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 the problem all 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 actually learn Chinese, 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

10 things to do in Xi’an, China (and 7 more I wish I’d done)

Xi’an in Shaanxi Province is one of China’s most interesting cities, and a mixing bowl of old-fashioned and modern city life. I’ve been there twice, now, and these are my top 10 things to do in Xi’an! These can be divided into “touristy” things and “local” things, to give you a flavor of some of the more authentic things you can do here.

bell tower xian china mama adventure

Some of these are things you can do in other cities in China, too, but if you’re in Xi’an there are excellent versions of some things they have in other parts of China, as well as the big tourist staples such as the walls and drum and bell towers which is probably what you came to the city to see, along with the Terracotta Army.

1. The drum and bell towers

These are a really spectacular sight right in the centre of Xi’an, so really easy to get to. You probably heard all about them already but if not, here’s what you need to know:
Almost 40m high, the bell tower was built in 1384 in the Ming Dynasty and is one of Xi’an’s most recognizable landmarks. It was originally in a different location, but in 1582, the Shaanxi local government ordered it to be taken apart, piece by piece, and rebuilt exactly as it was but in the place where you can find it today. The bell tower contains several Tang dynasty bells as well as the Jingyun bell.

2. The underground walkways

Beneath the bell tower is the biggest underpass I ever saw. It goes between the metro system, the towers, the shopping malls and the roads. During the Boat Festival, it was so busy, they had police officers doing crowd control! It was literally like being carried along in a tide of people.
You can get to them by taking the Xi’an Metro to the bell tower then following the subterranean passageways to your heart’s content.

3. The Terracotta Army Museum

This is not technically in Xi’an, it’s about a 60 minute taxi ride. It made me feel all cultured and historical. The place is absolutely crammed with Chinese tourists who will elbow, shove and barge through you. It’s glorious! Respect the one way system inside the big buildings full of warriors, and don’t get mad at middle-aged Chinese grandmas when they elbow you in the ribs; they do it to everyone.
You can get here by taking a taxi (use the Didi app if you’re living in China or the Uber app if you’re a tourist, or get your hotel to book you a taxi). There is no train here. When you leave, there are a ton of Chinese taxi drivers waiting to give you a ride home, just have your hotel’s address card handy in Mandarin so they know where to drive you.

4. Walk the historic city walls.

I did this walk on my first trip to China and it was excellent and made me feel all historical and cultured.
This is a fun thing to do if you are not pregnant. You will get fantastic views of the city. Give it a miss if you are 6 or more months pregnant because there are serious steps to get onto the walls and breathlessness, loose joints and swollen ankles in 35 degree July heat is not funny.
There is at least one shop selling drinks up there and you can hire bikes to cycle around if walking isn’t your thing. Just be aware there are a LOT of reckless American tourists going around on their bikes shouting and having no consideration for other people. Don’t be that guy.

xi'an walls mama adventure

5. Go past a hospital.

You will see a fascinating slice of local life as you walk past any of the traditional Chinese medicine hospitals. On the footpaths between the hospital and the city walls, elderly people walk around following rituals. I saw some people walking backwards, while others were thumping themselves or clapping. I’m not entirely sure what they were doing but it was an experience. I didn’t take any photos as it seemed inappropriate. This is a pregnancy-friendly activity.

6. See the light show and artistic features at Starry Street mall.

The malls in China are stunning, and Xi’an has some really beautiful ones.
This one has two parts, a long thin section (which is the official Starry Street mall) and across the way, a ginormous mall, much of which is underground. It has this water mist that gets dropped down from the top of the covered walkway and they project patterns onto it with lights. It’s amazing. And there’s a reading corner, some modern art sculptures, and some really good eateries. Well worth a trip if you’re nearby. There’s also a Godiva if you’re peckish for expensive chocolates and there’s a Bread Talk if you want to enjoy authentic Chinese baked goods from a clean, reputable chain store; I recommend the Hello Kitty cake for utter creamy decadence or the donuts for a taste of really good sugary fluffy deliciousness. Pregnancy-friendly especially for those eating for two!

7. Visit the little amusement park for kids

If you have kids, there’s also a mini amusement park outside that mall, in a pedestrianized area. I’m not sure if that was permanent or whether it was only there when we visited the first time, as there’s so much to see and do in Xi’an, we went to a different part of the city for our second visit.

children's play area xi'an china mama adventure

8. Go to one of the many parks.

I especially liked Xi’an Huancheng Park which is a long thin one running north to south alongside the western walls, the Children’s Park, which is near the Xi’an Children’s hospital complex. The Revolution Park, near West 5th Road, one of the main roads in the city centre. The Daming Palace National Heritage Park is also ginormous and well worth a visit.

9. See the terrarium shop at Ocean Towers mall on FengCheng Second Road.

This is really hard to find because it’s not marked properly on Google but in real life it’s the shopping mall next to the Marriott Xi’an North (which is not where it claims to be on Google maps, but is exactly where it claims on Apple maps, another reason to use Apple maps in Xi’an). Oh, my, goodness, if you can find it, you absolutely have to see the terrarium shop, it sells terraria like nothing you have ever seen before. Basically, some artistic masters have created miniature ecosystems complete with rockeries, waterfalls, bonsai trees, plant life and ponds with tiny living fish in them. If I hadn’t been moving away from China four weeks after my last trip to Xi’an, I would have bought one and had it shipped to our apartment in Changzhou for sure! The children’s bookshop on the top floor of this mall is fabulous, too. Pregnancy-friendly activity.

giant fish terrarium xi'an china mama adventure

10. Grab some street food on Muslim Street… maybe.

This is last on my list for very good reason as I have a controversial opinion on it compared to other westerners. Lately, this has become so touristy, and the food hygiene is not good.

Everyone I know who ate there in the past year was stuck on the loo for days, and you cannot readily get Imodium (loperamide) in Xi’An (although they will sell you creosote tablets at most of the traditional Chinese pharmacies… they were sort of effective, but not as good as Imodium).

Avoid eating anything here if you are pregnant or otherwise delicate of digestion. Severe diarrhea can cause miscarriage.

But do go there to soak up the atmosphere and buy cheap non-food souvenirs in the side streets; even if you’re eighty, this area will make you feel like a twenty-year-old backpacker when you walk down the street.

For excellent and authentic modern Chinese dining, choose one of the fantastic restaurants in a shopping mall instead (I 10/10 recommend the eateries in Starry Street mall), which is how all the locals eat. Don’t make the mistake of thinking because the customers at the stalls in Muslim Street are all Chinese, that they are locals. China is a huge, beautiful country with a lot to see, the Chinese year offers a lot of time off for holidays and hardworking Chinese residents love nothing better than a good staycation.

And a few things I wish I’d had time to see:

  1. The Giant Wild Goose Pagoda
  2. Little Goose Pagoda and Gardens
  3. Tang West Market Museum in Datang Xishi (on Xishi Bei Luo, which on Google maps is half-translated to Xishi North Street).
  4. Shaanxi TV tower, because it looks a lot like the Shanghai pearl tower.
  5. Shaanxi History museum beside the Giant Wild Goose Pagoda.
  6. Tang Paradise Gardens around the corner from the Giant Wild Goose Pagoda.
  7. Qu Jiang Chi Yi Zhi Gong Yuan (aka Quijiang Chi Relic Park), just below Tang Paradise Gardens (see a potential entire travel day you could spend in this area? I got quite bad asthma during my last 3 months in China as I was heavily pregnant and the pollution disagreed with me so I was not up to walking very far and had to miss out on this amazing part of Xi’an on our second visit).

We spent a total of 10 days in Xi’an across two visits, and it wasn’t enough time to even scratch the surface of what this fab city has to offer, and yet we saw very few westerners beyond the main sites, whisked between the big tourist attractions by buses! This is one city that’s crying out for off-the-beaten-track independent exploration adventure travel and like all of China, it’s a very safe city, although some people are very surprised to see westerners walking around because most just go on coach tours and never see the real China! Go there and walk around, taking in the surroundings and seeing what modern Chinese city life is really like.

Have you been to Xi’an? Did you see any of the things on my wish list? Let me know in the comments!

Silence…

Today’s photo isn’t part of any photo challenge, it just reflects how I feel at the moment. I’m feeling quite introverted and I don’t seem to have anything to say to anyone in real life or online. I am struggling with the fact that, on Facebook, the rot has set in quite badly.

What do I mean? Everyone on Facebook has to follow the same set of opinions, you can’t just have one opinion that agrees with other people and two that don’t, or you’re a bad human being and everyone gets angry. You have to be that background noise on Parliament TV where you can here the politicians agreeing with whoever is speaking, and they sound almost like cows mooing. “Yurrrrrrr…”

I don’t agree with everything everyone else says. I am not a mindless zombie. And no one listens to each other anymore so there’s no point even pointing out when I disagree with people because we can’t discuss such things as adults nowadays, they are just sucked into a silent vacuum of passive-aggressive, judgmental arguments left unsaid.

On the plus side, in my personal life things are going better. I have been stably back off my meds for several weeks and my therapist is helping me work through stuff. We’re keeping a pin in the bipolar diagnosis, and the ADHD one, and she suspects I developed post-natal OCD at some point in the past year, which has made everything worse.

https://www.ocduk.org/ocd/ocd-during-prenatal-postnatal/

So for now, I’m sitting in silence a lot of the time and trying to quietly get on with things. The TV is on a continuous loop of nursery rhymes, the baby is always making noises and we live by a busy road with thin windows so every passing car is audiable. But still I am sitting in silence, learning to tune it all out.

My photo is from Nepal. Kathmandu was so noisy and busy, everyone was always going and doing and seeing and selling and moving and begging and eating and… and yet the city has this strange inner silence. Anywhere else, all that busyness would have been a very stressful sensory overload, especially for me, but here, there was a silence woven through everything that made the noise easier to bear. Not words unspoken. Not the silence of death, or inactivity, or thousands of thoughts flitting from one moment to the next.

It is the silence of inner peace.

 

Postcards to my baby: Kathmandu

August 2018

Little one,

In 2015, there was an earthquake that destroyed large parts of Kathmandu, capital city of Nepal. When we visited, they were still rebuilding.

The side-by-side of rich and poor had never been so stark. Beside a luxury boutique hotel, a single wall, three storeys high, was being rebuilt by a dust-covered family when they finished work each night. They moved bricks until 2am, then they went out to work 4 hours later. Dhal Bhat Power, 24 Hour.

One of the best days of my life was spent on a makeshift rooftop terrace above a cafe, drinking Coca Cola with your daddy and watching the world go by, five storeys below. One of the worst days of my life was spent on the bathroom floor, then in a private hospital, where compassionate and efficient doctors gave me the news that I had lost my baby (caused by a very nasty fall in Xi’an, China). You were conceived exactly three months and several rivers of tears later, but the journey began here, for reasons I’ll explain some other time.

Visit Nepal for the food. The momos are crisp, the dhal bhat is smooth, everything is a unique fusion of Chinese and Indian, with extra cilantro (coriander). Visit Nepal for the monuments, breathtaking and almost Tibetan… but not quite. Visit Nepal for the people, so friendly and eager to show you their wonderful country. Visit Nepal for the bargains. Visit Nepal to do yoga and meditation with the masters. Visit Nepal to see Mount Everest (I’ll write you a separate postcard on that one).

But do me a favor, little one. Don’t come home with some cheap, badly-woven “angora wool”. It’s almost certainly ordinary wool woven in China, fluffed up with a hairbrush and imported. If you want stuff like that, go to Shanghai, instead. It’s cheaper. And there’s so many more things to spend time on when you see Kathmandu.

And whatever you do, don’t hire a car. Yes, your license is valid in Nepal. But 70% of the roads have literally no road surface. Leave the driving to the taxis. They will overcharge you. But we will teach you how to haggle before we let you go to Asia.

Mama Adventure xxx

New to this series? Start here.

Postcards to my baby: Pattaya

Christmas Day 2017. Twenty-four degrees celsius, if you can believe it. Blue, cloudless sky, punctuated only by palm trees. The sound of the sea, gently rising up the clean sand, leaving gifts of shells for me to find. The calls of men selling hats, water bottles and street food on long bamboo poles or hand-carts as they amble up and down the beach.

For our Christmas dinner, we went to the Hard Rock Café Pattaya, and had a delicious English-style Christmas dinner complete with turkey, stuffing, roast potatoes, gravy and all the trimmings. After four months in East Asia, it was like coming home, without having to actually go back to England with all its problems.

After we had eaten, a group of twenty or so children arrived and took to the stage, singing Christmas carols they had learned in their English lessons, and their teacher explained how the school had been set up for them. Education is widely seen as the key to ending poverty, and in countries where literacy is low, getting schools built and teachers trained is very important.

I hope by the time you are old enough to see Thailand for yourself, those children are out changing the world and teaching the next generation.

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This is part 2 of my Postcards to my Baby series. Part 1 here. All photos copyright MamaAdventure.