Adapting to a new land.

I have now been in China near six months, and I can begin to say it’s starting to feel more like home, although I’ve only begun to scratch the surface of this city, this country, its culture and its language. Uprooting yourself, travelling half-way across the world and starting a new life, no matter the length of time you stay, or not. It’s no easy feat, it requires a lot of courage, taking that leap into the unknown. No matter how much research you may do on the internet, nothing can truly prepare you for what lies ahead. It requires a certain level of belief, or at least that has come to be my understanding, in yourself and what you are capable of. To some its about getting lost, and for others its about something else entirely.

In my time here, I’ve sound a few simple steps, if you like, that have helped me adapt to my new surroundings, that have begun to mould something of a home for me here. A few things that have carried me forwards, kept me sane and avoided the inevitable perils of certain things, much like homesickness. This isn’t a guide so much as what I’ve found to be true.

Homesickness:

In this regard I have always found myself rather fortunate. I don’t feel its something that has ever really hit me, other than a few occasions. But in moving to China I was fortunate enough to be moving from family to family, in that my uncle has lived here for a great many years, and my aunt even longer still. Having family with you is a great boon in the battle with homesickness, that is without a doubt. But, I imagine, in a lot of cases, people aren’t as fortunate as I have been in this respect. The best way I have found is a simple on. In this day and age communication is remarkably simple. There are dozens of ways to stay in touch with those closest to you back home. Friends and family are all within easy reach. What’s more, you can see them as often as you’d like. Through Skype, WeChat, WhatsApp and FaceTime, to name but a few. Otherwise it’s plain old written communication. It’s only in moments in which you are left to your own thoughts, your own mind that feelings like homesickness creep in. You don’t feel homesick whilst you are at work, when you are experiencing new foods, climbing or hiking through a mountain or absorbing new sights. Keep in touch with those you care about and keep active, you’ll avoid this temporary affliction.

Films and Books

Something I’ve never witnessed in any form of written advice or reflection, although I feel it can’t be something unique to me, is the potency of films and/or books in aiding this transition. Watching films, both new and old can be the perfect distraction. In the case of older films, films I grew up with, or films that just so happen to be favourites of mine, help to settle me. They help to calm and really add that homely feeling. Much like listening to a song you had forgotten about can revive old memories and feelings you once forgot you had. An old film can transport that feeling of belonging, that feeling of being at home from your old abode to your new one. Its a similar case with books, a favourite book is much like a comfort blanket or an escape to another world, where you can leave any troubles or feelings behind for a time. Aside from the comfort they bring, books and films are perfect tools for making new and lasting friendships. Jurassic World, when it hit the silver screen out here pulled a group of people together I now happily call friends. People I have been travelling with I may never have met otherwise!

Routine and Habits

This isn’t to say you should have every moment planned, or any moment planned at that. But habits and routines are a sure sign of being settled. The most basic, if you can call it that, would be work. Soon, after travelling to and from work becomes a pattern, you’ll slowly begin to feel more and more at home. But I can’t dwell here for too long, routine and patterns are, for the most part, something I’ve often struggled with. But I have enjoyed them when I have had them, and work have been a very stable influence.

Travel

This may seem odd if you’re intention is to plant some roots, logically being in one place would be pretty key in establishing yourself. But leaving where you are only to return, perhaps frequently, perhaps a little less, can really begin to alter and shape the way you see and perceive where you live. To leave only to return really begins to cultivate a sense of belonging and a sense of being at home. You begin to grasp at the feeling that this is where you live, this is your home. When moving abroad all you really long for is a home, a sense of it, maybe even just a whisper of it, but that longing is always there. This may even be one of the best ways to bring about that feeling. I know that in my few travels so far, Shanghai has felt a little more like home every time I’ve returned, every time the wheels of the plane have kissed the tarmac, every time a train has come quietly to a stand still, Every time I have returned to Shanghai every time I have returned home.

This is what I have found so far in my time here, perhaps you’ll find some of it of use, maybe you won’t. Either way, I wish you all the best.

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A Demographic Mishap?

As ever I don’t claim to be an expert, but after reading a little, I thought it would be interesting to discuss the future of China’s Demographics. What first sparked my interest was an article discussing what has been dubbed a ‘Bachelors’ Crisis’. It has been estimated by China’s National Bureau of Statistics that by 2020 the men of China will greatly outnumber the women by a staggering 33.8 million. This great void has been attributed to the extensive use of the ‘one child’ policy. During which time it was often preferred to has a son, as opposed to a daughter, a matter of practicality? I’m not so sure, but perhaps more of a cultural design. Either way this pattern of gender selection is now predicted to come to a head. Historically with a surplus of men, societies generally grow more violent, women have always been a calming influence.

Past periods of unrest in Chinese history have been linked to similar demographic shifts. When female infanticide skewed the sex ratio of the Qing dynasty’s population in the 19th century, young men unable to find wives formed into armed bands and the imperial realm experienced a succession of armed revolts across the countryside that fatally weakened the Manchu regime, hastening its 1911 downfall. (Hong Kong Free Press: https://www.hongkongfp.com/2015/10/02/china-begins-countdown-to-bachelor-crisis-as-over-33-million-extra-men-come-of-age/)

Now what does this mean for the younger generations, both those currently in that bracket and those who will soon grow into it? Increased competition for women? More than likely. Will higher demands placed on men to show that they are viable partners? Logically you’d expect so, women will be faced with a barrage of potential bachelors, and they will have the power to pick and choose. Arguably wealthier men already posses a sizable edge in such a competition, so where will that leave those less fortunate? It’s possible that not only will this lead to an increased demand for prostitution, but it could also lead to an increase in sexually related crimes. As it is China is a remarkably safe place, especially for foreigners, and I’m sure it will remain so. But there is the potential problem there, these young men will find one way or another to vent their … frustrations. I find myself curious as to how such an imbalance will come to effect sexuality, sexual attitudes and behaviours. In the face of claims that in more progressive areas of the country, such as Shanghai or Beijing, sexual attitudes are shifting further towards western ideologies, such as they are. Will an overabundance of men encourage or repress any kind of change, real or imagined? Will this increasing amount of men allow women to become sexually more liberated, or will the be forced to choose a partner and settle faster than before? Of course I don’t hold any of the answers and my crystal ball is currently out of service, but it seems there is no denying such a shift in the population will effect the country in one way or another.

Any potential change may be further compounded by a recent phenomenon sweeping China. There are an estimated 20 million homosexuals currently in China. Although it is no longer a crime, nor is it classed as a mental illness anymore, homosexuality still boasts a high level of negative stigma and cultural bias. Whilst progressive steps forward are being taken, it is never an easy task changing the cultural views of a nation. It most certainly won’t happen over night, its a change that develops generationally. Now what is this phenomenon I mentioned? It’s called Xinghun: marriages for show. (http://www.atlasobscura.com/articles/in-china-gay-marriage-is-between-a-man-and-a-woman). Aside from marriages in which homosexuals and heterosexuals are married, homosexual men and women are now marrying each other to integrate more fully with society. A large driving force behind this is the expectation of children. Whilst some of these marriages avoid the issues, others forge documents legally certifying the women as barren. The third option, which also occurs is the raising of a child, leaving the parents struggling to find ways to inform their children as to the reason(s) they were born. Whilst this may not seem to present a problem to China’s shifting demographic, and don’t misunderstand me here, I have no issue with homo or heterosexuality, it may present a short term solution.

While xinghun is hardly ideal, it’s an improvement from what’s already been going on for centuries—gay men wedding heterosexual women and vice versa. According to research from Qingdao University, 80 percent of the estimated 20 million gay men in China are in fake marriages, meaning that 16 million Chinese women are currently married to gay men. Unlike the users of the xinghun website, the majority of these partners were not informed beforehand. (http://www.atlasobscura.com/articles/in-china-gay-marriage-is-between-a-man-and-a-woman)  

Now, of course in an ideal world, anyone could marry anyone they wanted, without their sexuality, gender or any such constructs becoming an issue. However with a such a large predicted shift towards a male heavy population 16 million women in ‘fake marriages’ could become more of an issue than it otherwise would ever be. Again I wish to stress that this is not an attack on any particular party or group. Does this mean society will be forced to take a more progressive stance towards homosexual marriages to, for a lack of better words, release women from fake marriages, by removing the need for them all together. Or will it further compound the impending ‘Bachelor Crisis’? At the very least it is food for though. With the recent changes in China’s family planning laws, perhaps there will be a further loosening of the reins in an attempt to counteract such sweeping demographic swings. Only time will tell.

Taiwan – Kenting and the South Coast

After our exploits in Taipei our journey continued onwards, in the direction of Kenting, resting at the bottom of the island. We were faced with a dilemma or sorts, should we A: take two buses culminating in a journey of potentially seven hours or more, or B: take the HSR (High Speed Rail) and one bus and make the journey in three and a half maybe four hours? Whilst B was somewhat cheaper, A was fundamentally more comfortable and in almost every way worth paying a little extra for!

So the next day was spent, for the most part, travelling. Initially at 296kmph eating up the distance between us and our final destination. The second half, well speed wise that was a little more modest. I never got a look at the bus’s speedometer, but I’m assuming it wasn’t quite so rapid. And through a little luck, that didn’t initially appear that way, the bus we had bought  tickets for and queued for left without us, owing to an issue of capacity. The second bus that arrived to whisk us away turned out to be a lot more comfortable and larger. How do I know this, I saw the seats in the first bus, as eager as I was to get on it, I’m glad we didn’t.

Now, you don’t need a great deal many words to describe Kenting, the area is simply stunning. The weather when we arrived, up until the point we left, and I imagine beyond that point, that was nothing short of tropic. The average temperature was in the 30’s (Celsius), the sun was almost constantly beating down on us. The strong winds meant that the weather could change in a heartbeat, we were caught in the odd sudden downpour, however brief they were. But at times they were in themselves refreshing. The landscape was captivating, beautiful beaches that contrasted spectacularly with the deep blue and shimmering turquoise of the sea. Mountains that punctured the horizon and blissful sunsets that set the evening sky awash with vibrant reds and oranges. Priceless.

We had settled on a hostel named Rainbow Wave, mostly I guessed due to their focus on surfing. The modest café at the front hide the much larger accommodation at the back, with ample room for all of its visitors.

Rainbow Wave

It turned out that the hostel was ideally placed in the centre of Hengchun, next to the main road, the local police station, bus station and Family Mart. Everything you could possibly need, along with some very helpful and attentive hosts. Our days here were very well spent. One the first of these days we arrived in the afternoon and headed straight for the beach at South Bay (Nanwan), just in time to watch the sunset over the island. After such an idyllic start to our tour of southern Taiwan we headed to bed with broad smiles and happy hearts. What was to follow was only going to add to our euphoria!

Sunset (1)SunsetSunset (2)

The next day beckoned us out from the hostel and into it’s glorious embrace. The sun was beaming down on us, the sky was a beautiful strong blue and our plan, well it promised us something special. What was this plan? I hear you cry. I’ll tell you, don’t you worry. It was simple, and in its simplicity lay its genius. We were to hire scooters for the day and cruise the coastal highway until we reached the very southern tip of Taiwan, something we had no idea was on out bucket list until we saw we could do it! Getting the scooters themselves was a little trickier than we had anticipated, but after a little advice from the hostel, we hoped on a bus into Kenting. Here we managed to grab the last three available from one shop, although it seemed they might have been the last three available in the area (probably not, but we all love a little drama). The initial few moments on the scooters were filled with a little hesitation and trepidation, we hadn’t ridden any before. I say that but I did have an unfortunate incident in my youth that left my scarred for life, I feel of an incredibly low powered motorbike during my CBT, but that’s enough about that. Quickly the trepidation subsided and gave way to the more enjoyable feelings of … well …. enjoyment excitement and exhilaration. Beautiful vistas after gorgeous scenery passed us by as we wound our way down south. After all the ocean view we could handle, we made it, we had reached the very bottom of the island.

Coastal Scenery - Not the Tip of Taiwan
Coastal Scenery – Not the Tip of Taiwan

As we approached, it became apparent we would have to ditch our newly acquired transport and head forth on foot, through great wilderness, facing impossible untold dangers. Up until the point, at least, that we spotted a safer tourist ready pathway, a little like the Yellow Brick Road, only a little less yellow. Upon braving the depths of this labyrinth we laid eyes upon our goal. A sculpture had been erected there to mark that this was indeed the southernmost point of Taiwan, all that laid beyond this point was the vast emptiness of the sea. But all joking a side, it felt pretty special to be standing there, to watch the waves crash against the shore, and to truly appreciate the shear volume of said watery body. After a period of quiet contemplation and admiration, it was time to hit the road again.

Scooters Southern Point Southern Point (3)

Now I won’t bore you with many more details, just know that for the majority of our time here, we were happy, we ate well and we were on very nice beaches. The last trip of note was our foray into Kenting’s night market. This night market was more of what we had hoped for back in Taipei, it was busy, it was exciting and it turned out to be pretty difficult to get back to the hostel from. This situation was remedied by a taxi ride, that was slightly more expense that usual, but at the same time cheaper than it could have been. Having spoken very limited Mandarin to our driver, he eagerly gave us $50 (Taiwanese Dollars) back and some fruit from the boot of his car, not a bad result. Back to the market, which was adorned with various stalls selling meat in sticks, a personal favourite of mine, meat in boxes, seafood and dumplings. We also found one shaved iced stand, which is well worth a try. Its basically flavoured ice, covered with condensed milk that is sat on top of a bed of ice cream, glorious.

Shaved Ice Flavours
Shaved Ice Flavours
Shaved Ice
Shaved Ice

Again I will spare you the last remaining boring details, we travelled back north, we travelled a little more and a little more and just a little bit more. We made it back to Shanghai, with out health and our happiness in tow. Taiwan, Taiwan was an awesome adventure. On to the next one!

Cheers Taiwan

 

Taiwan – Taipei

My first real holiday in China  just came and past, during this Mid-Autumn break, accompanied by a few friends, I escaped to Taiwan. Now, before arriving we had heard certain things, like once you’ve been to Taiwan you’ll wonder why you chose China at all. It seemed a little hard to believe; China has been great so far, and more specifically Shanghai is a fantastic city, sure it has a few negatives, but so does everywhere right? Having said that, there are a few stark differences between the countries, some you may understand, some you may not, unless you’ve experienced them yourselves.

  1. The Metro – I think this is something you could gauge better if you’ve ever ridden the metro in Shanghai, although I suppose the underground system of many a major city can draw parallels. It’s generally a case of survival of the fittest, the Shanghai metro boasts no order or patience, as soon as those train doors open its a battle to force your way on or off it. In Taiwan however, and more specifically Taipei, the metro was a joy to use. They have a set of rules in place and a level of etiquette that is abided by, by every single person. Everyone strives to “be a good metroer”. Truly it’s a marvel to behold. There is no pushing or scrambling, everyone patiently lets you off the train, before calmly entering it. They don’t litter or spit, the courtesy seats are left empty for those who require them. They queue! Even on the escalators they stay strictly to the right hand side, unless they feel the need to walk up the stairs. I may be rambling a little here, but the difference was remarkable!
  2. Polite and Clean – Now this isn’t to say everyone in Shanghai is rude and the streets are filthy along with its people. But Taipei appeared to be visibly cleaner. Not once did I see anyone spit or piss in the street, no one littered or created any real mess of any kind. On top of that they were all exceptionally polite, it was like a breathe of fresh air (not only due to the fact the air was less polluted).
  3. Finally the levels of English – Again the levels of English in Shanghai are high, without a doubt. But in Taipei it seemed everyone had at least a working knowledge of English, which for an Englishman who can speak only the one language, proved to be incredibly useful. It was certainly a lot less hit and miss. Even in the more rural areas we visited (or at least less urban) people could speak very good English.

Having read that, I can understand if you’re beginning to wonder, “well hey, it does sound like he prefers Taipei”. But not so quick there! Shanghai is still my home, and she has a lot to offer. But that’s not the point of this little post.

Back to the holiday! It was due to be spread over a week, from Monday to Monday, however due to influence of Typhoon Dujuan (2015) we effectively lost two days. So we had only one day to explore as much of Taipei as we could, we settled on the most touristy things, a trip to the hot springs, a visit to Taipei 101 (the tallest building in Taipei) and an expedition to a night market.

Hot Springs

hot spring (1) Hot Spring Thermal Valley

This was my first ever experience with a natural hot spring. It was fantastic! Its a crazy thought to this this water was naturally heated to temperatures ranging between 60 degrees Celsius to 90! You could feel the heat coming off the water just standing next to it, something even more apparent when you left the area and the temperature in the air noticeably dropped. The hot springs were beautiful though, but be warned, sulphur isn’t always the most pleasant aroma. You had to feel a little sorry for the kids that had been brought along by their parents, every time the wind rose up they were burying the heads in their faces trying to escape it all. The Thermal Valley, as it had been named was essentially a short tour of one hot spring. It was very easy to get to and was worth visiting just to see the steam dancing along the top of the water, something I’d only ever really seen in films trying to create a certain atmosphere up until then.

The second stage of our hot spring journey was even more enjoyable, although un-photographed (for obvious reasons, people don’t like you taking pictures of them bathing). We went to the Beitou Public Hot Springs. Here, for a small fee, you could relax and bath in the springs, revelling in all their professed healing powers. The pools were split into three levels by temperature, 35-40, 40-43 and 43 upwards (degrees C). There were a few signs in English, mostly stating common sense, like if you feel you are going to pass out, get out. Although not worded exactly like that. There was also some unwritten etiquette, like no splashing or frolicking, washing your feet before entering a pool and no inappropriate touching, these hot springs were strictly PC. The locals who use the pools will politely inform you of what you are doing wrong and show you how to do it right. The water itself felt like you were wrapping yourself in a blanket of heated silk that was simultaneously renewing your skin and lifting your spirit. Another way to look at it is like you are receiving the warmest hug you could imagine. The springs were just a place of pure unadulterated happiness.

Taipei 101

Taipei 101 (2)Taipei 101Taipei 101 (3)

This monumental building is definitely worth a visit, if not just for the world’s fastest passenger lift, that took us from the 5th floor to the 89th in 35 seconds! Once the tallest building in the world, and now the largest green building in the world, Taipei 101 truly does stand out. It’s staggering and it leaves you contemplating just how buildings like this are made and designed. The view from the top was just as special as the views from below. We spent a fair amount of time strolling through the observation floor (the 91st floor was shut due to damage it had received during the typhoon) soaking it all in. And as the sun began to set, a happy measure of unplanned timing, our eyes greedily devoured the sights all over again. There isn’t much more to say about this building, it’s just something you need to see for yourself!

101 view101 view (2)101 view (3)

Night Market

The final chapter in out 24-hour dash across Taipei led us to what we hoped would be one of Taipei’s infamous night markets, known as spectacles for both your eyes and your stomach, adorned with wondrous foods and exotic tastes. Well, that’s what I had heard at least. My experience was ever so slightly different from the one I have just described. This is owed to one major factor, based on the recommendation of our hostel owner, we didn’t end up at one of Taipei’s large and extravagant night markets, instead we travelled across the city to a much smaller and more local affair. Here what we witnessed was much less of a spectacle, and more of an average night for the locals. There were no exotic tastes, just some very good meats on sticks. Their  were no exotic wares, just people trying to sell fake belts, watches and Bamboo Juice (something I believe must be an acquired taste).  That’s not to say it was a bad market, just not what we were looking for to end out stint in the Capital. Especially towards the end when, to avoid a rather large stray dog, we ventured down a long, badly light eerie tunnel, which we were followed down. Thankfully this little misadventure culminated in us arriving safely at the metro, in much better lighting.

All in all our trip to Taipei was fascinating and a truly great experience, full of a few firsts and a few hairy moments. But we survived to tell the tale and that’s all that really matters in the end. We only had the chance to scratch the surface of what Taipei had to offer. We didn’t have time to see any of its history, any monuments or museums. We didn’t have time to explore its streets or hike the surrounding mountains. But hey, any old excuse to go back! Without a moments hesitation I would recommend you putting Taipei on your list of place to see and to experience, because it is just that.

3 … 2 .. 1 …

It’s almost mandatory that a new blog or website be started with an introductory post. Well quite simply I am giving this another go. Writing is an outlet for me, something I enjoy and through this, perhaps something I can share. I did previously have a blog on WordPress entitled SeventhChronicles (www.seventhchronicles.wordpress.com), but unfortunately I lost my password along with every and any means of recovering it. So I am wiping the slate clean and starting again.

This blog doesn’t have a single unified theme that seems to be the success of many a blog. Instead it will jump between whatever is in my head to stories, poems, my travels and adventures and a whole menagerie of scraps and ideas. And despite the fact I feel the following sentence should contain an inspirational quote, I have no pearls of wisdom to offer you just yet.

So please, make yourself at home, get comfortable and join me for the coming tide.

Life, One Step at a Time