“They are here!!!” shouts Yance. We rush outside and run like lunatics to welcome our dear friend Christine and her boyfriend Jeff whom we haven’t seen for a year.

I met Yance and Christine in Sydney 3 years ago and they’ve become my best friends on this side of the world. How beautiful it is to meet up with your dearest friends in another country, and start the new year with a huge dose of friendship?

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The best thing about real friendship is that no matter how long you have not seen your friends, you always feel like it was only yesterday.

We start to talk like old times, catching up about our lives and what’s been happening with all of us. It’s good to hear Christine’s laughter again, she has the most infectious laughter and I like when she giggles.

We decide to go for a night walk and explore the surroundings. It’s really cold outside and the smell of some beautiful food makes us stop at a little street food stall. The shop is tiny and run by a lovely Chinese couple of oldies. I have no idea of what type of food it is but the old lady is talking about “Chinese pizza” with mince, spinach, pickled vegetables and it smells just like it. We order two and while the old man is kneading the dough, I am observing his every move. It does look like the making of a pizza but in the Chinese style. The best part is how they cook the pizza. The oven is a big barrel with fire at the bottom and the pizza is “thrown” on the side of the barrel for 5 minutes until it’s cooked. I’ve never seen that before and the result is pretty delicious!

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For our first reunion night, we set up a giant bed in the attic of the loft so we could all sleep altogether. It’s like a pajama party and we talk about everything and nothing until one of us falls asleep. I finally close my eyes after a big day, squished by Yance who’s literally sleeping across the whole bed we’re sharing, and lulled by the cute sound of Christine’s snores.

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Monday 1st January 2018, Shanghai, 9 am.

“Aaahh, aaaaaaah!!” Yance’s yelling brutally wakes up all of us.

Yance sometimes talks during his sleep, but this time he must have had a nightmare by the sound of it.

“Let’s go have breakfast, I know where to go!” I say all excited.

Of course, I had to take everyone to “Pain Chaud” and start the day with some delicious French pastries and coffees.

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After stuffing our faces with croissants and coffees, we decide to go to Tianzifang in the French Concession district, a must-see fascinating arts and crafts destination. The area retains an “organic and original” look and feel because of its untouched human marks. While much of the older homes and buildings have been replaced, the character of this old European district has been carefully preserved in its architecture and layout. The design is a Chinese-style Shikumen (stone gate) building fused with French Colonial architecture.

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I am delighted to discover the small laneways and green alleys begging to be explored. There are small galleries and craft shops on every corner. Artists can be watched working on their craft in their little studio.

Tianzifang is an artsy area, flooded with hundreds of bars, cafés, craft shops, design studios, art galleries, and boutiques.

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We are wandering in each alley, each shop, sometimes we’re getting lost in the multitude of laneways and boutiques. Food is omnipresent and the stalls are filled with a variety of local food.

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It’s time for a break and we all want a refreshing drink, something typical. We spot on the other side of the street a line of people queuing to get in a milk tea shop called Hey Tea. 

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The place seems to be very popular and even though there’s a line, we’re getting in the queue just out of curiosity. The drinks menu is quite surprising: cheese green tea, cheese ice blended strawberry. Tea with cheese? I have a mixed feeling about that but we are all keen to try.

The shop is so busy we have to wait for our number to be called out. After 30 minutes (we got lucky that day, I’ve read that it’s usually way longer!) we finally get our drinks.

The layer of cheese is an about an inch, a mixture of whipped cream and cheese (cream cheese, I assume), lightly seasoned with salt poured at the top. The cheese layer is fluffy, thick, creamy and rich. It is surprisingly good and quite filling.

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After getting our bellies filled with cheese tea, we are heading to Yu Garden to unwind from the busy city. Yu Garden has been built in the Ming Dynasty, more than 400 years ago. The unique layout, beautiful scenery, and the artistic style of the garden architecture have made the garden one of the highlights of Shanghai. It perfectly blends decorative halls, pavilions, glittering pools, zigzag bridges, pagodas, archways, and impressive rockeries.

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After a morning of walking around and exploring the city, we decide to have a massage. The idea of getting pampered for an hour sounds appealing to all of us.

Yance, who’s turned into our tour guide today, is already looking for a well-rated massage place on his phone.

In China, there are some really good massage places where you can stay for the whole day, have lunch or dinner and rest in your room while eating fresh fruits and drinking tea. It is pretty much like a hotel and I find the concept really smart.

Yance has found a massage place where they can have 4 people getting massaged in the same room. We get in pretty excited, get changed into a kitsch pink outfit and lay down on our comfy beds.

Four masseurs come in. Two women and two men. I ask to have a woman but I probably shouldn’t have. I did not know but the women are trained to massage men and the men are trained to massage women.

So this tiny Chinese woman is massaging me with the strength of a man and my sensitive body can feel every inch of pain.

My cries and yells make everyone laugh. The woman goes hard, she jumps behind me and twists my arms pushing her feet at the bottom of my back.

What the hell is that? I feel like doing sports combat on a massage bed and I am clearly not winning. After getting pampered (assaulted in my case) for a couple of hours, we are heading back to our Airbnb to get ready.

Tonight we are going to The Bund, a famous mile-long stretch of waterfront promenade along the Huangpu River. For a century, The Bund has been one of the most recognizable symbols and the pride of Shanghai. To the west of this stretch stands 52 buildings of various architectural styles: gothic, baroque, and neoclassical styles. It is often referred to as “the museum of buildings”.

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It is the perfect way to end a beautiful best friends reunion in Shanghai.

I got in touch with a friend of a friend from France who’s been living in Shanghai for 4 years. She is running a cocktail bar and lounge in the heart of The Bund. Her name is Lucile, “Lulu” to her close friends and the Chinese people who find it easier to pronounce.

The taxi drops us off in front of an impressive early 20th Century building. The sophisticated entrance and hall let us guess that we’re about to discover a special place. Little did I know that it would be one of the most glamorous nightspots of Shanghai.

Upon entry, I am struck by the kaleidoscope of art on the walls and the mix of styles that bring a very original and unique look and feel. The place sparkles with an eclectic decor, gourmet bites and a cocktail menu that dazzles the senses. The bold colours splashed on the walls mixed with masterpieces from a private collection give a playful, fun and chic atmosphere. Not to mention the peacock peering at you.

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I spot Lulu straight away and she warmly welcomes us. She leads us to a table and we all follow her, eyes sparkling and bursting with joy. She has reserved a table near the window with a spectacular view of the Shanghainese skyline. As we’re sitting down on stylish chairs and sofa, the waiter brings us 5 flutes of champagne, offered by the house.

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What a perfect start to the night. Canapés and gourmet bites follow the champagne and it’s like a succession of delightful delicacies. Tonight, we are the privileged ones and we are enjoying every second of it.

As if it could not get any better, Lulu takes us to the private balcony of the dining restaurant. I could not hold my joy and I let a scream of amazement. Standing here, in such a special place, makes me realise why Shanghai is called the Magical City.

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Besides the breathtaking view, it’s the atmosphere that strikes me the most. I feel like I am in a futuristic space city, ready to see a spaceship flying down the Oriental Pearl Tower. The misty clouds enfolding the buildings and the silence high up on the rooftop give an impression of solitude and mystery.

I can’t get my eyes off the Oriental Pearl Tower. Its architecture fascinates me. This 468m (1,536ft) high tower is the world’s sixth and China’s second tallest TV and radio tower. Built with eleven steel spheres in various sizes, hanging from the sky to the grassland, the body of the tower creates an admirable image. It is described in an ancient Chinese verse as “large and small pearls dropping on a plate of jade.” (大珠小珠落玉盘).

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Standing in front of such beauty with my dearest friends makes me reflect on my life. Who would have thought I’d be in China in 2018, teaching English to children and so far away from my comfort zone? At this very precise moment, I feel fearless, I feel powerful. I am the captain of my life, the master of my destiny, and even if I don’t know what the future holds, all my decisions, my actions define me and will lead me as far as I want to go.

Yance pulls me out of my reverie and after taking a hundred photos we get back to our table. The rest of the evening is a decadent feast for the belly and the senses ­– delicious food, surprising cocktails and to close an amazing night, Lulu orders a beautiful 2 tier cake stand overflowing with desserts including my favourite: a Pavlova, a meringue dessert with a crisp crust and soft, light inside topped with fruit and whipped cream. I could easily get used to getting spoiled like that. It is truly a magical night.

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It’s now time to head back home and we’re getting in the taxi, our minds filled with amazing memories and very content bellies.

Wednesday 3rd January, Shanghai, 5 am.

Yance and I wake up silently to get ready to go to the airport. Our Shanghainese trip is coming to an end and we have to leave our dear friend Christine and the charm of our cosy loft.

As we are about to walk out the door, Christine wakes up, still half asleep. We all hug, quite moved as we won’t see her for a while. Then we depart, leaving the warmth of the studio to a cold and windy dawn.

 

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10 Random facts about China

After 10 months of observation and getting more acquainted with my Chinese life, I have to say that the customs and habits in China are pretty fascinating. Especially the behaviour towards the digital world.

Here’s a list of 10 random facts about China that strike me the most.

#FACT 1: CHINESE PEOPLE LIVE IN A DIGITAL WORLD

In China, you can order EVERYTHING online and get it delivered to you. I insist on the word “everything”. It literally is. Food, clothes, furniture, groceries, plants, anything you can possibly imagine. My friend even bought some tropical fish that arrived two days later in a special container! The best part is that it gets delivered to your door or left in those electronic mailboxes each building has. 

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Chinese people always have their heads down looking at their phones. It’s very common to see motorbike riders typing on their phone while driving!

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#FACT 2: CASH IS DEAD – LONG LIVE TO MOBILE PAYMENTS! 

Cash is pretty much dead in China as the country is living the future with mobile payments.

Chinese people don’t use cash or coins anymore to buy things. They use their mobile phones. They have a digital wallet with money and all you have to do when you purchase something is scan a barcode and type in the amount. The first time I saw Yance paying the taxi driver this way, I watched it with my mouth wide open. I thought it was the coolest way to pay for stuff. It actually made me want to buy something just to try it out.

The online payment technology is incredibly advanced. No wonder why China’s economy is one of the world’s fastest-growing in the worldThe Chinese mobile payment volume more than doubled to $5 trillion in 2016*.

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The two most popular online payment apps are WeChat and AliPay. They are the major players in China.

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In many ways, using digital money makes your everyday life easier. It’s just more convenient and faster. There’s no need to carry cash or a credit card. You only need your phone.

I like the “transfer” function. If you owe money to a friend, you can just look for his/her contact in WeChat and transfer the amount. It’s so much faster than getting their bank account details! I was a bit concerned regarding the safety, but my digital wallet is locked up with a passcode that I have to type in every time I make a payment.

The only crucial thing is not to lose your phone! You can’t live in China without a phone!

*Source: Analysis data cited by Hillhouse Capital. 

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#FACT 3: WECHAT, CHINA’S “APP FOR EVERYTHING”

WeChat is a magical app that makes the impossible possible. It has been called China’s “App for Everything” because of its many functions and platforms. It is one of the world’s most powerful apps.

If China lives in a digital world it’s mainly due to this kind of multi-purpose social media mobile app. It has such a huge social impact on Chinese behaviour. With WeChat you can order, pay, book and pretty much do everything. It’s crazy to think that an app has replaced real life and physical actions like going to the supermarket or getting cash out at the ATM. It fascinates and scares me at the same time.

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#FACT 4: THE GREAT FIREWALL OF CHINA

With the rise of the Internet in China in 1994, the country has struggled to strike a balance between “opening up” to the Western world and keeping its people away from the Western ideology. The Great Firewall of China, formally known as the Golden Shield Project, is the Chinese government’s internet censorship and surveillance project developed in 2000.

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This Golden Shield Project caught my attention as I think it reflects pretty well the position of China towards Western countries. I believe it poses one of the most interesting dilemmas in modern history.

On one hand, the Chinese government wants to use the information technology that comes with the Internet to build its blooming economy and make it thrive. On the other, the Internet inherently encourages diversity of ideas and represents a tool for democratising society. While the Internet is important to China’s economy, its very existence also undermines the political stability of the country. China is constantly seeking to strike balance between these two ends.

With the firewall, much to my desperation, I must say, many popular websites are banned in China. You can say goodbye to search engines like Google, Yahoo, but also media (Youtube, The New York Times, Financial Times, The Economist, Le Monde – Yes, even French media!). Social media are of course the focal point and are completely banned (Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter and more).

You can check out the list of banned websites here.

But don’t panic if you’re planning to go to China. There’s a way to bypass this firewall (otherwise you would not be reading this post!) and still get access to your favourite websites. You will need to download a VPN (Virtual Private Network). Any mobile app store will have VPNs. On my end, after trying at least 3 different ones, I have purchased Star VPN which works pretty well and costs me $3 a month.

You just have to be aware that there’s no perfect VPN and sometimes the connection can be slow or not functional. All you need is a lot of patience!

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#FACT 5: A WONDERLAND OF DISCOUNTS

But only if you have a trained eye! The first time I saw a shiny 90 sign, it really enticed the western shopper in me. I thought “Wow! 90% off?! That’s the best sale ever!” However, I was just a fool. 90 isn’t as great as it seems.

I found out that Chinese discounts work in a completely opposite way to western discounts. While a western shopper sees 90% off, a Chinese shopper sees that you pay 90 percent of the price. That means 90 is actually only 10% off!

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But generally speaking, there are always ways to get cheaper things in China. They have insane discounts and special deals that defy the rules of competition. Especially when it comes to food. Let’s say you order online and reach a certain amount, you can sometimes get 30  50% off. It’s also very common to see sales guys from restaurants giving away vouchers in shopping malls to get 50  100 RMB off your meal.

Online prices are cheaper than retail stores. My friend Yance buys all his clothes online and I have started to do this as well. In case we’re not happy with our purchases, we just call the courier who comes to our place to pick up the items and we get a refund straight away online!

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#Fact 6: CLICK THE RED PACKETS! 

A red packet is a monetary gift in a little red envelope which, in the Chinese tradition, is offered during holiday seasons or for special occasions (weddings, graduations, births etc).

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But there’s also a digital version of the red packet that blew my mind the other day. After working hard for Thanksgiving at the school where I work, our managers, as a reward, sent to our WeChat group a rain of red packets! The concept is simple: someone sends in a group a red packet with a defined amount of money and chooses how many people he/she wants to share the amount with. The first person to click on the red packet earns a random amount of money.

For instance, I can send to the group a red packet of 100 RMB and choose to share the amount between 5 people. Once the red packet appears in the group conversation, its members have to quickly click on it to see how much they’ve earned. That’s when it gets funny and exciting because the whole concept of the red packet is based on luck. The first 5 people who’ve clicked earn a random amount. One can get 30 RMB, another one can get 2 RMB and so on until it reaches 100 RMB. The amount of money you earn goes automatically into your WeChat wallet!

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For Chinese NYE, people send big rains of red packets and the amount can go up to hundreds of RMB! It’s probably the easiest way to make money just by clicking some links on your phone. There’s no doubt, Chinese people love playing with money! No wonder why they love gambling so much.

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#FACT 7: CHINESE PEOPLE LOVE DRINKING HOT WATER

In China, the tap water’s not clean and you’re better off not drinking it. The first day I got here it was so hot that I poured a big glass of tap water and started drinking it.

“What are you doing?! yelled Yance laughing at me. Don’t drink tap water in China, you’re going to be sick!” I emptied my glass and I suddenly missed the clean and fresh water of New Zealand.

