Stealing ritzy-glitzy fun in the Hawaii of China…

When visiting Sanya you really have two choices if you want that high-end, ritzy-tropical glamour experience. You can pay through the nose for it, or grow a pair and steal it! Here’s how *mischief ensues*…

Hang out on the beach at Yalong. Do beachy stuff till you’ve got sand wedged up each and every crevice. This beach really is beautiful and that’s partly why I wouldn’t recommend shelling out to stay – legitimately, anyway!- at one of the glitzy resorts. It’d be far too tempting to spend your time glued to a pool-side beach-lounger, in which case you’d miss these beautiful shores which are –in the words of my Antipodean travel buddy- better than those on Australia’s Gold Coast. High acclaim indeed!

So go comb for your shells. Build your castles (mine had a moat, natch). Sip your coconut juices through a straw. But THEN –when your feet and knees are sore from the rub of the shale and your sticky-sunscreeny skin is coated with sand that makes you look like a glasspaper model of yourself it’s time to treat yourself to a little luxury. Follow in my footsteps…

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1)      You’ve stored your stuff in the PADI locker-hut that’s about (in beachy-pirate speak) 50 paces to ye right as ye first entered the bay. Here, for 20 RMB you can rent a locker, thus avoiding someone running off with your bag full of treasures (read: passport/camera/money etc) as you pull your best beach-bum moves. Now, when you collect your stuff, exit the locker hut to the left, following a decked pathway up to the 4.5 out of five star “Aegean Conifer Resort, Sanya”. There’s a sign that says entrance is for guests only, but -meh- who’s checking? Time to throw caution to the wind like jetsam from a sinking ship (OK – enough maritimey lingo) and just walk on in. Step one accomplished!

2)      The main draw of the Aegean for me was the labyrinth of pools that twist and wind around the hotel gardens. Lined with sun-loungers and complete with swim-up bar I would have probably koshed a member of hotel staff on the head if they’d tried to stop me swimming. However, overactive imaginations aside, violence was completely unnecessary here as simply installing yourself poolside with enough confidence to assert your right to be there is plenty.

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Reccommended internal monologues to boost your blagging gusto:

“Prevet. I am Natascha. It is real shame in heart to be in tropical paradise without my husband. Boris so busy what with the cosmonauting and the oil tycooning and the international football team-managing. Peasant, please wipe my tears with this meagre 10 million rouble note. *sigh*”

“My mission (and I accept it) is to secretly grade the hotel for World Hotel Rating project. I am meant to feel shady, but in an oh-so-snooty way. Yes. I judge you, experience. I judge you hard.”

“This is the eighties and I AM Joan Collins, dahhhhling.” (This was my preferred.)

Or, for those lacking in near-pathological delusions simply try “I DO have a room in this hotel. I do, I do, I do… ”

3)      So you’re very happily butterfly stroking-along, mojito on the bar top and it hits you – “what’ll I do when I want to leave? My swimwear’s soaked and it’ll look very suspect if I make a dash for it dripping wet. Eeeeep!” Never fear. This is the beach, don’t forget. So you have towels. Dry yourself off poolside, all the while pretending that you don’t want to use the hotel towels (or pleb-rags, as you’re now calling them) because your towels are far more superior Egyptian cotton and kinder to your highly-strung skin. It’s not at all in order to avoid having to sign out hotel towels with the attendant who wants your invisible hotel keycard or anything. No. It’s my precious, precious skin. Once dry, slip on a casual overlayer (mine was a long linen shirt) and bundle your stuff in your beach bag. Then avoid the hoardes of potentially suspicious hotel staff swarming at the back entrance to the hotel by taking a path to the right which leads to the conference suite. Follow the unguarded path, which leads to the equally unguarded back entrance to the hotel – you’re on floor two! Wahey! Once inside the hotel, keep your sashay on. Think Joan from Mad Men.  Follow the corridor around until you hit the lobby, where you can fully dry-up and change in the bathroom. Step out from there looking fresh as a daisy and bam! You have the run of the hotel amenities. Drink at the bar, eat and the restaurant and generally live it up like Lord or Lady of the Manor! Cucumber sahhhhndwichis, anyone?

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Chinese New Year on the Streets of Shanghai…

And Lo! the ancient and mystical Gods of the Middle Kingdom did decree that on the fifth day of the Chinese New Year people will go bloody mental with gunpowder

Tip: You may want to turn down your speakers a wee bit…

BOOM!

O, South Korea, how I love thee. Part One.

Ace trip to South Korea. Part One = Seoul. So crammed. No room for full sentences. Don’t ask questions. Just pretend you’re Johnny 5 and read with speed to keep it Ko-real!!

1)      Taxi ride: 4.30AM. Eeeeep – so early! Me and me chums Mason, Bret and Alex. Driver’s advice for SK:

“[in Chinese] Americans. Don’t AIDS.”

Excellent start.

2)      Airport: Bret = going to Hong Kong, not SK with us. Bret = at wrong airport. Bret = brown pants. Oh dear. >_<

3)      Flight: Smooth, although weird beefy noodles.

4)      Arrival in SK:  Accidentally attempt to steal stickers. Oops. Eat fish soup and kimchi (pickled-cabbagey stuff). Drink soju (national drink of Korea) x5. Drink Family Mart (sort of Korean Co-op) soju x[probably?]3.

[MISSING REEL]

Wake up in jimjilbang (24 hour spa, with dorm rooms for sleeping) in orange jumpsuit. Guantanamo, anyone? Hotter than inner ring of hell (despite presence of “ice room”, nattily decorated with polar bears). Too hot = no sleep = 3.3AM check out. Attempt to find KFC (I’ve heard it’s ‘real chicken’ in SK. As opposed to ‘China Chicken’, which seems to be entirely composed of the arse of the bird. And occasionally the feet. Avoid at all costs.

Anyways, attempt to locate ‘real chicken’-based establishment by showing this pic:

to passing Koreans. Group of teen boys tells me “No! Not tasty. Eat kimchi! I love you!” Not helpful. But one man directs me to ‘Lotteria’ “the Korean KFC”. I find it, but amazingly he comes back ten minutes later to check I got there safely.

5)      Realisation: Koreans = Nicest people in the world. N.B. Also have to give credit for near-universal commitment to ‘business casual’ attire.

6)      Cable car trip to N Seoul Tower: Wobbly, high altitude affair.

7)      Lotte World Indoor/Outdoor Theme Park: roller coasters named “Pharoah’s Fury” and “French Revolution”, log flume, indoor hot air balloons, trapeze artists, ‘peanut-coated squid’, dodgy Butlins-esque stage show, Disney rip-off parade, ice-skating rink, laser and pyrotechnics show, monorail, and more corn dogs than you can shake a corn dog stick at. REFUSE to leave this magical place until thrown out.

8)      Day of Korean Culture: Part one = visit to ancient settlement. Part two = visit to one of Seoul’s many ‘HOFs’ (fried chicken and beer shacks). Restaurant review = mixed. Positive side: first time I’ve seen white breast meat since leaving UK (mmmm…’real chicken’ indeed!) Negative side neatly summed up in this lil’ scrawl:

9)      Meet friends in foreigner-ville, Itaewon: Visit “Hooker Hill”, followed by “Homo Hill”. Verdict = unimpressed (ain’t no Amsterdam). Also, heavy US military presence not impressed by my mate’s whooping of “Uhmerrica!”

10)   See covers band at tiny club in Hongdae. They have Beatles haircuts and sing Beatles songs. For all I know, they may well have been called “the Beatles” = super classic. Opportunities aplenty for shaking one’s tailfeather until the wee hours.

Dear Shanghai: take note, please.

11)   Seoul Aquarium: Got there by showing this pic:

to taxi drivers until an old man saw we were struggling (no!?) and came to translate. Kindly re-visit point 5, please. Is a very creative museum. E.G. Fish in tanks? Pfftt…try fish in a toilet, fish in a washing machine, fish in a phone box. Brillo pads.

12)   Despite sub-zero conditions, v. excited about visit to Banpodaegyo ‘Rainbow Bridge’. At 8.30PM, this happens:

Accordingly, in anticipation this happened. Take note of sharp decline in ‘excite’ post 8.30PM:

Then this:

Bugger.

13)   Leaving Seoul: 1PM departure via high-speed KTX train. Every 20 mins announcements preceeded by snippet of music I SWEAR used to be on Pebble Mill in the 90’s. Otherwise EXACTLY same as National Express, only faster and minus the scrote at the back playing DJ Danny Bond on loudspeaker whilst necking a SKOL… I’m arrivin’ in style.

All-in-all: totally ace. Keep yer peepers peeled for Part Two: Busan.

I ♥  SK. ^_^

8 Before 8: Time On My Hands Early Morning Type Musings

It’s 7 AM. I’m leaving super-early to nab the 42 thousand props I need to teach today’s bunch of two year olds their class on the word “monkey”. However, in typical Disney-dysfunction the school is not open. Left with an hour to fill/kill I decide to take a walk to the park.

Now. Imagine what we’d find taking an early morning walk in the park in Leeds…

  1. Geriatric dog-walkers
  2. Joggers
  3. Flashers
  4. The recently flashed
  5. Crackheads and crackwhores
  6. Dog turds
  7. An occasional dead body
  8. More dog turds.

In Shanghai, it’s a whole ‘nutha ball-game. I saw…

  1. Old lady fan-dancers. All in velour tracksuits with HUGE fans in matching colours. Amaze.
  2. The most ever old people in one place since they filmed the last episode of Countdown. They were all doing yoga/tai chi, slowly making their way over the grass like a tide of zombies. Actually chilling.
  3. Three guys dressed as a Chinese dragon.*
  4. A ramshackle troupe of guys practicing their circus skills. Diablos, juggling, unicycling. Bloody mental.**
  5. A 28 piece (I counted) brass band. Just like the Black Dyke, but minus the Alan Titschmarsh affiliation. Home sweet home…
  6. Massive kites, jeweled in LEDs. At night I’ve seen these before. I did wonder if they were UFOs, but now I know it’s just geezers in the park.
  7. Some girl painting beautiful Chinese letters on the ground with what looked like a giant ear-bud. However, she was painting them with WATER. They were evaporating away seconds after she’d painted them. Life is just so….y’know…transient and….it all means, like…nothing in the end….y’know? Woah. Deep.
  8. Walking back to my school, I sit outside. Each Disney school has random letters outside the building. The letters outside my school are DIWAHJ. At first, I thought it said ‘Jihad’. Then I noticed the ‘W’. I toyed with the idea it might mean ‘White Jihad’ and that that’s Disney’s plan for Asia: fill it with Yanks and their culture is for the taking… But I thought it might actually stand for Walt Disney Is A Jew Hater. Or Walt Disney Had Anti-Jewish Inklings. I finally settled on Walt Disney Is A Jovial Holocaust Denier.

All this early morning thinking really drains a gal. No wonder I’m too tired to teach class now. Eeeurch.

* At this point I realize this list sounds a bit like one of the checklists on the back pages of a Where’s Wally? book. Not intentional, but I like it nonetheless.

** Sounds even more like a Where’s Wally? list now. Wow, Wally watchers.

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Thailand to Cambodia: An Epic journey of theft in three parts

Ali Baboon: Minus the 40 thieves, obv.

PART ONE: MINOR DAYLIGHT ROBBERY

Bangkok to Siem Reap, Cambodia is 335.03 miles. Four buses, one tuk-tuk ride and nine hours. It’s a fairly straightforward journey, all told, except for the pretty much constant threat of daylight robbery, which kicks in before you even leave, with ‘helpful’ advice along the lines of:

“Full of bandits and guns at the border towns. Don’t go, you’ll get robbed” (Disney Travel Advisory – paraphrased, obv).

OR

“It is just NOT safe.” (My TEFL tutor).

OR

“[In reference to the currency exchange rate:] They will rape you. In terms of changing Baht to Riel, I mean. Although they might ACTUALLY rape you…” (‘Mate’ from my hotel).

So it was pretty scary to actually set out for the border…but you only live once. And although there was robbery it was very minor. At this stage of the journey at least…

Minor robbery 1:

VISA fees. Always pay these in US$, else they will charge you twice the amount in Thai Baht. Blatant, shameless theft which goes by unquestioned.

Minor robbery 2:

Add on to your VISA fee the bribe you pay to the issuing border guard. Luckily mine was only 100 Baht, so it was minor. But again, so flagrant.

Minor robbery 3:

On the bus journey from the border town Poipet to Siem Reap a car pulled out of some bushes across the ‘National Highway’ (actually little more than a dirt road) to block the whole two lanes. Cue nervous Westerners flashing politely alarmed looks at each other across the bus like it’s a giant pinball machine of anxiety and whiteness.

My thoughts at the time: “Argh! Gonna get bus-jacked! Two potential outcomes: A) they rob me but leave me alive – quick!- think of a way I can conceal my iPhone. Do I really treasure it enough to stick it up my bum? Will my O2 insurance cover that? OR B) they gag and kill us with a flame-thrower (sort of cool, I guess) which is a pretty sad event but at least I’ll get a mention from Joumana nammor on Al Jazeera. Who I love.”

Rather anti-climactically it turns out it was just a really dire driver struggling to do a three-point turn. So on the one hand I was relieved and on the other now my iPhone smells of poo for no reason. Brillo pads.

PART TWO: DEFINITE REAL-LIFE ROBBERY

Someone told me that Angkor Wat temple in Siem Reap is on the list of Wonders of the World. Of which there are seven. “Cool!” thinks I, really excited, getting up at 5am (whaaaa…..????) to go see the sunrise there.

Sunrise=non-existent due to cloud. Again, short-changed. Then Wikipediad the Wonders to discover that Angkor Wat is eighth. Out of seven. Missed out BY ONE. So still feeling pretty robbed, natch.

But the temple was cool and set in amazing jungly grounds with lizards and snakes and baboons all roaming free. And being a sucker for wildlife I was mega-hyper-super-turbo excited when I saw a baboon only about 10 metres away! WOW! However, by 5 metres away I was starting to worry he may be planning on coming as near as 1 metre. By 1 metre I was (probably visibly) worried that he was coming in what I’d describe as ‘biting distance’. And he wasn’t stopping.

In an attempt to not get rabies I threw my plastic bag of snacks at him. Which I guess is what he’d had designs on from the start, because he just sat in front of me munching away on my Garibaldi biscuits. I was really looking forward to eating those. I wouldn’t even have minded so much if he’d bothered to actually eat all the biscuits. But his snacking method was decidedly haphazard; bite and toss, bite and toss. Ungrateful.

Anyways, because my jaw was on the floor some Cambodian guy drove over on his moped to see what all the fuss was about. As soon as the baboon saw him he legged it up a tree (and no wonder really, because the Cambodian guy then produced a slingshot from his back pocket (no lie – actual Bart Simpson style) and attempted to shoot the baboon). Weird.

It did make me think how animals are super-smart, though. For all that to happen the baboon had to know that:

1) plastic bags contain food. Pretty amazing for an animal to know that.

2) The baboon clearly knew there was some difference between me and the guy on the moped. He had either clocked that I was foreign and therefore ripe for robbing or he knew I was a girl and had me down for a complete wuss. Because as soon as the moped guy turned up, the baboon was off and that was way before any slingshot shenanigans. Again, smart. Although potentially ethnic/gender stereotyping involved so he loses points there.

But that was the first out-and-out proper robbery of Cambodia. Who do you report animal misdemeanours to? David Attenborough?

PART THREE: ABSOLUTE RINSING

Fake dollars. Three hours wait at a total tourist trap. Getting sunburnt as a result. Having to pay twice despite having booked the right buses home.

Not even going into this one…suffice it to say the journey home made me WANT TO DIE. OR KILL THE TOUR OPERATOR WHO SOLD ME THE TICKET. Moral of this part: always go indie and organise everything yourself. There is no such thing as an easy ride.

And finally….have just arrived in Shanghai! Exciting times ahead……

NHS, all is forgiven…

In Thai hospital for medical check.
Its a bit like in the Halifax where they have a voiceover thingy that calls the next customer. Only here it’s in Thai, obv, but sounds exactly like it’s saying “nicknames are bad names”. I don’t reckon they know The Office here though….

Anyways, someone just walked in with a mitre saw! Doesnt inspire me with confidence… Urgh…This isn’t like Greys anatomy at all. No-one is hot.

The toilet probably figures as a low point in my life. Bum-gun present, definitely. But no flush and about 3 inches of water all over the floor. Man, I need a wee…but this badly?

Bleurchhhhhhh….

555

Hey factfinders! Here’s one for you:

‘lol’ doesn’t mean anything in Thailand. Actually, the number ‘five’ when said aloud sounds like this: HA!

So instead of ‘lol’, it’s 555.

This made me actually laugh out loud: 555, y’all!

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