A photo a week challenge: Just for Fun

This photography challenge comes from Nancy Merrill Photography. The challenge was something fun. My contribution is a photo of Hogwarts castle, from Harry Potter, which I took in 2019 at Universal Studios, Japan while I was pregnant last Spring.

Japan was so much fun. I think Japan and South Korea were my two favourite countries to visit in Asia. I would definitely like to spend more time there one day.

 

Postcards to my Baby: Shanghai’s Old Town

Dear A.

One day, you’ll see China for yourself and understand why I can’t describe it very well in one postcard. It is a land of opposites, complications, and yet… simplicity.

On one hand, the bureaucracy to do anything at all is intense, and often requires an app which only mostly works in English, until you’re trying to do anything complicated. On the other, in rural areas, life has never been burdened with problems like technology, literacy, money or germ theory. Truly.

The nuances across this vast land are stark. This postcard is of the old quarter of Shanghai. It might not be a quarter. Vendors sell whole fried squid on a stick and tourists line up down the street to buy them. In the narrowest alleys, people hang their washing on the electrical wires and they look like a canopy of multicoloured trees above a rusty rainforest of decay, but no birds venture here. The sky is white with pollution.

What no photo can ever convey is the smell. This area stinks of fermented pig urine. In the distance, skyscrapers loom. The clean, sleek future, eclipsing the murky past. Even during the Mid-Autumn lunar festival, few tourists venture down these side streets, funneled away by mapping apps and official, approved guides.

When you get here, this urban wilderness might be gone; replaced by more skyscrapers filled with things China wants to be known for, instead of what it is. A land leaving its winter, its identity is as changeable as the tide. I hope you will see it in Spring, once the sakura blossoms.

Maybe, if I’m lucky, you will see me in my Springtime, too.

Lots of love,

Mama Adventure

This is part one in a series of postcards I have written to my baby while I was still pregnant, telling them about what we did before they were born.

A photo a week challenge: Peaceful Place

The creative geniuses around WordPress are finding ways to keep the now-defunct weekly photo challenge alive. This challenge comes from Nancy Merrill Photography. The challenge was a place that brought you peace. My contribution is a photo I took in 2018 at Lake Tahoe, just a few miles up the road from the town of South Lake Tahoe, on the Nevada side, in the USA. Honestly, I have never felt so at peace and at ease as I did on this quiet retreat. I’d just driven down from the dusty hustle of Reno where I’d been for a big author conference, and after that toxic, smoky environment, the clean air and abundance of nature at Lake Tahoe was nourishing.

I would live there if I had any chance at all of getting a US residence visa.

IMG_1717 fix

Look at this baby with Covid-19. Still want to travel?

I honestly don’t know how anyone can look at this tiny 6-month-old baby in hospital, on a ventilator that’s too big for her so had to be taped over at the top, fighting to survive, and how, after seeing her, they can still contemplate making unnecessary journeys for stupid reasons. Her name is Erin Bates. Full article here:

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-merseyside-52269084

In related news, I’m so angry at my Mother in Law and Father in Law right now. Yesterday they admitted they have been making several unnecessary 100-mile-round-trip journeys and so has my Sister in Law. Why? Because apparently renovating a house that she doesn’t even live in is more important than following the rules and staying at home.

This is the same sister in law who sent me a happy mother’s day card. There’s no weird Oedipal twist of incest, I’m not her mother, I didn’t marry my son. She just needed a reason to spread germs and put postal workers at risk delivering something to a different country.

I ripped it up when it arrived because Mother’s Day is hard for me. I know I was being a bit petty but you’d think people who had known me for 10 years would know how hard Mother’s Day is because my parents are dead.

They’re just so oblivious of other people.

Don’t travel. Stay at home. Look back at past travel photos. Plan future trips. Don’t kill other people by spreading this. So many people think it’s harmless if it’s just them. They’re putting themselves at risk, and they’re endangering others by spreading it before the symptoms show.

