The Sunshine Coast – Clacton-on-Sea

Hello again, so its been a little while since I have posted a blog and that’s because I’ve just got back to China and been getting settled/organising internet connection etc. What I am going to write about here is the town where I grew up and why you should love it as much as I do.

Recently in Clacton there was a by-election which put the town on the national stage. However, those politicians that were coming here often left with some rather disparaging remarks. Whether it was Tory Matthew Parris saying the people of Clacton don’t matter or UKIP leader Nigel Farage joining in with the ‘Clacton is the end of the line’ rhetoric. These politicicans that were so eager to pillory Clacton in the media had for the most part never spent more than a day there and were doing so for their own selfish political gain. Well what I am going to do is to cut through the hyperbole and negativity and present the true nature of Clacton, as told by someone who has lived in the town for 20 years, rather than attended a photocall for 20 minutes.

Where in the world?

Rural Essex from the air

Rural Essex from the air

Clatcon is located on the coast of rural Essex, with a population of only 50,000, it doesn’t take long to find yourself surrounded by farmland. This was the lure back in the 30s and 40s when British Rail amongst others would advertise Clacton as a break from the smog of London. British Rail and the advertising may well be gone (although not for much longer?) but the reasons to come to Clacton remain. Fresh air, countryside, the beach and the amusements. If you are looking for a weekend break, then why not enjoy it in England’s so-called ‘Sunshine Coast’ – only an hour and a half from London’s Liverpool Street Station.

Poster advertising visiting Clacton c.1920-40s

Poster advertising visiting Clacton c.1920-40s

Clacton-on-Sea station (abbreviated to CLT on booking websites) can also be reached from Ipswich with a change in Colchester (1h) and services from Cambridge take 2h30 changing at Ipswich, then again at Colchester.

National Express provides coach services to London Victoria departing from Clacton railway station, although it is a slow bus, it is cheap (at London Victoria catch nationwide and international coaches) **British trains have a crazy ‘off-peak’ and ‘on-peak’ system where the ticket will suddenly go up in price depending on the time of day, so try to avoid peak times and book in advance to make big savings on both the rail and coaches.

What’s the attraction?

Ok, so you have put off the city break to Budapest and have got to Clacton, what to do now?

Beaches

After the hotel, the beach is often the first stop for most people. A stroll along the prom (prom prom) or sunbathe on the beach is the reason that most people would come to a seaside destination.

The bays to the left and right of the pier and extending to the right along to the Napoleonic Martello Tower are beautiful sandy beaches, perfect for whatever you have in mind. In the past, the beaches to the left of Clacton Pier towards Holland-on-Sea were really stony and not really comfortable or convenient for doing anything on except walking past, that was until the new £30 million sea defences. As a welcome result of protecting the homes along the Tendring coast the beaches have been transformed (see picture).

Beaches at Holland-on-Sea

Beaches at Holland-on-Sea

Clacton Pier

Stretching out 360 meters into the North Sea is the century and a half old Clacton Pier. Originally built as a dock for visitors arriving by ship.  The pier following a large renovation has been greatly improved.

Clacton Pier was built for tourist to arrive in Clacton by boat

Clacton Pier was built for tourist to arrive in Clacton by boat

Along with the mini-theme park, with 2 rollercoasters, a fortune teller, an aquarium and restaurants can now be added the refurbished amusements. The first time I saw these was when I was back in the UK in January and I could hardly hold back my surprise. Opening the door expecting to see chewing gum dotted carpets and clapped-out tuppenny slots, but instead was faced with a bowling alley, bar, air hockey and an array of slot machine and games which would have looked at home in Vegas or Macau! 106 119

The Promenade and the Gardens

Clacton’s prom is a lovely walk. At the area in front of the pier you can buy seafood, the seaside favourite of fish and chips as well as candy floss, ice cream and freshly made doughnuts! Armstrong’s is a new place to eat, drink and be merry, once an amusement arcade, it is amusing people with bowling, pool, a bar and an excellent restaurant with views overlooking the sea. Heading from the pier and towards Holland is the road-train. Jump on board for either a quick way to Holland or stay on for a round trip, a family favourite! Going the other way, why not enjoy the walk along the seafront to the Napoleonic Martello Tower.

Beach huts on the way to Martello

Beach huts on the way to Martello

The Clacton Remembrance Gardens offer those that care to enjoy them a slice of tranquillity, or a tranquil place to eat your slice, either way they shouldn’t be missed. The Gardens are a prime location for watching the famous Clacton Airshow (late August annually) which showcases both historic and modern state-of-the-art war planes!

The Gardens in the summer

The Gardens in the summer

Clacton Town

When you want a change from sunbathing or swimming head into the town. On Pier Avenue, the road leading directly to the pier, is where you will find Magic City and the other amusement arcades.

Have a shockingly good time in Clacton

Have a shockingly good time in Clacton

In Clacton there are two theatres, the Princes Theatre, which is in Clacton Town Hall and the West Cliff theatre by the hospital. You will be surprised at the celebrities and shows which are put on in Clacton. From Jimmy Carr to Chas and Dave to Basil Brush, there are shows for all ages and all interests. Check their website to see what’s on and you won’t be disappointed!

Prince's Theater

Princes Theatre

Eat

Clacton has the full selection of the usual restaurants. Pizza Hut, a selection of Chiense and Indian restaurants McDonalds and  a Burger King at Clacton Common Shopping Village.

My recommendation are thus: 1) If you haven’t had it before, try fish and chips. It will make your life complete. You will understand Britain and you will know why. You almost shouldn’t be allowed to leave the country without eating it. So get ’em down ya!

2) Having travelled to the four corners of the world and eaten extensively across the UK I can say with my hand on my heart that the best Indian I have eaten was at The Great Gurkah at 126 Old Road.

After being greeted with a warm welcome by the owner and his wife, this Nepalese couple have put together a menu which showcases the best of Nepalese and Indian cuisine, which can be washed down with a Nepalese beer.

跟我爸爸爸妈妈吃饭呗

跟我爸爸爸妈妈吃饭呗

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Try some of the Nepalese beers on offer

Try some of the Nepalese beers on offer

Great Clacton

There have been people living on the spot where modern Clacton is for over 400,000 years, in fact neolithic spear tips have been found here. There is evidence of Clacton’s rich history all around. Go up to the village of Great Clacton and take a look at the Norman, St.John’s Church. As was the case when building in these times, bricks from Roman buildings would be used in its construction. There are services in the church every Sunday.

St. John's Church in Great Clacton

St. John’s Church in Great Clacton

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Opposite the church on the other side of the road is The Ship pub. The myth is that there were tunnels dug connecting St.John’s Church and The Ship all the way to the seafront where smugglers would covertly bring goods ashore and into the country without being spotted!

Sport 

Real football

Real football

With the premadonnas of the Premier League now going down at the slightest touch and being paid a fortune a week and even teams in League One and Two charging £20 or more to watch a game, it can be very easy to be turned off by football and not bother; this is where FC Clacton come in. England is blessed by having such a rich and competitive ‘football pyramid’. With the Premier League as the 1st tier, Clacton Town are playing in the 8th. Get in for a fiver here, with beers for 2 quid and a programme setting you back £1.50. Cheer on ‘the Seasiders’ at the Rush Green Bowl and watch football as it should be, passionate, committed and for the fans.

Ultra(s)

Ultra(s)

Nightlife

Although a small town, there is no shortage of places to drink on a night out. Clacton’s nightlife is focused along the seafron where there is a plethora of decent bars and pubs. My favourite is the Wetherspoons Moon and Starfish.

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Hope you have a nice day out in Clacton!

Let’s go to… Dongguan! 我们去。。。东莞吧!

Get off the beaten track and come to Dongguan

Get off the beaten track and come to Dongguan

Dongguan is the hidden gem of the Pearl River Delta. You won’t find many tourists flocking here, but they’re the ones missing out! Located in China’s southern Guangdong province, this city of 6.5 million is waiting for you to come and explore.

What You Need To Know

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Sunshine and palm trees, welcome to tropical Dongguan

Dongguan is located in the sub-tropical Pearl River Delta of south-east China. Dongguan has a 3 season climate, the winter lasts from November to the start of March with temperatures around 12c (53f).

