Mountains, Monkeys and Magic: Zhanjiajie, Hunan, Day One.

The 5th of April marked the Tomb Sweeping festival in China, as a result our school here in Sanxiang was closed from the 2nd to the 6thof April (to allow people to travel home and celebrate the festival, which involves visiting ancestors and burning paper offerings for them to enjoy in the afterlife). They call this a holiday in China but it’s not a holiday as we might imagine it back home. In order for the school to be closed for five days during the week it had to be open both the weekend before and the weekend after the festival so that the kids didn’t miss any education time. This means a seven-day work week, a five-day break and then another seven-day work week. As you read this I am at the end of my seven-day long week and, if I’m being honest, it actually passed by pretty quickly, so I can’t complain. Our five-day break was completely jam packed and maybe not the relaxing holiday that some people might choose to sandwich between two long weeks of 9 – 5 work, but it was exactly what we were looking for!

 

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Adventure crew!

 

 

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Ready for take off!

 

Zhangjiajie is home to the sandstone quartz mountain pillars that were the inspiration behind the planet of Pandora in James Cameron’s “Avatar” and to visit it’s national forest park is to feel as if you have truly been transported to another world. As far as the eye can see the pillars extend into the haze of the jungle’s rising mist, from the top of these peaks the bottom of the valley is indistinguishable from the tops of trees that look small enough to be held on one finger. Wrapping your head around the scale of this landscape is not easy, it takes the eyes a while to adjust to just how high up you actually are.

We arrived in Zhangjiajie late on Sunday night/early on Monday morning and after a small confusion with airport pick-ups and check in times we were shown to our rooms for the night. We managed to fit in a couple of hours sleep before being up at nine thirty to begin exploring. The staff at our Hostel were so helpful, organising our tickets and supplying us with a map of the park before we set off in the morning. They told us how to squeeze everything we wanted to do into our short amount of time in Zhangjiajie, where the best viewing spots were and what days were best to do what activities on! The rooms had everything we needed, we chose to stay in the dormitories, and you could order an extra mattress for your bed if you found it to hard (to be honest if you are not used to Chinese mattresses I would recommend doing this when you check in). If you are thinking of heading to Zhangjiajie yourself then I couldn’t recommend them enough and I have linked their website below if you want to check them out!

 

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Hostel bunk.

 

 

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Also, did I mention they had a company dog…?

 

The main park entrance was only a five-minute walk from our Hostel past a busy little street of market stalls and small restaurants. We decided to stop here for some breakfast and to stock up on snacks for the day before heading to the park gate. From there you could catch a bus to just about any spot you wanted to visit in the park. We started our day by catching the cable car to the top of the sandstone quartz peaks and the views from the cable car were absolutely incredible. From here we caught another bus through the mountains to the first viewing point which gave as a panoramic of the mountains with pink blossoms framing the landscape perfectly.

 

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Cable car to the top.

 

 

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Blossoms and mountain views.

 

The next stop was the walk up to Tianbo Mansion which boasts one of the best views of the peaks in the park. The walk totalled about one and a half hours, up and down, including multiple stops for photographs and a break for some spicy tofu in the shade of one of the many food vendors. For the most part this walk was fairly easy, if steep in places, but the last five to ten minutes involved an arrangement of metal ladders that had been welded to the side of one of the stone peaks. It was well worth the climb though with a 360 view of the mountains and forest below them. For a small while we even had the top of the peak to ourselves, a secluded island in a sea of trees and tourists.

 

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Ladder to Tianbo Mansion

 

 

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Practicing using my tripod and voice activated setting on my phone at Tinabo Mansion.

 

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Tianbo Mansion.

 

 

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Spicy Tofu.

 

 

After this I thought “there is no way the views can get better”, turns out I was wrong. The next and final stop for the day was the famous “Avatar Hallelujah Mountains”. This was the longest walk of the day, we had been told we needed three and a half hours to complete it, we did it in two and a half. The walk started much like the others had that day with a collection of souvenir stalls and places to buy food, but it soon faded out into a wash of reds mixed into greens of the trees as we approached “the natural bridge”. Red ribbons with wishes written on them were tied to any free branch, beam or fence post with the belief that a higher power will grant them. With a slight breeze blowing gently around the mountain top and the sunlight dappling the path through the trees as we walked along it, it definitely felt like if a wish was going to come true anywhere, it would be here.

 

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Fence of wishes.

 

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Ribbonsin the wind.

 

 

As we crossed back over “the natural bridge” we saw exactly how it got it’s name and, to be honest, my stomach did a mini flip as I realised what I had just walked over. Two peaks are joined by a thin, in comparison to the peaks themselves, natural walkway of sandstone that crosses above the sheer drop into the forest below.

 

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The Natural Bridge.

 

Rounding the corner we were greeted by the “Avatar Hallelujah Mountain” itself, marked by one of the blue “mountain banshee” creatures from the film waiting to welcome visitors into the area. Not alone on top of the peak, the “mountain banshee” had plenty of company in the form of Macaque monkeys that took advantage of the tourists and their food. They were not afraid of us at all and I even witnessed one dive bomb a man in order to steal his cake, plastic wrap and all (they are to Zhanjiajie what seagulls are to Aberdeen, only maybe slightly cuter).

 

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Avatar Mountain

 

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Cake to crumbs in one minute.

 

 

From this point there was the option to take a cable car down to the bottom of the peaks or to walk down the steep steps into the valley. We chose to do the latter, purely because we didn’t want to pay the 72 yuan it cost to take the cable car. This turned out to be the best decision we could have made because as we began our decent we were treated to the most fantastic view of the day. Dozens of sandstone quartz peaks with forest running through them like rivers of green stretched out before us as far as we could see and we were the only people there to see it!

 

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Walking down to the valley.

 

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Stone pillars as far as you can see.

 

 

It took us about half an hour to get to the bottom of the valley, from which we could finally see the scale of where we had just been. On all sides we were surrounded by stone peaks towering above us like the skyscrapers of London or New York City. A river ran through the valley and we stopped for a while to take in the scenery, fully believing that there was no way we would make the last bus back to the hostel at half six. We followed the river between the peaks and finally in ones and twos started to see other people heading in the same directions, maybe we would make the bus after all.

 

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Walking between the pillars.

 

About ten minutes from the end of the path we came across another group of Macaques, with a lot less people around to distract them from our presence one monkey took quite an interest in us and actually ended up on top of Karin’s head, leaving me with no idea what to do and my bananas were about one hundred meters back in Justin’s back pack. So for about five minutes Karin stood with a monkey on her head while I panicked about it doing a pooh in her hair! Finally the boys caught up and unfortunately I lost a whole bunch on bananas to the Macaques of Zhangjiajie’ National Forest Park.

 

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Karin and her new monkey friend!

 

Traumatising monkey experience over all that was left to do was walk back to the bus and try to process the incredible first day we had just experienced.  We’re still not entirely sure how we managed to do a three and a half hour walk in just two and a half hours but somehow we did and I had the sore feet to prove it!

Trip Info:

  • Zhangjiajie 1982 Chujian International Youth Hostelhttp://www.booking.com/Share-ayycez 135 yuan (£15 for 3 nights)
  • Zhanjiajie National Forest park ticket: 248 yuan (about £27.60) allows entry to the park for 4 days.
  • Cable car ticket: 72 yuan (about £8)

Freshers Flu

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Source: lsesu.tumblr.com

This time last year I was a genuine fresher, I’d hardly drank a drop of alcohol in my life (it was reserved for special occasions *rolls eyes*). I moved into halls and I stocked up on everything I possibly could to prevent myself from catching the dreaded Freshers Flu. I was terrified of being ill for my first proper week of “independent life”. I had been receiving emails daily with valuable tips for surviving in the big bad world of University but nothing scared me more than the one about Freshers Flu.

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Source: http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=Freshers%20flu

The only time I had been badly ill away from home, before I moved to Halls, was when I got the flu in South Africa. That wasn’t even that bad because my in country support worker was a saint who force fed me Lemsip and covered me in blankets to sweat it out of me ( I know, disgusting right, apologies if you are eating just now). This was completely different, if I got ill in Halls I was on my own! So i was overly protective of my immune system, I took a vitamin C tablet every morning with a glass of orange juice, I stocked up on carrots and I made sure I drank plenty of water after nights out to try and avoid hangovers. If I am totally honest I don’t think I have ever taken better care of myself as I did in freshers week, and it worked! I successfully avoided Freshers Flu.

So what in the world happened this time around!?

Source: confessionalprofessionaldramaqueen.blogspot.com
Source: confessionalprofessionaldramaqueen.blogspot.com

Its not that I thought I was immune, god only knows that I catch every cold that is going around, its more that the thought never even crossed my mind! The one thing I was most worried about last year had completely slipped my mind.  I had actually let myself run out of orange juice (I know shocker right), it had been a long time since I even looked at the vitamin section when I went food shopping and I can not remember the last time I bought a carrot… *

I let my guard down, I drank just as much as usual but I forgot that freshers spread germs just by breathing! No offence if you are a fresher…its true though. Next year I vow to be fully stocked up on all cold preventing tools, I will not be ill for my first week back to uni!!

*Don’t worry mum I do eat vegetables, its just I never know what to do with carrots 😛

Quick Life Update (August 2014)

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Usually I have some sort of topic in mind before I start writing a post, not today. I guess an update if kind of a topic but still it leaves a lot to the imagination. This post could be about anything!

Firstly it is about my new flat! I looooove my new flat, it is spacious, it is kind of hipster, it has a garden (I know right, like wow) and when Evie gets back from her Southern Hemisphere adventuring it will be filled with the best people I know. So you could say it is perfect, there is one problem and it is only a little one and since we moved in there have been less and less of them and really when you think about what flat/house doesn’t have them… SPIDERS! and not just little squish it with a shoe type spiders, these things are freaky as anything you can imagine. Still, I loooove my flat!

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Some would say that the spiders are not the only problem (some probably wouldn’t even see them as a problem) but I can’t see any flaws, maybe I refuse to. For people who don’t know Aberdeen very well I feel like I should explain the area that I live in; simply, it’s well dodge! Actually it’s not that bad, it looks bad especially to “Grown-Ups” (even though I am 20 now I still do not class my self as an adult, that is just to weird for me to handle) but really it is probably one of the better areas down by the harbour… By day it is an ordinary alley-way with a warehouse on one side of the flat and a gloomy tunnel to the other side. I won’t say more than that for fear of unwanted visitors discovering the location of my secret base, although if you are reading my blogs then I’m sure you are a lovely person 🙂

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Ok now that you have seen my flat this post is also about my family holiday to Ireland. Wowcha it was warm! Although I am told that we picked a lucky week and usually it rains aallll the time, so pretty much exactly like Scotland then?

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Highlight of the trip for me has to be the Giant’s Causeway. As I told my mum “it is the only reason I actually wanted to come to Ireland we haaave to to go.” So we drove from our rented house in Southern Ireland for over two hours all the way up into Northern Ireland to see it. It was completely worth it! I do wish there had been less people there, they were ruining all my photos *huffy face*.

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Managed to get one with no people 🙂

Thirdly it is about trying disastrously to be healthy. I suck at all things healthy; I eat chocolate non stop, I never do any sort of organised exercise, walking up hill just about kills me and what even are vegetables??

I joined my local Pure Gym, I have been a total of two times, once with my flat mate Leanne to check out the changing rooms and once for my Gym induction so in total I have done zero exercise, but hey I only joined last week. Ok so I know that I am completely failing at the exercise so far but next week I vow to go to the gym and do a work out at least once, hopefully twice because I really need to.

As far as the healthy eating goes, well it goes better actually *achievement unlocked!* Since my boyfriend is staying with me for a little bit, and has been cooking for me (which is awesome because if I’m honest I am so lost in the kitchen without him), I have tried Salmon for the first time in ages. Anyone who knows me will know that I absolutely hate fish, well not anymore! Yeah suck on that taste buds, its called maturity. Other improvements include; eating Granola for breakfast instead of chocolate cereal, I now take no sugar in my tea, my fridge has had actual vegetables in it that I actually bought by myself and I have not bought myself a chocolate bar since I got back from Ireland. RESULT!

 

But seriously though I need to go to the gym like ASAP

 

I hope you enjoyed my little ramble about my life, please come back for more soon

Peace out,

Aileen xx

Wake Me Up When It’s All Over

If you had told me this time last year that I would be sitting here listening to Avicii I would have no idea who you were talking about. My iPod is full of metal and alternative music, because that is what my friends listened to, it’s what boyfriend at the time listened to so it was therefore what I listened to. But Avicii has been the sound track to our first year at RGU.

I am currently taking a break, I’m making my scrap book from a recent study trip I took to Paris. The reason I am taking this break is because the song “Wake Me Up” by Avicii just came on and I realised how much it sums up my experience this year. The song is all about being lost and not knowing where you are going but you know where you are right now. It is about becoming a new person without even really realising it.

This has been a difficult year for me, a lot has changed in my life that I thought was permanent. I have met the most amazing people during my first year of Art School but I have also lost touch with people who I thought I would always have in my life. I have realised who my true friends are, who I can count on and that my mum is always there, even if it is 11 at night.

I felt so lost when I started first year, I thought I had made the biggest mistake of my life coming to uni. I didn’t think I had what it took to make it through (even my lecturer told me that when I started she thought I was a D student, then I got a B for fist semester!). Most people will see that I have changed physically, I have longer hair, I do my make up differently etc. but I am also more confident in myself as a person and in my work, that B definitely helped. There are so many songs out there that sum up an experience, a song that will take you back to a moment from the first note; for example the song “Barbra Streisand” makes me think of my last day of 6th year in the pouring rain run-skipping home with my friends because we never had to set foot in that horrid place again. I hated that song but it was the song that was playing in the common room as the last bell went and everyone was released into the world of higher education, so part of me is fond of it.

I think the reason “Wake Me Up” has only come to my attention now, it has been playing in clubs and parties all year, is because first year is over. I get my results back in just over a week and then I’m free for three months until second year. Everything is about to change again. I am moving out of halls in under a month which is going to be bizarre, the friends that I have made here are all going home and I won’t see them until after summer, one will even be on the other side of the world in New Zealand! I am moving into a new flat with amazing people in July and we can’t wait to make it home, just like we did here at halls.

I’m not saying that I have “found myself” this year, god knows I’m not that deep! But I do know now that the next three years are what will shape me as a person. The friends I have made this year will be there with me learning and growing as well and when it is all over we will be wiser and older and hopefully we will find ourselves amongst the chaos of becoming adults.

How I Made It Through Semester 1

So I am now half way through my first year at Grey’s and so far so good. I passed my first semester with a grade B and I have made life long friends that I honestly don’t know what I would do without.

That doesn’t mean it’s been easy though, the first day I moved into student halls was terrifying. I honestly think I couldn’t be more socially awkward if I tried, not to mention I already knew I was 2 and a bit years older than my youngest flat mate Alison. As it turns, I shouldn’t have worried, I’m one of the lucky ones blessed with a flat full of wonderful people, minus the one who doesn’t speak…

In total there are seven of us in our flat but unfortunately one of our flat mates never did warm up to us and spends most of her time out of the flat or in her room…sometimes we wonder when she eats, or even if she eats. Maybe she is secretly a vampire, but I’m wondering off on a tangent here. Anyway about my flat mates, I don’t even know where to start! So I guess we shall go alphabetically by room letter shall we?

