Year Abroad: Laid Back Streets

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A retreat from the city –  in the city.

A walk through the Antique and Pet Markets of Shanghai one is the most peaceful afternoons I’ve had since I’ve arrived in China.

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ANTIQUES MARKET

Metro Stop: Laoximen Station
Dongtai Lu, enter from Xizang Lu into Liuhe Lu
东台路, 西藏路和浏河路路口

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Dong Tai Lu Antiques Market Shanghai

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Perhaps it’s because I’m a literature student, and spend most of my time lost in the world of books published well before my Grandma was even born, but I feel like these open alleys of antiques is somewhere I was just meant to be.

The wide streets on Dong Tai Lu are besieged on both sides by clutter that pours out from small shop fronts and stalls that line the streets, manned by keen eyed old Chinese on their rickety fold out chairs, critically appraising your knowledge of antiques and eye for a bargain (or lack thereof…).

But it’s quiet, which is an absolute blessing if you’ve been to any of the tourist sites in Shanghai – that seem to come with a mandatory “Watch-Bag, Watch-Bag” man peddling his fake wares. Although the authenticity of the actual antiques in the Antiques Market is mostly questionable, it’s certainly a great place to pick up mementos of a trip to China, delve into the deceptively deep alley shopps, or relax with a 10RMB pot of flower tea and feel very hipster.

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Typewriter Antiques Market Shanghai

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As my friends and I left to head back towards Laoximen metro station, we cross the road and pop our heads into the closing Pet’s Market for a quick scoot around the closing stalls, thankfully devoid of fellow tourists, as the sun set over Shanghai. If you’ve got time to make the visit, I definitely recommend – but keep in mind shops tend to shut in the Market from around 430PM onwards.

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PET MARKET

Metro: Laoximen Station
405 Xizang Nan Lu, near Fangbang Zhong Lu
西藏南路405号, 万商花鸟鱼虫交易市场,近方浜中路

It’s dark, heavy with the smell of animals and even though most of people have left, there’s loud chatter and bustle as the shop and stall keepers pack up their chirruping, barking and snuffling wares for the night. As we make our way round the packed alleyways, it’s with exclamations and croonings – the cages have everything from packed little kittens and multi-coloured birds, to terrapins and turtles and exotic fish in tiny tubs.

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Pots of Tropical Fish, Shanghai

Boxed Bugs Shanghai

Tropical Birds

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As far as animal rights go, I will say that some points did make me a little uneasy, with several kittens and rabbits together in cages slightly too small, and dogs that slept in spaces I’d like to be a but bigger, but it is an honest picture of the attitude towards pets; in the market at least, they’re well kept, but their living standards for the most part, can’t match up to a gardened house in Britain.

It’s a window into the traditional culture surrounding pets in China, and the older generation does make up the majority of the wandering crowds; they take great interest in the crickets – as well as the occasional games of Chinese Chess being played between the narrow stalls.

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All in all though, an excellent de-stress from the bustling city.
Without ever leaving it at all

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Charlotte xx

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Taiwan: Sanzhi Mountain Driving

 

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For my first section of real hairpin-turns driving, I’m up above Yuanlin near the Sanzhi mountain park with a full van of eight family members in the back. No pressure. It helps that sections of the road that are plunged with mist (霧 – Wù) are conveniently also subject to large holes and mudslides after the past typhoon weather. As I crawl along the road, I’m overtaken by shiny black and silver BMWs and Toyotas, fearless to death apparently.

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The good news is, the temperature takes a sharp plunge as we head on this nauseatingly winding roads upwards into the mountain, bypassing tourist-and-SUV overcrowded spots at BaGua Shan. Instead, along the way, we stop in the surprisingly temperate, cool climate, nearly chilly in our shorts and t-shirts, to take a look at some stunning tea plantations that spring out of the sheer, dark forested mountain side along with small crowds, promotions women (of the late fifties, restaurant overall wearing type) and a sudden surge of cars parked along narrow road passes that accompanies it. Unlike hardy tea I’ve seen growing on parches hilltops and fields in Taiwan, these thick bushy lines of tea plant are rich and dark against the hill, and it’s something really gorgeous to behold.

For as long as you can stand crowds that is.

Back into the car after a short walk and on down the hill.

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On the way down the hill, we stop off at a Taiwan speciality: a roast chicken. We’re big fans of roast chicken back home, and this dramatic way of cooking a chicken is certainly entertaining – nearly as entertaining for me as the little mountain pigs (pets I’m assured) that try to eat my fingers outside the restaurant. The chicken, in a strange orange to match the chefs t-shirt (deliberate?), is strung on a wire with a small dish of oil beneath it and hung in the large kiln to get roasted, coming out a deep, glossy blackened colour. Dad, head of the table, has the honour of donning a pair of white industrial gloves, made dubiously sanitary by a thin, disposable plastic covering, and tearing up the roasted chicken for the rest of the family.

Messy and very yum.

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After lunch, we hop in the car on our way back to Yuanlin, making a short stop at Beitou’s city hall – but don’t quote me on it – and wander around it’s grounds watching a fantastic array of kites soar on the strings held by parents, as children scream and run wildly on the grass track in front of the blindingly white building.

It’s a long day of exciting driving, but boy am I glad to experience some cool weather here in Taiwan, even in the peak of summer. It’s good to know leaving the safety of air-con is not always like stepping into a pre-heated oven.

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Taiwan: Typhoon Day #2, Losing Elephant Mt. Trail

LOSING ELEPHANT MOUNTAIN TRAIL
(Xiang Shan Trail)

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Despite the typhoon rain raging outside our front door, in true Black Family style, we’re embracing nature and heading out to find one of Taipei’s mountain trails: Elephant Mountain Trail. We’ve been warned, berated, and ridiculed, and yet when we set out the door there is a bewildered sense of surprise when we are almost immediately soaked to the skin… Fancy that!

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We rush to OK! Mart to buy 39NT plastic rain-proof onsies and gingerly pull them jerkily up over sticky skin; the coats immediately fill with steam off our sopping clothes, it feels like a small, localised sauna, we look ridiculous and the wetness is both inside and out. Excellent. Thoroughly wetted, we squelch towards the bus stop to catch a No. 1 to Wuxing Elementary School stop – many strange looks as we sniff onto the bus and swipe our metro cards. After being chilled nearly to the bone in the fierce No. 1 bus air-con, we decide to stay on just one more stop to avoid the rain. Good idea?

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As we step of the bus, we wander around and generally, upwards, looking for obviously signs of paths – and we find some concrete paths by allotments! Onwards and upwards. It’s very slippy, the path is swamped with leaves and debris, and more interestingly, there seems to be a small downwards stream flowing over our shoes. Nevertheless, we continue some twenty minutes upwards, wandering past small temples, traversing steep concrete steps, and skippity hopping past angry guard dogs wondering why Taipei’s dogs all seem to be either incredibly angry or ridiculously small. And then…

We hit a dead end.
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We’re wet, puffing, and hot – and quite frankly, while I’m sad to have reached the peak of Elephant mountain after our rainy day troubles, my thighs are happy to turn around and go downhill. Dad and one brother are determined to find the real trail; my youngest brother and I are determined to catch a ride home, and as we head down towards the main road we catch a glimpse of this sign….

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And the embarressing news is, there are lots more of these lining the walkway from the Wuxing Elementary School stop.

Ah well! The good news is I managed to get these amazing shots of the residential areas of Taipei; they’re so completely alien to the two-storey, detached-houses-with-garden set-up of Ireland.

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Despite our difficulties, the rain and the warnings it’s a fun day out in the rain!

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Taiwan: 烏石港 WuShiGang Surf Spot!

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烏石港 (Wū shí gǎng)
Technology Building MRT Station
Bus No. 1915
Bus No. 131

極酷衝浪 – G-Cool Surf Shop
No.93-2, Gon-ko-lee Rd.
Toucheng city, Yilan County
Zip: 261 Taiwan, R.O.C
(宜蘭縣頭城鎮港口里(路)93-2號)

Tel:886-3-9770266


Haggle!
G-Cool’s deal should include, surf lesson, full-day board rental (with option to switch to body board), wet shirt hire, umbrella and table on the beach and shower facilities.

In spring I paid 300NT for the package in a group of five; in summer I paid 400NT in a group of three.

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Last week, pre-typhoon appearance, we took a trip down to 烏石港 (Wū shí gǎng) Beach where I went surfing some two years ago with housemates and friends. It’s a great surf beach for beginners; as you head down from the road towards the beach (past car-parking spots if you’re driving) the beach is chock packed of sun-umbrellas and students playing volleyball across the curious light grey sand, unique to the area. Best of all, out in the sea sits the super-cute Turtle Island! Keeping with old and familiar, I head to G-Cool to rent boards, where we always go: the instructors are mostly twenty-something university students (all male, if you’re interested) and after just one full morning of surfing I’m bruised, battered and sun-burnt.

Top Tips:

# Bring your own rucksacks with water, food and snacks – you’ll burn lots of energy surfing.
# Take the time to find a waterproof sunscreen, even if it’s overcast at the beach, and cover your hands and any other exposed areas.
(I’m currently sporting some interesting burn lines)
# Bring savlon for board burns and after sun lotion.
# Do not forget flip flops!! The sand gets very, very hot!

It’s hard work taking the bus back on the way home, but luckily for me, family holidays mean we can rent a car for the five of us and I can snooze in the back seat on the way home.

Definitely worth visiting if you’re in Taiwan!

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China: LeShan Buddha

The Leshan Buddha.

Incredibly hot day. Sweated my socks off, much to the disgust of the locals. Ended up putting a towel over my head as we queued in the blistering afternoon sun to go down the pilgrims steps to the foot of the big man himself.

By that time, no one was particulaily savouring the sacred stairs experience. We just wanted the sticky, people-herded-down-small-stairs experience to end.

The biggest Buddha in the world though? Pretty fabulous!

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