A Travellerspoint blog

Entries about culture

Kuala Lumpur

KL's culture and curry.

semi-overcast 32 °C

The overnight flight to Kuala Lumpur was surprisingly restful and arriving into a much warmer climate with blue skies (despite the bad weather forecast) perked us up too. We stopped briefly in the airport for a drink and snack, as our budget flight had included ZERO refreshments and then set off in search of the public bus to get us to the city. With relative ease we managed to get a ticket for around £1.50 for the hour long journey. The journey gave us the opportunity to see some of the lush, jungle-like landscapes. I don’t know what I had been expecting, but the vibrancy of our first impressions stayed with us throughout or short stay.

Arriving in the city, we drove through Little India and the bus stopped not far from it. By this time it was about 10am and we couldn’t check in to our hostel until 2pm so we donned our back packs and tried to find our way back to Little India, which didn’t take long. We had a wander around some of the streets there which were lined with painted archways and had a back drop of modern skyscrapers and blue skies, before deciding to get some proper food in a little canteen. It was quite quiet when we walked in and it turned out to be a buffet which suited us just fine. The food was INCREDIBLE. Possibly the best we’ve had on this entire trip. So fresh, so authentic and so wholesome, we ate until we were stuffed. The bill for two buffet plates and a large bottle of water? Around £3.

It really was too hot to carry the backpacks around for much longer so our next challenge was getting on the metro to the hostel. The metro system isn’t particularly user friendly because at the transfer stations there is usually a mall that you have to navigate through to find a different lines. And the malls are massive. We ended up being side tracked on our way through but eventually made it to the metro, which was deliciously cool thanks to the A/C and went overground, above the city, to our stop so we got some great views on the way.

The hostel was in a street which had an array of colourful but shabby facades and was very charming. It was also a stones throw from China Town and the Colonial Area, so after a quick freshen up, we went straight back out to walk around the city and we absolutely loved it. Every corner we turned brought more colours and character, with evident international influences from India, China, the UK (a cricket house and lawn) and the Middle East. The city is a huge melting pot of culture and it’s absolutely awesome.

An evening downpour sent us back towards the hostel and in search of dinner (though nothing would ever match the first meal) and bargains in China Town. As it happened, we had arrived in the middle of a Hindu Festival and so locals were giving out free food and drinks in the street which demonstrated how truly hospitable the country is towards everyone. A march carrying a golden religious statue which had started from outside our hostel earlier in the evening passed the street where we sat to have (second) dinner and when it quietened down we headed back to the hostel for a much needed sleep.

The next day after a quick breakfast, we set off towards the iconic Petronas Towers and spent a large part of our day in the surrounding area, firstly trying to sort out some admin-y bits and bobs and then making the most of the beautifully landscaped park which sprawls beneath the towers and finally going for a look around the huge udnerground shopping centre, where we found... wait for it... a Marks and Spencer, among other things. Later in the day we tried to visit THE Kuala Lumpur Mosque, but unfortunately, our hostel had given us the wrong information regarding opening hours, so that was slightly disappointing but all in all, the city had completely mesmerised us but it was already time for us to pack our bags in anticipation of heading to Vietnam the next morning...

Posted by amysblog 04:35 Archived in Malaysia Tagged food mosque culture market malaysia city towers curry Comments (0)

A Weekend Getaway : Nanjing

After a full day on Friday (Chinese lesson at 9am and teaching until 3:40pm, followed by a sprint across the city to the train station to catch a train at 5pm) and a week of misbehaving students (a ‘giving advice’ activity wherein the appropriate response for the issue of “my dog won’t stop barking” was repeatedly and categorically inappropriate), I was relieved to be out of Beijing and very ready to explore a new city in China - Nanjing.

The ‘Nan’ to Beijing’s ‘Bei’, Nanjing translates as “Southern Capital” but this didn’t really give me any idea what to expect. I arrived around 10.30pm and we were staying in an “Inn”, AKA someone’s spare room in a flat situated down a questionable alley, which still didn’t give me any in-cling about the city. And so it was early (10.30am) on Saturday morning that we finally started to discover what Nanjing was all about.

Our first intended stop was the Presidential Palace, but when we got off the subway, the ‘1912 Casual District’ was too enticing to bypass so we had a look around the strange little area first, which was mainly eateries and cafes. Through the decorative windows in the walls between 1912 and the Palace gardens, we caught but a glimpse of the enchanting landscapes we were soon to explore. Luckily for us, Spring has finally sprung in China and it was a warm day, so the gardens were bursting with blossom and it was so relaxing to stroll around and take in the atmosphere. Much like Yu Yuan Gardens in Shanghai, we could see skyscrapers above the garden walls which was kind of surreal but also very cool.

In a bid to see more of the city, we decided to use busses instead of the subway to get around. So we hopped on the 33 to take us to our next destination: Gulou. On the way we went past a bustling park where the blossoms were also in full bloom, and the world and his wife were taking the opportunity for a social-media-worthy photo shoot. The Drum Tower was also set against a backdrop of skyscrapers and the surrounding park was filled with people in traditional dress performing some kind of casual Chinese dancing. I say casual because there really doesn’t seem to be any particular skill or routine behind these park dance sessions, instead they take place purely for enjoyment and entertainment.

After a quick lunch stop we decided to head towards one of Nanjing’s most famous attractions, the Xuanwu Lake. Approaching it, we walked past a small park where people were lying on some particularly luscious grass, which is quite unheard of in Beijing and so we decided to take a break and enjoy the warm weather before following the crowds of people heading towards the lake. The lake has several islands that are joined together by various bridges so we wandered with no real direction through the very scenic park. By chance we found ourselves at Nanjing’s Sakura festival, which was mostly people indulging in more photo-taking underneath the blossoming trees.

In the evening we went to downtown Nanjing. It was getting dark and the skyscrapers were lit up with neon flashing lights. We spotted a House of Fraser - of all things! - and stopped for a bite to eat in a bright square. After dinner we stopped by a famous food street, which was much smaller than what we were expecting, but the queues for some of the stalls were extremely long; you know what they say, it’s quality, not quantity! Making a mental note to stop by for lunch the next day, we jumped on a bus to the Old Town area. It was heaving with people, but in a good way. These old style streets are a bit touristy but they usually offer a great atmosphere and lots of things to look at. There was a river between the two busiest streets with bridges joining them and little boats doing trips up and down it. It was a great end to the day.

Next morning, we were given a ‘traditional natural rice cake’ by our host for breakfast, which was essentially savoury donut sticks with egg, chicken and some onion (?) rolled up in sticky black rice. It wasn’t awful. The pollution wasn’t particularly great so we changed our plans a bit because we were going to head up a mountain to get a good view of the city… I guess we’ll do that next time! Instead we took the opportunity to explore some more of the city, including Golden Egret Park and more of the Old Town. We used bikes to get around which was also a good way of seeing more.

Our final stop was the Old City Wall and Zhonghua Gate, which has an impressive history from both ancient and contemporary times as a major military advantage in battle. It was nice to look over the city that we had spent the last day and a half exploring. Once we had had our fill, we strolled back to the subway, indulged in a milk tea in the sun and then carried on to the station, where we headed back to our respective cities.

Posted by amysblog 05:24 Archived in China Tagged parks culture history lake city china nanjing tefl Comments (0)

Beijing Blog : Back to School

The trials and tribulations of TEFL-ing

So this is an incredibly overdue update about what has been happening since I arrived back in China’s capital after an incredible six weeks travelling. Coming ‘home’ has been tricky, to say the least. Writing this, I am halfway through week 6 (!!!) of the semester and honestly, I think it has taken until now to really find my groove again.

Going back to school was harder than I ever remember it being when I was younger! I think this was partially because for the entire first semester, I had been focussed on saving for and planning Spring Festival travels, and suddenly, that was done and dusted; the only thing I had in front of me was the prospect of 17 weeks of uninterrupted teaching… Having recently had the epiphany that I do not want to be a teacher, this therefore seemed (and still seems sometimes) completely overwhelming and like a colossal task. I had also completely forgotten how to lesson plan, and to top it all off, my timetable for this semester is busier and less condensed than last, meaning that my work days are longer and I spend a lot more time hanging around at school between lessons doing, well, nothing.

Restarting my Chinese lessons was initially a bit of a burden too. After a month of not using my ‘conversational’ mandarin, it felt like I was back to basics and my homework was taking me a lot longer than usual. And I was back to living in my school's accommodation, complete with its daily 6.30am communal alarm. So all in all, I was not in a particularly good mood at the beginning of the semester and was well in need of the mini getaway that was Nanjing.

The last couple of weeks have started to feel smoother, Chinese is becoming easier, it’s warming up, the morning alarm has been disabled and I’ve taken to being and incredibly strict, no-nonsense-taking teacher in most lessons, which makes my life much easier! I’ve also explored a few new parts of Beijing, namely Yuanming Yuan or The Old Summer Palace, which these days is more or less a park with some rather inauthentic ruins of the old palace structures. However, it is Cherry Blossom Season and so the brilliantly pink blossoms that lined the paths and reflected in the lakes around the park were definitely worth the trip.

Last week, I also took part in a Chinese Calligraphy lesson with my friends Lou and Rosanna. I had assumed that this would be a fun and creative activity but the first half of the lesson left me feeling horrendously inadequate in the world of calligraphy. We were tasked with writing the calligraphic version of the character 福 or fu meaning ‘fortune’ or 'good luck'. Simple. Not. Our teacher was a professor from a university in Hubei province and has been studying calligraphy for a few decades and so we were given a brief tutorial (which we videoed in slow motion so we could try to make out what on earth we were supposed to be drawing) in Chinglish and set to work. After several failed attempts - too much ink, not enough ink, absolutely illegible, “what do I do next?!”, “that’s um… wrong” - we finally achieved somewhat OK versions of the 福, put our brushes down and made a swift retreat. In the end it was a lot of fun and I really enjoyed the lesson but I’m not sure I will ever be able to describe myself as a calligrapher.

So my first six weeks back have been a bit hit and miss, but I’m starting to feel settled in Beijing again and it’s almost time to start planning the next lot of travelling! The weeks have started to pick up speed and I’ve begun to realise that before I know it I’m going to be halfway through and then nearly at the end of this semester, which I’m both looking forward to and also dreading. So in the meantime, I’ll be here, trying to make the most of this fantastic - albeit taxing - experience!

Posted by amysblog 05:45 Archived in China Tagged parks culture travel city china beijing spring chinese teaching tefl sakura caligraphy Comments (0)

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