Quick confession: I’m wearing Bridget Jones style control pants at the age of 23. I also found two grey hairs earlier. With that out in the open let’s begin. I figured if you’re given the choice, opt for a date where if they turn out to have the personality of Piers Morgan in the body of… well, Piers Morgan, it won’t matter too much. For example a quick drink then the Canterbury Odeon 9.45pm showing of Drag Me To Hell. Pitch black and enforced silence. Perfect.

Thankfully I had already gained vital information via text. Not what they do for a living or their surname. Who cares? I went for the really important stuff. Are they offended by paedophile jokes involving beloved children’s entertainers? (No.) Which celebrity would they like to impale on a Judas Cradle? (Kate Hudson.)

The plan was simple, if it went well I’d just remember that delayed gratification is possibly the utmost symbol of emotional maturity and self-control. I’d also remember that emotional maturity and self-control are for losers.

Conversely if it was the most socially awkward night of my adult life I’d be awfully philosophical and look on the bright side, now having a humorous anecdote to write a droll blog about. Possibly put on my snuggliest pyjamas and curl up with a Peep Show box set and my dignity still mostly intact.

I went with neither of those options. I went with secret option number three. Fake tears about a mysterious bastard ex, scamper to meet your friends, let them get you heinously drunk on what appeared to be £4 glasses of meth and then ring your long suffering gay flatmate at 1.30am with some ‘specialist’ requests.

This is why I need to go on blind dates in the first place.







Belgium 2 – 0 China, this Olympic pool match last year was as boring as the score line suggests. Yet it was a huge moment in what could be historically judged as a turning point for modern Chinese football, it was the last straw. The match itself was quite a mundane affair which exposed huge flaws in the Chinese team, firstly their inability to play as a team and a worrying trend of players turning to violence if the game looks to be out of their control.

The Chinese Olympic team had been earlier sent home after an on field melee with a QPR reserve team and the football association was fined for an ugly appearance at the Asian football championships, where amazingly China received nine yellow cards in the first two matches against South Korea and Japan, and received eight yellows and two reds in the last game against North Korea. During the Belgium match two players were sent off and China was all but eliminated. Afterwards the players were caught in a bizarre training ground sex scandal, after which the now usual communist cliché of self denouncements were issued and accusations started flying. Even though technically the national squad and the Olympic squad are separate teams both are run under the same association and both make any Chinese football fan groan and curse with genuine disappointment.

The nickname of the national team is 國豬 (Guo Zhu). It’s a clever pun which means ‘National Pig’ but sounds similar to ‘Guo Zu’ which means ‘National Team’. It might seem a little hard on a team which is ranked one place above Sierra Leone in the FIFA rankings (97th), yet public opinion has always been one of high expectation as all major sports have been lavishly funded and developed due to the 2008 Olympics.

Football is played throughout the country and European football in particular is extremely popular, the top Chinese players are handsomely paid and a few have moved to clubs in Europe although none have been very successful and a cynical mind would cast doubt as to whether the transfers of Chinese players are at all related to playing matters. A much quoted story is from 1993, the Chinese football association sent a group of young talented footballers to Brazil to learn some techniques and to try to assimilate with the locals. The results of this experiment were mixed with very little success or any improvement gained by the experience.

Much is made of the potential of Chinese football and the spending of China’s increasingly well off fans. With a disgraced national league, tainted with rumours of corruption and live league games taken off national TV because of growing player violence, and an uninterested public which has lost patience. It seems that instead of looking at solutions abroad, the Chinese football association would do well to look at itself and set itself more realistic targets. Top players in Europe are trained by complex scientific methods that are at the cutting edge of sports science, no matter how much the Chinese government or the top domestic clubs are willing to spend on development, it can never match the facilities or recruit the top coaches that most successful European clubs have at their disposal.

When Manchester United were on a lucrative tour of South China in 2007, Sir Alex Ferguson told a regional expat magazine that he believed China and America would be the next big football superpowers, yet he knows more than most that throwing money at a team and buying talent doesn’t always guarantee you success.

China relies on its boys from Brazil (The Independent)
Fine for Chinese football (China Daily)
Chinese football team in sex scandal (Telegraph)
China FA opens QPR brawl inquiry (BBC)
Why is Chinese football team so stink? (Baidu Questions)



So, I'm heading back home to my apartment after visiting a friend. I get to my street and find that it's blocked off with police tape and three cops are standing there wearing full body gear, helmets and carrying uzis. I asked what was going on, but Polish cops don't talk. I did see the cop turn away an old lady and an angry businessman on his way to an appointment. Nobody was allowed to pass.

I decided to go around and try another way, but it seemed that every single entrance to my street was swarming with cops holding uzis, turning everyone away. They meant business and weren't telling anyone what was going on.

Somehow I told one cop that I had to quickly get home, so he let me through and I walked through the little park behind my house towards my door, noticing the hustle and bustle of lots of cops in the park behind my apartment, all carrying uzis and walking around.

I quickly ran upstairs, got some money, and then ran back down. Now, all the cops were hiding behind cars with their guns at the ready. Some old man was standing next to me at the doorway, and I asked him what's going on. He had no idea. I told him I had to get to work, but he said they likely wouldn't let me pass. I kept looking at one cop behind a car and made motions like I was about to start walking, but he kept waving me back. I ingored him and started to make my way out of the street, and he yelled at me "Hurry up, go now, go!"

I began walking faster when suddenly the sound of machine gun fire filled the air. My killer instinct kicked in and I dove behind a car next to one of the cops with a gun and covered my head. Another day in Poland was starting off right.

I looked to the cop next to me for guidance, but found none. He was busy readying himself for who knows what and he looked at me with no sympathy. Here was a row of tough Polish cops holding uzis decked out in helmets and full gear, with one Polish teacher in the middle holding a purse and wearing a professor's jacket.

Suddenly, a door opened right behind me. It was the back door to the bookstore which opened up on the other side of the street. A curious old lady had opened it up to see what all the noise was. This was my chance to get the hell out of there. I made to go towards the door, but the cop yelled at the old lady to close it and hide, which she promptly did. I was stuck.

Now, for most of the day, my decision making part of my brain was troubled with such questions as, "Do I have McDonalds today or do I eat pierogi?", or perhaps my real difficult decision, "Do I shit now before work, or wait until after?". Now suddenly, the decision at hand, with the panic button firmly depressed and the "Grip on Reality" meter hovering around zero, was: do I crawl on my belly through the dirt towards that door and try knocking and hope someone lets me in, or do I stay hidden behind the Fiat while well armed people shoot machine guns at each other. My previous big decision of the day, 'when do I shit?', was on the verge of being made for me.

I decided to stay put. I intermittently poked my head up and peered through the car windows to see what was happening, but saw nothing except cops hiding. I then heard another round of machine gun fire, followed by a huge explosion, which shook the buildings around me and set off every single car alarm in the neighbourhood. This scene was now very familiar to me: cops hiding behind cars, guns firing, bombs exploding and the sound of car alarms. I was the innocent bystander in a bad action film.

This nerd wasn't ready to die. I ducked back down and clutched my purse, my lifeblood. I took inventory, hoping something in my purse might be of help.

1. Chapstick - check
2. Notebook - check
3. Cell Phone - check
4. Polish-English dictionary - check
5. Sub machine gun - nope

No. It seemed I was shit out luck. Only the Polish-English dictionary was useful, and I couldn't find the phrase I was looking for, "When the fuck did my day turn into Polish 'Die Hard'?"

I poked my head out again and saw a car race around the corner, tires screeching, followed by another. More gun fire. I stayed down for a bit longer, purse in 'shield mode', until after a few minutes of silence, the cop told me to get out of there.

I bolted from the park and ran through a huge crowd of people who had gathered by the next street, wondering what all the noise was. Nobody seemed to have any answer. When I got to work and told the story, of course, nobody believed me.

Do you?



In May 2008, the central Chinese province of Sichuan was hit by an earthquake that measured 8.0 on the Richter Scale. Official figures placed the number of dead at 69,227, with 374,176 injured, and a further 18,222 listed as missing.

Shortly afterward, Beijing-based photographer Li Wei traveled to the Wenchuan county, the epicentre of the quake, to document how people's lives had been affected.

See more of Li Wei's photographs from the region here.



I remember quite some time ago, sitting with a friend discussing China and North Korea, and trying to decide which country was in more need of democratic reform. It was an interesting discussion but given the time I had spent in China, and he had spent in South Korea, it was inevitable that we would reach our own conclusions - him believing North Korea to be in more need of reform and me thinking it was China.

Last week North Korea launched a missile to simply 'test' them out. I suppose I can see their point - why buy the car if you’re not going to drive it?

That being said, which country would I reform first? The answer is a simple one - China. Why? Sure, it’s also a Communist dictatorship. And yes, they also have a terrible human rights record, but at least they've never launched missiles and besides, they have KFC and McDonalds!

So what is it about harmless, Wal-Mart-shopping KFC-eating China that makes me feel it needs reform first? The road to North Korea runs through China - both literally and metaphorically. The truth is, when North Korea launched their missiles, I wasn’t interested in the anti-nuke rhetoric of Britain and America because deep down I knew that they could not stop it on their own - for that they would need the support of China.

Imagine for one moment we had real democracy in China, a China that valued human rights and freedom. In such a case, North Korea would be practically isolated in the Pacific Rim and would eventually, perhaps inevitably, adopt human rights as well.

China has spread their Communist ideology to Vietnam, Laos and North Korea. Maybe their next export could be human rights.



The time had come for us to move out of our centrally located luxury hotel and move into a student residence, known as a Goshitel in Korean.

I knew we were in trouble when someone in the know told us "You're moving out of the hotel, and into its closet."

But how bad could it really be? The deal included all the rice and ramen that we could eat, and the way I saw it, it was time to bring North American style partying, from the likes of Animal House, to these overworked Korean students. I could explain 'jocks' and 'nerds' to them. Of course, it wouldn't be quite the same, because they're all huge nerds, but I suppose the ones best at John Madden Football 2007 would have to be the jocks and they could knock the steamed rice and kimchi off of our trays as they walked past us in the kitchen. Once I worked out all the details, this would be one huge party, and I'd finally get the 'rez' experience that I never had myself going to university.

So did it pan out as I had envisioned?

No, there wasn't enough room for the keg.



Whilst living in China I read about a woman who, after being made redundant from her state job, decided to vent her anger by writing anti-Government slogans on banknotes. Her actions, perhaps inevitably, led to incarceration in a labour camp in the far Western province of Xinjiang. She died there three weeks later under mysterious circumstances.

With this in mind, I decided to investigate just how easy it was to become a dissident in modern day China, and what better way to do so than to deface some of the ubiquitous Chairman Mao portraits found on most Chinese banknotes?

I'm not sure how other, more hardcore, Chinese dissidents conducted their campaigns against the State, but I'm pretty sure they weren't sat in their apartment with a bottle of Tsing Tao and a ball point pen giggling like a little girl. Anyway, here's what I came up with.

I've convinced myself that the reason I didn't put the defaced banknotes back into circulation was that I wanted to keep them for posterity, but really I was just shit-scared of Secret Police.