Cruelty in China – Animal Show

Whilst clearing out the clutter from my computer I came across some old files…some videos I had stored away within a folder within a folder. They were videos showing some rather cruel scenes in a Chinese zoo’s ‘Animal Show’. All is explained in the video:

Bizarre, I just don’t get it. But what do you think?

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2016 Travel Plans…

Here is a brief run-down of my plan for 2016…it’s rather comprehensive – but if I pull it off then that’ll mean a whole host of new stories for Storytime with John! 

So wish me luck, please!

Oh, and if you have a video request you can leave a comment, or send me an email – if it’s a cool/interesting idea then I will get to it as soon as I can!

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Food Giant (Top 5)

Travel broadens your mind – that seems to be the consensus among most people…well yeah sure, I guess – but one of the best things about travel, no joke; is the new food you get to sample and consequently fall in love with!

This is my top five list…I honestly could have did a top fifty…yes, I am that greedy…anyway, here it goes:

5. 热干面  (China)

Whilst in Wuhan, China – I found that the area’s traditional dish  热干面 (rè gān miàn) was just sensational…it isn’t going to sound like anything too special – but the simple collaboration of flavours just worked so well! Think boiled spaghetti, peanut butter (well, sesame sauce), and chopped carrot…sounds disgusting? It was AMAZING! And at 30p (50¢?) a pop, there’s only one winner! ME, AND MY DAILY HABIT!

4. Escargot (France)

As a child the thought of eating snails…was…well…unthinkable – after all they look like little alien creatures from the planet Zoozlax! Butttt, in reality escargot are beyond delicious! It could be argued that anything would taste wonderful if it was smothered in enough garlic butter…but still…wow – oh yeah, and then get some freshly baked bread; dip it in there…wow x2.

3. Bernerwurst (Austria)

Austria disappointed me a little, sure they had spectacular cakes – and equally good coffee (100 automatic points to Gryffindor!) but other than that I didn’t find anything too special…that was until I had a couple of hours spare at the airport…that’s when I met my soulmate; the Bernerwurst. This beautiful thing, oh my goodness – so it’s a sausage, stuffed with cheese, and then wrapped in bacon. It’s enough to give you a heart attack just thinking about it…but you would die happy, VERY happy.

2. Haggis (Scotland)

One of my all-time favourites is Haggis – I bet I can make your mouth water with this one… so think of the liver, lungs, and heart of a sheep – all chopped up, mixed with other stuff, and then shoved back into a sheep’s stomach before being boiled, and served. Delightful. It may sound like the menu of a post-apocalyptic world, but it is actually gorgeous…you can get it at my local chippy back home. It’s just amazing. I can’t even find the words…

1. 샤브 샤브 (South Korea)

샤브 샤브 (shabu-shabu) is actually a Korean twist of a Japanese dish…and it is my number one favourite thing to do on a Sunday…you know, when you have a full day free to GORGE yourself. It also introduces a little bit of Vietnamese style cooking, so it is a huge beautiful mix of different flavours! You have the pot in the middle, that you may put noodles, rice, veggies – whatever! And then around the side there is a hot plate that you cook up pork, and beef strips…

I returned to my old neighborhood recently, with the sole intention of going back to the 샤브 샤브  restaurant I loved so much…it had closed down (probably because they temporarily lost their best customer) – I cried…I broke down…and I haven’t been the same since.

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Anyway, so recounting all of these ridiculously delicious dishes, just made me very, very, HUNGRY. I am off to eat myself to an early grave…I guess the diet is off, I shouldn’t have started this…

What are some of your favourite dishes? (This has to be one of my most loved things to discuss!)

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Adult Movies and Angry Stares

I think as an eternally awkward and embarrassed individual certain scenarios are made doubly worse and triply…trebly…erm – errrr…three times as dramatic as they should be. Phew, that was an ordeal in itself! 

