Annie Bananie en Europe

A blog about travel, life, and everyday tidbits

Tag Archives: city

I got very sick in Newcastle

Newcastle has never been on my travel list, and I probably would never have visited if it weren’t for a training course that took place there in mid-February. I spent four days in Newcastle, the majority of the time in a classroom but with some time to spare after the course ended every evening. But what’d you know…I was ridiculously ill with the flu the entire time I was there – what a bummer! As a result I didn’t enjoy my time as much as I would have if I were perfectly healthy. To my lack of enthusiasm, noted by my colleague, I could only say that I got sick IN Newcastle but I wasn’t sick OF Newcastle, trust me.

I knew nothing about Newcastle before the visit apart from hearing that it’s got the best parties and nightlife in the UK, something that I wasn’t all that interested in, healthy or sick. With the colleague who attended the course with me, I did some exploration of the city in the time that I wasn’t coughing my lungs out…

Getting off the train and walking toward the hotel, I passed by the Newcastle Castle, a rather imposing structure that is difficult to miss. Yes, there is actually a castle in Newcastle and not just in its name! So if this is an old castle…does it mean that it is the Old Newcastle Castle?!

Searching for “Newcastle” on the Internet would inevitably lead you to information about the “vampire rabbit”, which I went on a slight detour to find. The vampire rabbit was perched on top of a beautiful door right next to St Nicholas Cathedral, seemingly observing every move of the passersby oblivious of its existence.

From the train station to the hotel, there is a street on a downward slope where there is a row of buildings that look like pretty little doll houses.

The Newcastle harbour is rather similar to the Glasgow harbour and there are several buildings/structures that look alike. First is the Sage Gateshead, which is a concert hall located on the south side of the River Tyne and is said to look like an armadillo. Hmm…doesn’t it remind you of the SECC in Glasgow?

Back to the harbour at night, here’s a view of the Sage lit up. I gotta say that here it looks better than the SECC, which is lit only in a single colour at night. It’s so much more interesting with more colours!

And not far from the Sage, we find the Gateshead Millennium Bridge, which…coincidentally looks very much like the Millennium Bridge in Glasgow? One would wonder if there is some unknown connection between the two cities.

The Millennium Bridge in daylight, not as interesting as it is during the night. Our hotel was a two-minute walk from the harbour but a half-hour walk from the University of Newcastle, where our training course took place.

Near our hotel is a sculpture of a…giant peach?! Actually I don’t know what it is, but from a distance it sort of looks like a giant peach to me. Maybe James and his little (giant?) buddies live there…

In the city centre of Newcastle stood the Goldsmiths building, reminiscent of the exterior of a royal theatre.

Back at the Newcastle Castle when night has fallen, we stood in front of the “Black Gate”, which was lit with a haunting aura of mystery. I wonder what stories hide behind these doors…

Finally, here’s an anti-Trump protest that we happened to come across while walking through the city centre.

I really had hoped that I would have gotten better from my flu earlier on in the week so that I could at least enjoy some more time outside, but my flu got WORSE even after I returned to Glasgow and persisted for another week. What’s more, on my last day in Newcastle, there was a giant thunderstorm that delayed every bus and train by hours…ugh. Despite all of this, there were some nice sights and fun encounters to be had in Newcastle, but I’m sure glad to be back in Glasgow and illness-free! Now for the delayed Scottish rain season to arrive…

26 days in China, part 8 – Hong Kong

The final stop of the 26-day China trip was Hong Kong, perhaps the most prosperous city that I had ever been to. I must have mentioned before that I have a love-hate relationship with Hong Kong – love because of its friendly people, convenience and efficiency, and diverse cultural scenes; hate because of its “I’m not part of China” mentality (Taiwan has grounds to say that, but not you HK). But I’m not here to talk politics. With two days in Hong Kong, I wanted to discover parts of Hong Kong that I had not yet seen in my previous visits, and indeed my explorations brought me quite a few surprises…

Most people go to Victoria Peak to get the best view of Hong Kong, and I had thought of going there (I don’t even remember if I had ever been during any of my past trips to Hong Kong), until I discovered the sightseeing elevator in a “guide to secret places in Hong Kong”. From the 17th floor the glass elevator takes you all the way up to the 56th floor amidst all of the other tall buildings in the Wan Chai area – what an experience!! Here you aren’t just looking AT skyscrapers from a distance – you ARE part of the densely packed skyscrapers and you just feel like you are soaring and excelling through them. It was so fascinating that I made the journey twice, along with a family with several kids who did the same, heh. Oh, did I mention it was free? 😉

During the day I travelled through the Central-Mid-Levels Elevator, an elevator system designed to transport commuters uphill or downhill in the Central area on Hong Kong Island. At 800 m it is the longest outdoor covered elevator system in the world. A lot of elevators on this trip, huh. The elevator has breaks at various points along the route at different neighbourhoods around the area where I was able to stop and explore. Hong Kong really is the city of skyscrapers, no doubt about that. On the left is a church banner that says: “Jesus says – my peace I give you.” The one in the back says: “Do not be anxious about anything. Be joyful in the Lord.”

Final destination Hong Kong meant that I got to see the last group of Bordeaux friends, Ting and Sharon. Had a nice time catching up with the ladies over afternoon tea and our conversations made me realize how tough and hectic life in Hong Kong could be. Take care my dear ladies!

The thing I enjoyed the most this time in Hong Kong was travelling across Hong Kong Island on the old trams, also known commonly as the “ding ding trams” because of the sound they make. It was a cheap and convenient way of sightseeing when you’re not in a rush, and not being in a rush is very important because the trams are rather slow, shaky, and often crowded. As I was staying in a hostel on Hong Kong Island, the tram stop was two steps away and I found myself using it often not only to get to my next destination but also to immerse myself in the everyday life of the city. In fact, the trams were a nice contrast to the running pace of the crowds in the subway during rush hour.

One evening, I managed to get a front seat on the top level of the tram and saw Hong Kong Island from the driver’s eyes. Passing by lit up streets, people crossing the road to get home, and trams coming the other way, life never felt more ordinary. It was then that I played the role of philosopher and began to think about the eternal question: What is the meaning of life? But then, who knows? Who really NEEDS to know?

Philosophy aside, I managed to make a trip to Stanley, an area to the south of Hong Kong Island that is known for its expat communities. Hong Kong is a wonderful place to travel to, but it’s easy to get weary from the extremely fast pace of the city. On new year’s eve, I hopped on a mini-bus from Causeway Bay, one of the busiest areas of Hong Kong, and within 20 minutes arrived at Stanley, a touristy but much quieter place to enjoy my evening. The ambience of the entire place made me feel relaxed and I almost thought I wasn’t in Hong Kong anymore. Combined with a gorgeous sunset and magnificent night views, it was a perfect end to my 2016.

This time around I also wanted to explore some of the nature that Hong Kong has to offer. After finding out that Dragon’s Back in the Shek O area (southwestern region of Hong Kong island) is a popular hiking route, I decided to hike it on new year’s day, and my local friend May – with whom I spent the first day of the year in 2016 as well – offered to accompany me! I gotta say, the views from the top of Dragon’s Back were amazing!

Oh yes, it was windy! You could clearly tell from my flying hair in this photo with May, heh. The climb was quite easy, and the best part was the two of us catching up on things that’s happened within the one year that we haven’t seen each other. May would be the last friend I saw before leaving Hong Kong and returning to Glasgow the next day, but I will see her again very soon, during the summer in the UK, where the travels will continue!

After the descent from Dragon’s Back, we ventured into Shek O village, which was a short ride away. There I passed by a house with some nice decorations hanging above the front gate, including Santa who seemed to be having a jolly time parachuting. Christmas may be over, but Santa is always welcome any time, anywhere!

Hopewell Centre, Central-Mid-Levels elevator, Stanley, Shek O – all new places for me, not too bad for two days, huh! I know Hong Kong is full of interesting places and I’ve barely touched the tip of the iceberg, but that’s what happens when I spend no more than 3 days there every time. Oh well. At least since Hong Kong is so close to my hometown I’m sure I’ll come back again 😉

26 days in China, part 6.2 – Guangzhou (continued)

Though I planned my China trip so that I’d spend most of my time in my hometown, “most of” still only meant ten days, which was rather short. The happiest part of my segment in Guangzhou was spending time with family and friends, hearing the soothing sound of Cantonese, and feeling like I was part of the city again!

In the last post there was a group photo of my relatives on my mom’s side of the family, and this time it’s one of my dad’s side, only without my dad being present. Some of them came all the way from Hong Kong to be with us for Christmas!

In Guangzhou I also got to meet up with my very good friend, LS. It’s a shame that we don’t get to see each other often but I love this girl so much and am still indebted to all that she’s done for me in France. Here we are at Shamian Island (again for me) as I got to be the guide of my own city ^_^

Of course we had to meet up with the Lam family again before we went our separate ways, so it was like another mini Bordeaux fellowship reunion after the one we had in Hangzhou and Huzhou. It’s amazing how the friends I met in France all those years ago are now scattered all over the world, yet we still have these rare opportunities to meet and reconnect, all by the grace of God. Take care, my friends – I will see you again in Zhuhai or Xi’an or Lanzhou or Malaysia or…wherever you guys happen to be next time I decide to find you guys!

One phenomenon that has been very widespread in China in recent years is that of “square dancing”. Nope, not the western-style square dancing. “Square” here refers to any public open space where people could gather and dance to very catchy music with a good beat. Apparently this is especially popular with middle-aged women, and it’s more like a form of socializing or physical exercise. I gotta say…I almost couldn’t resist joining because it looked like so much fun! Watching the people dance and enjoying the music has become my guilty pleasure and it is my secret wish to join them one day…if it is still popular when I’m 40?!

On a perfect sunny day, I revisited Sun Yat-Sen (known to use as Sun Zhongshan) Memorial Hall, a tourist attraction in Guangzhou. I wanted to go back to Sun Yat-Sen’s statue because I remember a foolish thing I did as a child. Pointing to the statue, I ignorantly asked my aunt, “WHAT is this thing?” The funny thing was that I didn’t even ask “who” it was…I literally asked “WHAT” it is, as if Mr. Sun was a “thing”. My aunt didn’t know whether she should laugh or cry, and when I told LS this story, she jokingly said that I’ve committed the crime of disrespect to our “Father of the Nation”. I’m sorry, Mr. Sun…please forgive my stupidity as a child!

Guangzhou’s subway tends to get quite crowded, and Chinese people will know what I mean when I say “people mountain people sea” (a literal translation of the Chinese expression meaning “extremely crowded”). Squashed into a corner on a subway, I saw a woman carrying this bag with the words “Jesus Loves You” in English and Chinese. I didn’t manage to visit any churches in Guangzhou this time around, but I’ll make it a goal to do that next time I go home 🙂

Here I am with two of my favourite people in the entire world – my beautiful mom and my aunt Yaya, who was almost like my nanny/caretaker for many years when I was young. Every time I go back to Guangzhou, Yaya is the one I look forward the most to seeing. As for my mom, spending 26 days with her (more like 20 because actually some of the days were without her) was a luxury especially now that I’m living away from home again. Back in Glasgow all by myself, I’m missing her all over again 😦

I also miss some good ol’ shrimp dumplings (ha gow) that are arguably the most classic Cantonese dim sum. These are sexy, irresistible ha gows right there – large and translucent with the perfect shrimp-to-skin balance. The shrimp was bouncy and the texture of the skin was on point!! One of the most beautiful creations of mankind ever… ❤

And I end the Guangzhou posts…with tea. Ah yes, good tea with good conversation – that’s livin’ the Cantonese lifestyle. Another cup is always welcome!

Side note: My Welsh pastor once asked me, “Are you Canadian, Chinese, or a strange mix of the two?” I had to smile and commend him because there’s really no better way to describe me than “a strange mix of the two”. This trip back to Guangzhou, though, made me feel slightly more Chinese. Perhaps nostalgia kicked in harder than it ever did before when I went back, and perhaps the familial ties, which are such an important Chinese value, are also pulling my ever so subtly. You know…if I were to return to this city of my roots, I think I could get used to living here, but still, the notion that I’m considered a “foreigner” instills in me so much uncertainty…

26 days in China, part 6.1 – Guangzhou

Guangzhou, home time!!

Previous trips back to the third largest city in China have always evoked complicated mixed feelings of nostalgia and unfamiliarity, giving me a strange sense of melancholy every time I stepped into this place I call my hometown. I wanted so much to still be able to call myself a local, a true Cantonese, but I’m never sure if I can anymore. Well, at least that’s what it was like several years ago

Then I realized that I had been overly sentimental and what I really should do was just enjoy this city, whether as a local or as a former resident or as a tourist or whatever! This was going to be the trip where I could spend precious time with family, be a host to some foreign friends of my own, and eat lots of good food! No existential crisis in Guangzhou for me this time – I’ve got all the fun and relaxation to look forward to during my first “winter” in Guangzhou since…1995. The average temperature in late December was 23 degrees Celsius, there was no smog (yay for being in the south), and I missed most of the infamous “frigid damp winter in southern China”. How perfect could this get!

First up: group photo with the extended family! Growing up, I’ve always been very close with my aunts, uncles, and cousins on my mom’s side of the family. The opportunity to see them together is rare, and this time my mom and grandma were also around, making this a super long-awaited reunion (though missing several people)!

I decided to go down memory lane and revisit some places that were so familiar to me in my childhood, starting with the kindergarten that I attended for four years. It was after classes and the gate was closed, and I doubt I would have been able to enter even if it were open. Still, I could see the vivid pictures of my childhood passing by in front of me. Those annoying boys that destroyed the brick zoo that we made, dancing to classic karaoke songs, being the head of the lion for the Chinese new year lion dance, school lunches with pickled radish, English classes…things only I would remember!

Continue down the road and we reach the elementary school that I attended for a year and a half before moving to Canada. As my caretaker, my aunt used to take me to school on a bike, so I never really had to walk to school. Through the eyes of a child, however, the school felt so far away from where I lived. Now, the trip takes me merely around half an hour, a distance which is considered quite small for a city as large as Guangzhou. And to think that second-grade-me felt sooooooo grown up…if only I could be a child again!

We now jump all the way from my own childhood to my DAD’s childhood, to a place where he spent a majority of his time when he was a young boy – Shamian Island in the Xiguan area of Guangzhou, a territory formerly leased to France and the UK. My dad always likes to ramble on and on about how he used to play with his siblings on Shamian and laments how much the place has changed over the years. However, since I haven’t experienced the evolution of Shamian through time, Shamian to me is just a tranquil place to spend a day away from the crowded metropolis. To be fair, I had been to Shamian several times, but never alone with the opportunity to walk around to my heart’s desire. Perhaps to some, the European architecture and remnants of colonial times make this place an attractive gem in Guangzhou, but I guess I only wanted to visit it again to try to imagine what it was like for my dad to grow up here, no matter how much it has changed beyond recognition (true words from my dad).

What I loved about Shamian were the bronze statues that are scattered all around the island depicting life on Shamian in the past. There must have been at least 20, but some of my favourites are shown here. Top left: an old man taking his caged pet bird for a walk, something that elderly people seemed to enjoy doing a lot in the past. Top right: a kid in clothing worn in the Qing dynasty, dropping a letter in the postbox. Middle right: an old man playing the fiddle. Bottom left: children catching fish in the river. Bottom right: elegant ladies singing and dancing to Cantonese opera wearing qipao.

Meow. I spotted this shy white cat hiding behind some potted plants near a church on Shamian and just wanted to say…hi! It kept running away from me though, and I could only observe it from a distance and try not to scare it. What a beauty you are!

Back in the city, it was time to meet up with my Malaysian guests! I had already traveled to Hangzhou with MC and YX but here in Guangzhou we were joined by MC’s husband, Mr. Blue. Of course I had to take them out to lunch and what better way to do it than the most traditional Cantonese way – “yum cha”, which literally means “drink tea”! To most people this only means dim sum, but tea is such an important aspect of the Cantonese lifestyle. Good tea and good dim sum complement each other, and good company makes it all the better!

I never used the word “beautiful” to describe Guangzhou until I took this photo from a pedestrian bridge. Friends who saw it commented that Guangzhou is such a beautiful city, and you know…I think they’re right. Like many of the places that I’ve called home and taken for granted, I hadn’t noticed its charm until I don’t live there anymore and returned to see it again with fresh eyes. Five years ago it would be an unfathomable to say that I’d even consider going back to China and living/working there long-term, but that possibility doesn’t seem so farfetched anymore. Who knows…I wouldn’t be surprised if somehow, but a stroke of luck, I end up back where I started…

I’ll end this post with a mission that I set out to complete in Guangzhou: the search of two famous local eateries in the Xiguan area. Needless to say, wonton noodles are one of the most popular street foods in Guangzhou, and Wucaiji (left) is one of those hole-in-the-wall places that locals know and love. I had heard about Wucaiji a while back and decided to finally look for it, and it took me a bit of time because it was literally located in a secluded alley and easily missed unless you looked closely. At Wucaiji I got their classic wonton noodle (top right) with wontons made the traditional way with pork only and without shrimp (according to my dad). It was a warm day (24+ degrees) and the soup was hot but so flavourful. I was sweating as I was eatiing – luckily I also ordered a bottle of cold soy milk – but I enjoyed it so much even with sweat dripping down my face. The simplest things are the best! After the noodles, I headed for a dessert shop 15 minutes away called “Nanxin”, which specializes in double skin milk pudding (bottom right). It may look plain and ordinary but it was spoonful after spoonful of sweet goodness with a custard-like texture. Delicious or as we say in Cantonese, “Ho sik!”

This is only the first of three posts in the Guangzhou mini-series in the grand “26 days in China” series – yes yes I’m showing obvious favouritism to my hometown, heh 😛 Part 2 is coming up and of course there is going to be a post dedicated to more amazing food!

26 days in China, part 2 – Shanghai

Shanghai was the only city that I visited without a local friend to act as a guide, but the up side was that I was meeting my mom in Shanghai and we would be travel companions from here on! Yep, my mom arrived from Toronto just in time to meet me in Shanghai so that we would continue our trip together, all the way to the south.

In Shanghai, my mom and I met with a close cousin of mine whom I last saw 6 years ago. He’s worked in Shanghai for a while, but in my mind he is still not a true local, ha! Most of our time in the largest city in China was spent wandering on our own, but as I had been to Shanghai briefly in 2010, I had a slight idea of the most interesting places to go for a first-time visitor to Shanghai. So in a sense…I acted as my mom’s “guide”, though barely qualifying as one. No matter, we were off to have fun!

We start with the dazzling skyline of Shanghai at night, as seen from the Bund. If I were to be completely honest, as a typical large city, perhaps the only thing REALLY worth seeing in Shanghai was this, its impressive skyline by night. I had said in 2010, when I saw this skyline for the first time, that it was my favourite out of the skylines I’ve seen. It’s a tough choice between Shanghai and Hong Kong, but though shorter than that of Hong Kong, Shanghai’s skyline exhibits an extra sense of dimension and beauty, mainly with the presence of the Oriental Pearl Tower. In the centre slightly to the right, you see the Shanghai World Financial Center – AKA the world’s largest beer bottle opener 😛

Upon seeing the Bund, my mom said that she felt that all of the images of Shanghai that she’s seen on TV jumped out at her, as she never thought that the night scene would be THAT impressive in reality. It was my mom’s first time in Shanghai and we were the most stereotypical tourists that we could be. Obviously one does not go to the Bund without taking a selfie with it so…let’s rejoice at our reunion and just say cheese!

Even though I had been a city girl all my life, stepping into Shanghai (and Beijing too) made me feel like a country girl seeing the “outside world” for the first time. If you compare Shanghai to Glasgow, the contrast is clear – the third largest city in the UK, Glasgow, is almost like a small village! While wandering in the Lujiazui financial district, where all the tallest skyscrapers dwelt, we saw the full moon perched above the man-made structures and outshining all of the artificial lights so effortlessly, making me think once again of some Chinese lyrics that I loved: “The moon illuminates the dreams in the city.” Perhaps Shanghai, such a world-class, international metropolis, is a place that hides the dreams of many…

Aside from meeting my mom in Shanghai, I met briefly with one of the GU girls, RX, who now works in Shanghai. We chatted over coffee and a portion of stinky tofu (which became way too spicy because I underestimated the chili sauce…) and caught up on our lives and careers. We only had two hours to spend with each other but the brevity was treasured. Until next time, my dear friend!

I did mention my close cousin Tony earlier and after seeing RX, my mom and I went for dinner with Tony and his family, including my aunt and uncle and Tony’s wife Mindy (my cousin-in-law?) whom I was meeting for the first time. Tony and I were inseparable when we were children, but we grew quite distant ever since I moved to Canada. Still it was good to reconnect over some excellent food and some chat time. Obligatory group photo before we said goodbye!

The next day was spent exploring the Chenghuangmiao (City God Temple) area of Shanghai, which is really just a super commercialized area that caters to the interest of tourists. Still, we enjoyed just wandering around the streets and looking at all the interesting shops that lined them.

Local preparing food at their little shop, showing what everyday life is like for the people of this city. One part of travelling that I still enjoy very much is people-watching. Away from all the sightseeing and the hustle and bustle, ordinary life is happening without too much glamour and excitement.

McDonald’s was offering Super Mario figurines as toys for the Happy Meal and…I couldn’t resist. The first one I got was Toad (I got Boo and Yoshi after…) and he happily reminded me again how lovely Shanghai is at night.

As the final photo I present to you…food in Shanghai! On the left we have a Shanghainese specialty, glutinous rice balls cooked in sweet rice wine. The rice balls were so soft, and I loved the smell and taste of the rice wine – perfect combination! On the top right, we have “Grandma’s Beef Slices” from a chain called “Grandma’s House”, specializing in the cuisine of Shanghai and surrounding areas. This went so well with a bowl of rice – I couldn’t get enough of it! Finally on the bottom right we’ve got the stinky tofu that I had with RX, as I mentioned earlier. This was sold at a food cart outside my hotel, and I added loads of garlic, sweet sauce, and chili sauce…way too much chilli sauce that even my mom, who usually handles spicy food really well, thought it was overkill. Psh, piece of cake. The aroma of the tofu oozed out of its crispy exterior, and the taste and texture complemented each other so well. I love street food!

This concludes the Shanghai portion of the trip, although my mom and I did go on a day trip to Suzhou from Shanghai, which I will write about in a future post. For now, let’s anticipate the next stop: Huzhou in Zhejiang province 😀

%d bloggers like this: