Taking Stock: March

Hello there! How are you?

I promised in my first post on Nanjing Nian that I would NOT bitch and moan here, so I am going to be true to my word and not do that. All I will say is that I have had a horrible day, one of those days where everything that could go wrong does, and it seems that the world is against you. Y’know how those days can be? When several different Chinese bureaucrats yell at you and don’t give you a piece of paper, which is the only thing you need for you and your one true love to stay in the country?

OK, maybe you don’t know about that exact situation, but you will have had horrible days of your own (and by the way, I am fully aware that nothing TRULY terrible has happened and that everyone I love is safe and well, and am ever so thankful for that! Let’s keep things in perspective).

I wanted to say g’day to all of you, and to take stock. Taking stock is this great thing I learnt from Meet Me at Mikes, and you can join in too! Just post your own taking stock list in the comments box. I would so love to hear from you. It would cheer me up no end. But for now, here is my own stock take on the 9th March, 2015… 

Making: a secret present for a dear friend (it’s a crochet thing – but ssshh, don’t tell!)
Cooking: stewed apple, which I forgot about, and only remembered when the apartment filled with smoke. Now the whole place smells of burnt apple
Drinking: half a mini bottle of red wine that Steve got from the plane
Reading: Emma by Jane Austen. I just love Jane. Sigh.
Wanting: a blue visa form from Mr Zhu at Nanjing University that will let Steve stay in China with me! Please Mr Zhu? Pretty please?                                                                                                            Looking: out the window at the grey old world                                                                                Deciding: whether to stay in the intermediate Chinese class (hard!) or move down to where I feel more comfortable/less stupid
Wishing: the sun would come out soon
Enjoying: this hot water bottle on my chilly feet
Waiting: to be finished with the Chinese bureaucracy for a while
Liking: Ravelry…can you believe they have a list of wool shops in Nanjing? And we found one…amazing! I love the internet.
Wondering: what I would do if Steve had to go home.
Loving: our Chinese friends, who are being ever so helpful and took us for DELICIOUS hotpot on Saturday night
Pondering: whether or not to buy this e-book for bloggers
Considering: what TV series to watch next…any recommendations?
Buying: apartment basics like a cutlery organiser – much harder to find that you think!
Watching: Breaking Bad (Season 3) for the second time. Man it is good. Oh Walter White, why are you so evil? 
Hoping: that everything will sort itself out in time
Marvelling: at how lucky I am not to be a bureaucrat
Cringing: at how mean bureaucrats can be
Needing: something from a bureaucrat! Can you tell?!
Questioning: our decision to come here (but only a little bit)
Smelling: burnt apple
Wearing: thermal underwear and my down jacket (even in bed!)
Following: the advice of whatever wise person said ‘all things shall pass’
Noticing: how easy it is to make new friends when you are all in a strange new place together. It’s nice to have a crew 🙂
Knowing: that I am lucky to be here in the first place
Thinking: about what I will do when I get back to Aus…
Admiring: the commitment and skill of Chinese people who speak fluent English. They are amazing!
Sorting: through my Yunnan photos (the one at the top is of photographers at sunrise at the Yuanyang Rice Terraces)
Getting: more familiar with our local hood
Bookmarking: this list of the 100 Best Chinese Films of All Time, and wondering which one to start with (again, recommendations welcome!)
Coveting: another glass of red wine (I sound like an alcoholic, but I’m really not, I swear!)
Disliking: the fact that wine is really expensive here
Opening: my Chinese books to study (well I’m actually not, but probably should be)
Giggling: at Chinese taxi drivers. Insane!
Feeling: much better after a little rest from the outside world
Snacking: on nothing much, and thinking we need to do a grocery shop!
Comforting: myself with a hot water bottle and Breaking Bad in bed 🙂
Wishing: I could find a 4.5mm crochet hook somewhere in Nanjing
Helping: no one really…at the moment I am needing help from everyone I know!
Hearing: the sound of cars and buses on Shanghai Rd

Here’s a blank list if you want to join in and take stock yourself (you can share if you want (please do!)).

Making :
Cooking :
Drinking :


I’d love to hear where you’re at in your own life stock take…and hope you enjoy reading my Taking Stock, even if it seems a little downbeat. Things can only get better I say!



From Summer to Winter

Small Washing on Nanjing StreetSmall Sunny day at Nanjing Normal University

Poor kids who have to go to this kinder :)
Poor kids who have to go to this kinder 🙂
Maybe spring is not too far off
Maybe spring is not too far off

Small Men Walking At Nanjing Normal University

Hello there! How are you? Ni hao ma?

I am finally in Nanjing. And you guessed it…it’s cold! I knew that it would be cold, but I guess I didn’t factor in what that means for daily life. The outside world is misty and bleak, all greys and browns and leafless trees. It’s the annual Chinese New Year holiday, so most of the shops are closed and the streets are quiet – not many people, not many cars. Everyone has gone back to their home towns.

I also have a cold. Boo. Have spent the past two days in bed with a hot water bottle and tissues, watching old episodes of Breaking Bad on my laptop.

BUT. That does not mean I’m not excited to be here. I’m in China! And I have gone for a few walks and taken some snaps of our local hood. Once people are back from their holiday and the shops start to open, I think it will be a much more lively place to be.

Plus in one hour, I am getting the train all the way to Kunming in the west – two sleeps on the train. How fun is that? I love trains. I have two good books, my camera, my diary and not much else. Adventure awaits!

A few observations on the first 6 days in Zhongguo

  • The Great Internet Firewall of China really does exist, and it’s pretty annoying (hello government officials who may be reading this – maybe lighten up on the censorship?). Bye bye Facebook, Google, WordPress, Flickr, Instagram and lots of other fun online things.
  • There is kindness everywhere. I was well looked after by my Sydney friend’s family in Shanghai on my first night, and then once I arrived in Nanjing, my friends Chang and Tim collected me from the train station, took me to my apartment, and whisked me off for Chinese New Year’s Eve dinner with their family. The next day, I was invited back for lunch to finish off the leftovers, followed by a walk in the winter sunshine at Xuanwu Lake. Tim’s Mum then gave me about 10kg of apples, saying 苹果平安 ‘Pingguo Pingan’. Ping guo = Apple and Ping an = Safety and Peace. Apparently you give apples to keep someone safe and sound. Isn’t that nice? Needless to say I can’t eat 10kg of apples on my own, so I cooked up about a kilo’s worth and have been enjoying stewed apple at every meal! Only another 9kg to go! Any apple-related recipes would be welcome 🙂


  • When you walk around quiet neighbourhoods taking photos of seemingly unremarkable things, people may think you are a spy. And then you might start feeling like a spy.
  • This year is the Chinese Year of the Sheep, or  yáng. If you were born in this year (1955,1967,1979,1991), you should wear at least one item of red every day, to ward off any evils that may befall you. The Sheep is the most creative sign in the Chinese zodiac, and those born in this year can be artistic, sensitive, shy, practical, family oriented, home loving people. Sheep “may occasionally suffer from “hoof-in-mouth disease” by saying the wrong thing at the wrong time”!

What’s the weather like where you are? Does it affect your mood? What’s your favourite time of year? I never thought mine was summer…but it’s definitely not winter either! Also, do you love or hate long train trips? Or somewhere in between?


10 Things I Will Miss About Melbourne


Hello friends!

I am actually at the AIRPORT waiting to get on my flight to China – exciting!

So this may be a bit of a rushed post. But I wanted to pay a fond farewell to my home town in all its glory. In that spirit, here are the 10 Things I Will Miss Most About Melbourne

1. Good friends and loving family

I guess this goes without saying, but I will miss them all terribly.


Kate and Iz at Cockatoo island


2. St Kilda

I love where I live. The quirky people, spiky palm trees, the 96 tram, how close it is to the beach and the lake. Plus it has the two BEST bakeries in Melbourne: Woodfrog and Baker D Chirico. 



3. Rose the dog

She’s the craziest little mutt in town: ball obsessed, highly unimpressed with other dogs and small children. But she’s awesome. Rose, I will miss your mad ball chasing skills and single track mind



4. Local birds

I know that Nanjing probably won’t have such a variety of local birds – rainbow lorikeets, wattle birds, seagulls and cockatoos.

5. The beach

We are lucky enough to live just a hop skip and jump from the beach. I know China has beaches, but I don’t think they’ll be as clean and uncrowded as ours.


6. Clean air and camping

These two go hand in hand. We are so lucky in Melbourne, to be able to drive an hour or two away from the big smoke and find ourselves somewhere beautiful like the Yarra Ranges, the Great Ocean Road, Mt Buffalo or Baw Baw. I will miss camping

Tidal river sunset

Tree bower

7. Good coffee

I know you can get coffee in China, but I doubt it will measure up to what the famous baristas of Melbourne produce

coffee edited


8. Pizza

As above – I know you can get it, but it ain’t that good. I will miss $13 pizza Mondays at Italico.

9. Trams

They are cheerful, they are not under the ground in tunnels, they are mostly efficient, and they are very Melbourne

10. Our flat

It’s not huge, but it’s lovely. It’s leafy balcony, the way the morning light filters in through the trees. Even the funny people next door yelling at each other during the night.


OK! They are calling my flight! Next time we speak I will be in Nanjing.

Lots of love,


A Chinese Revolution in My Mind

China books edited

Hello! How are you doing? Have you had a good week? I am AOK. I discovered something AMAZING this week. Something that could REVOLUTIONISE our attempts to learn foreign languages. Are you excited? I sure am.

It all started when I read this blog post. Which got me on to this interview with Timothy Ferriss, author of best-selling book The 4 Hour Work Week. Which led me to this awesome guy called Gabriel Wyner, author of Fluent Forever: How to Learn Any Language Fast and Never Forget It. How amazing is the internet? Very.

Fluent Forever edited

Now, don’t get me wrong. I am usually uber sceptical about American whiz kids like Ferriss and Wyner. My Australian sensibility says ‘Right, so you’re 30 years old, you speak four languages, and you reckon you taught yourself fluent French in 5 months by practicing on the subway.’

Tear that tall poppy DOWN!

BUT. As someone who is about to take on the daunting task of learning Mandarin Chinese  – encouragingly ranked at Level 5: Languages Which Are Exceptionally Difficult for Native English Speakers on this list, along with Arabic, Japanese, Korean and Cantonese – I am open to new ways of doing things. And Gabriel Wyner’s method seems to make SUCH GOOD SENSE.

After reading his website and watching his videos on fluent-forever.com for an afternoon, I was inspired to rush out and buy the book from Readings St Kilda. NO OTHER Readings stores in Melbourne had a copy EXCEPT my local St Kilda store. AND when I got there, the nice lady and I had to search down the back of the shelf where it had FALLEN DOWN and was COVERED IN DUST, hiding there and waiting for me to come in and buy it. I call that fate 🙂

Fluent Forever’s theory in a nutshell:

  1. Learn the sounds of your new language first. If you get the pronunciation right at the very start, you’ll be in a winning position.

I found this example from Wyner’s book fascinating.

In Japanese, the sound we know as ‘R’ sits in between the English ‘R’ and ‘L’. When a group of Japanese adults was tested on the difference between Rock and Lock, the results showed that they could not pick the difference between the two words.

rock photo

lock photo
Rock and lock – definitely not the same thing

This did not improve with continued practice and testing. Even when the ‘R’ was exaggerated to ‘Rrrrrrrrock’, the results weren’t much better. BUT. When the routine was repeated with FEEDBACK, everything changed. If the participants chose ‘Rock’ and they were correct, the computer would go ‘Ding! Correct!’ In three 20-minute sessions of THIS type of practice, receiving positive or negative feedback for each answer, participants were permanently able to hear the difference between ‘R’ and ‘L’.

Isn’t that amazing?

In Chinese, I have great trouble hearing the difference between Chī  吃 – to eat

And  chē 车 – car, vehicle

Can you hear the difference?

I am going to use the above method of ear training, playing pairs of words that sound the same to my ears, but are actually not, and receiving feedback each time. I hope it works. Thanks Gabriel!

  1. Use a Spaced Repetition System, and start by learning the most important vocabulary and grammar first

Who knew that there is a free program called Anki that allows you to create your own digital flashcards with words, pictures and sounds? And then knows how often to show you these cards to embed them in your brain?

You can look up the character for ‘rock’ in Chinese: 石

Copy and paste this photo into your flash card (yes, it’s Wilson’s Promontory): rocks at the prom edited

And use this free website to download a sound file of a native speaker saying the word in Chinese:

Using a list of the most common words, you can create a deck of personalised flash cards with sounds and pictures, and never need to use the English word ‘rock’ in your learning process. Out with translation for good! Apparently even the process of searching through Google Images for a picture that best represents the word to YOU AND ONLY YOU is a BIG PART OF THE PROCESS –  the new foreign word is already worming its way into your brain. I am only half way through Fluent Forever, but I reckon this method is going to be a winner! My recent efforts at learning Chinese, both at university and for a couple of weeks in Shanghai last year, left me frustrated at the number of new words that went into my head only to rush out again within a week. I don’t want that to happen this time. Wish me luck!

Have you tried to learn a language before? What was your experience like? What do you think is the best way to stop yourself forgetting new words?

I would love to know.

xx Iz

Chinese soldier photo credit from here First rock photo credit from here Lock photo credit from here

There is Something I Have to Confess

It is not shameful, but it’s an important thing you need to know about me if you are following this blog.

I am a mad keen crafter.

And when I say crafter, I mean knitter (and occasional crocheter).


Knitted cowl for my friend in Nanjing
Knitted cowl for my friend in Nanjing
Steve, left back, wearing grey V-neck jumper
Steve, left back, wearing grey V-neck jumper

Sometimes I think of knitters as home-loving people. My Grandma, who passed away in the middle of last year, was a knitter and someone who loved HOME. Home was her number one place. If someone was away, she wanted to know when they would be getting HOME. In order to leave home, you needed to have a good reason: where else would you possibly rather be? Her home was her castle and I loved that about her.

My Grandma, Helen Millhouse
My Grandma

But I am not this type of knitter. If I spend more than a day entirely at home, I become STIR CRAZY. I like to be OUT IN THE WORLD. I like to be DOING THINGS.

Knitting and liking to be out in the world are not, in fact, incompatible. You can knit in parks. You can knit at airports (if you can get your needles through the security check. Tip: invest in plastic needles). You can knit on trains, trams, planes, buses and in the car (but NOT if you are driving J). Knitting in public can be a conversation starter. ‘What are you making?’ people ask. And ‘It’s SO nice to see a young person knitting!’

Stripy socks

Why do I love to knit? Isn’t it a bit old school and dowdy? Can’t you just buy a scarf or jumper for much less money, time and hassle? Well, yes, probably. But there are reasons to knit that fall beyond the practical:

  1. Knitting is relaxing. It is rhythmic, repetitive, but still productive. You can do it while watching TV: while your brain engages with the show, your hands are busy creating something. AND it prevents my restless hands from fiddling and scratching at things. Did you know that Julia Gillard, despite the ill-conceived photo shoot for Women’s Weekly, really does enjoy knitting? In her autobiography she says it ‘bridges the gap between work and sleep’. I can relate to that.
  1. It is a way to show love. Like a cat bringing a rat to its owner, when I care about someone I feel a desire to do something nice for them, and often that means making them something. If you are one of the 20 or so people I have crafted something for, it means that you are very dear to me.
  1. Knitting is FUN! You can make anything! There are SO many ideas and SO much beautiful wool available in ENDLESS colours and types. How exciting is that?
  1. Knitting connects me with all the people throughout history who have knitted, and with knitting ancestors like my Grandma. Did you know that the Egyptians used to knit socks back in the 3rd century? Wow.

I will most definitely be crafting my way around China, and look forward to sharing future inspiration with you. For now, above and below are some pictures of things I have made lately.

Rug close up
Wedding rug for my friends CN and LB
Rug on wardrobe
This rug took me a year to make! It was a lot of fun

Do you also love to knit? Or perhaps you prefer a different type of craft? What sorts of things have you made, or would like to try in the future? And do you prefer staying at home, or being out in the world? Or a bit of both?

Do tell.

xx Iz


Hello and Welcome to Nanjing Nian!

Myrtle leaves

Dead tree in mist 1

Why hello there! And welcome to Nanjing Nian, my blog about a year living and studying in the city of Nanjing, China.

Yep, you guessed it…Nanjing means, well, Nanjing in Chinese, and Nian means year. This is Nanjing in Chinese characters: 南京 And this is year: 年. So 南京 (Nanjing) + 年 (Nian) = 南京年 (Nanjing Nian)!

I’m excited about the year ahead, and can’t wait to share it with you. And I promise to write every week, from now until December 31st, 2015.

I don’t promise every post will be interesting – or about China – but as an exercise in discipline for myself, I am putting it out there that I will write at least once a week. Can you hold me to account dear reader? It would be mucho appreciated.

You can click here to find out who I am and why I’m going to China. But I don’t leave until February, so until then, I think I should cut my blogging teeth on other things. Namely…Tasmania!

I’m currently in beautiful Tasmania, or Tassie as we ‘mainlanders’ call it. Actually, pretty sure everyone calls it Tassie. I just want to use the word mainlander as often as possible.

Brooding Lake St CAlthough Nanjing is not as polluted as other cities in China, like Beijing or Xi’an, the air quality is still pretty bad compared to our high Australian standards.

And where could the air be cleaner than Tasmania, an island covered in 50% forest? So I am here for a week, breathing in as much as possible. Which, admittedly, is difficult to do considering that wherever we are, we breathe pretty much the same amount every day. But hey. The thought was there.

Other reasons for coming to Tassie were a) reading Anna Krien’s excellent book Into the Woods and feeling inspired to see Tassie’s forests first hand before they are all chopped down by loggers and b) various other bloggers such as Pip Lincolne from Meet Me At Mikes, Kate Berry from Lunch Lady, and Michelle from Hugo and Elsa making it look so damn stunning and c) having some frequent flyer points available. That last reason was just the final tick…Tassie is so great that it’s ACTUALLY WORTH PAYING TO GET HERE.

  1. Edited Lake St Clair 1 Echidna

I am travelling solo this time around, and I must admit, I am a bit of a shy traveller. I find it hard to ‘make friends’ with strangers when I travel. And, in a way, I don’t really want to make friends on a short trip. I am fine with my own company, and while I’m happy to have a chat with a fellow hosteller, or someone on the bus, I don’t need to hang out all day, y’know? Are you like that, or are you more of a social traveller?

Yesterday, I went on a boat cruise up the Gordon River. We took off from the port of Strahan (pronounced like ‘straw’ with ‘n’ on the end – took me a while to get that), a quiet fishing town on Tassie’s wild west coast that feels like it’s seen better days. It was the sight of the famous Franklin River protests in the early 1980s, which the Strahan Backpackers manager was very keen to tell me about. ‘Perhaps you’re too young, but have you heard of Bob Brown?’ he asked. I assured him that, despite my meagre 30 years on earth, I had indeed heard of Bob Brown, former senator and leader of the Australian Greens. ‘Well back in 1982, Strahan was where Bob and everyone came for the protests – the town was full of media, police, activists…’ His face lit up. Then he told me how Strahan Backpackers had nearly gone broke in recent years, and it was only until it was bought by a big tour company that it could continue to operate. He looked like he really missed the good ole protesting days.

The Gordon River itself and the rainforest surrounding it is out of a movie – I won’t wax lyrical as hopefully the photos do it justice.

Macquarie Harbour 4Edited not really Macquarie Harbour 5Instead of using words to describe a World Heritage Area that defies description, I was about to bitch and moan about how annoying the other 50 passengers on the boat were, clumping around in big sheep-like groups through the rainforest, rushing up to the buffet lunch to be first served…but I won’t. The blog I most admire is Meet Me At Mikes and the main reason is its positive tone, so I will try to follow suit. Thank you Pip for inspiring me not to moan!

Besides all the obvious things that are great about Tassie (MONA, trees, lakes, blah blah blah, you can watch any Tourism Tasmania ad to work that out), a highlight has been Airbnb.

If you haven’t heard of Airbnb, you need to get on to it. It is the BEST! For half the price of what you would pay for a hotel room, you get to stay in someone’s house. I have now done this in Sydney, Bendigo, Brussels, London, Shanghai and now Hobart, and it is unfailingly wonderful. The people have always been kind, helpful and the opposite of weirdos. And your money goes to your average Joe or Joanna instead of Best Western or Travelodge…it’s a no brainer for me. Have you used Airbnb before? Or maybe hosted?

I stayed in the front room of a terrace house in North Hobart. The owner was off camping with her daughter (how terribly Tasmanian) so I was greeted by the owner’s Mum, Val, as well as two cats: one old and one whippersnapper named ‘Kitten’. Val was the best! When she is not house sitting for her daughter, she lives on a small farm outside Launceston with her husband Geoff (or is it Jeff? Sorry Val!).

Funky North Hobart edited
Street art in funky North Hobart

Edited Kitten

One night, I came home from a day seeing the sights of Hobart and we watched Antique Roadshow and then Sherlock together, while she knitted socks for her granddaughter, and Kitten blissed out on my lap, her intense purring vibrating her whole tiny body. We talked about Tasmanian politics, refugees, the Overland Track, and how her husband is taking a group of Chinese tourists bird-watching in October (should he take them to the South West to see the orange bellied parrot or not? That was the question). Then I retired to my lovely big room with a view of Mt Wellington. Can you get all that at the local Best Western? I don’t think so.

Have you ever been to Tassie? Where did you go? What did you do? I would love to know! Or even if you just really want to visit one day…I’d be interested in that too!

Big love from the Apple Isle

x Iz