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Entries about asia

On the road to Mandalay...

sunny 40 °C

Dear Blogasphere, it has been a long time since my last entry, and for this I can only apologise!

I find myself once again on foreign soil - this time I have moved to Mandalay in Myanmar (formally Burma) for another English teaching position.
This was a somewhat last minute decision, but one I think will bear fruit sooner than anticipated.

I arrived at Mandalay International Airport after a somewhat gruelling 20 hours or so travelling time across three flights and 4 airports to be greeted to an incredible heat.
It's hard to describe the current climate as it's almost like walking behind a bus and getting trapped in the heat of the exhaust without the stuffy, polluted air. It's a thick heat without too much sweating, which is always good. The air smells warm and inviting without being uncomfortable or difficult to breathe.

I was collected by one of my soon-to-be colleagues, a delightfully miniature woman in the form of Jolyn. Though tiny, she was full of smiles and a positive, welcoming countenance that was just what I needed after my nearly full day of travelling.
We hopped into our waiting taxi and were soon on our way to my home for the next year or so.

As we drove along the somewhat uneven highway, we passed huge masses of green trees and fields, lakes and rivers, cows and goats, and people lounging about under the shade of the roadside trees. People haphazardly swerved around our car on the mopeds, three people at least on each bike, helmets on one or two of them, but blissfully riding along without a care in the world.

I saw a long wooden bridge stretching out over a placid lake, and by long I mean at least a few miles, and countless gold topped temples, palaces and pagodas - truly beautiful, nestled in amongst the land's natural wonderment.

As we got closer to town, more people and vehicles began to appear, including a small truck full to the brim with Buddhist monks, inside and atop, giving off an air of pure zen-like contentment; woman carrying what appeared to be obscenely heavy cargo on their heads, items my sturdy neck would struggle to support. This seemed to be a theme as I passed by countless numbers of women carrying various loads, including one women who was supporting a healthy number of bricks on her head at a local construction site.

It seems the Asian vehicular phenomenon is not only limited to the larger countries of China, Thailand and Vietnam, but is in fact a staple requirement of driving or riding in this part of the world.

We arrived at the hotel where I was shown to my room, complete with twin beds and an en suite bathroom, all for me, and proceeded to empty my heaving suitcases into their final resting places of various drawers, cupboards and wardrobes and lying on one of my beds whilst saying out loud "God, I love my life!"

Having not slept the entire way here, I thought it best to stay awake as long as possible to avoid the dreaded jet lag, which over the years, I have become somewhat proficient at escaping.

I met my boss by accident in the hallway towards my room, who took me to a bureau de change around the corner from our hotel to change the US dollars I had in my purse into Myanmar kyat (pronounced chat) and then on to the other teachers rooms around the hotel complex.

What an eclectic mix of individuals; the chilled, almost hippy-esque kind; the somewhat bawdy Londoner; the cute mixed nationality couple; the pixie like gem; the quirky and funny one – all lovely and welcoming, and all with different stories to tell.

It’s a little intimidating to be thrust into a well-knit group of people as a newbie, but a situation I am all too familiar with and can appreciate for what it is; a new and exciting opportunity to be something different to add to the mix!

The sun rises incredibly early here and sets in much the same way, so when a blanket of darkness finally fell around 7:30pm, I crawled into my cosy bed, in my marvellously air-conditioned room, and slept for at least 15 hours!

The next day I went to the small hotel restaurant, even that being too big a word for the space available, to enjoy my free daily breakfast of fried egg, fried rice or noodles, toast, fruit, juice, tea and coffee before meeting, purely by accident, one of the other teachers who told me when to get the bread van to the main teaching centre to observe some lessons.

  • Please note, that it is of course not a bread van, but a small, almost camper van shaped commodity that shepherds us back and forth from the various work outposts everyone needs to get to.

I was soon on my way, learning ever more useful titbits of what to expect from my new life in Mandalay, until arriving at the very off the beaten track building that was to be my new teaching centre.

Basic is not a word I could use to describe it, but everything somehow worked perfectly for the area and purposes required. Discordant harmony is probably the best way to define it, but without any negative connotations! Confusing I know, but do bear with me!

It was almost like this place had decided, whether consciously or not, that they would strip away the frivolous teaching methods, styles and equipment of the western world, leaving nothing but a pure, totally unambiguous and instinctive teaching core beneath. This space was completely, 100% for the love of learning and the desire to be educated without any of the bells and whistles to glam it up. It was actually quite overwhelming, and intriguing.

I observed a lesson and then made my way back to hotel (via the bread van) where I made the fatal error of lying down for a moment.

4 hours later, I awoke to a hunger I hadn’t felt for a long time! The immediate need for sustenance forced me from my bed to the local bar, almost attached to our hotel, Central Park.

I joined some of the teachers I’d met earlier and had some dinner with them, before going back to my room to sleep due to the sneaky jetlag induced exhaustion.

The next day, I had breakfast again before getting collected by Jolyn who, in the bread van again, took me to the centre where I graded some papers and had an interesting lunch of rice, vegetables and some kind of cured meat from a lady with a pop up shack around the corner from the teaching centre.

I stayed for most of the day before heading back to the hotel and napping briefly, and then got escorted to a local BBQ place to have a welcome meal with my fellow colleagues. For less than a fiver, we gorged ourselves on various BBQ classics, plus some fried noodles and beer cheaper than a packet of crisps in the UK!

I was still pretty tired so decided to head back whilst everyone else moved on to a bar, only to walk a few metres from the BBQ place to find my feet not touching the ground as I had anticipated.

Before I knew what was happening, the floor began getting closer to my face as my hands thrust out in front of me and I instinctively turned my body for my back to take the brunt of the fall.

Yes, I had fallen down one of the many holes in the road and had, within hours of meeting my colleagues for at least the next 6 months, promptly fallen down like a blob of human ineptitude in front of them all.

With the skill and grace of a person used to falling over their own feet, let alone pot holes or off high heeled shoes, I laughed at myself before heaving my still quivering mass off the tarmac and brushed off what I can only hope was just dirt from my hands and then somewhat sore arse.

It was only after separating from the group that I remembered the torch I’d so sensibly stowed away in my bag, which I immediately removed from said bag and used to light my way home.

After applying antiseptic cream to my scraped knee, I crawled once more into my soft, welcoming sheets and beckoned sleep to me like a vampire in a coffin.

The following day I made the catastrophic error of not getting up early enough for breakfast, and having not yet located the nearest supermarket, went to work at 12pm without any input of any kind to then work for 6 hours straight using only the odd cigarette break to stifle my hunger pangs.

Luckily though, my new students with their enthusiasm and general loveliness saw me through to the end of my shift by playing countless games, getting-to-know-you activities and having interesting conversations.

As is standard in Asia, the students give themselves their own English names, and without fail, I once again have some absolute corkers, including but not limited to, Starlay, KK, Arr, and Moses.

After my successful lessons and first complete day of teaching, me and a fellow late nighter got in the bread van and made our way back to the hotel before accosting another teacher and heading out for dinner up the road a few blocks from the hotel.

We sat in Central Park after dinner for drinks and long discussions about our lives before Mandalay before walking back to our rooms and saying goodnight on this, my first real day.

Posted by Lady Mantle 10:24 Archived in Myanmar Tagged teacher burma mandalay asia myanmar first_day esl new_students love_my_life new_city new_life Comments (3)

Siem Reap (Cambodia)

Into the jungle, into the temples of Angkor and into the shoes of Lara Croft....

sunny 35 °C

Oh my night bus!
We booked a sleeper bus from Sihanoukville to Siem Reap (11.5 hrs) from 8pm at $19 each...
After some very poor (but stereotypically Asian) management, we found 2 "beds" together and nestled in for the night.

To describe our arrangement as slave-ship-like was not untoward.
It was like a human-traffickers wet-dream.
2 to a bed, approximately 24 beds (so 48 people) all lying down with an incline of the equivalent of two pillows jutting upwards at the head of the bed; aircon-circle-thingies pointing in every direction except where we wanted them; the smells of the onboard "luxury" toilet (which may as well have been a hole looking down to the erratically passing "tarmac") and peoples' foot odour kept wafting around; the gentlemen in front of me not fully comprehending the "sleep" concept of "sleeping" bus by using a torch to read a book - the type of torch used to find Rose on that door after the Titanic sank, a torch which lit up the bus like the 4th of July; and of course, the moth-eaten, damp and musty smelling blanket that provided less warmth than an ant's fart could provide wind.

However, contrary to popular Cambodian locals' belief, we in fact did not die in a firey, horrendous crash, so our blessings were truly counted.

We arrived in Siem Reap around 7:30am and were slightly perturbed to discover our driver from the Panda Guest House was in fact, not waiting for us, leaving us at the mercy of the piranha-esque shoals of tuk-tuk drivers, thirsty for their next fare.
We arrived in one piece but $6 lighter at our hostel and were pleasantly surprised.
A well-kept building with a healthy white exterior and pleasantly decorated interior, and helpful informative staff who supplied us with everything we could possibly need to get the most from our stay.
We even arrived a day early, and although they had no rooms available, they went out of their way to find us a room for the night nearby.

A lot of travellers complain about hostel-organised tours, but to be honest, it saves a lot of time and effort and you get above and beyond service.
It may be a few dollars above other places or going it alone, but I'd rather pay the extra and have some piece of mind that a jewellery or silk shop bombardment isn't lurking around the corner...!

Anyway, our room for one night was very nice and spacious with a large balcony and good views and only a stones throw away from the Panda Guest House.

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We ventured into town for some lunch, and as Ricky had been craving Mexican food in Sihanoukville, when we saw a Mexican Restaurant, our decision was made for us!

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It wasn't the best in the world but good enough.
We walked around for a while but it was quite hot and my legs hadn't quite recovered so we went into the covered market and spent ages bartering for various things.
Ricky sold me to one of the female stall owners at one point, she hugged me and said I was the best purchase ever and super skinny!
I liked her! haha!
After that, I dropped my dirty clothes off at a local laundry place and had a nap.

We went for dinner at The Sun where I had a Caesar Salad with chicken as my tummy wasn't very happy with me so I didn't want to overload it.
We then made our way round the corner to Pub Street.
Aptly named, given the vast expanse of pubs and drinking holes lining both sides of the street.
We went to the Triangle to enjoy some singing and Linga for a drag show before heading to Temple to enjoy a street party.
It felt like Mardi Gras!!

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I left after that but once again, Ricky danced the night away. I think the 75 cents draft beer may have been having a bad influence on him!

The next day we checked out of our temporary accommodation and went across the road to Angkor Wonder for breakfast and to see Mr. Whynot - ask him anything, his response will probably be "Why not?!"
We had some food and were about to leave with all of our bags when Mr. Whynot asked if we'd like a free tuk-tuk to our other hostel as it was only down the road and we had all our stuff with us.
We asked if he was sure that was ok, and his reply?
Why not!
Such a nice man!

We got to the Panda Guest House (again!) and went up to our room - lovely.
2 large, comfy, twin beds, a desk, a fan, ensuite bathroom with a hot shower and really well decorated.
This place was perfect - quiet during the day and night but only a 10 minute walk to Pub Street and the markets, etc.
Very impressed.

Ricky wanted Indian food, so we set off out again and headed towards the restaurants.
Ricky, having worked in an Indian restaurant for a while, was not overly impressed, but I thought my food was quite nice...!

I'd been having toothache for a few days by this point and I didn't really want to wait until we got home to China to get it looked at, so I asked the hostel if they could recommend a place.
They didn't know anywhere at first, but with some research online and a quick phone call later, they found one and arranged a tuk-tuk to take me there.

You can imagine my fears and ideas about the hole in the wall, back-alley "dentist" I was unknowingly being taken to but actually, I think it was the nicest dentist I'd ever been to in the UK - It was clean and well-presented, the staff spoke English and didn't mind at all that I'd just dropped in without an appointment.
10 minutes or so of waiting and in I went - good sized room, clean, modern equipment, and a dentist (always good!).
Long story short, and only a little wimpering later, I had gained two fillings and lost only $20 for the priviledge.
Much better.
My dentist visit of course left me without my nap so after dinner of crocodile fritters and an unpleasant burger and Amok fish, I went back to the hostel.
Ricky came back around 5am.

The next day we didn't really do a lot, slept in, went for walk, got some lunch then went for drinks in the Triangle as they had double beds hanging from the ceiling with small tables in the middle for drinks and food to go on.
We stayed there for a good few hours before returning to our hostel to go to dinner and an Apsara Dance show.
It was a buffet-style meal and after 2 plates of various worldly cuisine, Ricky and I were both stuffed, so we waited for the show to begin.
It was pretty interesting; traditional clothes and a story or two told through the dances.

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That finished around 8:30pm and we went straight back to the hostel as we had an early start the following day...

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Angkor Wat; the Temples, Flooded Forest and Floating Village

Our day started abruptly at 5am.
We got into the tuk-tuk with our driver for the day and still in the darkness of night, we made our way to Angkor Wat for sunrise.
We had to wait an hour or so and although not mind-blowing, the sun rising over this giant monument of a past civilisation was quite impressive.

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As soon as the sun had risen, we made our way inside and the "don't get anyone in my photos" game began...

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Our tuk-tuk driver dropped us off at each place and told us where he'd be waiting for us.
We explored the various nooks and crannies and even got duped into buying incense for "good luck" (a fact, that would later, become painfully ironic!)
We moved on from temple to temple, each time the temperature climbed higher and higher...

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We arrived at Ta Prohm - The Jungle Temple, and I was suitably pleased with the surroundings;
giant trees rooting themselves into the crumbling ruins, piles of abandoned rubble and delapidated doorways.
It was quite a stunning sight to behold.

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We had a break for lunch, having not been hungry enough for breakfast, and after feeding our driver, we made our long journey to the river boats to go to the Floating Village and Flooded Forest...

The cost for the boat trip alone was $25 each and in all honesty, wasn't worth it - especially considering all the tipping we had to do...
Now I know tipping is not compulsory, but when a very poor person is standing in front of you having just done you a service, you can't really refuse.
We went around the village before docking at a floating platform and changing into a much smaller, hand-paddled boat - our captain and first mate of this smaller vessel being a girl and boy both under the age of 12!

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They dutifully paddled us into the floaded forest and around on a boat no bigger than a tic-tac but I think that was one of the most enjoyable parts.
After tipping the children and exploring the very well constructed jungle canopy walk way, we got into our original boat and continued up the river to a huge lake that looked more like an ocean.
Before long, 2 women on separate long boats pulled up alongside us with cold drinks and snacks.
We enjoyed the novelty so bought some drinks for us and our captain and 3 large multipack bags of snacks for the village children.

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As we sailed back through the village, the children obviously knew what was happening and they started crowding the banks.
We tried to throw individual packets to them but it didn't really work.
In no time there were dozens of kids all around us when one boy ran off the edge and jumped into the water.
Soon half a dozen children were wildly swimming towards us as we showered them with snacks before continuing back to the "dock".

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We were once again asked to tip our captain, furthering our concern as to what exactly our $25 each paid for!?

On the journey back to the hostel, I couldn't help but think about how happy and content those villagers were with their lives, even though they barely had anything by Western standards.
They seemed to appreciate every little thing like it was the best in the world. It was refreshing to see.

It took an hour or so to get back to our hostel, where I showered and climbed into bed! It was only 6pm!

The next day, I was a little perplexed how nearly $500 of mine and Ricky's money had mysteriously escape from our private, locked room...
We spoke to the manager who said they'd had the same cleaner forever etc, etc and that we should have put our stuff in their tiny safe sticking out of a wall in reception...
However, my money was in a ziplock bag, in an inside, zipped-up pocket in my rucksack which was under a desk..... so someone had to have gone snooping around through my bags to find it..... peeved doesn't even cover it.
(So much for "good luck" incense....!)

We walked around for a bit, had some food, then decided to go to the Crocodile Farm...

As far as I could tell, it was a farm to produce leather, and the living conditions of the smaller crocs especially wasn't great - a lot of them had deformed spines due to the cramped conditions which was quite depressing.

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The depression continued however when we asked to buy fish to feed the larger crocodiles with, only to be told there were none - only live ducks and chickens....
Now I know what you're thinking, how cruel is it to feed a live duck or chicken to a group of hungry crocodiles?
Crocodiles need to eat too, and if they didn't eat them, a human being would have eaten them anyway.
I was still mercifully apologising to the duck the entire time I was holding it though.

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We had to wait around for our night bus to Vietnam so we went for an hour massage and drag show (for only $4) then we went to the bus office for 10:30pm and got on the bus around 10:40pm before setting off at 11pm.
We arrived in Phnom Penh around 6am where we waited for 2 hours for the bus to Ho Chi Minh City.
After a ferry crossing, a passport control stop and a different stop to scan our luggage, we entered Vietnam and arrived in HCMC around 3pm...

Posted by Lady Mantle 05:07 Archived in Cambodia Tagged landscapes lakes people children trees animals boats temples food ruins cambodia angkor_wat adventure kids hostel duck asia triangle travelling crocodiles poverty tuk_tuk massage rubble foreigners linga tomb_raider social_etiquette natural_beauty beautiful_buildings drag_queens bamboo_boat ta-prohm lara-croft terrace_lepers terrace_elephants cambodian_dentist panda_guest_house the_sun_restaurant Comments (1)

Sihanoukville (Cambodia)

Heading to the beach...

sunny 34 °C

I personally didn't mind our location in Sihanoukville, (Don't Tell Mama's Hostel, Otres Beach) but I'm less of a nightbird than Ricky and being at the end of the quiet beach, put us 10 minutes away by tuk-tuk to civilisation (and bars).

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Although we initially agree to change hostels closer to the town, we decided that we weren't really staying long enough for it to be an issue so just made do with the distance.

During the first actual day in Sihanoukville (given that we arrived at 6pm the evening before), we went to the beach.
The whole 40 or so steps it took to get there...!

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We stayed by the beach for about 5 hours, bearing in mind that we didn't go there until 12pm!
We came back to our hut, had a nap, and then went to Serendipity Beach around 9:30/10pm for beach BBQ.
It was scrummy - BBQ Tuna steak, prawns, squid and pork with a gorgeous salad, rice and garlic bread... not bad for $5

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Now in order to go to Vietnam, we needed to get a visa from Cambodia beforehand.
I had photocopies of our passports so was less afraid of leaving our actual passports with the nice man who got our visas for us for $65 each!
Phew! Pricey!
He told us to come back the next day around 5pm to collect our passports with the newly acquired Vietnamese visas in them.
Whilst sitting there getting all of this information, we saw a boat trip; 3 islands, 8 hours, breakfast and lunch included. $15 each.
Well obviously that had to be done.

I liberally applied sun cream to my face, chest and arms but somewhere in between ordering breakfast and passing the sun cream to Ricky, I forgot to apply any cream to my legs...

The first island we went to was for snorkelling, a hobby which, for anyone who knows me, knows I love very much, but sadly my mask leaked so I couldn't get a clean view but I did go for a swim anyway and there were so many fish swimming around me, I felt like a mermaid!
Ricky, given his previous encounter with the ocean on our trip to Thailand, decided he wasn't quite ready to get out of the boat into open (ish) water, so he stayed on the boat.

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We stayed for an hour or so, then went to the next island for lunch.
A beautiful stretch of white sand and tropical water greeted us.
We had an hour before lunch so Ricky and I ventured down the beach where there were no other people at all.
It was like our own slice of paradise.
We had a quick swim, then sat on the beach to dry off.

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We made our way back to the others for lunch; salad, a baguette and the most beautifully succulent barracuda steak.
I'd never had barracuda before, but after that, I'd highly recommend it!

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We got to stay for another 2 hours, so we found some hammocks and chilled out in the shade until our lunch had gone down.

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It wasn't until we moved along the beach in the other direction and sat down for a while that I realised how hot my legs were getting so I went for another dip in the sea to cool down.

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Of course, what I didn't acknowledge was that the damage was already done and by the time we'd gone to the last island for more swimming/snorkelling, my legs were the colour of the setting sun! :(

We got back to our beach and had some Lok Lak Beef (traditional Khmer food) and got accosted by a 12-year old girl (who I agreed to make some bracelets for me, she was quite the little business woman with excellent English), so we had a chat for a while and she gave me a free bracelet for Chinese New Year ^_^

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We went to collect our passports with their new Vietnamese visas in and made our way back to our hut for a much needed cold shower.
Sleeping that night was uncomfortable to say the least.
I felt like I was on fire and my head was spinning - you'd think after nearly 26 years on this earth, I would remember how little the sun and I get on...!
(And mother, if you're reading this, no "I told you so", please!)

Well our plan for our last day was to go to the iBall Adventure Park that we'd read about, only to discover that it no longer exsists :(

So instead, we went to the Casino Fortuna where I spent about $7 in total and I won $35 off a $1 bet! Not bad for someone who's never played Roulette before, and by betting on my birth day! :D

After chilling by the beach until 6pm (in the shade, obviously!) we grabbed a quick dinner and went to collect our bags to get on the night bus to Siem Reap...

Posted by Lady Mantle 02:08 Archived in Cambodia Tagged landscapes sunsets_and_sunrises beaches skylines children animals sky boats snorkelling food flowers travel cambodia adventure summer swimming tropical duck asia travelling sihanoukville body dying white_sand foreigners serendipity_beach otres_beach my_future_home rubber_duck natural_beauty 3_islands_tour don't_tell_mama Comments (0)

Cambodia continued.....

The Royal Palace and Central Market

sunny 30 °C

After lunch, we continued our day by going to the Royal Palace.

Gorgeous, elaborate buildings dotted the spotless grounds with large trees and topiaries providing natural beauty to compliment the elegant man-made structures.

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A "few" lighthearted snaps and an unexpected introduction to a group of monkies climbing around a scaffolding site of reconstruction brightened our otherwise reflective day until we returned once again to our hostel, this time for a late afternoon siesta...

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When we woke up around 6/6:30pm, the air was cooler and the night life began to start.
We went to Happy Herb Pizza for dinner; just your regular margherita pizza with cheese, onions and marijuana...!

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That's right folks, "happy" preceeding any kind of food in Cambodia means that the oregano you thought you were enjoying was in fact weed.

And what better way to follow a weed pizza, than with a gay-friendly bar for a drag show?!

Of course, not a normal correlation of events, but after a few Baileys, it seemed to be the perfect combination...
Evidently, beautiful boys do not always make beautiful girls...

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My night ended after that, but as usual, my darling Ricky made a friend and ventured out into Phnom Penh after dark to dance and drink the night away...!

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Central Market

I woke up around 11:30am and had banana pancakes for breakfast, did some writing and then woke Ricky up around 1pm.

We began walking to the Central Market, only to get far too hot and confused trying to read the map, so we jumped in a tuk-tuk and had the nice man take us there instead :)

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I can see why they'd call it Central Market...
Everything you could possibly desire was for sale; beautiful silks and linens, watches, jewellery, sunglasses, shoes, bags, well you get the idea...!

After a good few hours we'd seen most of the market.
Ricky bought some Ray Bans that fold down to practically nothing, a pair of Berkenstocks, a watch and a bag.
I bought some earrings, a bag and some replacement flip flops!

I think after having lived in China for over 18 months now and having visited many places in Asia, Ricky and I have got this bartering thing down!
If they don't like your highest offer, the walk-away will seal the deal if they're really ok with the price! Winning!

Now the original plan was to get some food and then go to the Russian Market afterwards, however, we decided to go to Happy Herb Pizza again...
Instead of sharing a large pizza between us, we order one each and the happiness once again eluded us.... or so we thought...

We went back to our hostel for a drink and a quick nap...
I woke up at 11pm.... we got back to the hostel at 4pm.... I think I found my happy!
Ricky apparently found his too as he'd spent the entire time I was asleep watching videos of people falling over and willing his legs to move.... evidently, they did not!

So, it was 11pm, we both decided we were hungry, and it's only a vague recollection now, but I'm pretty sure we drove around for a while in a tuk-tuk until we found an open restaurant.
I think I had a cheeseburger...

We went to sleep and when we woke up, we checked out and waited for the bus to Sihanoukville.

5 hours and a brief pit-stop later, we arrived in the shabby main-town of Sihanoukville, got into a tuk-tuk and made out way to our hostel...

Posted by Lady Mantle 18:47 Archived in Cambodia Tagged temples food flowers shopping cambodia phnom_penh cheap asia tuk_tuk royal_palace silk pancakes monkies sleepy foreigners central_market evil_monkey rules_of_asia happy_herb_pizza beautiful_buildings Comments (0)

New Year in China

A Gregorian New Year and a soon-to-be Chinese New Year quickly approaches...

sunny 7 °C

I felt it was time to evaluate my life in China so far, what with the dawn of the Chinese New Year fast approaching and the Year of the Horse wielding unknown potential.

I'd like to share with you some things I have learned from living in this amazing country:

1. No matter what ailment is troubling you, be it a headache, menstrual cramps, a cold or the flu, a chesty cough or generally just feeling a bit under the weather, hot water will be your best friend and ally during these tenuous times!

You will be hard pressed to find a Chinese person, especially where I live, without a flask, mug, glass jar or some other nondescript container filled at least three quarters of the way with hot water.
Now don't get me wrong, I already understand the value of water; it's good for your skin and keeps your body hydrated, it provides much needed moisture to maintain strong brain power, it can even aid digestion. However, it is not just the miracle of water that the Chinese understand and appreciate, oh no! It is hot water, with its glorious cleansing steam gliding up into your sinuses, it is the warmth spreading through your chest into your stomach and down to your toes as this apparent heavenly hand guides its warming embrace throughout your entire body.
Whenever in the past year and a half, I have experienced any kind of medical annoyance, the first thing any of my students or Chinese friends have advocated is this, 'Drink hot water, keep your body warm', and although sage advice, it is not only this, but also an undeniable truth.
I drink hot water in restaurants, at home, whenever I feel a cold coming on, or am experiencing particularly uncomfortable cramps - out comes my very own flask which locks in the magical heat and within a day or two, I am back to feeling tip-top again.

2. You will never be as popular anywhere in world with people you've never met, than you will be in China.

Every single day, I walk to school, or I get a bus or a taxi into town; I meet my friends, I go shopping, I'll stop in somewhere and maybe have some hot water (with tea in it!) - I do a myriad of things throughout my weeks and months, often different things or trying different places, or trying to find the place I really like but that appears to have closed down...! One thing however remains constant:
Every single person you walk past will either want to, will know how to, or actually does say one or all of the following phrases to you...
'Hello' / 'Nice to meet you' / 'My English is very poor'

I have made more friends on the streets of this town, in the short space of time that I've lived here, than I have in my previous 20 odd years in the UK.
Everyone is so desperate to interact with a foreigner that they usually pluck up the courage and put their limited knowledge of the English language to use.

The best part is, that if these brave souls happen to be girls, usually of any age, or younger boys, when you reply to their 'Hello' with an equally matched response, they will giggle, run away and then point and talk about you with a group of their friends who never seem to be very far away.

It has gotten to the point now where I genuinely cannot remember if I've met, seen or even spoken to this person before me offering a cordial greeting as it happens so often, I've almost lost track.

3. People you have never met, or have perhaps met during one of the aforementioned bravery conversations, will have photographs of you on their cameras or their phones and they will have passed these photos on to at least 5 of their friends, or better yet, they will simply have posted these pictures on to one of Asia's many social outlets. QQ, WeChat, Weibo etc.

My first encounter with the stealth photographers happened when I arrived fresh-faced and excited in Beijing. The sights, the smells, the immense number of people, the strange language on every sign, the incredible feat to find and navigate the subway system (read some of my earlier blog entries for that thrilling debacle!)

It was however, on the subway, that my suspicion peaked... through the wonders of peripheral vision.... I saw them.
Slowly, almost unnoticeable to the human eye, people's mobile phones were creeping up over other passengers’ shoulders, heads, arms, each one pointing their judgemental camera's eye directly at me.
I waited for the sound, the give-away that a picture had indeed been snapped, but nothing.
Just as eerily as they had appeared, the phones slid back into pockets and bags, calculatedly waiting for their next prize photo opportunity.

4. At more than one interval throughout the day, you will eat an entire meal from a plastic bag:

It doesn't matter how much money you do or don't want to pay for your food, whenever you buy food outside or even from a little shop, you will be served your succulent meat or soup or rice or noodles, all together, in one bag (after all - it's going to end up like that in your stomach once you've masticated it!)

Once you've gained the skill of not eating a little piece of the bag with each bite, you get to really understand and enjoy the bohemian thrill of it all - no plates to clean, no cutlery to wash; you just put the disposable chopsticks you were given into the empty food bag, tie it off in a neat little bow and boom, straight into the bin it goes.

Restaurants, of course, have a little more western etiquette to them, you get to enjoy your food on plates with sturdier chopsticks and separate dishes for you to portion out your required amount of food. There is demonstrably the added benefit of once again, not having to do any washing up or tidying up of any kind; but to think you escaped the bags?
How foolish of you.
Once you've eaten your fill, the kindly waiter or waitress will appear with several empty bags, pick up your leftovers (from the serving dish, rather than your individual plates or bowls) and pour said contains into the plastic bags.
Taking home any uneaten food is very important here, again, at least where I live, as the government is trying to cut down food waste and if you don't want it now, you'll probably want it later so why not just pop it in a doggy bag and take it home with you?!

The same practise of using a bag over crockery also applies in Qingdao during their annual beer festival - instead of tables for you and your friends to sit around and discuss current affairs, there are hooks on the walls for you to hang your beer bags on.
(It saves space, allowing more beer bags to be purchased by more patrons)

5. If you have any colour hair, other than black or dark brown, you are suddenly the Messiah:

My Australian friend who lives here with his beautiful Chinese wife once told me that he had a friend (male), with shoulder length blonde hair, who took a trip on one of the marvellous trains we have all over the country, and decided to take a nap as it was going to be a long journey.
When he woke up, he saw before him several concerned and awe-stricken Chinese passengers staring at him.
Now given the previous points of foreigners being interesting commodities, it would appear to be understandable to have a group of unknown voyeurs to this man's train journey.
It was however the large chunk of hair he was missing that these travellers were more put out by....
During his nap, someone had decided that his golden locks should be shared amongst his earthly comrades and thusly cut off a large piece of his hair as a keepsake.

As a fellow blonde, my roots ache for that man's lost locks, but luckily (for me!) I have yet to encounter any serial hair collectors.
My hair dresser here does however tell me, more often than not, that my hair is too soft to do anything with.
I take that as a compliment!

6. If you have a boyfriend or girlfriend in China, not only will your parents be thrilled, but so will clothes manufacturers throughout the country:

The Western world is already aware of the massive influence Asian countries and their trends have had on popular culture; Hello Kitty, Sushi restaurants, glasses without lenses (Asian Hipsters!), coloured contact lenses, brightly mismatched clothing etc.
What the Western world has yet to cotton onto is the booming market of girlfriend/boyfriend shops.
Now don't get me wrong, we have 'His and Hers' towels and bathrobes, but we’ve got nothing on the Chinese niche for boyfriend/girlfriend matching outfits.
That's right folks.
Couples in Asia don't just want you to know they’re a couple, they want to show you through the medium of fashion.
Whole boutiques dedicated to sweatshirts and hoodies sporting the same colours and logos - bigger sizes for him; petite, perfectly figure-hugging sizes for her.
This phenomenon even extends to shoes, hats and trousers.
You and your partner can walk into one of these boyfriend/girlfriend shops and kit each other out in perfectly harmonised ensembles.

7. Poorly translated and often comical signs and menus:

When picking your food in restaurants or trying to figure out where you are in the major metropolis can be daunting, but fear not, because someone, somewhere, with a basic understanding of English has attempted to assist you in this ordeal.

Pictures, clear as day, show you a delectable dish of Chicken with potatoes and vegetables in a colourful blend of culinary excellence, and although the Chinese, if you're fortunate enough to understand it, tells you that that is indeed what this dish entails, the English version will probably put you off eating for the rest of your life.
I once saw a similar dish described as 'Flavoured Fungi and assorted entrails', even though the Chinese characters told me it was Chicken and vegetables....
The fun continues with warning signs or polite notices.
In a hotel I saw a sign in the corridor outside the elevator, with a picture of pursed lips and a single finger laying gently over them, telling me to 'put it mildly, and then put it mildly'.
Common sense would dictate that this probably means, 'Please be quiet when walking about the hotel so as not to disturb other guests', but alas, this elegance was somewhat lost in translation.
Another interesting warning came from what I presume was a 'Slippery when wet' or 'Uneven steps' sign in a tourist attraction of ancient art and temples, with a sign that simple read 'Don't fall down' accompanied by a picture of a foolish naysayer falling down some steps.
The list is of course, long and endless, but usually full to the brim with hilarious mistranslations and equally amusing illustrations for added effect.

8. If you're outside, feel free to spit wherever you like, even out of a car window, whilst on the move.

Now as a quintessentially British childhood moulded my sense of propriety and manners, spitting was never an appropriate past time, but in Asia, if it's in your mouth, you need to expel it as loudly and thoroughly as you can.

You are all probably aware of the guttural wrenching sound people make when they have a particularly stubborn phlegm build-up in the back of their throat or nose. Well this sound is only part of the cacophony of sounds one hears on a daily basis in China.
If it's not a taxi honking it's horn to see if you require a lift; small, barely audible speakers shouting at you to buy the freshly picked produce or children departing school en mass, then the pise de résistance, will be the spitting.
If Disney were to recreate Fantasia using the sounds of Asia rather than actual instruments, the sound of spitting would account for the percussions, strings and probably brass sections as well.

But have no fear readers, because cleaners are on hand 24/7 with their bamboo handled, mesh and feather street brushes to clear the congealed mess away…

9. If you can still breathe, then there is enough space in this taxi, subway car, bus or ticket office for more people:

If you've ever wondered why Asian people tend to lack basic manners in regards to space awareness and entry/exit protocols, look no further for your answers.
It all starts here, in Asia.
If you want to get on that subway train in the UK or the US and there doesn't seem to be a lot of room, you will probably have the basic instincts of self-preservation to wait 3 minutes for the next train.
If you want to get on that subway train in Asia, you get on the damn subway train, regardless of that child's face you've now squashed against a window or that small family of foreigners you've all but forced into a vacuum, slowly suffocating them to death.

Not only will you hardly ever see a queue or something to that effect, you won't see a patient Asian person either.
If you've got somewhere to be, you get there no matter the cost, damage or possible offence it may cause.
If you need a ticket but the mass conglomerate ahead of you doesn't have your best interests at heart, you force your way to the front, interrupt the employee who is already dealing with another customer and thrust your money into their hands, talking over the previous patron.
It reminds me of that scene in Titanic when everyone is trying to evacuate the sinking vessel and the lower level passengers are all pushed up against that padlocked gate, clambering on top of one another for just a glimpse at their possible freedom and escape.
Even without the threat of imminent death by frosty cold drowning, the assertion to survive and be the first to do so lives on in the heart of pretty much every Asian person alive.

10. Pyjamas are not just an inside outfit, but don't wear indoor shoes outside, obviously:

During the harsh winter months, I've learned that PJ's are not just a comfy, cosy, indoor outfit for you to nestle into on the sofa with your mug of hot chocolate, oh no.
Pyjamas are actually giant layers of padded warmth that you wear over your normal outside-clothes and when you combine these two fashion masterpieces together, you get a warm outside look with all the comfort and cosiness of your inside outfit.
The best part about wearing your pyjamas outside is that everyone else is doing it too so no one thinks you look utterly ridiculous and some of the designs and patterns could even be deemed fashionable.
The rooky mistake however, is mistaking indoor shoes for outdoor shoes.
It's completely acceptable for you to wear pyjamas outside, but if you wear flip flops in summer or the matching cosy booties that go so perfectly with your PJ's in the winter then you are opening yourself up to ridicule and the blatant question 'Why are you wearing slippers outside?'

Overly fluffy or felt-style boots are slippers.
Flip-Flops are slippers.
Shower-shoes are slippers.
Slippers are slippers.

And at no time is it appropriate to wear any of these items of footwear outside.
Even if you are wearing a Michelin-man inspired pyjama set.

Posted by Lady Mantle 20:34 Archived in China Tagged shopping china asia subways new_year spitting trends food_in_bags life_lessons rules_of_asia social_etiquette asian_hipsters lost_in_translation winter_wear year_of_the_horse Comments (3)

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