Do not blame Wenger. I am the cause of Arsenal’s demise!

Today’s blog is all about Arsenal FC and the joys and woes they bring to a supporter's life while living in Korea. Ever since arriving in Korea in February, I have seen Arsenal capitulate more than I’ve eaten kimchi. They currently are in their worse run of form since the Big Bang and I now know that I am responsible. I know this because it all started when I moved to Korea.

Chaos Theory suggests that a butterfly flapping its wings can cause a change in air velocity leading to a hurricane on the other side of the world. Well I flapped my wings to South Korea and since then, Arsenal look less like a hurricane and more like a fart slowly creeping out from my trousers, causing a rotten stench.

In fact Arsenal have not won a trophy since I moved out of London in 2006 – coincidence?? I think not.

The first game I watched in Korea was Arsenal getting knocked out of the champion’s league to Barcelona after RVP was given a second yellow card, in the worst decision since Mrs Barton decided against the abortion.

I then watched 2 draws in a row, including a blinding 0-0 with the powerhouse football side that is Blackburn Rovers. The bad form continued from there and the 2010/2011 season ended in a more disappointing fashion than The Sopranos.

This current season has been no better. While I was in China on holiday, I was sitting alongside a Liverpool fan as we were beaten . It was a total disgrace - me sitting with a scouser that is. The low point of the season against United was a real kick in the teeth. I mean, besides the Arsenal fans that travelled to Old Trafford, I was put out the most by the game because of the time difference. When you watch Arsenal suffer their biggest defeat since 1888 BC or whenever it was, you don’t also want to stay up to 3 in the morning and then be unable to sleep because of disappointment. With my alarm sounding at 6.30am, I then had a horrible day in front of screaming Korean kids. What made it worse was that one kid mentioned the score and laughed at me. That little bastard will be getting zero in his speaking tests and if I don’t manage to convince him to kill himself by the end of the year, I will have failed as a teacher and Arsenal supporter.

The Blackburn game was also a nightmare. I was prepared for a disappointing game of football so I had some comfort food ready in the form of a McDonald’s chocolate milkshake. I can tell you that when that forth goal went in, the morsel remains of the shake went flying faster than any neutrino and I now have a nice brown stain on my wall. That'll be a tough one to explain to my landlady who speaks no English.

Along with the time difference, there comes another negative aspect of being an Arsenal supporter while living on the other side of the world and it’s the news. When I am bored at school, I cannot just load up newsnow and wait for an update every 2 mins – nope it’s all silent. I can’t read arseblog until it comes online at 4pm and is deader than Sylvestre’s career.

The one silver lining in watching games in Korea is that we are home to the world’s fastest broadband. This means I can watch the highest quality streams and use my mega-bandwidth to happily share with my fellow supporters. While still having the bandwidth to follow arseblog’s chat – even if he does live slightly in the future to me when it comes to streaming games.

So I wrote this blog for all you fellow supporters who are after Wenger’s head. Please remember that perhaps the manager, who has built this club up to the high level we now expect, may not be to blame, but instead you should be pointing your wart covered finger at a butterfly going by the name of David who is currently flapping his wings in South Korea.

The Last Crusade

After the mouse incident mentioned at the end of the last blog, I managed to pull some David Jewish magic. I complained and said that Katie was incredibly upset by the ordeal, crying into her pillow, although she was surprisingly cheerful, all things considered. I even threw in some BS that I like to write online reviews of all the hostels I stay in… So I blagged us a free upgrade, a discount for the remaining night we were staying, free breakfast and some beers. Considering the lack of sleep the previous night, I thought I did pretty well.
I would like to add that yes, I was very cheerful and this had a lot to do with Dave's reaction when the mouse made its presence known...he made a noise that was somewhere between a squeal and a yelp. It was hilarious. As was the fact that the mouse had clearly been munching on our leftover train snacks while we were out getting dinner, as evident by half eaten biscuits and scattering of droppings. I later had to empty Dave's entire bag, shake everything to check for poo, and then refold and repack it (he was too scared to in case there was another mouse hiding in the clothes!).

What else did we do in Shanghai? Not a lot to be honest, we saw the Bund once more and did a lot of shopping. The discounts and freebies at the hostel actually came in very useful because I spent a lot more money on shopping than I had planned for and ended up 
150 over budget - whoops! We also saw a very interesting store-front on the "Oxford Street" of Shanghai.

And we saw the cleanest thing in the entire country!

We did have time for one more trip, at the end of our holiday - this time to Hangzhou. Hangzhou is a town 45 minutes away from Shanghai on the world’s fastest train. This train reached speeds of 353 km/h – a record for the holiday!
New Record! WOOOOOO!!
The town is a popular Chinese tourist destination as it has a magnificent lake, which attracts large numbers of mosquitoes. Unfortunately for about the first time this holiday, the weather was not great and it was a bit overcast, spoiling some good views.
It was also unfortunate that I forgot to take the Jungle Juice (aka Dave repellent) and as a result I left with some horrible bites. From the mosquitoes, not Dave. 
A Spoiled Polluted View
We did, however, have a tour guide - Matt - who Katie knew from back home.
Big shout out to the Hinckley Massive!
He showed us around all day, which was great of him, and took us to a fantastic restaurant to finish off our trip.

We were down to our last pennies so asked Matt to recommend somewhere cheap. And boy, did he deliver. We ate more food than in the rest of the holiday combined! And it may have been one of our cheapest meals in China. Nice one Binns.
Thanks a lot for the day Matt – it was great fun and we really appreciate the effort.

And so here we are at the end of our holiday...I think the best way to summarise our trip to China is to compare it to an underground rave. It involved a long queue to get into the main attractions and the place was rammo, containing way too many people for health and safety to be happy. People were constantly barging into you and you were never quite sure that the police weren’t about to swoop in and arrest everyone. It was an amazing experience and it seemed to go on forever but by the end of it all, we were very tired and felt like a long hot shower was needed to get all the dirt off.

All in all China felt polluted, dirty and in need of a makeover. It was great fun but I don’t think either of us would like to live there. The people weren’t as friendly as Koreans and it was a right ball ache trying to buy anything, as the haggling aspect, although fun, just gets tiring. The sights were amazing, with the highlights being the Terracotta Army, the Summer Palace and the Bund.
How the hell can you forget to mention The Wall?! Dave you are a disgrace. This was my favourite bit of the trip and I want to go back!!!

Would we recommend China? Hells yes. But be prepared, because it feels less like a holiday and more like an overcrowded adventure...with lots of delicious food along the way...

12 hours and a whole lotta terracotta

Right, where were we? Ah yes, we had boarded the train from Beijing to Xi’an and David had successfully acquired us 2 “hard sleeper” beds for the 12 hour, overnight journey. Sadly we have no photos of the carriage but it wasn’t really anything special – each side had 3 bunk beds running up the wall, and once we were settled in we soon drifted off to sleep. Granted, it wasn’t a great night’s sleep for me but I got about 6 hours and before we knew it, it was 9am and we were arriving at our destination.

We dragged our bags off the train and dumped them in the baggage storage of the train station, before hunting down some breakfast. Choices were limited and we eventually decided to do it Chinese-style and get a bowl of beef and noodles from a chain restaurant called “Mr Lee’s”.
It's the Chinese Colonel!
And his noodles were chopstick lickin' good!
We then set about trying to find out how to get to the Terracotta Army. Luckily we bumped into a friendly Argentinean woman who was also heading that way, so we tagged along and boarded a bus to the site. Upon arrival, our new friend asked if we would be interested in joining her to get a tour guide. We explained that we didn’t have the money for it, but she kindly said she’d pay and we could tag along if we wanted. The guide wasn’t up to much, making all manner of claims about Chinese history, such as the fact that they were using chrome on their arrow tips as early as 2000 years ago. Yeh, sure. And I’m sure those plastic chopsticks you found at the bottom of your garden date back to the Ming Dynasty!

Anyway, David had read that the best way to see the 3 “pits” at the site was to do them backwards, therefore ending with the biggest and most impressive. This is a definite must for anyone visiting the Terracotta Army.

I won’t go in to too much detail, as there was quite a lot of repetition in the different buildings, but we made our way through a couple of museums, showing ancient Chinese relics, along side some statues from the pits, all of which was very well preserved and did add a little doubt in our minds as to the accuracy of the dates being displayed. However, we were very impressed by the detail on the soldiers and archers, and got some good close-up pictures to show you.
A pot dated between 9000-6000 BC - That is old!!

We saw a terracotta horse and carriage, archer, stable boy, gardener swan, helmet and armour, and discovered that along with all the statues, real animals were buried in the tombs, so that the Emperor’s family would have a beautiful garden to play in once they died. It was all quite strange.
Horses and carriage
Kneeling archer
Copper duck
Pot-belly soldier!
Armour - here made of terracotta but would
really have been made of bamboo.
Chinese bamboo, very strong!
There is little doubt that the terracotta army is an incredible human achievement. The statues were discovered in the 1970s and currently around 9000 have been excavated but there are hundred more to be found and restored. The emperor made thousands of slaves carve out the warriors (no two are identical… apparently – in my eyes, a lot looked the same!). The stone statues were buried underground so they escaped the eroding forces of nature. After the slaves completed their work, they were murdered and buried, along with hundreds of animals, in the tomb they had made to hide the knowledge of its creation. I wonder if the emperor then murdered the murderers to hide the murder of thousands of people. Would he continue to murder everyone until there was no-one left?? The emperor strikes me as an evil task driver, much like one of my co-workers. Regardless, the incredible site is arguably the most interesting archaeological discovery of all time.

After the museums we moved on to the “pits”. These are the underground rooms that have been excavated and where the army was discovered. We started with the smallest, as planned, and this was mostly filled with broken statues of soldiers and horses. The size of the pit was impressive, but the content wasn’t that great…until I started to notice the faces. It was really eerie, seeing all of these broken faces staring up at me from the bottom of the pit, all mixed in with arms and feet…
How many faces can you spot? 
Then it was on to the next pit – this one actually had some whole statues in and we started to get a sense of that it was all about. There were quite a few headless ones, but regardless they looked really real, standing down there with their horses. 

This was nothing compared with the final pit though. If we had done pit 1 first, the rest of the buildings and pits would have been a let-down, but saving the best until last meant we had slowly worked ourselves up for this spectacular sight. The pit was huge – 230x62 metres according to wiki and it houses over 6,000 soldiers and horses. It was very intimidating and we couldn’t help but think about what would happen if they all suddenly came to life. I wouldn’t mind watching a low-budget horrow film about that actually.

Fortunately, the day we went was quiet (by Chinese standards) so we didn’t have to wait for long to get a view and some pictures from the balcony but sadly, we simply couldn’t capture the overwhelming size of it all.

What I think you will notice, from the photos, is that the terracotta that they are made from is not the burnt orange colour that we usually associate with the material…they were more of a grey colour. What you also may not know is that they were originally painted to look much more realistic, but apparently upon opening the tombs, the oxygen reacted with the paint and made it disappear. Or so they say.

The warriors are over 2000 years old. 2000 years old. 2000 years old. WOW. The detail that is still present is unbelievable. I mean, seriously, it’s unbelievable –I don’t believe it!

My theory is that in the 1800s, the Chinese (ahead of the rest of us of course) realised that tourism was going to be a big money maker. So they made this site to bring in the bucks. The reason I have drawn this conclusion is that it is just an incredible site. I doubt the museums in Egypt will be as impressive as this… But if you hang around for long enough, we might make it there and write a comparison :).

Here is a short video in pit 3 where I attempt (badly) to show the scale of the pit. You can watch it in HD if you click on 360p and select a higher resolution.

Needless to say, it was an amazing experience and definitely worth the 12 hour train ride to get there. But would it still be worth it after the 16 hour journey back to Shanghai? Having been in Xi’an for a mere 12 hours, we boarded another train but this time, disaster struck! We were unable to upgrade our seats to sleepers! What’s more, our seats weren’t next to each other! Fortunately a very kind man swapped with me so that I could sit next to David – but this was little comfort once we stopped to soak in our surroundings…while the first train had been relatively new and clean, akin to an Arriva Trains Wales experience, this one was…much more Chinese. The carpet that lined the aisle had a distinct wet dog aroma, which mingled horribly with the cigarette smoke that constantly lingered in the air. As I stared down at the offending rug, I noticed that it was decorated with a sprinkling of crumbs, and studded with discarded chicken bones. But I wouldn’t have to stare at this disgusting floor for long, because it soon became covered in people – standing, squatting, sitting and, as the night drew on, lying in the aisle, for the entire 16 hours. Words cannot express how uncomfortable it was trying to sleep – so we didn’t. Towards the end of the journey a family boarded and squashed in opposite us…with a tiny tank containing 2 turtles. I did think I was hallucinating this, but we have photographic evidence that it did actually happen.
The view from our seat...for 16 hours - rammo!
So, after arriving in Shanghai an hour later than scheduled, we dragged ourselves back to the hostel that we had stayed in at the very start of our trip. This time our room was on the next floor up, which was still being renovated, but we didn’t care – we dumped our bags, peeled off our disgusting, train-smelling clothes, had much needed showers, and then headed out for some food. It wasn’t long until we were back at the hostel, exhausted, snuggled up on the bottom of our double bunk-bed, watching a very intense BBC drama, and trying to forget about the horrors of the night before.

Then a mouse ran up the bedpost.

Beijing Part 2

So back in Beijing, after the wall – we were starving. After seeing the donkey on the wall, it flipped a switch in my mind, so we decided to try some donkey dumplings. They were delicious!
“Where else did you go?” I hear you cry. Well we went to the Summer Palace. This is basically a gigantic park with temples, pagodas, a huge lake and bridges. It was so huge that it wasn't actually rammo, which was nice. Oh yeah, it was also stunningly beautiful and my favourite place in Beijing. We spent about 6 hours in the park and here is a selection of our favourite photos.

This is us dressed in the "traditional" clothing
of the Emperor and Empress

Suzhou street was the highlight of the Summer Palace
- an old, traditional feeling street running along both sides of a canal
We then had a look at the Beijing Olympics’ site. The bird’s nest stadium was a sight to behold and it seemed to still be drawing in the crowds 3 years after the Olympics. I wonder if East London will have the same appeal? When I think of East London I imagine a Kosovo-like, decimated city but will the Olympics force East London to rise like a phoenix out of the ashes and join the rest of London (ignoring the South) in the 21st century? It's unlikely but I'm sure Boris has it under control.

We saw two more parks in Beijing: Jinshan and Beihai park. Who would have thought we'd see more Parks in China than in Korea?! In Jinshan park Dave got an awesome panoramic photo of the Forbidden City - click the picture to full screen it and be overwhelmed by the size of the temple complex.

We also stumbled upon a butterfly enclosure.

Beihai park had a dragon screen, a lake, a pagoda and a wall of Buddhas. It also had a beautiful temple surrounded by ponds - apparently it's very unique.

Dragon Screen

We also went to Beijing zoo and, of course, saw some pandas. They were cute and seemed happy but the rest of the zoo was as disgusting as some of Dave's similes. We saw a man (a fully grown man!) throw a coke bottle at a tiger and numerous people poke crackers through the railings to feed various animals - because everyone knows the important role the great Ryvita tree plays in the African grasslands. The worst, though, was the bear enclosure. It was filthy.
Dirty Dirty Bear Enclosure
The experience only supported our impression that Chinese people seemingly have little respect for cleanliness and politeness. Maybe it is due to the sheer concentration of people, meaning that you’ll generally have more shit-covered apples than you would in any other country. But our views of Chinese people were conforming to the stereotypes: loud, dirty and rude.

Of course, we had travelled there from Korea, which is very clean and full of generous, friendly, respectful Confucianists, so our view would probably have been different if we had travelled from the scummy, needle-filled, Chav-breeding gutters of our beloved Manchester! 
Cute Small Pandas
Bigger Less Cute Medium Panda
Old Nearly Dead Panda
Let’s move on from insulting over a fifth of the world’s population to the next destination - Tiananmen Square. I only know of Tiananmen Square because of the student riots that led to that infamous picture of a young man standing in front of a tank with his arm up. But it was an interesting experience. The largest public square in the world had no shade and in the scorching heat it was a little uncomfortable so we didn’t stay long.
Again I have to wonder if China, in all its wisdom, couldn't have taken the time to install the world's largest gazebo over the square?
There were a lot of CCTV cameras and many military men. Some interesting statues and the surrounding buildings were very communist looking.

CCTV & an Interesting Lamppost
I feel like Tiananmen Square would be an interesting place to hold a flash mob freeze ( I wonder how the Chinese police would react – would they start cracking skulls or just ignore it? If they started murdering people like the student riots then at least it might not be as busy in Beijing.

So, we reach the end of Beijing, where the bulk of our holiday was spent. Would I go back? I certainly don’t feel the need to. It’s similar to watching Memento. I loved it but watching it for a second time seems pretty much pointless.
I, on the other hand, would like to go back, but do things in a different order - much like my feelings on watching Memento again.

We boarded a train for Xi’an and sat down in our hard seat where we would be treated to a 12 hour ride. My cunning, perseverance and wallet full of cash managed to get us an upgrade to a sleeper carriage, which was definitely good news. However I had to carry both our huge rucksacks through 13 carriages, which were littered with people asleep / squatting in the aisles. I arrived a hot sweaty mess but would at least be spending the night in the comfort of a narrow sleeper train bed.
As I drifted off, I couldn't help but think of "Namesake", and the train crash, and "The Overcoat"...I realised that the book in my bag was "The Help", and since I can't possibly name my first child Kathryn (and Stockett would just be silly!), I figured there was no way we were going to crash. And so I drifted off to sleep...

All in all it's just another, blog on the wall

I currently have blog diarrhoea – they are coming out fast and they aren't as solid as I would hope for. However the China adventures must continue as we depart for Japan this weekend and this blog is becoming as outdated as my jokes (and sitcoms).

After the rammo sights of the subway and the Forbidden City in Beijing, our expectations of a quiet tourist attraction were low for the Great Wall. We flirted with the idea of going our own way or even paying to sit in a bus for longer to go somewhere further away from Beijing and hopefully less busy. But finding an isolated spot in China is like trying to find a decent beer in Asia – it’s just not gonna happen.

We went to the Mutianyu section and we were both very happy with the choice. It was isolated enough to get some non-crowded photos and we got some awesome views as it was a clear sunny day.

It was an amazing feeling, standing on The Wall above the treetops, feeling like I was on top of the world...and yet couldn't help but wish that The Great Wall of China had been fitted with The Great Awning of China. B
y the time we were actually on the wall and climbing the hundreds of steps up and down, and up and down, and up and down, we were stuck under the midday sun with nothing but a handful of watchtowers to provide some shade. It was hot. Really hot. And for the first time in my life I was actually worried I might burn! Not only were we dripping with sweat, but we were being constantly accosted by all manner of prehistoric-sized insects and at one point, even a donkey! Needless to say, as wonderful and breathtaking as the experience was, it wasn't exactly a glamorous occasion.

Our coach dropped us at the bottom of a hill and we got a cable car to the top of the Wall, which provided us with some good shots. Let’s just shut up and look at some photos.

We saw some old wall as well that hadn’t been restored – it was … similar but older. Like Martin and Charlie Sheen.

The best part of the day was getting a toboggan down from the wall. It was great fun and it felt like a truly authentic Wall experience.

There are loads more photos in the very cleverly named facebook album "All in all it's just another pic of The Wall" - yes Dave I am taking credit for the name of this blog too because let's face it, I'm the witty one here.