My 5: The Great Wall Of China.

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1. Jinshanling Section, May 2010. I’ll never forget my first ever Great Wall experience, back during my maiden year in China. I was living in Beijing at the time, which meant there were a bunch of routes to choose from. While I had no desire whatsoever to subject myself to the overcrowded Disney circus act of Badaling, I also figured It might be wise to leave some of the more wild stretches for later on. In the end the Jinshanling section fit the bill perfectly, a ten-kilometer trek that took in some of the country’s most stunning Great Wall scenery.

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My 5: 798 Art District, Beijing.

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1. 798 Art District, March 2010. Only in a city as wondrously contradictory and confusing as Beijing could a place like 798 Art District exist! Formerly a huge network of factories built by the East Germans in the 1950s, by the mid 1990s the entire area had fallen into a state of abandoned disrepair. It was around this time that The Beijing Central Academy of Fine Arts setup shop here to take advantage of the cheap rent and vast working space. Soon after independent artists began trickling in and the community grew and grew…

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My 5: The Summer Palace, Beijing.

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1. The Summer Palace, January 2010. I’ve always considered The Summer Palace to be Beijing’s crowning achievement! For me you can keep the organised chaos of The Forbidden City and the anticlimactic expanse of Tiananmen Square. While these places are definitely worth seeing, China’s largest royal park has way more charm, with breathtaking temples, gardens, pavilions, bridges, a huge lake and dazzling hilltop views. This shot was taken as I closed in on the top of Longevity Hill for a look in The Hall of Benevolence and Longevity. Guarded by a selection of fearsome bronze animals, its focal point is a giant hardwood throne.

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My 5: The Forbidden City, Beijing.

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1. The Forbidden City, April 2010. Home to a succession of Chinese emperors; Beijing’s incredible Forbidden City served as the very heart of China for over five hundred years and is said to be Planet Earth’s largest palace complex! And right enough you’d be hard pushed to doubt this claim as you walk under The Gate of Heavenly Peace, the disapproving stare of Chairman Mao tracking your every step.

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Noodles & Rice – a short story from China.

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After a happy, prolonged period of stabilization and life-altering romance, I finally bid farewell to Belgium in the summer of 2009. Uninspired by life in gray, uneventful Brussels, my girl and I headed off to China for an unforgettable year of teaching and travelling

I was right on the verge of blissful slumber when the red dot flickered across my face, settling right in the middle of my forehead, jarring me from my restful state. What the ****? Straining to focus through my drowsiness, I could make out some manner of form standing to my side, a futuristic gun gripped in a small, pale hand. Aimed right at me, there was a lone beep followed by an equally unsettling metallic click. And then, much to my relief, it was withdrawn. “Thirty six degrees” purred the air stewardess with a robotic smile. And then she was gone with a swish of her red and yellow tie scarf, a faint trail of perfume hanging in the air. “No Swine flu for you then” chuckled S, rubbing my arm. And then she was asleep again, such was her ability.

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My 5: Shangdi, Beijing.

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1. E.E. Education, April 2014. The sleepy, unremarkable little Beijing neighbourhood of Shangdi stands as the dictionary definition of a non-place. There is very little to see and even less to do, save for a sizeable collection of restaurants and local stores, a lone bakery and a big ass supermarket. And yet somehow this is where I lived for two years teaching English at a small language school. Despite its many frustrations, I have great memories from my time at EE. This shot was taken during a Saturday afternoon drama class, the kids and I rehearsing a short Harry Potter themed play. Matteo (left) was a boy genius with a Michael Jackson fetish. Gawain meanwhile (middle) struggled with the language and refused to accept that his name should in fact be Gavin, while Jerry (right) was one of the nicest boys I’ve ever taught, his heavy Beijing farmer’s accent bringing a smile to my face as he shrarred and arred his way through the script.

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