Saturday, January 24, 2015

ALONE in SHANGHAI

As I see my hubby off at 9-00am on Saturday morning I see a weekend stretched out in front of me with a lot of time to kill. He'll be gone until next Saturday. Weekdays are never an issue as there are always lots of activities going on, but weekends are a different story.

I start pottering around, tidying up, plumping cushions, straightening magazines, you know how it is. Ayi was in yesterday so nothing major to do. Decide it's time to lose the pyjamas and dress for the day ahead.

Suitably attired to leave the apartment I glance at my watch and realise it is only 10-00am! Still out I go. I pick up some fruit and vegetables, a healthy week of eating on the cards, will see how that pans out. Lol. I pick up some bread, and while doing so I see a delicious looking chocolate croissant, or yang jiao bao, as they say here. Literal translation is sheep's horn bread.  I can understand that. Now on the way back I'm thinking of a lovely cup of coffee and the pastry nestled in my bag. Healthy eating can begin tomorrow.


Yep, just as good as was imagining. Kept the croissant cold and did the French thing, dipping it into the coffee. Delicious. With the papers downloaded I was a happy bunny.

Okay, coffee time over.

While the coffee was brewing I popped some beetroot into the oven. A pickling session would cover part of the day. I put fruit into a bowl. I love when the leaves are still attached to the mandarins, just makes them look so nice. Will be tucking into these all week. Probably need a top up mid way through.



But for now as I pick up a scarf I wore out on Saturday night, I could still smell the smoke from it. Can't believe how bad things smell after a night in a bar, or even restaurant here in Shanghai. They are trying to ban it, in fact, I think it is actually banned, but there seems to be no one obeying the ruling. So I collect a few scarves that need freshening up and gently hand wash them. Yes I do have too much time on my hands. 


Soon they are dry and folded and back into the scarf drawer, yes I did say scarf drawer. everything in it's place. I also have a glove drawer and sock drawer. 


Now feeling very happy with myself I glance over and see that the shoe rack could really do with a tidy. Yes, I do have a long day to fill. A bit of sorting, a few being put aside to be repaired, a couple for the charity store and soon my shoes are all lined up, although not all my shoes are lined up! If you get my drift. Another job well done.


Now to getting the pickling done. A messy hour or so and I have a few jars of pickled beetroot to add the my store. As there is some bread lying around which is past its best I decide to make some breadcrumbs. I do this all the time and keep them in the freezer. It's so easy, no wasting bread and they are always there. Sometimes I add herbs, or grated lemon peel. Give a nice flavour.




It's now 2-00pm! I have accomplished much, the day is still young!
Time to sit down with some cook books and a cup of tea and relax. I get engrossed in the books, finding all sorts of new recipes I want to try. Sometimes I get stuck in a rut with cooking and I really should vary it all up a bit more. Note to self: cook at least one meal every week I've not cooked before. Let's see how that goes in the coming weeks. 

Soon I realise it's beginning to get dark and I need to switch the light on if I'm to carry on reading. Of course I can now go and make supper. Simple chicken with a lemon butter and a green salad. Nothing too taxing. I do love chicken. I think my last meal would be a roast chicken.

I would even use my breadcrumbs.


Simple but delicious. Now an hour or so in the company of my friend the TV. Not such a great friend here in China, but you have to take what you can get. Only a couple of things left now to do before heading to bed.



There not such a bad day after all. Actually enjoyed it. Got lots done, went off to bed feeling quite smug with myself. Accomplished lots. A few chapters of my book and it was time to put today into the past and check it of the list as a happy one.

Now what will I do tomorrow ?????  





Tuesday, January 20, 2015

SHANGLOW DAYS

For people who who have not lived an ex pat life you may well think it consists of days full of coffee mornings, lunches and happy hours. Of days spent pampering ourselves with manicures, massages and shopping. A life where you have someone to drive you around and someone to clean the house when you are out and about enjoying life. A very privileged life too. And I know I shouldn't complain.

Up to a point that is true, I do my fair share of the aforementioned. But life is not always like this. There are days when things go wrong and this makes you feel so far away from all that is familiar to you. Far from family, old friends and a million miles away from truly comprehending what is going on around you. When you have a bad day here, commonly known as "Shanglow" day it can really get to you very quickly. It can be something simple, something when faced with at home you would deal with easily and move on. Here not so much. Here it can produce tears, tantrums and a  completely disproportionate reaction to the problem.

For me, today it was a recurring issue that broke me. Technology! No internet. Here this means feeling totally cut of from life. No emails, no Facebook, no pintrest, no BBC news, no Times to read with my morning coffee. But the real frustration comes with finding my husband's iPad is connected, my phone is intermittently connected but my iPad and computer are refusing to join networks. Of course here I cannot call up a helpline. I'm on my own!

So I take myself off to the market to buy some fruit and vegetables. Perhaps some time preparing something delicious for dinner will make me feel better. However it really doesn't get much better. First I am unable to walk along the pavement due to cars parked there, moving onto the road to walk I am met with tooting horns, and it is with great difficulty I keep my hand firmly in my pockets to prevent gesticulations, which are a waste of time here as no one understands them. Even the usually cheery lady in the market doesn't seem so friendly today. I decide to walk the long way home to try and walk off the negativity I'm feeling today. I encounter the usual chaos which on a normal day does't bother me. Today? Well that's a different story. Realistically I know I'm not giving off the best vibes and probably people are reacting to my emotions.

However, on a more positive note, the sun is shining, the buds are out on the trees and the gardens are looking amazing, before long the pool will be open and summer will be here. And I am meeting with a friend this afternoon. I can unload on her, because she understands days like today, because she too has them, and I'll move on.

It is hard for people to understand how I can feel down here, living the life I lead. I never take for granted or forget how lucky I am, but that doesn't prevent days like this happening. You will never understand the total frustration of not being understood, or being able to understand what is going on. It's not just the language but the culture here which is so different from at home. Spitting, farting and slurping all perfectly acceptable. Saying please and thank you not so much. Pushing, shoving a normal everyday thing for the Chinese. The frustration of not being able to read signs in shops, road signs, notices that get posted on the notice board. So you can see why occasionally it gets to me.

On the plus side. The Chinese are generally very friendly, very generous and we have been made feel very welcome here. I can now understand a bit more of what is being said than I did when I arrived here. I am not suffering from snow, rain, hail or windy weather. I am healthy, not hungry or living in fear.  I am indeed very aware of just how fortunate I am, but please allow me the odd down day. Maybe it just gives me time to recharge my batteries, put on my big girl pants, a bit of lippy and get myself back out there.

Tomorrow is another day. I won't be buying one way ticket home just yet.




Wednesday, January 14, 2015

SOUP IN SHANGHAI

Today it's cold, wet and really miserable here in Shanghai. Immediately my thoughts turn to soup. A nice plate of hot soup is just what's needed to chase off those post holiday, cold weather blues.

I love making soup. I make it most weeks, and make all kinds. Whatever looks good at the market, or whatever I have in the vegetable basket can all be turned into something tasty. I like to keep it simple and fuss free. There are occasions when something a bit more special is required but today is not one of those days.


Today I have leeks and potatoes and a bunch of thyme. So no problem there in thinking of what I can make. Leek and potato is one of my husband's favourite soups so he will be a happy man to come home to this.


This is such an easy recipe, as most of my soup recipes are. A simple, fast, no fuss soup.
I wash the chopped leeks and add to some oil. Choice of oil is up to you. Today I am using olive oil. I add a pinch of salt, which draws the moisture out of onions stopping them from burning. I don't want colour on my leeks as I like this to be a nice white soup. 
Once they have softened I stir in the chopped potatoes and two teaspoons of fresh thyme. If you don't have fresh a teaspoon of dried will work perfectly okay. I add large pinch of salt and a few grinds of black pepper. 
Lastly I add boiling water, yes water not stock, to the pan. Just enough to cover the vegetables. Bring to the boil then cover and turn down to a simmer.


You may be asking why I don't use stock. Well, to be honest sometimes I do, but if you have good fresh vegetables that is what you want to taste. So unless I have homemade stock I prefer to use water. With water that's what you get, the taste of your vegetables. You can use stock but it does slightly alter the flavour. Just remember to season well. Check seasonings at all stages.
As soon as potatoes soften, this will only take about 10-15 minutes, turn off soup. You can leave it at this stage to let the flavours meld into each other. Or if you're ready to eat it you can now blend it. My preferred method is with a stick blender. Its easy to use and easy to clean up. But a blender can also be used. Just more washing up!


Once it's all blended check again for seasoning. This is really important. You can sieve at this point too which will give a really smooth soup, but it will taste just as delicious as is.
If it's too thick you can add some boiling water, not too much, or cream to get it to the correct consistency. 
So all thats left to do now is to put it into a bowl and enjoy the fruits, or should it be the vegetables of your labour?


Over the years I have made all sorts of soups, and I never tire of making it. I love how easy and how rewarding a small amount of work can be. It's no more difficult than chopping a few vegetables and adding complimentary seasonings. 
I hope you will enjoy making your own concoctions as much as I enjoy making mine.





Wednesday, January 7, 2015

AT HOME IN SHANGHAI

Due to computer issues I have been away from blogging for some time. Looking forward to getting back into the habit of posting. So here goes!

Returning to Shanghai after a wonderful Festive Season in Scotland where I enjoyed being with family and friends. I loved playing with the grandchildren, glad they don't forget me despite the distance between us, so as you can imagine, it's always a sad day when we say goodbye and return to Shanghai.

I returned with all the usual promises one makes to oneself at the start of a new year. Healthier eating, more exercise etc. So as I woke up to sunny but chilly day a walk to the local shops was on the cards. This kind of weather makes leaving Scotland just a wee bit easier. I left behind wet, windy days when it barely seemed to get light.

For various reasons, pollution, or the searing heat of summer I usually travel by car. One of the great advantages of living here is I have a driver who manages to get me to wherever I need to be. But today as the skies were clear I was going to enjoy walking to my local shops.


 I never tire of the views on route. I never take for granted of  how privileged I am to be living in this amazing city, which for now, I call home. As you can see I am not walking along leafy avenues or meandering paths. I am walking through the heart of Shanghai's financial centre complete with  amazing buildings stretching high up into the sky. In the sunshine they look even better. Hard to imagine 20 years ago this was all farmland. Progress is fast here.


Most of my journey is on skywalks above the busy roads. Much safer than negotiating with the traffic which doesn't seem to recognise, or at least obey, a red light. Slowly coming terms with this,  
I am now quite good at dodging taxis, buses and trucks even, when for no apparent reason they can be coming straight at me in the wrong lane. No place for hesitation here. 


Above you can see the 3 tallest buildings in the city, all very close to each other. The one on the right is the second tallest building in the world. It is twice the height of the Shard in London, and it is the view I get from my window. It is a completely unrestricted view from the bottom to the top. Standing below it looking up makes me feel quite dizzy. It is really high!

Then in front of me is one of the most iconic and recognised buildings In Shanghai, The Pearl Tower. You may well have seen it in the Batman, or more recently the Bond movie. At night it looks amazing. 



So in around 15 minutes I arrive at the local mall. Shops at the entrance not to shabby. LOL



Once inside the shops again, not too bad. This is fairly typical of the many malls which are springing up all over the city. I have to say I am here only for the supermarket in the basement and to grab a coffee. Still, have to say I do enjoy wandering through the mall and doing a bit of window shopping, and a lot of daydreaming.




Time for my coffee before heading into the supermarket. I love sitting people watching. There are a couple of Westerns in today but it's mostly locals. There are lots of offices located around so it's mainly business people. As it is open fronted I can also watch the shoppers wandering through, not a lot of shopping bags to be seen. I'm guessing, like myself, there are a lot of window shoppers. Also it is not unusual to see people taking photographs of the clothes on display. They then take them to a tailor to have them made. No one seems to mind. I can't help thinking in other countries you would be stopped from photographing stock. I was stopped from taking pics in IKEA in Glasgow. It is not allowed. 



Coffee time over, shopping complete, I head back home. This time I decide to negotiate the roads and forgo the skywalks. I manage to cross 10 lanes of traffic without incident. It's a good day! Then I find my way almost blocked by the many bikes and scooters parked on the pavement. They all belong to workers who are working finishing the new building. 


Can't believe I used to get annoyed when a car parked with a wheel on the pavement at home. After seeing what I have seen here should never complain about traffic, or parking at home. It's all relative.

 With a bit of bobbing and weaving I am almost home.
I enjoyed my walk. I love the energy of the city, the fact that every time I am out I come across something I haven't seen before. I'm sure the day will come when I feel the need to leave. But for now I am happy here and just trying to take in all the city has to offer, which is a lot. Hope you've enjoyed taking the walk with me.

NOTE TO SELF; Do this more often. Ditch the car whenever weather permits.










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.