Beijing: Beauty and Beast part 2

In my previous post I talked about the Beauty that is Beijing, the Great Wall. Walking on the wall and climbing the steps of history and feeling the crumbling bricks knowing that thousands of hands poured their blood and sweat into this structure really touched me. It was something I would do again if given the chance. As I alluded to in the previous post, this happened after a rather less than happy day in the city. I’m about to address the Beast.

Arriving in Beijing felt like for the first time really being in China. Like this is the real deal. I travelled to Hong Kong in January and it didn’t feel like China. It felt like the Asian Cape Town. If you only travel to Cape Town and think you’ve experienced South Africa than you’d be a little misguided.

And boy was I misguided.

Beijing to me is a veneer of modernity, culture and friendliness. Scratch a little deeper and you’ll find a Beast hiding in the smog waiting to pounce. This is the first city I’ve been to where I felt no connection. I left feeling like it was a business transaction that went sour and I was the sucker.

This sucker doesn’t like dwelling on the negative, so here are a few tips should you find yourself facing the Beast:

  1. Know your directions, as in North, South, East & West. Because when a map says walk North, it helps to know if that would be straight ahead, behind you, left or to the right of you.
  2. If approached by a friendly man who says he is studying English, RUN. If you ask him to point out a good restaurant and he says he’ll take you there, RUN. If he says he is an Art student and wants to show you his calligraphy studio, RUN. If he says his friend is having an acrobatic show and he wants to take you there, RUN. It’s a scam.
  3. Do not buy anything from any shop anywhere near any tourist site. You’ll end up paying double or triple what it’s worth.
  4. Cheap = bad, bad quality (Galvin Klein is a good example)
  5. If the traffic light turns green for you to walk across the street, this actually means that it may or may not be safe for you to walk. Cars have right of way in all instances.
  6. If using the subway, your bags will be scanned at the entrance, this includes all water bottles as well. (Kinda like going through airport security just on the subway) Airport Express Line: 25RMB Subway: 2RMB
  7. Using the bus is very easy and cheap. Cost 1RMB.
  8. If you have asthma or suffer from any allergies or sinus problems, be brave. You may find it a little difficult to breathe especially at night.
  9. What you see is not what you get.

Be safe but most importantly be a little streetwise. Hussle is the game.

OMG, we’re staying in the hood:

Old school check-in at Kelly’s Courtyard (great traditional accommodation)

A courtyard in a Chinese hood:

The Spaza shop (with a direct connection to the head of state {spot the red phone}):

Tiananmen Square:

Masses entering the Forbidden City:

The opposite to how I was feeling:

For a die-hard Coca-cola fan, the best thing about the day:

Having some chicken and veg with our oil:

A more edible meal:

Finding the Hulk’s resting place:

High stakes poker:

My friend Marelize: Faking it till you make it at 6am

Our host contemplating checking into one of those “finding peace of mind” places after having to deal with us:


Beijing: Beauty and Beast part 1

Oh Beijing, what to say? You were a surprise. I kept saying all weekend “what can you do but laugh?” because really, what can you do but laugh when things happen in a pear-shaped kind of way. I certainly wasn’t about to sit down and cry even though I wanted to. The most important thing travelling has taught me is to brush the uncomfortable off with a laugh and move on with a sense of optimism.

After a very trying first day in Beijing the second one was surreal. The main reason for the weekend trip was to climb the Great Wall, and doing THAT made everything else worth it. I got to make a dream a reality and now I can happily cross it off my bucket list.

My friend and I decided to go to the furthest part of the Wall, Jinshaling, because it is the least busy, least touristy and much more peaceful experience. It is maybe a little more dangerous because parts of it have degraded and there are lots of loose stones and rocks. Climbing some parts was hard. Hard as in having to climb hundreds of steps at a 70 degree angle to reach the tower. Did we do it? Yes. Did we love it? Yes. Would we do it again? Yes.

The highlight of my day was having a butterfly tickle my ankle for a good few minutes. I noticed an abundance of white butterflies flying around. I don’t know if it has specific symbolic meaning in China but the message I took from that was hope and a good life/good luck. The one that settled on my ankle was different and the only one of that kind that I saw. I believe good things are to come.

This part was Beauty.















A Pain Killer

In a few hours I’ll be heading to Beijing so I’m very happy to be sharing a guest post with you today. It’s by one of my favorite people in the world, Leanne Tee. The question people ask her the most is “Are you a model? Actress?” When you see her pic you’ll understand why. She’s a great example of someone who goes after her dreams. After having kids, a career in marketing and starting a business with her husband in South Africa she still felt like there was so much more out there to learn and experience. With the support and blessing from her husband and kids, they all packed their bags and moved to New York City so she could attend Parsons School of Design.


Sharing 3 ways to deal with Pain.

With the tumultuous present times intent on volcanically shaking us to the very core, everywhere is a HOT mess. Hot emotions have erupted in every direction spewing like molten larva all over the place…  it’s clear to me that its time to deal with the uglies.

Wait. The uglies?  It’s my new phrase for a collective of pain manifesting and wreaking havoc the world over in infinite ways. The anger swelling in the human ranks is palpable. I mean, in my home country right now where the have-nots are trying to get what the have’s have had for the last 60 or more years, there’s outrage over an artists impression of the Presidents penis. In America, the have’s are upping the ante to maintain the status quo against the have-nots, in what is shaping up to be the showdown of the year, the November 2012 elections. It’s lovely to know, if you take the long-term view that the net effect of all this is: Progress.

But for now… the uglies await us. So, if you want to stop reading here, I understand. Pain is painful.

For the braveheart.

The uglies as I’ve said, is a variety of emotional and physical pain felt by each us in one way or the other that emanates from fear and resides in the ego. It manifests and wreaks havoc in infinite ways. The uglies have so many forms but it all boils down, in the end, to one thing fear. The uglies have so many faces but in the end have one common factor, pain. The uglies have so many expressions but in the end it helps us discover one thing-who we really are.

I think the uglies will always exist in this world of ours. The great relief is we all have them. Even the pretty handsome ones, who would rather you think that all is perfect in their make believe world, have scars of pain. Even Presidents. Even Parents. Even Passers-by. Every people.

I have enough to last this lifetime and then some.  I’ve come to realize that in a whacked way, it’s what makes us human. Ughhh! Because you know, sometimes I just want to live in a nice, nice world all of the time….So before I lose my nerve and ditch this guest blog, let me share how I’m trying to deal with mine. I’ve figured this:

1. Deal with the cards you’ve been handed to get in the game.

Staying numb is not an option anymore. It’s time to deal with the uglies. It’s unavoidable. I have run away into denial land before. We all know it’s a temporary vacation, where you can enjoy free cocktails and overpriced cheeseburgers. When you get back to the land of the living, the emotional mess is still there. Life is just designed that way. Choose to deal and not deny.

2. Dance with your shadows

I’ve learnt that dancing with my shadow/s is like stepping in unison with the dance of life. The more I try to understand my pain the more in step I am with myself. Because you know that which you resist…persists. It’s the greatest experiment. Be daring enough to try out your own moves. There is only right and right. No wrong. Dance your truth. Dance the night away!

3. Design solutions for yourself

Lately, I like to think like this. I’m opening my heart and breathing in compassion. I’m listening carefully to my feelings. I’m building faith in myself. I’m zoning in. I’m only making moves when my hearts in it. I’m constructing my life around my dreams and the whispers in my heart. I’m getting fired up!

Brave hearts can conquer fear and pain. I’m fighting for my dreams. I urge you to join the good fight.

Where you can find me:

Leanne tee on Facebook

@leannetee on Twitter

@leatchi on Instagram

Finding his Soul in a Book

This post came to me unexpectedly. I was actually trying to write about someone else but I guess their lives were so intertwined that this had to come first. Or maybe it’s because I’m going to a place I know he would have known everything about. He would have quoted the length of the Great Wall, spoken of the importance of its history and of the war, and of course why it’s one of the wonders of the world. He may have even quoted some Chinese philosopher.

 “Everyone must leave something behind when he dies. A child or a book or a painting or a house or a wall built or a pair of shoes made. Or a garden planted. Something your hand touched some way so your soul has somewhere to go when you die, and when people look at that tree or that flower you planted, you’re there.” – Ray Bradbury

I knew a man once who was exceptionally intelligent. He quoted passages from ancient texts, acts from Shakespeare and facts from encyclopedias. He was so intelligent in fact that he seemed a tad eccentric to the mere average minded. He was athletic. He was strong. He was brave. He even saved a man’s life. He had more brilliance in him then most of us are gifted with.

His name was Reginald Victor Basil Lawler and he was my grandfather.

When I was 10, I got to experience a rare glimpse into the mind of what I would call a genius, others a mad man. Either way it was like a trip into a wonderland.

I was writing about his life. And the event that changed it forever.

He spoke his truth with the brush strokes of an artist. Powerful. Vivid. Intense. I wasn’t hearing words, I was seeing pictures. I was living the moments with him. I was right there in the war. Young and disillusioned. Hungry tired and scared. Looking around at a breathtakingly beautiful landscape. Big trees, lush vegetation and a lazy flowing river. Life in abundance. And in one thunderous blink, that same landscape becomes a desolate, black, ashen mess. Life. Less. “This is what war is”, he said, “in an instant, a flash, life is taken away.”

It wasn’t the loss of human life that shocked him the most. It was the destruction of nature. It was the power of the human hand to either create or destroy.

He came back from war with a medal for his quick thinking heroics. But he didn’t feel like one. For how can one claim any kind of victory on the back of such loss? He came back with grief and darkness.

And the only way that grief and darkness could escape their imprisonment was through books. He poured his pain into books and drank it from a bottle of whiskey. The shackles of imprisonment held him tight like a comforting monster.

People may remember him just like that picture. Dark, desolate, scary even. I think he was largely misunderstood. He had the mind of a philosopher, poet, writer, artist, scientist and mathematician and yet he was none of those. He was born into a country and political system that forbade him from being all that he could be because of his pigmentation. He wasn’t supposed to think, he wasn’t supposed to know things, and he wasn’t supposed to have a voice. He was supposed to do as he was told, live where he was told and keep his big mouth shut when he was told.

Imagine a man with a beautiful mind being told to live like an empty headed boy. The pain, the disappointment and the effects of the war led to a gradual deterioration.

At some point he surrended to life. He held up the white flag and gave in. I can’t say if it was due to ill health or just no longer having the will to live. But even when he could no longer physically take care of himself he could still quote Shakespeare or Omar Khayyam. His mind remained razor sharp. And that is all he had in the end.

His books, his medal and the story I wrote about him are the few things that are left of him. I don’t even know if there are books anymore, just one, which my father is in possession of: Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám.

I paged through it 2 years ago. The worn cover and pages brown with age. And I saw the eyes that had run through those words. And I felt the fingers that had touched the pages. Not from one soul but two. My father never would have taken anything from my grandfather when he was alive but he insisted on having this book when he died.

I wonder if my father realizes that it is through this book that he is connecting with the soul of my grandfather. His father, a man he could never connect with while he was alive.

My grandfather left a part of his soul in that book, and it continues to touch those left behind with or without their knowledge. Because he is there.

“Everyone must leave something behind when he dies……………something your hand touched some way…………”.

Tuning into another frequency!

Have you ever felt like just checking out for a while? Running away from everyone and everything? Not answering the phone, the texts, the emails, the husband, the children, the boyfriend, the girlfriend, the parents. De-activating facebook, twitter, tumblr, pinterest, stumbleupon, instagram and on and on. Blocking everything out.

As if we are not busy enough all this technology makes us feel as though we need to be checked into everything all the time. Suddenly now every spare moment we have is taken up with thoughts of “maybe I should check facebook one more time. It’s already been about a minute, maybe I missed out on something”. Like what?

Recently I’ve been feeling like I need to check out from checking in. My brain is constantly on zinggggggg. I need some zang. Last night while I had another one of my wonderfully immobilizing headaches, I thought, is running away really running away. Maybe it’s not running AWAY but running TOWARDS. Like yourself?

I did that once you know. I ran away. You know when you have that feeling that everyone is snatching parts of you, wanting something, needing something, expecting something. Like your pantry has just been raided. They’ve taken all the good stuff and left the shelves bare.

Well I’d never been away on my own before but I packed my little bag, got on a plane, nerves and all, and took myself to a secluded cottage called South Winds that is on the outskirts of Simon’s Town in South Africa.






There were no neighbors, no telephone, no cell phone reception, no TV, no radio, no computer.  My only company was the mountain behind me, the ocean in front of me and the birds serenading me.

I had nothing to do but just wake up and BE. I read books, I walked barefoot on the sand, I collected sea shells, I listened to the birds, I listened to the ocean, I took morning naps on the warm rocks, I meditated and mostly I wrote. I wrote and wrote and wrote. I delved into the layers of ME. And when I couldn’t write anymore I just sat quietly looking out into the ocean, into the abundance, into Life.

Good place for an afternoon nap:

I changed dials and settled on a different frequency. I tuned into nature and inadvertently myself. As a result time slowed down dramatically. I started to notice things. Like the different species of birds and their specific sounds, like the different shades of blue and gray of the ocean, like the delicious feeling of the warm sun on your skin, like the intensity of color on plants and the roundness of some rocks.

Tuning into a different frequency forced me to change the dials in my mind. I re-membered ME and I re-membered that all art and creativity is an imitation of, or inspiration from nature. While we can’t always physically take ourselves to another place to un-wind and get some zang, we can switch off the TV, radio, phone, computer and internet connection. Try it, I dare you!





Cape Point in the background: