Prescription for Disaster

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Don't use the pee sponge to wash the dishes...

We've started potty training the twins. 

God help us.
So far we've had one pee in the potty (she was horrified), two pees on the sofa, mystery poop throughout the house, all day demands to watch Elmo's potty DVD (kill me), the potties have been taken outside and covered in sidewalk chalk, dinner has been dumped into the potties, panties have been worn on heads and panties are now being worn on top of their diapers.
They are also refusing to take off their spiderman outfits, despite having peed in them.
It's been an interesting week at our place. 

Thank god we're poor and everything is from ikea. The girls can pee all they want all over my Hemnes, Dagstrop, Framsta and Soder.
Can you imagine me telling their grandparents about our potty training escapades? We watched Elmo and then the twins got pee all over my soder. No, not sofa, soder. Soder. SODER. The ceiling lamp, dammit! And no, I don't know how it happened either!

And it might just be me, but I'm dreading having to clean out the potties. I think that will be much worse than diapers. If it were up to me, I'd have them in diapers until they were 6, just in case. 

Paul, on the other hand (genius of the household) was the first to clean out the potty (just pee) and instead of taking it to dump in the toilet upstairs, he dumped it in the kitchen sink and scrubbed it out with a dish sponge. Then he put that dish sponge at "the back" of the sink, with the "real dish sponge" (that looks identical) at the front of the sink to diffentiate.
I asked him how we are meant to tell the difference and he said "well, the one at the back of the sink is grungier and it has pee on it. Don't use that one for dishes". 

We're having loads of house guests this summer - I'm debating recommending that they bring their own dishes, just in case.

We didn't go into this thinking that it would be easy. We haven't read any books, consulted any websites or really, done much more than purchasing potties and putting on the Elmo Potty Training DVD and hoping for the best.  So we're plugging at it and doing what we can to potty train the twins. With as much help from Elmo as we can get.

That evil, giggling bastard Elmo.

Friday, 29 June 2012

I live with a self centred jerk-face

Yep. That's him. Dermot the Chinese Kitchen Cat. And he's a self centred jerk-face. Oh he looks cute there all cuddled up on the sofa like he owns the joint. He'll suck you in with his "pet me I'm adorable" routine. But he's a jerk-face. He usually looks more like this:

He may have fooled Paul, but he hasn't fooled me.

Here's why he is a jerk-face cat:

1. He's ungrateful. And a hardcore communist.

We picked up Dermot the Chinese Kitchen Cat in, you guessed it, a Chinese kitchen. We were living in Dongguan, the South of China at the time and one day just before Christmas we were walking past a restaurant and noticed a cage of kittens and cats sitting outside of the kitchen. We wondered what was up with that and found out that they were on the menu. Being the easily horrified foreign devils that we were at the time (we are no longer easily horrified. Still foreign devils, though) we asked about the cats and a woman opened the cage, picked up a tiny orange kitten (covered in fleas) by his face and tossed it to Paul. Well, Paul wasn't letting go. We paid something for him (I seem to recall Paul thrusting money at her and backing away) and he's made us regret it ever since.

I've shown him pictures like the one above. I've explained to him that look, considering that you were nearly stir-fried with bamboo shoots and broccoli you should really stop whining about the brand of cat food we buy you, and I've even threatened to cook him up with a nice black bean sauce myself. He doesn't get it.

And this is an outrageously expensive cat. We may as well have purchased a couple of breeding pure bread show cats for what this one is worth.

After we de-flead the little guy with tweezers there was all the feeding him with tiny bottles, teaching him to use a litter box full of dirt, cleaning tiny dirt paw prints off of everything we owned, the shots, the cuddles... then the flight from the south of China to the North of China (nobody could believe that we were flying a kitten with us. Or even taking it with us when we moved). I don't think he has ever quite forgiven us for that last flight.

And then we got a dog. Just to torment him. (technically, the dog came first, but that's another horror story for another day). And to make things even worse, we had a woman come in a couple of times a week that insisted on bathing him. The woman was like a ninja. I'm surprised he never drowned.

Then we moved to England, and took the ungrateful bastard with us. More expensive shots. Microchipping, quarantine in China, an expensive flight to the UK. AND THEN 6 MONTHS OF HORRIFICALLY EXPENSIVE QUARANTINE, and this cat has NO appreciation. At all. We visited him every 2 weeks! We saw what it was like there! It was like a kitty hotel! He had friends to chat to through the plexi glass, stuff to climb on, stuff to hang out on, a door way top to leap down onto the unsuspecting heads of the staff with (we received a few complaints) - he even made friends down the street (the facility received a few noise complaints). His was a palace compared to the dog's solitary confinement hell-hole. But is he at all grateful?

Of course not. Entitled twit.

2. He doesn't earn his keep

So, it's my understanding that cats are meant to keep out mice, no? Seems like a pretty simple job to me, I don't ask much of Dermot, just that he keeps the vermin out and cuddles me once in awhile without giving me a "love bite" that leaves a scar.

But no. When we saw a mouse recently (we have since moved), Dermot was nowhere to be found and we were left to deal with it ourselves. This involved a heated argument, a broom, an empty diaper box and some hiking boots. We're not very good at this stuff. Paul was ready to kill it, I wanted him to capture it and let it loose in the back garden. He though I was insane, I thought he was a monster. We agreed to stun it, capture it, check that it was okay and then release it in the neighbour's back garden. This did not work out quite as well as we had planned. 

My point though, is that if Dermot had been doing his job satisfactorily that the mouse wouldn't have even come into the house in the first place. Cat fail.

We figured that once we moved Dermot would have a fresh start. There is a gigantic field directly behind the house, surely his mousing skills will get some much needed continuing professional development. We haven't seen any mice yet, but Dermot has another vile foe to contend with here.


We've got spiders. Big ones. Hairy ones. Not ^that one^, thank god, but just as ugly I'm sure, if I got close enough to look. (I won't). The kids picked one up and were playing with it, brought it to the kitchen and got to watch mommy and daddy running around the kitchen screeching "Holy *&^%! Holy *&%! while Paul scrambled to find something big enough to kill it with and I cowered in a corner wet-wiping the crap out of the children.


Nowhere to be found. That's where.

3. He cries like their long lost triplet

Whenever the kids cry, my cat cries. Just to let us know that the kids are crying. He likes to feel included. Making sure we're in the loop. Now, with screaming twins, I'm not going to lie. The screaming cat that screams along with the screaming twins has been strangled more than once. Not a deterrent, clearly.

He bitches at us constantly. He yowls at us in the morning to say hi. He yowls at us during the day just to chat. He yowls at us to let us know the kids need something. Or they're crying. Or somebody has pooped themselves. He yowls to go out. He yowls to come in. He yowls at the television.

But the worst bit? He yowls at night when he comes in through the window, directly into our bedroom or the kids' bedroom and then YOWLS. Don't believe it's bad? We got it on tape:


4. He has an unnatural "thing" for my husband

A lot like this guy, but in reverse. Possibly like this:

Dermot has a very clear obsession with my husband, to the point that the cat tells Paul when it is time to go to bed. And Paul often does as he is told by Dermot, because the subsequent yowling just isn't worth it.

This cat rules our home and our lives. He feels he is "too cool" for litter boxes and prefers to go outside. All the time. Whenever he wants. So our house is freezing because a window is always open for Dermot. But sometimes he's not satisfied with coming in or going out through "his" window by the door. No. Sometimes no window other than the kitchen window will do. At 3am. Bastard.

And when he comes home after a night of prowling the neighbourhood like a gangster? He lets us know. He yowls as he comes in as if to say "Heyyyyyy! I'm home! Did you miss me?" and then proceeds to tell us all about the neighbourhood gossip once he has established that we (all of us) are awake and attentive enough for his liking.

As is standard with cats, when we want to hang out with him he wants nothing to do with us. At all.  But when he is ready to chat and have our attention, well..

We love our cat, of course we do. We would have fried him up with rice and broccoli a looooooong time ago if we didn't. But he is an insufferable jerk-face.

And I think he's dangerous too.

I worry for the children a little bit.

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

I'm not sure, but I think I just got out of the psych ward

Even my hospital stays are never boring, good grief. People chained together, naked ladies, falling elevators, ballroom dancers and a bizarre ring of special needs prostitutes were just the highlights of my most recent 13 days of captivity in the hospital.

Damn Sarcoidosis, it's now worked its' way into my brain. Fantastic. My kids had been ill, my husband had been deathly ill (kind of feel badly for bugging him so badly about the Man Flu once I found out what it actually was - loving, compassionate wife fail) and I had gotten a bit sick too. No fever, just a dull headache in the back of my skull and an excruciating headache if I stood up or bent over. Thought I was about to have an aneurism, and it kept happening for like, a week (don't want to be a hypochondriac and go in for every little thing, right? I figure that the dr's and hospital see me enough with this crap as it is)

So I went in for a regular outpatient appointment with my Rheumatology team, mentioned the headache and they admitted me on the spot. Right in, stabbed with a cannular and into an MRI within the hour. Swollen brain, sarcoidosis is now in my brain, and I'm flaring up like crazy in my joints, bones, neck and face. I looked (and felt) a lot like this:

It would only be a couple of days, they told me. Don't worry, they told me. You'll be home soon. But noooo. I was back to eating that dreaded hospital macaroni and cheese suspiciously lacking in macaroni for 13 freaking days!

My husband and kids came to see me so often that when the girls saw the hospital from the car they said "Hi Mama". They came for picnics and cuddles and well, I can't even sugar coat that. It's awful to have to watch your babies leave you day after day while you're stuck to an IV, or stuck on a hospital ward not knowing when you'll get to go home to be with them again. Anyway, too depressing, don't want to talk about that. 

Luckily for me, every time I'm admitted to the hospital they put me onto the same Rheumatology ward, though I'm always the youngest one there by at least 35 years. The staff there know me well now, and call me "the Baby". (either because of my age in comparison to the other patients on the ward, or because I cry a bit when they jab me with needles. I didn't ask) I had some fantastic roommates. The one to my right was a very sweet little elderly lady, 82 years old, that used to be a ballroom dancing world champion. I know this because she has alzheimers, and introduced herself to me constantly. Constantly. She also had trouble walking, so when they gave her meds to prep her for a colonoscopy that would clean out her bowels they gave her a commode, right next to me and separated only by a thin curtain. The poor woman nearly blew herself off the commode a couple of times. It was extremely difficult not to giggle like a 12 year old boy at the noise coming from next door. Thank god the drugs I was on removed my sense of smell.

The one across from me was even better. She was an 86 year old, loud, racist, angry Italian woman that  swore at the nurses, wouldn't deal with anyone that didn't have English as a first language (and was sure to tell them why), cried that she was being abused by the food quality and slept with her pink nightdress over her head and spread eagled on her bed, curtains wide open. Every night. 

So to determine what was going on in my brain, they needed to collect some of that lovely fluid. Bring on the Lumbar Puncture. Was I nervous? No, just a lumbar puncture. Just a needle going into my spine. Not a big deal, I just wanted to get it over with. So a ward doctor and a newbie prep me in my hospital cubicle and have at er. 6 times. It wasn't working. They needed a bigger needle, the tissue around my spine was too swollen. Nobody wants to be huddled up with their bare back to doctors preparing to stab them in the spine with potentially paralysing affects and hear "we need a bigger needle". After 6 attempts (FML) they gave up and arranged for the surgeons to have another go the next day. 

It doesn't help that while being wheeled in a bed to the surgical suite the elevator we were in dropped an entire floor. The three of us (porter, nurse, me) thought we were going to die. We lived, barely, but after that surely one has no fear of a lumbar puncture. So in we went. 

5 more tries and they finally were able to suck out some spinal fluid - it felt incredible to have such instant relief in my head. So wonderful that a couple of days later I asked for another one. They thought I was nuts, and told me that the story of the girl who had 11 attempts at a lumbar puncture had already travelled throughout the hospital and will become Imperial Healthcare Lore. Again, lucky me.

However, nasty treatments aside, the most entertaining and bizarre part of my hospital stay was definitely the rotating string of pirate themed prostitutes with special needs, there seeing a male patient with special needs. It was crazy, and for awhile I wondered if I was really seeing this, or if I needed to reduce my painkillers again.

Every day at around 4pm one or two of these girls (4 in total), that dressed like pirate themed hookers but also clearly had special needs themselves, would come to visit this guy. They would close the curtain and you could hear them chatting (not very clearly, some due to speech impediments, some due to my lack of spy equipment that I solely needed while in hospital) and laughing, and then you would hear him shout something like "Gerr Off Woman!" and then the girls would leave. 

In chatting with the nurses, I found out that they all go to a special school together and all have similar learning disabilities. She explained that their prostitute-style dress was probably just their personal style preference, but she was also confused by the pirate theme. So it wasn't just me. 

The first time that the nursing staff kicked them out is when they brought in some beer and got the guy properly drunk. He tore out his IV line and went wandering down the hall talking to the walls. It was fantastically entertaining. (Hey, I'd been singing show tunes to myself at this point I was so bored, I'd take any form of entertainment I could get. I was even debating introducing myself to ballroom dancer next door, just for the conversation!). Then they were banned for, get this, having a threesome in his cubicle. You can't make this stuff up. He wasn't in a private room. He was on a shared ward with 3 other men and across from the room I shared with crazy 1 and racist 2. It was fantastic.

The best bit? When he was discharged he was replaced with a prisoner from the jail next door to the hospital - who was chained to a prison guard at all times. This was a further source of much entertainment, though the nurses did not know what he was in jail for (though there was much speculation over tea at my bedside with them).

The worst part? Even HE got out before I did! Paul kindly reminded me that he wasn't going home, he was going back to group showers and prison shankings, but still. What the hell??!

So in the end, on Day 13 of captivity I was feeling much better, my immune system had been completely decimated by a crazy high dose of steroids and I was due to now wait out the meningitis ( ah yes, turns out I had meningitis, which caused my sarc flare, but the virus was found after they decimated my immune system, so I was kept in like an outbreak monkey) and I asked my team of 14 doctors and professors if I should ask my husband to come and get me or if I should go ahead and tell him to start dating other people.

They reluctantly discharged me to the care of my overprotective husband who put me on house arrest for the 4 day Queen's Jubilee weekend. I didn't care, I was just so happy to be home.

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

I'm Clearly Not Meant to Have Any More Kids

I’m Clearly Not Meant to Have Any More Kids

After spending two weeks in hospital captivity and missing out on pretty much the entire British summer for this year, I came out with a zest for life and ready to live life to the fullest – short lived ambition, yes, but still.  I wanted to travel, let’s go to Spain, France, Poland – but then was reminded that we can’t go anywhere at all this summer, as our passports needed renewing and then our UK visas, oh god, our UK visas.  Our passports will be in the Home Office for months. We’re stuck to exploring the UK this summer, maybe a sneaky trip to Ireland without documentation if we’re feeling brave, but we’re stuck here, none the less.

So we went out and bought some bikes, a twin bike trailer and a bike rack for the car, with visions of us out cycling the great British countryside as a family, past castles, cottages, along the sea side and stopping to have cute picnics with baguettes and local cheeses along the way.

The bikes were picked up, the trailer put together, even the bike rack arrived yesterday so off we went for an inaugural family bike ride to the neighborhood park last night.

I fell off my bike within the first 10 minutes.

Of course I did. Now, it wasn’t just a usual fall off of one’s bicycle. My bike seat was too high and as I slowed to get through a gate behind Paul and the kids, on an incline, I lost speed and tilted to the side, trying to catch myself I fell against the gate and was pinned with one leg up in the air and being horribly violated by the bike seat. My leg was stuck up in the air, the gate and the bike had me pinned and Paul was riding away with the kids, oblivious to my yelps for help. I was able to get his attention by shouting Man Down! Man Down!

By the time he turned around to come and save me I had managed to remove the bike seat from my hooha and slither to the ground, still pinned between the gate and the bike with my left leg up toward the sky. I looked ridiculous.

It was a painful (but thankfully short) ride home and I’ve got a bruise on my groin that looks as though I’ve been in a car accident, but the girls (and Paul) had a great time. It’s quite clear that we won’t be having any more children, as if the methotrexate hadn’t already taken care of that my bike certainly just did.

Monday, 7 May 2012

The Elusive Log Cabin

As an expat you often feel strong connections to obscure pieces from "home" that you want your kids to grow up with. Like a log cabin in the woods. That one up there, if you can, (and if I turn to the dark side and start selling human organs out of Hong Kong, sure) but the painful bit is that ironically, we really do have one. It's just not here.

Paul's dad built their family cabin back in Canada, and although I do love it, it looks (and feels) kind of like this:

It doesn't help that we watched The Evil Dead the first time I had gone there for the weekend, or that there's an incredibly creepy white crib sitting in the spare room.

but aside from its' more evil qualities, it is Paul's family cabin and we remember it fondly. Though you wouldn't catch me there alone after dark. Ever.

Paul refers to the cabin as "the place where everything goes to die". The TV is sat on top of an older, larger TV. There's more than one dishwasher, though dishes there are to be done by hand, and the last I heard the space toilet was no longer in the house but outside among the trees. Like an outhouse, but with more fresh air. And spectators.

But alas, we don't live in Canada any more and our girls haven't yet been there. So what's a Canadian family stranded in the UK to do? Get the kids their own log cabin, of course!

Buuuuuttttt... Paul is a father now and, similar to his recently developed OCD with turning off lights and maniacally supervising thermostat usage, he now refuses to pay full price for things.

So Paul spent hours, days, weeks scouring the interwebs for a the elusive Little Tykes Log Cabin. Ebay. Gumtree. Amazon... it went on. He entered auctions. He lost auctions. He drove like a maniac down the A40 to check auctions. He accessed the auctions on his phone (safer than rushing home). He pulled over in the car to check the auctions on his phone.

I grew weary of this search. Couldn't we just buy a new one? God no, he said. It was nearly £400. Surely we could get one for £120. They were selling for £80 in Scotland, we could drive to get it. 7 hours. And think of the gas!

I tried to compromise. Could we settle for something other than the log cabin? Why not just buy a cheap £50 Wendy house brand new?


Only the little tykes log cabin would do for Paul and his girls.

A couple of days later, miracle of miracles, Paul found one on gumtree for £130 and it was only a 2 hour drive away. Our Sunday plans were set - the girls were getting their Canadian log cabin!

Only one problem. Paul has every tool under the sun - except a hammer. But he did have a shelf:

The poor guy worked hard building that cabin. I watched. And cuddled the hound.

And in the end? The kids love their cabin.

All three of them.

And, as odd as it sounds, we've now got that little piece of home sitting in our back garden.

Sunday, 29 April 2012

Shangri-La to Shangri-WTF was that?!?

I've had more than my share of horrid hotel experiences (some of my own making, others not so much) to the point that there are very few things that can happen in a hotel that I'll actually complain about now.

Last week was a lovely hotel experience, two days at the Shangri-La in Shanghai and it was, as to be expected, lovely.

Room service on a crisp, white table cloth with freshly squeezed orange juice and the morning English language paper, a bathtub and  a separate shower. The curtains opened and closed with the touch of a button by the bed and the bed, oh the bed. Huge, soft and white with delightfully fluffy pillows and a beautiful and inspiring view of the famous Bund from the 18th floor.

This is unfortunately not the type of hotel that I normally stay in.

Throughout my time in China, particularly when I was tour leading or, god forbid, on dreaded research trips to the far reaches of this wonderful but insane country, my hotel stays were of the budget variety. They were called "adventure class", though at the time I hadn't understood that the "adventure" was often the hotel room itself.

I no longer sleep very well in hotel rooms if I'm on my own, and nearly always need to sleep in a strange room with a light on. Of all of my experiences, the most genuinely traumatising didn't even directly happen to me, but in a room a few doors down the hall one night in one of my favourite little tourist towns in China. I woke up to a commotion in the late morning - it turns out that the cleaning crew had found a dead woman stuffed under the bed - a well known and well liked working girl in the area. I didn't know her, I didn't hear anything and I was obviously not involved, but the fact that something so horrific had happened in such close proximity has freaked me out for life.

Thus my creepy habit of entering a hotel room and immediately checking for dead hookers under the bed and in the closets.

Hotel from Hell - Beijing

Of all the places I have stayed in Beijing, no hotel gave me the creeps more than one that looked deceptively clean and respectable. After a restless night I woke up in the morning to sharp shabby things in my side, arm and lower leg. Thinking that I was being assaulted by creepy crawlies with sharp little teeth I flung off the covers and jumped out of bed to discover that I was partly right.

I had been sleeping with 7 human teeth in the bed with me. They looked to have been freshly knocked out of someone's face the night before.

I was too creeped out to go back to sleep and just got up and left. Ick, ick ick.

Hotel from Hell - Changchun

Although the teeth in Beijing were creepy and gross, nothing beats the level of filth that was my hotel next to the train station in Changchun. I'd just gotten off a 20+ hour train, it was the middle of the night and I was beyond exhausted. I just wanted somewhere cheap, safe and close to get a couple hours of sleep before heading out to the palace the next morning - so a dirty train station hotel seemed like a logical choice.

I checked in and immediately regretted my decision to stay there, but was too tired to care. The walls were  crawling with bugs - cockroaches and multi legged things, moths and a fine layer of dirt on the floor and bed. The room was so gross that I slept on top of the covers with my shoes on, in case I had to make a quick getaway in the night.

The night was fine, if I had eaten any bugs during my sleep I couldn't taste them now anyway so I wasn't too bothered. Wanting to just get out of there and on my way (and opting to brush my teeth on the street with a bottle of water rather than go anywhere near the bathroom down the hall) I quickly drew my bag closed, strapped it onto my back and headed out the door.

As I was walking down the street I heard a strange scratching from somewhere deep within my bag, strapped to my back. The scratching got more frantic and I could eerily feel something moving inside. Something large. That did it for me, I flipped out, started screeching and threw my bag down onto the pavement. Now, a foreigner in China tends to draw a lot of public attention on their own, but as a screaming foreigner pointing and flailing at their own bag on the ground and doing the heebie-jeebie dance around it, I was now stopping traffic and drawing a significant crowd.

The scratching got more frantic and I could see a bulge in the bag moving around. I reached down and lightening quick I opened the top of the bag and jumped back toward the crowd as a giant freaking rat scampered out of my backpack and down the street.

Suddenly aware of the amount of people staring at me and my disheveled bag, I mustered up as much remaining dignity as possible, scooped my things back into my bag, closed it up, popped it back up onto my back, hailed a taxi and got the hell out of there.

Hotel from Hell - Ibis in Guangzhou

There's nothing like staying in a nice, clean, well known hotel and then realising that your neighbouring visitors are freaks that make barnyard animal sounds while going at it like rabid monkeys all night.

They both had a thing for goats, apparently.

'nuff said.

Hotel from Hell - Qingchung Mountain, Sichuan

Oh dear. This one is nearly deserving of it's own post. So many things led to myself and my three friends Tiffany, Nicole and Shannon being stranded on the top of a frigid, wet mountain, drunk off kiwi wine with international flights the next day and mad as hell.

Hiking up Qingchungshan in Sichuan, up the back, less tourist focused side of the mountain is an experience I've had the pleasure to enjoy more than once. The scenery on the 8 hour hike up is incredible and right out of the images of China that people have before they get here. Natural beauty in lush green trees, ferns and plants, old wooden buildings, waterfalls and rickety wooden footpaths and bridges hugging the mountainside all the way up to the top, where a temple sits above the clouds and the monks sit down with you to drink sweet Kiwi wine. A gondola is perched a short way down to bring weary travellers back down to the base of the mountain and on their way.

However, it turns out that if you miss the last trip down the gondola, or they close it early to keep you and your friend's spending money on the mountain top, you're screwed.

So after a slightly violent encounter with the gondola operator, and even the failing of bribes, we were faced with spending the night on the mountain as the only patrons of the only hotel. Brilliant.

The room was fine enough, two single beds with clean white sheets, but the direness of our situation started to become clear as the temperature started to drop in the damp air and we discovered that the portable heaters they had given us didn't work.

In a panic to keep in whatever little heat we had accumulated in the room I left my three friends there to continue huddling while I ran from room to room with the family that owned the hotel grabbing all of the spare heavy blankets that I could to hang in the doorways and windows of our room, and to layer over my shivering friends. The thee of them looked about ready to lynch me.

The blankets were working, but not enough and we were worried that we may not make it through the night if it got any colder. Hot eggs and mountain spinach from the hotel family warmed us up but for only a short time. The thermos of hot water for tea was the same.

Even I had never felt so cold. I debated bringing our little group down the mountain with torches, but a 5 hour hike in the dark down the lesser used side of a mountain, although would have warmed us up through activity, was too dangerous and it had started to rain. We were stuck there and simply had to make the best of it.

I again left them in the room and went to find the family that owned the hotel again, to beg for something to keep us warm and to explain just how severe this was turning out to be. When they let me into their single room home I saw that they not only had a Kong ( a single wooden bed warmed by woodsmoke from the stove for the entire family to sleep on ) but also a small barrel of coals in the centre of the room keeping them warm. I couldn't take the barrel from them, they had young children and it was a cold night, clearly, but I needed something similar.

I walked back into our room dragging behind me a medium sized steel barrel filled with bits of wood and rubbish given to me by the family - and lit it up in the middle of the room. We sat around that barrel and finally warmed ourselves to the point that we could sleep.

Huddled together around a burning barrel. Like proper hobos.

Can you believe that wasn't actually my worst hotel experience?

Hotel from Hell - The Mausoleum of Ghengis Khan

This is another one that was so bad that it will probably get it's own post at some point when I find the time to load my pictures from my old laptop to my new one. It's one of the few (very few) stories from my younger traveling years that I don't find any real humour in, but it's not something that I'm likely to ever forget. Definitely the worst hotel ever.

I was on another research trip for my tour company that took me through Inner Mongolia and the far west desert provinces in search of a section of the Great Wall of China that splits into two parallel sections. On the way was an opportunity to find and report on the Mausoleum of Ghengis Khan. There were very few writings available on this mausoleum or area of China and I was keen to find it, report on it and get back to civilisation as soon as I could.

I made it to the nearest town's long distance bus station and was able to communicate where it was that I needed to go. After much surprise on behalf of the man selling bus tickets ( and the bus driver, and the people that followed me around listening to my conversations with ticket sellers and bus drivers ) I was directed to board a bus and told that they could take me as far as one point and then I'd need to find something else for the rest of the way. I'm used to traveling like this and wasn't too bothered, so I got on the bus.

I've never regretted an action so much in my life.

After about 2 hours down a desert highway the bus came to a desolate intersection and pulled over - in the middle of nowhere - to let me off.

I didn't want to get off the bus. All I could see in each direction were towering sand dunes and long deserted stretches of highway. I asked the bus driver what I was meant to do, would another bus come? He didn't know, but the mausoleum was "a couple of hours by foot that way. Faster if you can get in a car". I didn't see any cars, and asked him again how many hours of walking I might be in for. He said maybe 2, 3 at tops. I could handle that, I had plenty of water and my sand scarf with me. As I got off the bus an elderly woman offered me an additional bottle of water that she was carrying. That wasn't a good sign.

I got off the bus and the driver pulled away - that was the last vehicle I saw for hours.

I wasn't too panicked yet, by that point I had been leading camel camping treks in the Chinese desert for a couple of years and more or less knew to keep my head and mouth covered, keep hydrated through sipping, save water as much as possible, eat chocolate (I always kept an emergency snickers with me) and to turn off my mobile so as not to run out the battery in case I needed it later. I also knew that with a well maintained road such as this that there was bound to be a car coming along at some point, and that I could probably bribe a ride out of it's driver. I also knew how cold it would get when the sun went down and the urgency of finding a place to stay before that happened.

I walked for nearly 6 hours along that stretch of highway before a car finally came along.

When it did, I didn't care that it was driven by 2 men and that by getting into the car I could be getting myself into an even worse situation than I was in now. They seemed nice enough, once they got over their shock at seeing a blonde Canadian woman marching resolutely down a deserted highway in Western China. They laughed when I told them where I was going and what I was trying to find, and offered me a ride to the Mausoleum. I had done well, I was only about another hour away by foot, but I was exhausted, overheated and grateful for the ride. When we arrived they wouldn't allow me to pay them for the ride, or even buy them a drink. They were well known in the little town and the rep of having shown up with the haggard foreign chick in their car was enough reward for them. They were suddenly more interesting than I was, which I was also very grateful for. I checked into the tiny town's only hotel, had a quick dinner of potato, carrot and onion stew and went to bed, exhausted.

I woke up in the dark to the sound of my door being opened and barely had time to sit up before 4 drunk Chinese men burst into my room, calling me a Russian prostitute and egging each other on for who gets the first go with me. I was in shock and terrified but thankfully adrenaline took over and I flew out of bed and toward the men, screaming obscenities at them in Chinese and forcing them back out into the hall. I was fortunate in that their drunken state combined with the surprise of this foreign woman rushing toward them yelling at them in Chinese was enough to catch them off their guard enough to get them out into the hall, waking up the other hotel guests enough for a few to start popping their heads out of their doors and out of my room enough for me to slam my door, lock it and push the bed up against it.

They were embarrassed and angry now, and they were trying to force their way back into my room - at this point I realised that they had an actual key to my room. The manager of the hotel must have sold it to them. I was eternally grateful that I had pushed the bed up against the door so that they couldn't get back in.

I remember that after they finally left I sat on the floor with my back against the bed and sobbed. The adrenaline had left me and I was left with the understanding of exactly where I was and what nearly happened to me. I'd never wanted to return to Canada so much in my life.

But like everything else in life, you just have to keep going, and if I had let this experience scare me off then I would have missed out on some amazing and wonderful experiences that were yet to come in the years following.

But it reinforces my determination for my daughters to be full on ninjas by the time they are 8.

Just in case.
Hotel from Hell - Langmusi

I've had hotel from hell stories that were much less traumatising, though bizarre and frustrating at the same time.;postID=7868011010555451083

In this one I was locked in a hotel room on the Tibetan Plateau. That turned into quite an ordeal, especially after I declined the hotel staff's suggestion of climbing from one room to the next through the window. Good times.

This one wasn't really the hotel's fault - Beijing

Oh, the trouble I can get myself into.

Paul's mother, Sylvia, had come to China to visit us. We had travelled to Beijing to show her around and stayed in a reasonably nice little hotel, very clean, very full of other tourists, everything was fine. Having lived away from all westernisation for too long, Paul and I completely gorged on western food like pizza, Subway, cookies, McDonald's, everything we could get our paws on that reminded us of home.

This was a bad thing, and it resulted in the complete and total blockage of our hotel toilet. We needed a plumber and, my Chinese being piss poor but still better than Paul or Sylvia's at that point, I called down to reception to get one. Sylvia listened to my conversation to the receptionist and was well impressed with how fluent I sounded. Hell, even I was pretty darn proud of myself for it. I didn't know the words for bathroom, plumber, plunger or toilet, but had managed to successfully communicate what I needed. She asked me what it is that I said, and I translated my end of the conversation to her -

Hello. I'm in room 214. I have a small problem in my room. Please send me a man. He can fix it for me. Don't worry, it will be very fast. Thank you.

It's at that point, when I contemplated what I had actually said in English to the receptionist, that both Sylvia and I started to feel a bit concerned about what exactly they were sending to the room. We didn't have much time to ponder as a few seconds later there was a knock at the door, and I cautiously opened it to find a male prostitute having propped himself up against my doorway in a sexual stance, ready to service my needs.

I was horrified. Not only that I had called a prostitute instead of a plumber, but that I had done so in front of Paul's mother. I'd never live this down. So I did the only thing I could, burst out laughing, swung the door open to show Paul and his mom what had arrived at our door and pointed the poor man to the bathroom, charading that I'd like him to please fix the toilet. The poor guy turned bright red and left, and a proper plumber showed up a few minutes later to "fix my problem".

I wanted to crawl into a hole and die.

This one really wasn't the hotel's fault either - Hong Kong

Which brings me to my crown jewel of hotel horror stories from my travels - the Elevator Story.;postID=6547392828391985680

It was bad. I'll just say that.

So traveling with me is not always the safest or most relaxing thing a person could do.

But at least it's not boring.