Monday, August 18, 2014

SHANGHAI EXPERIENCES

On returning to Shanghai after spending a lovely time in Tuscany I was determined to lose the pounds that had crept on due to all the pasta, pizza, gelato and red wine which had been consumed, and these are just a few of the delicious things. There were also the pastries, hams, cheeses and breads. So by now you have the picture.


Well who could resist all these delicacies on offer. Not me that's for sure.


So it was with determination to stay away from all things sweet or unhealthy that I began my first week back in Shanghai. 

Day one, no problems, lots of fruit a healthy supper and no desire for anything forbidden. Day two, much the same. Resisted a digestive with my afternoon cuppa, no real hardship. Day three, went shopping and found a new little cafe which had opened while I was away. I looked lovely so on my way back decided I should check it out. 
I ordered a low fat cappuccino, in my very best Mandarin. "Wo yao yi bei cafe, de ge nui nai" So far so good. I sat down on a very comfortable chair to take in the lovely surroundings. Lots of beautiful flowers everywhere, actually might be a flower shop too but not quite sure.



Coffee arrived, very good coffee too. 


And then it went so wrong! The waitress brought me FREE CAKE!!!!!!!
Well what is a girl to do? It's sitting there temptingly. As I was brought up to be polite at all times I knew it would be terribly rude to turn it down, lol. So nothing else for it, I tucked in.

Sadly it was delicious. I was hoping that maybe it contained something I didn't like. Often here there can be bean paste, red or green, sesame paste or almond paste secreted inside, none of which I eat. But no, this was yummy, I was being polite and I was enjoying the treat on offer. Plus it was served on a beautiful plate shaped like an angel's wing.


However, I wasn't all bad, I did leave some of it on the plate which made me feel better about having eaten it at all.

Shanghai really is a hard place to resist the temptation of food. It's all around, the smells coming from restaurants is fabulous. Plus the generosity of the people here. We are always being presented with foodie gifts or free treats. Not the place to be if you are trying to resist.
As I thanked the waitress or "fuwuyan" and started to leave she very strangely asked me if I would mind being photographed holding some flowers. I am used to having my photo here, they don't see many blondes, but this seemed a bit weird. However, once again, being polite, I agreed. She then asked for my phone and took one on it  too!
As I left, thanking her for the cake, and promising to return I couldn't help smiling to myself. I really have some wonderful stories of my time here. The people have been so nice to us and so generous, not the image I had in my head before arriving here. So I look forward to the rest of my time in Shanghai and wonder what this will bring.


PS, If you're wondering how the cutting back is going, not too great! Maybe next week ha ha.










Tuesday, July 1, 2014

A BEDROOM DILEMA SOLVED!

In every situation there is a chance to learn. Everything can be turned into a learning situation. I saw this opportunity in the form of football, the world cup could perhaps have a plus side and actually provide the learning materials I need in order to help change an issue we have in this house. In the bedroom actually! Okay so now I've got your attention here goes.

While watching the world cup an idea came to me that could possibly solve the aforesaid issues in the bedroom. I hear the pundits, and my other half going on about the 4-2-4, the 4-4-2, the 3-3-4 and endless other combinations of how the game works. The offside rule apparently too difficult for the average woman to work out. So tell me if men are so good at working out all these scenarios and possible formations why can't they put the pillows on the bed in the right order.

It was as I was making the bed, and football was being viewed in the other room that the light bulb went on. Because as luck has it there are actually 11, yes 11 pillows on our bed. We do have a very large bed. So if I could apple the 4-4-2 rule, plus goalie of course, then harmony could be restored in the bedroom. I would never again have to ask "what on earth have you done to the pillows?" So simple, couldn't think why I hadn't thought of this before. Football speak, spoken widely especially during the world cup would surely be the answer to my problem.



I checked the "pillow formation". 3 on the bottom, 3 on top of those, topped by 2 in the centre. Then 2 on, (or up) front. Just leaving the goalie in the middle of the 2. Got it?
So what I have is a 3-3-2-2 formation. Easy. Could this really work, really be so simple?

As I passed on the news of how I had brought an end to the misery of hubby's inability to put the pillows on the bed in the correct order, it didn't quite bring the whoop of joy I had expected! I fear it never actually bothered him as much as it had me. But I have planted the seed, laid down a challenge with football speak at the centre of it, so all I do now is wait and see.

This rule could be applied to however many pillows are on your bed. Maybe I have stumbled upon the secret to a happy life in the bedroom after all. lol

Sunday, June 22, 2014

SHANGHAI'S LESS FORTUNATE

Having been here for over  two years I was feeling the need to do something a bit more than coffee mornings, lunches and other such events which raise money for various Shanghai Charities. Don't get me wrong I love doing these things, and will continue to support them, but it's easy to put your hand in your pocket and feel you are doing something to help the less fortunate. What I want to do is do something a bit more hands on, to actually get involved with one of the many charities around the city. However I realise I have to be realistic about what I can do. As much as I think it would be nice to work at an orphanage I know this would be just too upsetting for me, and yes maybe I am turing a blind eye but I know could not be detached enough to help. 

Last week I visited an organisation called Home Sweet Home. This is a place where disabled homeless young people can go and learn life skills and work in a purpose built factory sewing various items to sell in order to raise money to fund themselves. They also depend heavily on donations as it is not a government run charity. Children here in China who are in orphanages are turned out when they reach 18. There is no real help then and they often find themselves living on the street. Even the disabled kids are left to their own devices. The lucky ones are found by charities like Home Sweet Home, where they are given a home, 3 meals a day and life and work skills. I was very impressed by the group. The kids all were happy and busy. They remain here for two years when many of them are then able to go and live outside this environment, and also many find jobs in the community. I think there are things I could do here on a voluntary basis. I could help with English lessons, cooking and life skills and I think I would enjoy this and get a feeling that I was doing something real.

Then on Sunday I visited, with my husband, a charity which cares for children with Cerebral Palsy. It was started nine years ago by a lady who is 83years old, and herself suffers from the disease. When her parents died and left her a house she decided to sell it and open a home for children suffering from Cerebral Palsy. She was an amazing selfless woman who has spent years trying to help, and get money to help her help others. I was lucky enough to meet with her yesterday.


The reason we visited Cere Care was to see the Stennah Stair Lift, which had been donatied by British Chamber, being used. We were able to see the kids in their classrooms, see what the program was, and to see that these were happy children benefitting greatly from the help and encouragement they were being given. Once again I was very impressed by the caring and well trained staff. The stair lift was going to be a great benefit to them.



One young man could not wait to try it out. You can see the excitement on his face. From now on getting the children upstairs to bed will not be so difficult as it has been.


The children here are orphans, often found abandoned in parks or railway stations when their parents can no longer care for them. It will almost certainly be a financial decision, which won't be taken lightly. They can only hope someone like CereCare comes along and helps their child. Unfortunately there is no state help. The children sleep in dorms, with younger children and girls together, and in another dorm the older boys are together. They are given all their meals and their education and prepared for life. Of course some of the more severe cases will always need care. When the time comes that they are too old to stay here hopefully there will be somewhere else to take over.


One Sunday a month they have a birthday party celebrating everyone who has been born that month. Luckily there were two boys celebrating when we were there. It was lovely to see the excitement on their faces as a cake was brought in. As with any kids party anywhere, there was lots of noise and lots of laughter.


Before I went along to visit these organisations I was thinking I was going to see the less fortunate children in Shanghai, and yes they are, but they are more fortunate than many others. They are so well cared for, happy and loved. I can't stress enough how amazing the people who work with these kids are. Thanks to many organisations such as Brits Abroad and British Chamber, I mention these two as there are the ones I am involved in, but there are many many more raising money to help where they are most needed.


Hopefully in the next couple of weeks I'll find something to offer, my time and whatever skills I have that they may need is the least I can do to pay pack a little to a city that has made me welcome and given me some wonderful memories. 
I want to give back, and time is something I have. I hope I can find a place to give it.






Monday, April 21, 2014

HOLIDAY WEEKENDS

One of the things I miss most, apart from family of course, is when there is a holiday weekend at home and everything here is business as usual. This was once again highlighted this weekend with the Easter Holidays.

Sometimes I think it is a romantic view I have in my head. A weekend filled with egg painting, egg hunts, large legs of lamb roasting in the oven. I even think of sunshine, spring flowers and  bright new dresses. In reality I know it will be long queues in the supermarket, overpriced flowers and road rage in the overcrowded carparks. Still this doesn't stop me thinking of home and of what, in my mind at least, I am missing out on.


To compensate, and to try and recreate a bit of the Easter feeling I head off to the kitchen. Hot Cross Buns in my thoughts and hopefully soon to be filling the kitchen with the delicious smells of spices and fruit. After mixing, proving, knocking back and proving again my expectations were fading fast. However into the oven they went, and soon the smells coming from the kitchen were just as I had anticipated. Baking time up and I had 12 wonderfully smelling, but somewhat heavy HXB's in front of me. Not to be disheartened I took the butter from the fridge and spread it liberally onto one of the less than perfect buns. Somewhere along the line the X's had all but disappeared, so they were now merely fruit buns. The photograph makes them appear better than they were.



So for the taste test. The flavour was really good, just an issue with density! I knew what wasn't eaten today would make acceptable doorstops tomorrow, lol. Although maybe popped into the toaster would prolong their life for another day. What had gone wrong? I can only think I added too much flour when kneading the dough. Another day I will be less generous.

However I was now into the holiday baking mode and soon had some scotch eggs and sausage rolls cooling off on the counter. Again trying to bring a bit of home to Shanghai. These were much more successful and would be used for a lunchbox I was making up for my husband and friends to take to the F1 race on Sunday.



I made the lunches up in newly bough bento boxes, not sure how the guys would react to that! I would add rolls filled with Scottish Cheddar, and ham, some home pickled onions and a chocolate Easter Bunny. However, something went wrong with one of the boxes and as Melvin bit into his roll, which he was keeping to eat last as he loves my Scottish Cheddar, he was dismayed to bite into a "dry roll" I had left the filled one on the counter and put an unfilled one in his box. How we laughed, although I know he will not let me forget this incident for a long time.


As everyone at home was waking up to sunshine, chocolate eggs and the promise of a delicious dinner, here in Shanghai it was raining and overcast, although not cold, and I was enjoying a pedicure and manicure with a friend in The Shangri La followed by a cocktail. Not a traditional Easter Sunday but it may become my tradition as long as I am living here in Shanghai.


So although most of the time I love being here and enjoying all Shanghai has to offer, when bank holidays and traditional holidays come around it always highlights the fact that I am far from home, so anything I can do to bring a bit of Scotland to Shanghai helps a bit, but it will never compensate for being at home with family and friends at these times.

Monday, March 31, 2014

TWO YEARS IN SHANGHAI

Can't believe two years has gone since we first arrived here as newbies to Shanghai life. We have spent two wonderful years, challenging at times, but the good times have made up for all of the frustrations we have encountered.

As way of celebrating we decided to invite my husbands team at work for an all British meal at our home. Well, we have been subjected to all sorts of Chinese delicacies, now it was their turn to be eating outside their comfort zone. There was to be 12 of us altogether but a baby on the way and 2 illnesses meant we were done to 9. So I was going to be busy!

This would be fun. I put together a menu which wouldn't challenge them too much. I would serve, Scotch Eggs with Pork and Black Pudding Coating, Haggis Spring Rolls, Beef Stew with Puff Pastry Discs, Fish Pie with Potato topping, Cock-a-Leekie Soup, Smoked Salmon and Salmon Pate with Blinis and Vegetables, Peas, Carrots and Asparagus, all very British.



For dessert I decided to make Pavlova with Strawberries and Mulberries and a Tiramisu. I've made these so many times I knew it would leave more time to concentrate on the main dishes.



I would serve it Chinese style. I wanted them to feel comfortable, and I knew the menu would be challenging enough. Chinese Style simply means all the dishes on the table at once. A challenge for me! I also set the table with chopsticks and cutlery giving them the option. They all used the chopsticks. 



Everything went well. The food was consumed with gusto I'm happy to report. A few beers, bottles of wine and a whisky or two completed a wonderful evening. I was so happy to see that they were a) willing to try my food and b) that they also enjoyed it. There was lots of laughing and lots of fun I think we all had a good time. As I always say, good food, good wine and good people around a table is one of life's big pleasures. Every culture has this in common.


These people have made our time here a great one, they work hard and enjoy what they are doing. They have made me feel part of the team and I am very grateful for that. Now they like my cooking and have asked if I will cook them an Indian dinner next. Chinese are not backwards at coming forward, lol. I will be delighted to do this at some point.

I have had requests for recipes, the fish pie was a huge hit, and also a confession that they had considered eating before they came as they didn't know if they would like what I was serving. At least they were honest.

I look forward now until the next time we do this and to another year here in Shanghai. 
Life is good. 



Thursday, March 13, 2014

SUNSHINE COMES to SHANGHAI

On one of the first really sunny Spring days of the year my husband and I decided to take a ferry ride across the river and enjoy a Sunday afternoon wandering around the city. So having spent 40rmb, or a whole 4p on two tickets, and spent less than 5 minutes on the ferry, we were soon at our starting point.

It was immediately obvious that most of Shanghai had the same idea and the roads and streets were packed with people out for a stroll. Spring it seemed had brought people outdoors in much the same way it causes flowers to bloom.


As always there is something to see at every turn. People playing cards in the streets, impromptu food vendors and of course washing strung out on any available space, usually a tree or handy railing, no problem that it is along the side of a busy road. I am not really sure how clean it will be by the end of the day!

  


As we were close to the fabric and bric-a-brac markets it was not long before I spied a lace stand. Then I realised there was not only one but lots of them lining the street. Shoes, sunglasses, cutlery, meat, fish, almost anything you could think of was somewhere out there to be bought.


On turning a corner I realised how in the midst of all that is exciting and different there was a piece of home before me. Yes Tesco in Shanghai. However, I do hope Shanghai doesn't become another city which losses it's identity to big world corporations. I know it is inevitable that they will move in but I do hope when shopping here I am still able to recognise that I am somewhere different, somewhere still full of surprises.

Will these ever change so I know where I am? lol. Maybe this is one case where I'd like to think English translations could be written alongside. 



It was so nice to be out walking. I spend lot of time being driven around and always promise myself I'll walk more but for various reasons this doesn't always happen. In summer it's too hot, and I find I walk even less! So this really is the perfect time of the year to enjoy the city on foot.

When it was time to make our way back across the river we stood on the Bund, Puxi side or west of the river, before heading back to Pudong, or as you've probably guessed, East of the river. From here we were able to take in one of the most amazing views, and probably the most recognisable view of the city. Before us lies what will be the 2nd highest building in the world when it is completed at the end of the year. On completion it will be almost exactly twice the height of The Shard in London. Quite a height!



So before the heat of summer arrives I plan to walk more, to see more of the city on foot instead of always driving past in the car thinking, I'd like to see that. I will endeavour to see more.






Wednesday, February 12, 2014

SHANGHAI TO DARJEELING

I have just returned from an amazing trip to India, Kolkata, then on to Darjeeling. The Kolkata stage is for another blog, another day.

As we travelled from the airport along narrow crowded streets, which were made even worse by a festival taking place, we thought we would never arrive at our destination. Still it was anything but boring, lots to see and to take our mind off the appalling state of the roads. Four and a half hours later we arrived at our destination, tired but happy. The next morning we were up bright and early for our visit to a tea garden. Darjeeling is the home of some of the best teas in the world, and we were lucky enough to be visiting one of the best gardens. For once this was not a business trip only pleasure.



Once again we found ourselves being driven down appalling roads, although road is not really the word. We were on dirt paths which had been washed away by the monsoons last year. Not much left, and with the mountain falling away beneath us it was a bit hair raising. Then when we were told it's better not to wear seat belts as it's easier to jump out if you have to!!!!!!!




However once we reached our destination at around 5,000ft it was well worth being thrown around in the back of a jeep. There was the tea gardens in all their splendour, and a beautiful colonial bungalow where would be meeting the estate manager. 


Over tea, darjeeling of course, on the veranda with Mr & Mrs Sen we chatted about the gardens, the bungalow and what it was like living in such a rural setting. We were surprised that their daughter undertakes this journey we had just taken twice a day. Going to, and coming home from school. I'm sure you get used to it. They were charming hosts. 


Tea over we were soon being shown the wonderful scenery all around.This is an organic garden and I was surprised to see lots of lemongrass grown all around. This is a natural insect repellent. What a wonderful idea. The tea gardens were silent as it is not picking season, but we were able to enjoy the warm sun and soak up all the surrounding area before heading off to the processing plant, again silent as it is out of season. There was some maintenance going on but no tea production. The factory workers do the maintenance themselves so they are never really not working.



Tour over we headed back to the bungalow. A very welcome G&T was offered, what better place than to enjoy it than on the veranda of this wonderful home. I could imagine this having been done many times in earlier days. Then we moved on to the most delicious lunch which had been prepared when we were doing the tour. It was all laid out in the dining room and each dish looked fantastic. Where to start? No problem, we were encouraged to take some of everything and take it out on to the veranda. Al fresco eating is my idea of heaven, and with the views before me this really was a treat.

Rice with spicy beans
Spinach and paneer
Raita
Chicken tikka
Lentil patties
Cauliflower and peas


Okay hungry yet? Even better is that the vegetable were all grown in the garden, the paneer and yoghurt came from their own cows. Very impressive. As for the taste, delicious. Every mouthful tastier than the next. Well you really did have to go for seconds, it would have been impolite not to, right?

We left very happy, very full and pleased we had made the journey, however scared we were.

We couldn't have anticipated such a wonderful day, it was way over and above expectations. Our hosts were gracious, and extended wonderful hospitality. I would like to think one day we may go back, but more importantly would love to be able to return kindness extended to us by Mr & Mrs Sen.

I will never forget this trip.