Radelaide – Tour Down Under

Today I am in Adelaide, the Mecca of Australian Cycling.  I am here during the Tour Dour Under (TDU), which is the largest road racing event outside Europe.

I landed yesterday and am staying at a beautiful Airbnb in the middle of the city.  I’m very excited about riding lots and perhaps visiting a winery or two.  So far it has been great, the temperature is lovely and the house I am staying in is really lovely.

I went for a ride this morning, the “ride like crazy” ride, a 100km charity event.  I rode this with a bunch of people that I have met through the SuVelo bike club in Sydney.  According to Strava, we were the fastest people to complete the event!  I also bumped into a friend Will Levy at the event, which was nice.

Riding around you can spot the professional cyclists training and I went to the TDU Team Introductions and was sitting very close to the stage.  It is pretty unreal to be able to cycle so close to and see all the professional teams that you read about and see on TV.

That’s all for now, today I’m planning to do some more walking around town and doing some more exploring!

Back in Australia

Wow, what a journey. I’ve been all across China in my last little bit of travel before I headed back to Australia. Harbin, Guangzhou, Shanghai, Chengdu, finally back to Beijing for Chinese New Year before a rushed flight back to Sydney. When I got back Rina had arranged more travel, a flight to Melbourne, train to a country Victorian town before another one hour drive to Portland, Victoria. Lots of adventure here. Portland included riding an R6, Rifle Shooting, The worlds biggest parma, the most epic fruit salad ever, beaching, and caving. 

I’ve started writing in my Moleskin diary so I have a little record of all the fun things I did. So, instead of gloating about my last few months of holidays here, I’ll save that for my diary.

So, because I spent the beginning of 2014 with a backpack, my new years resolutions start with the start of Chinese New Year. Although travelling the world was an amazing experience and I have had a serious upgrade in my Chinese language skills, now that I’m back in Australia, I feel like I can get really stuck into all the things I really to do in my life. Things are stable for me in Australia, I am surrounded by friends, family and I know my way around. There isn’t a need to be social, worry about the admin of a foreign country or all the other things that living abroad comes with. I’m at home.

Things I’d like to do:

  • explore buddhism
  • continue learning Chinese
  • finish my legal studies
  • get mega fit
  • start a small business
  • pick up some Cantonese

I’m sure there are other things that I have forgotten to write down, when they come to mind I will put them up. So far I’ve been focussed on settling back into Aus. 

 

The Shanghai Dream, gyming, starting school, plus a party or two in Beijing

sept

 

Shanghai

Despite my good intentions to write my blog on the high speed train from Anhui to Shanghai, I ended up chatting to my flatmate, who was travelling to Shanghai for a meeting with a client she was pitching her art business to. This is being written about a month after the event, so I will write about the Shanghai trip and everything that has happened since then up until now. This includes joining the gym, starting at Tsinghua and a couple of crazy evenings out.

Returning to Shanghai brought back so many memories. As soon as I arrived, things felt familiar as I hopped on the underground train line that I used to catch regularly when I worked in the heart of Shanghai’s Nanjing West Street. I still have my transport card that allowed me to travel on trains, busses and taxis with stickers on it that I bought from the local shopping centre near my apartment in Zhongshan Park. I stayed with Sungie for my time here and spent some quality catch up time with him, plus finding time to catch up with all my old friends, colleagues and school friends. Based on how busy I was over the few days I was there, I really have developed a decent network in Shanghai from my two plus years there. People I met with included:

Jessica – a girl I studied Chinese with at Donghua, she is now a masters student at Berkley and is interested in Human Rights in China, It was really interesting to hear her ideas on this.
Wendy – who is a Shanghai friend’s (Hanks) cousin who ended up studying at UNSW for a while.
Jason – My previous competitor in the headhunting business who has just bought a partnership stake in a local firm
Tiffany – my old Chinese teacher in Australia who is now working as an assistant for the Greek embassy
Hayley – One my first friends in Shanghai who turned out to be best friends with one of my work colleagues Vera that I got on with amazingly well with. Vera was in Singapore so I did not get a chance to meet her. She is now working at Goldman Sachs in Shanghai, and she has an office in the same building as Tiffany making it convenient when I met them both.
Wendy – An old work colleague who now works in a consulting firm and loves her job
Tim – We tease him for being a spoilt rich kid because his parents bought him a super expensive apartment in Pudong, he still works in recruitment and seems to be enjoying life
Christina – A fellow Chinese language student at Beijing Language and Culture University. She moved to Shanghai to continue her Chinese studies. She is an interesting person born in Korea, brought up in South Africa and interested in China.
Ke Gen Di – A Russian friend who was a poor student when I knew him at Donghua university. He now owns a warehouse, two cars including a Mercedes v8 AMG, and a company that exports Chinese products to Russia. It was a real shock when he came to pick me up driving the AMG. Buying a Shanghai licence plate alone costs 100,000 RMB, let alone the ridiculous taxes on an imported luxury car!
Lee Lee and Kelly – These are two Chinese girls I studied with at UNSW, they have graduated and are coincidentally working at the same law firm in Shanghai! Although I know them both, they did not meet until they returned to China started working at the same firm.
Jess – A Korean friend I met when I first moved to Shanghai and when I was looking for a place to stay outside the university a friend introduced him to me. He has just gotten married to a Chinese girl, and he seems happy and settled in Shanghai. I really like the Korean culture where older guys look after the next generation. He took me out and bought me a really nice Korean dinner!

Gym

I have started a gym membership in Beijing, this is the first thing I did after getting back from Shanghai. I received a free gym trial from a friend whilst I was in Shanghai and absolutely loved it. I love the feeling of leaving the gym sore, and high on endorphins after a workout. I have some protein powder, and I’m getting serious over the next few weeks.

Starting School

School has started and has been going relatively smoothly so far. I have chosen subjects and these include:

– Comparative Chinese commercial law
– Commercial law in practice
– E-commerce IP
– Introduction to International Arbitration
– International Arbitration in Asia

Initially I wanted to take a few subjects in Chinese, but this was just too difficult for me. Instead, I am taking a couple of language subjects to keep improving on the language front.

A Party or two in Beijing

I now have a little network of party friends in Beijing. A guy I know from Australia, Richard, has been living in Beijing for a while. He has a bunch of ABCs, ABKs and even an ABJ who party with him in Beijing. I’ve been out with them a couple of nights, and helped out one of his friends take some photos at an event where Hardwell, a DJ I like, was playing. The Hardwell party was fun, it was a day event at the ‘Workers Stadium’ where they had turned the whole arena into a dance floor.

Another night I went out with James, one of his Korean friends from Canada, I bumped into some old friends Wendy, and Heidi randomly in a bar in Sanlitun. Wendy is a friends friend that I met in Australia and Heidi is a girl I studied with at BLCU. This really is a small world!

The last memorable night out was with Keeson, a successful Hong Kong guy who was educated in the States where we ended up at his beautiful apartment till the early hours of the morning with a bunch of the guys.

I’ve decided that I should party less with this bunch, not because they aren’t fun, quite the opposite, they are too much fun and it doesn’t help me achieve the goals I want to reach while I am on this short exchange.

Luxury Travel in Anhui

After arriving in Hefei, Anhui Friday afternoon, Nicole and I were greeted by Demi and her father who drove us straight to lunch with their family. We went to a small restaurant which had pre-prepared a feast of local dishes for us. Anhui is an agricultural province and fresh local produce here is cheap and readily available. There was river fish, duck soup and a variety of vegetarian food that was made especially with Nicole’s vegetarian diet in consideration.

Straight after our late lunch there was a three hour drive from Hefei to the hotel we were staying at, a boutique hotel called Yuegui mountain villa. The drive ended up taking around five hours thanks to bad map directions on the GPS. It would be virtually impossible to get there without a local person to take you there. Even with Demi’s parents, who had visited there several times, it was difficult to find. This hotel was made up of traditional housing which had been renovated to provide all the comforts of a boutique premium hotel. It was hidden amongst rice paddies, vegetable fields and a river than ran through the village at the foot of the famous Huang Shan. Thanks to its inconspicuous location and exclusive environment there were not many other tourists and it really felt like stepping back in time when Chinas population was small and people survived off eating and trading their locally grown crops. We had dinner at the hotel restaurant which again cooked the locally grown organic produce and home made toufu that was absolutely amazing.

It was a relatively early night as we had planned an early start the next morning. The Saturday morning started with a traditional breakfast of rice porridge, fruit, fried sticky rice, eggs and preserved vegetables. After breakfast we walked around the town which had a crystal clear lake running through it that was filled with fish that nibbled at your skin when you put your feet in the water. The people living in the traditional houses on the rivers edge live a rural life, living off the land and we saw several locals washing their vegies and clothes in the river. There was a school of artists that were painting by the river and I have been told that there are a few art schools that were also based in the area who have all the natural scenic views available to them to paint at their doorstep.

We had lunch at the hotel again, before heading off to the Peach Blossom lake villa where we were staying the night. This was a very exclusive hotel on the bank of the peach blossom lake. The lake is famous for the mist that curls around the mountain in the mornings. Due to the temperature difference between the water in the lake and the temperature in the mountains mist forms at the start of the day. We planned to wake up early for this and again had an early night after dinner at a local restaurant which had only us as customers that evening!

The next morning after taking plenty of photos of the mist, Demi’s father had arranged us to take a large boat across the river and enjoy the sights of all the islands, mountains and have lunch on an island which he had travelled to before. It was all absolutely stunning, but the highlight of the river cruise was where we stopped on an island which was filled with monkeys that had been raised on the island for tourists. We got to see the monkeys up close, and the monkeys were bold enough to run onto our boat and steal a bag of chestnuts! Overall a stunning trip to the foot of Huang Shan, and I would absolutely love to return and stay longer.

Sunday night was back in Hefei, the city where Demi was raised and her parents still live. It was a strange feeling to be back in the city with lights everywhere and the hustle and bustle of traffic and people. I took advantage of being in a modern city hotel and went to the gym and visited the pool which felt tremendous after a weekend of too much food! I’m currently on the high speed train to Shanghai, and am excited to be seeing all the places and people that really sparked my initial interest in China!Image

It has been around a month since my last post…

ImageIt has been around a month since my last post, and there is a lot to report! I’m currently on a high speed train to Anhui province, south of Beijing. It is really peaceful writing while travelling, the last post I wrote on a plane up above the clouds, and this time I’m writing whilst sitting on a train moving at hundreds of kilometres an hour! This post will summarise my last month in Beijing.

On the 14th of July, I landed in Beijing in the afternoon along with the tour group that I travelled together with in Gansu. It was sad to say goodbye to the group, we really got to know each other quite well over the weeks we spent together travelling around. However, I was very ready for not staying in hotels and having the comforts of my own bedroom and kitchen. When I landed at Beijing, I had a phone with no credit and an address of where I would be staying. After exiting the airport, I was greeted by a really unhappy taxi driver and my first impressions of the city were not great. The air in Beijing is seriously polluted, the smell and the sight of smog, is really confronting and is noticeable the moment you step outside. Despite this, I got to my new home safely and hassle free.

The place I am staying at in Beijing is really nice. It is on the top floor of a newish apartment with views over a huge local park. It is located in the east of Beijing not too far from the fun parts of town and the city. I have two flatmates Demi and Nicole. Demi works in the Real Estate Private Equity industry, although she works long hours she makes a perfect flatmate. Despite speaking perfect English (she completed her master’s degree in the US); she only speaks with me in Chinese as she knows I’m working hard to learn the language. She also loves cooking and has taught me a list of different Chinese dishes. My other flatmate Nicole is a business person and she runs a business that provides Chinese artwork to hotels, private clubs and other spaces all over China. Her business is essentially working with architects, and corporates who have spaces that need customised commercial art. She has a team of artists that are hired from Chinas most prestigious art schools that design the artwork, and she has a project manager that ensures the work is delivered to the client’s satisfaction. She essentially is the sales side of the business. As part of this she travels a lot and our house is filled with expensive and unique sculptures and artwork, which makes it an even cooler place to live. They have both been fantastic in helping me settle in and introducing me to people.

I wanted to do a few things over my first month in Beijing, settle in, finish a language course, get prepared generally for the semester ahead at Tsinghua and get a good start on the ANU online course that I had enrolled in. The ANU course ended up being an absolute nightmare. I was working with a bunch of kids who had a really different idea of group work to what I was expecting. I did not get along with them at all. As a result, I withdrew from this course and I am so happy I made this decision. It has meant that I have had more time to enjoy life in China and has removed the stress of dealing with a bunch of immature kids. This experience has really reminded me how lucky I have been to have met such great people at university who I really get along with and are really passionate about studying law. Everything else on my to-do list has gone exactly to plan. I feel settled in and I know my way around Beijing fairly well already. Wudaokou is the university district, Tai Yang Gong is my home, San Li Tun is the party district, and I have mastered the subway so I can get anywhere I want to go with ease. I have also purchased a second hand bike which makes transport very convenient. I’ve been using this bike to get to BLCU, it is actually faster to bike than it is to take the subway!

The language course at BLCU has just finished. At BLCU I studied in an advanced class where I achieved a massive improvement in my reading, listening and speaking ability. It is really amazing the improvement you can get in just a month of having the right environment. Speaking Chinese at school, Chinese at home, then Chinese on the streets, Beijing makes an excellent Mandarin learning environment – much better than Shanghai! In regards to Tsinghua, I’ve spoken to their law school about courses and am waiting to hear back from UNSW about subject approval. They have a bunch of visiting professors from all over the world taking electives on International Arbitration and Intellectual Property which will be really interesting for me to take. Unfortunately my Chinese level is not quite good enough to take law classes in Chinese, but I will see if I can take some non-law elective classes just for personal interest.

The people I met at BLCU are worth mentioning, they were all really interesting, motivated and ambitious people. I find people who study Chinese as a second language and who have made it to an advanced level are pretty determined people. It is not easy learning a second language, and whatever their motivations it is impressive that they have taken it this far. I met a few law students, one of them is working in Hong Kong and she was improving her Mandarin for work. She made Hong Kong sound like fun and I think I’d like to work there and try it out some time in my career. Although in HK she works in general corporate law, she has an interest in tax law, and also managed to make this sound like a very interesting avenue. She invited me to the Beijing ‘color run’ with some of her HK friends who had flown in just for the event. The color run is basically an Indian inspired event where you run around throwing paint at other participants. This was so much fun and I took lots of fun photos from the event. Apart from her, at BLCU other students worked in hospitality, journalism and history who were motivated to learn Chinese for these reasons.

The most frustrating aspect of Beijing so far has been the administration necessary for a visa, I will refraining from whining too much, but this basically involved me paying tax on behalf of your landlord (yes, this makes no sense to me either) and travelling around on the back of the real estate agents scooter to get from the household registration office and the various places where you need to pay tax. Massive administrative nightmare.

Overall, the first month has provided a few hiccups, but looks like things will all run smoothly from here. My Chinese level has improved, I have a mask for the pollution, I have a good social network in China, I know my way around, Tsinghua looks like it will be a challenging yet exciting learning environment and all the administrative stuff of visas and housing has finally been sorted out.

The reason why I am currently travelling to Anhui is because my flatmate Demi is originally from Anhui and she has just travelled there for work. She has kindly invited Nicole and I to travel up there over the weekend to see the local sights. Hopefully I will have some photos and a few interesting stories to share from the experience in a few weeks!

Harlem Shake in lanzhou with some Kazakhstan kids

On the plane from Dunhuang to Beijing

It has been a long time since my last post. I’ve decided that instead of aiming to write regularly, a more realistic goal is to write when there is something interesting to blog about. If it takes time to accumulate interesting content then so be it. Over the past few months however, I have certainly accumulated some interesting adventures. Last summer, I went to Thailand and Malaysia before returning to a busy semester at university.

Last Few Months

It has a whirlwind past few months. I took five subjects last semester, (Advanced Legal Research, Law and Social Theory, Business Associations, Litigation 2 and Intellectual Property) and this kept me very busy. In addition to this, I was the marriage celebrant for David Bradleys wedding, and I ran a half-marathon in my best time ever. I trained almost daily as part of a triathlon program with a local group called Top Notch. As soon as exams were finished, I went to the Hunter Valley with Rina where I stayed at beautiful hotels, ate amazing food and tasted the finest Australian wines. It was a great weekend away. As soon as I got back, I had to pack for the trip to China. The China trip involves, firstly, a trip to Lanzhou as part of a Confucius Institute Tour, a couple of months at Beijing Language and Culture University, and then a full semester at Tsinghua University. I am writing this post as I sit on the plane from Dunhuang to Beijing.

University Last Semester

University was interesting last semester. Marks come out next week, and I am anxious to see how I went. Some quick notes on my thoughts for each subject are:

–          Legal Research improved my ability to use the legal databases and will be useful for the rest of my studies and my career when I start as a junior lawyer

–          Law and Social Theory was the most interesting subject I took, perhaps the least practical, but certainly the most interesting. I learnt about the political theories of liberalism, neoliberalism and the ideas of Marx, Engels, and Pashukanis. I also attended several lectures on feminism, which looks at the world in a very different light. Catherine Catharine MacKinnon, a radical feminist had the most unique perspective and although I do not agree with all her writings, I can appreciate her point of view.

–          Business Associations was primarily about the corporations act, and although much of this seemed like revision of things that I had come across in my prior work, studying the purpose and intention of the laws made a lot of sense and put things into perspective.

–          Litigation 2 was all about court process and evidence. Visiting court was the most interesting part of this course, and it helped me understand why there are such stringent rules for when and what evidence can be presented to the court. Much of the course was from a criminal law perspective, which I enjoy reading about for some strange reason.

–          IP was primarily about copyright. This is a relatively new area of law, and it was mostly looking at cases and how the courts have interpreted legislation. I probably put the least amount of effort into this class, the teacher spoon fed us which made things easy, in contrast to the other courses I took, I’m not sure how valuable this class was.

Post Exam Celebrations

After the final exams in June, I had a weekend away with Rina in the Hunter Valley where we had the most amazing food and wine. We stayed at a hotel overlooking a golf course, with a beautiful spa, and champagne on arrival. We arrived the Friday evening after I had handed in my final exam. I was hooked on Breaking Bad, a TV series, and I watched this whilst sipping champagne in the spa. Good times. The first evening we just wanted to relax and we ended up just eating at the hotel restaurant which was simply amazing. The waiter introduced a local red that matched the steak that had been grain fed and reared in Tasmania. The food was superb. Saturday and Sunday followed a similar theme of great food, amazing wine and just driving around the Hunter Valley eating too much and tasting wines.

Leaving for Lanzhou

I got back to Sydney on the Sunday, and the very next morning I was on a plane headed to Shanghai. There were seventeen students in total participating in the trip and I had only really met one of them briefly in my IP class. Although many of them were much younger than me, I found that they were are all very mature, intelligent and interesting people. We were in Shanghai for one evening just in very basic transit accommodation as we waited for the morning flight to Lanzhou. I was initially hoping to meet Sung Woo in Shanghai, but the airport hotel was too remote and by the time we were in our hotel and settled, it was just too late to go out.

We were on the plane early the next morning, and landed before lunch. My first impressions of Lanzhou were that it was in the middle of a whole bunch of sandy hills, dusty, remote and dry. It was very different to the big cities around the world where I have spent most of my time. There was an hour drive to the city of Lanzhou where the university was located.  Lanzhou University had a large campus. We were staying and studying at the masters’ campus where there was lots of construction and development. Apart from this, Lanzhou University, or Lan Da, as it is called here, there were another two campuses, the undergraduate campus as well as the medical campus. The school was very proud of its history and strengths and they are one of the top 38 universities in the country with 100 years of history. It is clear that this university is important to the city as well as the surrounding cities, which rely on this institution for higher education to the region.

The university hotel was very basic and I shared a room with Harry. The days were packed with taichi in the morning, language classes, cultural classes and activities like mountain climbing and museums throughout the day. We played Badmington and table tennis, and met some local students Huo Shan, Wei Wei and Zhun Zhun. Evening activities included a blind massage, karaoke, and one evening filming the Harlem Shake. Local food worth mentioning includes Huang Men Yang Rou, Niu Rou Mian and Niang Pi. On the last night, we met a group of Kazakhstani students, who we spoke with. It was interesting to hear about just how different their lives and upbringing is and their way of life. It sounds like a difficult place to live. From what I was told by Bowral, a Journalism student who had near perfect English, the difficulty in the county was mostly a result of corruption and the political situation. I’d be really interested to visit Kazakhstan and see first-hand what the country is like. I had a really positive impression of the students that I met.

Exploring Gansu

Although Landa was fun, I was ready to leave after a week and a half as was scheduled. The food at the university campus was getting repetitive, and I was keen to explore Dunhuang, which we had been told so much about. Getting from Lanzhou to Dunhuang involved an overnight train. We were in Dunhuang for four days. These four days were a real adventure. I feel really lucky to have been a part of this trip. The highlights included:

–          Jiauguan, which is the part of the great wall that was the border of China and Mongolia

–          Yadan, part of the Gobi desert where nature has created some really unique rock structures

–          Mingsha Mountains and Crescent Springs where we rode camels and slid down the sand dunes in tyres.

Taken at Yadang, Gansu Province, PRC

Taken at Yadang, Gansu Province, PRC

Next Stop Beijing

I’m hopefully getting picked up by Qian Wen who I will be staying with in Beijing. There is a whole bunch of stuff I need to get done over the next few days including completing a Property Law course that I am enrolled in, as well as arranging a student visa and the other bits and pieces that I need to do to start my adventure in Beijing. We are close to landing, and the computer needs to be shut down!