Personal, travel

China, are you ready?

SO after 8 weeks of waiting for my work permit to be issued, I finally received the email last Sunday saying it was all done and ready for me to apply for my visa.

With Chinese New Year on the 16th, I knew I wouldn’t have enough time if I waited until Monday, so I applied for an emergency 48 hour visa (£250!) and sure enough, I had my passport back in my hands on Friday afternoon.

WOW! This is it guys… I am going to China. For real this time.

March 1st 2018.

I need to pack…

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travel

Stonehenge and Salisbury

On an extremely windy, rainy and gloomy morning, I set off into Bournemouth ready to make our 9am coach. A group of 57 students, 4 teachers plus Ali and I were on a trip to Stonehenge.

It was the first time I’d been and in all honesty, I hadn’t heard many good reviews about the place. I can’t say I was excited. It absolutely poured with rain all day long. 

Once we arrived we were given audio tour headsets and bus tickets, we took a little bus up to the stones and… that was it. We walked up to the stones, walked along past them and then back again. Unfortunately that was about it. Especially as the rain was lashing down and my jeans were soaked through to my thighs.

Everyone was happy, taking photos and boomerangs, snapchats and selfies.

Back at the Visitor’s Center the gift shop was full of interesting souvenirs, beautiful jewelry, posters and loads of fascinating history and local books. It wasn’t long before everyone had piled into the cafe for coffees and hot chocolates – it was great to chill out with everyone.

When we arrived in Salisbury, Ali took us on a tour – giving us all the local information and even telling the students that the first McDonalds was down on Butchers’ Row – funnily enough some of them believed it!

The cathedral was absolutely breath-taking! I spent ages walking around, looking at every piece of it. Thankfully all of the students seem to enjoy it as well! How could you not?

Unfortunately, there isn’t much else to do in Salisbury once you’ve been to the cathedral and I found myself sat in Pret with a group of students for at least an hour, whilst we read, chatted and avoided the rain.

It was a pleasant day, but certainly nothing amazing and not something I’d particularly recommend unless it was a beautiful, warm day.

Food, health, travel

What to do when you’re in London for a medical check.

If you’re not in London for your own enjoyment, the chances are you’ve got to work around other arrangements, right? When I went to London for my medical check, I had to leave Bournemouth at 5am and the coach back was at 7pm – it was a looooooong day.

We walked from Victoria up to Piccadilly Square, then hopped on a bus because I just wanted to get up to Oxford Street. We stopped in Pret (my saviour) for a coffee and hot croissant – at 8am on a freezing cold morning, that was like heaven.

Thankfully Harley Street is only a 15 (ish) minute walk from Oxford Street / Regent Street.

LONDON

I waited the 50 minutes for Leigh to finish his medical, then he buggered off for coffee and smokes, whilst I had my medical. Once it was all over we were tired, hungry and not at all in the mood to sight-see. However, if you do go to London for a medical check you’ll most likely end up in a clinic on Harley Street – it seems to be the ‘health street’.

Within 15 minutes you will find

  1. The Sherlock Holmes Museum on Baker Street.
  2. Madame Tussauds on Marylebone Road
  3. The beautiful Regent’s Park
  4. London Zoo – although if you’re short of time this definitely won’t be an option!
    and of course…
  5. Oxford and Regent Streets

If you’re hungry, you will find about 15 Pret, McDonalds, Subway, etc however

If you’re a fan on Mexican food you do not want to miss this place
CHIPOTLE MEXICAN GRILL on Baker Street – it’s basically a subway-style restaurant for Mexican food. Burritos, Nachos, Quesadillas and more!

mexican food in london

and another one of my favourites, but quite pricey, is Joe and the Juice. (also on Baker Street) which is a really chilled out, funky smoothie cafe. I first found it in Stavanger, Norway and absolutely loved it!

smoothie shops in london

Let’s face it, in London, you’re never too far from anywhere.

We went to Winter Wonderland at Hyde Park, which was absolutely mental and we walked through as quickly as possible. It was lovely, but far too busy.

London Hyde Park

One place I 100% recommend is this beautiful chocolate shop and cafe called Rococo – their main store is in Belgravia on Motcomb Street and they serve the most amazing hot chocolates! You can choose from different flavours and you even get a massive marshmallow to dunk in! Hands down the best hot chocolate I’ve had in my life.

London's best hot chocolate

And of course you are close to Oxford Street, Regent Street, Harrods and everything else that London has to offer, but if you’re waiting for appointments or x-rays you won’t be able to stray too far from the clinic.

Let me know if you think of any other ideas I could add to this post!
Thanks xo

Claire in China, health, travel

Getting a medical for the China Z visa

In case you haven’t been following my blog, I’m heading out to China in a few weeks! This is my second post on my ‘move to China’, the first of which can be found here

My final step before the school in China could apply for my work permit was having a medical check here in the UK… I spent hours and hours trying to find a cheap and simple solution to this but unfortunately there isn’t one.

If you’re in the south like I am, head to London.
If you’re in the midlands or up north, you can go to Manchester, Birmingham, Edinburgh and a few other big cities.

Those of you moving to China are quite likely to hear different stories, just as I did, which could be any of the following:

  1. You don’t have to do it in the UK, just do it in China
  2. Just go to your local doctor and they can sign it
  3. Go to your local hospital on the NHS and they will do it
  4. Sign it yourself, no problem
  5. I will get you a fake copy, just pay me some money
  6. I will get you a fake document, for free, because I’m nice!

How many of these sound ‘legit’? Let me tell you, number 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6 are not.

Your local GP cannot sign a form saying you have had an x-ray if you haven’t, your local NHS hospital will not fill out the form for you, they will send you to a private hospital or clinic.

Number 1 is a tricky one because each province can decide whether or not the employers require a health check in the UK. Some of them will allow foreigners to have one in China on arrival BUT in two different situations someone told me I wouldn’t have to have a health check in the UK, then they spoke to their agency and government contacts who then told them I would have to have a health check in the UK.

Believe me, it is so much easier to just bite the bullet, pay the £350+ and have the medical done and dusted in one day. If you go to a private clinic that specialises in visa medicals, they will know what you need doing, they will do it and they will sign (and stamp!) the form for you.

After weeks of trying to find a way around this, we found Doctorcall, on Harley Street, in London. They offered a 10% discount if you booked and paid upfront via their website and we had an appointment within a day (December 30th!).

If  you need the Foreign Medical Form – you can find it here

We turned up a little early and sat in the waiting room, the place was deserted as everyone was on holiday! but each medical only took about 50 minutes. The standard procedure for the medical is this (the order will probably differ depending on the clinic):

  1. Pulse check
  2. Checking your heart beat
  3. Checking your ears and eyes 
    (the above are pretty much what happens when you see your GP)
  4. ECG – Where they attach patches (electrodes) to your chest, arms and legs, which are hooked up to a machine that can read your heart rate and rhythm.

    A very standard procedure but the one thing I really hate about these things is having to sit half naked whilst they do it. I hate not being dressed, in any situation.

  5. Blood test – ouch! No one likes these anyway, right? Be aware that some clinics will charge you extra if you don’t know your blood group. Doctorcall did not charge extra, thankfully.
  6. Eye sight – checking your sight and colour recognition. Pretty much like any standard eye-test you have at your opticians.
  7. Urine sample
  8. X-ray – now some clinics will have their x-ray clinic in the same building, Doctorcall doesn’t and we had to walk about 10 minutes down the road to the London Imaging Centre – they were extremely professional and we were in and out within 20 minutes (for both of us)

That’s about it really. It’s an absolute pain-in-the-neck if you don’t live near a clinic but trust me on this one, just get it done. By the time you get to China you’ll have made the money back within a week or two.

Plus, is a day out in London really so bad? I’ll be blogging about things to do nearby the clinics in London later… so check back for that.

 

I hope that’s helpful for some of you, please let me know if I’ve missed anything or if you’d like to share your experience!

xo

Claire in China, travel

Operation: Move to China

As many of you know, I’m heading off to China preeeeetty soon, to continue my teaching career!

Our flights are booked for January 29th, but I’m 99.9% certain that they will have to be pushed back by a week or two.

Let me tell you, this is no quick process. I could almost definitely jump on a plane tomorrow, land in Vietnam and find a job within a week.

China is totally not that simple.

The first step is to get documents notarized. What’s that?
Well, you have to find a notary public, which is an extra step up from being a lawyer (sort of), and they have to confirm you document is original and official, then they sign, stamp and attach a seal to your document.

In our case, our Bachelor degrees. This process took one week and £75 per document – that was cheap!

Secondly, we had to apply for a ‘criminal background check’ from Disclosure Scotland, which cost £25, took 2 weeks to arrive and then had to be sent, with our Bachelor degrees, to the FCO for legalization. The FCO attach their own seal of approval to each document, to say that the documents can be used for legal purposes outside of the UK. This took a week as well and cost about £65 per person

Thirdly, and finally for the documents, we had to send them to the Chinese Embassy to be authenticated, to make sure we could use them in China. This took just over a week and we used a fantastic company called i2Visa – owned by Joey Zhou, a truly genuine, helpful and knowledgeable man! We paid £108 for both documents, which we thought was reasonable!

However, this entire process in itself was an absolute nightmare. I spent hours and hours online, trying to find the best prices, the easiest, the quickest, the most reliable way to go through each process. It was countless trips to the shop to buy envelopes, to the post office, tracking numbers, receipts, worrying over whether our documents would come back to us in once piece.

All I can say is… I wish I’d done it all sooner!

Amidst all of this we managed to get our jabs done, for Hep A and Typhoid I believe, which cost us £80 each. My god, my arm hurt so badly for about 48 hours, but at least it was one less thing to worry about. It’s best to check with your GP or pop into your local pharmacy for advice on your local travel clinic, to find out which jabs you need, how much they will cost and when you need to get them done!

We put off the final process until mid December, which meant everything else was held back, such as knowing whether we could get jobs, booking our medical exams etc.

I feel like I wasted a lot of time.

The next stage was actually having the medical check. Now believe me, I spent hours, and hours, and hours on google, on the NHS websites, calling GPs, calling hospitals, calling clinics, trying to find out the cheapest, quickest and easiest way to get this ‘Visa Medical Form’ completed. Let me tell you, there is no easy way around this.

Your best option is just get on the train/coach to London and get it all done in one day, in one place. We used Doctorcall on Harley Street, just 10 minutes walk from the top of Oxford Street! I wish we had just done it months ago. The results can take up to 2 weeks to come back, and we are once again left waiting for these until we can apply for our residents permit. At this rate, we could still be 4 weeks away from getting on the plane.

Please take my advice, if you’re going to move to China, do not waste time on these processes. Just get it all done asap! That way, once you finally accept a job offer, you can expect to wait 4-6 weeks before you head out. I have been waiting roughly 2 months because my documents weren’t completed.

This pretty much sums up my China ‘prep’ so far… are you thinking of heading out to China? Where are you going? Share your experiences in the comments! I’d love to hear what your plans are.

Book Reviews, Education, Personal, travel

2017 reflections

Initial plans

Before 2017 started I was determined that this year my main goals were:
1. to beat depression (my new year’s resolution that failed in 2015)
2. to hold down a proper job and pay my bills, and
3. to re-ignite my love for reading

What I have accomplished this year is more than I, and more than my family, could have possibly imagined. The first thing that changed was I decided to stop going out every day to ward off my depression with coffee and talking to random people in coffee shops. What this first step did for me was gave me time to relax at home, in my own space, and focus on myself. What happened was, I stopped wearing make up, took time to write and, wait for it, READ. I told myself to read for 10 minutes every day, that’s all, but within days I had gone out and bought new books. I was reading two a day, sometimes three! It was like magic that my passion for reading flooded back.

Once I’d realized it was back, I looked for a reading challenge and decided to go with PopSugar’s version! I’ve enjoyed it immensely and recommend any book-lover to do it too! Total books read in 2017: 44!

This is honestly one of the best parts of 2017. I had forgotten how much reading influenced me. How moving words can be and what an effect they can have on us.

I’ll briefly share a few of my favourites with you.

A man named Ove, by Fredrik Backman – This had me laughing, crying and feeling so many mixed emotions as I saw parts of my grumpy self in Ove, but also parts of my Grandpa in that the love between husband and wife is unbreakable even after death.

Mad Girl, by Bryony Gordon – The first book I read this year that I couldn’t put down and without a doubt reminded me of how much I’ve missed reading. Despite the struggles of Bryony, she lets us into her world through humour and showing us that it is okay, ‘not to be okay’. I can’t thank her enough for sharing her story.

Baby Doll and The Walls by Hollie Overton – wow! Neither of these books were read lightly. Absolutely gripping at the pages as I read both of these, each in one sitting. The Walls actually gave me nightmares, it was that good! Twisted, warped stories that had my heart racing start to finish! Must, must read!

All the bright places by Jennifer Niven – oh my poor heart. What a moving story! It took me a few days to read this, as I started back in January when I wasn’t fully in the swing of reading but by the end of it I had quotes on little post-it notes around my room, I wanted tattoos, I couldn’t stop following Niven’s fans on instagram and twitter. I was sucked into the world of Violet and Finch.

My weight loss

This was a pivotal part of my year because growing up I was always extremely skinny, and sporty, and even at Uni I wasn’t ever more than a size 8, but once the depression crept in, then the medication, I ate and ate and ate… I never stopped. Dr Pepper, doughnuts, pizza hut, crisps, chips, chocolates, beer, wine… whatever I wanted, I ate. Immediately. I was eating anywhere from 5 to 10 times a day and I didn’t care. It wasn’t long before I was pushing a size 16 and 70kilos. My family were shocked, my friends of course didn’t say anything, and I felt repulsive. This year I put an end to it. How? Believe me, people have asked.

  • I started off by cutting out eating after 7pm. This made a huge difference to my bloating and discomfort.
  • The next stage, I stopped eating dairy products. No milk, chocolate, cheese, none of it! This made a massive difference and the weight started dropping quite quickly.
  • Then it was time for some hard work, I had to stop eating junk food. I cut out cookies and crisps, I went nearly 6 months without a single pizza (this was painful!). It meant daily smoothies, veggie sticks for snacks instead of crisps, soups when it was cold rather than 2 plates of pasta or pizza.
  • Then the real work, exercise! This was tough. My knees are weak and running is always painful for me… so I had to buy some weights and do things at home. Mostly squats, sit ups, crunches, jumping jacks, lizard crunches (seriously guys, do these!!) Plus the occasional swim or trip to the gym…

I’m still working on my weight, and I hate my stomach, but to lose 16 kilos in 12 months is a massive achievement for me and I feel surprisingly proud of myself!

First real job

After a few part-time job stints in 2016, I wasn’t satisfied with what I’d been doing. I’d enjoyed my job at the Little Red Roaster immensely, but because of my mental health I had to resign. My boss there was amazing and most of the customers were lovely, and in the jobs that followed I didn’t find either of those bonus points.

Someone recommended I apply for Coffee #1 in Winton and I had a great trial shift… two days later they called and asked if I wanted to train up as an Assistant Manager. Jeez… Where do I begin? A week after signing the contract they said I couldn’t stay in Winton and that I’d have to go to Eastleigh. Every day. I agreed, since I had no other option but that journey was awful. Getting the bus to Southampton, then a train to Eastleigh took about an hour in the morning, but coming home was awful. I had to get a train back to Southampton, which depending on what time I closed up that night could have me waiting in Eastleigh for an hour. The coach times changed and sometimes I was waiting in Southampton for an hour, or longer. On average, coming home took between 2 and 4 hours, for a 30 minute car journey. I didn’t get paid for my travel time, as promised. I didn’t get compensation half of the time either. I enjoyed the job I was doing but most of the time, I was on auto pilot. The hours were awful, the travelling was even worse. I’ll skip the other finer, irritating details of what I had to put up with, but eventually I handed in my notice. It was absolutely the right decision for me and I’m so glad I walked away from that place.

No money

With my first solo trip booked, Switzerland!!, and no job… I was in panic mode. Do I cancel my holiday? Do I retract my notice? No no no! I went to Zuerich for three days and had the best holiday ever! I saw old friends, went to the FIFA museum, walked along the river and I barely bought a thing except for food. Have any of you been to Zuerich? What did you think of it??

The turning point

One of the biggest points of 2017 was my Taiwan holiday… Leigh and I had argued, big time, before I flew out and I was back at a really low point. I didn’t know what to do next with my personal life, my career, my education. Everything felt like a complete mess. However, I took myself off to a little coffee shop and explored my options.

I started working on my mindfulness, writing a journal again and learning how to be more reflective on situations.

NOW was the time to step out of my comfort zone. I signed up for a CELTA course. After years and years of uhmmmmmm-ing and aaaaaaaaah-ing about whether to go forward with teacher training, this was it! I started the day after I arrived home in Bournemouth.

I’ve said it time and time again lately but it’s one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. That CELTA course pushed me to study again, to make some wonderful new friends and, believe it or not, almost cure my stage fright! I honestly had no idea if I was going to pass the course or not, but I applied for a summer teaching job at the sister school, BEET. I had a few interviews and finally, as long as I passed, I had a 4-week contract!

Now I won’t go into too much detail about the job, because I’ve blogged about it a fair bit already but this job has changed my life. I have found a passion. I love this job with my heart and soul, and the people that I’ve met through it have inspired me, supported me, and some have also left me feeling totally drained (but that’s a rare few!)

I’ll be forever grateful to those two people who gave me this opportunity, and to everyone who has supported me along the way. If I could work there forever, I would.

 

If you like it then you shoulda put a ring on it…

Okay. We did. But I’m not going to blog about that now…
August 30th 2017 – Leigh and I got engaged.

Closing

As the year draws to a close, I’m still glowing from my wonderful holiday in Germany with our friends, a lovely Christmas with my family and Leigh and I are in the process of signing contracts for teaching jobs in China.

We went up to London yesterday for our medical exams, and have a week to wait for the results. In the mean time, we are going to enjoy THREE WHOLE DAYS OFF together! Then it’s crunch time. Packing up my things, throwing away what I don’t need, etc etc.

I cannot believe that I’m about to move to the other side of the world and finally move out of my parents house. Hopefully for the last time! Does this mean I’m officially an adult now? Let’s hope so.

I hope everyone has a lovely New Year’s Eve and that 2018 is absolutely wonderful for you. Please let me know what you’re looking forward to, if you’re doing any book challenges or if you’re also going to be teaching abroad!

 

Lots of love

Claire

xoxo

Personal, travel

Rüdesheim, der zweite und dritte Tag.

After a terrible sleep, we went down for breakfast to find that our friends had bought us presents… some super cute fluffy, penguin socks on our table, which are perfect for this cold weather! I absolutely love breakfast in Germany. It’s one of the best things on earth.

We walked around the Christmas market, which during the daytime was much quieter and definitely more enjoyable!

Then we spent an hour in this fantastic museum called RheinWelt, which mainly consists of German Riesling wines, from vineyards along the river Rhein. You buy tokens for €20, which allows you to try wines, dispensed from a special storage tank. Such a fantastic idea! They also had beautiful artwork and a lovely deli, where you could not only eat, but also buy gifts to take home. I was 110% in my element! Trying wines, keeping tasting notes…

We spent the afternoon and evening in different towns at Christmas markets, wine houses and then we had dinner at this beautiful old restaurant / winery with our friends, and their friends.

Today, we woke up at 2, 3, 5 and 7am. Each time to check 1) if the snow was falling and 2) how much. At 7am our Dad banged on the door whispering “snow, snow!” So we jumped up and headed out within about 5 minutes. We drove up into the hills as the snow stormed down around us. There was SO MUCH of it.

It was absolutely beautiful! We stopped to buy fresh bread and coffee, came back to get ready for the day before jumping on the train to Wiesbaden, to go shopping! We had a few hours to look around the shops, before having a buffet lunch at Karstadt, one of my sister’s favourite childhood things to do!

my new friend, the camel

I had a power nap this afternoon (it was AMAZING!) and then we went on the cable car / Seilbahn as a family. The views over the town were just beautiful. Absolutely stunning!

We had to warm up with a slightly odd-tasting coffee, before wandering through the Christmas lanes again! Running back to the hotel to put on another pair of socks, touch up my make up and dash back out for dinner!

We went to a restaurant we’ve been going to for at least 25 years, with friends who we’ve known our whole lives. Our parents have been friends for 32 years, the eldest ‘children’ are 27, the second two are 25 and the youngest is 20. The last time we were all together was over 6 years ago! But we were chatting for 3 hours, as if we only saw each other last week. The friendship between us is like gold dust! So rare and wonderful. I only wish we saw each other more often…

P.s check out my new shoes a few photos up… they are amazing! From the German company Rieker.