Annie Bananie en Europe

A blog about travel, life, and everyday tidbits

October 2020

Here we go, year 3 of the monthly summary posts. These started on my WeChat as a reminder for me to observe the details and notice the small delights of everyday life, which are often overlooked especially during hard times. Then I began to realize that I do a lot of these things – write, photograph, share – because it gives me joy to just record even the most random things. And it is important, for far too often we entangle ourselves in the battle against the reality that tries to devour us and forget to live. So it continues – maybe I will stop at the end of three years, as I did for several of my previous projects. We’ll see in a year…

At my workplace, the yueji flowers (Chinese roses) growing next to the entrance to the building across from us blooms each year in around April and November, from what I’ve observed. The bright colours always bring an air of delight to a depressing work campus.

A lone flower encountered during a lunch walk around the work campus. I don’t know what type of flower it is, and a plant recognition identified it as begonia, but I’m still unsure…hmm.

Roots of a huge tree wrapped around the corner of what seemed to be a mock city wall in Yuexiu Park, Guangzhou. I wasn’t sure if the tree was real or artificial but…it looked real enough to me. I had visited Yuexiu Park many times but only noticed this during my recent visit. Looks fascinating when lit up during the night!

Another small discovery during the lunch walks (still doing them while the autumn weather is nice enough to neither sweat nor freeze). Mr. Cool-Propeller-Duck – yes the propeller spins – looks swaggy with his retro sunglasses and gold chain – dang!

Photos of spectacular cloud formations often appear in my monthly summaries because they are always a product of serendipity. The dome at the subway station seems to be a common place where they appear, probably because I usually exit in the morning at the right time to catch the post-sunset show put on by Mother Nature 😛

Chilling with long-lost friends from Glasgow! Well, only about three years, not so long relatively. These two Wuhan natives came home for the Golden Week holidays and J and I were able to meet up with them.

Mr. J imitating this sculpture of a baby/toddler with a huge head in Yuexiu Park. Keep your balance and don’t topple over!

Another photo featuring Mr. J…or is that him at all?! Our feline friend here has taken a liking to Mr. J but didn’t seem to be impressed that the camer was pointed toward her. Classic feline what-are-you-looking-at expression >o:(

And this…was the most random photo ever. It seemed like Mr. J was tired or maybe he was pretending to be sleepy so that he could avoid having to deal with whatever shenanigans I was up to…O_o

Just a side note: US election is the most exciting and worrisome event to happen in a while. I’ve never been into US politics and I’m not even a US citizen, but this seems like the biggest show on Earth of 2020 and I’m eager to see how it turns out. I still remember waking up in Glasgow four years ago to find shockingly that the UK voted yes to Brexit, but this time, because of the time difference in China, I might be able to follow up-to-the-minute reports on the US election…not sure if I want to. All will be revealed tomorrow…

My stories 06: The old green trains

I remember when I was little, I used to take the old green trains with “the adults” from Guangzhou back to my mom’s hometown in Gansu province of China. Then we’d take the train back again, and each way took two days and one night. That route still exists now and I guess the duration is the same even today. When I was very young, we went in the hard sleeper coaches. We even travelled with hard seats once and that was quite a terrible experience…yep. Along the way, there were three stops that left the deepest impression in my memory. The first stop was Wuchang (one of the three major districts that make up the city of Wuhan now), which I can’t be more familiar with in present day. On the return trip to Guangzhou, the train must cross the Yangtze River Bridge before arriving at Wuchang station. Every time we were crossing the bridge, my third grandpa would remark with excitement, “We’re at Wuchang, we’re at Wuchang!” And that was the earliest that “Wuchang” entered my vocabulary as a place in China. The second stop was Zhengzhou. I didn’t know where Zhengzhou was back then (now I know that it’s the capital of Henan province) and I only knew that it was a major station, as the train stopped there for nearly half an hour. The adults would get off the train to stretch and walk around, but I’d always worry that the train would leave before they returned, so I’d keep urging them to get back onto the train. The third stop was Xi’an, also a major station. During those years, there’d be vendors selling food and snacks on the platforms. You didn’t even have to get off the train – you could open the window and buy whatever you wanted. I remember there was someone selling roasted chicken at Xi’an station and oh man, that chicken looked extra mouthwatering and irresistible. But then, the adults never bought anything from the train stations. As a small child, I could only watch as that delicious-looking roasted chicken, which I never got the chance to taste, disappeared in front of my eyes. Today, I can most certainly afford to buy a roasted chicken myself, but no one sells them on the platforms anymore…

Slow green trains on the platform. Nowadays, many people in China choose to travel with the high-speed trains for speed and convenience, but many of the slow train routes, including the one from Guangzhou to Gansu, still exist.

(This short essay was written on August 26, 2019.)

September 2020

September has historically been my favourite month of the year as it marks the beginning of autumn as well as my birthday 😛 This year, September was extra-anticipated because I took my five-day annual leave at the end of the month, giving me two weeks off work when combined with the eight-day National Week holiday at the beginning of October. Still, let’s see what Annie had been up to this past month.

I’m constantly discovering new places in Wuhan and this time it was a walking path near the Huanglongshan (literally “Yellow Dragon Hill”) area. Who would have thought that there’d be this “I ❤ U" sign in the middle of nowhere! So Jian and I had some fun with it, heh 😛

And at the same time, there is a “I LOVE HUST” sign in front of the HUST (Jian’s university) library. Can’t say I myself love HUST that much but J is a loyal faculty member indeed 😀

Weekly fellowship combined with a birthday party this time, at my place.

Birthday girl making a wish upon a star…or upon a cake?!

Sleep vs. grumpy cat, with that “what are YOU lookin’ at O_O” look. It’s OK, I still like you.

Cat #2 here, looking photogenic as passersby stop to admire the gorgeous beauty.

Dramatic sky one afternoon, with the clouds trying to mask the radiating sun. But Mr. Sun’s like, “Nah bro you ain’t taking the highlight away from me” as it attempts to burst out of the sombre clouds…

The baking experiments continue, this time with…classic banana bread! First bite was like OMG this is delicious but it ended up being too sweet…AGAIN, even with reduced sugar content. I guess I didn’t take into account how sweet ripe banana themselves already are…need to work on my sugar control!!!

Tidbits of street food in Chaozhou in Guangdong province, a small trip taken at the end of September before going to my hometown Guangzhou. Top left: beef and tripe soup noodles; top right: glutinous rice stuffed in pig intestines; bottom left: a variety of street snacks in Chaozhou; bottom right: matcha shaved ice milk. Food heaven! ❤

There are two and a half months left in the peculiar year of 2020 but we’ll see if it could get any more bizarre…see you in November with the next monthly update!

One year of marriage

Today is my one-year wedding anniversary with J and I am glad to say we didn’t rip each other apart during the past 366 days, yay! We spent the day in my hometown Guangzhou, where it all began – it was here two and a half years ago that J told me he loved me and we entered a relationship, which naturally led to marriage. Our wedding last October took place in France (where we met) and since then it had been heck of a year, what with COVID-19 and J developing anxiety (not related to COVID). Throughout our marriage, I am learning more and more about this man each and every day, and even though he has habits that annoy me to no end and make me want to kick his sorry ass, I am also completely aware of my own shortcomings, which are perhaps 1000 times more difficult to bear than his. Yet this man has managed to put up with me with his insurmountable patience and not get a mental breakdown from me being unreasonable most of the time, which impresses me and can only be explained by the magnitude of love that he displays on a daily basis. Every moment, I am grateful that God has allowed our paths to cross and I recognize how blessed I am to have J as my husband. The marriage is still young and growing, and both of us have unknown challenges that must be faced together and lessons that must be learned, I am sure. Most importantly, I am constantly trying to remind myself to learn how to love, not in a way that benefits myself only, but with the aim of supporting my husband and fortifying our relationship as a team. This won’t be easy and there will be hardship, but with you beside me and God above us, no fear can hinder us. All in all, every ordinary day has been an indispensable page in the journey of our marriage, and as long as I am with you, I can welcome each new page with joy and anticipation. Here we go, year 2!

Just one of the many days where I want to punch this man’s face… 🤔

Ten years of blogging

The first entry of this blog was posted exactly ten years ago, on September 27, 2010. That’s a whole decade. Let me take a moment to let that sink in…

If you’ve read my “About” page, you’d have had some idea of how this blog ever came into existence at all. I remember when I made the decision in 2010 to go to Europe for my PhD, I was telling my friends and the reaction of one of them, Albert, was, “Oh cool, you’ll be blogging, right”? I don’t think he said it in a sense of “I’ll be reading it when you post” (he probably never did), but with more of a “everyone’s blogging (back then), so I’m assuming you will too” tone.

So I said, “Uh, yeah!” without really having the intention of blogging to begin with, but having kept an online journal for 8 years already at that point I thought…well why not. And thus, “Annie Bananie en Europe” came to life. Where do I start…let me summarize these ten years briefly, year by year.

  • Year 1: the beginning of my PhD
  • Year 2: still struggling through the PhD
  • Year 3: finally getting the PhD!
  • Year 4: unemployment and pause
  • Year 5: back in Europe again?!!
  • Year 6: Glaswegian post-doc days
  • Year 7: final year in Europe…for now
  • Year 8: meeting J and moving to Wuhan
  • Year 9: surviving Wuhan
  • Year 10: making Wuhan my home amidst COVID-19

Looking back, the blog started out as a venue for me to document my travels in Europe and my experiences as a PhD student in France and Belgium. (The order in which I mentioned travelling and the PhD really does tell you my priorities, huh… 😛 ) That was the “en Europe” part. Then I finished my PhD and went back to Canada for a year of unemployment and what’d you know…I ended up BACK in Europe, in Glasgow, of all places. And dare I say that Glasgow was where I had my most memorable European days – sorry Bordeaux! Then the real unfathomable happened when I moved back to China for work – or for LOVE, truthfully. That ends the “en Europe” phase (for now) but Europe will always have an irreplaceable part of my heart, so the name of the blog will not change for as long as it exists.

The site has also transformed from a blog that was exclusively about travel adventures to one that included musings about other aspects of my life, including but not limited to lab life, cooking experiments, short reflections, and random stories. Having said this, I also want to take a closer look at the major changes that have happened throughout the decade, aside from the changes in location:

  • Snobby 20-something that didn’t know any better in 2010 — a-little-less-snobby 30-something that still doesn’t know any better in 2020
  • Single and making stupid relationship mistakes in 2010 — married and still learning to love every day in 2020
  • Intensive, don’t-waste-any-moment travel style in 2010 — relaxed and spontaneous travel style in 2020
  • Photographing everything I see with my DSLR from 2010 to 2015 — taking a lot fewer photos in 2020, still the same DSLR but a lot more with smartphone for convenience
  • Writing almost weekly about almost every trip taken from 2010 to 2013 — writing a lot less now but on a variety of topics in 2020
  • Freshly stepping into the global society in 2010 — gaining a broader and more comprehensive worldview in 2020, ESPECIALLY after living and working in China for two years
  • Happy and thankful in 2010 — still happy and thankful in 2020 despite the crappy year it had been!

In this list, I’ve mentioned three of my five greatest joys in life: travel, photography, and writing (food and music being the other two). I’m glad that after ten years, I still haven’t given up on any of these joys (I don’t want to use the word “passion” lightly), although the time spent on these joys have dwindled for various reasons. Still, if life were a school project where I am presenting what it is to be “me”, then these five joys will encompass much of what I am, and I think I’ve built up quite a decent portfolio. I also want to mention that my “career” isn’t really linked to any of these (except for maybe writing), and I hesitate to define any part of myself using my current “career” situation. I strongly dislike my job and that’s all I will say about this for now.

To avoid being too verbose, I will end this post with the following reflection on travelling (since this is still primarily a travel blog). Amidst the pandemic I am gaining a whole new appreciation of the luxury of travelling. Luxury not as in staying at five-star hotels or drinking expensive wine, but as in having had the opportunity and privilege to freely travel and see the world in the first place. I still maintain that travelling is a privilege, not a right as others believe. Being in China, I am currently allowed to travel domestically, though as a foreign passport holder there are more than just a few restrictions and inconveniences. But I won’t complain because being able to travel in these times is already more than what I could or should ask for. That is one thing. Second, although the blog isn’t as active as it used to be and there probably aren’t many regular readers, I won’t let it die so easily 😉 It holds so much of the memories that I dearly treasure – the words, the photos, the feelings embedded within each composition and each thought. A pat on the back to myself, one for each year. On to the next decade!

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