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Heaven Is High, and the Emperor Is Far Away
By Jim Phelps

Being English, the idea of my typical summer holiday is a stifling drive to the beach. Well, not a proper beach, as it’s England. You could certainly say it was sandy, but it takes the cheek of some over-zealous busybody working for the council to call it a beach. Like clockwork, upon arrival the dark clouds inevitably roll over and the family arguments begin. Perfect.

Here in China, my natural cynicism is swiftly disposed with when faced with such a vast and bewildering array of options of unique experiences and sights. The question of where to go can be a confusing one when armed with a Lonely Planet that looks twice as daunting as War and Peace and three times as big. Many foreigners are drawn to a familiar itinerary of locales – Beijing, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Yellow Mountain, Guilin. Everyone ostensibly returns with similar stories, so last summer I decided to do something a little different.

If you’re happy to get a little out of your comfort zone and cast the net a little wider, a whole other world awaits you. Another China sleeps out there, somewhere beyond the leering megacities and rustling bamboo. Verdant meadows of wildflowers too numerous to count, desolate deserts where the dunes rise up as mountains, skies so big they stretch on forever. So what are you waiting for?

 

Xinjiang, which translates as New Frontier, is aptly-named. If you ever look at a map of China, Xinjiang is the big empty space in the northwest corner. It’s bigger than Tibet. It’s bigger than France, Spain and Germany combined. It’s bafflingly huge, and yet more people live in Shanghai’s metropolitan area than in the entire province. Xinjiang is universally gorgeous, and our first destination, Kanas Lake (喀纳斯湖), took us to the very edge of the Heavenly Kingdom.

There is an old proverb in China: Heaven is high and the Emperor is far away. Nowhere does that feel truer than at Kanas Lake, a dormant watery brute nestled between the towering Altai Mountains. Getting there is no easy task. It took thirty-six hours from our little flat in Hangzhou to the alpine valleys. After flying to Urumqi, a bus sped us into the sunset, the desert sky erupting in a bloody crimson, and when we awoke we found ourselves trundling through the sweeping foothills, a sea of grass punctuated with the white tents of Kazakh nomads. We reached the lake in the afternoon and took up an offer of accommodation inside a Kazakh family’s ranch – a little group of rugged log cabins perched above the valley basin. Each morning we awoke to the gentle sounds of grandpa’s lute playing and the cries of eagles, and threw open the cabin door for that first breath of crisp country air. 

The peaceful lake is bordered by mountains carpeted green with grass and trees, and in the distance looms Friendship Peak, where the borders of China, Mongolia, Russia and Kazakhstan meet. Many of the visitors and staff here are Siberian or Kazakh, and all incredibly friendly and curious. The glacial valley at Kanas defies description: so big that a camera lens can’t capture it all, dwarfing the little Kazakh and Tuvan villages that meekly crouch below.

A range of hair-raising activities are now opening up at Kanas, including whitewater rafting, rock-climbing and paragliding. There are lots of hiking trails around the lake, and campsites for those who can go without a warm bed and don’t mind the high altitude’s cold nights. Just don’t expect to be going swimming – I decided to go for a dip and nearly froze inside two minutes. I was lucky not to fall victim to one of the monstrous fish that live in the depths of the lake. The local legends of mysterious creatures dwelling beneath Kanas have recently been given credence by several shaky handheld videos that have surfaced in recent years, so if you come, come with a video camera! Kanas is recommended for its placid alpine beauty, the circling eagles, the still quiet and the sunset at midnight. Devoid of foreign tourists, it has that indefinable sense of detachment from the rest of China.

Back to Urumqi then, which is a great stopping-off point and the centre of Xinjiang’s transport network. You can expect to go back and forth to the capital city a few times if you spend a long time in the province as the city’s bus and train routes connect the province’s disparate urban pockets.

Our next stop was Turpan (吐鲁番), which at 154m below sea level is the lowest place in China, and having been originally settled thousands of years ago is the cradle of civilization in this part of the world. Famous for its grapes, the Turpans grow them by the million in their little oasis town to make wine or dry them in one of countless dusty brick outhouses to make raisins. Over the years Turpan has proven to be a veritable treasure trove for archaeologists, who have discovered hundreds of dinosaur fossils throughout the county, well-preserved by the dry desert climate. Many of these can be seen in the wonderful (and free) museum.

The Turpan people are largely Uyghur, and the pace of life is lazy to say the least. Residents dress in colourful clothing, donkey carts shuffle languidly through the dusty streets, and families sleep outside in the open air together, all sharing one oversized bed. There are a wealth of places of interest near Turpan. We hopped on a minibus for an hour to Tuyoq (吐峪沟), a tiny oasis village in the shadow of the Flaming Mountain () and surrounded by scorching desert. Tuyoq is an ancient holy place for Muslim pilgrims – the first Chinese man to convert to Islam is buried here – and it is said that seven trips here is equivalent to one trip to Mecca. Settled over 1500 years ago, to this day only 300 people live here, eking out a living from their modest vineyards, selling dried fruit and mulberry juice. The Uyghur locals insisted on taking us into their homes to stay for lunch with them. I’m not sure what we ate, as their Mandarin was just as bad as mine, but it was quite palatable. If you’re looking for a very special experience where you can really engage with local people and their culture, this is the place.

Later that day we had time to check out Jiaohe Ruins (交河故城), a must if you are into ancient cities. The largest, oldest and best-preserved earthen city in the world, a visit to Jiaohe is like stepping into a time machine. Perched atop a natural fortress of towering cliffs and settled over 2000 years ago as a major trading station on the Silk Road, the city was one of the busiest and biggest in the world at its peak. Strolling around the immense buildings you can really imagine a bustling city of merchants and traders, but don’t stay too long, as the intense heat will melt you into a puddle!

Our last stop in Xinjiang was the gorgeous Nalati Grasslands (那拉提草原). It is said that Genghis Khan discovered the thin valley hidden in the west of the province when he was leading an expedition through the cold and barren mountains. The freezing temperatures and lack of food almost finished off his exhausted and famished army, until one day they were confronted with endless green pastures. Nalati is picturesque enough when you’re a tourist with a bellyful, but to Khan’s troops it must have seemed like heaven itself. It is recommended you travel here in June to August, as this is when the blue skies and green alpine forests are complimented with the countless yellow dots of wildflowers dancing in the sun. Cast your eyes up and you’ll see the clouds heaving their bones over the mountaintops. A sight to behold! The valley’s foothills are inhabited almost entirely by Kazakh nomadic herders whose tents sit lethargically every kilometer or so, interspersed with flocks of goats and cows. If you are lucky, you may even see the nomads hunting with trained eagles – a traditional practice handed down from generation to generation.

We pressed on to Zhangye in Gansu province, a beautiful overnight train ride past the Tianchi mountains, 100km of wind turbines spinning languorously and a heart-stopping sunset over the desert. This Silk Road city was the birthplace of Kublai Khan and home to Marco Polo for a year and maintains a sleepy feel despite its size, with young children splashing in the fountains. The main draws here are the Reclining Buddha Temple, the statue of Marco Polo and the beautiful park, where a local man asked me to marry his daughter. No thanks, chief. The main reason people come to Zhangye is to see the Danxia landform: 500 square kilometres of arresting rainbow-coloured mountains, formed by sandstone and mineral deposits over millions of years. It’s a singular, psychedelic spectacle. The best time to go is a sunny day after rain, where the mountains shimmer gloriously in the sun. Unfortunately when we went, there was a terrible storm. Despite this, the landform was still unearthly and preternatural.

Our next stop was the big one: Badain Jaran desert (aka Badanjilin desert ). If you’re sick of busy, ugly cities, then this is the place for you. Mysterious, miraculous and utterly isolated, the desert is difficult to get to but so, so worth the trouble. First you must get to Alashan, a one-horse town at the edge of the desert, and then rent a driver who will take you into the desert. Good research is a must here. I travelled with Mr. Fan, who was born to camel herders in the depths of Badain Jaran forty-five years ago. He’s lived there all his life. The rollercoaster ride through the desert is something I’ll never forget. The first hour is a rally race across scrubland and gravelly sand, but the following seven hours are where the real fun begins. Some dunes reach up to 500m high and every uphill struggle is rewarded by a sweeping vista as you clamber over the apex, followed by a terrifying plunge back down the other side. Our driver took absolute delight in using the dunes as skateboard ramps for his 4x4, tearing up the side, skidding 180° and diving back down.

The desert is a dreamlike place: constantly shifting and too vast to comprehend. Without any trees or buildings for context, it’s difficult to get an impression of just how big everything is. The dunes are really mountains in their own right, and there is nothing but sand, sand, sand in every direction, yet even here there is life. As we were enjoying a swim in an oasis, two wolves appeared on the crest of a high dune, eyeing the herd of goats watering with us. Later, camels plodded in to drink and cool down from the baking 45°C heat. After an 80km drive we pitched up and watched paralyzed as the sun tumbled down behind the horizon, burning the sands a golden red. A calm came over us all. We hadn’t seen a single soul all day and were completely alone in this gorgeous wilderness, the luckiest people in the world. In Mr. Fan’s one room house beside a mirrored lake, his wife cooked us dinner made with a grass that grows in the oases. In the soundless desolation of night the sky was so clear you could see the silvery belt of the Milky Way silently gliding across the black. The sunrise over the lake was even more extraordinary, and we felt utterly alone.

It took us a day to get to Hohhot (呼和浩特), Inner Mongolia’s capital, and from there we went straight to Xilamuren grasslands (希拉穆仁草原), staying in yurts on a working farm. The trip was organized by Anda Guesthouse in Hohhot, and they come highly recommended by many who have stayed there. There were about six people in each yurt, and while this sounds like a lot, it really helps at night when it gets very cold indeed. The grasslands are flat in every direction – no hills, no trees. In the afternoon we strolled up to a crude stupa, so crude it was practically a pile of rocks. Entire flocks of birds paced and twitched by a lake and then scattered and took off in unison as we approached. Herds of stocky chestnut horses and cattle roamed freely through the grasslands, and we were soon to find out that the cows weren’t just used for food.

As Xilamuren is devoid of trees, the nomads who have lived here for thousands of years need an alternate fuel source. I was unaware of this, and was quite surprised when in the early evening we were instructed by the Mongolian farmers to grab a bag and snatch up all the festering cow dung we could find. Meadow Muffins, it seems, are rich in undigested plant matter and burn up a treat. The bag becomes surprisingly heavy once you’ve got a few cow crepes in there.

Being a holiday of magnificent sunsets, Xilamuren had a lot to live up to and did not disappoint. As it fell, the sun painted golden light across the endless plains, and the immense Mongolian skies were lit with every colour from a vivid cerise in the west to royal purple in the east. Sadly, it was to be the last sunset before our return to Hangzhou.

And so the holiday was over, but what a trip it was. The whole thing was done on the cheap, without much sleep and at a dizzying pace – 10,000km in 14 days! My aim with this article is to introduce another side of China that you may not have heard of, to inspire you to go out that door. It’s not just the scenery; it’s the people, who could not be more happy and interested to meet you. In places that are really off the beaten track, many people may have not had contact with non-Asian people, and they just want to talk to you and show you their life. We met a Kazakh man named Atay on the way to Nalati, and he had nothing to his name, but immediately he left the bus to buy us lunch when it stopped, despite our protestations. He insisted we stay at his house and meet his family. The owners of our hostel in Nalati told us we were the first Westerners to ever stay there. They really make the time in these faraway places twice as special; their openness and kindness melts the heart and always makes it hard to leave. I’ll say it again: What are you waiting for?

A couple of (hopefully) useful notes on travelling through Xinjiang. Due to terrorist attacks in 2014, you should be aware that all roads between cities have mandatory police checkpoints to check your documents. Enforcement is fairly arbitrary – at some checkpoints you will be waved through without even checking your passport, but others will be more thorough. Always make sure that you have a valid passport, a valid visa and a ticket to show where you’re heading to. Secondly, sleeper trains are a necessity here. The vast distances between places may mean up to twenty hours of travelling, so overnight train journeys mean you don’t waste your days travelling and also allow you to forgo the cost of a hostel or hotel. Book tickets in advance whenever possible and to avoid sleeper buses, which are smellier, less comfortable and slower. Thirdly, good command of Mandarin is really helpful too as few people speak English in the remote parts of China. Indeed, some may not speak Mandarin, so a Uyghur phrasebook may be helpful. Fourthly, pick your time of year carefully – winter is exceptionally cold. Check online for details of local festivals: there are lots of interesting cultural experiences that you can be a part of if you choose the right time to go.

Lastly, before travelling to Badain Jaran desert, check online if permits are required, as on occasion foreigners are asked to hold one before entering the area. When I travelled, the requirement had been lifted, but it could come back at any time in the future.

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Join Wellington | Online Open Day on 8th April

Over the past eight weeks, the Wellington College International Hangzhou community has rallied together to face and overcome the challenges associated with the COVID-19 outbreak. During this time, Wellington College International Hangzhou is experiencing an increasing number of enquiries for admissions, and from March 30th the entire Admissions team have been back on campus assisting families through the admissions process.

Due to the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak, we are unable to host families on campus for our personalised tours, but that doesn’t mean you cannot learn more about the unique Wellington approach to holistic education. From phone conversations, email and video conferencing, through to our 360-degree virtual campus tours and online information sessions, we can still connect in this digital age despite our distance.

Online Open Day

On Wednesday 8th April, Wellington College International Hangzhou will be hosting an online information session, open to anyone keen to learn more about Wellington.

In this webinar style event, Mr. Paul Rogers, founding Executive Master of Wellington College Hangzhou, will provide a broad overview and introduction to the Wellington College family of schools, our heritage, educational philosophy and values.

Ms. Kathryn Richardson, Principal of Wellington College International Hangzhou, will take a deeper dive into what makes a Wellington education unique, as well as exploring many of the common topics that parents are curious about.

Additionally, you will have the opportunity to take a 360-degree virtual campus tour to view the state-of-the-art facilities we have on offer and how we utilize these facilities to provide the very best possible education for the children in our care. 

Finally, we will host a live Q&A session where participants will be able to interact with the speakers and Admissions team, allowing us to address the questions that are important to you.

Scholarships at Wellington

In order to recognise and reward the pursuit and achievement of excellence in pupils at Wellington College International Hangzhou, and to make a Wellington education accessible to a broader range of pupils throughout Hangzhou and surrounding regions, scholarships, awards and bursaries are available to different year levels at Wellington. Awards of up to 100% of the tuition fees will be available to successful applications in Year 7 or above in August 2020.  For more information, please visit this link or contact our Admissions team directly.

eLearning at Wellington

Results from our recent parent survey are conclusive. Our eLearning provision is meeting the needs of our families and ensuring that children are meeting their educational needs during this difficult time. 94% of Wellington College International Hangzhou families agree that our teachers have ensured that our pupils, irrespective of time zones, have been able to access all learning materials during this period of eLearning.

Since eLearning started, Wellington College International Hangzhou pupils have been able to maintain their close-knit relationships with their teachers and classmates. These ongoing relationships, personalised learning plans, 1:1 tutoring where required and innovative use of technology to smoothly facilitate learning objectives has ensured that our children are all progressing as they should during this time.

This high-quality eLearning provision is a testament to Wellington’s ongoing commitment to always providing the best possible learning outcomes to the children in our care, regardless of circumstance or challenge. We remain committed to this objective and welcome enquiries from all parents who are interesting in providing a world-class education to their children.

To learn more about eLearning at Wellington College International Hangzhou, please click the links below to learn more;

Top 12 FAQs | All you need to know about joining Wellington!

The Admissions team regularly fields questions from parents who are keen to learn more about Wellington, and as a result have compiled the following useful FAQ. Please click the link below to see what other parents are curious about.

Do you have different questions? Are you interested in learning more about Wellington? If so, we welcome you to join our online open day being hosted at 7pm on Wednesday 8th April. We look forward to seeing you there!

Don’t forget that our Admissions team are available at any time to answer your questions. Due to the international nature of the school, we field questions at all times of the day. Feel free to contact us using any of the methods listed below and we will respond to your enquiry within 48 hours.

Hot-Pot King Haidilao Pilots “Do Not Disturb” Service

The Chinese hot-pot restaurant chain Haidilao is known for a lot of things, except being moderate. They will give you a free manicure and clean your shoes while you’re waiting for your table, provide a big stuffed animal to keep you company if you’re lunching alone, and perform an acrobatic dance if you order noodles.

Haidilao is the epitome of the “client comes first” mentality that will go to great length to provide you with first-rate service. However, as experience shows, some clients find that the best service is when they are left alone and not bothered by pesky over-the-top courtesy.

At one time Chinese Internet was replete with articles titled along the lines of “Don’t let Haidilao know your birthday, it’s too scary” where users would detail their experiences dealing with the restaurant’s overblown birthday service that included singing and dancing waiters holding LED lights and more. Some have even joked saying “If you hate your friend, go to Haidilao for their birthday.”

To tackle the problem and better cater to the needs of different groups of customers, Haidilao recently introduced a witty solution. Tables in some of the chain’s restaurants are now equipped with “Do not disturb” flip-boards. Customers who do not want to be approached too often by waiters can use the sign to fend off their insistent advances.

The flip-board also provides other options such as “I’ll serve dishes myself” meaning that the waiter does not need to help with the dishes frequently or “detailed services are not required” telling waiters that they are only wanted to bring dishes and clean the table.

According to Haidilao, the service is still in the pilot stage, and it will be tried in some stores. It will continue to be optimized according to the needs of customers and different situations. Stores and employees will be continuously encouraged to innovate and provide customers with more personalized services.

Though Haidilao's service has always been known as "perverted", but sometimes it is too intimate and it can cause embarrassment. A while ago, a post named "Don't let Haidilao know your birthday" went viral on the internet.

“I went to Haidilao with my girlfriend, we just asked if we could get a discount on birthdays, then a group of people appeared with LED lights and sang the birthday song, they even gave us a ‘Most Beautiful Girlfriend Reward” and asked us to read the girlfriend vows to each other.’

“Two of us went to celebrate my friend’s birthday at Haidilao, we hid the cake in our bag and sneaked some scoops every now and then, just because we were so scared that the waiters would find out that’s her birthday, then we would be the super star of the night.”

“Look at me, I looked so surprised and happy!”

Therefore, for many customers who like Haidilao, the appearance of "Do Not Disturb" flip-board is simply a relief and has been unanimously appreciated by everyone.

Top 10 Easy-to-make Winter Drinks

From a steaming glass of traditional mulled wine, brimming with spices, to an indulgent mudslide cocktail, our winter drinks recipes are perfect for seeing in the festive season. Curl up in your fluffiest jumper with a creamy peppermint hot chocolate, or get the party started with a batch of our marvellous mulled gin.

Keep everyone's glasses topped up with our favourite festive drinks, and mouth-watering non-alcoholic drinks for every taste. Find top mixology tips, reviews of our favourite products and even more triple-tested recipes in our cocktails & drinks hub.

Spiced Apple Syrup with Clementine & Cloves

Our spiced apple syrup with clementine and cloves will add a burst of fabulous Christmas flavour to any drink. Try adding to hot apple juice or mulled wine for festive fruit and spice. It's even delicious drizzled over ice cream for an upgraded frozen treat. It will keep for about a month, so store it in the fridge ready for impromptu gatherings.

200ml apple juice
1 cinnamon stick
1 tsp whole allspice
1 mace blade
2 whole cloves
Small strip fresh ginger
1 clementine, zest finely peeled with a vegetable peeler
100g golden caster sugar

1.    Heat the apple juice with the whole spices, ginger, zest and sugar. Bring to the boil, then simmer for 10 mins.
2.    Remove from the heat and leave to cool, then strain the syrup into small bottles.

Mulled Wine

It wouldn't be winter without a steaming mug of mulled wine, complete with a glug of sloe gin for a sweet twist. Simply leave your wine, (we recommend an unoaked tempranillo) to infuse with seasonal spices like star anise and cinnamon and a little citrus zest. Keep a batch warming on the stove and let guests top up their glasses. Want to try something different this year?

750ml bottle red wine
1 large cinnamon stick, or 2 small ones
2 star anise
4 cloves
2 strips lemon zest, pared using a vegetable peeler
4 tbsp caster sugar
100ml sloe gin (we used Gordon's) (optional)

1.    Put the red wine, cinnamon, star anise, cloves, lemon zest and sugar in a large pan. Cook on a low heat for 10 mins.
2.    Remove from the heat and cool, leaving to infuse for about 30 mins.
3.    To serve, heat without boiling, stir in the sloe gin (if using) and pour into mugs or heatproof glasses.

Winter Whisky Sour

Warm up from the inside out with our simple winter whiskey sour. Give the classic sour a couple of delicious tweaks and it's ready for the festive season. Add a splash of orange juice to your favourite bourbon, a little sugar syrup, some fresh fruit and some sparkle. Need some more help getting into the spirit?

Crushed ice
50ml bourbon
1 tbsp fresh lemon juice
1 tbsp fresh orange juice
½ tbsp sugar syrup
2 slices of oranges

To decorate:
Honey
Gold edible glitter

1.    Using a small paintbrush (or your finger), brush some honey around the rim of two tumblers and use another small paintbrush to stick edible gold glitter around each.
2.    Fill each glass with crushed ice. Put the bourbon into a cocktail shaker with the lemon juice, orange juice and sugar syrup. Shake and strain into each glass, and serve with an orange slice and short straws.

Peppermint Hot Chocolate

Nothing says 'indulgence' like a velvety-smooth hot chocolate, made with rich dark chocolate and double cream. Stir our peppermint hot chocolate with a striped candy cane and let it melt into the drink for a refreshing minty flavour. These delectable drinks are hard to resist. Got something.

200g bar plain chocolate, broken into chunks
600ml milk
150ml pot single or double cream
Sugar, to taste
6 peppermint candy canes, to serve

1.    Put the chocolate in a pan with the milk. Gently heat, stirring until all the chocolate has melted. Continue heating until the milk is steaming, then remove from the heat and stir in the cream.
2.    Divide the hot chocolate between 6 mugs, add sugar to taste and hang a candy cane on the edge of each. Pass the mugs round and let everyone stir their hot chocolate with their candy cane – letting as much of the sweet peppermint dissolve as they fancy.

Cinnamon Buttered Rum

Once you're tried our super smooth, gently spiced cinnamon buttered rum, it'll be your drink of choice when the nights draw in. Serve up mugfuls of this buttery brilliance for your next party. Neither sickly sweet nor too citrussy, this perfectly balanced tipple will warm you up in no time. Whether you prefer white or dark, spiced or smooth, we have a rum cocktail recipe to get your party started.

25g butter
2 tbsp golden caster sugar
2 small cinnamon sticks
200ml spiced rum

1.    Gently heat the butter, golden caster sugar and cinnamon sticks in a saucepan until the butter has melted and the sugar has dissolved.
2.    Stir in the spiced rum, then pour into four small heatproof glasses to serve.

Mulled Pear & Cranberry Punch

Our versatile mulled pear & cranberry punch can be served as a cocktail or a non-boozy version, simply miss out the sloe gin. The beauty of this all-in-one recipe means you can simply chuck your ingredients in a pan, leave to heat, then ladle out as needed. It takes just ten minutes to make, so no need to sweat it out in the kitchen.

1l pear cider
1l pear (or cloudy apple) juice
1l cranberry juice
Good handful fresh or dried cranberries
150ml sloe gin
2 cinnamon sticks
2 vanilla pods, scored lengthways

Put all the ingredients into your biggest saucepan or casserole dish. When you're ready to serve, heat to just below simmering point, then ladle into glasses.

Mudslide

This creamy, coffee-flavoured cocktail is for adults only. Our mudslide is pure decadence, something to be savoured and sipped at your leisure.

50g dark chocolate
Ice
60ml coffee-flavoured liqueur
60ml vodka
60ml Irish cream liqueur
100ml double cream

1.    Put two small tumblers in the fridge to chill overnight. Put 30g of the chocolate in a shallow bowl and melt in the microwave in short bursts. Dip the rim of the chilled glasses in the melted chocolate, then stand them upright so it gradually drips down the sides. Return to the fridge until you're ready to serve.
2.    Fill a cocktail shaker with ice, then pour in the coffee-flavoured liqueur, vodka, Irish cream liqueur and double cream. Shake until the outside of the shaker is very cold.
3.    Put a few ice cubes in the prepared glasses, then strain in the cocktail. Finely grate over the remaining chocolate and serve with a paper straw.

Winter Pimm's Punch

This archetypal English cocktail isn't just for summer. Our Winter Pimm's punch is paired with sweet brandy and light apple juice for an instant cocktail cabinet winner. You'll probably have most of the ingredients already lurking in kitchen cupboards. It can be served warm or cool, depending on what you prefer.

500ml Pimm's
500ml brandy
1½ l apple juice
Ice

2 cinnamon sticks
Apple, sliced
Orange, sliced
 
Combine the Pimm's and brandy with the apple juice in a jug filled with ice, cinnamon sticks and a sliced apple and orange.

Mulled Gin

Looking for something a little different than the standard festive fare? Move over wine, this mulled gin is our new favourite Christmas cocktail. Infuse apple juice with aromatic spices like bay, cloves and cardamom, a few crushed juniper berries and a little honey for sweetness. Cut through rich canapés and sweet treats with this more delicate drink.

100ml gin
400ml apple juice
½ lemon, sliced
1 bay leaf
4 cloves
2 cardamom pods, lightly crushed
1 small cinnamon stick
3 juniper berries, lightly crushed
½ tsp coriander seeds
1 tsp runny honey

For the garnish
4 bay leaves
2 lemon slices, halved

1.    Divide the gin between four small heatproof glasses or teacups.
2.    Tip the apple juice into a saucepan with the rest of the ingredients. Heat gently until simmering, then strain into a jug. Pour the mulled apple juice into the glasses with the gin and stir gently to combine. Garnish each glass with a bay leaf and half a lemon slice and serve warm.

Irish Coffee

Perk up the after-dinner lull with a luxurious Irish coffee. A grating of fresh nutmeg on top of the thick layer of cream adds some seasonal fragrance. Need some help choosing the perfect dram? Read our review of the 10 best Irish whiskies, from light and smooth to rich and spicy.

2 tbsp double cream
150ml freshly brewed black coffee
50ml Irish whiskey
½ - 1 tsp brown sugar
Pinch freshly grated nutmeg

1.    Lightly whip the cream just so it’s very slightly thickened, then set aside.
2.    Pour the hot coffee into a mug or heatproof glass, then add the whiskey and sugar. Stir until the sugar has dissolved. Gently float the cream on the top and sprinkle the nutmeg over the cream. Serve hot.

Source: https://www.bbcgoodfood.com/howto/guide/top-10-winter-drinks

It’s Ok to Lose, Just Learn From It

My first encounter with Marco was through my friend’s WeChat moments. I can’t really recall for what reason we added each other, all I could remember were his big muscles and that bright smile hailing from L.A. Later on, we had more contact due to a few common friends who are involved with martial arts and I started to know him more.

Who is Marco

Marco has gained quite a reputation in the martial arts world since arriving in Hangzhou in 2018. He used to train at Checkmat Brazilian Jiu Jitsu in USA, an international academy, competition team, and family of Jiu Jitsu practitioners. Founded in 2008 by Master Vieira, Checkmat now has affiliate academies in thirty-four American cities and sixteen countries worldwide. You can find world-class, hands-on instruction that has been tested on the practice mats and proven on the competition field.

In Hangzhou, Marco started his own brand - Marcola Jiu Jitsu. It offers Jiu Jitsu training classes to people of different ages, whether professional or not. As one of the few black belt holders in China, his classes are really popular. Marco’s lifelong love of competitive athletics has molded him into both a lover and a fighter. His passion for athletics and a genuine desire to help people reach their fitness goals motivates him to continue learning each day, and develop new techniques to challenge himself and his clients. You see doctors, lawyers, students, law enforcers, businessmen and women walk into his class for the same reason - to get better at Jiu Jitsu.

Marco’s full name is Marco Alvarado and his Chinese name is rather cute: 马可乐. His Chinese friends would just call him 可乐, same as Cola. Before we tell you more, take a look at his incredible championship records below, the man is a real fighter.

Bronze Medal at International Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Federation Pan American Championship Blue Belt
Gold Medal at North American Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Federation All Americas Tournament Purple Belt
Gold Medal at IBJJF Pan American Championships Brown Belt
Gold Medal at IBJJF World No Gi Championships Brown Belt
Gold Medal at IBJJF American Nationals No Gi Brown Belt
Silver Medal at Jiu Jitsu World League San Diego Championships Black Belt
Gold Medal at NABJJF All Americas Tournament Black Belt


Marco has been involved in many kinds of sports - boxing, taekwondo, karate, running, American football – and also physical rehabilitation. Like many other athletes, Marco’s first coach was his dad who was a boxer. Marco was just 5 years old when his dad introduced him to boxing. It was the classic story, his parents decided to put him in taekwondo and karate training when they found out that little Marco was being bullied in kindergarten. Six years later, he received his first black belt in taekwondo.

After that, he decided to move on to a new sport: running. From sixth grade till he graduated college, he never stopped running and he became one of the US national athletes in track and field.

Eventually, he knew he needed to find another new sport to challenge himself. One day, he went to a free Jiu Jitsu class at his college. Someone caught him in a choke, he had no idea what to do and that got him really interested. He wanted to know how it happened, how he did it, and how to do it back. He was 22 at the time. 10 years later, he won the Gold Medal at North American Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Federation Championships.

It’s Ok to Lose, Just Learn From It

As an amateur boxer who has only been training for 4 months, there was a question I really wanted to ask so I brought it up when we were having a lunch break at Blue Frog. “Before you had your first fight, how did you overcome your inner fear?” Marco took a bite of his big, juicy burger and said “My first Jiu Jitsu tournament was six months after I started training, I was very nervous. We sparred every week in college, so I learned how to deal with the fear, but this time was different. I knew who my opponents were, but I didn’t know what was going to happen. I got destroyed badly in two fights, one guy caught me in the armbar in 20 seconds, the other guy beat me so bad like 20-0. I left deflated and frustrated, but I wanted to do it again, I wanted redemption. This gives you more motivation to go back to train harder and learn from mistakes. In the fights later on, I started to get into my rhythm and started doing well. Sometimes maybe you don’t want to tap and lose in practice, because it hurts your pride for a day or two, but you come back for more training. It’s ok to lose, just learn from it. That’s an important life lesson.” During Marco’s career, his arms were almost broken a couple of times, he tore some ligaments on his knees and he got two broken teeth. With all these injuries, he had to learn about physical therapy in order to fix himself.

“Martial arts is more about avoiding problems than anything else. These days, there are always those untrained people or the ones who watched too much UFC and are looking for trouble. If you trained a little, you’ll have respect for your body. This stuff is no joke, it can really be dangerous.” Marco continues, “My teacher used to say if there is a fight, he’ll just run away, because he would feel bad for the guys once he’s had enough. He would turn around and fight.”

Why Hangzhou?

Back in L.A, Marco was teaching in a big chain gym where he soon became friends with a Taiwanese trainer. He followed his friend’s journey that brought him to Hangzhou to continue teaching for Checkmat and he became aware that there are a lot of blue and purple belt holders who opened Jiu Jitsu schools in Hangzhou, but there were only 2-3 with a black belt teaching here. Marco thought that he can bring people more advanced technique and professional training. So in June, 2018, Marco came to start his first job in a gym in Xiaoshan, teaching conditioning and creating a Jiu Jitsu program.

MMA vs. Traditional Chinese Martial Arts

I couldn’t help asking what Marco thinks about this outspoken Chinese MMA fighter Xu Xiaodong a.k.a. “Mad Dog”. Mad Dog has made it his mission to expose fake kung fu over the past two years by pulverising fraudulent traditional martial arts “masters”, but his actions have drawn the ire of Chinese authorities. “In my point of view, Bruce [Lee] was the first MMA fighter in the history of martial arts, because he was always so open minded about everything. He took things that he thought were useful and added on something unique of his own. I think Xu Xiaodong’s mission is to show that not one martial arts is dominating. If you know a bit of everything, that is more effective. I think Jiu Jitsu is very useful and complete, cause you go from standing to the ground, you can also go back up to defend yourself, knowledge is powerful. Martial arts is changing, and you need to keep yourself updated. Back home, some guys can use their chi to make someone fall. This is not video games, we call it McDojo.”

The Distance Between China and the World

Many are also immersed in the joy of Zhang Weili who won China’s first Gold Belt in MMA. She is now gearing up to defend her UFC strawweight title against the former champion Joanna Jedrzejczyk on March 8, 2020. Marco thinks that China has started to close the gap with the other western countries and now there are more and more young Chinese fighters in UFC. Marco told me, “With Jiu Jitsu, specifically, China is a little bit behind. Brazil and US now are the two countries with the best fighters. There are a lot of 15-18 years old kids that have been training since they were 5. That means they have over 10 years of experience on the mat which is more than me. They have all those tricks that I have never seen, the level is just incredible. Even though China has a lot of catching up to do, they are doing a good job.”

How Did My First Jiu Jitsu Class Go?

I joined Marco’s class at R8 a few weeks ago. I was not only impressed by his superb Jiu-Jitsu skills, but also his passion in coaching. When a fight moves down to the ground, it can be quite brutal, especially in Jiu Jitsu where there are so many different kinds of chokes. It seems that getting bruises, breaking teeth or arms are normal in this sport. Plus, did I mention that if you are practicing with a guy, you’d better get used to some rather odd positions? Even Marco himself admitted that Jiu Jitsu positions can sometimes be awkward. 

So I didn’t go in with a lot of confidence, but Marco’s explanation and demonstration of each move made everything seem possible. It is a grappling-based martial art where the central theme is the skill of controlling a resisting opponent in ways that force him to submit. Due to the fact that control is generally easier on the ground than in a standing position, much of the technique of Jiu Jitsu is centered around the skill of taking an opponent down to the ground and wrestling for dominant control positions from where the opponent can be rendered harmless. All those awkward positions can be very effective; the basis behind it is all about leverage. It’s about using the whole body on another body part, even if your opponent is a bodybuilder, he can’t win. If you are skilled in Jiu Jitsu, you can definitely hold yourself against 95% of the population; most people don’t even know how to fall down properly.

The Beauty of Jiu Jitsu

Marco has about 30 tough students at the moment and he’s determined to stay for a much longer time. Recently he took 7 people to attend the Shanghai Tournament and got 10 gold medals, this shows that this tiny team is going in the right direction. For the next step, Marco wants to create a kids’ program. He wants to share what he has with the next generation.

"It's important to stay focused and keep an open mind when it comes to learning Jiu Jitsu." The Jiu Jitsu lifestyle goes beyond just training. It's about taking care of yourself, making friends, and striving to put your 'best foot forward'. Setting your mind to learning and improving every week will help you to improve mind, body and soul. His over-all team goal is to improve at least 1% every week and this requires a positive attitude.

Online Open Day: What Makes Wellington Special?

In light of the success of the first online open day, Wellington College International Hangzhou is very much aware of requests for an additional session held on a weekend, to enable more families to tune in and join the interactive Q&A session. The coming online open day will be held at 10am on Saturday 18th April.This event is open to anyone keen to learn more about Wellington College International Hangzhou.

继成功举办了第一场线上开放日活动后,杭州惠灵顿外籍人员子女学校应家长的要求将于本周六新增一场线上开放日活动,以确保更多的家庭能够有时间收看和参与互动。本场线上开放日活动将于4月18日(星期六)上午10点举行。欢迎对杭州惠灵顿外籍人员子女学校感兴趣的家庭报名参加。

The open day includes;
本次线上活动包含:

·       A broad overview and introduction to the Wellington College family of schools, royal heritage, educational philosophy and values by Mr. Paul Rogers, founding Executive Master of Wellington College Hangzhou.

·      惠灵顿杭州校区总校长Paul Rogers将对惠灵顿大家庭的姊妹学校、悠久历史、以及我们的教育理念和价值观做整体介绍。

·       A deeper dive into what makes a Wellington education unique, and a presentation exploring many of the common topics that parents are curious about by Ms. Kathryn Richardson, Principal of Wellington College International Hangzhou

·      杭州惠灵顿外籍人员子女学校校长Kathryn Richardson将深入阐述惠灵顿教育的与众不同之处以及就家长们关心的一些常见问题与大家进行探讨。

·       A live Q&A session where participants will be able to interact with the speakers and Admissions Team, allowing the team to address the questions that are important to you.

·      最后,在问答环节,我们的主讲人和招生团队将与家长们互动,对家长们的问题作出解答。

All interested families are suggested to scan the QR code on the poster to register. Registered attendees will receive a reminder notification prior to the event starting.

请提前扫描海报中的二维码报名参加,以确保您在活动前可以收到活动预约提醒。

Welcome Back to Wellington
开学在即,惠灵顿准备就绪

As pupils quickly approach the highly anticipated return to schools in Hangzhou, Wellington College Hangzhou has been strictly following the local regulations on epidemic prevention in order to prepare the Wellington community for a smooth transition back to normality.

随着开学日期的临近,惠灵顿杭州校区严格遵守疫情防控规定,为惠灵顿大家庭顺利过渡到课堂教学做好充分的准备。

At Wellington College Hangzhou, ensuring the safety of the school community and protecting the health of Wellington pupils and staff always takes top priority. Over the past three months, the Senior Leadership Team and a specially appointed school emergency team have implemented a detailed COVID-19 plan that covers all aspects of school life, and ensures that strict guidelines will be followed to minimize risk and increase safety.

惠灵顿杭州校区始终将保障大家的安全和师生的健康视为日常工作的重中之重。过去三个月中,学校在管理团队和防疫领导小组制定了详尽的工作方案,覆盖校园生活的方方面面,确保学校各项工作严格遵守相关规定,尽可能降低风险,保障校园安全。

The Wellington College Hangzhou campus has undertaken a comprehensive site inspection by both the Education Bureau and the Hangzhou medical authority. Both inspection teams were incredibly impressed with Wellington’s preparations.

来自市区教育局和卫健系统的联合检查组在对惠灵顿杭州校区进行全方位实地检查后,并对我们的各项准备措施称赞不已。

Wellington understand that this will be a difficult transition for their children, yet remain confident that with careful guidance, and through demonstrating the Wellington Values of Courage, Kindness, Responsibility, Respect and Integrity, the children will adapt quickly and fully embrace the mission of ensuring a safe return to school.

虽然这段时间对学生而言必定是充满挑战的,但是通过惠灵顿社群一如既往地共同努力下,保持信心,严格遵循各项指示,秉持勇气、善良、责任、尊重和正直的惠灵顿价值观,惠灵顿杭州校区坚信学生能迅速地调整状态,安全重返校园。

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