A Taste of Street Art in Shanghai

In a city of over 20 million, I was bound to come across some street art. It surprised me that the Chinese word for graffiti is tuya (涂鸦), a word used to describe “scribble”. Traditionally, graffiti is viewed as criminal art or vandalism in China. If caught painting in non-designated areas, artists will be fined, arrested, forced to paint over their work, or possibly held in jail for a few days.

Street art in Shanghai
A beautiful mural I found in Pudong, Shanghai.

In an attempt to reverse the negative connotations of graffiti, some artists refer to themselves as aerosol artists. Also to development of graffiti in China all the materials must become popular and cheap for everyone as spray paint is a rare commodity in Shanghai.

At the moment the government allows street artists to only paint in certain designated places and are often supervised while doing so.

Street art in Shanghai
Artist at work under the supervision of the police

Despite the ambiguity of the law against graffiti the phenomenon of graffiti is on the rise. I look forward to seeing what other pieces I can find in this bustling city.

How to Be a Mindful Traveller

I am sure that your first thought upon hearing mindful + travel joined together is that its about being hyper-conscious and conscientious about each and every little detail of everything you’re doing when you’re on vacation or out there one the road. But that is not what I mean.

I believe that travelling is not just about capturing the perfect Instagram picture, or sharing our every moment on Facebook. Before social media we travelled differently. Of course we had our cameras and captured moments, but these moments were for ourselves, they were treasured memories not staged photographs to please our followers and gain more likes.

These days it is hard to escape the feeling that everyone is travelling and perhaps we are missing out. And that maybe travel has become more shallow than before. Is travelling really only about becoming famous on social media? Or making your Facebook friends jealous? Now more than ever, we need to take time to think about how we can be a mindful traveller, an admirer of earth. How can we get back to a more simple way of travel, like we enjoyed before Instagram and social media changed the way we travelled?

1. Take Your Time

Don’t rush. If everything you do and everywhere you go is rushed because you’re in a new place and want to see everything, chances are you won’t actually see anything. Take a deep breath and think about what you actually want to get out of the experience.

How to Be a Mindful Traveller
A peaceful morning spent in the park

Do you want to see everything as fast as you can? Or do you want to have real and meaningful experiences in this new place, build relationships with people, and create memories?

Take three conscious breaths and stop dead in your tracks long enough to notice where you actually are. Take your time to prioritize your own awareness and realize the significance of each place.

2.Feel Each Step

Your body always exists in the present moment, whereas your brain can travel far from where you are. If you’re walking, notice each foot as it touches the ground, lifts and swings.

Notice the feel of the air on your skin. No need to make a big deal of it. Just enjoy the sensuality of being in your body. This awareness will help you remember how you actually felt as you travelled through a distant land, a new place, and a new culture.

3.Savour Each Moment

Eating? Taste your food. Hiking? Breathe in the fresh mountain air. Talking with a local? Really listen to them and remember what they say. Looking at beautiful sites, landscapes, and world wonders? Don’t think of it as only something to capture for Instagram or to share on Facebook.  Immerse yourself in the moment, and remember it.

4.Get Local

Don’t forget why you travel. To experience something new! The ability to go to a new place and remove yourself from your own cultural upbringing and constraints is a perfect way to practice acute awareness. Notice the subtle differences and embrace them. 

5. Relax and Rest

Put away those devices for awhile and have some time that is not governed by schedules, deadlines, and the latest news and information. Drink in something that is timeless and simply cannot be captured on a screen.


“One of the most powerful things you can do when you’re travelling is to let go and passionately wander. “

How to Be a Mindful Traveller
Beauty in the middle of the busy city

A Glimpse of Modern Shanghai

The value of your travels does not hinge on how many stamps you have in your passport when you get home — and the slow nuanced experience of a single country is always better than the hurried, superficial experience of forty countries.”
― Rolf Potts, Vagabonding: An Uncommon Guide to the Art of Long-Term World Travel

Published as part of Wordless Wednesday

Doors in Shanghai

If you do follow your bliss you put yourself on a kind of track that has been there all the while, waiting for you, and the life that you ought to be living is the one you are living… Follow your bliss and don’t be afraid, and doors will open where you didn’t know they were going to be.

Joseph Campbell

Published as part of Wordless Wednesday

Preparing to Teach English in China

Moving to a foreign country to teach English is a huge step and needs preparation; mental, financial and physical. It can get hectic trying to figure out what you will need to do and at times you may feel overwhelmed. I always make myself a checklist of all the things I need to do or take with me before I move to a new country. It helps me stay calm and focussed so maybe it will help you too.

Here is a checklist that could help you a bit in your preparation to teach in China.

Passport and Visa

First off make sure that your passport is valid for at least a couple of years and not expiring within your contracted work year. But, most importantly, have your work visa ready before the day of travel. Make sure you get the appropriate visa to enter and travel around China. If you are going to teach English in China, you will need a Z visa. This visa allows you to work in China legally. Registered schools are authorised to provide Z visas for their teachers. Do not trust a school who says its okay to start work on a tourist visa and that they will issue you a work visa later, this is illegal. For you to be given a Z visa you must be a native English speaker, have two years’ work experience or a minimum of 120-hours TEFL certification and possess a bachelor’s degree. Once you arrive in China, you are given 30 days to convert your visa into a resident permit.

Prepare to Teach English in China
China is filled with unexpected things….#onlyinchina is a real thing!

Personal items

It is advisable that you pack wisely, pack only what you need for your travel and especially for work. Leave the just in case items but be prepared for all kinds of weather as you are planning on being in China for at least a year.

Clothing

Pack enough light, easy to dry clothes including a sweater or light jacket. Remember summers in China can be incredibly hot so to pack enough sunscreen (SPF). It is quite expensive here in China and often contains whitening, bring your own sunscreen and protective creams for the skin. You will definitely need rain gear (raincoats and umbrellas) but those are easy to purchase once you are in China. Pack a comfortable pair of shoes because you tend to walk a lot in China, especially in those first couple of months while you are still trying to orientate yourself in your new city.

Personal effects

You will find most personal effects readily available in China. Pack enough toiletries for the first month as it can take time before you find the brands that work for you in China. Pack some tissue, wet tissues and a hand sanitiser for use in toilets during travel. You can find sanitary towels al over china but only the big cities sell tampons so you might want to stock up on those before travelling. Due to change in climatic zones, our skins tend to react so remember your lotions and moisturisers.

Medication

When travelling, it is advisable to have a small travel medical kit with you. If you suffer from a chronic disease, pack up all your medication and stock up enough for a given period of time. Other medications you can include in your kit are laxatives, painkillers, allergy medicine, motion sickness medicine and contact lenses or eye drops. Have bottled water to accompany your medication and to drink too as tap water in China is not safe for consumption.

Plane Tickets

Book your plane ticket only once you have signed your work contract and have a start date. Because you are travelling with a work visa you will not need to buy a return flight which is great as you don’t always have your end date in advance. Pay that little bit extra when booking your flight so that you are able to change the date without having to pay again. Do some research to find out which airlines offer the best baggage deals as you might need to check in an extra bag and don’t want to pay exorbitant fees. Check in online the night before you travel to make sure you get a seat where you are not squashed between 2 other people for eight hours. On the day of travel, arrive at the airport about three hours earlier as sometimes there are delays at the airport and its best to keep this at the back of your mind just in case. The good thing about working in China is that most schools will reimburse you for the price of the flight ticket after a couple of months!

Locks and tags

Ensure that your suitcase or backpack is comfortable and that it can be locked. Have luggage locks and identity tags to ensure the safety of your luggage during travel and to make your suitcase stand out on the conveyor belt.

Electronics

Remember to pack your camera because China is an endless adventure with photo opportunities around every corner. Pack your mobile phone too and a tablet or laptop. Do not forget your chargers and adapter plugs or converters.

