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The Fish.

On our recent trip to Vanguard, Alain and I decided to buy some fish. Now, in China, you have plenty of options; you can buy the fish: alive (in a bag with water); freshly killed (you pick the alive fish and watch them kill it) or off the ice (already dead). We went for the latter and foolishly tried to ask the monger to cut it up for us. Tried is the main word in that sentence, I wish I had had a video camera to show just how funny it was watching Alain mime the beheading and filleting of these fish. 

As you can see from the photos, we were far too optimistic, we were given a gutted fish (more than I expected) and sent on our way. A series of squeamish screams (from Alain), bbc cooking instructions and moments of hysteria later, we had prepared the fish. 

In all honesty, the fish taste like dirty water and we had to fill ourselves up on chips and salad. Don’t be fooled by the salmony pink of the photo, we still have no idea what fish it was. Whatever it was, it was actually cooked to perfection and the experience was hilarious. Although we won’t be buying this unknown fish again, I have gained new invaluable fish mongering skills!

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Back to Candles.

Back to Candles.

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Hello Again

So I’m back in China… but being home was incredible. I managed to dress up and get mildly intoxicated with my best friends, see The 1975, Satellite Stories and London Grammar live, share the best meal I have ever eaten with my incredible boyfriend and be insane with my UoN friends. Oh and I managed to find a house for next year that I’ll be sharing with Mo, Alain, James and Q. All whilst fitting in seeing every family member and trying desperately to catch up on everyones lives. 

I’m not sure if going home has made it easier coming back, or much, much worse. Sam not being here is bizarre and Q has taken on the role as group chef (once again, somehow, I got out of cooking). It won’t be the same, but a new term, new people (my new roommate is also called Harriet) we’ll see what happens :)

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I’m Going Home!
Having an afternoon exam that should have gone better than it did, followed by having to pack, eat and drink wine (obviously) before my taxi to the train station was extremely stressful. But quite literally nothing, not even my taxi to the station (when my train was in 40 minutes) stopping for half an hour at a petrol station to chat and refill something, could phase my excitement. 
I now have a 7 hour wait in Shanghai’s sparse airport by myself until my flight at 8am. But the second and third series of ‘Game of Thrones’ and the excitement of English speaking, beef eating, British soil will keep me going.

See you in a month! :) 
I’m Going Home!
Having an afternoon exam that should have gone better than it did, followed by having to pack, eat and drink wine (obviously) before my taxi to the train station was extremely stressful. But quite literally nothing, not even my taxi to the station (when my train was in 40 minutes) stopping for half an hour at a petrol station to chat and refill something, could phase my excitement. 
I now have a 7 hour wait in Shanghai’s sparse airport by myself until my flight at 8am. But the second and third series of ‘Game of Thrones’ and the excitement of English speaking, beef eating, British soil will keep me going.
See you in a month! :) 
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Harbin: The Saint Sophia Cathedral
Today I met Sam’s friend Olivia and her boyfriend. She also studies at Nottingham University as a domestic student and her boyfriend is an engineering student in Harbin. Upon meeting them we went inside the Cathedral, built in 1907 it acted as a church for not only the Chinese but also the ever growing Russian population in Harbin. Nevertheless it was closed following the establishment of the PRC when Russia signed treaties turning its churches over to Chinese control. It was restored in 1996 after it was named a cultural heritage site. The interior was entirely stripped and the paintwork looks like it has not been refreshed since it was first closed 63 years ago. However it was hauntingly beautiful. Although not as big as the European cathedrals I’m used to, the tall, decorated ceilings, ornate lights and obvious history was fascinating. On the walls now were information plaques and pictures telling of Harbin’s history and the story of its Russian influence.  
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Harbin: Day 1

Our new hotel is wonderful. Run by a group of adorable women who helped us so much despite a lack of English. They explain everything in slow, measured Chinese. After last night we had barely any money, the women walked us to the nearest cashpoint that would work with our foreign cards and joked as we walked. Sam and I, for lack of a hairdryer and a desire to leave the last hotel as soon as possible, went outside with wet hair this morning. As we walked in the -25°C air our hair froze, completely stiff to the touch.

Whenever people ask me about China, one of the first things they ask, without fail, is about the pollution: ‘Is it terrible?’ ‘Is it ever sunny?’ ‘Do you get ill?’ In Ningbo however, I really don’t notice the smog too much. There have been days when we have been issued warnings and free masks to keep us healthy, but in actual fact pollution affects me very little in Southern China. In Harbin however, we can feel the difference. Here, all heating is provided by the Party and as coal is still the main source of energy up here, the smoke pours out everywhere. I think that, added to the temperature, makes you feel like there is a heavy, cold blanket surrounding you constantly. 

We spent the day walking around what we now found to be a beautiful city. Having been under Russian control around the time of WWII, much of the architecture is very European. Having to stop to regain feeling in our feet and hands, Starbucks became our new home with their perfectly situated shops at half an hour intervals. In one of these breaks, we met an Englishman called Chris who had been living here for 6 years. He had left his job in Canada for a supposedly more quiet life in China, starting off teaching he is now a psychologist with, like every foreigner, random- modelling/ acting/ teaching jobs on the side. He, not unlike other foreign men, cited his Chinese wife as the reason for his fluent Mandarin.

Walking around the city, there were ice sculptures everywhere. Many of them depicting famous people, or the treasured Harbin beer. On the river, that has totally frozen over, they have built a huge slide that takes its riders from above the river bank on a carpet whizzing to the bottom. They also built ‘zones’ where people could effectively play bumper cars on hover-craft-type machines or drive around in tanks. We didn’t have a go, but we did walk around a maze made of ice that was still being sculpted as we tried not to get lost. 

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Harbin: Arrival
We arrived in Harbin at 7.30pm and touched down to the sight of snow and the warning that it was -20°C. After a couple of minutes thinking through the scenario that we could be the new cast of ‘Taken’ without Liam Neeson to come and rescue us, we shared a taxi with some Mexican men that were on our plane. In reality, the taxi driver was a far more dangerous prospect. Driving fast on icy roads and weaving in and out of people, he decided to get his video player out (that rested over the rear view mirror) and begin a film. After protests we spent the rest of the journey listening to Chinese music blasting from the stereo.
 
The Mexican men got out first after much persuasion as their ‘mothers would be horrified’ to know they’d let ‘two young ladies’ continue in the taxi alone. That said, they paid for the whole journey up to that point (£30), and we continued on in the darkness to our hotel. This was when the trouble really started.
 
At 10pm when we arrived, we were told in broken English that they ‘had no rooms’. Having booked in advance we were somewhat confused, until we were informed that our reservation had been cancelled because we were a little later than we had first thought. It was -20 if not colder outside, we had huge rucksacks, no phone battery, and not a clue where we were. To make matters worse, no one spoke English. This is when I found that I had actually learnt at least some Chinese whilst being here. Man did I argue. Sam had only been doing Chinese a term, so with her, Pleco (a Chinese dictionary) and hand gestures I tried to explain to them that two girls walking around in the middle of nowhere in the dark attempting to stumble upon another hotel just wasn’t going to happen. At some point, we changed tack and tried to get them to call another hotel for us, but we were met with blank stares and shaking heads. Around this time another guest came into the hotel to check in; he professed he spoke a little English. He didn’t. A man who had been in the office watching TV throughout the whole saga decided to check the hotel; upon his return he told the man behind the desk that they had a room. By this point we must have riled the man behind the desk because he refused to acknowledge this fact and still refused us. Finally, an hour and a half later, the other guest offered us an incredibly kind solution. He gave us his room. 
 
As we got into the lift, emotionally and physically exhausted, the man checked into what we suppose was the spare room we were refused, as infuriating as it was, we were too tired to care. Now we begin the mission to find somewhere else to stay for the rest of our trip.
Harbin: Arrival
We arrived in Harbin at 7.30pm and touched down to the sight of snow and the warning that it was -20°C. After a couple of minutes thinking through the scenario that we could be the new cast of ‘Taken’ without Liam Neeson to come and rescue us, we shared a taxi with some Mexican men that were on our plane. In reality, the taxi driver was a far more dangerous prospect. Driving fast on icy roads and weaving in and out of people, he decided to get his video player out (that rested over the rear view mirror) and begin a film. After protests we spent the rest of the journey listening to Chinese music blasting from the stereo.
 
The Mexican men got out first after much persuasion as their ‘mothers would be horrified’ to know they’d let ‘two young ladies’ continue in the taxi alone. That said, they paid for the whole journey up to that point (£30), and we continued on in the darkness to our hotel. This was when the trouble really started.
 
At 10pm when we arrived, we were told in broken English that they ‘had no rooms’. Having booked in advance we were somewhat confused, until we were informed that our reservation had been cancelled because we were a little later than we had first thought. It was -20 if not colder outside, we had huge rucksacks, no phone battery, and not a clue where we were. To make matters worse, no one spoke English. This is when I found that I had actually learnt at least some Chinese whilst being here. Man did I argue. Sam had only been doing Chinese a term, so with her, Pleco (a Chinese dictionary) and hand gestures I tried to explain to them that two girls walking around in the middle of nowhere in the dark attempting to stumble upon another hotel just wasn’t going to happen. At some point, we changed tack and tried to get them to call another hotel for us, but we were met with blank stares and shaking heads. Around this time another guest came into the hotel to check in; he professed he spoke a little English. He didn’t. A man who had been in the office watching TV throughout the whole saga decided to check the hotel; upon his return he told the man behind the desk that they had a room. By this point we must have riled the man behind the desk because he refused to acknowledge this fact and still refused us. Finally, an hour and a half later, the other guest offered us an incredibly kind solution. He gave us his room. 
 
As we got into the lift, emotionally and physically exhausted, the man checked into what we suppose was the spare room we were refused, as infuriating as it was, we were too tired to care. Now we begin the mission to find somewhere else to stay for the rest of our trip.
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Shanghai: Last Day
This morning I took Sam to Mister Harrys for the first time. After 4 hours, 4 pots of Earl Grey tea, a full english breakfast and a long chat with Harry we were finally ready to leave. We’ve decided on this, our third trip to Shanghai, that we would enjoy living here, but only for a maximum of two years. Shanghai feels like the 1920s America of Fitzgerald’s ‘The Great Gatsby’, everyone is there to get rich quick and anyone can do it. However no one has any connection to either the place or to anyone else living there. Many of the Chinese rely on a trade created by foreign visitors, with emphasis on the money (extortion and bribery are not uncommon) and a disregard for traditional Chinese style of living. Whilst most, if not all, of the foreign people who live and work in Shanghai have no sense of permanency. No one we spoke to wanted to bring children up in Shanghai, nor did they see themselves there for an extended period of time (more than 5 years in most cases). It’s an incredible, often beautiful and fascinating place, but I’m sure the novelty wears off.
 
After Mister Harry’s we ventured to the catchily named: ‘Shanghai Propaganda Poster Art Museum’. Situated in an area of flats, the security guard gives you a small map that leads you the wrong way around the blocks of flats until you are lead back to the beginning to find the right one. Then, a rickety lift down to the basement, brings you out to a small museum. The posters were arranged in a timeline, so you not only saw the progression of the Communist Party in their aims for the evolution of China, but also the different styles used in creating the posters from an artistic perspective. My favourite posters were those depicting the mortal enemies of China at the time: the USA, France and England mostly. They are drawn as hideous monsters often pushing or pulling China to do terrible or suicidal things. These were in complete contrast to the repeated image of the obvious inseparable friends: Stalin and Mao.
 
You can’t take photos in the museum but you can buy many different poster themed souvenirs. These photos are 
Copyright © 2010 www.shanghaipropagandaart.com All rights reserved.
 
After packing up our things, we made our way to the airport- we’re heading to Harbin!
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Shanghai: Sam Arrives
When Sam arrived this morning we checked back into the first hostel and walked again to the French Concession where we tried to find a small restaurant recommended by Monocle. (Sam’s favourite magazine of all time). The one we were aiming for was closed however and we instead found ’Cafe del Volcan’ where we found the best coffee in Shanghai, if not the whole of China. As we sat outside and enjoyed the coffee we saw ‘The Blarney Stone’. This bar was the one we had spent all night looking for on our first trip to Shanghai. Kicking ourselves, we finished our coffees and walked down the street, only to find all types of different bars on offer. 
 
This evening we walked to the Bund and ate in a restaurant called ‘Lost Heaven’. It was pretty pricey for China (200 RMB each- around £20) but we ordered a whole range of dishes and each was absolutely incredible. *Tip: Do not order cold water, it costs 50RMB for a bottle. Whereas they give hot water for free. 
 
After dinner we walked back to the street we had been at earlier and went to a cocktail bar that is run by two Cuban guys and decorated entirely with frames. We had two particularly delicious cocktails and chatted and listened to the french chatter of everyone around us. We then moved onto the bar next door and (obviously) drank g&ts all night. There, we met an English guy who had gone to Lord Wandsworth School and owns a company that organises internships for internationals in Shanghai. His friend worked for the Australian Consulate and coincidentally his sister went to the same school as Sam. We stayed out later than planned but had a really great night that ended with us walking through Shanghai. 
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Shanghai: Alone
The lie in was heavenly this morning, following which I took a taxi to the very start of West Nanjing Road and walked the length of it stopping every so often in coffee shops and reading ‘Tender is the Night’. I went to the markets and bartered for some wellies (the only snow-appropriate shoes I could think of for Harbin). My Chinese came in useful and just by answering their English in Chinese I halved the starting price. From there I walked to the French Concession and sat for hours. I may as well have been in Paris, reading about France and surrounded by beautiful architecture in a lovely coffee shop. When it closed I went to Yuan and had a gin and tonic; I wasn’t ready to go back to the hostel and I reading in my favourite cocktail bar was really relaxing. Opposite Yuan is a tiny Chinese restaurant with about 5 tables where I ordered something that sounded remotely like something I had had before. The Chinese people only stopped staring when they realised I could adequately use chopsticks and therefore would be boring.