In need of Shelter: Medika, Zagreb’s independent creative community

By Connor Newson

Its been a little over a month since myself and Jean began hitchhiking from the West of France towards Eastern Europe. By now I have become pretty familiar with some kind of routine, or at least understanding certain objectives that need completing before the day is out. This usually includes finding a place to sleep: a field, a park, somebody’s sofa or van, a cave, practically anywhere that wouldn’t mean being moved on by police at 2am (which has happened twice already) is suitable. Think our standards seem low? Me too, but I find this is the best way to truly experience local life. However today I didn’t expect to stumble upon Medika, a former squat turned creative and cultural centre, which sheltered me if only temporarily from the fast approaching winter.

It doesn’t take long for the 20kg bag on my back to begin taking its toll as I walk towards the city centre. I take refuge in a pub and make a list of other objectives to pass time: “buy new gas canister, find gloves and scarf, buy tomato to cook with, FIND SOMEWHERE TO SLEEP”. After an hour the rain subsides, so I pack up my things. As I do so the barman asks where my hostel is. I explain to him I don’t have one. “Actually I’m looking to pitch my tent, do you know anywhere?”. He tells me this is going to be difficult in a big city, and this I know all too well from sleeping on the streets of Modena in Italy two weeks ago. “You should check out a squat called Medika, they might let you sleep there if you wash some dishes or something for them,” he adds.

With some brief directions to work with I thank the barman and set about completing my task. Daylight quickly fades and I become exposed to the captivating, however wet, atmosphere of Zagreb by night. I navigate through the bustling centre of town, watching as people pile in and out of the packed evening trams on the main square. As I pass by the National Theatre I spot a tiny patch of grass concealed underneath a small bush surrounded by busy roads. “Just enough space to squeeze my one-person tent if all else fails,” I think to myself. I carry on, determined to find this safe haven.

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Finally, as the rain picks up pace once again, I reach a complex of buildings hidden behind tall walls. Every inch is a plastered palimpsest of thought-provoking graffiti. This must be it. I enter through the darkness of a passage until I stand alone in the middle of what resembles a concrete courtyard surrounded by more elaborate street art. The rain continues to fall, and there is little sign of life besides two rooms illuminated by dim flickers of orange. A man then walks out into the shadows from a door, struggling to pull a hood over his head whilst simultaneously lighting a cigarette somewhat unsuccessfully.

“What is this place?” I call, hoping to spark some sort of conversation.

“Well”, he replies in a heavy Balkan accent walking towards me. “It’s everything.” An ambiguous response. He then gestures over to the flickering orange windows, “that’s our library on the ground floor. It has a Free Shop [where people take or leave items of clothes as they need], a small information desk, and occasionally workshops. Above is the gymnasium, and a few bars and a club space are dotted about.” They seem to have everything. I ask to check out the library thinking – or rather hoping – it’ll be warmer inside.

As I enter through a very used looking door I interrupt a group of four people who all turn to me eagerly from a table in the corner.

“Are you here for the workshop?” A guy with blonde hair, Stan, asks.

“Unfortunately not, I wondered if I can just sit in here?” I reply.

He graciously accepts, hearing the rain hammer down more heavily now. I see a sofa in the middles of the room and sit, drying off my sodden clothes by a small log-burner to my right. The embers gently throw a flickering warm glow onto the shelves of books that surround me. Lining the walls are posters of political resistance, anarchistic drawings and paintings, humanist and feminist slogans confessing solidarity in support for equality. Meanwhile a small French pug is gnawing on a bone as big as her little head underneath the Free Shop (which is essentially a coat rack full of clothes and a few bags of scarves and gloves). I quietly coax her over and she complies, bounding onto the seat next to me.

Now I sit content, listening to the relentless downpour on the window panes whilst Stan explains how clay can be purified to make medicines and toothpaste. I feel relieved not to be on the other side of that door, for instead of facing the bitter elements alone on the street I now face the warmth of a log fire with the company of a canine companion. Soon enough the workshop is finished and myself, PhD Chemistry student Stan, Art student Erica, Language student Isa, and my new French friend – who is now curled up on my legs – are sat around the burner, drinking ginger and rosehip tea to nurse our shared cold. I become eager to understand more about Medika and Stan seems more than happy to give me the low-down.

Apparently, the space was formerly an abandoned medicine factory (which explains its name) until about a decade ago when it became occupied illegally by a group of people who wanted to use it for their own desires – otherwise known as a squat. Judged as unwelcoming to begin with, the early days of Medika lacked government and public support which is not unusual when it comes to the opinions of squat communities. But time passed and creativity flourished, the space has since transcended as an independent creative social and cultural centre. With its potential now acknowledged at least in part, Medika has acquired a partial legal contract with the city which means they rely on donations from its own facilities – such as Stan’s workshop – and subsidies from exterior organisations to pay the bills.

Whether this is a genuine understanding of creative subcultures on the council’s behalf, or an effort to utilise Medika as a strategic tool to draw in tourism and subsequent capital is a different matter. Either way it seems to be surviving for now. However Zagreb’s reputation of becoming a Global City is continuously proving more fruitful, so the probability of such cultural communities becoming susceptible to over-commercialisation is undoubtedly high.

I begin to question the often negative stigmatisation of squat-like social centres across Europe. Such generalisations only serve to limit the effectiveness of similar creative spaces. Moreover, these communities are usually born from a genuine desire to construct a space that allows the free collective creation and consumption of creativity, which is becoming increasingly important as more and more public spaces become privatised.

As late evening approaches, I again become aware of the outside world and my imminent mission to set up a small tent underneath a small bush on a small patch of grass, surrounded by not-so-small roads. However, on hearing this, Stan instead invites me to crash on his sofa. My need for shelter has been graciously welcomed by a likeminded soul in the confines of a former medicine factory – a perfect turn of events in Zagreb, besides the illness of course. But we have more hot tea for that inconvenience.

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An Englishman’s first taste of Bengal

by Jacob Jarvis

“This is the best biryani you will ever have.” “This is the best chai you will ever have.” “This is the best gravy you will ever have.” In Kolkata, it’s clear that the Bengali’s adore their food.

Normally when people boast about something so much, you feel let down when you have it. But every time I took a first bite of any of the region’s signature dishes, all their high praise was proven right. Each first mouthful gave me that warming, comforting, satisfying feeling that only truly exquisite culinary delights can.

Practically on arrival I was handed a plate of naru, a coconut-based sweet, which is crunchy on the outside and softer in the middle. It crumbles then melts in the mouth slowly, filling it with a succulent sugary sensation, with a unique hint of savoury after taste. After this I was taken for my first chai experience, a creamy drink flavoured with a selection of Eastern spices. If you’ve never had the pleasure of sipping on a cup of this warming concoction, imagine the best hot chocolate you’ve ever had – there’s the consistency. Utterly milky and soothing, it caresses your mouth as you sip away. The taste is something altogether different though, it’s incredibly sweet, without being sickly, with a vast array of undertones within it. Cardamon is the main flavour, which leaves a rich taste in your mouth, leaving you longing for cup after cup.

For my first meal I was taken to famous restaurant Arsalan, where I was to try my first authentic Bengal biryani. Back in England I’d eaten this wholesome rice meal before, but found it usually to be dry and unfulfilling. The dish I put in front of me was altogether more appetising. A unique mix of seasonings meant that every spoonful tasted slightly different, which pushed me to go on shovelling the vast portion into my mouth, as I anxiously awaited the next flavour. Here in Kolkata the portions are mammoth, but the quality of the food gives you no option but to finish it – no matter how full you are.

The next day, at lunch time, my Bengali friend’s grandmother made us the biggest lunch I’ve ever had, with mounds of perfectly steamed rice and a variety of vegetarian and meat items. Alongside this in the home-cooked platter of delights there were prawns as big as my fist, delicately cooked fish, so flavoursome it needed only the slightest pinch of salt and pepper for seasoning, paneer with an almost Italian flavour, as it was mixed with tomatoes, peppers, and onions, alongside a selection of curried gravies to pour over my plate.

Each item had its own completely unique taste and texture, though they all seemed to complement each other perfectly. By my third plateful I knew very well I was full, as I said earlier, though, food here doesn’t let you stop eating it that easily.

Kicking away ego at a Bangkok Muay Thai camp

by Jacob Jarvis

Walking in to Sor Vorapin Gym in Bangkok, I was greeted by a shrine of plaques, trophies and medals, all won by its fighters over the years. I’d never trained Muay Thai before but I decided to sign up for a full week, training five hours each day – with people used to training pros.

I think I’m a healthy guy. I run a bit, work out a couple of days a week, try to avoid too much junk food.  But if nothing else my time in Bangkok proved one simple fact to me – I’m not fit at all. Being ‘fit’ and being ‘fighting fit’ truly are two different things. Those involved in Muay Thai professionally will train twice or even three times a day ahead of fights and can have had over 100 fights by their early twenties.

Their careers usually don’t last much longer, due to the toll on their bodies – something I can vaguely sympathise with after just seven days of living their lifestyle. And that was without taking thousands of strikes all over my body from fists, elbows, shins and knees.

At fighting retreats, which are becoming more and more popular with tourists, you’re treated like a seasoned athlete, no different from those who’ve been training their entire lives. Waking up at 6:30am on my first day, I was taken out for a run before the morning session. Easy enough, around 5km, and I ran along calmly and naively thinking, “I’m going to breeze this.”

My initial reality check came soon enough, with what I thought was a simple task – skipping. Hats off to all the girls from my primary school who spent hours every day jumping rope on the playground. Because, apparently, I can’t do it right. This led to me having to stand on a metre-wide tire and bounce for half an hour before I was even allowed to use a rope again. It took four days before I graduated to using one consistently.

Before throwing a punch or swinging a kick, I had to stretch out every muscle imaginable, then slowly build up with shadow boxing. I spent most of a session simply getting into a stance and stepping backwards and forwards. My dreams of diving in headfirst and sparring within a couple of days were crushed. At first I was disappointed, but then I realised the only way I was going to make it through the week was ditching my over confidence and making the simple realisation: this was going to go slowly.

It took me three days until I sparred and then it was completely easy going. Even by my final day I was barely going half the speed of the serious competitors. I wasn’t patronised for this slowness at any point though, every one respected every other person in the gym as an equal. It didn’t stop me being knocked in the head a few times by the lean seasoned hitters I got paired with if I dipped my guard, or taking a few kicks to the gut if my feet were a little too slow. One guy around my age ducked and swerved away from any meagre kick I put in and then would just lean in like a phantom to knock my teeth back. He moved even slower than me but his confidence and physical prowess meant he had no need to try and go quick or hard to get the best of me.

I hope these were purely educational strikes though, there certainly didn’t seem to be any malice. Although fighting is competitive, training and improvement is an individual process – your progress doesn’t matter, as long as you’re working at your technique you’ll get respect.

It was adopting this perspective which truly made the week worthwhile for me. The ancient martial art is renowned for being testing on your body, but, in my opinion, the mental endurance necessary is something that needs to be mentioned more. Once those gloves are on, you’re on your own. No matter what instructions you get, you need to want to do it yourself. There’s no room for arrogance and no place for making short cuts.

Mindfulness is the mental health buzzword of the moment, with endless self-help books, podcasts and apps designed to make us accept this way of thinking. I’ve never bought into it. But if you want to experience living in the moment, just sign up to a Muay Thai session. When a bag, pads, or a person is in front of you, you can’t think about anything else.

As intense as this sounds, it was in its own way incredibly calming. Training cleared my head at the time and made me too exhausted to think afterwards. ‘Relaxing’ is also a key part of the Muay Thai fighting technique – a minute wouldn’t pass where I wouldn’t hear a trainer shouting relax into someone’s face.

I had to allow myself to be a beginner at something, when so often in life I, and I’m sure many others, shy away from anything I’m not familiar with. Then when I made that conscious decision I had to focus on training and nothing else. I’d do my first three hours in the morning, shower, eat and sleep, then repeat that process in the afternoon. It was a strange experience to completely immerse myself in something new and unknown, one which I’d recommend anyone to try from time to time.

The temporary magnificence of Durga Puja in Kolkata

by Jacob Jarvis

During my first couple of days in Kolkata, everybody looked at me dumbfounded when I said: “no, I’m not staying for Durga Puja.” Their faces would bounce into expressions of abject disbelief, scrunch up with confusion, or even contort into practical disgust. After enough of these reactions, I decided to stay for the festivities.

Puja is a Hindu celebration of the religion’s mother goddess, the ten-armed and three-eyed Durga. It lasts for ten days in total, where families gather together to ‘eat, drink and be merry’, much like how those of us in the West do at Christmas. Bengal is particularly famous for getting into the spirit so, being the capital, Kolkata goes into practical meltdown for the main days of the celebration. Anyone who can take off all ten days does, to make sure they’re free to fully immerse themselves in Puja, and often the Ganges as well.

As people made their last minute preparations, the streets became an absolute blur of traffic, while markets and shops absolutely swarmed with shoppers. If you’re from Britain, imagine the Next sale, but it’s like that everywhere. Police man every street crossing, actually using rope to herd shoppers behind like cattle, before lifting it when they’re allowed to pass. The noise of car horns is incessant, and it amazed me I didn’t see a single crash whilst I was there.

The crowds, however, are much more inviting than you might imagine. With the sparkling lights and the smell of street food and chai intoxicating everyone’s nostrils, it’s hard not to be swept up into high spirits. The Hindu religion is one which teaches compassion and at its core is the belief in treating people well. Everywhere I went I felt welcomed.

All over the city, every area has its own Pandal, a temporarily constructed temple of sorts, each vibrantly and distinctly decorated, all seemingly in competition with one another to be the best. These host statues of the idols, with the goddess Durga taking prime position in the centre. These incredible structures take months to plan, design, and build, then are open for just four days, before being deconstructed. In each the artwork is distinct, with each year a new theme being used by each, unlike the old nativity scenes and beat up trees dragged out annually in Britain.

This combination of modern art work and worship is something I’ve never witnessed before, and, at least on this scale, seems distinctly unique to Kolkata. Whether a devote Hindu, a die-hard agnostic, or whatever else, the temporary masterpieces which are created are unbelievably impressive to see. The knowledge that they are purely temporary makes them all the more special too. Unlike anything placed in a gallery or reprinted to be put on the walls of millions of people across the globe, you know only a select number of people can see these. The dedication of the artists to something which is ultimately fleeting and ephemeral makes you feel truly lucky to see it.


At night, groups of all ages go ‘Pandal hopping’ until the early hours of the morning, and you’ll find people at the largest ones 24-hours-a-day. Ceremonial drums are played intermittently, timed to welcome the gods each morning and to thank them each evening. This sound of steel percussion encapsulates the fever of Puja, and players are even inclined to jump into the crowds to whip up a frenzy of dancing from the revellers. I spent from 6:00pm to 6:00am hopping around on the first night, and saw but a tiny selection of what was on offer. Then over the coming days I visited many more but still couldn’t even make a dent in the total number.

For any fan of partying, the intoxicating vibe of being surrounded by people, and general good times, Durga Puja is a must visit spectacle at least once in a life time. Added to this, any lover of art and culture will also relish the sights around the city. The lights, the paintings and the sculptures are all mesmerising in their own ways.

Now I’ve been once, I’m sure I will again. I can see why the locals practically insisted I stayed, as I’d insist that anyone who heads to India while Durga Puja is happening goes to Kolkata. Because if you miss a Puja, there’ll never be another one quite like it again.

Northern Ireland Travel Diary: Heritage sites and a mountain climb

by Lois Linkens 

Northern Ireland will always have a special place in my heart. I’ve visited more times than I can remember on annual family visits and it really does feel like home.

But it’s only since my last visit that I have begun to see more than the places I visit every year, and discover Northern Ireland all over again.

On an average family holiday, we would go to Belfast, the capital city on the Eastern coast. But in an exciting new turn of events, this year we drove right across the country to Enniskillen, which is in the South West of NI.

Enniskillen is part of County Fermenagh, which shares a border with Southern Ireland. So for me it felt pretty strange to be that far from familiarity.

I’ll tell you now, no Linkens family trip is complete without a few visits to National Trust properties. Blame my mum, not me. On our first day, we visited a property called Crom. Here, you could hire out a boat (maximum five people but we got away with six plus a dog, rebellious), and take it down Upper Lough Erne to a town called Belturbet, which sits right on the border of Northern and Southern Ireland. We all got very excited that we had manage to sneak into Southern Ireland without a passport.

After Crom we visited Castle Coole, where there is an 18th-century mansion and a park, and then Florence Court, which has an 18th-century house and an estate. Both properties were fairly similar but very beautiful and had easy woodland walks for families which aren’t too challenging for those who just want a short ramble.

A highlight of our trip was our visit to the Marble Arch Caves Global Geopark. In groups, you can take a guided tour, and find out some information about the history of the caves and the geography behind the various rock formations. It is a very popular tourist spot, and the highlight for me was seeing what they called their ‘City of Atlantis.’ Here, the stalactites on the ceiling are reflected in the water surrounding the walkway, which is so still it looks as though there are also stalagmites coming up from the ground – and it does seem to resemble an underwater city.

We spent a week back in Belfast at the end of our time in Ireland, which I was much looking forward to until I was told that we were going to be climbing a mountain. Not just any mountain, but the tallest peak in Northern Ireland, Slieve Donard. It is 850 metres above sea level (that’s about a tenth of the height of Everest). Now, I could have refused to go. My sister did, and that was fine. Nobody asked me to go. But a stupid voice inside my head kept saying, “imagine how cool it’ll be to say you’ve climbed a mountain”. Screw you, determination.

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So I did it. But I won’t lie to you. Climbing that mountain was possibly one of the hardest and worst things I’ve ever done. Yes, I cried, okay? You don’t have to keep going on about it.

The first third of the climb is completely fine, completely manageable. You follow a lovely forest path, passing streams on your way. When you come out of the trees, there is a rocky path up to the second third, or possibly your second-worst nightmare. That part is tricky. That’s where I had my first breakdown. It’s a steep climb up to the Mourne Wall, which was built in the 20th century and runs down the sides of the mountain. But it’s the final third that is truly horrific. You follow the Mourne Wall up to the peak, that is if you don’t die in the process.

But honestly, the view was worth it. From the top of the mountain, the whole of Northern Ireland is laid out before you. You can stand on a pile of stones and declare yourself the highest person in Northern Ireland, if you want to. Would I do it again? Most definitely not. But will I be telling each and every person I meet that I have climbed the tallest mountain in Northern Ireland? Of course I will.

China Travel Diary: Hectic journeys and guilty rest-stops

By Jacob Jarvis

Last week started with a two-day long trek across Tiger Leaping Gorge, and then ended in back to back sleeper trains, as I travelled from Lijiang to Guilin. After non-stop journeying and sightseeing, I realised it was time stop feeling guilty for resting; so on our days in Lijiang and Dali, we bumped into a group of Aussies and all decided to go slow for once.

The Lijiang Old Town is a picturesque, though thoroughly commercialised, window to times gone by, where the inhabitants still peddle their goods to those passing through. We went once in the morning, when it was tranquil and relaxing, before the thick crowds filled its winding streets. Then at night its whole persona changed, with flashing lights parading around the swarms of shoppers and revellers, laughing and joking their way around the markets in a jovial manner. Whereas crowds such as these can sometimes be intimidating, the atmosphere here was warm and welcoming, with less pushing than you might expect and, as a Westerner, plenty of well-intentioned photo requests.

These calming mornings and giddy evenings provided a perfect time to rejuvenate ourselves before and after embarking on the gorge. Some may describe Lijiang as nothing but an unnecessary and perhaps tedious stop on the way to the true landmark of the region, but with a well-furnished and comfortable guesthouse, ran by a kind-hearted family, and the quaint walled market place, the stop was more than simply wasted time.

Following the trek of the Tiger Leaping Gorge, we took a relatively short sleeper train to Dali. The city itself to me is one of few I have visited in China I might actually wish to live in – as it is hugged by gorgeous mountains, and in turn embraces a gloriously still lake in its centre. Like Lijiang it has a quaint Old Town, which plays host to an array of food and trinket stalls, as well as some Western bars. These gave us a needed respite from the at times daunting culture we’d plunged ourselves head first into, and allowed us to meet travellers from across the globe, with whom we shared stories over our drinks.

On our second day we took a stroll to the lake, where we conversed and enjoyed each other’s company, slowly taking in the area on foot. We then sat at the lake a while, deciding against taking a boat tour in the full force of the sun or embarking upon a tough walk around it. We also chose not to take the mountain, after having our fill of heights at the gorge just a few days before.

At first I felt guilty for this dawdling, wishing I’d filled each day to the brim. In hindsight, though, I was granted some of my most memorable days, bonding with friends I’m sure we will keep in touch with, recharging ourselves a little, and avoiding any journeys by motorised transport.

China is gigantic, and with just five weeks here I have to accept my limitations. As much as I would wish to, I cannot see everything. And by missing certain things, opportunities for companionship I might have missed presented themselves, and the other trips have begun to stand out even more vibrantly in my mind. I’ve no intention of slowing down too much (who needs more than four hours sleep most nights really?), but now I won’t feel too guilty when I need to. While marauding across China there’s plenty of change, often though, unlike the proverb leads you to believe, it’s far from anything like a rest.


China Travel Diary: Getting by with the kindness of strangers

By Jacob Jarvis

In the last week I’ve visited Leshan, Jiuzhaigo and Kunming, and at every place, at some point, I’ve felt completely helpless and unable to communicated. Luckily, every time someone has come to help me. This, I believe, is one major aspect of Chinese culture which the West could take on – the openness to communicate with strangers.

In Leshan, after visiting the Grand Buddha, I was at a loss in finding the train station. My friend Steve and I jumped on the nearest bus, and hoped that we’d reach our destination. It didn’t seem like we would, no matter how much faith we had. A voice next to us then asked, “Where are you from?” It happened to be a Chinese student, currently training to be a translator, who spoke English perhaps better than I do myself.

Sensing our helplessness, she took us to the station, spoke to the ticket officer for us, and we thankfully got on the last bus back to Chengdu. I’m not a believer in fate, but that situation might just have changed my perspective. And it’s made up my mind that if I ever see anybody looking lost when I’m back home, I’ll make sure I help. So I guess I’m a karma convert too.

Just a week before, we were similarly aided when attempting to navigate our way to the Badaling section of The Great Wall. While lost in an endlessly confusing bus depot, we overheard a family, speaking in Mandarin, say the word Badaling. At this we took our opportunity to look over inquisitively, perform a few unintelligible hand signals and repeatedly say Badaling. With no need for a common language, we were soon adopted into the family, and guided along to where we needed to be by the smiling and waving young father, who was leading his wife and daughter.

In China, it seems that any native person who knows English is desperate to use it. A fellow traveller who was born in Shanghai explained to me how although English is taught in school to everyone, most rarely are able to speak to anyone in anything but Mandarin. So this has worked massively in our favour as well – whenever we’re stood staring at a map, attempting to navigate public transport, or generally meandering in the hope for a sign, people often come over and attempt to help. Plenty of times, I don’t know what we’d have done without them. This helping attitude, shared by many people in China, has made me want to become a more approachable person, and to make the effort to approach others more often as well.

So, next time you spot someone looking a little confused at a tube station, or waiting for a bus, train or tram, there’s no harming in saying a quick hello – you might need someone to do the same for you some time.

China travel diary: Arriving in Beijing

by Jacob Jarvis

The smog, the heat, the traffic, the language barrier, the transport systems – no matter how many travel books you read before you set off to China, nothing will truly prepare you for any of these.

I spent five days in Beijing for my first stop in the East and at first I was pretty appalled by how many people spat all over the street, now I honestly just feel sorry for them. I’ve been out of the capital for two days now and I’m only just losing the hefty smokers cough I developed during my time there.

Before you go to any points of cultural interest, the first sight your met with is the air itself. It’s almost like a permanent layer of brown fog masking the entirety of the city and, whilst you’re there, it’s impossible to avoid. The putrid pollution teamed with temperatures of thirty degrees and upwards makes it tempting to become a stowaway in your hostel, with the cool embrace of air-conditioning and windows to seal out the pollution.

The first truly daunting experience you’ll probably have is simply crossing the road. Just because the light is green, doesn’t mean the cars will actually stop. The taxis almost definitely won’t, nor will the mopeds. My advice, look for someone who seems to know what they’re doing and tail them. After a few near death moments, where you might feel like an extra in The Italian Job, you’ll get used to it.

On day one my flight arrived into the airport at 2:00am. After sleeping on the flight and my body clock feeling completely out of sync, thanks to 19 hours of travel and a layover in Kiev, all I wanted was sleep. Instead my travel companion and I decided to power through and visited Lama Temple.

We stayed at Dragon King Hostel (nice enough, clean, pretty decent bar, slightly pricey for China) which was a few minutes’ walk from Zhanglizhong subway station. The Lama Temple was just one stop away so we decided to walk, which gave us the chance to explore the hutongs, side streets, along the way. These little microcosms all huddle together to create the distinct and vibrant communities in the area. Hundreds of shops vie for your attention and custom, each with its own charms or, politely put, eccentricities. If you want authentic food or something obscure to eat, these are the places to go.

If I learned anything from the first temple I visited it’s this; no matter how many Buddhas you see, there’s always a bigger one. Every room was covered in gold paraphernalia surrounding a giant statue of the Sage in varying forms and sizes. At first I was in awe of those around ten feet high, then there was one round four times as tall, endlessly ascending into the purpose built roof which homed it.

Inside the halls I felt like an intruder, but was welcomed to join in with burning incense and paying respect along with the those there for religious reasons as well. Until I showed myself up for the ignorant Brit I am and held up the wrong number of incense sticks in front of a statue – prompting a startled looking Chinese lady to come to a halt, point at me, and squeal, “three!” I had originally had the correct number, but my friend had taken one, so this unfortunately prompted the ridiculous response of, “my mate nicked one,” and me pointing at him. This wouldn’t have been my most eloquent moment in England, so, as you can imagine, here it went down absolutely abysmally. The woman walked on, and I shuffled off.

Thankfully since then I’ve learned the Mandarin word for sorry. I’m sure I’ll say it plenty more times in the coming month.