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Chinese people drink hot water (even under 30 degrees) and it took me quite some time to get used to it. It’s not even tea, just boiling water. When I ask a Chinese person why they drink hot water, the answer is usually “it’s better for your health”. I did not really get it at the beginning. Apart from burning my throat, I could not see the benefits. Now that I’ve reviewed my habits, hot water has become my new tap water.

But to be honest, hot or cold, water is water and both are fine to drink! It’s just a question of beliefs and habits.

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#FACT 8: THE MOST TYPICAL DISH IN FUZHOU IS…

Hot pot! Each region of China has its own food specialty. In Fuzhou, you will find many hot pot restaurants. Hot pot is a soup with a variety of East Asian foodstuffs and ingredients, prepared with a simmering pot of soup stock at the dining table. While the hot pot is kept simmering, ingredients are placed into the pot and cooked at the table.

Typical hot pot dishes include thinly sliced meat, leaf, vegetables, mushrooms, wontons, egg dumplings, tofu, and seafood. The cooked food is usually eaten with a dipping sauce.

It’s the perfect dish to share with family and friends as it’s very convivial and can last hours! I absolutely love it, it’s delicious!

 

#FACT 9: CHINESE PEOPLE KNOW HOW TO PARTY

I wrote about the nightlife in Fuzhou in a previous post. I am still amazed by the Chinese hospitality when it comes to party or going out. The nightclubs are insane and they really make an effort to put on a big show. People in nightclubs talk to you and naturally buy you drinks. They don’t expect anything from you except having fun.

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#FACT 10: A NEW SKYSCRAPER IS BUILT EVERY 5 DAYS

China never sleeps. It’s constantly developing and expanding. Buildings, skyscrapers, and massive shopping malls are popping up like flowers. Towers appear in little to no time and in a couple of months, a new suburb is born. China is like a giant tree whose branches keep growing.

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Lost in Translation Part III – China’s nightlife

My new life in Fuzhou is slowly taking shape and after a difficult start, I finally feel like my time in China is going to be amazing. I can see myself living here for a while, learning what I have to learn, discovering and experiencing as much as I can. 

I remind myself every day the reason why I came here and where it’s going to lead me. It makes me feel good.

I am eventually feeling what I love so much about my life: enjoying my freedom.

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Fuzhou city, a night at the Life Club, 2 am.

The music is so loud that I have to shout in the ear of a guy who’s asking my name.

“My name is Juliiiie!!” He says something back but I cannot understand a word. I shout a very ungraceful: “Whaaat??”

That’s pretty much the only conversation you can have at the Life Club, the place where you lose your memory (or your consciousness) while having countless shots of vodka and feeling the vibes on the dance floor.

I’ve never really been a party girl but this place is probably the craziest club I’ve ever been to. Going to Life Club is like doing a triathlon of drinking, jumping and dancing. You need a full day to recover.

Clouds of mist and confetti spray on my face every ten minutes, huge balloons floating in the air, free bottles of vodka on every table, performers are diving into the crowd on inflatable boats and DJs are dressed up as pandas. It’s a fun madness. Jumping and dancing on the bouncing stage in front of the DJ booth has been the best exercise. I have to say it, Chinese people know how to party.

 

Fuzhou’s nightlife is quite lively and offers a diversity of bars, nightclubs, restaurants, and pubs. Wherever you go, no matter what the time is, you will always find a place to entertain yourself. Chinese youths go out a lot and love hanging out to play games, to party, to have drinks or to eat a festive dinner with friends. There are many ways and places in Fuzhou to socialise and meet people. You just have to get out there.

One night, I randomly ended up in an underground club. A dance battle competition was on. I am not a dancer but I stayed all night. The Chinese dance scene is unbelievably good and it was interesting to observe something new. I’ve found the dancers to be crazy free, bold and really daring. Like they were freeing themselves from a strict and pressured everyday life.

It’s so easy to get carried away here. The Chinese hospitality when it comes to partying is limitless. Chinese people love making toasts shouting: “Gan bei!” (cheers) every 5 minutes, offering drinks and giving cigarettes to everyone. Not the best way to stay healthy but definitely the best way to bond.

