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Give Me Money!!! a short story from China.

Give Me Money a short story from China

Give Me Money!!! A short story from China.

After a prolonged period of stability, I finally bid Belgium farewell in the summer of 2009. Uninspired by life in grey, uneventful Brussels, I headed off to China for an unforgettable year of teaching and traveling.


Battling through the rush hour melee at Beijing Railway Station wasn’t much fun. Eventually, having bounced off the shoulders of a hundred and one careless commuters, we reached the promised land of Waiting Room Number 2. Inside, we found an air-conditioned hall the size of a small European country. Settling down in one of the endless rows of metal benches, we gazed up at the giant information board. An incomprehensible parade of fluorescent Chinese characters.

Which one was our train?

Was it leaving on time?

Should we present ourselves to someone?  

The information board at Beijing Railway Station

Searching for our train at Beijing Railway Station.

They were calling departures every five minutes or so. Which, it seemed, was the signal for a furious, uncivilised rush towards the exit gate. This was pretty rough on the gate’s lone, dopey-looking security guard in oversized trousers. In fact, the poor guy had no chance of checking all the tickets before the human wall literally smashed right through him.

Watching the bodies pour forward, I scanned a pair of businessmen barking into their phones. Behind them, a massive family overloaded with shopping bags and suitcases. Then, a group of rubber-skinned labourers, half a dozen massive wooden crates set before them on metal trolleys. Docile and expressionless, wherever it was they were headed, they didn’t seem very excited about it.

Beijing Railway Station Give Me Money!!! a short story from China

Beijing Railway Station.

Photo courtesy of N509FZ.

Consulting the guard, we learned that our train to Tianjin was next up. Sure enough, we soon found ourselves riding a wave of eager passengers, invisible hands pushing into my back. Clambering aboard our train, S found our seats with ease. The carriage was modern and temperature-controlled. Moreover, our chairs were comfortable and we had ample table space. All in all, my expectations had been exceeded! 

Give Me Money!!! A short story from China.

Bullet train from Beijing to Tianjin the summer of 2009

On the Bullet train from Beijing to Tianjin. July, 2009.

A Chinese school group quickly surrounded us as the train pulled away. I got chatting to the teacher, a smiley guy who looked a bit like a teenager with his boyish looks and bird’s nest hairdo. While his English was minimal, he managed to explain that they were all on their way home to the city of Chengdu. “38 hours!” he moaned, scribbling the number down on his newspaper. 

Our own ride was an uncomplicated two hours, which flew by in the snap of a finger. Unfortunately, I didn’t get the chance to say goodbye to teacher-boy. When we pulled into Tianjin he was fast asleep. His backpack clutched into his chest like a pillow, the newspaper pressed up against his cheek.

On the train from Beijing to Tianjin.

Teacher boy.

I had a less than enthusiastic feeling about Tianjin City Youth Hostel the moment it came into view. It was an eyesore of a building, dumped onto the side of a highway like a messy afterthought. “Welcome you”, said the man behind reception, in a tone that couldn’t have been less welcoming.

Entrance doors Tianjin City Youth Hostel

The entrance doors. Probably the most exciting thing about Tianjin City Youth Hostel.

Exploring the lobby while S checked us in, I immediately noticed how horribly neglected the place was. There was a broken chair and dusty floorboards in the common room. In the sad looking kitchen, I spied an overflowing rubbish bin that should have been emptied days ago. Heading up the stairs to our room, a peeling sign on one of the archways informed us that we were staying in ‘‘The first hostel in Tianjin since 1974”. Sadly, it felt like we were still in 1974.

Give Me Money!!! a short story from China.

Inside Tianjin City Youth Hostel.


The room itself actually turned out ok. The dictionary definition of basic, but cleaner than I’d expected. Nevertheless, we didn’t want to waste any time in the hostel. Back at reception, I asked Jackie Charm how far the nearest restaurant was. He answered with a surly “far”. So we decided to just head out blind, exiting the gloom of 1974 into the afternoon sunshine of 2009.

Short stories from China

Give Me Money!!! a short story from China.

Twenty minutes later we came upon a little restaurant. It didn’t look very inviting but lord we were so hungry. It was a hole-in-the-wall type joint, with plastic orange tables and a mountain of green beer boxes stacked up against the far wall. The place was largely empty, just three old men sat beneath a huge portrait of Chairman Mao. The only decorative touch to the entire restaurant.

Mao painting in restaurant Tianjin China.

Nameless restaurant, ‘somewhere’ in Tianjin.

One of the men was the owner. He was a middle-aged man in a white vest who looked absolutely astonished when we walked in. Rising slowly with a cocked eyebrow, a sideway glance to his smirking friends, he shuffled over and presumably asked us what we wanted. With no physical menu and limited linguistic skills from both sides, it was a miracle we managed to order. 

He then disappeared into the kitchen while his friends smoked silently and stared at us. Barely five minutes later the boss man returned with two piping hot bowls of tomato, egg and rice. It was delicious, a stir-fried concoction rich in ginger, soy sauce and black pepper. Known as fanqié chao dàn, among other names, we destroyed it in a matter of minutes.

Give Me Money!!! a short story from China.

Fanqie Chao Dan Stir fried tomato and scrambled eggs

Fanqie Chao Dan: So simple, so good!

It was another kilometre before we arrived in downtown Tianjin, a compact commercial district built around The Hai River. It was here that we came across a holidaying Chinese family. They were SO excited to meet us. Thus the mother insisted I pose with them all for a photograph.

At her request, S captured the moment with their beast of a camera. “London very cool city, my dream!” exclaimed the father, thumbs aloft, his wife and daughter giggling in unison. “Welcome to China!”

Give Me Money a short story from China

“London very cool!”

Delving into my guidebook, I learned that Tianjin dates back to 1404 and became a major treaty port in the 1860s. Forever in the shadow of its big brother Beijing, the city later fell into depression. This was compounded by the devastating Tangshan Earthquake of 1976, the second deadliest quake in modern history.

Happily, Tianjin was now in the midst of a huge, multi million yuan rejuvenation project. Sitting on a bench down at the riverfront, I could see cranes, diggers, mud pits and buildings under construction as far as the eye could see. It wasn’t a pretty sight, but it did have the feel of a city that was going places.

Give Me Money a short story from Tianjin China.

Tianjin, China.

Photo courtesy of Yaohua2k7.

Our somewhat aimless wanderings took us into Tianjin’s old town, where we walked through a number of European flavoured neighbourhoods. It was an interesting district, a handsome, albeit jumbled juxtaposition of Gothic and Renaissance buildings alongside traditional Qing structures. There were very few actual sights, though we were impressed by the towering form of St. Joseph Cathedral.

Adventures in China.

St Joseph Cathedral Tianjin.

St. Joseph Cathedral, Tianjin.

Photo courtesy of Sevgonlernassau.

It was late afternoon by the time we arrived at Guwenhua Jie (Ancient Culture Street), with its craft shops, food stalls and upmarket lantern boutiques. There was also a sizeable temple, while the buildings were all Qing replicas, with bricked facades and ornate, painted windows. The street had been built as recently as 1986 with the purpose of creating a Chinese Folk Heritage Centre. 

Ancient Culture Street in Tianjin.

Ancient Culture Street, Tianjin.

I’d been enjoying our stroll very much, taking in the aromas of a large teahouse and watching bicycles clatter past in both directions. Suddenly, I saw a young man striding towards us, noisily clearing his throat as he came.

Before I knew what was happening, he’d violently deposited a large glob of phlegm on the pavement, just inches from my feet. It had happened in an instant and now he was already far away, no looking back. “Did that just happen!?” asked S, stepping around the pool of offending filth. “Yes” I replied, my growing appetite temporarily derailed, “yes it did”.

Ancient Culture Street Tianjin Give Me Money a short story from China

Give Me Money!!! a short story from China.

The following morning we awoke early to the sound of roaring traffic beyond our paper-thin walls. Good old Tianjin City Youth Hostel! With no suitable breakfast options around, we headed straight to the train station for what I knew would be an unpleasant task.

It was Noodles back in Beijing who’d advised me to always book tickets for our next destination well in advance. Remembering his advice, I figured twenty four hours should be enough time to secure two good seats on a morning train to the city of Jinan. 

Give Me Money!!! a short story from China.

Tianjin Railway Station Give Me Money a short story from China

Tianjin Railway Station.

Photo courtesy of David Dong.

It was total bedlam in the station, with scores of people rushing around. And not a word of English to help us on our quest. With absolutely no idea which line to join, we simply picked the shortest queue and crossed our fingers.

At the counter I handed the clerk a prepared note with all the details of our trip. However, to my surprise and general dismay, he merely skimmed over it, shook his head defiantly and flicked the paper back at me. Méiyou!” he shrieked, folding his arms.

Busy train station in China.

Train station madness.

“Um… Jinan?!” I repeated hopelessly, while S backed me up with a supportive “Míngtian” (tomorrow). But ticket man was not playing ball. Méiyou!” he repeated, again and again, his lips achieving a whole new level of pursed with each utterance.

It was only later that I discovered the meaning of Méiyou, a firm and direct “don’t have”. We didn’t know what to do. The man had a weariness about him that suggested he’d dealt with the likes of us a thousand times and was finally at breaking point. We were about to give up when, quite suddenly, a guardian angel swooped in to save the day. A tall, graceful Chinese woman in a flowing white dress.

“Excuse me, may I assist you?” 

Leighton Travels travel reports short stories.

Having told her what we wanted, she wasted no time in relaying the info to Captain Inflexible. For a solid two or three minutes they yipped away at each other like excitable puppies. And then it was over, two tickets rattling out of the printer, the lady personally handing them to me with a placid smile.

It was exactly what I’d originally asked for! A train to Jinan, second class, leaving the following morning. Where had it all gone wrong? “Thank you so much!” I cooed. Moving away from the queue, I realised there were about thirty people staring at us. “Uh, let’s go” I whispered.  

Dancing girl Tianjin China.

Zhonxing Park, Tianjin.

With the clock ticking down on our brief Tianjin adventure, we set about crossing off more sights. There was an hour lazing around Zhonxing Park, where a collection of old ladies performed elaborate stretching exercises. Elsewhere, a group of gossiping mothers kept half an eye on their children as they frolicked together around a large fountain.

Porcelain House Tianjin China.

Porcelain House, Tianjin.

Quite accidentally, we also stumbled upon the fascinating Porcelain House, a contemporary centre for pottery and antiques. Originally an old colonial building, an eccentric artist by the name of Zhang Lianzhi remodelled the entire structure using broken porcelain parts.

Give Me Money!!! a short story from China.

Goubuli Restaurant in Tianjin.

Goubuli Restaurant, Tianjin.

Lunch came at Goubuli Restaurant, a renowned Tianjin eatery dating back to 1858. Leafing through their extensive menu, I was horrified by such tantalising dishes as Preserved Duck Tongue, Stirred Jellyfish Head and Chinese Caterpillar Fungus. There was also a dark green vegetable plate listed as Rape. Mm. 

In any case we were only interested in one thing, a round of the house speciality, Baozi. The steamed buns that arrived a short time later came served individually in beautifully presented wooden containers. Some were filled with pork, others with beef. All of them doused in spices and a dark, dense gravy. They were divine. 

Steamed dumpling Goubuli Restaurant in Tianjin

A plump, steamed Goubuli steamed bun.

That evening, there were more culinary delights on Nanshi Food Street (Shipin Jie), an indoor arcade packed with restaurants. With no idea what might be good, we picked one that had some loose English translations on the menu and headed in with crossed fingers and toes. 

Give Me Money!!! A short story from China.

Nanshi Food Street, Tianjin.

Our waitress was a right character. “HELLO!” she screamed manically, arriving to take our order. We opted for a large plate of spicy Kung Pao Chicken to share. “OK!!!!!!” she bellowed, marching off to fetch our drinks. We had just started work on the Kung Pao Chicken when she stomped back over, squatted down between us and roared an ear shattering…. 


… right into my disbelieving face. Never before or since has anyone asked me for the bill quite like this. Scrambling for my wallet, I paid her and made a silent prayer that she would now let us finish our dinner in peace.

Kung Pao Chicken Tianjin Give Me Money a short story from China

Our spectacular and spicy Kung Pao Chicken.

Walking back to the hostel that night, I reflected on what a great time we’d had in a city where there wasn’t actually that much to see. Not that I needed to be wowed by grand attractions or historical sights. Rather, I found myself on an organic high that came from simply being in China.

Everything was new, from the sights, sounds and smells, to the intriguing cuisine and the fascinating, often confusing people. For the first time in my life I felt like an actual alien, an altogether different species from those whose land I walked. As a result, I felt even more excited and curious about the adventures that lay ahead. On our second train journey… in the city of Jinan… and beyond…

‘Give Me Money!!!’ is the second instalment of my short story series Challenged in China.

I’ve also written travel reports from all across China.

I’ve been living, working and traveling all over the world since 2001. So why not check out my huge library of travel reports from over 30 countries.

Leighton Travels logo travel reports and short stories.


  • qprgary

    We loved our time in China except for the place and the people most of which were totally ignorant smoking flem hawkers. Saw everything we wanted but would never return. Good to hear someone else’s take on it

    April 12, 2023 - 1:36 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Thanks for reading Gary.

      April 12, 2023 - 4:37 pm Reply
  • Toonsarah

    A great read, with some interesting anecdotes and a taste of a city I’ll probably never see for myself. The food sounds fantastic and I’m intrigued by Porcelain House. I would be horrified by the thought of a 38 hour train journey with a group of school children and can’t imagine being able to fall asleep on the job, but I suspect Chinese school groups are a little different from the UK version!

    April 12, 2023 - 1:40 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Thanks for reading, Sarah. A Chinese school group would, under normal circumstances, be something to urgently escape. However, I think those guys were reasonably well-behaved and with it being my first time in the country I was curious. These days I would just change carriages ha ha. I guess Teacher Boy was hoping to sleep off a large chunk of the journey. Yikes.

      April 12, 2023 - 4:41 pm Reply
  • Lyssy In The City

    This post had a lot of twists and turns, I never knew where it was going haha. I really enjoy how descriptive you are in your writing. Glad your guardian angel swooped in and saved the day!

    April 12, 2023 - 3:30 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Guardian Angel was the only reason we made it to Jinan. Thank god she stepped in and saved us from linguistic carnage. Thanks for the kind words, Lyssy.

      April 12, 2023 - 4:43 pm Reply
  • kagould17

    Holy Crap, that all sounds so scary. I recall our horror just transferring from crowded, polite Japan to crowded, every man for himself Taiwan in 1982. In those days, tourists were just more humans competing for the same finite resources. Living in such conditions, how can one blame the people for being abrupt to the point of rudeness. Your phlegm on the sidewalk story reminded me of what happened to our friend on our tour to Green Island Australia. The boat was loaded with tourists from China and it was necessary to walk back and forth along the dock several times during our visit. On one such trip after lunch, we heard a noisy bunch approach from behind. As they got even with us, one tall wag turned towards us and sneezed loudly and wetly right in my friend’s face, continuing on with unabated breath and speech as we hurled insults at his back. In short, they just don’t care. My son’s mother-in-law is from Hong Kong and even she will not go back home for a visit. We always thought that Gung Hey Fat Choy meant Happy New Year. In fact, it means Get Money. Hmmm. Happy Wednesday Leighton. Allan

    April 12, 2023 - 4:09 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Whoa Allan, spit-in-the-face is definitely next level and, luckily, something I managed to avoid during my time in China. A Chinese friend of mine said something similar along the lines of your “finite resources” theory. “If people here are going to stop and be polite to every person each day we will never get anything done”. Every man for himself! Thanks for reading Allan and for sharing these insights. I totally understand your daughter-in-law’s feelings, I have a few friends with similar sentiments.

      April 12, 2023 - 4:51 pm Reply
  • Monkey's Tale

    Oh the sound of horking phlegm from deep within is a sound I hope to never hear again! Funny and frustrating, trying to communicate with people who think they are trying to help but are only making it worse! Thankfully someone was there to help. Maggie

    April 12, 2023 - 6:15 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Yes the throat stirring pre-phlegm ejection is really awful, no two ways about it. It was a shock that first time and even though I heard it thousands of times during my years in China it always succeeded in making me feel just a tad uncomfortable. The worst is when someone does it in a restaurant while you’re eating! Thanks for reading, Maggie!

      April 12, 2023 - 6:52 pm Reply
      • Monkey's Tale

        At a restaurant, that would be the worst!!

        April 12, 2023 - 9:55 pm
  • Memo

    Your vivid descriptions bring back many memories starting with the massive over-crowded waiting room. I relived a moment of the panic I felt from the first time I entered one. We too depended upon guardian angels more than once. Thank God enough Chinese study a little English. Took a little time on occasion but one would eventually show up. Menu translations are befuddling at times and often humorous. I wish I could see what a jellyfish head looks like. I didn’t know they had them. Thanks for the story.

    April 12, 2023 - 6:52 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Ha ha good point, Memo. Maybe it is literally just the top part of the jellyfish. The most succulent bit? Oh lord, I didn’t and still don’t want to find out. It’s cool that we have these shared experiences of crowds, language barriers and guardian angels. But less cool of course at the time when one is living it.

      April 12, 2023 - 6:55 pm Reply
  • Stan

    china sounds just manic and challenging beyond almost any other country one could try to travel across. and i imagine this was in no way the most daunting i am trying to picture the remote villages and rural regions. i would love to try an authentic kung pao chicken in china must be magnifico. i would have paid that woman promptly too!

    April 12, 2023 - 7:00 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Hey Stan, funny you should mention villages and the like because there is one coming up in Sunday’s story. A really challenging but special experience that again shows the great contrast in emotions that one feels while exploring China.

      April 12, 2023 - 7:06 pm Reply
  • Travels Through My Lens

    This post had me hooked and I enjoyed imagining the departure hall the ‘size of a small European country’ and the hostel with ‘Jackie Charm’. But the screaming waitress; wow, crazy!! Too bad the guardian angel wasn’t also there. Great post Leighton, I’m looking forward to reading more!

    April 12, 2023 - 7:34 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Ha, there’s an idea. To have employed the services of Guardian Angel so that she could have bailed us out of every sticky situation. I’d imagine she would have soon got sick of the job. Thanks Tricia for this lovely feedback.

      April 12, 2023 - 8:04 pm Reply
  • Mike and Kellye Hefner

    If I had to have gone through what you went through in the Tianjin train station, I would’ve been curled up in a fetal position in a corner of the nearest bathroom. Isn’t it amazing though how people will step up and help when you least expect it? Your angel in white truly was your saving grace. I’ve never been in a situation where I’ve truly felt like an alien. (Although I’ve always wanted to see one.) That had to have been such a helpless feeling. “Give me money” money lady would have freaked me out, but I’m laughing! I always have the best time on your adventures, Leighton, and I’m so looking forward to more.

    April 12, 2023 - 9:40 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      You’re right Kellye. I think that over the years there have been lots of occasions where someone or something crops up to help me out of a hole. Guardian Angel came precisely when we needed her, praise the lord, and all that. Thanks again for following these stories, I’m so glad you’re enjoying the series 🙂

      April 12, 2023 - 10:01 pm Reply

    Leighton these scenes are so well written, not least because there’s such a familiarity in the unfolding stories. Unresponsive officials, inexplicable solutions when a local steps in, different cultures around restaurant and payment protocols…and gobbing on the pavement. And again, you capture the spirit of being in unfamiliar territory so well…the heady mix of disorientation and excitement is there in every paragraph. Really enjoying this series, next one eagerly awaited.

    April 13, 2023 - 4:38 am Reply
    • Leighton

      Thanks a lot, I really appreciate that. These stories were written (poorly) some years ago and badly in need of an overhaul. I now realise that the collection is pretty long (18 chapters) so have decided to put them out in chunks. This first 8 being that initial stretch of cross-country travel prior to starting the job. I’ll then go back to some travel reports and tackle the next wedge of stories at a later point. Cheers!

      April 13, 2023 - 9:05 am Reply
  • bronlima

    As always an entertaining read. Great the way you pick out the little special unique details. I like your comments in the last paragraph, and the message that “there is not much to see…… but there is lots to see! Also the interactions you describe and the people you meet that makes the place come to life. Keep them coming!

    April 13, 2023 - 6:49 am Reply
    • Leighton

      Thanks Geoff, you are very kind. “Not much to see but loads to see” was Tianjin in a nutshell, though from what I’ve read today’s city is virtually unrecognisable from the place I visited nearly fifteen years ago. Cheers.

      April 13, 2023 - 9:08 am Reply
  • anoush

    A very engaging read, Leighton. I remember being equally disoriented on my first trip to China and experiencing the similar situations in train station, restaurants and streets. Though not the horrifying “Give me money” scream. You really bring to life this episodes with your vivid writing and signature dry humour.

    April 13, 2023 - 9:50 am Reply
    • Leighton

      Thanks Anoush, writing this piece brought it all back, I’m so glad people are responding to these stories. Hope you are well!

      April 13, 2023 - 9:53 am Reply
  • wetanddustyroads

    Rush hour, rushing people, chaos … yep, you’re definitely on a roll here! But hey, thank goodness for a Chinese woman in a flowing white dress (just maybe it was an angel)! The Porcelain House looks like something special, but customer service still needs to be learned by the “give me money” waitress 😉. Yes, I get it … nothing happens at a slow pace here, because I’m exhausted after reading your (funny & well written) post!

    April 13, 2023 - 11:15 am Reply
    • Leighton

      Customer service was a tough thing to adapt to. In most restaurants there are almost as many staff as customers and they can often feel quite invasive. To be fair, most of them cause discomfort just by how desperate they are to please. It’s just a bit OTT. Shouting woman probably translated the Chinese expression and that’s how it came out ha ha. Rather direct and ill-timed to say the least. Thanks for reading, Corna!

      April 13, 2023 - 11:36 am Reply
  • NattyTravels

    Another great story Leighton. You have a great way with words to describe your stories. I could almost feel how unfamiliar you were at times. China sounds quite chaotic; the waitress part was rude but funny; I was surprised to hear a teacher took his class on a 38-hour train ride, and I didn’t even read the phlegm part. I saw the word and skipped past that part. Anything like that makes me feel queasy. 🤣

    April 13, 2023 - 11:26 am Reply
    • Leighton

      Queasy eh? I think it would be fascinating to drop you into a 2nd, 3rd tier Chinese city and have a film crew follow you walking around. Not fun for you but a great docuseries I reckon ha ha. Thanks for your kind words Natty, I hope you enjoy the upcoming instalments!

      April 13, 2023 - 11:39 am Reply
  • WanderingCanadians

    Your train station experiences sounded super stressful and chaotic! Thank goodness that lady was there to help negotiate your tickets to Jinan. Despite all the craziness, it sounds like you were in your element, soaking in all the sights and sounds, some good and some questionable, but that’s all part of the experience.

    April 13, 2023 - 12:47 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Ha ha “questionable” sights indeed. Yes, I did love the whole experience despite all the unsavory bits. As I was writing this series I kind of realised how special and formative that trip was. That actually I would never be in such a challenging country again that would provide me with such a culture shock. I think after China everything else I’ve done has always felt comparatively manageable. Thanks for following along!

      April 13, 2023 - 12:53 pm Reply
  • grandmisadventures

    You have the greatest nick names for people- Jackie Charm and Captain Inflexible. I feel like that could be another great tv series duo 🙂 The cathedral, though beautiful, seems just so out of place there. But the porcelain house- what an incredible work of art! As for the shouting server, wow just wow. I guarantee that if anyone even thought to try to skip out without paying they would forever be traumatized by her. Probably every restaurant wishes they had someone like that working for them bringing fear and better tipping all around.

    April 13, 2023 - 8:16 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      I’m trying to imagine them as superheroes. Captain Inflexible would have the worst cape. Jackie Charm might deliver kung fu moves with a cutting sarcasm. I agree that the church was a weird sight in Tianjin. I cannot for the life of me recall why we didn’t go into the Porcelain House. Maybe it was closed, either way it definitely felt like an opportunity missed. That lady had an amazing volume that nobody since has ever managed to match. I wonder if perhaps she shouted even louder than normal in order to make her shaky English understood. Certainly, the message was loud and clear. Thanks for reading Meg!

      April 13, 2023 - 8:37 pm Reply
  • Little Miss Traveller

    I’m so pleased you eventually managed to get the train tickets you needed. I know the feeling but polite perseverance usually pays off. I wouldn’t have been too impressed sharing my journey with a carriage load of school children but perhaps interesting on a first visit for people watching.

    April 13, 2023 - 11:25 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Thanks Marion, in our case standing there looking clueless and saying “What are we going to do?” to each other paid off ha ha. Yes, these days I wouldn’t even have entered that carriage with the kids. But I was a different beast back then and happy to soak everything up in all its rawness. Thanks for reading and contributing Marion, it’s always appreciated.

      April 15, 2023 - 8:45 am Reply
  • travelling_han

    Brussels to China is such a huge shift. The shouting server would have sent me over the edge mind you! China really intrigues me, I’ve never visited before but seeing its contrasts (like the cathedral), its people, its food and its crazy uniqueness really make me want to get there soon. I’d feel very out of my comfort zone and I’d just have to hope that the throat hocking wouldn’t finish me off, I absolutely hate that habit.

    April 14, 2023 - 10:48 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Hey Hannah, thanks for reading. You should definitely go to China if it intrigues you. The only question would be where to visit considering the vastness of this amazing country. I put out all my China travel reports years ago when I first started the blog. They are, shall we say, ‘not great’, so I will gradually put them all out afresh over the next years in between other collections. Until then, I hope you enjoy this short story collection, which mainly focuses on the lovely Shandong Province. Cheers!

      April 15, 2023 - 8:49 am Reply
  • Rebecca

    I’ve not been to Tianjin, but I’ve heard it’s an easy trip over from Beijing, given it’s only a two-hour journey (as opposed to the 38-hour train to Chengdu, poor teacher!). Glad you tried fanqié chao dàn, as it’s a popular, convenient Chinese dish that you can easily make at home, too. Personally, I love jelly fish for its acidity and QQ texture, so it’s really not that bad! “Give me money” definitely sounds off-putting, but from my experience visiting China and growing up Chinese-American, I personally think it’s a combination of cultural differences and a language lost in translation: the Chinese are very direct and even in Mandarin, phrases can come off harsh!

    April 15, 2023 - 6:26 am Reply
    • Leighton

      Hey Rebecca, it’s nice to hear from you. I’ve tried making fanqié chao dàn a few times at home. And while the results have been ok, nothing gets anywhere near the dish I have enjoyed in Chinese restaurants zillions of times. I tried jellyfish once or twice, notably in the Shandong Province city of Yantai and, well, it just isn’t for me. As for restaurant lady you are absolutely right, it is nothing more than a direct translation delivered with eyebrow-raising volume. No harm meant, she was just doing her best in an uncomfortable situation. This is something I would figure out more and more across the 4 years I spent living in China and the many months on the road exploring the country. I even ended up learning (badly) and understanding a bit of Chinese. Naturally the story is written from the perspective of a newbie, hence the rabbit-caught-in-the-headlights feel to proceedings.

      April 15, 2023 - 8:37 am Reply
  • NortheastAllie

    This sounds like the start of a great adventure, and all the foods look amazing!

    April 19, 2023 - 2:28 am Reply
    • Leighton

      Cheers, Allie!

      April 19, 2023 - 8:41 am Reply
  • Travel with a Pen

    Interesting read, as always! Bless the lady at the train station for helping out with the tickets. I hope it’s gotten easier to visit smaller cities in China since you made this trip.

    April 24, 2023 - 10:23 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Hey Amarachi. Yeah, that woman was a real sweetheart, she truly saved the day. It’s weird to think that 2009 was only 14 years ago but there was little info on places like Tianjin back in those days. I basically had my Lonely Planet guide and that’s it. Facebook and Youtube were in their infancy, blogging was nowhere near as widespread as it is now and there was no Instagram. A translation app certainly would’ve helped us out in a variety of situations. Thanks for reading!

      April 25, 2023 - 12:00 am Reply
  • rkrontheroad

    I’m sure that tomato and egg dish was a relief, considering the beginning of this story was not terribly pleasant. I like the name Ancient Culture Street.

    April 26, 2023 - 10:22 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      That tomato and egg dish is just incredible. So rich, sweet and salty all at once. Wish I could replicate it, but have never been successful.

      April 26, 2023 - 10:37 pm Reply
      • rkrontheroad

        The Japanese have a dish called omrice – an omelette with rice and usually tomato and maybe onion. But that Chinese version with ginger and soy sauce sounds much more interesting.

        April 26, 2023 - 11:26 pm
  • Eromonsele Emmanuel Oigiagbe

    Really missed your writing Leighton. The waiter’s entitlement and language is quite unsettling. Glad I could read this. Hope everything’s coming well?

    May 16, 2023 - 10:31 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Emmanuel, so great to hear from you, it’s been such a long time. Will you ever be making a return to WordPress? I am on an extended break myself in order to recharge the creative batteries.

      May 17, 2023 - 9:47 am Reply
      • Eromonsele Emmanuel Oigiagbe

        Ha! Thanks for the care Leighton. Some developments have enveloped my time and affection for blogging in the recent months. However, I’ll be dropping a post on my blog in a few hours

        May 17, 2023 - 10:12 am
  • Transitioning Careers: The Emotional Decision to “Leave” Travel Blogging Behind – ericotrips

    […] it would take me to so many beautiful places, introduce me to amazing people like Rochelle Knight, Leighton Thomas, Abisola Shof, Vincent Ehindero, Wonani Mwanza, Cindy Georgakas, Amarachi Ekekwe H., Claire L., […]

    May 17, 2023 - 2:22 pm Reply

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