Gritty Alleyways reveal the old Shanghai

For all its glitzy modern skyline, perhaps the real jewels of Shanghai can be found at street level, away from the hustle and bustle in the captivating back alleys. One of my favourite things to do in Shanghai is to explore the backstreets, either on foot or by bike. The narrow lanes behind the main streets are soaked with tradition and colour which offer a unique glimpse into local life.

In these narrow lanes, below masses of tangled electric wires, hanging laundry and meat hung out to dry, the slower paced life of the real people of Shanghai awaits to be discovered.

The small area around Yuyuan Garden area has the oldest type of alleyways you’ll find in Shanghai. As It feels like I have stepped back into time as I leave the touristy Yuyuan area and enter these old forgotten alleys.

A walk through these grungy streets is always filled with surprises, and most importantly unexpected encounters or finds. Though lacking many amenities, people still live here, going about their lives, brushing their teeth, hanging up laundry, chatting and chopping vegetables for dinner.

Unfortunately as the city grows exponentially, these lanes gradually get demolished, year after year, month after month. It saddens me that the unstoppable onset of modernism in Shanghai is unable to make room for the existence of alley life. Very soon, more and more high rise structures will invade the old city streets destroying a piece of what makes Shanghai so special.

Gritty Alleyways of Yuyuan
Washing, electrical wires, bicycles, motorbikes and even discarded matrasses fill the alleyways of Shanghai.

An invitation of a beautiful street is an invitation to walk within a dream!”
― Mehmet Murat ildan

 

10 Things my first months of Living in China has Taught me

Moving halfway across the world to live and work abroad is always a big challenge, but also hands down my favourite way to explore this amazing world. I’m still new to Shanghai, China but reflecting on the experiences and lessons I’ve learned in this short period of time I know this has been a good move. I moved to China with the idea of living here for a year, but one month in I realised that I would definitely be living here for longer.

Here are the most important things I have learned so far while living and working in Shanghai, China.

1. WeChat is Everything

The mobile phone is king in China and you will be lost without a smartphone. I had my smartphone unlocked before I moved to China and downloaded WeChat the Chinese version of Whatsapp. But that’s just the beginning, because WeChat is your life. Chinese people actually don’t use regular text messages, they just use WeChat to text, send voice messages and even to send actual documents as attachments. I have also embraced WeChat pay which you can use to pay for almost anything, so I don’t need to carry cash with me here in Shanghai. Even the tiny hole-in-the-wall places has a QR code that you can scan to pay with WeChat. Other than WeChat you need a smart phone to order taxis, food delivery and train or plane tickets by using different apps on your phone. You also need your mobile phone to access the shared bikes here in Shanghai which makes life so much easier.

2. Free VPNs Will Not Cut It for Internet Usage

If you want to access sites and apps like Facebook, Google, Gmail, Twitter, Youtube, Instagram, Snapchat, Netflix, Tinder, and more, you’ll need a VPN. It is a virtual private network which allows you to access sites that are blocked here in China. I am so glad that I was warned about this before moving to china. The going rate tends to be about $50-$100 USD per year for a functioning VPN. Trust me, the free ones might work for a week or so but in the long run you realize how lost you are without access to the big world wide web without a VPN.

3. In winter, AlWAYS go well wrapped up to restaurants and cafes

I wish someone had told me that, due to a government decree, there is no central heating in public buildings south of the Yangtze river. This policy was intended to bring about huge savings in energy costs. Just a few miles to the north of Shanghai, the public buildings are toasty warm throughout the winter. However, in Shanghai itself, we are expected to happily shiver through freezing winter temperatures whenever we leave our houses.

4. Invest in a proper face-mask as Surgical Masks Don’t Do Anything

When I moved to China I had no idea what the pollution level was. I have seen images of very polluted days in China, often accompanied by photos of people in surgical masks. I thought these might be rare occurrences but soon found out that this is quite common during the colder months. Forget the surgical masks, they are great for keeping yourself from getting sick on a crowded subway, but they will not work for the pollution at all. What you need is a 3M mask that will protect you from PM2.5. Don’t worry, you will be able to buy one here in China, and they even come in funky colours!

5. Buy an Air Purifier, your lungs will thank you

The media emphasizes wearing a mask outside, but let’s be honest, if it’s really polluted, you’re probably staying indoors. This is an option I have opted for a couple of times so far this winter. Unfortunately the pollution filters into our houses and I have woken up coughing more than once on heavily polluted days. I now know that it is very important to invest in a good air purifier for your apartment if you plan on living here for a while.

6. Fitted Sheets Are Not Popular

I never really thought twice about my sheets. While I like to sleep with soft and comfortable blankets, my bottom sheet never concerned me all that much. Well, over my lifetime I’ve become very accustomed to fitted sheets, and I was shocked to find that China does not share my love for fitted sheets. After searching a bit online I eventually found a place that sold them. But next time I am definitely bringing some from home!

7. Coffee Is Expensive

While many of the foreign restaurants are only expensive by comparison, imported foods and coffee are much more expensive than they are back home. Thanks to China’s tariffs, you can expect to pay up to two or three times the original price for items like coffee, cheese, peanut butter, and cereal.

Coffee is seen as a luxury in China, and many coffee shops price the drink accordingly. I was shocked to find that I could buy an entire meal for half the price of a tiny latte.

8. Bring Your Own Sunscreen

I was warned before moving to China that sunscreen isn’t very common here. Most people in China cover up to avoid the sun’s harmful rays so sunscreen tends to be sold in small bottles and is super pricey. In China you will also find the term “whitening” on your sunscreen along with most facial moisturisers. So I have brought my own, as personally I am very nervous about using a product that will end up bleaching my skin.

9. Don’t Flush Your Toilet Paper

While I knew about squat toilets, no one ever told me not to flush my toilet paper. Next to every toilet you’ll find a small basket for you to throw your used paper. Chinese pipes aren’t equipped to handle non-organic waste, so you may find your toilet clogged if you try flushing your paper one too many times. Trust me, I learned this the hard way.

Many public restrooms also don’t have toilet paper or soap, so you’ll probably want to bring some hand sanitizer from home and pick up a mini pack of tissues when you arrive.

Living in Shanghai, China
Bike of Burden

10. “That’s so China” Is an expression you will also end up using

Being open-minded is so important, as cliché as it may sound take everything with a pinch of salt and remember that you are a guest in another country. What you may see as the cultural or social norm will most likely be different, once you learn and adapt to living as a ‘guest’ in another country you will enjoy the experience a lot more. A saying that has stuck with me and can only be fully understood by individuals who have experienced travelling or living in China is to “expect the unexpected” and “that’s so China”. As soon as you think you have seen it all, whether it’s something new or shocking, positive and/or negative something else will occur making you say “that’s so China”.

Living in Shanghai, China
Drying chickens with the laundry on a sidewalk next to a busy street…..only in China!

China is a complicated country with a long history, and living here has been positive and negative all in one. I have experienced and accepted some of the ‘negatives’ to living and working in this big city but still love the country as the positives out shine any of the negatives. I think the surprise of discovering new things every day has made my life here an adventure. The biggest piece of advice I can give you is to arrive in China with an open mind. China is so large and complex, discovering new aspects of life and culture are just part of the fun!

Living in Shanghai, China
Happy Chinese New Year!!!

Don’t let your fears and apprehensions hold you back from the adventure of moving to China.

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.

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

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

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

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!

3. The festival is celebrated for 16 days till the Lantern Festival.Traditionally, the 16 days from New Year’s Eve until the Lantern Festival each have a special celebration activity. In the evening of the 15th day of the first lunar month (February 19, 2019), on the night of the full moon, families gather for dinner and go out and see fireworks and light lanterns. Lanterns are put up for decoration, let loose to fly, and floated in rivers. I can not wait to go and see this, although I think it is going to be very crowded.

4. It is a day for praying to gods

The Spring Festival was originally a ceremonial day to pray to gods for a good planting and harvest season. People also prayed to their ancestors, as they were treated as gods

5. And fighting off monsters

But the myths are much more interesting. According to one legend, there was a monster named Nian (). It would come about every New Year’s Eve. Most people would hide in their homes. But one boy was brave enough to fight him off using firecrackers. The next day, people celebrated their survival by setting off even more firecrackers. And that practice became a crucial part of the Spring Festival.

6. The festival causes the world’s largest annual migration.

For Chinese people, the most important part of the Chinese Spring Festival is to enjoy a reunion dinner with their families on New Year’s Eve, even if they have to travel long distances. It is the longest public holiday and the whole country is on the move. 200 million Mainland Chinese travel long distances for these holidays, and it is estimated that there are 3.5 billion journeys in China. Tens of millions of people travel in other countries too. It makes the largest annual human migration in the world, known as the Spring Festival Travel Rush.

In China, where much of the migration takes place, it’s been claimed that trains are so overcrowded people have to wear adult diapers for their 24-hour journeys home. Something that I am glad I will be missing as I am spending the whole holiday in Shanghai.

7. Billions of red envelopes are exchanged.

Chinese people love the colour red. Giving red envelopes is a way to send good wishes and luck (as well as money). The practice of giving red envelopes (hong bao) with money inside has been digitized. People can send small gifts to friends, family, and employees digitally via China’s messaging apps. The world record for most text messages sent in a day is broken each year during Chinese New Year. The current record was 19 billion.

8. The Chinese Calendar Is Way Ahead of the Gregorian

Per the Chinese calendar, Chinese New Year in 2019 begins the year 4716. The future seems to have arrived because year numbering was once based on the whim of emperors and when they decided a new era had begun.

9. Fireworks are used to scare evil spirits

Most mainland Chinese believe that the flash and bang of firecrackers and fireworks scare away demons and evil ghosts. The loud bangs and chaos are meant to frighten away the Nian, a mythological beast that once came around to eat villagers.

Always a country that likes to do things big and set records, China has often grabbed the record for the world’s largest organized fireworks display during Chinese New Year. Fireworks have been banned here in Shanghai so unfortunately I did not get to see this display.

10. Singles hire fake boy/girlfriends to take home.

Chinese New Year is a joyful time for most, but for singles above the normal matrimonial age it’s not. In China, females are said to be marriageable up to 30, and males before 32. For “old” singles, parents are extremely anxious. So New Year’s Eve stress is heightened by embarrassing interrogations of the singles. Desperate parents even arrange dating (prospective marriages) for their single children.

To solve this problem an interesting solution has appeared — renting a boyfriend or girlfriend for the New Year. There are websites and agents who specialize in this business. It is quite sad that people need to go to this extreme just to avoid being questioned by their family.

I look forward to going out in Shanghai to check out the parades, lion dances, lantern statues, and amazing food!

Windows of Shanghai

“If you want the people to understand you, invite them to your life and let them see the world from your window!”
― Mehmet Murat ildan

Published as part of Wordless Wednesday

Doors of Shanghai

“I feel very adventurous. There are so many doors to be opened, and I’m not afraid to look behind them.”
― Elizabeth Taylor

Published as part of Wordless Wednesday

Why you should explore this Unique Alley in Shanghai

Alleys provide great opportunities to walk through something a little more intimately scaled. Sometimes they provide a refuge from the city. But Tianzifang is the opposite of a refuge. It is tucked away off the French Concession in Shanghai and is a maze of alleys and shops that was definitely slightly overwhelming the first time.

Tianzifang is a history-rich old quarter where East meets West. As I looked around I could see products not only designed in China but all over the world for sale in tiny restored buildings that are back-to-back with local residences. While my eyes were feasting on all the things that the merchants sell, my mind was also wandering amidst the traditional vibe of the place. The aesthetics of the establishments are very charming since the shops are still reflective of old Shanghai style.

As I explored the alleyways I ended up being jostled around with other tourists who were also getting lost in the maze for the 20th time. My first visit was very overwhelming and I could hardly take everything in. But this was a great excuse to go and visit again, and the next time I made sure that I arrived before 9am, so as to avoid the crowds that start flooding in after 11am.

Here are some essential Travel Tips for when you visit Tianzifang

  1. When you drop by Tianzifang, keep in mind that there are three main lanes which you can take. These lanes each go from north to south and there are several smaller alleys which intersect with each lane. If you find yourself quite lost because of all the turns that you have taken while being entertained by the various products that are being sold, just look for one of the main lanes and you can easily find where you are supposed to go next.

2. Get there very early to avoid hordes of domestic tourists. Otherwise be prepared for being pushed around when this area gets busier.

3. Avoid going in the holidays when it is very, very crowded.

4. Learn to bargain on the stuff you are going to buy. I was advised that you should pay as little as two thirds of the price asked originally.

5. A camera is necessary when you go to Tianzifang as there will be so much you would love to capture. But be careful as it is not allowed to take pictures in the residential area where the local residents still live.

6. Look out for the old residential buildings called ‘shikumen’, literally ‘stone doors’. These houses have stone door-frames and solid wooden doors.

7. Many original residents still live in the narrow lanes. Please be mindful and respect their privacy.

8. Some shops do not permit you to take photos, even of the exterior. So don’t feel offended when they stop you and chase you away.

9. Besides places of business, there are still some residents living there. Don’t enter residential houses mistakenly.

10. Take toilet-paper as there are only traditional Chinese toilets. Otherwise there are nice public toilets in the mall across the street where the Starbucks is located.

Where is your favourite alleyway to explore?

Faces of Shanghai

My favourite photos are the ones where you got to make a connection with the place or person. While walking through a park here in Shanghai I was surprised at how many people were willing to let me take their photo once I asked. My favourite group of photos from the day is of the park gardner. Eventhough we could not understand each other he smiled and allowed me to take his photo. After taking his photo he came and asked me to please take a photo of him and his friend.

Faces of Shanghai
Gardner posing for a photo

 Peace begins with a smile. Smile is a simple act, but sometimes takes a lot of effort. A smile can cause boundaries to melt, hearts to warm up, and distances to reduce. (Mother Teresa)

Things to remember when visiting a Church or Cathedral

You don’t have to have strong spiritual beliefs to enjoy a visit to a house of worship or a spiritual site. Virtually all religious sites allow travellers to enjoy the sanctuary space as long as they are respectful.

Christ Church Cathedral
Christ Church Cathedral (founded c.1028) is the spiritual heart of the city, and one of the top visitor attractions in Dublin.

I think that churches, cathedrals and other houses of worship offer a special insight into the beliefs and culture of a country. If you want to experience world famous art, reflect on the lives of princes, poets, and politicians or simply have a moment of personal reflection, you will enjoy visiting a house of worship. They are also of interest for those who love to connect with local culture, revel in architectural wonders or are just interested in local history.

For many travellers, visiting a house of worship is a deeply personal occasion. Some people are seeking spiritual guidance and comfort and others are looking to renew and enhance their faith. Travellers of all different beliefs cross the globe to visit those locations that are meaningful to their faiths.

For me, any opportunity to travel is an opportunity to connect to people of different cultures, faiths, and ways of life. Visiting a house of worship helps facilitate that connection and I always welcome the chance to learn more about different religious backgrounds.

I also love how houses of worship are gatekeepers of history, art, literature, and architecture. When I learn the history of a house of worship, I’m really getting to know a city, it’s people, and it’s community.

In some cases, houses of worship welcome as many tourists as they do worshippers. While you might be surrounded by hoards of tour groups, always remember:

  1. You are in a sacred site. Be Respectful. You don’t have to agree with or condone the place of worship you are visiting, but you should be respectful for the way others worship.
  2. Be Sincere. Visit a church because you sincerely want to learn about the building or know what they believe and practice, not because you want to mock and ridicule their faith.
  3. Dress modestly. If you are unsure as to what is appropriate attire follow the rule that covering more of your body is always more appropriate than covering less.
  4. Respect signs indicating photography rules.
  5. Don’t take photos during a service.
  6. Keep your voice down. Try not to interrupt those visiting for religious purposes.

I love you when you bow in your mosque, kneel in your temple, pray in your church. For you and I are sons of one religion, and it is the spirit.” – Khalil Gibran

Why I Walk to Explore places like Rathmullan in Ireland

Rathmullan, situated in County Donegal, Ireland is the perfect location to ‘get away from it all’. While driving along the Wild Atlantic Way of Ireland we spent the night in Rathmullan and the next morning walked along the Milford Sli na Slainte (path to health). With it’s wonderful beach and wooded hillsides we could relax and enjoy the quieter pace of life that is characteristic of smaller Irish villages.

Rathmullan, situated in County Donegal, Ireland
The beautiful Beach of Rathmullan, situated in County Donegal, Ireland

The Milford Sli na Slainte is a path that started at the pier and took us all along the beautiful beach to a rocky outcrop at the mouth of a small river. After crossing the bridge over Maggie’s Burn we turned left onto the Fanad by-pass road. This road took us through the countryside, along pastures and woodland until we once again got back to the town centre.