Of course, everything you can think of is available in China, so there is no need to worry if you forgot a charger or a shirt!

Money

When travelling to teach in China, convert a substantial amount of your money into Chinese Yuan. You will need to purchase a new SIM card and there are some other set up costs to be covered your first week or two in China. The first month you can withdraw money from foreign accounts at institutions such as HSBC and Travelex. But do not forget to inform your local bank about your travel, they could be of assistance if you got stuck while in China. Your school should help you to open a bank account into which they will pay your salary for you.

Apps and VPNs

China censors the internet, they have put up a great firewall which blocks foreign websites such as Google, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat among others. Luckily, WhatsApp and Pinterest are not censored. To get around these restrictions, it is best to download some Apps and VPNs before you leave for China. WeChat (Weixin) is the most commonly used social media in China. It operates like a combination of Facebook and WhatsApp and is mainly used for communication. You may also need Chinese dictionary apps such as Pleco, Hanpinlite and Baidu Translate. These will teach you a few survival phrases you may need for communication in China.

You will need a VPN (Virtual Private Networks) to visit a blocked website. VPNs are used in China to bypass the great firewall. As a teacher of English in China, you will need some websites to enrich your lesson. To make this possible, VPNs such as ExpressVPN, Betternet, Buffered and VYPR are used to enhance internet access in China. Ensure you download a few on your gadget because the Great Wall causes most to have fluctuating performance. And do this before you travel as you cannot download it once you have entered China.

Books and Films

Before leaving your country, buy some books and save some films to help you deal with the homesickness that comes with being in a foreign country.

All the best as you prepare to go and teach English in China.

Feel free to contact me if you have any questions.

Glimpse of a Wet Market in Shanghai

A wet market is a market that sells fresh meat, fish, and other perishable goods such as live fish, shellfish, and frogs. These markets are so named because the floor tends to be wet, thanks to the live fish flopping around and the vendors’ habit of throwing water on the ground to keep the area clean.

Wet markets are a major part of the culinary exploration while living in China. Wandering through old Shanghai neighborhoods in the morning, I am sometimes greeted by the very strong smell and the lively noises of wet markets. Venturing into the small local wet markets that are dotted all around Shanghai is one of the most interesting and also shocking things to do here.

Here I have seen eels moving from bucket to bucket, live turtles trying to escape their plastic prisons and live frogs looking resigned to their fates of becoming someone’s dinner. I can never linger too long at these market stalls as the practice of keeping these animals alive in such conditions, and to sell them as food is quite upsetting for me.

Empty streets of Shanghai

There is a certain unique and strange delight about walking down an empty street alone.

Published as part of Wordless Wednesday

Doors found in Shanghai

If I can’t make it through one door, I’ll go through another door- or i’ll make a door. Something terrific will come no matter how dark the present.

Rabindranath Tagore

Published as part of Wordless Wednesday

Windows of Shanghai

I enjoy traveling and recording far-away places and people with my camera. But I also find it wonderfully rewarding to see what I can discover outside my own window. You only need to study the scene with the eyes of a photographer.

Alfred Eisenstaedt

Published as part of Wordless Wednesday

A Photo Tour from the Backstreets of Shanghai

If I’m an advocate for anything, it’s to move. As far as you can, as much as you can. Across the ocean, or simply across the river. The extent to which you can walk in someone else’s shoes or at least eat their food, it’s a plus for everybody.

Open your mind, get up off the couch, move.”
― Anthony Bourdain

Published as part of Wordless Wednesday

Postcards from Shanghai

The very basic core of a man’s living spirit is his passion for adventure. The joy of life comes from our encounters with new experiences, and hence there is no greater joy than to have an endlessly changing horizon, for each day to have a new and different sun.”
― Christopher McCandless

Published as part of Wordless Wednesday

Photos of Life in Shanghai

We travel, initially, to lose ourselves; and we travel, next to find ourselves. We travel to open our hearts and eyes and learn more about the world than our newspapers will accommodate. We travel to bring what little we can, in our ignorance and knowledge, to those parts of the globe whose riches are differently dispersed. And we travel, in essence, to become young fools again- to slow time down and get taken in, and fall in love once more.”
― Pico Iyer

Published as part of Wordless Wednesday

A Walk through the Old Shanghai

No man is brave that has never walked a hundred miles. If you want to know the truth of who you are, walk until not a person knows your name. Travel is the great leveler, the great teacher, bitter as medicine, crueler than mirror-glass. A long stretch of road will teach you more about yourself than a hundred years of quiet.”
― Patrick Rothfuss

Published as part of Wordless Wednesday

Images of Life in Shanghai

Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.
― Mark Twain, The Innocents Abroad / Roughing It

Published as part of Wordless Wednesday

Reason #1 Why China is making me a Vegetarian.

I have stopped eating red meat ages ago as I never really liked the taste. But I still love eating fish, chicken and yes, duck meat every now and again. But since I have moved to China I have started to worry about eating duck or chicken as I have come across so many unsanitary conditions where meat is either held or sold. In China it is quite common to come across meat hanging out in the open.

I have come across raw meat hanging on a washing line, the duck carcasses dangling as birds gathered in the trees above. In a separate incident, I came across a duck left out hanging in the open where flies and all kinds of bugs could get to it. As I walked further it seemed like the normal thing to do here in Shanghai is to hang and dry your meat in your window, exposed to all the elements. Flies can often be seen landing on the meat, some even hanging close to flocks of birds jostling in the trees above, the whole set up is just unsanitary.’I’ve never seen anything like it in my life, except for here in Asia. It is enough to put me off eating meat.

Reason #1 Why China is making me a Vegetarian.
Looks like drying meat out in the open just is the norm here in Shanghai.

Would you eat meat that was left hanging out in the open like this?

Memories from Old Shanghai

Why do you go away? So that you can come back. So that you can see the place you came from with new eyes and extra colors. And the people there see you differently, too. Coming back to where you started is not the same as never leaving.” 
― Terry Pratchett, A Hat Full of Sky

Published as part of Wordless Wednesday

Postcards from Modern Shanghai

“Travel makes one modest. You see what a tiny place you occupy in the world.” -Gustav Flaubert

Published as part of Wordless Wednesday

 

5 Things to Know before you explore the Bund of Shanghai

the Bund of Shanghai
To learn more about the Bund I went on the Shanghai Free Walking tour!!

The Bund in Shanghai the ideal place to soak in the diverse atmosphere of the city. A visit to Shanghai would not be complete without a stroll along this beautiful waterfront.

1. The Bund translates to ‘Outer Beach’ and is the name of the 1.5 km stretch of waterfront area in central Shanghai. It is situated along the western bank of the Huangpu River, the main river that runs through Shanghai.

The Bund of Shanghai
One of the most famous sights usually portrayed of Shanghai

2. Yes, this riverfront boardwalk is touristy, but part of the fun of strolling down the Bund is checking out the people checking out other people. Local people often start their day by doing exercise at the Bund. Getting up early and joining them is a pleasant way to take in the real lifestyle of locals as this boardwalk gets extremely crowded in the afternoon or on public holidays. In the evening, it is a world for the lovers. Whenever night comes, the light-flooded buildings on the Bund, like Crystal Palace, amaze both local and overseas visitors.

The Bund of Shanghai
Early morning walk along the Bund before all the people invade.

3. For a century, the Bund has been one of the most recognizable symbols and the pride of Shanghai. The architecture along the Bund is a living museum of the colonial history of the 1800s on the one side contrasting with the hyper modern buildings on the opposite river bank.

4. Early Bund was a foreign trade center, here, there were foreign firms and prosperous trade. From the late 19th century, many foreign and Chinese banks were established in the Bund and it became Shanghai’s “Financial Street”, also known as “Oriental Wall Street”.

The Bund of Shanghai
After 11am the Bund gets quite crowded

5. Due to the historical nature of the architecture along the Bund, there are limitations on the architecture of the surrounding area, so as not to mar the view or the architectural beauty of these grandiose old buildings that have finally been restored to their former glory. The buildings are a mix of several designs, including Baroque, Gothic, Classicism, Romanesque, and Renaissance styles.

The Bund of Shanghai
Such a beautiful view!

Things to remember when visiting The Bund

  1. Bring your camera because the photo opportunities are endless.
  2. Visit during different times of day so that you can experience the peaceful mornings, inspiring afternoons and the wild nightlife.
  3. Be prepared for crowds if you’re visiting in the evening, especially parents with young children.
  4. Make sure to wake up early and walk The Bund. You’ll get to see the locals exercising and dancing by the waterfront.
  5. Pack your own snacks to avoid the high prices in the area.

Where is your favourite waterfront area to go for a stroll to soak in the local atmosphere?

This is What makes Longhua Temple in Shanghai Unique

Everyone knows that China is all about temples. There are Buddhist temples, Taoist temples and also Confucian temples. To the untrained eye, most of these look the same, but not all are created equal. I love exploring these different temples and learning all about them as they are a part of the unique Chinese culture.

Here is what makes this temple and pagoda so unique.

1. The temple complex is the biggest temple complex in Shanghai.

Longhua Temple & Longhua Pagoda is the oldest, largest and most majestic Buddhist building in the lower reaches of the Yangtze River Delta, and is also one of the best reserved temples in Shanghai.

Longhua Temple
This hall is surrounded with red lanterns and fresh flowers

2. It is the oldest Buddhist temple in Shanghai

Not only is the Longhua Temple the largest temple in Shanghai, but the pagoda is the only one in Shanghai that existed before modern times. It was first built in 242 AD, but because of the several destructions by the wars, most of the buildings in Longhua Temple were reconstructed although the style of Song Dynasty (960-1279) still remains.

Longhua Temple
The smell of insence drifts through the whole temple grounds

3. The 7-story pagoda is a Shanghai landmark.

The lovely Longhua Pagoda (977) is not open to visitors due to its age and fragility and can only be admired from a distance. It is a 7 story red brick and wood, structure and it looks like a delicate Song-era pagoda. You will see this pagoda featured on countless images depicting temples in China.

4. The pagoda used to be the tallest building in Shanghai until modern times

The seven-storied, 40.4 meters high Longhua Pagoda stands in front of the Longhua Temple. Each storey is smaller than the storey below, and all the levels are encircled by balconies and banisters. Bells on each corner of the octagonal eaves make cheerful and lively sounds as the wind passes by. Unfortunately modern buildings tower over this beautiful structure now.

Longhua Temple
One of the many beautiful statues found throughout the temple

5. The Room with 500 Golden Statues

Just outside of the main entrance of the third hall called the Daxiong Baodian where there is a big golden sitting Budda statue, there is a side hall where you can see 500 little gold statues arranged in rows. They shine and glitter in the light. From the austere courtyard with the smoke of fires and burning incense, the golden and bright statues are a striking contrast.

6. The Grand Hall of the Great Sage (Daxiong Baodian):

The halls in the temple were built strictly according to the traditional Buddhist symmetry that are neat and equitable in layout, magnificent and dignified in architecture. The most impressive hall is the Grand Hall of the Great Sage. In it, there is a big golden statue of Buddha along with several statues of arhats. The Longhua Temple complex is often crowded with devotees bringing incense to the Buddha images. Chanting music is played, and people bow and kneel in front of them.

What is your favourite temple in China?

Happy Year of the PIG from the Alleys of Yuyuan Garden.

As I explore the alleys of Yuyuan Garden I am constantly reminded that it is the Lunar New Year and that we have entered the year of the Pig! Chinese New Year 2019 started on Tuesday, February 5th and ends on January 24th, 2020.

You probably know there are 12 Chinese zodiac animals used to represent years, 2019 is the year of the Pig. Zodiac signs play an integral part in Chinese culture, and can be used to determine your fortune for the year, marriage compatibility, career fit, best times to have a baby, and so much more. Many large corporations in China still reference it before making important decisions!

But did you know that the zodiacs originally had something to do with the worship of animals?

One legend says that the Jade Emperor needed to choose 12 animals as palace guards. The Cat asked his neighbour Rat to help him sign up. Rat forgot, which is why they became mortal enemies.

At the palace, Ox was first in line, but Rat secretly climbed onto Ox’s back and jumped in front of him. Tiger and Dragon thought it was unfair, but they could only settle behind Ox. Rabbit found it unfair too. He wanted to race with Dragon and succeeded.

Alleys of Yuyuan Garden
The bazaar surrounds the beautiful Yuyuan Garden

This angered Dog, who bit Rabbit in a fit and was sent to the back as punishment. Snake, Horse, Goat, Monkey and Rooster fought amongst themselves as well. Pig was late because he overslept.

Of course, this is only a story and there are quite a few different versions.

According to the Chinese astrology, 2019 is a great year to make money, and a good year to invest! 2019 is going to be full of joy, a year of friendship and love for all the zodiac signs; an auspicious year because the Pig attracts success in all the spheres of life.

Alleys of Yuyuan Garden
Browse the array of Old Shanghai treasures and pick up artworks and craft items.

But if you were born in the year of the PIG, 2019 is seen as a hurdle you have jump over as your zodiac year is bad luck. There are multiple explanations for this. The Chinese believe that children can easily be taken by demons. And your benming year (the year of your zodiac animal) is your rebirth year.

Your defence from evil spirits and bad fortune is the colour red. Just as you can decorate your home in red for protection and fortune, you can also wear red clothing. Many people will wear red underwear every day of the year. Others add on red shirts, pants, jewellery, insoles and more! Even in modern times, it’s still treated as a real concern.

Either way I do hope that 2019 is a very good year for you!!

Happy Year of the PIG!!

10 Things you should know about Chinese New Year

It is the Lunar New Year and everything in China seems to have turned red. Houses are decorated with red Spring Festival Couplets, red lanterns, and red paper cuttings and even city streets are lit up with red lanterns. This is because red in Chinese culture is the symbol of happiness, wealth and prosperity, and can ward off evil spirits and bring good luck. These red decorations are to the festival what Christmas trees are to Christmas.

It is such a beautiful time of the year to be in China and to experience this important festival. As this is my first year living in China during this festival I have done a little bit of research about it and have found some very interesting facts. Did you know that The holiday is also called “Spring Festival”? This surprised ma as it is in winter, but it is seen as the ‘Start of Spring’ . While wintry weather prevails, ‘Start of Spring’ marks the end of the coldest part of winter, when the Chinese traditionally could look forward to the beginning of spring. I do hope this is true and that it will be warming up soon.

Here are some more facts that you might find interesting.

1. Chinese New Year Is About New Potential

Nearly all of the traditions and observed during Chinese New Year serve one purpose: to usher in as much good fortune and prosperity in the new year as possible. I like that they arrange things in a way to receive as much incoming luck as can be grabbed. Washing hair or clothes is not allowed on the first day of the lunar year because it is seen as “washing one’s fortune away” at the beginning of the year. Sweeping up and taking out the garbage symbolize removing the good luck from the house, so people don’t do that either.

2. Chinese New Year Isn’t on a Fixed Date

The date for Chinese New Year changes each year. It always falls between January 21 and February 20, which is determined by the Chinese lunar calendar. Chinese New Year 2019 is on Tuesday February 5.

The lunar calendar is still really important in China, even though it has officially moved to the Gregorian calendar like the rest of the world. All traditional holidays and days such as the Winter Solstice are celebrated. Some people still calculate their birthdays and ages according to the lunar calendar too!