Shadows: Join the Thursday Photo Challenge!

Welcome to the Thursday Photo Challenge, a weekly photography challenge for everyone who likes to take photos!

This week’s theme is shadows.

The eye is always caught by light, but shadows have more to say.

Gregory Maguire

Shadows lurk around the edges of our consciousnesses, intensifying our feelings, darkening our thoughts and making us question things. But without shadows, we wouldn’t be able to see anything at all! Your challenge is to capture an image of a shadow.

These can be real shadows or imaginary ones. They can be images representing the shadows which hold you back or make you doubt yourself, or the shadows that dance under the kitchen light when you make a midnight snack. I can’t wait to see what you can come up with!

My photo is of the shadows that formed beneath a staircase in Seoul, South Korea, at twilight. I love the way these shadows seem to show the spiral isn’t at the same angle across the three turns of the stairway. At the top was a beautiful flower-filled bridge with trees planted in containers that seemed to be floating in the half-light.

Here’s how to take part:

  1. Take a photo or search your files for one that represents the week’s theme.
  2. Write a post, including your photo, any words of explanation or inspiration you wish to share, and a link to this challenge page.
  3. Comment on this post with a link to your page so others can see your contribution and check out your blog.
  4. That’s it! Super easy.

This challenge will stay open for one week, then next Thursday, I will post the next challenge!

Postcards to my baby: Cambodia

Dear Jellyfish,

I don’t think I will ever go back to Cambodia unless it changes enormously. It’s taken me three years to gain some perspective on my time there and to be able to actually write about it.

There’s an elephant in the room which no naive, bright-eyed twentysomething travel blogger seems able to write about.

Cambodia is grotesque. I’m sorry, but it is.

The whole thing is a manufactured tourist trap designed (presumably by organized criminals) to appeal to the American “white saviour” complex that gets American tourists parting with as much money as possible at every point in their journey. I’m not American, by the way, so I know this will offend those who are.

I don’t think I had a single genuine interaction the whole time I was there. Every word people spoke was patter. The child selling postcards for one dollar apiece, that would have cost 20p in England. The museum, expensively decked out in stark contrast to the unpaved roads to Angkor Wat. The museum gift shop, full of $40 crocheted bags that you could pick up for $10 in Thailand. It was all purposely designed to appeal to fortysomething and fiftysomething Americans. The people with the money.

One thing that deeply bothered me was the fact no locals can afford in a million years to go and see Angkor Wat, despite the fact it’s their heritage that’s being exploited, sacrificed in a sickening cargo cult designed to lure in rich American tourists. It’s only full of tourists.

The entire country is just scam after scam. Looking around at all the people begging, and all the American tourists blithely handing over money thinking they were helping the poor, I wanted to vomit, because they’re making things worse.

Stop thinking with your heart and think with your head.

Let’s look at the floating village.

A bag of rice doesn’t cost $50 and neither does a 24 pack of pencils for the school.

But let’s imagine it does. How many dozens of American tourists on boats get whizzed past the same floating village, told the same tale of woe, and hand over $50 or $100 for a $5 bag of rice in ONE day? Why, then, have the villagers still not got any rice? Americans have been going there for about 15 years, now, and you’re telling me these people are still hungry? Why?

Because the money isn’t going to them. It’s going to organized criminal gangs.

How much money does the child flogging $1 postcards actually get? Nothing. He hands it over to his master.

How much does the taxi driver get when you give him a tip? Or the beggar when you give them money (and be sure, they’re not begging from other Cambodians, they’re begging from tourists)? Where is the museum entry fee going? Why are there still no paved roads outside the cities?

I am in no doubt the poverty you see in Cambodia is genuine, but everything about the way it is presented to you, the way it is exploited, and the way you are told you can “help” is fake. People who get drawn into the lie are not helping, they are part of the problem. Every time someone hands over $50 for a bag of rice or $1 for a 20p postcard, this justifies in the minds of the sellers that their scam has worked, so they keep doing it.

It’s painfully awkward being in Cambodia, seeing the scams, having to engage with people who see you as a big target. Whatever the country’s identity was going to be, tourism has ravaged it. I’ve seen scams before, but never anything on this scale. It’s just so well-orchestrated.

Tourism is a huge and very busy industry, but none of that money is going back into the local community, it’s being siphoned off.

Something in Cambodia needs to change massively at an organizational level.

I hope, little one, that by the time you grow up, Cambodia has sorted out its problems and works properly for the people who live there. But while “white saviours” are busy doing bad deeds to ease their own consciences, that’s not going to happen.

Moving House Abroad: 20 Packing and Moving Tips From An Expert

So we’re moving countries again next week. New tax system. New car registration system. New everything.

At least we’re not moving far geographically, this time. So while we’re in the middle of all this packing mayhem, I thought I’d share my packing and moving tips for moving house abroad, since this is the third time I’ve moved countries between two different continents, and about the zillionth time I’ve moved house in total.

  1. Have the biggest clear-out. Some people say to do it before you start to pack but I find it’s better to do it as I’m packing because that way I know what space I have and what I need to take.
  2. Make the most of your luggage allowance or the space in your car. We like to do as few trips as possible. When we moved from England to China and from China to Northern Ireland, we just took what we were allowed to have with our plane tickets.
  3. Don’t waste money, time, space or the environment on bubble wrap (or even newspaper). Wrap your delicates in your clothes. Seriously, you have these squishy things and these delicate things, put the two together!
  4. Pack out any space inside mugs, pans etc with clothes or other fabrics.
  5. Try to keep books to a minimum. Those are heavy and they take up a LOT of space. Anything that’s not a profound, life-changing, awe-inspiring tome of knowledge with a cover that belongs at the Tate should be switched for a Kindle version (get the Kindle app for your phone or consider a Kindle tablet), and take the hardcopy to a charity shop.
  6. Weigh your suitcases! Use your bathroom scales or get a hand luggage scale. If they’re over 35kg (about 70lb) most airlines won’t take them, so at that point, your best plan is to split your luggage and pay for an extra bag.
  7. In your carry-on, have a few things in case your checked bag gets lost. You’ll want at least a change of clothes and a toothbrush.
  8. Take a handbag/purse. This one’s mostly aimed at guys. You are leaving valuable luggage space on the table if you don’t get a man bag or laptop bag and pack it to the max with bits and bobs. You are allowed to take a carry on case and a handbag/laptop bag in the cabin of every airline.
  9. If you have medications to take with you, be sure to get a doctor’s note (in America) or print out a photo of your prescription (in the UK) so you can prove you were prescribed them properly. Look up what you can’t take into the country, because some places (like UAE) have very, very strict rules. Never, ever take prescription meds into a country with the sole intent to give them to someone else.
  10. Pack your cosmetics according to the temperature of the airports you’ll be passing through. Any cosmetic that’s super-unstable in heat or coldness should go in your carry-on, if possible. Check out my complete guide to traveling with cosmetics.
  11. If you’re moving with a hire vehicle such as a self-drive van, be sure you’re legally allowed to cross country borders with it. Some vehicles won’t let you, or charge you extra for “insurance”.
  12. If you’re taking a fridge, there are special rules for moving a fridge. Don’t ever lay it flat on its back. Empty it and defrost it before traveling. Tape the doors so they don’t fall open and get damaged. Either move it upright or, if your van can’t do that (as many can’t), prop it at an angle using a sturdy box. If that’s not possible either, lay it on the side opposite the door hinges. Let it stand 8-24 hours before turning on, depending how long it was in transit.
  13. Shipping companies will move your stuff around the world if you need them, but they are very expensive, so be sure you really want to take everything you’re moving.
  14. Label your boxes. Even small boxes packed in a suitcase. It’s too easy to forget what’s in them when you arrive, and that means you have to open them all before figuring out which room they go in.
  15. Take boxes directly to the room they’re for. That keeps your thoroughfare clutter-free while you’re emptying things.
  16. Protect your new carpets by putting down cardboard or linoleum in the main walkways e.g. around your front door. Otherwise, everything will get grubby, fast.
  17. Get your electricity, heating, water and broadband services connected up before you arrive. Some countries can take over a month between you signing up and them actually connecting you!
  18. Take a flashlight or torch, a blanket and a solar battery charger (if you’re moving locally, get a solar generator and some charging panels) as backup in case your electricity isn’t on when you arrive. I have moved house dozens of times and I have almost never arrived to find the electricity is working immediately.
  19. Check the car licensing restrictions before moving your car. You may have to swap your licence for a local one, and you will almost certainly need to re-register your car, and you may have to do this within a fixed time. In China, if you want to drive, you’ll need to apply for a driving test and pass it.
  20. If you don’t have curtains, yet, you can get some privacy by draping towels or sheets over the curtain rails, or if you have the right kind of windows, you can jam the top of a bedsheet in there and cover the windowpane with it. If none of these apply, get some liquid Windolene (not the spray stuff) and put a thick layer over your windows with a cloth. People used to do this all the time back in the 80s and 90s.

Moving abroad is pretty stressful, but try to focus on the end point – living in your exciting new country! And share your best tips in the comments!

Driving to the edge of Russia: How far can you go?

This route-planning article looks at how to overland to the edge of Russia. It picks up where we left off with How to Get from Russia to Alaska Across the Bering Strait. There’s a lot of info in there that will be useful for anyone trying to overland to the edge of Russia.

Since I wrote the Russia to Alaska article four years ago, things have changed in Russia. In four years, they have invested in some construction. It looks like they are embarking on a road-building project which, while it doesn’t quite rival China’s construction speed, is still a lot faster than anything you would see in the West in recent years.

The geography is new and exciting!

When I wrote the original article about this side of the world, there was no complete information about any of it, only rumours. The only thing everyone agreed on was that the road ran out at Magadan, and after that, there were just isolated cities surrounded by untameable wilderness.

There were reports of people hiking the 800 miles from Magadan to the Bering Strait (it’s actually 1200 miles left to right, not including any up and down you might need to do, so there’s about 1500-ish miles between Magadan and the Bering Strait), and someone attempted to do it on a dirt bike but it got too damaged by fallen trees etc in the thick forests. No one seemed to have had much success, or where they had, they hadn’t talked about it or explained how to do it.

In 2016, Google Maps wouldn’t even accept one of the parts of the journey, Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky Airport, as a real place. That’s changed, now. I like to think it was down to the popularity of my original article but it’s more likely to be that Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky has been given some updates recently. There’s even some Street View of it on Google Maps. God knows how they got a Google Car Camera out there but if the person who drove it wants to guest post about the experience, please email me!

And most importantly, there are now approximately 500km more roads on that side of Russia. Progress is slowly making its way over there. Where before the road ended at Magadan, you can now travel as far as Omsukchan using Google Maps! See the route, below (this is a static image, not an embed):

The astute reader will notice you are still over 500km away from the Bering Sea.

Personally, I don’t think you’ve crossed Russia to its edge until you’ve reached the Bering Sea.

The good thing about this journey, and the difference between this and my other article on driving across Russia, is that you don’t actually need to get to the Bering Strait itself to have crossed Russia. There are many endpoints to this journey. Unfortunately, all of them are currently impossible.

So Google Maps only knows about roads as far as Omsukchan, but I have a hunch the roads now go further than Google knows. I think this because I used to live in China and I know Google’s mapping isn’t always updated even after they take new satellite images. So, how much further can you travel?

The Google Satellite images are from 2020, from NASA. I studied aerial photography and how to read aerial photographs as part of my master’s degree in Archaeological Information Systems. So I decided to read the images and attempt to learn how far I could really go, drawing a map over the raw satellite image.

The answer was not good, I am sorry to say. The road really does seem to run out at Omsukchan. However, there may still be a way to get across. Next, I looked at the deep river lines. I was primarily interested in whether it would be possible to take a kayak, perhaps with some portage (carrying it overland). I have kayaked before and feel confident with it if the conditions are safe.

The closest big river to Omsukchan is the Kolyma River, which transects Russia north to south. One of its tributaries is the Reka Sugoy. What I first needed to establish was which direction the river flowed in. For this, I followed the river from Omsukchan in both directions to find out how it changed.

Usually, an easier way to find out the direction of a river on a map is to look at the elevation. They always flow high to low. Unfortunately, Google and NASA’s satellite images hadn’t got any elevation info. I didn’t have that information, but I could see where other rivers joined it, and it became clear the Kolyma River (and by default the Reka Sugoy) were flowing East to North West.

So to use them to travel from Omsukchan, one would be paddling against the stream the entire time. Not ideal. But if the river was wide enough, a small motorboat could do it.

Unfortunately, however, the elevation will be the downfall of this idea, because the Reka Sugoy moves into the mountains as it goes east. So it will become considerably narrower at some point, while depositing me in a high-altitude mountainous region about 20km east and 50km south of Omsukchan.

Back to the drawing board.

So the only way I can think of to get to the Bering Sea, without taking a commercial flight, would be to take a microlight, which is a type of engine-powered small aircraft. You need a microlight pilot’s licence to fly one, but you can get a type called a “powered parachute” whose top speed is 45mph which folds quite small, and could fit in the back of a van or on a trailer.

However, you would have to get a microlight licence valid in Russia to fly across the country, and they are not easy to come by.

At this point, it becomes clear that it’s actually easier to fly to Alaska than to overland to the end of Russia!

But why are there no roads? Basically, several reasons. The official reason is, there are indigenous tribes and the area in the far East of Russia is a nature reserve whose beauty needs to be preserved.

This is, of course, true.

What is also true is, Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky is across a 5km bay from Rybachiy, where Russia keeps a lot of its nuclear submarines. This area is still used by the Russian Navy, and presumably, the towns on the peninsula all get their supplies delivered by boat.

There are many, many towns in the East of Russia just like Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky. No roads, cut off from civilisation. Largely, without a map or a road, this journey currently ends at Omsukchan.

However, Omsukchan is an interesting end-point in and of itself. It is 10 miles north of a real ghost town – Galimy – which had a population of 5 at its last census in 2010 (down from 188 in 2002). However… you guessed it. There are no roads to Galimy from Omsukchan.

However, 10 miles shouldn’t be a difficult hike for most intrepid explorers. Except for the mapping issue that there are no maps. According to Google’s satellite images, there is a path/trail between the two towns. However, if you got lost, you would have to either cross some mountains or follow the river bed/stream from Omsukchan to Galimy.

One issue for travellers wishing to cross Russia is the length of time it takes to get there overland compared to the length of time you are allowed to be in the country with a Visa. From my country, I believe 28 days is the longest I could be in Russia. According to Google Maps, it would take 139 hours to drive from Moscow to Omsukchan via the most direct route. If you want to do some actual sight seeing, and plan in stops at cities such as Novosibirsk and Vladivostok (highly recommended) it will take even longer.

When I drove from York to Rome (a tiny journey by comparison) I planned about 8 hours of driving per day. With traffic jams, time to eat etc, that usually meant about 12-14 hours. Magnifying that over a 10,000-mile journey, at 8 driving hours per day, you are looking at 18 days to make the journey without any days off. Travelling via Novosibirsk and Vladivostok adds time, making it a 185-hour journey, or 23 days. That’s assuming nothing goes wrong with your vehicle and that you don’t have to take any weird detours.

This sounds like it would work on a 28 day Visa, but it wouldn’t, because you still have to get back. Unless you are planning on dumping your car and all your stuff in Russia and flying back, á la the Mongol Rally, which is fairly irresponsible because they don’t want your trash.

So you would need to either take a shorter route or find a shipping company to take your car out of Russia for onward travel, and as I’ve pointed out before, this gets expensive quite quickly. You can ship a vehicle to most places from Vladivostok, if you have the money, but for a car you would generally have to pay for a shipping container.

Overall, with the length of time it would take to get from Omsukchan further east to the Bering Sea, I think you would be better to wait a couple more years as I am sure more road-building work will be done soon.

The example of Galimy (which had a population of over 1000 in 1989) shows that Russia’s central administration knows they need to give the people in East Russia access to the rest of the world, and that means building roads.

In another four years, there might be a road all the way to Manily, and four years after that? Surely there will be a road that finally reaches the Bering Sea and bringing much-needed transport to this side of the world.

How to travel with cosmetics: Complete guide

This guide to travelling with beauty products is going to cover every different type of travel, including taking cosmetics on airplanes (carry on only and checked luggage, domestic and international), high altitude travel with cosmetics, including mountaineering, and protecting cosmetics from extremes of temperature, especially during overland travel with beauty products or flights to/from hot countries.

My cosmetics go nearly everywhere I go, and you’d expect nothing less since I’m a travel and beauty blogger. I’ve had to make up my own solutions to some of my travel-with-cosmetics problems because the hacks most people came up with only work for very specific situations. I’m in the process of writing a separate article on how to decant literally every cosmetic, and will update this article with links when that one is done.

This article contains:

Carry-on beauty hacks for travelling light.

Checked luggage beauty hacks to protect your cosmetics (and your other stuff).

How temperature and altitude affect cosmetics: Read before going ANYWHERE (especially overland)!

Carry-on beauty travel hacks:

When you’re travelling with only a carry-on, your cosmetics need to be as pared down as possible. I know when I pack for a longer getaway, I’m always in a dilemma because I want to travel light but my cosmetics case could easily fill half a normal-sized suitcase, never mind a little carry-on bag.

All airlines worldwide have limits on how much liquid you can take onto planes these days, which makes it even more complicated for women to travel and look their best.

Here’s how to pack cosmetics for 7 days with a carry-on:

  1. Shampoo: Instead of a bottle of shampoo, take a shampoo bar. You could make your own, using one of my recipes such as my green tea shampoo bar, or buy a ready-made one. When you only have one sandwich bag at the airport in which to put all your liquid cosmetics, a bar makes sense.
  2. Conditioner: Another unnecessary liquid. The way I see it, there are three ways to solve the conditioner issue. Either buy some when you land (potluck as to whether you’ll find any as soon as you need it, so not great if you’re going long-haul), make your own conditioner bar such as my easy natural hair conditioner bar recipe, or forego the conditioner completely and use coconut oil instead.
  3. Deodorant: Take a deodorant bar. The only good one I’ve found (ever) is the Lush Aromaco bar which is unisex and actually works as advertised, unlike most natural deodorants. Unfortunately, I don’t have a homemade alternative yet.
  4. Toothpaste: If you can get to a dentist before you travel, they almost always have free samples from toothpaste companies, and these are perfect for travel. If not, a full-size tube will use up your liquids allowance, but you may have to suck it up or buy a new tube when you land. No one wants dirty teeth.
  5. Lotion: If you’re staying in a hotel, you’ll usually get a new tube of this every day. If not, my conditioner bar, above, doubles up as an intensive on-the-spot treatment for very dry skin (use sparingly).
  6. Face cream: If you’re going to South Korea, absolutely under no circumstances take face cream. They have face cream. And it’s better than anything you have at home. Otherwise, decant your face cream into a smaller pot such as a mayonnaise pot (these tend to leak less than the cheaper “travel cosmetics bottles”) or a miniature jam jar. Remember to label it.
  7. Sunscreen: Take a travel mini if your face cream doesn’t contain an SPF. You can also make powder sunscreen using zinc oxide but it’s not suitable for dry skin like mine.
  8. Foundation: Take a cushion or a powder foundation, or boldly go natural with no foundation. A cushion with a high SPF is great for hotter countries.
  9. Eyeshadow: An eyeshadow pencil is your best option so you don’t have to worry about powder breakage on the flight or use up that precious liquid allowance!
  10. Eyeliner: Is very small, so unless you’re seriously pressed for space, just take liquid eyeliner if that’s your go-to, and put it in the baggie at security. Otherwise, an eye pencil can double up as a brow pencil if you choose your shade wisely and take a makeup pencil sharpener.
  11. Highlighter and contouring kit: Ditch. Not worth the extra space in your makeup bag. If you want to contour, very lightly apply your brown eyeliner or eyeshadow pencil to the areas you need to contour and blend, blend, blend until it’s looking natural. White eyeshadow or concealer doubles up as highlighter if needed.
  12. Lipstick: These are often classed as liquids. I prefer a tinting balm with an SPF unless I have a very formal occasion or a cosplay to attend.
  13. Mascara: Get a miniature sample of your favorite mascara either from a store like Bloomingdale’s or from Amazon. It takes up way less space than a big chunky plastic mascara tube. I prefer waterproof brown mascara for travel, and I pair it with Mascara Melt-Off by Too Faced.
  14. Perfume: If you can’t get a travel miniature, just leave it at home. It will only attract unwanted stray men.
  15. Blusher: I use the Benefit Do the Hoola miniature.
  16. Pore strips: If you’re prone to blackheads, especially if you’re traveling to a hot country, take some Bioré pore strips.
  17. Concealer, if you use it. The Urban Decay ultimate holy grail concealer travels REALLY well and covers up tattoos (ideal for travel to Japan).

And here’s what you don’t need when travelling with a carry-on:

Spray Deodorant: Buy this when you land. A big spray bottle will use up your liquids allowance with carry-on luggage.

Dry shampoo: It’s actually really bad for your hair and unless you’re going for an interview when you land you could just shower, instead.

Setting spray: Seems useful, but if you’re in a situation where your makeup won’t stay put, consider whether you need it on your face or not. In the sort of heat that makes makeup migrate down your face, your pores are open, leaving you undefended against blackheads and spots.

Lip plumper/lash growth serum/false lashes: I love all of these, but unless you’re travelling for a big event, you can live without them for a week.

Hair spray/mousse: Use coconut oil (or a small amount of my homemade conditioner bar applied to dry hair) instead to fix flyaways.

Checked baggage beauty hacks

The first time I travelled with a checked bag, we were moving to China. I stared at my open suitcase thinking I could take anything at all and it would all fit in this ginormous case.

Unfortunately, I soon learned that wasn’t true. I also didn’t know about excess baggage, so I thought I could only take this one case and a carry-on. In case anyone else has never been on a long-haul flight, you just pay for more suitcases and it’s not an abominable amount (about $80-ish with the US airlines; about half that in China).

On the plus side, I’m not a huge fan of traveling with tons of bags and, if you’re a solo female traveller (or a lone female heavily-pregnant traveller, as I was on one infamous long-haul flight from China to Helsinki to Heathrow), you will absolutely want as little crap to carry as possible because you will have to lift your bags at various points.

  • Take all cosmetics out of their boxes/packaging. If you’re Youtubing, film the unboxing video before you pack! Remember to keep any applicators/spare parts and photograph any instructions in case you need them later.
  • Decant unwieldy products into smaller, lighter containers.
  • To avoid leaks, wrap any cosmetics in cling film/saran wrap and put them in a waterproof cosmetics bag before putting them in a checked bag. Especially ampoule type sleeping packs!
  • To minimize damage, keep powder cosmetics and any container that won’t easily wipe clean in a separate waterproof cosmetics bag to your liquid cosmetics! Store these in another part of your case.
  • Put anything like books, electricals, clothes that may stain, etc, in packing cubes or supermarket bags to protect from cosmetics or food leaks. The supermarket bags can then be used to go food shopping when you reach your destination! I had a carton of wine explode in my suitcase once because I packed it wrong on a 17 hour flight, and the mess was not pretty! I was gutted because it was the nicest wine I ever tasted, too (a Californian Pinot Noir, if you’re curious).
  • Protect your cosmetics from damage in checked luggage by wrapping them in (bagged) clothes, so if your bags are dropped or crushed, your cosmetics are safe.

How heat affects cosmetics during travel

The issue with taking cosmetics in checked bags isn’t so much space, but whether the conditions your bag will be in are safe for cosmetics. For example, at Dubai Airport, temperatures can regularly hit 45 degrees celsius, sometimes reaching higher, and while your bag is on the tarmac waiting to be loaded onto a plane, things could melt.

Most cosmetics are intended to be kept between 10-25 degrees celsius, so any major divergence from this could cause the active ingredients in anti-ageing creams to become… well… inactive. Essential oils also have problems when they get too warm.

Collagen in our bodies degrades even in average room temperature, although in cosmetics it’s safe to about 45 degrees celsius (120F to be precise) when collagen breakdown’s reaction rate increases [reference] to the point where it can be broken down within about 6 hours.

Hyaluronic acid is even more susceptible to heat damage – just 30 minutes at 50 degrees celsius causes 81% of the hyaluronic acid in a product to break down [reference – PDF download of research paper]. This actually happened to me when I took my By Nature New Zealand eye cream on a long round the world trip including Kathmandu, Dubai, Istanbul and Athens in the August heat during the 2018 European wildfires. By the time I got back to China, the creams were no longer effective and when I looked into the science, I found out it must have been all the airports where my bag sat waiting to be loaded onto/unloaded from planes. Anything with hyaluronic acid should say home or go in your carry on.

Peptides like Matrixyl are the most resilient to heat exposure. Even at temperatures of 100 degrees C, they won’t break down! [reference]. Peptide creams with no other active ingredients can go in your checked bags with no problems!

Vitamins fare even worse! Vitamin C breaks down from 30 degrees C (86F) [reference]. That same reference states pro-vitamin B5 (pantothenic acid), found in many haircare products, is also very heat sensitive.

Vitamin A (a retinoid that converts to retinol) is partly affected, too – after 3 months at 45 degrees C it degrades by about 30% [reference], which isn’t an issue for anyone in transit, but will be a consideration for archaeologists and aid workers, and anyone else camping out in warm climates for prolonged periods who uses retinol cream. On your return to a cooler country, you may need to replace retinol-containing cosmetics. The same reference shows Vitamin A also loses 10% of its potency when stored at 13.5 degrees C for 3 months, up to 34% loss of potency after 9 months.

On the other hand, most other cosmetics can stand to be frozen – in fact, they will often reach freezing temperatures during transport. When I worked for Avon (cosmetics company) my deliveries would regularly arrive frozen.

The main exception to this is Coenzyme Q10, aka Q10, a well-known anti-ageing ingredient which is actually very difficult for your body to absorb. It won’t absorb properly if it’s anything other than body temperature and at low temperatures, it forms crystals and becomes ineffective. In fact, it’s less effective at any temperature below 48 celsius (10 degrees hotter than body temperature), although this is likely to be a temporary effect that will go away when the cream is warmer [reference].

So using this science, we can see that most anti-ageing creams need to be carefully packed in a stable temperature to protect them. For this reason, I reiterate they must be taken to hot countries as carry-on luggage to maintain their effectiveness.

Anything containing Q10 or retinol also needs to be in your carry on when travelling to or from very cold countries. Anti-ageing creams are usually expensive and packaged in bulky or heavy containers so I recommend leaving the container at home and decanting your product into a smaller jar with enough for your trip.

How does altitude affect cosmetics?

There was very little published research about the effect of temperature, I had to cross apply studies on food or other biological applications of certain ingredients, and there’s even less work done on altitude.

Kinetic theory tells us you can increase the effectiveness of any chemical reaction by increasing temperature or pressure (or both) of a reactant. This is why products break down in heat.

But this means they will also break down under very high pressure (e.g. when diving, but who takes their cosmetics SCUBA diving?) and that low pressure (e.g. at high altitude, on mountains or high cities like Lhasa, Kathmandu, or most parts of Peru and other areas in South America) will usually make things less reactive. Except for one issue…

The boiling point of water is lower at altitude. All other liquids are affected in a similar way. This means the temperature at which ingredients will denature will also be lower at altitude (the pressurised cabin of an aircraft doesn’t count here).

Most high-altitude areas are quite cold, but some, such as Kathmandu, can get hot at certain times of the year, so don’t leave your cosmetics on windowledges or anywhere without air con. This is especially true of Lhasa, which is over 3600m above sea level (that’s 11,800 feet).

Cosmetics also have a bad habit (due to the low-pressure environment) of working their way out of jars at high altitude. This is more likely in the low pressure cargo hold of some planes rather than on land but if you’re doing Everest, the last thing you need is to faff with cosmetics (my recommendation for cosmetics to take up a big mountain like Everest or K2? Just SPF 50 sunscreen, chapstick with an SPF or coconut oil, and some soap for hygiene).

If you’re overlanding, you might not even know you’ve reached high altitude, so pack your cosmetics well and don’t take any big expensive ones, just in case they get ruined.

Humidity

Humidity is another consideration for travelling with cosmetics. Powder cosmetics suffer most from this. They can go hard and difficult to get onto an applicator or brush, or they can even dissolve. You could keep powder cosmetics in a makeup bag with a sachet or two of silica gel to protect them. Keep silica gel away from babies and pets.

Humidity will also affect electricals. Beauty devices are more robust than a lot of devices, however, so are unlikely to stop working unless they actually get wet (aka 100% humidity).

If your bags are likely to get wet, e.g. travelling in a rainstorm or typhoon, put beauty devices in a plastic bag and surround them with clothes to absorb any potential liquid. Also keep them well away from any part of the zippers as these are the weak point in most bags and suitcases, where water is most likely to get in.

In a campervan or other long overland adventure, humidity is the biggest danger to your cosmetics because you’re breathing in your vehicle and causing the air to become saturated with water vapour. This becomes very problematic at night (you’ll see the windows steam up from it).

You can get a non-electric dehumidifier which uses crystals, they’re available at most bargain stores like Home Bargains (UK) or Dollar Tree (US). It could be worth taking one of these with you and putting it somewhere where it won’t get knocked over (they get messy and then they cause more issues than they solve because the crystals are toxic). Keep these well away from children or pets.

Conclusion

So there you have it, the science behind exactly how to pack to take the best care of your cosmetics while travelling, which cosmetics travel well and which ones you can do without! Some cosmetics are seriously expensive, so if in doubt about whether you can safely pack them, leave them at home (especially if they’ve been discontinued and are therefore irreplaceable).

Why I got rid of my silver hair

If you’d asked me in October 2018 whether I would ever stop dying my hair silver, I would have replied with a resounding no. I’ve written so many tutorials and made so many videos about how to dye your hair silver and how to get white hair that I think I spent about 1/3 of 2015 just teaching other people how to get silver hair at a time when no one else was doing it.

I explained the science, how to get your hair to a point where you can bleach it, and what to do if you accidentally over-bleach your hair (I’ve achieved that at least twice, haha. This was before protein filler was perfected. Hair grows).

I still have dreams where my hair is that beautiful color, then I awaken and see myself in the mirror. Dark hair. Washed-out face. Different. Older.

I still think silver, white and white blonde hair are the three most stunning colours you can dye your hair. The next most stunning? Purple.

In October 2018, I took about 3 bottles of Renbow Crazy Color Platinum, 2 bottles of Crazy Color Lilac and a medium bottle of silver shampoo and another of conditioner back to China with me in my suitcase, along with other western staples I just don’t like living without (coco pops, decaf coffee). They got through New York JFK airport no problem, and I couldn’t foresee a time when I would stop coloring.

Fast forward to December 2018, when I was stuck in the bathroom in our apartment in Malaysia, just being sick constantly. Pharmacy. Test. Positive. The most exciting day of our lives up to that point (it was about to get a lot more exciting). We had seen half of the world, flown over Everest, learned to cook in Cambodia and driven to Rome from York in our homemade Citroen Picasso campervan. It all paled in comparison to this. We were about to embark on the biggest adventure of our lives.

After years of trying and heart-wrenching disappointment, our baby was finally on the way.

We had four miscarriages before now, including two in England, one in Nepal and one in China. I was not going to take any chances on anything at all. I occasionally had wine before now, but when we got that positive test, I stopped drinking. I wore socks in my sandals which is the Chinese way. I wore nothing tight around my waist and didn’t even wear a bra for 7 months. I slept on my side. No coffee or tea. Vegetables. Vitamins. I wanted that baby to have everything.

This pregnancy was kind to me, especially contrasted with my first pregnancy, where I’d had hyperemesis and ended up in hospital on IV fluids. And finally, when the baby arrived, I thought I’d start doing all the things I’d done before.

I didn’t.

See, there’s this thing called breastfeeding, and it turns out, you’re not allowed to do anything while you’re breastfeeding. Except make cosmetics with excess milk. So I left my hair alone. And left it. And left it. Eventually, I had this block of white which was around my collarbone, and lots of dark hair further up. In February, I got most of it cut off, and the rest went in July, so now all my hair is brown.

I’m still breastfeeding. Jellyfish is 15 months old and I will keep giving him boobie milk as long as he wants it. I could probably dye my hair again with no major problems, but honestly, at the moment, I don’t have any interest in doing it. White hair is ultra-high maintenance. Silver hair is labour-intensive, too. I don’t want to spend so much time on it. I thought about (gasp) getting it done at a hairdresser but they’re all a) closed and b) always tell me not to have silver hair which leaves me frustrated at wasting money on a hair colour I don’t want.

There’s a box of Schwarzkopf silver permanent dye in the bathroom. It’s been there since last August, when I bought it without thinking. Every time I go in there, the girl on the box stares at me, her gaze penetrating into my soul and calling to me, like Poe’s raven. Nevermore. Nevermore. Nevermore.

And like the raven, my hair will be silver again… nevermore.

Okay that was way too serious. It’ll probably get attacked with bleach in a year or two. IDK. I don’t want to say never but I’m not feeling a full-color whiteout right now.

How about you? Have you stopped coloring your hair? Started? Let me know in the comments!

How to access your Gmail emails from China without a VPN and 7 other solutions

This article will cover how to read your emails without a VPN, even if you use Gmail, and 7 other solutions to internet access problems caused by the Great Firewall of China.

What is the Great Firewall?

Basically, China has some concerns about the data security of specific western companies and they have blanket banned their services. This includes all Google services, not just Google search, so Maps, Gmail, Google Drive, Scholar and Google Books are all affected.

You might be forgiven for thinking that no one in China uses the internet, or that it’s a bleak, pared-down service with no real value to anyone. Google is EVERYTHING, right? Uh… no.

People in China use the internet like 24/7, and they do pretty much everything on there. More things than you. I’m pretty sure they’d use the internet to sleep if there was an app for it. The internet in China is thriving, and you can use it, too, you just have to know what to do instead of what you’re accustomed to.

If you have an iPhone, you can use Apple’s in-house programs instead of Google services.

If you have Google’s Maps app on your phone or tablet, the app will still work (ish) but it will be horribly inaccurate because it doesn’t know where anything in China is, streetview doesn’t work, and half the addresses are written in Chinese characters instead of English, so don’t use Google Maps in China anyway.

So anyway, there’s this firewall, and you’ve heard the answer is a VPN (virtual private network… you basically lie to the internet and tell it you’re somewhere else). You’re about to go to China and you are wondering about buying a VPN? STOP! Ask if you really need it. If you’re only going for a short trip, you likely will be about to waste £100!

Lots of rich-kid travel bloggers will tell you that you need a VPN to use the internet in China but it’s just not true. And actually, it can cause more problems than it solves.

Here’s the main reasons people think they need a VPN to visit China:

  • Gmail
  • Google Search
  • Google Maps
  • Google Drive and Dropbox
  • Google Translate
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • To access news sites and anything using AdSense or Analytics
  • YouTube

This article is going to cover how to set up your stuff so you won’t need a VPN for most purposes. It’s for people who are only going to be in China for a week or two.

If you’re going as an expat, a VPN makes more sense because these workarounds are not long-term solutions, but as a tourist, why waste £100 on a year’s subscription to something you’ll never use after you get back from China?

How to get at your Gmail emails in China (do this before you go):

The biggest reason you might seriously need to use non-Chinese internet is to access important messages in your email inbox. Many things in the West are done via email these days so not being able to communicate with people is an abject nuisance, especially if you’re a digital nomad running a business.

Here’s how to read your emails and and stay in touch with your contacts while you’re on holiday in China:

  1. Go to Mail.com (that’s a different website to Gmail.com – note there’s no G at the start because it’s not a Google site). Set up a free account. It’s fairly basic and their popups are really annoying but they have one huge advantage for tourists in China trying to read their email, which is that mail.com is not banned in China.

    You could also use Yahoo Mail (the search engine is banned but not the email, so bookmark a direct link), or if you have a self-hosted website or a work email, you could set up Outlook, Mac Mail or Thunderbird (but these are complicated for getting at web-based mail).
  2. Go to your Gmail account and go to “settings” (the cog). Click “go to all settings” near the top of the menu. In the tabs across the top (grey and hard to spot, see my screenshot), go to “forwarding and POP/IMAP” and check “forward a copy of incoming mail to:”
  3. Click “add a forwarding address.” Type your new mail.com email address into the box here and check “keep Gmail’s copy in the inbox” so you have a record of all your emails in case you need them later. Ignore all the rest and click “save changes”.
  4. Go back to your Mail.com account and confirm the forwarding request. If you don’t do this, the whole thing doesn’t work.
  5. Go to China and read your emails. It’s that simple!

What to use instead of Google Search in China?

http://bing.com

http://baidu.com

These work fine. Bing throws up more results in English. Take your pick.

What to use instead of Google Maps in China?

A mapping app is something we’ve all come to rely on to help us find our way around. Sure, you could buy a paper map, but it won’t tell you shop opening times or give you a company website when you click on it.

However, there are LOADS of alternatives to Google maps which work in China. Here I’ll review all of them along with discussing the problem most of them share:

1. Bing Maps.

This is basically the best mapping app for China.
Pros: The road names are all in English so you can read them. It shows the public transport lines really clearly, like WAY better than Google which absolutely isn’t geared up to showing you public transport very well. It gives you details about things on the map such as their website and opening hours, where these have been added to Bing. It works in your browser so even on a Mac you can use this Microsoft app. There’s also a downloadable Bing Maps app for your phone!
Cons: None. I am not a fan of Bing search engine but their mapping app is really good.
Find it: https://www.bing.com/maps

2. Apple Maps.

Misses out on the top spot because it only works on Apple products and there’s no browser option.
Pros: Works on your iphone, ipad or Mac. You don’t need to remember a URL to get a map. Has more up-to-date China maps than Google.
Cons: Doesn’t work on non-Apple products and you can’t use it in a browser.
Find it: On your Apple products.

3. Here We Go.

This works in your browser or as an app, across a range of products. I saw reviews which said it only worked on Windows, Android or iOS but I tested it on my MacBook Pro and I can safely say it also works on Macs.
Pros: Works on all platforms and there’s a browser mode. Great for getting from A to B when you know where you are and where you are going.
Cons: No business listings, destinations or places of interest, it only works with addresses you already know, so it’s not great for getting travel inspiration or mapping to somewhere by place name rather than street address. Very simple in terms of features shown, e.g. there’s no green to show parks.
Find it: https://wego.here.com/

4. Maps.Me

This is a mapping app that claims to work offline and be a great friend to travellers.
Pros: Works offline (if you downloaded the map)
Cons: Doesn’t work on laptops, you can only run it on iOS or Android. No good for late-night laptop research for tomorrow’s itinerary. Am I the only one who does this?

The one problem all mapping apps share when you’re in China:

Street names are shown in Chinese characters or Western translations, both of which are, of course, useless for people who aren’t bilingual. Pinyin of the Mandarin street names written out in full would have been a better choice for readability and would also help with conveying addresses to taxi drivers (many of whom can’t read Chinese characters either).

If app developers are looking to update their maps with a major improvement, things like the screenshot below (from the English-language version of Apple maps) are basically useless when trying to get around in China. Instead of Fengcheng 1 Rd, it would be 1000% more useful to see “Fengcheng Yi Luo” written out in Pinyin, so travellers to China can read this out loud to taxi drivers, and those Chinese characters are hopeless, too.

Maps Conclusion:

Bing maps, y’all. It’s the best of the lot for getting around in China.

How to access Google Drive or Dropbox in China without a VPN:

You basically can’t. Sorry. The best workaround is to back up your files onto an external hard drive and use that, instead. Large-scale file sharing is a non-starter in China.

How to translate things in realtime in China:

Google Translate is very useful when you want to paste some text into a box and see some English. However, it is banned in China, which is a country where few people speak English.

Instead of using Google Translate in China, locals use a phone app called WeChat, which includes a translation option. You can either translate text, if someone sends you a message in Chinese, or you can use the phone’s picture scanner to translate Chinese into English.

Go to “options” “QR code scanner” then on the QR code scanner, press the “translate” button to toggle between QR scanner and translation. This will take a picture of the thing you want to understand, and it will translate it for you. Be sure to snap a screenshot if you need to keep the translation, as WeChat doesn’t save the translations for you.

You can also use a translation app but I have tried about 6 and none of them (even the expensive ones) were useful for China if I’m honest, so I have nothing else to recommend.

If you want an app to help you actually learn Chinese instead of translating, get Duolingo.

How to use Facebook in China (and Twitter) without a VPN

The only way to use Facebook in China is by using a VPN. And you can’t use a VPN on mobile data. BUT you can stay on top of your notifications by being clever.

Go to Facebook and look at your email settings. Get it to email you notifications for everything that happens on your Facebook. If you set your email up (first section, above), these notifications will be forwarded to your Mail.com and you can see who has liked your cat photo. This also works for Twitter. Who knew those crazy emails every 2 seconds, like, “Bob Smith liked your post!” were actually useful for something?

How to read western news in China without a VPN

A lot of western news sites are blocked in China. Without saying too much, this is usually because they’ve been identified as having an anti-China bias. To make it even more annoying, paranoid webmasters in western countries block Chinese IP addresses for no good reason.

You can still get western news however. Your local hometown newspaper is very unlikely to be affected by this, because when was the last time the Springfield Gazette ran an article on China?

Bookmark your local hometown news site. If you’re from a big city like LA, Washington DC or New York, you might be better finding a smaller gazette or chronicle.

Additionally, certain western news sites are not blocked. This list is ever changing but if you bookmark the main sites, you have a good chance of finding one that can keep you abreast. When I last checked, the Independent and the Guardian weren’t blocked, and both cover US news as well as European news, although I suspect it’s only a matter of time before they get banned.

How to get YouTube in China without a VPN

Sorry, YouTube is a Google company, so you basically can’t access YouTube at all without a VPN. If you’re a Youtuber without a VPN in China, stay up to date on your channel notifications by getting them all via email, and save your videos of China to share when you get home.

For non-Youtubers, if you download your favourite videos with a YouTube downloader (my go-to one has just stopped doing free downloads so I no longer have a recommendation for this), you can watch them offline. Otherwise, buy a DVD and external DVD drive to take with you.

Are there any other apps or sites you’re struggling to use in China? Let me know in the comments and I’ll do some looking and update this article for you. 🙂

101 Things To Do In Beijing

This is the definitive long list of 101 things you can do in Beijing and nearby. If you are looking for a more focused set of things to do, check out my articles top 20 things to do in Beijing with kids, 20 best things to do in Beijing, and 14 free things to do in Beijing.

1. Tiananmen and Tiananmen Square – 1 full afternoon along with the Palace Museum and Imperial Ancestral Temple which are part of the same area.

2. Mausoleum of Mao Zedong – Pay your respects to Chairman Mao, next to Tiananmen Square.

3. Zheng yang men City Walls Gatehouse Museum – A gatehouse dating to 1419, with a museum, all situated beside Qianmen underground station, near Mao’s Mausoleum.

4. Beihai Park – behind Tiananmen Square, there is a 1000-year-old park which was formerly the domain of China’s royalty. It has only been open to the public for the last 95 years.

5. Temple of Heaven – The world-famous Temple of Heaven will take 1 very full afternoon to see!

6. Summer palace – The summer palace rivals the Temple of Heaven for beautiful remains of a bygone era. It takes 1 full afternoon to see.

7. China Science and technology museum – A hands-on museum with lots of practical things to touch and explore. 1 full afternoon. Great for kids! http://www.cstm.org.cn/

8. Beijing zoo – A zoo with pandas. 1 full afternoon. Great for kids!

9. Beijing Aquarium – Behind the zoo! Great for kids!

10. Palaeozoological Museum of China – A dinosaur museum behind the zoo! Great for kids!

11. CCTV (China’s state TV) building – A unique building for fans of MC Escher!

12. Chaoyang theatre – If you love live arts, you can see a stunning live performance by China’s acrobats or hear the beautiful opera here!

13. National Centre for the Performing arts – another venue where you can find singers, ballet, theatre and more!

14. Beijing Lama Temple – a beautiful Buddhist temple.

15. Capital museum – A good general museum giving you a sense for China’s history with ancient Chinese statues, porcelain, paintings and artefacts.

16. Central Radio and TV tower – A sky-high tower tourist attraction with revolving restaurant and stunning views of the city.

17. Beijing World Art Museum – A free art museum where you can explore Chinese art and worldwide art. Across the lake from Central Radio and TV tower.

18. Nine Dragon Screen, Wulongting, Kuaixuetang and Qianhai lake – all beside Beihai North Station, beautifully intricate and interesting historic Chinese architecture to look at.

19. National Art Museum of China – an enormous art gallery with work showcasing China’s culture. Free entry.

20. Beijing Museum of Natural history – a natural history museum covering plants, fossils, animals and biology. Free entry (some exhibitions charge).

21. The military museum of the Chinese people’s revolution – if you want to see how China threw off the reins of feudalism and got to where it is today over the past century, this museum is the place to go. You need to book in advance either over the phone or via WeChat.

22. Great Wall of China – this is outside the city. There are two main options here, the touristy Badaling section or the more serene Mutianyu section, where I even got photos of myself on the wall with no one else in the shots!

23. Beijing botanical garden – A beautiful garden with a heavy focus on plants. Best in late spring. Not to be confused with Beijing teaching botanical garden.

24. Beijing Planetarium – Great for kids

25. Happy Valley Beijing – a theme park which is exciting for kids and adults.

26. Beijing international sculpture park – an outdoor sculpture park.

27. The Chinese museum of women and children

28. China national children’s theatre

29. Beijing Shijingshan Juvenile Children Library

30. All Star Stadium Ice Rink, Chaoyang North Road, Chaoyang District. The place to go skating on the east side of the city. Website: http://www.askating.com/

31. Zizhuyuan Park

32. Capital museum – art museum owned by Sotheby’s. Free entry.

33. Beijing capital Times Square

34. Tao Ran Ting Park – down the road from Temple of Heaven

35. Beijing Red Mansion and Grand View Garden – nice garden and museum near a traditional tea house. The garden was used to film the TV series Hongloumeng.

36. Wanshou Park – great for people who only want a short walk, this small park is near Taoranting station.

37. Beijing Traditional Opera Museum – see live performances of traditional opera here!

38. China Numismatic Museum – a museum all about China’s coin history. Great for coin collectors and enthusiasts.

39. Beijing Dashilan – a historic street selling souvenirs with plenty of tea shops to visit.

40. Tianqiao Acrobatic theatre – if you want to see Chinese acrobats, this is the place to be! Across the road from the Natural History Museum.

41. Temple of Agriculture – a traditional Chinese building that’s well worth a gander.

42. Fangzhuang Sports Park – A great place to go for some exercise. Near a Carrefour.

43. Red Theatre – a theatre which displays a kung fu show.

44. Today Art Museum – a museum which has modern art and art of contemporary culture. Group discounts for 30 or more visitors.

45. Temple of the Sun – an ancient temple set in the beautiful Ritan Park.

46. Liyuan theatre – the traditional Peking opera. Great for live performances.

47. Prince Gong Mansion – A mansion from 1777 with beautiful gardens and a museum.

48. Beihai Park – One of several huge parks around the Temple of Heaven area.

49. Jingshan Park – One of several huge parks around the Temple of Heaven area.

50. Mei Lanfang Memorial Hall – a memorial to a great performer, with street food nearby.

50. Rendinghu Park – A park above the north section of the inner ring road.

51. Ditan Park – A small park dedicated to the God of Earth with its own bell tower.

52. Beijing temple of Confucius – a Confucian temple dating to the 14th century, set in beautiful gardens.

53. Traditional Courtyard house – Given that the name is a bit bland, the address for this is 39 Nanguanfang Hutong, Shi Cha Hai, Xicheng District. Well worth seeing, near a shisha bar and the Lotus Market Marina.

54. Lotus Market Marina – You can rent a pedal boat and go across the lake.

55. Beijing Drum and Bell tower – the “proper” drum and bell tower (there are other bell towers around Beijing), built in 1420. Sometimes performers will play replica drums here. As there’s the potential for confusion, the address is 41 Zhonglouwan Hutong, Andingmen, Dongcheng.

56. Fayuan Mosque – To see the Chinese architecture, this is one of a handful of mosques in Beijing.

57. Wangfujing Palaeolithic Museum – If you’re into prehistoric archaeology and have a spare half an hour in the Dongcheng area, stop into Oriental Plaza and pay 10 RMB to look at the little exhibition here.

58. Wenbo Jiaoliuguan – a Ming-dynasty Buddhist monastery.

59. Beijing Folk Museum – a Taoist temple converted into a museum of folk history.

60. Art museum of Beijing Fine Art Academy – A place to see the work of Qi Baishi, the famous watercolor artist who also has a monument at Qi Baishi park in Xiangtan, Hunan Province.

61. Sun Park Beach Theme Park – Entry is 5 RMB. You can hire a golf buggy to drive around the park.

62. Yuanmingyuan Park – Gardens and ruins of the Old Summer Palace dating from 1707.

63. Big Bell Temple – Another bell tower. This one is really large. This has a museum with a lot of smaller bells, too.

64. Miaoying Temple – Buddhist temple. Off-the-beaten-track hidden gem sort of place, well worth a visit. Between Fuchengmen and Xisi stations.

65. Beijing Lu Xun Museum – a museum for the author Lu Xun (Zhou Shuren), with some English translation.

66. Emperor’s Temple of Past Dynasties – A reconstruction of a great temple, this place details the lives, dates and names of every one of China’s emperors – around 200 of them! Great if you’ve got Asperger’s/Autism Spectrum Disorder and your special interest is Chinese emperors.

67. Liulichang – a street of traditional stone buildings for people looking to do something all atmospheric and touristy.

68. Beijing Police Museum – Beijing has had police since the Ming Dynasty. Learn all about them in this beautiful building!

69. National Museum of China – The big one. You may have to queue a long time to get in as it’s the second most-visited museum in the world after the Louvre. Free to see main exhibit. Dress smartly and take an ID card to get in. Book in advance via WeChat during COVID.

70. Huangshicheng – A market where you can get an eyeful of the unique things people eat in China. Not for the faint-hearted. Don’t eat street food here if you are pregnant as diarrhea can cause miscarriage.

71. Oriental Plaza – Beijing’s biggest shopping mall in the city centre. A great place to find shops, restaurants, and modern architecture, as well as a break from the rain.

72. Locomotive square – Out in the northeast of the city, a little square with a real 1945 steam train! Locomotive square holds monthly markets.

73. Beijing World Park – Like America, China loves reconstructing major European landmarks out of poor materials and charging an entry fee. 100RMB to get in. Go if you are nearby, have too much time on your hands and want a cheesy day of kitsch lols.

74. Dabaotai Western Han Dynasty Mausoleum – Very close to Beijing World Park, here you can find the results of an archaeological excavation showing what has been found in Nanchang, south-east China.

75. Beijing automobile museum (Fengtai district) – A museum showing the history of cars in China, a must for the motoring enthusiast.

76. Railway culture park (Daxing district) – A cute park surrounding the subway, ideal for train spotting as there are some live above-ground tracks here.

77. Pagoda of the buddhas of the Ten Directions – A nice example of a Chinese pagoda if you find yourself in Wangsiyingxiang District.

78. Zhengyang bridge – a tall and impressive monument which was part of Beijing’s city wall, found at the end of Qianmen pedestrian street (which also has trolley cars at weekends).

79. Yangwei Hutong Mosque – A mosque near Tiananmen Square with beautiful architecture and a peaceful vibe.

80. Beijing Book Building – the biggest book shop in Beijing, offering a range of books including children’s books, English-language books and new publications. Five floors of books!

81. Financial street plaza – Beijing’s very own Wall Street. Huge, wide roads and tall buildings, you would be forgiven for thinking you were in Manhattan.

82. Deshengmen arrow tower – In the northeast of the city centre, one of the preserved city gates still stands. From outside, you can get the 877 bus to Badaling tourist section of the Great Wall of China.

83. Shénshāhǎi Park – A beautiful park containing 10 temples and 3 big lakes, and featuring walking paths and boat hire.

84. Běijīng guózǐjiān – A park and museum complex in the Andingmen district, this is the site of China’s first university, dating to 1306.

85. Ritan Miniature Golf Course – A crazy golf place just south of the Temple of the Sun.

86. Beijing Ancient Observatory and Museum – Just south-west of Jianguomen station, a museum of astronomy in a former observatory dating back to 1442. Not usually busy.

87. China Resources Building, 8 Jianguomen North Street, Chao Yang Men, Dongcheng, Beijing 100021 – You can’t go inside but it’s one to see if you love modern architecture!

88. Dongsi Mosque, 13 Dongsi South Street, Dongcheng, Beijing – A beautiful historic mosque near Dongsi station.

89. Peking University Red Building, 29 Wusi Street, Dongcheng

90. Xindong’an Broadway Cinema, Wangfujing, Dongcheng. A good cinema with descriptions of films in Chinese and English, so a great way to spend a rainy afternoon. Going to the cinema in China is a real cultural experience.

91. Yuyuantan Park, Yuyuantan South Road, Haidian District – In mid-Spring, this is the place to go to see the pink snowfall of cherry blossom. There’s a whole cherry tree orchard here. Off-the-beaten-track community park, so you’re unlikely to see many tourists, here. Across the road from the Military Museum.

92. Songqingling Children Science and Technology Hall, Yuyuantan South Road, Haidian District – this is another science and technology museum for children. There is play equipment and educational displays. Fab for preschool kids and less busy than the other science and technology museum.

93. Xidan Mobile Square KTV, 9 Tangzi Hutong, Xi Dan, Xicheng District – One of many KTV (karaoke bars) in Beijing, this one serves good food and is near the Book Building, Times Square and Forbidden City in the very centre of Beijing.

94. Beijing Country Golf Club, Shunyi District – If you need some time on the driving range, Beijing Country Golf Club is a great option amongst the dozens of golf courses around Beijing, and it is open to foreigners. Note the lawn isn’t great in late winter/early spring.

95. Century Star Ice Skating Club, Daxing District – On the opposite side of the city to the All Star Ice Stadium, here is another excellent rink where you can skate or get lessons. Website: http://www.centurystar.com.cn/index.html

96. San Cheng Bowling Entertainment, Andingmen Outer Street, Dongcheng – The place to go for top-notch bowling in Beijing.

97. National Tennis Center, 2 Lincui Road, Chaoyang – the former Olympic tennis courts now host the China Open, so this is a great place to see some tennis.

98. Olympic Forest Park, Chaoyang Qu – the Olympic Forest Park (and Olympic North Forest Park) is a ginormous place. My favourite part is the southwestern side near the National Tennis Center, with the lake and Yangshan Mountain. Nearest station: South Gate of Forest Park Station

99. Beijing National Aquatics Center – a magnificent architectural building, this is the best place to go swimming and there’s also a water park. It was originally built for the Olympics. Great for kids!

100. Beijing Niangniang Temple – Next to the aquatics center, this is a peaceful historic spot off the beaten path.

101. Pangu 7 Star Hotel Beijing – Another architectural masterpiece in the Olympic area, this one was designed in the shape of the Olympic torch! Very high-end hotel. The fine dining here (served on Wedgwood, of course) is a must-do for those with a big budget. If you are looking for somewhere to arrange the most opulent and extravagant wedding, function, conference or just a luxurious retreat from everything, this should be your number one destination. If you’re on a budget, you can appreciate the magnificent architecture from the outside and take photos, instead. Website: http://www.panguhotel.com/en/index.html

How to get a China visa if you’ve changed your name

China is famous for its bureaucracy. And when we were looking to move, this highlighted a huge feminist issue with western society. I found that most countries were happy to accept the name on my passport, but China was different. If you’re a woman having issues getting a China visa, maybe my story will help you.

Flash back to 2017. Rainy northeastern England. No skilled job opportunities for people with Polish last names (I had a lot of phone conversations with agencies that went like this: Thanks, but my husband with a PhD actually doesn’t want to work in a warehouse, he’d like to work in his in-demand field, also stop being so surprised I speak English, I was born in South London).

My husband had been offered a job in China, and I’d decided to go along with him. This wasn’t an easy decision because I was finishing my master’s degree and my own career as a writer was taking off exponentially at the time. This was something I didn’t know if I could do in China, because I wouldn’t have a tax identifier (required to earn money from any US company), which was a whole separate saga and which took me to San Francisco the following year to sort it all out.

We went across to the other side of the country to the Chinese Embassy’s visa office in Manchester, which was a day’s expensive travel from where we lived. We had taken all the documents we had been told we would need. Passports, our marriage certificates, and my husband’s qualifications. I was travelling on a spouse visa so wouldn’t need proof of qualification, but I know many women who had the same problem I did with their degree certificates rather than marriage certificate.

We went to the office and took a ticket to wait in the queue. We first were denied our visas because we hadn’t photocopied our visa application forms and they wanted two copies. Then we were sent away. We photocopied our application forms. We took a ticket and queued again.

I was denied my visa this time because our marriage certificate had my maiden name on it and my passport had my married name on it. My husband, because this was a joint application, either had to apply again separately and leave me behind, or we had to find some way of proving I had legally changed my name.

I tried to explain that the marriage certificate should be enough and I pointed to where my old name was and where my new name had come from but they weren’t having any of it.

I actually had done a deed poll when I changed to my married name, because I had double barrelled (put my name then my husband’s name, which is common in Spain and other Latin countries, but not in the UK, so I’d been prepared for all sorts of nonsense), but I didn’t have a copy of the deed poll because no one had ever asked for it before; all the banks, even the passport office, had always accepted my marriage certificate because double-barrelling is actually an acceptable (if unusual) thing to do in the UK after you get married. As long as you take your husband’s name somehow, they don’t care. If you want to really confuse people in the UK, phone the bank and tell them you’ve changed to “Mrs” or “Ms” but that your name is the same as before. Heaven forbid you get used to your identity as a woman.

We didn’t have the time or money to go back across the country to try and dig out this deed poll then return before the office closed, our home was too far away, so we thought we would have to abandon this attempt to get the Chinese visas. We talked about how bad would it be if we separated for the two years and I stayed behind, because I didn’t want to stop him going.

Then, inspiration hit. I found a local newsagent down the road which, despite this being 2017, still had internet access and printing/photocopying for customers to use, and I went online, found an online deed poll, filled in my name and the date we got married, and printed it.

We hurried back to the visa office while the ink was drying. We took a ticket. Waited another 45 minutes to speak to someone. Got to the front of the queue. FINALLY handed over the last document and waited to find out what they would deny the visa for this time.

They approved it.

Relieved, we stepped out into the sun with our Chinese entry visas now glued into our passports. And in that moment, we both looked at each other and with dead certainty said the same thing: This was only the beginning.

As it happened, this was the only time we had a problem like this and this was the hardest piece of bureaucracy the whole time we lived in China. Once we were actually in the country, the visa process worked efficiently.

I did hear of other women having problems where their degree certificates were in their maiden names and their passports were in their married names. Again, I would encourage deed polls to show what went before and what your name is now.

It’s completely rubbish that the situation is like this because only women get stripped of our names, and identities, in western society, for the sake of having a permanent relationship with someone, and we are paying the price here for the patriarchy.

China doesn’t understand this as well as other countries because in China, you don’t change your name when you marry. Your family name as a woman stays the same. You have permanence. You exist as an entity separate from your husband. Whereas in the UK people wonder what’s wrong with you if you don’t take your husband’s name at all. I didn’t especially want to because his name isn’t good and mine was amazing but I felt I had to.

So if you need a visa for China and have changed your name, or if you’re looking to move to China and you’ve changed your name due to marriage, especially if you’ve then divorced and have some documents in both names, I’d suggest making a paper trail to prove it. Get deed polls if you need to, like I did. They are accepted.

Infographic about expats in China: Where they’re from will surprise you.

This infographic shows the number of expats in China, where they are from, what job they do and where they live in China.

This infographic shows the number of expats in China. Even after living in China for two years, I was amazed to find out the majority of expats in China are from South Korea (closely followed by the USA; less surprising).

Why did that surprise me? The two cultures of Chinese and Korean are kept very separate. Almost no Chinese people speak South Korean, and if you mention K-pop, K-beauty or Korean TV shows to young people in China, they scoff and tell you that China is better at all those things (and maybe there’s some chicken-and-egg going on here because the two styles are very, very similar). By contrast, if you don’t look Chinese, most people in China assume you speak English, even if you don’t. I was also surprised about the low percentage of South Americans and South Africans, since I know quite a few of both who live in China.

I was also surprised to find out that most expats in China live along the coastal region (loosely coastal, you still have to travel a couple of hundred miles from the main cities in most of these provinces, but the provinces themselves are the coastal ones). I was surprised that Shaanxi (where Xi’an is) and Sichuan (Chengdu) provinces were not teeming with expats, because these are great places to live and work, and I do know quite a few people who work in these areas.

While I made this infographic, it was less surprising to discover a third of expats living in China work in education, research and translation. China needs highly skilled, degree-educated workers to keep their economy forever growing and moving forward.

Click the infographic to enlarge. Keep scrolling for the graph of countries of origin for expatriates in China.

If you’re thinking of a move to China, follow my blog (right hand menu) to stay updated as I tell you everything I’ve learned about this mysterious and fascinating country in my two years of living there.

And here’s the graph with more of a breakdown of where those expats are all from although this one uses the 2010 data from the Chinese census so new data should be available for 2020 very soon:

pie chart showing country of origin for Chinese expats number of South Koreans in China number of Americans in China number of Indians in China Mama Adventure guide to China infographic