I’ve been meeting more foreigners lately which has considerably diminished the feeling of isolation. I am feeling again what traveling and what being an expat is truly about. New encounters are such a huge part of it. It reminds me of when I left France to move to Australia 5 years ago. I was on my own, but I met along the way some amazing friends to share beautiful adventures with.

Moving to a new country and experiencing such a strong cultural shock really pushes you to open your mind in a big way and to accept different customs and habits. Adaptation and acceptance are fundamental.

Applying these principles are making my life in China way easier and because of that, I feel happier. Even if the language barrier is still omnipresent, I am finding my own way to create a new life and to fit in a completely new environment.

 

 

Goodbye my Love

My dear Ezra,

I remember you said, “If one day our love story ends, I would feel so grateful for the amazing time we’ve had together.”

Deep in my heart, I’ve always hoped that this day would never come but today, life has decided it was time for us to go our separate ways.

The most difficult part has been the acceptance. When you told me we could not be together anymore as I was starting my new venture in China, I was in shock. I got angry, mad, extremely sad, I felt lost and powerless, but now, I know I have to let us go and find my inner peace.

Finally, I feel grateful too and I can think of our wonderful memories without tears of sadness rolling down my cheeks.

I want to keep in mind the best of us and the beauty of our love story. It was an amazing and unique experience to share our dreams together.

Despite the gap between our two worlds, our love for each other and the strong vision of our relationship kept us together for two beautiful years. Our trip to Europe will remain one of the most memorable events in my life. I was so glad to bring you overseas and open your mind to something that would inspire you.

I know we both have learned a lot from our relationship which will make us stronger and more prepared for the future.

We are giving ourselves the freedom to go for our respective dreams and that’s a beautiful reason to go our separate ways.

Believe me, it was so hard for me to think this way. I’ve been through the whole mental process, trying to cope with my crazy emotions.

But now, I am okay. I am not crying anymore, I’ve found my sleep back, my appetite and I wake up with the feeling that I can conquer the world again.

I wish you the very best, I know you will make it because you’re the most passionate person that I know. Keep pushing, hustling (I know you’re very good at that!), don’t give up until you’re at the top. I am so proud of you for what you’ve achieved so far and my support will be with you forever.

I am sure I will hear from you and about your company sometime soon.

On my end, it’s time for me to work harder on my dreams too, and I promise I will send you a copy of my children’s book!

Please keep the crafty book that I made for you, in the memory of our beautiful story.

With all my love,

Julie.

Julie & Ezra’s Special Book: http://www.juliedocreative.com/ezra-julie

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Lost in Translation – Part II

I am feeling fear as I’m standing on the corner of an intersection. A hundred of motorbikes are sitting there, waiting impatiently for the green light.

“Don’t hesitate, just go and don’t stop. They will avoid you.” says my Chinese friend Yance.  I grab his arm tight and dive into the madness.

I am still trying to overcome my fear when I cross the street in Fuzhou. Motorbikes are like pedestrians here, so they use pedestrian crossing…It is so impressive (and scary!) to see on the other side of the road, an army of motorbikes that literally ploughs into you.

China is a real cultural shock that I am still in the process of getting used to. It will happen in the end but it takes time. Everything is so different and it’s a big change from my western life.

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My life in Fuzhou is challenging. I am feeling a mixed bag of emotions that make it quite intense. I am so excited to discover a new culture and immerse myself in a new environment. But it is also alienating as the cultural shock is so strong.

It reminds me of the turmoil of Vietnam. Insane traffic, a hustle and bustle in the streets that never stops, a cacophony of horns and the smell of Asian food emanating from every corner.

Fuzhou never sleeps, it’s constantly developing and expanding. Buildings, skyscrapers, and massive shopping malls are popping up like flowers. Towers appear in no time and in a couple of months, a new suburb is born. China is like a giant tree whose branches keep growing.

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I have observed a curious mix of advanced technology, modernism, tradition, and conservatism. It’s everything and its opposite. They fancy the luxury of the Western world but forbid you to be truly exposed to the outside world (Google, YouTube, social media are banned). The access to information is restricted and controlled. If I am still able to update my blog and socials it’s thanks to a VPN (Virtual Private Network) that I have downloaded.

It’s for sure one of the most difficult things to cope with as a foreigner. I was born in a democratic country whose main principle is liberty.

But the most challenging part is definitely the language barrier. I did not really think of it before leaving. I was way too excited about the amazing teaching opportunity. I naively thought that people would speak English. At least a little bit.

The reality is no one speaks English in Fuzhou. All the signs are in Mandarin and I have no clue of what’s happening around me.

Luckily, my Chinese friend Yance is with me. He’s been guiding me so patiently but relying entirely on someone is somehow, alienating and frustrating. Not being able to communicate or understand people are the biggest frustration I’ve ever felt in my life.

I remember the first group dinner we had. I felt so diminished and powerless not to be able to interact with the rest of the group. It’s a very unfamiliar and uncomfortable feeling. I have never faced a struggle like that before and I did think: “What am I doing here”.

I am so out of my comfort zone that it scares me. The thought of going back to Australia has crossed my mind many times. This natural instinct that pushes you to go back to what you know because it’s safer and easier…

I do miss my Western lifestyle, but I do know I need to put in the effort to build a new life in Fuzhou if I want to make the most of it.

I have to think about the long-term and I want to recall this experience 5 years from now saying:

“My year in China has been the most enriching and challenging experience in my life. I am proud to have given myself the chance to live over there and open my mind to a new world.”

 

 

Teaching in China

Fuzhou, China – Friday 3rd, November, 7 am,

The squeaking sound of a jackhammer brutally pulls me out of my sleep. I can’t recall a night since I am here without being awakened by these bloody machines.

The building and area where I live in Fuzhou are still being constructed and the noise has become part of my new world. Somehow I got used to it.

It’s time to go teach at the school.

“Wake Up Yaaanceee!” I shout at the door of his bedroom.

(Yance is my Chinese friend I met in Sydney. He helped me attain a position as an English teacher at the school where he works, which has brought me to China. Teaching a second language to young children has always been one of my aspirations).

15 minutes later we’re running late to the school. Thank God it’s only 200 meters away from our apartment. In Fuzhou, no one wants to be stuck in the insane morning traffic.

The school is brand new. A month ago when I arrived, it was still a construction site and I thought it would never be ready on time. I was wrong. In a month, the site has transformed into a beautiful school.

 

What really caught my attention is that this school is not a primary school or part of an academic system. It’s a creative educational school that offers 3 courses: English, Drawing, and Dancing.

When Yance told me about it, it sounded like a dream. I have always wished to be able to teach languages in a fun and creative way, using games, music, art and role play.

 

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The challenge was also to discover a new country. China sounded ideal. A real disruption of culture that would push me far out of my comfort zone. Again.

France, Australia, New Zealand and now China. I like to think that I have lived many lives in my life. I am a traveler at heart and there are so many things to discover about the world.

I have started to teach my own class and I have met so many different types of children with different personalities. From the shy little girl who does not want to leave her Mum to the exuberant boy who disturbs the class. I find extremely interesting and challenging the fact that no matter what, I need to engage with the children enough to catch their attention.

Once it’s done, it feels so good and rewarding to see the cutest happy smiling faces, having fun while learning another language.

 

I am discovering how to make teaching plans, curriculum for the year, and the greatest part is that we have the freedom to be creative. We incorporate songs, dance routines, games, art, role play. It’s so much fun. Way more fun than my old school memories.

Teaching and playing with children is a therapy to me. When I teach, nothing else matters. Worries and problems are gone. My only goal is to make the children happy and teach them the love of learning.

I do believe that Education is the foundation of a better future for humankind.

When I was a child I remember being so bored at school and not interested in the class. I used to daydream a lot and imagine crazy stories. I wish I had more encouragement from teachers to see above and beyond. And that it is okay to be different.

I want to encourage children to pursue their dream and I want them to feel great about themselves. Because that is just what youngsters are. Great.