In Pictures: Shanghai, China

So I went to Shanghai a few weeks ago, during the mid-Autumn festival, and here are some of the pictures:

shanghai old town2
Shanghai Old Town

shanghai old town1

 

Shanghai river bank

spiral escalator before this one in a Shanghai shopping mall
Are these common outside of Europe? I’d never seen a spiral escalator before this one in a Shanghai shopping mall.
Shanghai river bank3
A literal wall of flowers in Shanghai near the river and bund.

Overall, it was a lovely city, but if you weren’t coming to China to see some other things as well (or at least coming to this corner of the world to visit other nearby countries) I’m not sure it’s worth the time and expense to come only to Shanghai from the US or Europe as a tourist. Definitely a lovely place to go if you’re already within a thousand miles or so, though, and the shopping here is fabulous. There are so many markets and shopping malls that you’re sure to find some nice things while you’re here!

Shanghai also has a recently-opened Disneyland. If/when I get the time/opportunity to go there, I will show you what that’s like, too.

In China for the foreseeable

It’s been quiet on this blog for a few weeks because I’ve been hurriedly packing a 3-bedroom house into 2 suitcases, then renovating parts of it so my friends could move in (they’ve taken the rabbits with the house, so don’t worry, the bunnies are safe and happy), getting all the official nonsenses sorted out and generally moving from Britain to Asia.

We arrived into Shanghai the day before yesterday.

The furthest I’d been before now was Rome, Italy. I’ve been as far as Italy three times, but I was starting to wonder if the world ended at the stiletto heel tip of Otranto.

I have also done some significant renovating to this blog. A few categories are gone, now, because those are things I can’t talk about while I’m here. I can’t take comments on them while I’m here either, sorry. It was delete some posts or delete the entire blog. At the same time, I took the opportunity to remove some of the 1-2 sentence posts that were life updates for regular readers. You guys have all read them, and they’re cluttering up my page organization, so they’re gone too. There’s probably more of those that have gone than anything serious. Overall, about 100 posts have disappeared from the site. I’m a little reluctant to do that from an accurate-record-keeping point of view, but it’s for the best from a clearer-blog-layout perspective (and let’s not get my website blocked in the country I’m living in because then I wouldn’t be able to update any more, and so many sites are blocked here).

So far, all I’ve seen of China has been Shanghai airport, which is the biggest airport I’ve ever seen (admittedly I’ve only seen 3 other airports, including the one I left Britain from), and my apartment. There’s been a couple of brief trips to fulfil official requirements but that’s all. I’m hoping there’s a chance to see and do things but my husband’s work started pretty much straight away, and I don’t have any Chinese money (or any way of getting any) or much independence due to our living situation, so the seeing/doing will have to wait a little while.

Also, it is HOT. Like, it’s been 35 degrees (95 Farenheit) this whole time. We have air con in our apartment. On the stairwells, in the bathroom and outdoors, however, it is seriously hot. The heat is so… liquid, like it clings to me and gets inside my body, then I’m exhausted all the time. The day starts and ends around 30 degrees and it just gets hotter. And it’s always sunny. It’s incredible. I’m interested to see what winter is going to be like.

More pertinent to this blog, of course, I am SO GODDAMN EXCITED to be able to buy and try out more Korean, Japanese, and other Asian beauty brands and techniques while I’m here!

An Impossible Visa Choice

So, my husband got offered a job in Asia which is well paid, stable, and dependable, in a country I didn’t 150% want to go to (hence I won’t name and shame) but overall it sounded like a good opportunity, and I can go over on a spouse visa. The downside? I will have no job when I get there and, because of the specific country, limited employment options. Until this evening, it was still looking like a good choice because I can continue writing my books from anywhere in the world, although this country’s internet is intermittent and heavily censored.

Then, last night, I got an email telling me I’ve been selected to apply for my Canadian 2-year visa (you apply to a pool of candidates for the Working Holiday Visa, then if they pick you, you apply for the actual visa and get it straight away). BUT I have to apply for it within the next 8 days, or I don’t get it. BUT I have to get a police certificate to apply for this visa, and it takes 10 days to get the normal one, or 2 days (for twice the cost), not to mention all the other requirements for this visa, so I have to move fast. If it had come through in July-October, it would maybe be useful, but you can’t be self-employed on this visa, so I would basically have to stop writing and blogging for 2 years. And be away from my husband that whole time. And figure out how to support myself when I’ve basically been paying my way with my writing and blogging for a while. But, it’s Canada! If this had happened 7 years ago I would have been so excited and gone to do it straight away but now? After everything that’s happened the past few years, and with the option of being able to stay with my husband if I go to this other country? I just don’t know. Part of me thinks that if I want to go to Canada, I should just go on a tourist visa instead, now, or do the proper immigration thing, because 2 years of living in Canada but being unable to write… will that help me move to Canada as a writer in the future? I don’t know, it might.  It depends if they value CANADA experience at higher than WRITING experience for the writing immigration application. Oh, and I’d have to lose 3 months of my visa or quit my Master’s degree as it doesn’t finish until August. But, it’s Canada!!!

ARRRRRGH!!!

How to get your motorboat to start

Some of you know I am a fan of boating and yachting, while to others, this will be a surprise. I’ve been on inland motorboats and seafaring yachts, and this article aims to cover how to start a boat with a motor, as well as a little overview of the rules of the waterways. Barges are a little different (I think; every time I’ve been on one, somebody else has sorted it out), but if you’re on a canal holiday in a barge, you should be shown how to work the engine.

1. Does it have a key-protected ignition? If so, put the key in and turn it.

2. Now find the engine. It’s usually a big, boxy thing at one end of the boat, or if it’s an inboard motor, they can be hidden behind a hatch or panel.

3. Find something that looks like a handle with a piece of string attached to it.

4. Pull it firmly. If you’re too gentle with it, it won’t start. If you pull it too hard, the string could snap. The engine might have a couple (or more) false starts before it catches; older engines or those which have stood idle for long periods of time have the most trouble with this. There’s a knack to pulling these so they catch more easily, which you will get the hang of with enough practice.

Rules of the British inland waterways:
At narrow passes in open water, canals or rivers, you should be on the right hand side when you’re passing another boat (the opposite side to where you drive a car, if you’re British). This is also true if you’re at sea and navigating a marina or other narrow area.
Approach bridges slowly, and ensure you have enough height and width for your boat, particularly if you’re not on a barge, as those are what the waterways are generally designed for and there’s some very, very low bridges.
The person closest to the bridge (or other obstacle) has right of way!
The speed limit on canals is 4mph. Any faster, and the wake (ripples) from your boat could cause problems for other water users.
To stop your boat, put the gear lever to the opposite of the direction you’re currently traveling: If you’re going forwards, put it into reverse, and vice versa.
Further information can be found from the Canal and River trust here.

Review: Outlandish Scotland Journey Part 1 and 2

When I read Diana Gabaldon’s “Outlander” series (Outlander, Dragonfly in Amber and Voyager)*, I thought to myself, “I really want to go to those places and see those things.” I often wish it was easier to find stuff in Scotland but there’s so many things in Scotland that it can be hard to know where to look for anything specific! Anyway, that was before they made a TV show out of it, and now there’s even more Outlander locations in Scotland!

*Book 1 was retitled Cross-Stitch in the UK for some stupid reason, and they wonder why it was initially less popular over here; it’s still the same love story between Jamie and Claire.

Another rainbow in the West Highlands of Scotland on the way to Loch Ness.

The first guide, Outlandish Scotland Journey part 1, covers the Outlander sites between Edinburgh and Inverness, while the second, Outlandish Scotland Journey part 2, covers Inverness and a whole plethora of sites around the city. In both cases, the sites are marked on a map so you can see the route that goes between them all.

If that’s not enough, there are also very clear directions explaining how to get to each location, and the guides are very clear about what you will find in each place, with lots of details to help you make the most of your holiday. One thing I especially liked was the thistle icons that rated each location, and showed whether a location was worth visiting or not, so I could see at-a-glance how many sites to spend time visiting (nearly all of them… now I just need a reliable vehicle to travel in).

Another thing I liked was the author has found pictures of what the places look like, and put them alongside what the places looked like in the TV series, so you get an idea about how similar the places are in real life (for example, some buildings in Culross were painted for filming so in real life they’re a different colour).

One more thing that I liked about these guides is that they give you the disabled access information, so if you are traveling as a disabled person or if you’re taking someone who is disabled, you have a good sense of whether you can get into any specific place. I’ve talked before about why that’s important to include in travel guides as it can make or break some people’s trips.

It was also useful to know how much time to schedule for each aspect of the trip; for example, it tells you how much time each itinerary will take, depending on whether you want to do it faster or slower, so you have a good idea of how much time to budget.

Other things that you will find in these guide books include: Where to park, for sites where parking isn’t immediately obvious; whether any individual attraction is worth a visit or not (and an explanation and references showing why not, if it’s bad, so you can make an informed choice); how much they cost; and there are even lots of extras, such as places of interest that weren’t in the books/TV series but are still worth a visit while you’re in each area.

These Outlandish Scotland Journey ebook guides also really make use of being in an electronic format, by linking to additional useful information, which basically means it’s like someone went out and painstakingly researched your holiday for you, so all you have to do is follow the route and have a great time! Or, if, like me, you’re the sort of person who likes to go out and discover things, these guides have a lot of mileage in them as well; I would choose the most interesting locations, and see what turned up in the space between them while I was traveling (because Scotland has a LOT of space).

If you live in Scotland, you could do some of these locations as a series of day-trips at the weekend, rather than a long holiday, and it would certainly be a great way to spend your days off! If I still lived in Edinburgh, I would definitely do that.

These guides are useful for a wide range of readers, both locals and further afield, and my overall conclusion is that they are well worth a buy if you are going anywhere in Scotland this year or researching a future trip.

Find the Outlandish Scotland Journey guides on Amazon here: Part 1 and Part 2
Or find out more here: Outlandish Scotland Journey website

£250 Car Update

So, remember how a few days ago I bought a car for £250? Yeah well I promptly fell in love with the little rascal and of course it’s got a lot of problems. Here’s what’s happened this week so far:

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Update Monday:

Biggest thing it needed was a new fuel tank. My usual garage was fully booked, so I took it to a Big Chain. BIG MISTAKE. They’ve had my car since Thursday, I even phoned ahead and told them exactly what was wrong with my car before I took it to them, because I only wanted to drive it once to get the fuel leak fixed. Well they basically wasted three days umm-ing and ah-ing and they kept telling me they’d call back within half an hour, and every time I phoned an hour after they said they’d call (every time, literally about 6 phone calls over 4 days, I paid for every one because they couldn’t be bothered to call me), a different person stated the bloody obvious – that my car needed a fuel tank. I was like, hello? I told you that on WEDNESDAY EVENING when I phoned ahead to make sure you could fix my car, because it didn’t say anywhere on their website that they could do this job and I wanted to check I wasn’t wasting my time before I brought it in. I could have taken my car to a different place and had it repaired by now. I’m still waiting for them to even give me a quote on a fuel tank, and all this time, they’ve had my car (and they’re baffled on the steering)!

Their excuse on Thursday was that it was the end of the day (they’d had it 4 hours by then), their excuse on Friday was they were short staffed. On Saturday, they couldn’t get a price from the dealer (didn’t they know that on Friday? Because on Friday they promised they’d have a quote on Saturday). They were closed on Sunday. Now it’s Monday. At 7:30am I managed to get hold of Fiat and get a quote on a Seicento petrol tank. It’s a shocking £550 for replacement fuel tank and lines from Fiat. That will have a £250-ish service charge added by the garage. I’m still waiting for Big Chain Garage to do what they said they’d do by Thursday and get back to me about this.

I’m pretty sure they’re not really this disorganized.

You know why I think they’re messing me around? It’s an old car. They don’t like fixing old cars. Old cars get bumped to bottom of the list of priorities, because they think they can’t make as much money out of you as they think they can make out of a newer car owner. Garages literally decide how much you can afford to pay based on your car. Sometimes, as an old car owner, they’ll quote you a crazy high price to make you go away. I’m pretty sure that’s what they’re going to do next with my Seicento.

I’ve been on the other side of this when I had a top of the range VW Golf. Every service at Evans Halshaw (had to have them to keep the warranty valid) came back with £500 of fake repairs. Every time. Of course, joke’s on them because it caused me to get rid of the car, and now that I don’t have a warranty with them, I’d never buy another car from them or their affiliates, and I’d never take out a warranty with a national car chain ever again.

I’ve been up all night stressing about this damn problem – I have to go to Oxford University on Thursday for a conference and I don’t even know if my car will be back from the garage by then. Of course, if I’d known my car wouldn’t be functioning (and there was no reason for this situation, it’s a couple of hours to change a fuel tank, I’d do it myself if I didn’t have three huge projects due next week that I need to finish early due to that conference), I would have bought train tickets. But now tickets cost £100 instead of £40 because it’s less than 7 days before I need to travel. If Big Chain Garage hadn’t messed me around, I could have taken the car to somewhere else, got it fixed, or I could have drained the fuel tank, kept the car on the drive while I waited to take it to somewhere else and bought train tickets. Instead, my petrol’s pouring onto their forecourt (CLEARLY not safe) and I’m STILL without a car.

They’re ticking quite a few boxes on this dodgy garage checklist already.

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Monday afternoon:

Long story short they told me they couldn’t get a petrol tank (lies; I phoned the parts place and they had one, it was just ludicrously expensive. I think Big Chain just really didn’t want to work on my elderly car), then refused to let me have my car back (it was “unsafe” for me to drive it, but they were happy for “some guy they knew, who could fix my car” to collect it without telling me who or where), so I ended up conning them out of my own car by turning up and telling them I was taking it somewhere for someone. It was disturbingly easy to steal my own car; security is distinctly lacking. Poor car.

The lack-of-power-steering problem that Big Chain Garage couldn’t find in 4 days? They told me they thought the power steering unit had been removed. I was certain it never had one, Seicentos have electric steering assistance rather than true power steering (but what do I know? I only read the owner’s manual and checked online for Seicento power steering issues, after all). When I got the car back, I looked under the bonnet and saw, right beside the battery, a fuse or relay with a picture of a steering wheel on it. Well clearly that can’t be anything to do with my steering issue.

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Update Tuesday:

I got a petrol tank delivered by next day delivery from eBay and took it and my car to a garage this afternoon. I think my car may be at a Mafia chop shop. This place doesn’t even advertise that they do car repairs, they’re allegedly a car wash, but they will fit parts that you’ve supplied, so I hope they don’t wreck my car. I’ll find out in the morning as they’re keeping it overnight.

I did also ask them to look at the oil pressure switch for me, but I’m not sure if they will or not. The engine block is literally covered in oil, and more disturbingly, the engine says “Renault Clio” on it. My car is a Fiat Seicento. The usual little plaque in the car (telling me the VIN and engine number) isn’t where I expected, so I’m a bit unsure as to whether this car is legit or not. Good job it’s getting fixed at a garage that literally asked no questions.

Normally these are things I would check when buying a car, but this was a £250 car, a full £120 less than my previous cheapest ever car (that one got 10 miles down the motorway then the engine exploded. I don’t have high hopes of this car getting me to Oxford on Thursday), so I really don’t have any expectations.

Car still also needs new tyre on one side as the tyre wall is cracked. Acquiring cheap tyres is a bit hit or miss; sometimes car places will do them for free, sometimes they’ll charge you £80 per tyre. I don’t know how to tell between the repair places who will do the latter and those who will do the former. I’ll sort the tyre out when the car isn’t leaking petrol and oil.

This saga will continue, I’m sure.