I was lucky enough to experience some of the more enjoyable parts of Thelma and Louise’s roadtrip this summer, as I travelled from the Grand Canyon in Arizona, through the famous Monument Valley in Utah and on into Colorado.
I watched the famous film of female friendship, upon returning home, and the famous American style of Thelma and Louise inspired me to brainstorm inspired wardrobe staples, suitable for your own American adventure, or simply a very stylish walk to the shops. With only a few new wardrobe items, you can use basics already owned to recreate the simple yet affective style of 60s America, with not one star spangled swimming costume in sight.
The striking natural beauty of America inspires a stripped back wardrobe of denim layered with upgraded white basics. Adding in accents of colour through accessories elevates a simple outfit, whilst maintaining the versatility of the outfit and sartorially reflecting the inspiring rebellious attitude of these two famous women.
In February of this year, I was lucky enough to explore Eastern Asia with my dad. We started in Hong Kong before going on to Beijing, Shanghai and Taipei. I had never been to Asia before, and while the well-trodden gap year routes of South East Asia are well publicisied, I had no idea what to expect of the more foreign cities of China and Taiwan.
Arriving into Hong Kong, my dad tried to explain to me numerous times that this was actually a separate country to China, therefore quite different from the other cities we were going to visit. Although it had a growing Chinese population, Hong Kong is know for the expat community throughout the city, which gave the place a slightly more Anglicised feel. Don’t go imagining London or Paris however, this was a world away from Europe. The smaller streets on Kowloon side, with the many Chinese signs hanging across the roads, and shops selling everything from antique pennies to dried foods I couldn’t even attempt to recognise, was a sensory experience like none I had ever had. I found something so beautiful in the Chinese characters found everywhere from street signs to menus, that were so artistic yet impossible to decipher.
Hong Kong didn’t feel like a huge city, it felt like somewhere you could really get to know and learn to love. Although I was only there for three days, I certainly felt as if it was somewhere I would love to live in the future, and discover more of its quirks, culture and amazing food!
Amazing panoramic view of the city. The tram travels up through the tropical greenery which is scattered across the city. The higher you get up the hill, the more expensive the property becomes. You are able to walk up or down from the peak, or do what we did and walk halfway then take the tram the rest of the way!
Star Ferry across to Kowloon
One of the TripAdvisor top 50 things to do in Hong Kong. Kowloon itself is interesting – smaller streets and feels like an older district than Hong Kong side.
One of the upper class districts of Hong Kong, known for its large expat community. The Stanley Market is not to be missed – unique Asian clothes, art and jewellery. Try out your hand at haggling!
Little Bao was one of the best restaurants we visited – try it for a trendy Asian fusion experience. See my review of the restaurant here.
After Hong Kong, believing I knew more of what to expect from China, I arrived in Beijing completely overwhelmed by the masses of people coming from all angles. I knew that it was one of the busiest places in the world, yet in reality it is so much more overwhelming than you expect. As a people, the Chinese are much more pushy, loud and rude than any other people I have encountered, yet this is understandable if you had grown up in a place as populated as Beijing. Although initially quite a shock, I grew used to people’s behaviour but after a few days I began to tire of it as I had to push and shout to be heard.
In my naivety of what to expect from this completely alien country, I had no clue what the weather would be like. It was freezing, honestly one of the coldest places I had been to. It was winter when we went but the city was so much colder than my home in England. Lesson learned – pack lots of layers and a hat if you visit in February!
The city was much older than Hong Kong, with large streets edged with proud buildings with ornate, sloping roofs. This was more like the China you see in the movies.
Great Wall of China
Take a day out of your time in Beijing to visit this wonder. We hired a private guide for the day which was worth every penny, as we could go at our own pace. We stopped off at a Jade Factory on the way to the wall which was an interesting insight into this Chinese trade. One the way back to the city, we had a tea ceremony which was something else not to be missed as we were educated as to all the different teas drunk and sold in China.
Another amazing historical insight into the imperial palace from the Ming Dynasty. Amazing architecture and design. A true Chinese experience.
1949 specialises in Peking Duck. The dinner we had there was an exciting experience in itself – our duck was delivered to our table with the announcement of a gong sound, with the chef carving it at our table.
Instead of flying, my dad and I decided to take the high speed train to Shanghai – why would we turn down another new exciting first? I am not exaggerating when I say that the train station in Beijing was the busiest place I had been to in my life. There were people swarming the huge space, and for some reason most of these people were taking photos of anything they could see. The arrivals board. The waiting area. The queue to get on the train. They took a photo of it. I was baffled why they felt the need to document EVERYTHING they did. What on earth would you do with a picture of a dustbin on your phone? But they were all doing it so there must be some reason for it.
Shangai was more Alglicised than Beijing, and although it felt like a large daunting city, it was more similar to Hong Kong in the fact that it was modern and well sign posted!
Oriental Pearl Tower
An iconic building. Go up to the glass viewing deck about two thirds up for a stomach churning view of the city beneath your feet.
Yu Yuan Gardens
A highlight of my time in Shanghai! Beautiful gardens that once served as the summer gardens for an emperor. The surrounding streets are worth a look, as they sell handcrafted souvenirs, much nicer than the tacky stuff on offer elsewhere. The City God temple is right next to the gardens and is an interesting old temple right in the centre of a maze of streets.
For the one day we were in Taipei, I was guided around the city by two of my dad’s Taiwanese work colleagues. This was both very exciting and very daunting. It gave a proper insight into the city from a local’s point of view – I was able to point at anything I saw and say ‘translate that’, which was as close as I’m going to get to reading those arty yet indecipherable characters. However, they threw me in at the deep end with a meal in their favourite restaurant. Very thoughtful and kind of them, but they ordered CHICKEN TESTICLES. It was a difficult meal to say the least, but I can’t complain that I didn’t get a full insight into their lives.
We took a glass-bottomed gondola up the Making mountain, where we visited the temple at the top. It is well signposted on the gondola, and there are various other attractions up the hillside so it it a good activity to do with amazing views of the city beneath.
A trendy, hip restaurant where exciting flavour combinations dominate, with a modern spin on traditional Chinese ingredients.
On a recent trip to China, I spent a few days in Hong Kong. When researching how to spend my short time in this exciting and buzzing city, I came across Little Bao, a trendy restaurant specialising in bao – a type of steamed bun. I was surprised how tiny the restaurant was – knowing how popular and in demand it is I expected something much larger. But the tiny, crammed 20 seater restaurant added to the charm of the experience, creating a sense that although this stylish and hip place was difficult to get a seat at, it is all the more worth the struggle because by simply getting a seat you’ve achieved something before you have even ordered.
The atmosphere of the restaurant was exciting – bustling and crammed, augmented by the tiny size of the restaurant. The decor was stripped back and functional, with the stainless steel kitchen taking up half of the floor space and the counters wrapped around the edges. The pink neon sign on the outside of the restaurant, proudly emblazoning the baby head logo on the shop front, was the only external décor, while inside the restaurant a few photographs of plastic containers reclaimed as mailboxes served as the only visual enhancement to the interior. Although sparse, the clearly carefully selected décor enabled the restaurant to appeal to the stylish, trendy cosmopolitan crowd who queue for hours to get a stool at the restaurant.
The stripped back interior allowed the food to dominate the dining experience. The menu was simple, with only a few different flavor combinations of the famous ‘bao’, and a few carefully selected side dishes. The choice was difficult to make, as the menu was rife with intriguing flavor combinations, but I settled on the Pork Belly Bao and the Szechuan Fried Chicken Bao, with a Green Tea Ice Cream Bao to finish.
The pork belly was cooked so it was falling apart, which was just what the bao called for. The hoisin ketchup was the highlight of the dish, injecting it with a tart sweetness to contrast with the smoky pork. The onion salad added a sharpness which cut the other flavours.
Szechuan Fried Chicken Bao: Chinese black vinegar glaze, Szechuan mayo, coleslaw
This was my personal favourite. The chicken was coated in a batter which contained Szechuan seasoning, adding flavour even in the main building blocks of the dish. The Szechuan mayo added more of the slightly smoky spice to the overall dish, and the black vinegar glaze added a deep sweetness, contributing a Chinese element to the largely western flavours and adding a different dynamic to the dish – absolutely genius flavour combination. Pickled onions added sharpness to this dish as well which seemed the perfect garnish for the dish.
The fluffy steamed buns which held the fillings took a back seat in terms of flavour as they only really added a squidgy texture to the dish and a means of presenting the fillings.
Ice Cream Bao: Green tea ice cream w/ condensed milk
This was a creative and ingenious take on the savoury bao which the restaurant specialise in. The bao bun was deep fried and coated in sugar, almost like a donut. The green tea ice cream was not overly sweet, yet the condensed milk added the right amount of sugar. This dish seemed an opposite to the savoury bao I enjoed, as the sugar coated bun took centre stage with the fillings acting as a way of completing the dish and complimenting the bun, not the other way around.
So, if you are in Hong Kong (or Bangkok for that matter – they have recently opened a second restaurant there) I would urge you to make the effort to get to this restaurant. Get there early, however, as the demand for seats results in a long wait time if you get there much past 6pm – I learnt this the second time I attempted to visit the restaurant!
‘Perhaps our eyes need to be washed by our tears once in a while, so that we can see life with a clearer view again’
– ALEX TAN –
Restart Africa was founded by Mary Coulson in 2007, in response to the growing problem of homeless children she saw living in the streets of her home town of Gilgil in Kenya. When it was set up, the Restart Centre began with six boys. I visited the original centre as part of a tour of the local area and I found it so different from the current buildings as it was run down and very basic. However, I reminded myself that this centre was a refuge for the boys it sheltered in the first years of the charity, and it offered safety and comfort in antithesis their horrendous backgrounds. The original building was located next to an orphanage, which I was told frequently complained about the behaviour of the boys.
This reinforced the fact that these boys had had such difficult childhoods, as their violent and disruptive behaviour came as a result of their abusive backgrounds, and this was highlighted by their juxtaposition with orphaned children, who have had relatively normal upbringings. The second centre was much larger, housing 97 children from 2009 until 2014. The charity had introduced girls to the centre in 2009, although I was told that there was a much smaller number of girls than boys, as they were more difficult to rescue because they are considered the property of the family and used as a form of income through prostitution. Seeing the two previous buildings made me realise how well equipped and beautiful the current building is.
Mary Coulson, the founder of the charity, was concerned with the appearance of the new centre as she strongly believes that beautiful surroundings provide a calm and happy atmosphere which augments the rehabilitation process for the children, and gives them a childhood experience as close to what we in the first world have and take for granted.
Restart Africa was set up to save the lives of the street children, who have been forced out of their families and abused in all ways, and who otherwise would have likely died. The charity strongly values volunteers, as they recognise the importance of the relationships formed between the children and the volunteers in helping to rehabilitate the children and help them feel a sense of normality.
These children have never experienced affection of any kind, only rejection and abuse, so I felt so privileged to be able to give up my time in order to be part of their long journey to recovery. As a volunteer I had the opportunity to help in all parts of life at Restart – the kitchen, helping clean the dormitories and do the washing, helping in the classroom, or working in the vegetable garden – but volunteers are primarily there to spend time with the children, so that is what I mainly did on a day to day basis.
My arrival in Gilgil after a long journey was quite a culture shock, as the very rural area was so different from the luxury of the more modern and built up Nairobi.
I found it so interesting and valuable, however, to experience such a different culture and it made me appreciate the first world luxuries that we take for granted. It was a completely different way of life from that in England, yet by the end of my time there I had grown accustomed to the noise, dust, torrential rain and culture and grew to really appreciate and respect it.
I did not expect to find the children so warm, generous and affectionate as they have never experienced any warmth towards them, but I was surprised to find them some of the most genuine and caring children I have ever met. The whole community at Restart feels like a large happy family, as the children care for each other as they would brothers and sisters, and I immediately felt included in this community from the outset. The toddlers were at the centre in the day, as they attended a preschool run by Restart, so this is the age group that I got to know best. I played with the children in the playground, organized craft activities with them such as mask making, drawing or paper crafts (which were always very popular), or just held their hand.
I gave them all the attention, affection and friendship that I could, and in the time that I was there really felt that some of the children had become more confident and outgoing through my relationship with them. One of the girls who I particularly bonded with, had only recently been taken in by the centre, so was traumatised by her recent abuse and as a result was shy and introverted. I spent a lot of time with her, as she was clearly more desperate for attention than some of the other children who had begun to recover. She really enjoyed playing on the swings, but I felt that even when I was just holding her hand and sitting with her it was helping towards her improvement as she was learning how to be loved for the first time in her life. By the end of my time there I saw her laughing and smiling and interacting much more with the other children in the centre, so felt so privileged to have been able to witness such a transformation in a relatively short period of time.
This personal experience with one of the children, and the day-to-day improvement which I witnessed, made me really understand the importance of volunteers to this charity’s work. Volunteers are able to offer their complete attention in a way that the staff at the centre cannot, as the staff are concerned with the admin side of the centre as well as the wellbeing of the children.
Half way through my time at Restart, the rest of the children finished school for the holidays, therefore I was able to get to know a whole new group of children. These children were older – ranging from 8 to 18 – so they required a different sort of attention. The older children all really enjoyed dancing and music, so I spent a lot of time leading dance sessions and was lucky enough to learn how to dance in the traditional Kenyan style, as they were all so keen to teach me! The older children had a better grasp of English, as they attended local schools, so I was able to talk to them more than I could the toddlers. I was interested to hear that all of the children had aspirations to go to university, in order to make the best possible future for themselves, and was told that four boys rescued by Restart are currently in university. Talking to these older children, I began to see parallels between them and myself, and it made it difficult as it acted as a foil to and thus made me more aware of their unbelievably cruel backgrounds in contrast to my own white privilege. I spent some time tutoring one of the older boys in English, so got to know him on a more personal level and help him in a more specific way.
It was so easy to ignore the difficult backgrounds of the children, but I felt that knowing the hardships that they had experienced gave me a more rounded perspective on their journeys and made me see more clearly the importance of the charity to their improvement.
The children had experienced sexual abuse, rape, violence, starvation and neglect. Some of the children had been so malnourished that their growth had been stunted, and some so severely abused that they needed medical attention and even surgery. I found it incredibly difficult to comprehend the unjust abuse that all of the children had experienced in some form, as I had never been exposed to such vulnerable individuals before. These horrendous backgrounds made the volunteer work so immensely rewarding as I could see how greatly all of the staff appreciated my time and attention and how it positively affected all of the children.
I feel so lucky to have been able to get to know so many amazing children and to feel that I have contributed to their recovery during my summer, as well as experiencing such an exciting and different culture. The resilience of the children and their generosity and kindness despite their terrible backgrounds and the complete lack of affection in their lives before their rescue, gave me such great respect and admiration for them. They lived in the present moment, thinking of their future and refusing to be defined by their past, which was such an inspiring way of dealing with their situation. The children’s admirable behaviour in the face of cruelty made me consider our own behaviour in the first world. Petty arguments seem so unnecessary when I consider what these children have been through, and cruelty towards anyone seems so unjustified after seeing so many innocent victims who have been rescued by Restart. The children have nothing other than the basic means to survive, but they have each other and they cherish their relationships with each other so dearly that it serves as such an inspiration for us to be grateful for what we have and to value those relationships with the people who love us for who we are. The children have an immense love of life and are so happy and positive despite their backgrounds, which I considered a lesson to us all to find joy in everything and make the best of every situation through our own positive outlook on life. I felt that personally I learnt so much from these amazing children, and my experience at Restart has completely altered my outlook on life, despite a few tears along the way.
I would recommend this experience to everyone, as I feel that there is so much to learn from the charity, and it is such an inspirational place that it deserves to have amazing volunteers.
I look forward to returning to the charity in the future to see how the children have developed and to give them the attention and affection they so desperately need and deserve.
Africa is a place forever associated with gap years and ‘finding oneself’. I was lucky enough to spend a month in Kenya last summer with some good friends who live in Nairobi, which provided me with an invaluable insiders’ insight into such a beautiful country. While I did manage to come into contact with some of the clichés paraded over social media, I had one of the most amazing experiences of my life, in a country so different from any I have previously experienced. I arrived not knowing what to expect, and left knowing that it was not going to be my last time visiting such an inspiring and vibrant country.
Kenya’s vibrant and varied capital city. We stayed in an area of the city called Karen, which is where the majority of the expat community in Nairobi choose to live.
An initiative set up to provide stable employment for the large number of single mothers and unemployed women in Nairobi. We had a tour of the factory, and learnt about the processes involved in the production of the beads and pottery.
Sort of like a real life ebay; second hand clothing, shoes and accessories spread over a network of stalls in what feels like the middle of the street. This is where most local people buy their clothes, so a very ‘Kenyan’ experience. Set aside a good chunk of time, however, as the unmissable bargains and trendy vintage clothing is sometimes hard to come across, as a certain degree of perseverance may be required.
Langata South Road, Nairobi
A network of shops in Karen, set up to provide local artisans with an opportunity to sell their products. It features an exciting variety of high quality, hand crafted and unique wares, perfect for a more unusual souvenir that gives back to the local community. The complex features a small café, so make a morning of your shopping and enjoy some of the homemade food on offer.
Take a tuktuk, the accepted form of taxi in Watamu, down to the Bio-Ken Snake Farm. We had a tour with Geoffrey, one of the snake handlers, and learnt about the different varieties of snake in the local area, and the work that the research centre does producing anti-venom for a huge number of different snakes.
No trip to Kenya would be complete without the safari experience. There is
a variety of accommodation options available.
The most incredible private house, with all staff and meals included for your duration of the stay. They are able to help you plan your itinerary for your time in the Maasai Mara; the in-house safari guide knows the surrounding area and wildlife intimately, and really helps you make the most of the game drives. The kitchen staff create amazing meals for the evenings, eaten outside in the natural beauty which is so abundant in the Maasai Mara.
See my post about Restart Africa. I visited this amazing rehabilitation centre for two weeks after my time in Nairobi, Watamu and the Maasai Mara.