#Dancing Queen: Passion for #Music & Freedom of Expression

Chinese Dancing Queen :-)

Chinese Dancing Queen 🙂

It’s Monday hence a bit of music to kick the week off. Today, I’ll tell you something about dancing and how important it has been in my life, and I am sure in many other people’s.

I don’t remember when exactly I first started listening to music or dancing, but it did feature in my childhood which was often fraught with upheavals and instability. You see, I was born in the early 1960s in a country which was embroiled in a massive political movement: The Cultural Revolution. Yes, there were certainly song and dance, among the fights and political struggles. When I entered school, revolutionary songs, operas and a loyalty dance (To Chairman Mao) were all the rage across China. I learnt to sing Modern Beijing Operas and I performed at school assemblies. I was in the school dancing troupe as a young adolescent. They were interesting times.

I got older and I went to University. Times were hard and I did not even own a radio, but I did participate in a lot of extra curricular activities including gymnastics and Chinese dancing. Then came the 1980s when we had ‘Foreign Teachers’ from America, Britain and Canada who brought with them the Beatles, disco music and rock n’ roll. That was the time I really started enjoying dancing.

Dancing with my school friends in 1980s's China

Dancing with my school friends in 1980s’s China

I remember the bitter cold winter in my Chongqing University dorm, when it was freezing both indoors and out, with zero temperature and spiralling well below. My classmates and I turned on the little cassette recorder one of the girls had (for learning English and listening to the Voice of America of course), we picked up the stools as dancing partners and started twirling around the small dorm room. My very first lessons of social and ballroom dancing had begun.

In 1984, I went to Nanjing University for a postgraduate course. It was one of the happiest times of my life in China, where I met new, open-minded people, I learnt new things and I danced many nights away! It was a time when ballroom dancing was at its peak in a recently open-door China, and I was the dancing queen. Incidentally that’s when I first heard of ABBA’s title song too. I fell in love with the song, the band, and dancing, head over heels! You can get a better glimpse of my life back then from my first book The Same Moon.

The story of a generation, my generation!

The story of a generation, my generation!

It was under the same moon when I moved to the UK, and my life path was changed for ever. Still I loved dancing, and I was able to dance more freely and openly. Whenever I started dancing, I forgot the problems and barriers I faced. In a world of energetic rhythms and beats, there were no visa difficulties, no financial troubles, no personal problems big enough to hamper my spirit. I felt liberated, and FREE, a sense I never quite felt in my early life, and something I deeply appreciated.

My heart soars when I dance. With ABBA and many other bands and my favourite singers, I could not stop my body, my legs and my hands from shaking, twisting and turning, with a life of their own, a life that is far far away from earth, a heaven, a piece of paradise.

It was in a salsa dancing club in Leeds where I had my first date with my husband. It was where I gave my heart to a dear man, with beautiful, sexy latin music, Ricky Martin, Enrique Iglesias, J Lo and others. I fell in love when I was least expecting it.

When I was a struggling student in Glasgow, to make ends meet and to pay for my fees, I taught British Chinese children folk dances, using fans and silk scarves. My dancing skill came to my rescue when I needed it. The best part, was when these children performed my choreographed Chinese dance at the BBC Scotland’s Garden Party, promoting a multicultural society which Glasgow was. A truly rewarding and memorable experience.

Dancing on a Chinese New Year in Glasgow in 1991

Celebrating Chinese New Year in Glasgow

Dancing in my dorm at University of Warwick in 1989

Dancing in my dorm at University of Warwick in 1989

Last Friday when I got up in the morning with no work to go to on the day, I put on my compilation of favourite music, starting with Dancing Queen, I started moving my body and I laughed to myself. It’s been a long while since I had felt that way. It was as if a weight had been lifted from my shoulders and a heavy burden swept away by an unstoppable tide. Happiness and joy descended on me, like an angel with wings. The sheer happiness stayed with me all day, even when I got lost in my car, and when a shop assistant was rude to me. Nothing, I mean nothing wiped the smile off my face. I returned home that afternoon after swimming and shopping, I put my music on again, off I went to the land of the truly free and contented souls, where there was no stress, no distress, no fool, no devil dressed in human clothes. Only gratitude, happiness, relief and reasserted belief in the human capacity for regeneration and renewal, for the blessed life I have been given.

On a practical level, dancing is the best exercise available. Even no longer the owner of a firm twenty-year old gymnast’s body , I am proud to say that I still possess a pair of fine legs that had been with me since I was a teen, without unwanted cellulite to hide. I could still sport a bikini without feeling totally embarrassed about my ageing body.

It will not be an exaggeration to say that dancing is one of the greatest loves of my life, and the most faithful companion, the best. I danced when I was feeling alone and feeling lost. I danced when I was content and happy. I danced at all stages of my life and I will continue to dance. Even when my body becomes frail one day and I am no longer physically capable, my soul will dance, till eternity!

Keep dancing!

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Dancing, with education and other things in life, has transformed this shy girl to a confident woman today!

Dancing, and other trial in life, has transformed this shy girl to a confident woman today!

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Discovering #Seoul and Traditional #Korean Food with #KimchiHouse

Fallin in love in Insadong,

Fallin in love in Insadong

“Kam, I’m coming to Seoul in October,” I left a message for the only Korean friend I know on Facebook. “If you are free, perhaps we can meet up.”

I knew that Kam was her Korean name, and she was a mother and wife. I have known her for about four years on Facebook, and her FB identity is Kimchi House which suited her perfectly, as she regularly shared delightful Korean food recipes and pictures. She also publishes a food blog with the same web name which uses three languages, Korean, English and Chinese.

So when I announced on FB that I had arrived in Seoul and I was to stay there for over a week, Kam left a number of useful links, giving me advice as to where I should go and explore.

Thanks, Kam.

Unfortunately I was in Seoul for work and I had a packed itinerary with visits of various agents and universities. I did, however, manage to squeeze a few hours for a cultural exploration of Seoul.

So much to see, so little time!

So much to see, so little time!

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Kam and I agreed to meet at one of several exits of Anguk, one of the hundreds of subway stations.

“Will you able to recognise me?” I messengered her.

“Yes,” she replied instantly. Guess she saw plenty of my photos on my FB postings, whilst I, I hasten to add, have not seen hers. So I was totally replying on her to spot me.

She did.

It soon transpired that there was no need for us to speak English to each other. She was completely fluent in Mandarin, being born and raised in Malaysian by Chinese parents. I did wonder how she was able to publish her posts in excellent Chinese, and now I knew.

The first stop for our day tour of Seoul was a place for Temple foods – she took me there and showed me what kind of healthy, natural ingredient monks use. Kimchi House in true form.

Temple Foods for a healthy body and soul

Temple Foods for a healthy body and soul

Next we headed to Insadong, just around the corner, which is a very popular place for both locals and tourists. Like the last time when I visited it by myself, the traffic-free streets were decorated by traditional Korean costumes, souvenirs, cafes, bookstores, art galleries and of course, restaurants serving a variety of foods.

Apart from posing for Kam’s camera, I was glad to pick up a few small souvenirs to take back to the UK. For nearly a month in China, Taiwan and South Korea, I had been too busy to shop.

What to buy, or not to buy?

What to buy, or not to buy?

Flower show

Flower show

Kam picked a Korean-themed restaurant tucked away on a side alleyway. We were sat down, and a number of Korean dishes started to arrive, from soups, salads, to hot dim sums, cooked meat and seafood. There must have been over a dozen or so dishes that came and cleared by us. Check out some of the dishes being recorded by Kam’s camera below.14697300_897443610386462_204377172_o14697202_897444477053042_1179324417_o14672688_897444553719701_1426877496_o
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It was such a pleasure to have Kam as my eating companion. She’s lived in South Korea for over 20 years and she knew the cuisine inside out. In fact, she teaches Korean cooking in one of the Universities which I visited just a day before.

With happy and satisfied bellies, we carried on the discovery of Seoul. We visited a temple nearby which had a chrysanthemum show, themed Journey to the West, the monkey King and the Flower and Fruit Mountains where the famous Chinese fictional character lived. Some of the buds were yet to bloom but those who did, it was gloriously stunning, brightening up our day immensely.

Following more pictures with flowers, we headed to one of the most famous Palaces in Seoul. It was Gyeongbokgung which I visited back in 2012, almost four years to the day. With Kam, it became more memorable. As my faithful camera woman and determined to show me the best of Seoul, she asked a number of Korean girls and boys in traditional outfits to pose with me. I must admit that I loved the elegant style of Korean clothing, so pretty, bright coloured and cheerful.

