My Top Ten #Holiday Highlights of #NewZealand’s #NorthIsland (1)


Catching a cloud, Hahei Beach, Photo credit: John Kirk

Many of my followers and friends are aware of my most recent, life-affirming winter break across the ocean at the far end of the globe: New Zealand. The journey itself was long and exhausting in a span over two days, from Birmingham, via Amsterdam and Guangzhou, with an 13 hour time difference between the UK and NZ. It was precisely because of the long distance, John once said to me: If I ever go to New Zealand, I’m not coming back!

We went, in the depth of winter on this side of the world, just before heavy snow grounded a number of international flights across the country – what a lucky escape and great timing, and we came back, reluctantly and with sadness. The air is still filled with a winter chill, but we have the most treasured memories of an unforgettable trip, with nearly four thousand pictures I took and many mini videos I have made, to share and to keep, in the tender part of my heart.

In today’s post, I will share with you some of my best loved places and happiest moments of my trip Down Under. Three weeks were hardly sufficient to explore fully this amazingly beautiful country, hence our decision to concentrate on the North Island this time. We also had a very special reason to be at the North Island in December 2017, which will be revealed towards the end of my next post, and of course, some of you on my social media networks are already in the know :-).

Without further ado, here are my top picks and recommendations, if you are ever lucky enough to pop over for a visit ;-:

  1. Bays and Beaches: Honestly I have lost count of how many bays and beaches I have been to during this trip, and as someone who loves the sea, sand and the sound of the waves, I have been to many stunning beaches in my life time. I must admit that New Zealand boasts some of the most beautiful beaches I have ever laid my eyes upon. They simply took my breath away. Just look at the pictures below and tell me that you can’t agree more.
  2. Boat Trip from Auckland: We were lucky! We have family members living and working in NZ. My sister-in-law’s brother, a successful business man, resident of Auckland, took us for a fabulous ride into the stunning part of the South Pacific Ocean on Christmas Eve. He anchored his boat near a few small islands some twenty kilometres from the largest NZ city Auckland which is surrounded by the sea. In the crystal clear water under the shining sun, our family party enjoyed diving, kayaking, snorkelling and swimming. Even though not a great swimmer, I decided to take the plunge. I mean, when will I go swimming in the Pacific Ocean again next? Isn’t this the most perfect Christmas gift?

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  3. Gardens, Parks and Tropical Flowers: As the chill of the winter deprived many plants of their flowers in the UK, New Zealand was blooming with a variety of summer flowers wherever we went. There were dahlias of different colours from my sister-in-law’s garden, as well as one of my favourite tropical flower, Bird of Paradise, and other species, many of which I have no name but a deep fondness for. In urban areas, there are many parks and gardens and we visited a few, including the Auckland Domain and Cornwall Park, where I happily snapped away. Thanks to my Facebook friend Pieter who is living in Hamilton for suggesting that we visited Hamilton Gardens. We did, on Christmas day, joining many local residents there on a fine day. The many fine gardens of this world (Chinese, English, Indian, Italian and Maori etc) were featured here, not to mention a fabulous rose garden too!
  4. New Zealand Food: I am a foodie and I enjoy sampling different foods of the world. New Zealand didn’t disappoint. I had the freshest oysters and New Zealand mussels, and not to mention one of the best ice creams in the world. I know the Italians would say that they invented ice creams and have the best on offer. My sister-in-law and brother-in-law would probably disagree. At every place we visited, they were keen to show us the best ice-cream place and the Kiwis give you the most generous potions! I would say that the Italians have more variety, and the New Zealand offerings have more quantity in terms of cream composition and serving volume. After all, New Zealand has probably more cows than people. John and I were also served many fresh, organic vegetables grown and prepared by our sister-in-law. On top of that, we were recommended the best Sichuan restaurant in the country located in Hamilton, again curtesy of my Kiwi friend Pieter. An authentic taste of China and my home region served to further fire up my love for this land.
  5. Native Maori Culture: You cannot visit New Zealand without coming in contact with the Maori culture, and we did what we could with the limited time we had. Following recommendations from another friend Julian, who flew his whole family down there last Christmas, we visited a number of tourist places in the North Island. In Rotorua, we spent a few delightful hours in a Living Maori Village, Whakarnewarewa, where the chief guided us through a journey of discovery. Nestled in a unique geothermal valley, we were greeted with Pohutu Geysers, thermal pools where they still cook and bathe. When some were too hot to handle, they served as a reminder how powerful Mother Nature was, and how incredible some of the natural creations were. Our visit to Wai-O-Tapu was another experience which will be deeply embedded in our memory. This thermal wonderland, with volcanic dome of Maungakakaramea (Rainbow Mountain), was covered with collapsed craters, cold and boiling pools of mud, water and steaming fumaroles. Some of the most unforgettable sights were the Champagne Pool, Sulphur Cave, Inferno Crater and Devil’s Bath. I know people who belong there ;).

I would conclude the first part of my New Zealand blog here, and I hope that the very brief introduction and selected pictures have given you a reason to visit New Zealand one day, or at least, a reason for you to come back soon for more virtual tour of this amazing country.


More fab photos to come. See you soon!

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Farewell to #2017 With #Acknowledgements and Reflections

IMG_4728Every year, as the autumn leaves fall and are swept away by the chilly wind, I take a look back on the past 12 months and remember what I’ve been through, good times and bad, peaks and troughs on an often eventful journey. On the path I walked, with integrity and sensitivity, there are new places I’ve visited, new friends I have made and significant events that took place, changing the landscape of society or on a personal level, circumstances that have altered my attitudes and priorities in my life.

Many of you will probably agree that 2017 has been an interesting year. From a macro-political perspective, the UK is dogged by Brexit talks and subsequent backlashes, and across the pond, Trump and his outlandish political antics on and off social media provide constant debates in the media and once in a while threaten World peace as we have seen. Shootings and earthquakes topped the man-made and natural disasters which claimed many unfortunate lives.

On a more personal note, I would say that the first few months of 2017 were pretty awful, when I found myself battling with pure evil, looking in the depth of the very rotten and corrupt souls of human beings. Lying and ugly monsters who will one day be brought to justice. I have only contempt and sheer disgust towards these morality-lacking egomaniacs. One day I will look back at 2017 as one of the most challenging chapters of my life, and as we are near its cold and bitter end, I can not help but smile at the prospect of turning my back on it. Moving forward into the warmth and sunshine is the only way to go.image001

In the last blog post of this eventful year, I will not dwell further on the troubles and unhappy memories, instead I am going to share some wonderful moments with you, and I’ll also acknowledge a number of people, who have been in my life as a positive force, a reminder that there is always hope and love. They are the ones who have encouraged and supported me, and whose very friendship and presence made a world of difference to my life.

I’ll start with a series of pictures featuring a number of mini breaks and travels I’ve done, in chronological order:

Weekend visit to lovely Loch Lomond

Lake District mountain walking and hooking up with friend Aiden from Taiwan

Delightful holiday retreat in stunning Sicily – please also see two previous blogs on Sicilia.

The Gem of Seville in Southern Spain


Two Trips to London, meeting Facebook friend Roland, dinner with Tao and celebrating John’s Birthday

Work and Pleasure in China: Chengdu, Hangzhou, Nanjing and Shanghai


More Pictures of my China trip can be found: The Best of My Trip to #China 2017: A Picture Tour.

My heart-felt thank-you to a number of people, in no particular order:

John – Thank you for standing by me without fail, also for your unwavering integrity, kindness, loyalty, love and strength. You show me what really matters in life.

Fiona – It’s lovely to meet and spend some quality/coffee time with you. We both have moved on to more solid ground, following a shaky start. Many congrats to your new job at University of Bath. You deserve it!

Margaret – First you were a fan of my books, for which I thank you! Then we shared many happy chats on Facebook. I’m very glad to be your eyes and legs, catching beauty in flowers and Nature to share with you on almost daily basis. Thank you for sending me the book of Pollyanna through the post, at a point when her never-failing positivity was greatly needed. I’m delighted to have met you face to face, recently and ever so briefly, thanks to your son Julian. I so appreciate your compliments on my writing. The fact that you loved my trilogy and are keen to read my next instalment is a driving force, among the many distractions that I face on a daily basis. I will not let you down.

Friederike & Colin – It’s always a pleasure to see you both, and to be treated with your wonderful hospitality and understanding. Your encouragement and appreciation of my writing efforts and everything else in life are greatly appreciated.

Mum – I know you can’t read English and will not be able to understand anything I write in English, but you have been a rock in my life. No matter what I post on WeChat, you’re usually the first to press ‘like’ even though sometimes you had no idea what I was talking about – I mean how much would you know about some people’s obsession with UK university ranking or my ranting against Brexit? They are far far away from your world.


Professor Lalage Bown

Lala – I have not been able to see you for a long while, but you have been my inspiration ever since my days at University of Glasgow under your brilliant supervision. I promise to visit you in Shrewsbury in the New Year.

Douglas and Michelle – It is a pleasure to be working with you, and thank you for seeing the value of what I do, and for your belief in me, and restoring my faith in professionalism and good leadership.

There are many more people I want to thank, but too many to list here. Those on my author network (Eden/Helen, got to mention you here for your continued support); those on my social media platforms – Facebook, LinkedIn, WeChat, Twitter, Instagram, GoodReads and my website etc. Some of you I never had a chance to meet and perhaps never will, but you always took time to like and comment on my posts, and told me how much you enjoyed them. You are the reason that I am actively engaged in the digital world. When the real world becomes too stressful, there is a place I can retreat to and feel welcome and valued. This is an electronic thank-you card – you know who you are.


Thank you for all the Likes and Interactions in 2017,  before and after!

On the cusp of 2018, I am looking forward to a very positive end to a turbulent year. I will be embarking on a journey of a lifetime, and I can’t wait to share my adventures with you all.


May the Globetrotting Continue!

So sit tight and belt up. Let’s take off! To new beginnings!

Xmas card 2013

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Go Gently Into the Night, Maureen Mitchell Kirk


Beautiful Maureen

Author’s Foreword: I published a blog about my two mothers just over two years ago on Mother’s Day, and today I’m sharing it below, to pay tribute to my Mother-in-law Maureen Mitchell Kirk (November 1933 – November 2017), who passed away in a home in Derbyshire, England on Friday night, 18th November 2017. She died after fighting a painful and sustained battle against the terrible disease of Alzheimer.

Rest in Peace, Maureen! As a born Catholic, you are now no longer suffering the pain and strife of this world, and you are in a happier place. May God be with you!


My British and Chinese #Mothers: Two Different Lives

While browsing through posts by friends on social media, i.e. Facebook and Chinese equivalent WeChat, as I usually do first thing in the morning, one post caught my eye: 中国老人抱怨儿子儿媳不孝顺,英国老人说的一段话让所有人沉默了…. To roughly translate into English: When the Chinese elders complain about son and daughter-in-law for not being filial, what do the British elders say in response?

I have seen it before. It is a mock dialogue between an elderly English parent and an elderly Chinese parent, and it started something like this:

Chinese parent: My son has no conscience, no heart.

British parent: What do you mean?

Chinese parent: He asked me if I was willing to live in an Old People’s Home!

British parent: Old people’s home is very good. I live in one.

Chinese parent: Oh? How could you go to such a place?

British parent: Why not?

Chinese parent: That is a place for the lonely old people. If I went, I would be the laughing stock among my relatives, and my life would be cut short.

British parent: That so? When you’re at a certain age, living in a Home is very convenient. How could it be a laughing stock?


This conversation goes on, talking about Chinese parents living with their children and grandchildren, British parents choosing to live on their own. There are also debates about why British children strike on their own from age 18, and they don’t give their parents money nor expect their parents to look after the grand children etc.

Obviously this conversation never took place for real, but I can easily imagine the scene if it did. You see, I have a very typical Chinese mother, who gave birth to four children and lived in China all her life. My mother-in-law, a beautiful Derbyshire woman, also has four grown-up children, like my own mother.

Today, I want to tell you a little bit about my two mothers, and how vastly different their lives have been. To show their differences, I’d like to start with the similarities between them.

My Mother Yijun and Mother-in-Law were born in the same year, 1933; my mum six months older. While my mother grew up in Sichuan province, had an University education, worked in a secondary school all her working life, retired when she was fifty-six and now happily living in Chengdu, capital of Sichuan province. She never lived anywhere outside of Sichuan, and the furthest she has ever travelled to was Hong Kong. (It’s a real pity that she has never been able to visit me in the UK, but that is another story).

My Mother-in-law Maureen was born in Chesterfield in Derbyshire, the eldest daughter of a coal miner. Her family didn’t have enough money to send her to University. Working as a secretary she married an engineer who joined the RAF and travelled with him to Kenya, and then the USA before returning to the UK.

Both my mother and mother-in-law were politically active in their time. While my Mother is a Communist Party member and spent many years of her life teaching political science in school, while I and my siblings were being brought up by our grandmother (as was the case for Pearl Zhang in The Same Moon). My mother-in-law, on the other side of the globe, was active in the British Labour Party while working and bringing up her four children. Although they both shared an enthusiasm in politics during their prime, I suspect that my mother’s motivation was more a case of being embroiled in the political heat rather than a matter of choice.

In the last twenty years or so of their lives, while my Dad was still alive, my parents lived in a number of places in Sichuan, sometimes with one of my brothers, other times on their own with a full-time nanny – My father suffered from poor health and needed full time care for the last ten years of his life. After he passed away in 2006, my mother has kept a full-time nanny of her own – my brothers are busy businessmen with families and children of their own.


My parents with me, their first born

My mother-in-law has separated from my father-in-law for more than twenty years, so for many years she lived on her own. We once offered for her to come and live with us. She didn’t even want to entertain that possibility, being the independent soul that she had been. It saddened me deeply when she was eventually diagnosed as having Alzheimer’s disease. For the past few years, she had full time care in her own house, and as her conditions became so poor that she was transferred into a specialist care home.

My own mother, on the side of the world, has fared better health wise. We talk on FaceTime sometimes and she even started using WeChat, downloading Music and ordering Uber from her home, although I know that she had never used a computer and sent an email. But hey, this is the Internet Age and even an 84 year old dog can learn a new trick or two.

thumbnail_IMG_1023Author’s Endnote: I ended the above post on a positive note when it was first published. Today I am in a different place emotionally, having just lost my mother-in-law. I am deeply saddened, and relieved at the same time. Maureen is free of the dreadful disease which ate away at her elegance, her intelligence and her sanity. She is now in a peaceful place where she is meant to be. Here is a poem by Dylan Thomas which I dedicate to my late mother-in-law.

Do not go gentle into that good night

Dylan Thomas, 1914 – 1953

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.


My mother-in-law with three of her 4 children: John, Mike & SJ

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The Best of My Trip to #China 2017: A Picture Tour

I love words and I enjoy writing, but sometimes they are redundant when a picture can tell us just as much, and often more. So today, I’ll try to be economic with words and let pictures speak for themselves. I hope that you will enjoy what you see.

Family Reunited: With my 84 year old mum and extended family.


Food: The spicier, the better!

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Friends: Old and New

Fun times to treasure

Finally: a bit of work just in case that I forgot what I was in China for 😉 

Thank you for stopping by and joining me in my travels for work and leisure.

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Appreciating “The Same Moon” on Mid-Autumn Day

libaipoemI witness bright Moonlight in front of my bed.
I suspect it to be hoary frost on the floor.
I watch the bright Moon, as I tilt back my head.
I yearn, while stooping, for my homeland more.
–Li Bai, Tang Dynasty

Every Chinese child three years or older can probably recite this most popular poem by the most famous Chinese poet Li Bai; Every Chinese adult, especially those who have travelled, away from home, far away, can relate to the poet’s sentiments, as I did, when I left China for the United Kingdom decades ago. Millions of Chinese migrants, to all corners of the world, will inevitably find their hearts and souls, resonating with the deep-rooted yearnings of Li Bai.

This poem marked the beginning and end of my book The Same Moon, charting an unforgettable journey of my protagonist Pearl Zhang.

Same Moon AmazonScreen Shot 2014-04-30 at 11.05.11

Cited below are two recent reviews in 2017 by Amazon readers from the UK:

5.0 out of 5 stars
Epic and beautifully painted adventure that will keep you enthralled!

A fascinating epic story of a woman’s journey from east to west. The characters are utterly absorbing, subtly explored and completely believable. I am finding it really hard to put this book down as I follow the twists and turns of the main character, Pearl’s, eventful life. I love how this book gives me a glimpse into another world as we see China going through major political upheavals through the eyes of the main character. I’ve been to China quite a few times, and love how this book resonates with what I’ve seen and experienced, and made me aware of aspects of the culture. Even if you’ve never been and have no interest in going, the story is a really epic tale with twists and turns all the way that keep you rooting for Pearl as she meets it all with integrity and strength. This is just a perfect book to curl up with and become totally absorbed, I love how the rest of the real world disappears while I explore Pearl’s world. If you like to lose yourself in a book and savour the journey of a character that is painted with intimacy and care, I think you’ll love this book.


5.0 out of 5 stars
Feel Like I’ve Walked Hand in Hand With Pearl!

“Pearl grows up during Chairman Mao’s cultural revolution and has aspirations uncommon to most within that society at that time. However, she has to make some huge sacrifices along the way, to make those aspirations a reality. Take a walk with Pearl to discover a fascinating ( if troubling ) look at a completely different world.

The style of writing felt almost biographical at times, and took me into a world of which I had little knowledge. I particularly liked the first part of the story in China, though having said that, Pearl has such an interesting life wherever she is! Junying writes in such vivid detail that I felt as if I was there with Pearl, and what an amazing journey we’ve been on! We may all live under ‘the same moon’ but the diversity of our lives was never more clear than it is here, particularly for those of us who grew up in the West. A well written book, with a brave and determined lead character, make this a very interesting read.”


I’m glad that six years on since it was first published, there are still readers enjoying The Same Moon. I hope that with tonight’s full moon, no matter where you are, our hearts will beat the same rhythm as Li Bai when he poured out his heart on ink and paper, and leaving us a lasting legacy which will forever enrich our souls.

Happy Moon Festival! 中秋快乐!


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