Discovering #Birmingham: Travelling Back In Time via Tolkien Trail

Outside Sarehole Mill

Outside Sarehole Mill

“It’s a beautiful day outside. Let’s go somewhere,” I said to my better half. “Is there anywhere in Birmingham we have not been yet?”

“Of course, there is,” John replied, “south of Birmingham.”

Of course. We live in the north of Birmingham, and after a dozen years as residents, it seemed that we had been everywhere.

Not exactly.

So with John’s pick, we headed south to the other side of the city. Nearly an hour later, we arrived at Sarehole Mill and parked our car. Apparently, J.R.R.Tolkien’s family moved into a hamlet just across the road from the Mill and used to spend hours exploring the grounds and being chased away by the miller’s son, whom was nicknamed the “White Ogre” – does that sound familiar to any of Lord of the Ring fans?

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During his formative years, Tolkien lived in nine houses in the south of Birmingham. Sarehole is said to have been the model for ‘The Shire’, although more fans of Lord of the Rings have paid homage to the location of the films in New Zealand. At Sarehole when we visited, there was hardly anyone in sight. Now about 100 years after Tolkien’s happy childhood, the Mill is part of Birmingham Museums Trust as well as a working mill, showing the Signposts to Middle Earth exhibition and linking to famous author to the landscape of Birmingham.

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Other landmarks that connect Tolkien to Birmingham are the two towers, one is the Perrott’s Folly, the crenelated gothic towel build in 1758, originally part of a hunting lodge and then a weather recording station. Another is a Victorian chimney tower which stands tall at Edgebaston Waterworks. Readers of Lord of the Rings can probably guess that these two towers inspired “Minas Morgul” and “Minas Tirith”, the “Two towers of Gondor”.

Walking towards Mosley Bog

Walking towards Mosley Bog

Sarehole Mill today

Sarehole Mill today

Following our visit to the Mill, we picked up a little guide “Birmingham Tolkien Trial” and walked to another location nearby: Mosley Bog, where Tolkien used to hang out with his brother and went on their mini adventures. According to Tolkien, it was the ‘Old Forest” where Tom Bombadil lived. It was known to be the model for “The Marshes of the Dead”. Today, it remains pretty wild, although little pathways with deckings have been built to allow those dog walkers and modern-day explorers like us to keep our feet dry.

Did this tree inspire the creation of Ents?

Did this tree inspire the creation of Ents?

The sun rays were pouring through the many trees, reflecting the blue sky in those remaining boggy areas and muddy ponds. It was easy to imagine that once upon a time, it could have been dangerous, one easy slip leading to being sucked down by the swamp. Although we did not see any orcs, we did spot a couple of old trees that looked vaguely like the Ents in the Lord of the Rings films. I wouldn’t have minded a lift from these trees as my legs began to tire.

I have never read The Lord of the Rings trilogy, although I did read The Hobbit. I am not a fan of fantasy stories, but I absolutely adored the films. Who could have watched the Hollywood blockbuster without feeling attracted to the Ring and faithfully following Frodo all the way to Mordor? Who could forget Golum, the elves and Gandalf?

Inside the tea room at the Mill

Inside the tea room at the Mill

One of Tolkien's homes

One of Tolkien’s homes

I am so glad that I live in a city that inspired such great writing and incredible imagination of human minds. Birmingham, as many of us know, is the home of the Industrial Revolution too, and in fact, it transformed from a village to what it is today, the second largest city in the UK.

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One of the towers now at University of Birmingham

One of the towers now at University of Birmingham

Birmingham today - the library where Tolkien's books are collected

Birmingham today – the library where Tolkien’s books are collected


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#Age and #Beauty: Do Western Men Perceive Chinese Women Differently from their Chinese Counterparts?

Traditional Bridal Head Piece & Gown

Traditional Chinese Bridal Wear

Love is in the eyes of the beholder – do you believe this?

A while ago, I shared a post on WeChat titled “Why the Majority of Chinese Wives Married to Foreigners Are Not Pretty?” If you read Chinese, read the original post in three photography parts.

If you cannot read Chinese, I’ll summarise its contents for you. The basic premise is that the ugly Chinese women who are ‘leftovers’ after being already put through the selection process by Chinese men, end up dating and marrying American men. It argues that Chinese men tend not to look beyond the superficial, physical beauty to discover what’s inside, neither do they seek women who are their equals in terms of academics abilities and career successes.

It goes on to comment how American men are generous with their compliments towards their spouses hence making them feel more beautiful inside and out.

Love is without borders and colour blind

Love is without borders and colour blind

Other examples suggest how Chinese men differ in seeking partners, by showing off their own degrees, career achievements, economic status and property ownership etc, while the American counterparts are more likely to list their hobbies and personalities.

Anyway, on reading this post, one of my American friends on Facebook and WeChat wrote to me which I am sharing with you below:

An American Man’s Point of View

No Chinese Men would save their wives before saving their mother & child

Child, Mother or Wife? No Chinese men would save their wives 

American men have a different opinion of what is ugly in regards to Chinese (or Asian women in general) vs Chinese men. For starters none of us unless we are married to a Chinese woman or spent years in close contact with Chinese are able to accurately guess a Chinese woman’s age. This is why.

Most American women visually age at rocket ship pace once they hit about 30 years of old. By the time they hit age 50 they look like a plump dried prune. There are few exceptions. American men do not age like that unless we lead an unhealthy lifestyle.

Chinese women visually age (in our eyes, mine at least) at a snails pace or not at all until at least age 50 and beyond. This appears to be the rule, not the exception. More often than not a 25 year old American man will look at a 40 or 45 year old Chinese woman and to him she looks the same age as himself or even younger. Even if told otherwise he will not believe it.

It is in most mens nature to be attracted to women that are younger (sometimes significantly) than they are. Using myself as an example, I am 54 and my Chinese wife is 52, but she still looks well under 40 years old to me and my friends. When we first met 9 years ago I thought she was no more than 25 years old. I refused to believe she was 43 even after seeing her birthdate on her passport and drivers license.

Western Men tend to compliment their wives more generously

Western Men tend to compliment their wives more generously

It is that appearance of youth that is the Chinese woman’s greatest asset with regard to American mens attraction. There is no 40 or 50 year old American woman that wouldn’t literally kill to look 25 again. The 40 to 50 year old Chinese woman still does look that young.

“With jet black hair mostly olive skin and dark eyes the advantage goes to the Chinese woman.”

Next is actual beauty. With jet black hair mostly olive skin and dark eyes the advantage goes to the Chinese woman. What a Chinese man considers an average looking Chinese woman and American man considers pretty. Think of two Chinese actresses. Lucy Liu and Bai Ling. Any Chinese man or woman I have ever asked thinks they are both ugly, especially Bai Ling. Any American man I have ever asked thinks they are both pretty. Now in comparison to my wife I think Lucy Liu is about average, but kind of weird looking. I think Bai Ling is ugly.

Actress Bai Ling

Actress Bai Ling

Actress Lucy Liu

Actress Lucy Liu

 

I also think Gong Li is still young looking and very pretty, minus what I always thought was a fake forced smile in all public appearances.

Actress Gong Li

Actress Gong Li

Personality: American men love that a Chinese woman shows appreciation for those little gentlemanly things he does (open doors, put on her coat, etc) where as most American women do not. He also loves that a Chinese woman is always trying to do things for him without him asking. The American woman? Hardly ever and if asked will sometimes even resist or refuse.

A Chinese wife will try to stop her American husband from doing chores like laundry or dishes. This only makes him want to do it more. (did I let out a secret?) The American wife will often just tell her husband to do these things and not always in a nice way. The Chinese woman is proud of her American husband and is always showing him off and bragging to her friends. The American wife? I think we all know that answer. Basically a Chinese wife has a much more pleasant personality.

Practicality: A Chinese woman is much better at monetary matters. They know how to budget and how to save and even know when it will be a better savings in the long run to buy the more expensive higher quality item. In my opinion unless the husband is an accountant he should let his Chinese wife handle most, if not all financial matters.

What are we looking for in a marriage partner?

What are we looking for in a marriage partner?

I could go on and on, but I think that will do. I will close with a word of warning that you can feel free to pass on.

If an American man is past 35 years old and has never been married there is probably a good reason for that. Tread carefully and do your research.

If an American man is 30 years old or older, never married and still living at home with his perfectly healthy parents you should probably run the other way.

If an American man has been divorced more than once there is probably a reason. He either makes really bad life decisions or is an asshole. Probably best to avoid him or hire a private investigator to background check him.

Okay that’s all. I’m done for now. You have my permission to use any or all of this provided you keep me anonymous.

Even Robot Made Mistakes - This man is only three years older, and far from 68, but Robot disagreed. It also underestimated my age :)

This man is only three years older, and a long way from 68, but Robot disagreed. It also underestimated her age – is it because she is Chinese? 

Junying’s Final Note: Thanks for the permission, my friend. Do my readers agree with him? You don’t have to be an American or Chinese to join the debate :-).

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From Land of Hope to the Land of #Tea and #Immigration: My #Quanzhou Experience 泉州记事

Journey from China to the UK

Journey from China to the UK

In the spring of 2011, during my trip to Chengdu to see my family and celebrate my birthday with my mum, I called up my brother Brad who was working in Xi’an.

“I’m going to Fujian Province to do some research for my current book. I particularly want to visit Changle and Fuqing. Do you know anyone from that part of China?”

“I do,” My brother said. “I have a good mate from my Executive MBA course at Fudan University who works as a CEO in one of the biggest property companies over there.”

Sorted then.

The very next day, I flew over to the Fuzhou Changle Airport and I was met by a top-range Mercedes Benz complete with a driver, two of the Boss’s junior mangers and a local guide. They travelled all the way from Quanzhou, collecting me to deliver me to a pre-booked hotel on my late arrival and showing me around around Changle and Fuqing as I requested (See my previous blog detailing my visit: A Tale of Two Cities: Changle and Fuqing).

My companions in Fujian

My companions in Fujian

Since Quanzhou was where my generous host was based, his crew took me to the city following my field research. More of CEO Huang’s staff accompanied me to famous sights and it made me feel like Royalty.

Fabulous architecture in Quanzhou

Fabulous architecture in Quanzhou

Quanzhou had a long history and is the largest city in Fujian Province. It was established in 718 during the Tang Dynasty and was once one of the world largest sea ports. In fact, it was the starting point of the Maritime silk road and once known as Zayton/Zaotun/Zaytun, from which the Arabic term ‘satin’ was coined. It was also listed as the departure point in the Travels of Marco Polo where the Venetian explorer was supposed to escort the 17-year-old Mongol princess to her new husband.

During my brief two-day stay in this hospitable city, I visited the Museum, recording the history of Min (Fujian) and Taiwan. Many people do not know this but Quanzhou is the main source of overseas Chinese living in Taiwan, Hong Kong and South East Asia. As a matter of fact, Hokkien and Taiwanese essentially came from the southern dialect Min Nan (Southern Fujian), which is completely unintelligible to Mandarin speakers.

No expense was spared by my host – I was put up in one of the finest hotels, taken to the best seafood restaurants and on leaving Quanzhou I was presented with the best teas they produced in that region.

happy tourist to Quanzhou

Happy tourist to Quanzhou

Kaiyuan Temple, Renshou Pagoda

Kaiyuan Temple, Renshou Pagoda

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I was utterly overwhelmed by the generosity and hospitality by the people of Quanzhou. So when I went to China this time, I was pleased to be informed that I was to visit the Quanzhou campus of Huaqiao University (the other campus was in Xiamen). I packed a copy of Land of Hope – I wanted to show Mr Huang that I have acknowledged him in my book.

It turned out that Mr Huang was in Hong Kong on business during my visit to Quanzhou in April. It was a pity that I wasn’t able to say thank you face to face, but I was able to post my book to him using special delivery.

This book is dedicated to the people of Fujian

This book is dedicated to the people of Fujian

This time I stayed in Quanzhou Hotel in the old town which was built in unique, fabulous architectural styles. It was different from any other cities I have ever been to, and I absolutely adored the city.

Quanzhou Hotel

Quanzhou Hotel

Again my hosts this time were hospitable. I was collected to give a presentation at the International School of Huaqiao University. Before and after my promotional talk, the Dean, Mr Ci, treated me with an elaborate tea ceremony in his office. Although tea featured prominently all over China, I think people in Southern China, notably Guandong and Fujian, they take it to another level. As you can see from the pictures below, it was fascinating to watch, as my host cleaned the tea pots, poured the tea and served the guest of honour.

Tea is served by Mr Ci

Tea is served by Mr Ci

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That evening, I was again treated with typical Quanzhou hospitality. This time, Dean Ci hosted a scrumptious dinner, in a campus restaurant, run by and served by their Hospitality and Tourism students, dressed in fabulous traditional outfits.

Dinner is served by Huaqiao University students

Dinner is served by Huaqiao University students

Both my visits to Quanzhou were far too short, but I was greeted with so much warmth and generosity of the hearts and souls of the local people. They have given me the best experience that money cannot buy and the most precious memories to hold, forever.

Campus in Bloom

Campus in Bloom

Thank you, my friends from Quanzhou, from the bottom of my heart!

Posted in Arts & Culture, Book Reviews & Excerpts, China & East Asia, Politics & History, Reading & Writing, Social Media & Photography, Travel Logs, True Life Story | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Back on #SichuanUniversity campus: Memories of the Past, the Present and the Future

Fabulous Tang Dynasty Themed Hotel

Fabulous Tang Dynasty Themed Hotel

Once upon a time when I was in China, under The Same Moon, I was a conscientious student. It seemed another time, another life.

As fate would have it, I studied English Literature and English Language for my first degree, which led to a chance to head West, becoming a student again, and again. In my various roles professionally and being a keen traveller to boot, I’ve visited a great number of British universities, from prestigious Oxbridge to somewhat lesser known institutions. Of the 119 HEIs in the UK, I must have been to over a third of them at one time or another.

Apparently there are 2,845 universities and colleges in China, the most populous country on earth. Size matters, doesn’t it?

One of few Mao Statues still standing in Chengdu City Centre

One of few Mao Statues still standing in Chengdu City Centre

Despite spending a quarter of a century in China, I have only been to a dozen or so Chinese universities. Let’s take a ride back in time, shall we?

It was a steaming summer when I graduated from high school in Sichuan Province, one of the most populous and beautiful places in the heart of China. Although I was a Grade A student from a ‘key school’, my ‘Gaokao’ (National HE Entrance Exam) results had not been great, doing exceptionally poorly in my Chemistry. It was, after all, not long after the Cultural Revolution, so going to university had not been high on the agenda of many teenagers, until the very last minute. Just one percent of my age group were able to go to university.

P1060362Had I been given complete autonomy in picking my own universities, had my grades not been an issue, together with a few more ifs, I may have chosen to apply for Sichuan University. It was, at that time, and now, one of the best known universities in my region, and in China. Besides, my uncle had studied there.

Well, as it turned out, I did go to a good university, in the other big city Chongqing, rivalling the provincial capital, Chengdu, until the former was given Metropolitan status in 1997.

My personal preferences had always been Chengdu, to study or to work. Again as cruel fate would have it, I was assigned to stay in Chongqing and teach in same institution where I had been a student.

During the short time when I taught English as a Foreign Language in the early 1980s, I was able to visit Sichuan University campus one summer. I was there to mark the ‘Gaokao’ papers.

So much has happened in my life since then that many of my memories of China have become clouded over time.

With the lingering yet distant memory of what the campus was like and a great deal of anticipation, I revisited Sichuan University in April 2015. My hotel was on the edge of university, with a bird’s eye view of the Chuanda (Short form for Sichuan University) campus from the 25th floor of the Cynn Hotel.

Chuanda Campus View from my room in Cynn hotel

Chuanda Campus View from my hotel room

Before my visit to the School of Economics situated in Chuanda’s Wangjiang campus, I was informed by Professor Wang Hong Mei that I could take a ride on one of many human powered tricycle parked on one of the entrances. So I did.

With a very small fee, I was taken to my destination, quite a bit faster than I could have walked, and with not as much effort on my part at all. It was also shaded with a canopy and cool breeze on a baking hot day.

A Typical Chuanda campus Scene

A Typical Chuanda campus Scene

I had a bit of time on my hands before my presentation to a group of students there, so I did a little tour nearby and took a few shots. I searched in the depth of memories and retrieved glimpses of what it was like some thirty years ago. I saw students playing basketball and many cycled by me, heading to their classes, oblivious of a far away visitor who was picking up bits and pieces of her past.

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Promoting Birmingham, BCU and British Education

Promoting Birmingham, BCU and British Education

Following my presentation well attended by students, I was treated to a lovely meal by the Dean of the School and Hong Mei, both of whom I met in Birmingham last year. I had the best roast duck and other Sichuan delicacies in the University’s own restaurant, which was “cordon bleu” compared to what we have in the UK; there was no comparison really.

With Dean Zhu and Prof Wang Hongmei

With Dean Zhu and Prof Wang Hongmei

Spicy Sichuan Beef Salad

Spicy Sichuan Beef Salad

Chuanda's Jiangan Campus near Chengdu Shuanliu Airport

Chuanda’s Jiangan Campus near Chengdu Shuanliu International Airport

On the day before I left Chengdu, I was collected by a couple of PhD students from the School of Art and Design. On Chuanda’s massive campus in Jiangan, I spent a couple of hours in delightful surroundings and company. Mr Wang Tao, one of the organisers of their Summer School, showed me around and treated me with great hospitality.

As luck would have it, a group of BCU students will be spending time in Chuanda, participating in a number of activities which are designed to help our students to learn about Chinese arts and culture. Since I was in the area, I decided to check it out.

The development of this great University outstrips what we see in the UK, and you have to see it to believe it. The investment in education continues unabated.

I hope that you have enjoyed my pictures and this special post, dedicated to one of BCU’s key partner institutions in China, Sichuan University.

I will be back.P1060365

With Mr Wang Tao, School of Art & Design

With Mr Wang Tao, School of Art & Design

More Yummy Sichuan food

More Yummy Sichuan food

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Posted in Arts & Culture, China & East Asia, Politics & History, Social Media & Photography, Travel Logs, True Life Story | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment