Friday, June 29, 2012

BRITS IN SHANGHAI

As I sit watching Wimbledon it never amazes me that wherever you are in the world there are always things that draw you back home. I was however thankful Andy Murray did it in four sets, three would have been better, but as it was almost 1-00am when it finished I think I did well. Another set would have seen me asleep on the sofa! However if he does make it all the way I will sit up until whenever in the hope of seeing a Scot lift the title. Go on Andy.

Mostly it will be of a sporting nature that makes you think of home, what man won't sit up into the wee small hours, watching football, or be tempted to watch F1 as it runs well into the middle of the night. Of course the odd jubilee or Royal Wedding will also do the trick. Even, if when at home you wouldn't watch, there is something which draws you in. A bit of the familiar, a feeling of not being so far away I guess.



Last week I found myself celebrating Ladies Day at Ascot here in Shanghai. Not a horse in sight, but plenty of hats on show. I was lucky enough to win prize for best hat. I knew fascinators were a no no this year so went with the regulatory hat. It was cobbled together from a very old hat and some feather boas removed the night before from some lamps, and stuck on to the hat. Can't believe I've caught myself thinking about next year's hat. You get sucked in.

The day consisted of Champagne and lunch. It was held on a restaurant roof terrace, and looking back across the river I was able to see my apartment, well the building at least.


All the ladies looked amazing and we had a fun day in the beautiful sunshine. I believe the weather did not shine on Ascot itself, so maybe here was the better option. 

So the Olympics will be the next big sporting occasion when people will gather here to cheer on any Brits who can bring home a medal. Although there will be plenty of gatherings before then I'm sure. I'm not so sure the sport is the real reason for the get togethers, but it is a good excuse, if one is needed.

 To get together with people who are experiencing the same things as yourself, people who understand how life really is here is a real bonus. Most of the time it's amazing, exciting and challenging, and a lot of fun. But it is nice to have someone to call on for advice or information when despite all your best efforts   you can't solve the problem yourself. There is always someone to call on who knows the best tailor, hairdresser, bakery or whatever it is you need. Invaluable to an expat in a strange and faraway place. I like to think we are all there for each other. 

After three months I am no longer the newbie, there are lots who have arrived since me, and lots gone home, or moved on. I am living in a very changing society, people coming and going, so the support we offer each other is very important to all of us. It is easier for some than for others, fortunately I am finding it easier than had imagined it would be, let's hope that continues.



Wednesday, June 27, 2012

SHANGHAI ASLEEP

In the heat of the  Shanghai summer it is not unusual to find people asleep in the street all over the city. It seems to me that when the heat of the day gets to much for them they think nothing of closing their eyes for a few minutes, or longer, and catching up on their sleep. When the good people of Shanghai want to sleep, they sleep, wherever they are. Ikea is a good place to catch them. They just lie down on beds and sofas and sleep. No one bats an eye. Can you imagine doing this in Ikea near you?



Any resting place does, it doesn't need to be too comfortable either, they seem to be able to drop off at the drop of a hat. It amazes me that even with the traffic roaring by, the honking of horns and the general noise a big city brings it doesn't stop them from catching a quick shut eye. I can't imagine being able to sleep as easily as they do. Don't they hear the noise, or can they just shut it out? And if this is so, how do they do it? I'd love to know the secret. Not that I want to sleep in the street, I would just love to know the secret of shutting out the noise of a city. A city is never quiet.

 

The guy above seems to be having sweet dreams as his other half continues cooking food for the lunch time customers. Sleep obviously trumps even the lunchtime rush. Can you imagine going for a quick bite only to find the proprietor asleep on the job? No one seems to mind here. They walk on without a backward glance, whereas I am sneakily trying to get a photo:
 a) without walking them, and  b) without being too intrusive.
 Thankfully never woken anyone up so far.



So next time sleep overcomes you maybe you could take a leaf out of the Chinese book and simply check yourself out for a bit. Take the time to relax, shut out the noise and chaos going on around you, and simply lie down wherever you are and close those weary eyelids. Can you imagine the reaction of people in the West were this to happen? I wonder how long it would take before you were asked to move along by a policeman, or someone reported a drunk, or worse lying in the street. Don't think we are chilled enough to sleep when the urge takes us, irrespective of where we are. Maybe we should give it a go. 



A wall, a bench, a food counter, a deckchair even a ladder will do. Whatever you have serves the purpose. Perhaps we are too hung up on sleeping in a nice comfortable bed, and at night. Although none of these places seem to me to look like a particularly comfortable place to rest a weary head, the ladder does seem to be the most uncomfortable one. Also the sun beating down on you can't be good for promoting good sleep.


I have so many of these photos I think as well as a "dish of the week" I might blog a "napper of the week" too. I have so much material here, and love collecting more. 

This Shanghai experience is proving a wonderful one. I am enjoying the differences and celebrating the diversity. What a boring world it would be if we were all the same. 


So as you nod off tonight in your comfy bed, sleep well and hopefully you will make it through tomorrow without the need for an unscheduled nap.







Saturday, June 23, 2012

DISH of the WEEK

Tempted? Not me. I was spoiled for choice this week, so many "unusual dishes" appearing on menus.

I spend as much time searching them out as I do choosing my meal lol. But it is fun.

So because of all the choice this week I am delighted to offer you two delectations this week.




Always on the lookout for something new and different for you.

Friday, June 22, 2012

DRAGON BOAT FESTIVAL

Tomorrow is Dragon Boat Festival here in China, and as it falls on a Saturday then businesses take either the Friday before, or Monday after, to give people a three day weekend. It falls on the 5th day of the 5th month, according to the Chinese lunar calendar. And as with most festivals there is a special food to be eaten over this period. Also Dragon Boat races take place along the rivers.

The festival is to remember an ancient, famous Chinese poet, Qu Yuan, who drowned himself after being forbidden to write.  After his death the people would throw parcels of glutinous rice into the river for him to eat. So during this holiday people give "ZONGZI" as gifts and also make, or buy them to eat at home.

ZONGZI
These parcels can be either sweet or savoury. The rice is boiled for a long time until it becomes very sticky. It is flavoured with pork for the savoury and red bean, or red bean paste for the sweet version. This is then wrapped in either bamboo leaves or reeds. Some are served plain, but are best enjoyed dipped into sugar to give them extra flavour.
Pork Zongzi

We were lucky enough to be given some homemade zongzi, made by the mother of one of my husbands colleagues. We felt very honoured to be given them. Some savoury and some sweet. We also received more zongzi from Wen, my Chinese friend. Once again the kindness and thoughtfulness of the people here is amazing. It all makes us feel very welcome, in what is a strange, and at the same time fascinating country. Makes us feel as if we belong, as if we are slowly being accepted.


To enjoy these parcels of rice they have to be boiled for 10 minutes before eating. I have to admit glutinous rice is not my favourite, but I do prefer the savoury to sweet. I won't be rushing out to buy more, but might be interesting next year to try and make some myself.

Red Bean Zongzi


I  feel privileged to be part of this ancient Chinese festival. My knowledge of Chines traditions increases with every passing holiday. I am enjoying learning about the culture but even more being part of the celebrations. I hope to experience many more before my time here is over.







Monday, June 18, 2012

DISH of the WEEK

This is not local but something I came across last year while visiting Xi'an. Just doesn't sound terribly appealing. Surely, or hopefully something has been lost in translation. Have absolutely no idea as to the content, nor do I wish to know.

 

Another week to find another "appealing" dish here in China. 
But remember, for everyone of these dishes there are thousands of delicious foods on offer. Perhaps I am being unfair.



Sunday, June 17, 2012

THE GREAT WALL of CHINA

Great Wall of China
An amazing site, an amazing feat and quite spectacular.

However this week I hit my own "wall". Not as amazing or spectacular but a wall none the less.

Nine weeks I've been here now, and I think the honeymoon phase has just worn off. Suddenly it hits you. This is for real, not a long holiday. Everyday realities hit you.

Don't get me wrong I still love Shanghai, but all the little problems that have occurred, all the problems with language and everyday tasks suddenly feel overwhelming and a feeling of "hitting the wall" hits you!

I think with my own furniture arriving, and the place now feeling just like home, instead of making me feel more at home has, momentarily, just made me realise how far away from home I actually am.

Plus the last two weeks have been so hot and humid, just drains your energy. This happened at a time when I was busy opening boxes and trying to make a home here. I think I probably just overdid things and the energy has just drained away.

Home in Shanghai
So over the weekend Shanghai wasn't feeling so great. The humidity was bothering me, I was really grumpy and felt sure no one understood me. The tears were never far away, the slightest thing started me off. Poor hubby probably thought I was heading home. But I have to add he too seemed to have hit the same wall. He's been working very hard, he has a lot to do, and at the same time he is very conscious of me being at home without real support. So he doesn't work late, and tries very hard to keep me happy. 

But here I am Monday morning, the rain is pouring down, which immediately makes me feel closer to home, lol. It is still sticky but I'm hoping the rain will help. I am off to "Margarita Monday" organised by a friend, already feeling cheerier. Tomorrow I have book group and on Thursday I am going to Shanghai's Ladies Day at Ascot lunch, hat at the ready.

So you see last week was just a blip. I don't usually moan publicly, but I know some first time ex pats follow this page and I just want them to know that this is a natural bump. My advice is to check out for a couple of days to re- charge the batteries. Do what you want and if that is nothing, then that is what you should do. If there are tears then just let go, get it all out of your system, shout, scream do whatever it takes, but most of all recognise it for what it is, a blip. Things will get better.

So life as an ex pat is great, most of the time, but we are far away from friends and families, and that is the hardest bit. Sometimes you long for the familiarity of Sainsbury's, Boots and your local restaurants where everything is easy instead of always facing challenges. But funnily enough when I am living at home I almost miss the challenges, life seems so easy. Still we do have M&S, several of them, so for a bit of the feeling of home I can head off there.

So a new week, positive energy has returned and life goes on. Also my daughter and husband arrive in two weeks for a holiday and I am so looking forward to showing them around a city I have come to call home, for the time being, and a city which I love, most of the time. Can't wait to see them.


Tuesday, June 12, 2012

MANDARIN LESSONS

YoYo
This is YoYo my Mandarin teacher. She is so nice, always smiling and extremely patient which is just what I need.

Although I've only had three lessons so far, I have to admit to really enjoying learning a new language. Once there, the time flies, but I still think of a thousand reasons why I can't go. Maybe it's because I haven't done as much homework as I should have beforehand!

Anyway yesterday's lesson was a good one. I can now order a G&T or a glass of red or white wine. So homework should be fun this week. I plan to do lots of practising..............

I am managing with everyday greetings, hello, how are you, pleased to meet you etc. Also can ask for what I want, that is if I know the word for what I want! A bit of a stumbling block. However there is a word, "zhege" which means "this one," so used in conjunction with "I want" it can get me whatever I need.  But as I have mastered the words for shoes and bag I am on my way.

 I can also deal with basic transactions at the market, although sometimes when I use what I know they come back at me with too much, and way too fast, so I have had to learn to ask them to speak more slowly. Numbers are not too difficult, but again they are often said way too fast for me to pick up. Slowly I am picking up on them though.

It's difficult, it will take a while, but hopefully I will persevere and eventually will have mastered enough to get me through everyday living. It is fun, most days, I know I will never be fluent, but I will have fun trying. And if it keeps my mind alert then that is an added bonus.

So for now "zaijian", sounds like, (zichien,) or goodbye as we say.

Off to do some homework, and no as it is 10-00am I am not about to order a G&T, just in case anyone was going down that route, lol.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

DISH of the WEEK

Don't shoot me I'm only the messenger.

You won't be surprised to hear I wasn't tempted, not even in the name of a blog!

Although it set me thinking, what would foreigners make of our "Toad in the Hole"

Do we judge too quickly?

Watch out for more dishes of the week coming to you soon.
I am having so much fun searching them out for your enjoyment, and in some cases, for your complete horror. 

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

A HOME COOKED CHINESE FEAST

WEN'S DAD 
On Sunday this man, known only to me as Wen's dad, cooked for us, our Sunday lunch, Chinese style. Wen and Albert are our friend's here, and on a Sunday her father goes to their apartment and cooks for them. We were so happy and felt very honoured to be invited along on this occasion.

Wen's dad lives to cook. He loves everything about it. He scours the markets for the freshest and best on offer that day. He daily makes his way around the various markets, and something told me he would take no nonsense from the vendors.

So it was with great anticipation we arrived to eat.

Wen's dad had spent the whole morning shopping and preparing for the meal. A peek into his domain revealed a very organised chef. Rows and bowls of precisely chopped vegetables all ready to be added at the right moment. There were live crabs in the sink, but not for long, alive that is. I was soon to witness the culling. No plunging into boiling water here, instead claws were cut off as they still wriggled. Then the disemboweling begun. I was given a lesson on the best way to kill them. Sorry it's a plunge into boiling water for me. That alone pricks my conscience!

Another bowl was full of clams, and a stack of freshly rolled spring rolls sat at the ready.


After witnessing the demise of the crab, I then went to sit and enjoy the array of fruits and chocolate on offer on the coffee table. All there to tempt us. No chance of refusing as now Wen's mum, known to me as WenWen, was literally peeling the fresh lychees and handing them to me and my husband. They were sweet and juicy as were the cherries. I managed to avoid the chocolate.

I had to stop as I didn't want to fill myself up before the main event. But this didn't prove as easy as I hoped as WenWen was determined to see to it that we were kept busy eating.

Soon we were called to the table. In China they don't have starters and mains, it just all arrives as it is ready. I knew it would be unlikely to see rice served as it is deemed as a poor man's food, something to fill you up when you can't afford the meats and fish. I was correct in my assumption. It did make a small appearance as a coating, similar to the way we would use breadcrumbs.

We were now ready to try a traditional home cooked family meal. Surely this is the best way to appreciate a country and their culture. And also a great privilege. An array of dishes were put before us, delicious sticky ribs, tender juicy prawns and baby corn, and meatballs coated in in sticky rice. Strangely they had an air of a haggis flavour about them. Seemed it was mainly ginger, soy sauce and black pepper in them. There was also a cold chicken dish, simply cooked breast, and of course vey tasty. A dish of cooked yams, but not the yam I know, this one is long and thin with a woody skin. It was served with lots of chopped chillies. I once tried to prepare this myself but when peeled it is incredibly slippery and I struggled to even hold on to it. The more I rinsed it, the worse it became. Much hilarity occurred as I told my story, and of course a lesson on the best way to do it. The proper way to do it was demonstrated by Wen's dad using a chopstick! Use your imagination.



 Then the crab arrived in a wonderful hot and spicy sauce. Again very few ingredients are used. Mostly soy sauce, ginger, chilli, and pepper. But this was so good. I soon followed my hosts sucking the meat from the claws. There was six of us to eat and three crabs had been prepared! WenWen was doing what mothers do best and offering us more and more food.  At one point everyone took a short break, a walk round the apartment. and then back to start again. During the whole time Wen's dad was in the kitchen cooking. He popped out from time to time, ate a few bites with us, then back to work. I have to say he cooked all this meal on a 2 ring gas cooker, as is common in almost all Chinese apartments, with a cigarette in hand and a beer to hand. Love his style?

SPICY CRAB
Back to the table for the clams, slightly spicy with hit of chilli, a plate of  fried fish. Similar in texture to cod but not really sure what it was, and it had a bone right down one side. I didn't see it pre- cooked so wasn't able to identify it. But it was so good and I was tempted, although by now I was so full, to go back for another piece. So I did! Probably against my better judgement. Oh well what is one to do?

I have to admit I also went back once or twice to the ribs, they were just so good, and maybe a second helping of crab. OMG I'm getting full again just remembering it!. 


Then suddenly WenWen took off to the kitchen quickly followed by Wen. Seems it's Wen's mum who is the expert at frying the spring rolls. I had by this time forgotten all about them. It seems they are usually served at the end of a meal, not as we are used to as a starter. But, it seemed that Wen had to supervise, just to be sure. Soon became obvious that mum wasn't doing it correctly and dad had to make his way back to the kitchen to sort it all out. I was then given a lesson on the best way to put spring rolls into the hot oil, seam towards you to stop the roll filling up with the oil and opening out. Sounds like good advice to follow. Notice the use of chopsticks in cooking. 

Of course the spring rolls too were delicious, but we had to stop her cooking them. There must have been about 30 of them. I would bet no group of six people could have eaten all the food which was prepared. But we gave it our best shot, but not quite good enough I'm afraid. 

So I am happy to say our inclusion in a family day was over and above our expectations. Once again proving people are basically the same the whole world over. Put them round a table with good food and  shared interest and a good time will be had by all. I will never forget this day and look forward to reciprocating in the future.

The good thing about it all was it was served on a plastic sheet so all the shells and bones are just put on the table and at the end the whole thing is gathered up and put in the bin. Easy quick clean up. Oh and the extra spring rolls were packaged ready for us to take away. 

My only issue was not being able to chat with Wen's parent's, what little Mandarin we have mastered was useless as they speak Shanghiese, which is now no longer taught here, it is a dying language. But it did not spoil the day and I think we all had a good time sharing the meal together.






Monday, June 4, 2012

DISH of the WEEK

I frequently see some strange, unusual and sometimes quite disgusting items on menus. I thought I would share these with you on a weekly "dish of the week" blog.

 In this case I didn't take the plunge and order it, but maybe there will come  day when I get a bit braver, or for the sake of a blog overcome the good taste barrier that seems to surround me.

I hope you will enjoy these posts. I certainly have fun searching menus for these items. So many restaurants here, 73,000 licensed ones, so many menus to scan. I may need to hang around Shanghai for a long time.