Kam’s encouragement of me buying a Korean outfit did not get very far – there will be few occasions for me to wear, nor space in my suitcase. I was content with the scarf with Korean writings which Kam kindly bought for me as a gift.

Memories of this day will return whenever I wear this Korean-themed scarf.

Picture with young Koreans

Picture with young Koreans

New gift scarf with Korean writing

New gift scarf with Korean writing

The afternoon rounded off in a quick visit to the nearby museum which tells the story of King Sejong the Great who developed an alphabetic writing system called hangul, to increase literacy among the Koreans. Now the adapted traditional Chinese script hanja is no longer in use, except on the subway which has three scripts: Korean, English and Chinese.

One of the challenges I found during my Korean trip was the language barrier. Not many Korean people speak English, so asking your way around can be problematic. Thankfully the underground system is pretty amazing and convenient. But don’t get into a taxi unless you have the Korean address in writing!

China connection: Journey to the West characters

China connection: Journey to the West characters

Writings on traditional contractions such as temples are still in Chinese characters

Writings on traditional contructions such as temples are still in Chinese characters

I am thankful to have met such a wonderful friend who is trilingual and tricultrual, and turning our friendship from virtual to actual. I could not have spent my only free day in Seoul in better company!

Outside our Korean restaurant in Insadong

Outside our Korean restaurant in Insadong

Sweet Treats from the Royal Palace

Sweet Treats from the Royal Palace

My gracious guide and camera woman Kam/Kimchi House

My gracious guide and camera woman Kam/Kimchi House

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Sun Moon Lake: The Heart of #Taiwan (7)

Meiling and I, Sun Moon Lake

Meiling and I, Sun Moon Lake

 

Just over six months ago, I visited Sun Moon Lake, ever so briefly on a Saturday afternoon, courtesy of my host YunTech and Carol Qiu who drove us there.

It was raining and misty, not perfect visibility for photo shoots. It did not stop me from falling in love with the place, and I vowed there and then: I will return!

#Taiwan (5) Connection: #YunTech and #SunMoonLake #台湾 #云林科大 #日月潭

Return, I did, in the early autumn of 2016, earlier than I anticipated. This time, courtesy of another wonderful Taiwanese friend Meiling Liu. 美龄姐, as I call her in Chinese.

There is a little story behind our friendship. Exactly a year ago in October 2015 when I flew to Taiwan for the first time, my long-term friend Charlotte Chen joined me from the west coast of America. Following my work commitments and after several attempts with different travel agents, Charlotte booked us an exquisite mini trip to Japan.

As a result, I was able to see both Taiwan and Japan, once upon a time Taiwan’s colonising power, for the very first time. It was in Japan’s Kyoto where Meiling and I set eyes on each other. A precious friendship was born.

Sweet treat in Japan, 2015

Sweet treat in Japan, 2015

Despite my busy work schedule and Meiling’s hectic social life, she takes time to see me whenever I visit Taiwan. In March 2016, she and another friend, Mr Lin, spent a Sunday, taking me to one of her favourite hot spring places near Taipei, relieving the stress and exhaustion of my long haul journey, as well as pampering my body and soul.

Wulai Hot Spring in the Spring

Wulai Hot Spring in the Spring

This October, I had an even more packed itinerary. One free evening in Taipei when Meiling and I shared a lovely dinner together. It turned out to be her birthday. She declined all other appointments in order to see me, a friend from afar.

The day before I left Taiwan, I was free and I was in Taichung, literally meaning Centre of Taiwan. It was also where Meiling came from originally.

On Friday afternoon, Meiling left me a message:

“I’m taking the HSR to Taichung this evening. I’ll come to your hotel, and you’ll meet my friends in Taichung for dinner. And tomorrow, we will take you to Sun Moon Lake.”

Ceiling's friends are now my friends

Meiling’s friends are now my friends

By ‘we’, she meant herself, her brother, her sister-in-law and her friend HaoHao. So on that Saturday morning, I was collected by Haohao from the hotel and then her businessman brother drove us in his seven-seater, from the suburb of Taichung towards the Heart of Taiwan, Sun Moon Lake.

Again the heavens opened up, pelting Sun Moon Lake with mist and covering her beauty with a veil. We were not deterred. My Taiwanese friends were determined that I was going to enjoy the sights come what may. At least, we had all day this time, and if we were lucky, the rain may just stop.

On arriving at a place which looked familiar to me, we stopped and found a parking space from where we bought the sightseeing ferry tickets. “You can use it as many times as you like,” we were told.img_2303 img_2298

Our Boat Rides on a misty day!

Our Boat Rides on a misty day!

We did, hopping onto the ferry and getting off at the other side, from one scenic spot to another, sampling the food on offer and viewing points to pose and take  photos.

“You’ve not been to Taiwan, unless you had these Grandma’s tea eggs,” Meiling told me, and handed me two freshly boiled eggs.

Tasty indeed, and like a true gourmet adventurer, I ate my share eagerly. We then climbed up to the temple.

The only and best place for tea eggs? You bet!

The only and best place for tea eggs? You bet!

“What’s that called?” I asked, stopping in front of some fragrant white flowers.

“They are called wild ginger flowers,” Meiling sister-in-law told me. Like me, she liked to take pictures of flowers and nature.

I took a deep breath and drank in the soul-cleaning fragrance of wild flowers and the rain, taking in the mountains, boats, bamboo trees, different colours of wild orchids and flowers, and of course people.

Wild Ginger Flowers in the rain, fragrant and sweet

Wild Ginger Flowers in the rain, fragrant and sweet

My Taiwan Family

My Taiwan Family

The people of Taiwan are some of the friendliest and kindest people I have ever met.

“Do you still find Taiwan beautiful after all that globetrotting to many beautiful places on earth?” Meiling asked me.

“Of course,” I replied, with genuine conviction.

For a small island, Taiwan is blessed with many forms of natural beauty, from mountains, lakes to tropical plants and sandy beaches. But what makes this island so incredibly, overwhelmingly stunning and enchanting, is the hearts and souls of Taiwanese people.

They are warm, generous, hospitable and spiritual.

Formosa, beautiful island in Portuguese, says it all.

Sunset in Sun Moon Lake, taken by John Kirk, April 2016

Sunset over Sun Moon Lake, taken by John Kirk, April 2016

Another fabulous picture by John Kirk during his trip to Taiwan in April 2016

Another fabulous picture by John Kirk during his trip to Taiwan in April 2016

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

Go #East, Go #Global

Celebrating Birthdays with Family

Celebrating Birthdays with Family

Following my “Journey to the West” trilogy, which I completed a few years ago, I started a second trilogy. Guess what? There is only one change to the title, the West becomes East, as more and more people are heading the other way.

Tomorrow, I’m also going that way, jetting off from Birmingham, via Amsterdam, and arriving in Chengdu some 15 hours later. Given the 7 hours’ time difference, it will be another day by the time I land.

I have taken this journey a number of times, ever since KLM started scheduled flights to the Southweastern hub of China, home to some 14 million people, including my mum and many relatives and friends.

Here is another thing: I used to regularly travel to Chengdu to see family, for pleasure, but this time, it’s for work, although some pleasure will still feature. For instance, you cannot go to Chengdu and not dive right in the amazing food culture. Here is one reminder of what a fascinating place Chengdu is:

Chengdu: “Country of Heaven” 天府之国成都 – Mini Tours to China (4)

I will also travel further afield, across the borders in Shenzhen to Taiwan and Seoul. A few weeks on the road will be hectic but full of exciting new encounters and renewing contacts with old friends. I am energised by that prospect.

I visited Seoul in 2012 and absolutely loved it!

I visited Seoul in 2012 and absolutely loved it!

Beautiful Taiwan

Beautiful Taiwan

Sunset in Taipei

Sunset in Taipei

Without elaborating on what is to come, I have one mission in mind: I hope that more and more people, old and young, staff and students, will follow my footsteps: Go East and Go Global.

In the event of hoping from one place/country to another, I am taking a break from blogging. However, I plan to be connected with you again on my return in October. Till then, Ciao for now.

Goodbye, Birmingham!

Goodbye, Birmingham!

A long Journey to the East by KLM

A long Journey to the East by KLM

Hello, Chengdu and her fabulous selection of yummy foods :-)

Hello, Chengdu and her fabulous selection of yummy foods 🙂

Posted in China & East Asia, Education, Food & Cuisine, Reading & Writing, Social Media & Photography, Travel Logs, UK, USA & Europe, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment