Chengdu chill #blogjune 27

245am before we finally crawled into bed after foolishly booking late flight, which was delayed, then half an hour in taxi line before picking lunatic driver who said yes, yes, yes and took us in the wrong direction 😭 

We’re feeling it today. Lessons learned: 

  • wheeled suitcases are great. Just because you have a fancy backpack doesn’t mean you need to use it
  • Late flights are just silly
  • Overnight sleeper trains vary according to train class. No more K trains!
  • Luggage lockers only appear when you don’t need them. If you need one because your back is about to break and you are sweating up a storm and wishing for death, then Nanjing local government will build 2 new railways and NOT install luggage store

Good news is there’s no hurry. We don’t really have to be anywhere. So we wandered Chengdu this morning, ate some pancake flatbread thing for breakfast, washed down with hand squeezed orange juice outside a Buddhist university. 

<still no photos because VPN can’t handle the upload>

Currently sitting in the Bookworm cafe, one of the longest serving western establishments in Chengdu. The concept is cool – what’s not to love about a cafe inside a bookstore? It seems the sort of place where you could hide in a corner with your laptop and never have to fear being moved along. Service is awkward and slow (they just came to let me know I can’t have a cappuccino because there is ‘something wrong with the machine) but staff are sweet and the food is good. Times like these I really should improve my TripAdvisor reviewing abilities…seeing how much I rely on them for advice. But I just want to lie here with my new book…


Catchup #blogjune 10, 11, 12

Insadong hanok house

We’re home from Korea, back at work and back behind the Firewall.

Seoul is very cool. Could live there. Incheon airport could be better. No ATMs airside, and only 3 in the arrivals area. 1 would not accept Aussie visa, or China unionpay, and a big queue for the other. (On that point – a Citipoint ATM in the Seoul subway gave me a receipt for withdrawing 100000krw, but didn’t actually give me the cash. Am still negotiating on this with my bank)

Hanok guesthouse: ok – something to do once in a lifetime. Having to move between bedroom, wardrobe & bathroom via an external verandah got to me a bit. So did having the hosts around all the time. Every time I fumbled the front entry and couldn’t get in, one of them was there to make me go through it again, with them watching and instructing, (and of course it worked first time). Argh.

Great coffee in Korea. The trap of traveling to all these cool places in Asia while we live in China is that every time we get out we are so desperate for western food and comforts we sometimes miss out on local cuisine because we are so excited about bread, or pies, or crepes.

We stayed between Insadong and Bukchon, so had art, culture and tourist delights all at our doorstep. And giant ice cream. Matilda found no less than 3 different types.

Last stop was Kyobo Books, which meant we had to check in our carry-on bags as they had doubled in weight.

Love, hate and a bowl of jiaozi 

I’m almost into my last 3 months in China. Blogging my life here has not happened as regularly as I’d have liked. Mostly due to concerns early on when the school I work for discovered the blog and told me I couldn’t write it. It doesn’t help that the site I use is blocked either, as it means I have to connect to my VPN to load, which takes forever depending on the whim of the government in Beijing at the time, and makes WordPress sluggish and prone to crashing.

To make up for my ineptitude as a blogger, I’m challenging myself in my last 3 months to try to reveal a little of life in China as an expat. I’m going to frame it as a love/hate series, where I post one thing that I dislike, or that is difficult, about living China with something that is great. I’m going to come right out and say that after almost 2 years the first list feels much longer. So this challenge will also be cathartic, and force me to look at China and my experiences here through a heavy dose of rose tint.

I’m going to start with a Love, and no surprises, it’s a food:

Jiaozi – Chinese dumplings, or 饺子 (can I just say, I typed that character by drawing it onto the keypad & identifying the characters!)

I discovered these little lumps of goodness last time I was in China. Long freezers full of them line every local supermarket. The local food hall has various counters where you can wait ages (comparatively speaking) for them, or if you’re starving (as we usually are) the fried variety (guotie) are already made, although of varying degrees of freshness and warmth!

Our local food hall jiaozi masters

Jiaozi are traditionally eaten at lunar new year, and the making of them is a family affair. Their ‘gold nugget’ shape is said to represent wealth and prosperity. Other historical accounts say the original name was jiao’er (tender ears) as they were used to treat frost bitten ears. More historical info here

Likeness to ears aside, they’re amazing dipped in vinegar and chilli or soy. They are also really easy to make – especially as most western countries sell the wrappers in stores nowadays. For easy recipe ideas and excellent video/photo instructions for jiaozi, guotie AND the pastry, check out meat loves salt,

While my daughter and I often made these at home in Australia, there’s no chance we’d bother here. Not when we can buy a massive plate of them for about 20 Kwai (£2 or $4). Here is our local food hall dumpling counter. There’s always a very long line, and it’s a ‘first to fight your way to the counter, first served’ basis.

Food hall with highly appropriate lighting.


Gives you a clue to the numbers they have through the food hall. I dont want to think anout how thoroughly these bowls are (not) cleaned


Hebridean wifey #day17 #365days

Enjoying life as a Hebridean wifey…


Wine, window and Waternish

I bought bamboo knitting needles and wool from Skyeworks Gallery (in the old Skye wool mill in Portree, above the Isle of Skye Baking Co) this afternoon, and think I’ll head back tomorrow to get a giant Tunisian crochet hook. I found a project in Peppermint magazine that I want to start when we’re back in China -to turn out old clothes into a rug. 


Bamboo knitting needles and wool from Skyeworks Gallery
We’ve had another okay day weatherwise. Drove out to Neist a point lighthouse accidentally, whilst looking for Single Track, a cafe we’d heard via @HI_Voices on Twitter made great coffee and even better brownies. I think we headed up the wrong peninsula, but not to worry as the Red Roof Cafe was on our route and their Crofter’s cheese platter, Aztec chilli hot chocolate and lime and coconut cake (fatty pumbas!) were amazing. 
On the way home we stopped at Jans to buy wellies. Yet another Island living essential I should have purchased a decade ago, but as an up-the-duff backpacker could not afford. 


Skippy & Blinky come to visit #blogjune 6

A small import section has popped up near the entrance of one of our local supermarkets. They seem to have a fetish for Australiana – Aussie beef, Goldeb Circle juice, Margaret River shiraz…and now Skippy & Blinky have popped in to say hi.

Today is Queensland Day an my sister’s birthday. My birthday is on Australia Day. Coincidence? Perhaps. My parents were very patriotic and into their Aussie folk scene aka country music… I spent my first few birthdays in Tamworth at the country music festival. I saw Dolly Parton once, and met Slim Dusty, John Williamson and Macca from Australia All Over.

You can tell you’ve been away from home for a while when the cheesiest cultural iconography from home brings a lump to your throat. My hometown recently hosted the Clydesdale spectacular amd Highland Games – in a fashion most Highlanders would find nauseating.

It’s funny which elements of ‘home’ we miss the most. A lot of it for me centres weirdly on smells and food. I miss the Gold Coast, which is bizarre as although I was born there it isn’t really ‘home’.

I miss sausage rolls and fish and chips, which I rarely eat. I miss great coffee, which I used to take for granted. I miss clean air, which is a cliche, but I’m a country kid who feels claustro in Brisbane, so China’s smog is a nightmare.

I miss running into people I know, and newspapers. I miss walking into town to buy a latte and newspaper on Saturday morning. I miss BBQs. I miss driving. I miss long country roads.

I miss my nieces and nephews

I am feeling very weirded out by how I am suddenly developing all these feels for Australia this time abroad. Normally Scotland steals all my affection, but I’ve noticed a wane. I think it’s the combination of having a daughter who is old enough to pine for the country she considera home (Australia) and the big blows we’ve been dealt by UK immigration in the past 12 months.

We are booking plane tickets for our summer hols this weekend. We had planned to go to Scotland, but I think we are going to go to Oz.




Emerging from cultural shock fog.  Homesickness fading-ish and am overcoming (some of) my frustrations with moving to a new role that is not exactly what I expected.  It has been tricky.  Moving overseas means you not only leave behind your support networks, but you also leave behind the little things that can make your day – like a good coffee/cafe, gorgeous weekend weather at the beach, random trips into the mountains or a family BBQ.

We are not completely isolated here, but it is harder as a sole parent to assimilate.  I don’t “fit” with the couples or “proper” families (rant about that coming soon), and I can’t join the singles on their nights out because I have a child.

Some of that is set to change as Ms 9’s dad has arrived.  We’ve got a “co-parenting” experiment happening for the next 2 months (until Christmas).  It is the first time he has lived with us.  Unfortunately this school do not class sole parent families as “families” so our apartment is the same size as the single teachers (2 bedrooms).  This means 9 year old and I are sharing.  It is only temporary, and the pluses should outweigh the irritations, but it does make me grrr.

This also means I can now socialise with other staff.  It has been great to meet other people who are not at the school, and chat with random locals.

The other plus is that we now have a 3rd wheel to venture into unknown culinary territory with us.  Her dad is a chef, however, so he has spent most of the week cooking for us at home.  He is quickly learning that this is a lot more expensive than eating out and I think we will soon change his mind!

camel bar cocktail
Lovely “no-name” cocktail that turned blue as I drank…


Death in the pot

I have lived in China before – in Ningbo, south of Shanghai – also working as a Teacher Librarian in an international school.  This experience was only short-lived – about 5 months – for reasons I may rant about one day!  Ms 8 was only 4 at the time and she had a terrible case of food poisoning/gastro, but I was lucky enough to have it only mildly after eating a turkey and cranberry sandwich from Starbucks.  This is one of the (many) reasons I dislike that chain.

Devil's Diner
Devil’s Dinner

Anyway, I am just catching up on life after being knocked out by the worst, the most crippling, the foulest bout of food poisoning I have ever had in my life.  In fact I think it is probably the sickest I have ever been in my life.  And ironically WESTERN food again!  Pork schnitzel to be precise.  Can’t even think about it without gagging!  I missed the first 2 days of teacher in-service (we had a whole 7 days dedicated to this, which was nice), and finally dragged myself in on the Wednesday through a monsoon (water a foot deep running along the street – fairly unpleasant) only to be barred from the library because teachers are not allowed keys.

I got a key in the end, but it was a fairly crappy start given that we were both drenched and I was still retching every time a new smell passed my nose.  Appalling week, but it was good to start to get my head around things.

School and one week down

We have survived our first week.  Luckily we ran into someone from school’s HR as we were walking out the gate to the beach yesterday as turns out she had all the other new teachers on a bus to take us for phone and bank setup.  Heads up would’ve been good!!

Feeling a lot more connected now I have a Chinese mobile, but apparently the one the school have arranged for us has really crap data (we checked, it does) but we have to wait a month before we can get another SIM.  Mine seems to text and slooooowwwlly surf the web, but it won’t call certain numbers.

New staff induction for the second half of the week.  The school has been here since 2006 but this building was only constructed in 2011.  The school has gone “up a level” each year – this year we are up to level 4 and there are 2 more above that.

School playground, looking down to local school
School playground, looking down to local school

Got my first glimpse of my library, and me my new assistant, who it turns out is not my assistant (although she would fit this description in Australia) but is actually the “Senior Librarian” while I am the “School Librarian” or “Teacher Librarian”.  A little…interesting, but we shall just roll with that for the time being.

3 new expat teachers and their groceries
3 new expat teachers and their groceries

Have had dinner out a lot so far as we still haven’t quite got all we need to cook at home, despite the nearest supermarkets being a lot better than what we had access to locally in Ningbo.

So glad we don’t have to sit on a bus for an hour to get to a decent shop, although it sounds like a lot of the clothing stores are on the Qingdao side.

Had street BBQ with a few of the teachers the other night – great food and nobody got sick, hooray!

Street BBQ - amazing
Street BBQ – amazing
Street BBQ - literally in the street
Street BBQ – literally in the street
Street BBQ - the hot fridge
Street BBQ – the hot fridge


Double shot latte in a glass not a mug and extra hot

One of the perils of travelling is undoubtedly bad coffee. I knew the coffee was bad when I lived in Scotland because they let ME make it and I didn’t even drink the stuff. Since developing an addiction to it after having a baby I was a little nervous about how I’d cope for a month in the UK, but figured it’s been 10 years, surely things have improved?

Well, no.

Froth has no place in a latte people! Just like single shots need company if you’re going to serve them in a BUCKET of milk, and lastly (but most importantly UK), if someone tells you their coffee was served cold, it is never, ever, ever acceptable to put the whole thing back under the wand! Believe it or not you clown there is a reason the milk is added to the coffee afterwards.

I’m looking at you Princes St Waterstones in Edinburgh!

Found this –> which may explain my coffee rage:

Are Australians Coffee Snobs