Okay, this is a long one, so get comfy, grab a cuppa and maybe a biscuit or two…
How can 2 days go so quickly? Time is a set factor in life. It does not change. 48hours. Saturday and Sunday. But somehow Friday only seems like yesterday. Weekends always go so quick don’t they. Thankfully the past few weeks I have been making the most of these sweet sweet 48 hours.
Working in the AMC office has led to me working many weekends due to such things as Entrance Exams, Open Days, Marketing events etc. (And basically anything that goes on on the weekends that need to be photographed!) Over the past few months, they have been non-stop. Back in February we had a run of 5 weeks of having to work at least one day over the weekend. [Then Sam, Dean, Han & Soph were over, so I had 3 weekends of no work. Yay!] But then it was back to work and another Saturday was spent running around school for an open day. I’ve started to stick up for myself and my time a little more over the past month. I appreciate that it’s not only me who is having my weekends taken away, but as an intern, and on 4000rmb a month, I’ve slowly become more and more reluctant to spend my Saturdays and Sundays in work. I hate to be one of those people: “It’s not my job. I don’t get paid enough.” I hate the way that sounds and it’s not who I am. I’m more than willing and happy to help my department and school wherever I can, and honestly, I’d rather take the photos myself and loose a day, than leave it to someone else and have photos we can’t use. But we’re so close to the end now, and I didn’t come all the way to China to spend my weekends, as well as my weeks, in work missing the opportunity to go and explore somewhere.
The past 3 weekends have been great. (4 weekends ago however I was imprisoned in the Boarding house due to my one and only weekend boarding duty. Put it this way. I finished a book and watched at least 5 films.) So the run of my 3 great weekends started on Friday 13th May with meeting the birthday girl [Shelby] at the train station to sort out my mess up with train tickets. We then went for our usual Friday night in Suzhou: CasaZoe (Mexican food and margaritas), a little trip to the DVD shop, and ending the evening in The Camel (a sports bar, I never thought I’s say that a sports bar would be my local. God I miss pubs.). It was a pretty good night, lots of tequila in both margarita and shot form (and maybe a few beers thrown in there for good measure.). It was a messy end but a good night in general. It’s not every year you spend a birthday in China!
The following morning, with the help of lots of water, Shelby, Candice, mum and I made our way via taxi, train and another taxi to Shanghai. We stayed in The Rock and Wood Hostel which the interns had stayed in back in November. Mum and Candice went to an art exhibition, while me and Shelby chilled out, yes had a nap in our windowless room, and then we headed to my favourite place in Shanghai, Tianzifang.
I love this place. Just walking around and getting lost in the allies and shops is a great escape from typical Shanghai. Candice and mum met us there and we ended up having a lovely Italian in a rooftop area and were there until the sun went down.
The next day was an expensive, but fancy end to mums last weekend in Shanghai. We went for brunch at The Westin. Free flowing champagne and all the food you can eat. (Oh, and a guy dressed like Spiderman cleaning the windows on the roof.) It was a really nice day celebrating coming to the end of mums 4 years here, and Shelby’s 23rd year of being on this planet.
After a taxi, train, and another taxi (no it really isn’t a case of just nipping into Shanghai from Suzhou), fun weekend 1/3 was over.
Weekend 2/3 was a, little further afield than Shanghai. Candice, Leah, Mum and myself took an overnight sleeper train all the way to Xi’an.
The sleeper train was actually really not bad; in fact, I’d go as far to say it was nice. For China. After the horror stories we’d heard, we were all a little apprehensive, and I had only ever experienced sleeper trains in Europe, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. But, with the 4 of us in one cabin, it was really quite pleasant.
We arrived at about 9am at the hostel and after dumping our bags we headed straight to the Terracotta Warriors, our one and only reason for making this journey. It was a hot day, and a long taxi ride. A struggle to find the ticket office, and a bit of confusion when finally there. But as I’ve learnt in China, things are rarely easy, but they’re mostly worth the struggle. And boy was this worth it. I’ve spoken to a lot of people after coming back from the warriors who asked whether it was worth it, when you can just see the photos on the internet. And honestly, I was a little worried about this myself. With such things like this, there is so much hype and media out there for you to see from the comfort of your own home, that it can sometimes be an anti-climax when you actually take the trip yourself.
A little like movie trailers. You watch the trailer a number of times in the excitement and build-up to watching the real thing. And then when you do see the full feature, you’ve seen the best bits and it was all hype and the mystery has gone. I will admit, I was a little concerned that the warriors would be just that. But, I was pleasantly surprised and shocked on entry to the huge buildings protecting the warriors from the elements.
Nothing online, pictures or videos can prepare you for the sheer size and amount of the warriors still being unearthed. The fact that they were only discovered in the 70’s by a poor farmer who just wanted to dig a well. Well, I presume he is poor no longer! There were tombs built on top of some of the areas where warriors were discovered, and not only were there the standing and kneeling warriors found, but there were horses and what was left of wooden carts/chariots. The fact that such a huge and immense piece of history and work was covered and left unknown for who knows how long is mind-boggling to me. We had so many questions, but unfortunately, no answers!
- Why were they covered? Was there a landslide, or was it on purpose?
- Why were they made?
- How long must it have taken?
- Are they all created in the image of a specific person? (Each warrior is different, that’s crazy in itself)
- How do they know there aren’t more under where we were standing and where they have built upon?
- Why were some more damaged than others?
- What did they use to colour the warriors – some evidence of colouring was found
- Does the farmer get any money for this?
- Does he even have a farm any more?
The questions were endless, and maybe we should have paid for a guide to answer some, but, as much as I hate to say this, the internet probably has all the answers we need, we just need to look.
After the warriors me, Leah and Candice headed down town from the hostel towards the huge Bell Tower, Drum Tower and Muslim Quarter. All were impressive, and I loved how the towers, so ornate and big, were in pride of place within the city rather than hidden away somewhere. The Muslim Quarter though. Now that’s where it’s at, and as the quote goes:
“You will never be completely at home again, because part of your heart always will be elsewhere. That is the price you pay for the richness of loving
and knowing people in more than one place.” – Miriam Adeney.
I have lost and left so many parts of myself in various places this year, (not people I love thankfully, but places) and I definitely left a small piece there. It was such a crazy, colourful and different place. We wandered around for a good few hours down a maze of streets, all lined with food vendors and shops. The hustle and bustle of the place was a welcome attack on the senses. I ate crab on a stick, fried squid on a stick, spiralled potato on a stick, and some form of meat (beef I think) on an actual stick. All of it was incredible, and I would have loved to spend longer there, or go back again. There were little cages of birds and crickets in little wooden pens, just like in Mulan!
Anyway, that was what wrapped up Xi’an for me. The atmosphere and experience of standing and walking down those streets is something you cannot get on the internet. I think that’s another thing I will take away from this year. You may have seen the photos and videos on the internet, but you will never be able to appreciate, or truly feel the place, unless your two feet and heart are planted right there.
And finally, onto the weekend just gone, Friday 27th May. Another PD day, so, another day of me sat in the office not 100% sure what to do with myself. But, the evening was another typical Friday, CasaZoe and DVD shop. This CasaZoe however, was a final (yes another final) for mum. (Maybe.) There was Mum, Candice, Edward, Dan, Becks, (little Soph & friend), Jake, Barb, and me. We only got through one jug (pot as they call it) of margarita, and it was a nice evening with lots of talking and laughing.
On Saturday I made my way to Suzhou Railway Station and met up with Shelby, Kieran and Brooklynn (one of their friends from work), and off we went to Shanghai to stay in The Rock and Wood Hostel, for my 3rd time. The weather the past week has been nothing but rain, grey skies, and hot humidity. It was no different on Saturday, just more rain than usual! We had lunch at the hostel and looked up some thing’s to do on a rainy day in Shanghai. We found two places which took our fancy, a shooting range (guns and arrows), and an indoor trampoline place. The shooting range was quite cool (99rmb for 10 bullets and 25 arrows). The shooting was over very quickly and was a bit too much of a rush for me. Due to the language barrier, we were just pushed down the line, handed some earmuffs, and our hands were placed on the gun. BANG (x10), and it was over. We got to keep the target, which was the typical outline of a person with different target areas leading to the centre. When shooting I couldn’t have told you if I’d even hit it once, but I managed to get 7 or 8 of my 10 bullets through the paper, and roughly half of those, if not more, were actually on the body.
I may not have killed, but I’d have definitely maimed. My fellow friends were all adrenalined (no that’s not a word) up after this. I don’t want to stereotype, but the Americans were much more excited by this than me, the Brit. Honestly? Guns scare me, and I think that’s okay. It was only a small one, I couldn’t tell you what it was, but I wasn’t eager to pick it up and go again. We then moved onto the archery, which I found much more fun! Everyone else enjoyed this too, it was their first time using a bow and arrow, I’ve definitely done it a number of times before, not that you would be able to tell from the target. I find a weird pride in being one of the least competitive people I know, and I think this may come from the fact I’m not very good at much that you can be competitive with! Cards? No. Board games? No. Video games? Definitely not. And now another to add to the list, shooting things. But I enjoy them all, and have kind of accepted and embraced this over the years. (Sam will tell you just how bad I am at games. But I still love them!) I did come back injured from Archery however, due to the guy not putting my arm guard in the right place. But, also my bad I guess. After the first few times of it pinging my arm, I should have spoken up, but hey-ho, war wound and all that ‘ey!
That evening we went to a little bar for food, and to a really cool, what felt like a secret, club/bar called Perry’s. It definitely wasn’t a secret, it was packed. But the fact you had to go down to a random building, and up in a lift, made it feel very cool. We sang and danced the night away to a wide mix of songs including: We are the Champions, YMCA, Macarena, Shakira, Cotton Eyed Joe, and so many others mixed from all over. The bar reminded me of a smaller, lesser version of the ruin bars in Budapest me and Sam went to. The walls were covered in writing, drawings and quotes. There was the obligatory English football club debate on the ceiling of the area we were in. My favourite bit that I could make out was “FORGETTING WORRIES”, and that’s exactly what we were doing. After a long week of work, and all of us coming close to the end of our time in China, we needed it. A really good night was had, and we were back in the hostel by 3am.
So where did this blog post start? Talking about how quickly a weekend can go! Yes, that is true. But weeks go just as quick, only when you look back on them do they blur into each other and somehow you realise you left North Wales 42 weeks ago… That’s right, 42 weeks since I left the UK to start my adventure on the other side of the world. 42 seems like such a small number, but as there are only 52 weeks in a whole year, I guess that’s quite a long time… 51 days until I land home, and this year of living in Suzhou is over… that’s not crazy and scary at all…