The rainy season is as you’d expect – rainy!  So from March to June you’ll need to bring a light rain jacket as the temperature will still be 30c+ (86f+).

The summer is hot and humid and lasts all the way through to the middle of November; sun-worshipers won’t leave disappointed!

Culture

Guangdong is the home to two of China’s mega-cities; Guangzhou and Shenzhen.These huge metropolises are a lot of fun, but can be very hectic and you will want to have a break.

Dongguan has very much a provincial feel. The pace of life is much slower, the streets are quieter, the smog is not so dense and the prices are lower!

Dongguan is the perfect place to spend a weekend, relax and get away from the crowds.

Walk down the old streets and see what you can find...

Walk down the old streets and see what you can find…

Getting to and around Dongguan

Train

Trains from Hong Kong (彩虹站Cai Hong station) to Dongguan go to Changping, a town under the administration of Dongguan. A bus from Changping to Dongguan Central Station (东莞总车站) takes about an hour and costs 23 RMB (£2.30).

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HK – Dongguan train platform

High-speed services from Shenzhen and Guangzhou are served by Shilong station, from here to the center of Dongguan should be no more than 50 RMB (£5) by taxi.

Bus

Dongguan is connected by an extensive system of long distance coaches, making it the easiest way to get to Dongguan.

Coaches to and from the Central Bus station and Nan Cheng Bus Station (南城汽车站) run regularly to Shenzen (1h30, 49RMB)  and Guangzhou (1h30, 42 RMB) and overnight services connect as far as Xiamen and Guilin.

For Hong Kong a one way ticket to Central (中环) costs 100 RMB and to the airport is 150 RMB (£15). The coach departs from the so-called ‘Dongguan airport’ it is best to ask the taxi driver in Chinese for ‘候机楼’ hou ji lou.

Make sure you buy tickets for HK at least a day in advance!

Taxi

Taxis are cheap here, even by Chinese standards. Fares start at 7RMB. Buses are 2 RMB any distance, but make sure you have the correct change as there is none given.

What to do and where to go

Dongguan is quite a compact city, the main attractions are all rather close together and in a taxi are cheap and easy to get to. Let’s look at the two districts with the most going on.

Dong Cheng 

Dong Cheng is the heart of Dongguan. For shopping, head to DynaCity 星河城 on DongSheng Road 东升路. You will find all the top luxury brands as well as foreign eateries like Baskin Robins and Starbucks.

On the opposite side of the road are a host of good restaurants. My favourite is Tairyo Teppanyaki 大鱼铁板烧. Offering a wide-range of Japanese cuisine with Teppanyaki, Sushi, beer, saki and soft drinks all included for a flat rate of 150 RMB! If you are in a large group then you will be seated in a private room where the chef will cook in front of you. Or you can sit at a more intimate table or on a long table with the the chef cooking your teppanyaki there in front of you.

Around the corner from DynaCity on DongCheng East Road 东城东路 is the British pub, ‘One for the Road’. If you are British and want a taste of home, or would like to try traditional British food and drink, then this pub is the place to go.

Full English Breakfast - delicious!

Full English Breakfast – delicious!

Dong Cheng is also where the Bar Street 酒吧路 is located. One for the Road is a good place to start an evening and a taxi from there to the Bar Street should cost no more than 8 RMB. Here you can experience the traditional Chinese clubbing experience. Lots of tables, small dance floor and expensive booze.

Wan Jiang

Wan Jiang is without a doubt the hidden gem of Dongguan. Arriving at the Central Bus Station, you can cross the road and eat Mongolian food in a Yurt!

Alternatively, walk over to the world’s largest shopping center, the New South China Mall 新华南摩尔. It is

Join in the fun at 'Xin hua nan'!

Join in the fun at ‘Xin hua nan’!

a sight to behold, whole wings of this gigantic shopping center lay empty and abandoned, the perfect place for imagining you are in a zombie apocalypse! Other parts of the mall are a lot more busy, there is a fun ground, a newly opened department store and at the rear of the NSCM is the ‘Dongguan Airport’, from here you can travel to Guangzhou and Shenzhen airports, as well as Hong Kong.

The Dong Jiang River running through Wan Jiang is perfect for morning or evening strolls.

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The Dong Jiang River decked out for the Dragon Boat Festival

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Pagodas on the Dong Jiang

My pick for the best bar area is the little known Xia Ba 下坝. In a road of traditional Chinese houses has been converted into uber cool and trendy bars.

An example of the historic buildings converted into groovy bars

An example of the historic buildings converted into groovy bars

Walk along the main road, enjoying the ambiance and street food, then sit in one of the roof top bars and enjoy the surroundings over a good Belgium beer!

Beautiful Xiaba at night

Beautiful Xiaba at night

If there is any more information about Dongguan that you’d like to know please do leave me a message and let me know what you think of Dongguan.

What’s the difference: Hainan Normal University and Hainan University

Haikou is the provincial capital of tropical Hainan province and home to two major universities; Hainan Normal University and Hainan University. In this blogpost I will introduce both of these universities and give you the information you need to make the right choice.

Let’s look first at Hainan Normal University.

Hainan Normal University

Hainan Normal University, or 海南师范大学 (Hainan Teachers’ University) is located in the south of the city. The university is commonly known as 海师 hai-shi around the city.

The academic year at HNU is split into two terms. The first runs from the start of September, with registration for new and returning students in the first week of September and then term beginning the first Monday of the second week in September. The term ends the third week of January for the Chinese New Year holiday.

Although the university was established in 1949, most of the HNU campus buildings are from the 1970s and 80s. All foreign students are entitled to live on campus in the 留学生公寓 ‘study abroad student flats’. This 11 story building actually isn’t solely reserved for said foreign students, in fact, the first couple of floors are for the school students who are boarding at the primary school which is located on campus, above them a further 3 floors for Chinese students;  finally floors 6-11 are for foreign students. The rooms are all 2 person sharing, although it is possible to live alone if you pay for two. The price is approximately 2,000 RMB per semester (£200) per person for an open plan room (one big room, 2 beds, shared bathroom). For tuituion, the fee is 6,000 RMB (£600) per semester.

Opposite the student’s dormitory is a large running track, astroturf football pitch, Olympic size swimming pool and diving boards. Behind this sports complex are several tennis and volleyball courts as well as an indoor sports center.

For language students, lessons are all taken in the same building, a 5 minute walk from the dormitory. The campus includes a library as well as many small shops for buying snacks and study supplies. There are several canteens selling various kinds of Chinese food across campus.

HNU is roughly 10 miles (16km) from the Haikou railway station and 4 miles from the city center, which should cost around 35RMB (£3.50) and 15RMB (£1.50) respectively, if you were to take a taxi . Next to the university are several food streets, bars, KTVs, massage parlous and a 5 star hotel.

Hainan University

Hainan University 海南大学, is known locally as 海大 hai-da. It is located to the very north of the city, on Haidian Island.

The academic year, like HNU is also split into two terms, but unlike HNU, Hainan University breaks up on the 24th December for language students, meaning that you get less learning for your lolly, but do get to celebrate the Christmas holiday as you please.

The registration period is the first week of September and term proper starts the first Monday of the second week. During registration, your Chinese level will be assessed and you will be put into different sets, running from A class, for those who have not studied Chinese before, to F class, for those that are nearing fluency and should be able to pass the HSK Level 6 exam.

Classes run from 7.40 in the morning to 11.20. There are two classes of approximately 2 hours, with a ten minute break in after one hour, then a 20 minute break after the first class is finished. A, B and C classes have the most students with approximately 30 in each class. D also has around 30 students. E and F classes have around 10 students. In the second term it is expected for you to go up to the next class, therefore in term 2 there will be more than 10 students in E class. The tuition fee for the year is 12,000 RMB (£1,200).

The class itself takes the form of a lecture. Chinese education has its foundations in the Confucian school, which limits student participation, but does provide the students with a lot of information. The result of this is that the lessons can feel very dry. The teachers from D class will only use Chinese as the language of instruction, so if you turn up, listen, pay attention, you will learn a lot. The teachers go over the key words, phrases and grammatical ideas in a lot of detail.

The beautiful Hainan University grounds contain two lakes and acres of forests and fields perfect for walking, jogging or studying in. Here, it is very easy to forget that you are in a city of over a million people. This huge campus is 1.5km (1 mile) from the North to the South Gate and 2km from the East to West. In fact because of these distances, the university operates a road-train/bus service for a flat 1 RMB (10p) fee (pay when you get on board); its not a bad idea to buy a bike.

Onto the important part – the dormitory. It is located around 500 meters from the South Gate and 1km from the teaching building. The dormitory building is new, has 6 floors and around 50 rooms per floor. Each room is single-occupancy, meaning you won’t have to share (!) each room has a bathroom, bedroom/living space and a balcony. The university charge 3,300 RMB (£330) for a semester (September to December 24, March to end of June, there is a 1000 RMB fee if you would like to remain on campus over the winter holiday.)

There is a supermarket on campus, 15 university run canteens and many other independently run shops and restaurants which all helps to make the campus really feel like its own small town! Only 10 minutes from the dormitory is the sports stadium, and a little on from there are astroturf courts where people meet to play football every day from 4.30 and opposite these, basketball courts where people congregate to play. There is also a swimming pool and indoor sports center.

Getting from the train station to the university by taxi is around 35 RMB and to the airport 50 RMB. The campus is a 15 minute walk to the Baishamen beach and amusement park and only a 15RMB taxi ride from the hive of Haikou; Guomao, the home of shopping and clubbing.

I hope that this review of the two universities will help make your mind up about where to study and help you make the choice that’s right for you. If you have any questions, please do ask. 9359371006

The annual sports competition takes place in the 7,000 seater sports stadium. The opening ceremony includes a march-by by the army and other schools. The schools around the stadium have stands where you can talk to them and learn more about what they do, the school in the third picture is the School of Marxism.

Getting to Haikou

I arrived in Hong Kong from London on the 28th of August and stayed a couple of days there to see friends. To get from Hong Kong to Haikou, the capital of Hainan and where Hainan University is based there are three methods:

1. Fly – flying would be the easiest and quickest method. From Hong Kong there are many flights a day, expect to pay between £50 – £150, the flight takes a bit more than an hour. The only problem is the limitations on luggage. Normally there id s maximum of 20-23kg on checked luggage.

2. Train – there aren’t any direct trains from Hong Kong, as one might expect with Hong Kong having their own, independent rail network from that of China. Therefore, it is necessary to take a 2 hour train from Hong Hum in Hong Kong to Guangzhou East station. The ticket is about £4, 50HKD. In Guangzhou, there are 4 trains per day from Guangzhou station and one from Guangzhou East. The Guangzhou East station’s service leaves at 21:22 and arrives in the morning at 9:40 in Haikou. A hard sleeper berth will cost around £20, 190RMB. In spite of the name, ‘hard sleepers’ are in fact very comfortable.

3. Coach. This is the way I went. I took the Hong Kong underground, the MTR to Shenzhen, the first city in China , from there there were coaches advertised to Haikou. The cost was about 200RMB, £20. I asked them again and again that this coach was definitely the one to Haikou. Unfortunately they were not honest. In stead I ended up on the coach to Zhanjiang, the most southernly city in Guangdong province. I left at 8pm and arrived in the morning, about 12 hours. From Zhangjiang, I then bought a ticket to Haikou, about £7, 70RMB, which took a further 6 hours.

For my own experience, I think I got unlucky. Clearly there weren’t any more coaches to Haikou when I arrived in Shenzhen and to still make a sale, the ticket office put me on a coach going to the port from where I’d then go on to Haikou. I would have preferred them to tell me at the start, especially as I spoke to them in Chinese.

For me, taking the train or coach, is the best option. The Chinese countryside is beautiful and watching the world go by from the window makes a 12 hour trip feel like an hour (although there is little to see in the dead of night). At Zhanjiang both coaches and trains are loaded onto ferries and transported across the Qingzhou Strait.

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The trains run to this point and then are loaded onto the ferry.