But I have somewhat come to terms with this fact and now consider myself to be a somewhat fully functioning nervous wreck, as opposed to a few years ago where I was a full time rocking chair enthusiast…

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That doesn’t mean that I’m suddenly a cool cucumber, reminiscent of Jude Law in his prime (before his hair receded and he started looking like a half peeled potato). You see, I don’t particularly have a strut, and my smile to strangers is still weirdly forced – but I no longer poo my pants at the prospect of talking to someone working in a supermarket. Which is sort of like a victory…in my own strange way…well, it saves money on new clothes anyways – which is practically the same thing.

But on a recent flight I found myself resorting to old habits…as the nerve-racked Mr. Hyde-side of my being crept uneasily back into my life, stammering and sweating with every embarrassed step. You see I was on a long-haul flight just a couple of days ago, and was the reddened meat of a Chinese grandmother sandwich…we had nodded, and smiled to each other – and had even exchanged some muddled pleasantries before growing suitably bored and reaching for our respective sets of headphones. (The internationally known sign for “don’t talk to me please.”)

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I began to look through the selection of films, hoping to catch sight of a new-ish one I’d missed the first time around. There were a few that stood out; a serious looking one with James Franco and Jonah Hill, a thriller with Jake Gyllenhaal, and…the newest Spongebob Squarepants movie – all promised to offer some entertainment, and an opportunity to put a dent in the horrendous thirteen hour flight time. I then decided that I would keep these three in reserve, and would only start to watch them when life suddenly didn’t feel like living…until then I would watch some funnily bad films, whilst I still have the energy to put up with them. Strange logic, but made sense at the time. 

So on went a low budget movie picture about a serial killer…can’t recall the name but after ten minutes some poor lady was being strung up in ropes as she screamed and begged for mercy – it was brutal. Unfortunately this opinion hadn’t escaped the grandma buns on either side…who were now staring at me as if I was the crazy killer myself…I mean, the scene had me uncomfortable, but the looks had made it unbearable: as if they were saying “ahhh, so this is the sick shit you’re into then, huh? I wish I had never smiled and said hello now…I retract them both from our shared history books.” 

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Anyway, the humiliation and embarrassment took over and so off it went – it was a terrible movie in the first place so nothing lost, right? Instead I searched for something else to fill the silence and put on a rather unsuspecting drama of some sort…which opened with a gratuitous sex scene – naturally. But surprise-surprise they weren’t fond of that either, and both began to swivel their heads, and tut louder than I had ever heard anyone tut. “Hmmm-mmm, oh” they began to murmur…but any fool could have worked out what they were really trying to say…

“So this is the sick shit you’re into, is it? That’s the check list for any movie you watch; violence, gore, and overly dramatic and cringeworthy sex scenes? Can’t you just watch fucking Toy Story like a normal human?! You make me sick – and after all we’ve been through as well…urgh.”

So I zapped off that as well; I had got the message loud and clear. There was something nice about staring at the blank black screen after the whole palava – there was to be no judgement, which felt good. I then pulled out the book I’m currently reading (W.H. Davies’: ‘The Autobiography of a Super-Tramp) and flicked through its pages until the grandma bread on either side of me slipped away into unconsciousness…about three minutes later thankfully. 

Grandma GIF

I was then free to watch whatever I wanted. So on went the classic: ‘Killer Penis Hostage Bastard’. It was a fun watch, I’d recommend it to anyone! Apart from my new grandmother friends of course. But shhhhh, they don’t need to know about that!

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Public Pooping (China)

China – Wuhan ~ 2012

A move to a different country is difficult, you have to contend with a different time zone, a different language and a whole different culture. It can be pretty hard, but eventually you adapt. You get to know the layout of your city; you get a favourite café, pub and a place to hang out…slowly you learn that McDonalds isn’t the only thing you can relate to (not that you don’t return every so often/all the time).

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Broke? Travel Anyway!

I often get emails, and messages from people – asking the same question – “how do you afford travel? Are you from a rich family? Do you have connections? Did you get some crazy compensation deal – and have decided to blow it all on roaming the world rather than making sound investments?!” 

Well, no. No to all of those. I wish it was something as easy as being in a car accident – and getting free money, but it isn’t. It’s kind of like The Wizard of Oz…it looks like a spectacular vision until you see the cogs turning behind the curtain. Yes, the actual facts of the matter are a lot less glossy – and  whilst this may be hard to take for some…I actually work. 

Take my first major trip on my own, for example. My year abroad studying in Atlanta, Georgia, USA.

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For two years before that I worked at an electrical store, moving televisions around, and trying to sell people outdated SCART cables they didn’t want…taking overtime whenever I could, whilst also taking shifts at my Aunt’s pub on the weekend…all the while squirreling away money whenever possible. With no disrespect intended, I wasn’t like the others that were accepted on to the study abroad programme (Newcastle UK – Atlanta USA) there would be no money from my Mother, or Father…I’m one of five children, I would feel rude even asking.

But I made it – and before I knew it I was in the midst of my own travel scrapbook! Carving out new memories for myself…whether it be visa worries at passport control, attempting to make the transition to the different pace of American life, or dancing insane jigs with Waka Flocka, I had flew from the ordinary day-to-day, and was living out these once impossible fantasies!

Sounds dreamy, dreamy – I’m sure? But the truth was my budgeted money soon ran out, and there were a couple of very hairy months – I recall that after weeks of eating next to nothing I sent my parents a whimpering email explaining the situation…and I received something along the lines of – “you’ll figure it out.” And I felt it was harsh, but the fact is…you will…if you want it that badly – you will. (And I’m still alive, so I guess I did!)

Study abroad programmes can be a great way to get away, and experience a different culture first hand – there are often great schemes, and incentives – with mine I was actually reimbursed for any costs throughout the year. Which meant I had thousands to play with at the end of it all – long story short, two weeks in Greece with some of my best friends from back home. 

My second major trip came just after I graduated university- although I was recruited before I had even been given my degree…and a month after I flew out to Beijing, China.

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Again I had saved, and saved working some terrible job – this time around it was a sportswear store, selling people trainers, and trying not to touch their sweaty feet as I assisted them with trying on their shoes. Not ideal – but a means to an end. This was just so I had some initial spends, as the programme actually flew me out at no cost, and many of the site-seeing trips, and other interesting adventures were paid for, or massively subsidised.

Either way, there I was again – in a totally foreign, and unknown environment…forced out of my comfort zone…but that’s what it’s all about…I was experiencing all of the weirdness, that was so different to anything the 9 to 5 version of myself would be encountering…whether it be bizarre disputes over taxi fares, relaxed views to public pooping, or trying to sample local dishes without being sick (such as dog) – I knew these were memories that would last a lifetime.

And thanks to the cheap day-to-day living China affords, I was able to save a little for the NEXT trip…you see, that is important – always have the next trip in mind. 

My third major trip to Scandinavia came unexpectedly…but was well worth it…

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My sister – someone who has worked all over the world with nothing more than a can-do attitude, and flexibility – found a two month long  job in the Arctic Circle at a remote lodge…it was placed right between Sweden, and Finland. Did I fancy it? Well…OF COURSE I DID! There was a catch though, we had to fly out (again at their expense, so no worries) the following day! You see, sometimes the opportunity comes abruptly, and if you ponder over it too much, it will go to someone else – you sometimes just have to grab it, and say YES! 

And I certainly did. Before I knew it I was crashing snowmobiles in Sweden, experiencing The Shining effect first hand in Finland, and after I finished my contract – experiencing the raw natural beauty of the Norwegian Fjords first hand.

The work was often not pretty; six day weeks, with long hours – and if my boss was ever pissed off he would make me scrub toilets for an ungodly amount of time…but still…huski racing? The Northern Lights? Spending a night in an igloo? You can’t tell me that wasn’t worth it. 

For my next major trip, I was off to South Korea! I scraped together the last of my meager savings – put up with the horrendous visa process…and then went on my way!

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And I couldn’t have asked for more! Yet again I was flown out at my employer’s expense, provided with a cosy home to stay in for free, and continue to live very comfortably – whilst also having an amazing time, with some amazing kids, in a truly amazing country! And, using Korea as a base, I have been able to save very efficiently, which allows for a great many adventures; including a  Christmas trip to Vietnam,  an interesting excursion to North Korea’s border, a heat-stricken jaunt to Nepal…back home to England, and Scotland – then on to Italy, Hungary, and Austriathen…well, you get the picture – the world suddenly doesn’t seem as hugely inaccessible as it once did!

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You see it’s not difficult, you just make it difficult. If you really want to travel, like really, really want to…then be willing to work, and be willing to take every opportunity. Rich, or not – you’ll get there – so stop just posting random sunset photographs, with “W A N D E R L U S T” etched over them, and start planning that next trip…and start filling up your passport, and with it your little book of memories. 

~

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When MERS Attacks!

My boss sent me a rather rushed message last night regarding my work for the next day, the gist of which was; no school tomorrow. Please stay home. 

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This is because South Korea is on high alert at the moment, especially in my close area, due to the recent outbreak of the MERS virus*This is pronounced like “Merris” for some reason, which to me sounds like a sweet old grandmother who bakes cakes, and sucks on extra strong mints in her spare time – but the reality couldn’t be further from that. It’s actually pretty serious, or at least that’s what I’ve been told…

Little is known about it other than that it is thought to have started in Saudi Arabia…possibly something to do with camels. Never did like camels – all that spitting always struck me as insanitary. I’m not quite sure how it all works, but I imagine the camel spat in someone’s eye, and then that guy licked someone, and so on, and so on…in time the camel had enough of being judged so took a flight to Korea, naturally one thing led to another and now…MERS virus panic in SK!

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What does that mean for me? Well, I am forced to have the day off (BOOO HOOO, I’m crying a river over that one), and when I go out I am recommended to wear a face mask in case someone sneezes directly into my mouth at some point. It makes me look like a bit of a ninja, especially with sunglasses it just feels like a rather shit halloween costume…so I’m opting out of that. Instead I’ll just try my best not to kiss any camels should they start to flirt with me.

Wish me luck… 

*Jokes aside, here is a link to a more credible source for information regarding the MERS virus, should go without saying that I urge everyone in the proximity to be careful – and should you spot any symptoms seek medical attention IMMEDIATELY. 

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Pee, and Pornography

I was chatting with a friend just the other day over dinner, when she told me a story of how she had endured a horrendous flight littered with visa complications – and vigorous crosschecks! Just my kinda story, right?! Anyway this led me to tell her of my last flight…which I think I didn’t share with you at the time!

…the tale takes place some time in January of this year – as I was on route from a lovely Christmas spent in England, back to the land of the morning calm: South Korea. The flight is a monster, but a necessary evil…I can’t sleep on flights at all, so it’s basically just a day of watching movies…oh and looking around at everyone else who is well and truly conked out as if in a witch’s spell…

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Which I suppose is kind of amusing at first, but 12 hours later…six movies in…not so much. Anyway the flight in question was pretty normal in that respect – I had the distinct honour of being nestled in between two people; a hefty Chinese chap, and a young very smiley Chinese lady. For obvious reasons there wasn’t going to be much conversation, a few head nods here and there perhaps…pointing to the food, and giving a thumbs up (maybe), but no actual words. Which is fine with me ordinarily. But as you may already know…messages don’t always have to be sent by a flexing of your vocal chords alone…no, no – a picture is worth a thousand words…

…you see I was already a little uncomfortable thanks to the chunky overzealous arms of my new friend to the left – but he had finally fallen asleep watching an Adam Sandler movie so I had a bit of respite! But I was far from off the hook, as to my right there was still some rather odd activity going on…the young lady was on her phone which I wasn’t paying attention to – until she was sitting there holding it at a strange angle – the kind of angle you would use if you said “hey, check out this video of a cat punching a dog!” or “look at this picture of my Dad eating a pie!” …or – okay the list is endless, and I think you get it. So naturally I looked, what was she even trying to show m-

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OH, WAIT. Erm, I see…at the end of her outstretched hand was a rather lurid mobile phone screensaver – to say it caught my eye is an understatement! I’ll stop skirting the issue, and just come out with it – It was a picture of a caucasian gentleman and his Asian lady friend getting rather  fond of each other in a kitchen. I didn’t know where to look, and didn’t want to make it obvious I had just caught sight of it…so allowed my gaze to continue to the window, thinking that perhaps I could pretend that’s where I was looking all along…just staring blankly out of the glass, like the school days…

…but that wasn’t enough for her, she propped her arm up in my way, and opened the lock screen of the phone, to reveal a second wallpaper, with a similar kind of theme. I nodded, and gave one of those “ahh, I see!” forehead raising movements, before desperately busying myself with the movie menu screen in front of me ~

Whilst she flicked through her gallery of pictures.

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We got over that little hump, and back to our polite manners when eating together – eventually I couldn’t hold it any longer, and needed to pee. I hate asking people to stand up, but I had been forcing it to the back of my mind for so long! So I gently nudged the guy, and asked if I could get past – “hmmm, NO.” He retorted, before pulling his sleeping mask over his sweaty face, and crossing his arms. Well I certainly hadn’t expected that…I asked again, but got no answer – so told myself I could probably wait another movie, after which I would probably violently stamp over him to urinate . Something to look forward to if you will! How long can you last John, let’s find out!

But you see great minds think alike! So the girl needed to go too…she did a similar nudge to me to get past – to which I explained about the immovable force blocking the way, she tried to get his attention by flicking him which I thought was odd, and even spoke in Chinese – but nothing. So she opted to climb over everyone instead. Perhaps it was all part of a master scheme, an amazing rouse that the guy was in on, but she suddenly became oh so clumsy…tripping over in some mad slapstick routine which always ended with her sitting on me. Like actually sitting on me – I’ll let you visualise it I’m not going to describe, you have imaginations, use them. However after this little bit, she slid majestically past sleeping beauty with no problem at all!

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Strange that, huh? 

Anyway, there is a happy ending to all of this – she woke him up coming back, so I was able to use this window of opportunity to use the bathroom myself. And it will go down as one of the best pees of my life. Waiting makes things more special my friends, remember that. 

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I ATE A DOG.

I ate a dog in China, and it has haunted me ever since…I mean you really don’t forget that kinda’ thing! Arghhhhhhhhh! 

Oh, and by the way – while I am here…the WordPress suspension has been lifted, they sent me this message “You may have seen our earlier notice that some social features had been disabled in your account. We have now reversed this block and hope the disruption to your use of our service was minimal.” Thank you so much to each, and every person who expressed concern over the misunderstanding. It was great to see the community come together in that way, and I am beyond appreciative. Honestly, thank you so much. 

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Language Barrier

I struggle on an almost daily basis with the language barrier.

Now you may be fooled into thinking that this is simply a vague metaphor…a creation of our imagination to describe a certain feeling, when we cannot deliver our thoughts to another human. Well I can tell you now that the language barrier, is so very real – although I’d probably describe it as a language battering ram, if anything! As it hits me with such force, and leaves me very, very confused…with no idea what to do next…

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I’m trying my best to learn Korean, but it is all happening very slowly…I need someone to constantly lie to me, you know…tell me I am amazing even though I am terrible, otherwise I just feel like setting myself on fire in protest. Or at least ripping up the book, and quitting.

I remember one time I spent ten minutes, trying to get the Korean pronunciation for syrup right in a cafe…sheerop, shurop, sherrup, shar…errr…in the end I just pointed, and smiled. The lady immediately understood: “ahhhhh, shueropu?” Yeah, sure. Whatever. Urghhh! 

It certainly makes me thankful for being back in the UK, where I can freely speak English without the language battering ram smashing into my face – reminding me how stupid I am, and how my pronunciation makes me sound “like a crazy alien” (actual quote from a bemused Korean guy).

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Funnily enough, I have just read a story on this subject which intrigued me a lot! You see apparently a young man was in some kind of horrific accident…the news said it was a car crash, but we know that we can’t ever fully trust the news – what is more likely is that it was the language battering ram! The reason I say this is that the guy woke up from a coma, and for some bizarre reason he found he could speak fluent Chinese. CAN YOU IMAGINE THAT?! And now he is working over there on television! I mean, I wish my Korean tutor would have told me it was that easy!!!!

I have to run, I am off to play in traffic! Wish me luck! 

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