Monday, June 18, 2012


Moulting Dumpling meets hair brush...

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Northern Italy

For my work I'm helping to organize a conference in Northern Italy, in the lakeside town of Stresa. It's on the shores of lago Maggiore, one of the largest lakes in Italy, and is a stunning location; think deep blue waters with a backdrop of the snow-covered alps.

Although I haven't spent much time here it seems a great place to visit, although I suspect in mid-summer it will be heaving with milions of tourists. Last year I attended an event in Como, another lakeside town in Northern Italy, but I like Stresa a lot more.The locals are friendly, the food was fantastic, and the Prosecco wine delicious!

I'll be back in September and am looking forward to spending more than 24 hours there this time and hopefully seeing a little more of the town.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

China #4 - Holding On Tight

When I was up the Pearl Tower in Shanghai I found than observation area with a transparent floor. It was a fun place to spend some time because  as I discovered, you may not think you're afraid of heights, but stepping out onto a floor through which you can see the ground 350 meters below is a daunting prospect.
The best part was watching locals having their photos taken by photographers who charged a few bucks a photo. Every second person lost their nerve, but since they'd paid their money the photographer would grab them by the wrists and physically drag them - on their arse if necessary and sometimes screaming - out onto the glass floor to take their photo. Remarkably people seemed to think this was absolutely normal and despite their obvious terror submitted themselves to this treatment and bore no grudge after they had gratefully crawled back onto the 'solid' floor. Not a single photographer had to drag anyone back!

Sunday, June 10, 2012

China #3 - Giant Abroad

Foreground; the venue for the conference I'm organizing in 2013
Last time we talked, I was in China, and there are still some cool things I want to share about that experience. Once I arrived in Shanghai, I had a slew (I've always wanted to use that word!) of appointments/meetings, yet I still managed to find a a few hours to myself.
 I headed to the Pearl Tower, one of Shanghai's most obvious landmarks. Remember I mentioned that Shanghai was busy? Well it seemed that almost everybody had decided to visit the tower today too. Queues of tourist buses were disgorging people out front and I soon found myself in a shuffling line, waiting for one of four lifts to take us up to the first viewing platform. I was dubiously eyeing the lifts, wondering how many days we'd be waiting to catch a ride but the line moved surprisingly quickly. I soon found out why; when the doors opened we were physically shoved into the lift, squeezed in like sardines. I don't know about you but being pressed up against four total strangers, 1 on each side, from my boobs down to my toes is not my idea of a fun cultural exchange. The fact that I was a head taller than anybody else meant my nose was poking into the hair on the back of the guy's head in front of me. In an effort not to either breathe down his neck or inhale his dandruff the best option seemed to be to hold my breath until we reached the top. A smartly dressed attendant recited her touristy info first in Chinese, then in English for my sole benefit. She looked me square in the eyes the whole time which was very disconcerting, and by the time the doors slid open I was red in the face from both the undivided attention and lack of oxygen. Gratefully gasping in great lungfuls of air I resolved to find an emptier lift on the way back down.

The view was predictably impressive but remarkably I was the only foreigner up there. Being such a big city you'd think there would be thousands of foreigners in Shanghai but I was very obviously the only blond walking around. Some of the simpler folk up there apparently were visiting from way out in the country becuase they seriously looked at me like they'd never seen a white woman before. Eventually my worst fears were realized; a young man approached and in halting English asked if he could take my photo.
"Please, hello yes. I take your photo yes".
"No thanks.'
"Yes, I take photo"
"No, I don't want that thanks."
"Yes, please I take photo."
This guy was really persistant. We were starting to draw glances from people around me and I could feel my cheeks getting red again.
"No. Seriously. No photo".  I was having visions of a photo of my head being photoshopped onto some Chinese equivalent of Naked Facebook.
"Yes, please I take your for my mother."
He moved aside and there were his mum and dad, each about 4 feet tall and 180 years old. Oh.My.God. They were grinning and nodding their heads enthusiastically. What could I do?
As we posed, Ma snuggled up at eye level with my left boob, Pa with my right, I could just imagine what they would tell their friends back home, how they'd met a giant white woman with a huge red head on their trip to the big smoke.
After we said our goodbyes, them smiling so broadly I suspect they had decided their son and I were getting married, I decided I'd had enough for one day and headed back to the lift. Where I found my nose again buried in the hair of the same guy I'd travelled up wtih. At least he didn't want a photo.