Room A: Evie, I am fortunate enough to be living in a flat with someone on the same course as me which makes life a hell of a lot easier for both of us. Evie was the first person from my flat that I found, thanks to the powers of Facebook, before we moved in. She was just as scared as I was which was a relief and she was also panicking about how on earth she was going to fit all of her clothes into the tiny wardrobes that are provided for us. Lucky there is plenty of floor space which is where her clothes usually end up when preparing for an night out on the town! If you want to know about obscure, folky, irish sounding bands Evie is the girl to go to. Her iTunes is filled with the most chilled out music which is great to sit and do work to in the kitchen, which we often dominate due to the crazy scale we are sometimes asked to work at. She is a lovely, caring person with the inability to get properly mad at people without giggling, also she comes in handy when I fall asleep in lectures and need to be woken up due to the fact I am snoring…

Room B: well thats just me 🙂

Room C: Rachel, Studying the social sciences she loves nothing more than to make fun of mine and Evie’s course because we just draw pictures (really it’s much more than that). This girl has more nail varnish and make up than Boots and Superdrug combined, I have had to rescue her from the Benefit counter once this week already! Also an awesome cook, she made us the best christmas dinner of cola marinated, honey roasted ham, it sounds unusual but trust me on this it was amazing. Another flat member who didn’t know how her clothes collection was going to fit in her room, it is impossible for me to go shopping with Rachel and not buy anything. Unlike Evie and I she is extremely organised, I have rarely seen her room in a mess, and the sight of mine stresses her out to the point I don’t think she has ever stayed in it longer than five minutes. She doesn’t like hugs or children but has a big heart and did I mention how jealous I am of her hair, dip dyed teal!

Room D: Alison, the youngest member of our little family, just recently turned 18, she is one smart cookie studying Radiography, which I can hardly even spell. Probably the only one of us who didn’t struggle to get her clothes in her wardrobe, but i think that might be changing with our bad influence… I’m quite impressed by her patience during freshers week I can’t imagine how annoying it must have been to watch everyone go out while she had to stay in, that didn’t stop her having fun though and I have photographic evidence. But now she is 18 and she will experience the cramped sardine can that is a night club and hopefully have a good time! Alison is a good listener and has, unfortunately for her, been there for a couple of my emotional break downs…uni does that to you.

Room E: Angie, studying PR, if I wasn’t doing art I would love to study her course, it just seems so interesting. This girl is crazy, but in the best way. Known to us as the grumpy teenager it is best to stay away when she is hung over. Despite this reputation she is the one who quite literally catches me when I fall, I have a tendency to faint which has lead to her cradling me on the ground outside a certain Aberdeen club which shall remain nameless to protect my dignity. Angie is the one with all the dance moves, which most of us have picked up apparently. It is a common site to see our group doing the “Angie dance” which can only be described as a zombie, robot type action, it’s a lot better than it sounds…

Room F: The one who doesn’t speak…

Room G: Leanne, Studying children’s nursing, is the flat mum. Always there to look after us and make sure we turn the hob off after cooking! Leanne such a happy person with an amazing laugh, seriously I can’t even explain how contagious it is. I thought that I would be the one in and out of  A&E at Aberdeen Royal Infirmary (especially after being taken there in my first week of uni…life drawing classes are just to warm) but Leanne holds that record, my favourite story is when she sprained her ankle and we got to go home in a police van, obviously the downside to that story was how much pain she was in, and police officers do not know how to drive slowly on cobbled roads! This girl also has the best music on her phone, it’s pre-drinking law that her phone is put on in our flat before a night out. Also good if we are just chilling in the kitchen, however her power can also be used for evil, she put Cheryl Cole on the other night…I left the room.

It is safe to say I would not have survived the later half of 2013 without these ladies and for that I owe them a massive thank you. They were there for the good times but stuck around for the bad times too and I know exactly what they are going to say about this post if they read it but I don’t care I just wanted to get it out there that the trick to surviving university is to surround yourself with good friends and don’t be afraid to let them in. It is something that I have always struggled with but I took a chance this year and I am glad I did.