absentfather

Letters for my kids to read in the future, from around the world now

Archive for the month “December, 2013”

Summer Palace, Beijing

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Dear G and B

At the beginning of December I hopped over to China for a week, first to Shanghai and then on to Beijing. For the first time in many visits the pollution was all but gone and the skies were clear – I even managed a run around Peoples Square in Shanghai and the air didn’t even taste of battery acid….

Because it was clear, although minus 8 in the wind, I decided to use up an afternoon’s free time to look around the Summer Palace, one of the few main tourist attractions in Beijing I haven’t seen before. I guess it is better in the summer, but I figured I could escape the crowds there and by this point in my trip, that in itself was attractive enough to warrant a visit.

The palace is actually made up of many buildings that surround a lake, all from slightly different eras. It would have been more impressive, but most of it was burnt to the ground by us Brits during the opium wars and has since been reconstructed. It was bitterly cold and I didn’t have any gloves, so after the second hour I lost patience and trooped off, but I think I saw most of it by then and had a nice, contemplative time in the process.

The most impressive structure is the Incense Tower which looks down upon the rest of the palace from atop a hill and is an ornate circular pagoda. It has amazingly steep and symmetrical twin staircases that run down each side to lake level with some covered with beautifully decorated roofs. Walking down them was a joy. At the (semi frozen) lake there were some food stalls and trinket sellers where I bought a coffee and browsed for gifts, but was slightly put off by the vacuum packed chickens feet. I’m sure they are a delectable cold snack for on the hoof as it were.

Afterwards I had a meeting around 60km north of Beijing so took the metro to the end of the line where I waited for a lift to pick me up. It was like post-war China; bleak, grey, flat landscape with communist style buildings and very little else. People stared at me from their cars and I felt quite uneasy – not the China I have become used to and I was glad to get out of there before I saw some kids riding pigs and pointing at planes overhead…

I had a great night out with a colleague around HoHai lake in a converted hutong made into a bar that sold various Belgian beers with a live band. He had had a tough week as his wife and baby had been knocked off their bike back home and we’re in hospital briefly, so it was good to unwind at the end of a trip. Nothing is as good as coming home to you two though.

Love

Dad

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Why do my clothes always smell so ba……ah! #china

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Running Rio

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Dear George and Bea

[This is another delayed entry from October 2013]

Currently on another plane, this time somewhere over Lake Erie on my way to Mexico for a week. BA, economy, terrible.

Since I last wrote I’ve been working pretty hard which means travelling too much and stressing a little. I went to Malaysia and Korea a few weeks ago and it was the first time George realised I was leaving – you held onto my leg and asked my not to go. And cried. It was really difficult to leave. Was back for a few days and then flew to Brazil again so you have been camped at the farm where there a few more hands to look after you. Bea is less than 3 months old and is changing daily. Thank god for Skype.

Continuing on my fitness regimen I’m trying to run in every city I visit and in São Paulo I managed to get out for a 5km in Pinheiros, a really nice neighbourhood, but with little to see – some churches, mobile phone towers, and a lot of people walking dogs. A lot of dogs each, maybe 10-15. There seems to be very little open space to make use of in SP as when I asked the reception of my hotel for directions to a park to run in, they told me it was 35 minutes away by taxi! When I did go (just outside the hotel) there was a weird kind of concrete exercise area where lots of Paulistas were power walking in cycling shorts and looking serious about it. Basically, that place needs more parks.

I flew to Rio early on Sunday morning and spent the whole, lovely day on the beach relaxing, drinking the odd caipirinha and jumping in the sea when I got to hot. Escaped with minimal burnt skin, which was surprising given the pasty state it was in. In the afternoon I notice a lot of men in tight, small swimming costumes seemed to be congregated in this particular section of the beach. I turned around to see rainbow flags and realised which part of the beach I was in, confirmed by a lot of male canoodling and frolicking in the sea. I moved along a little.

The next day I got up early and heading out with two colleagues to run along Ipanema and to Copacabana stopping at the workout stations along the way and a muscle beach type affair in between. It was a lovely day and so many people were out doing the same thing, or riding bikes, or skating or on long skateboards underneath the palm trees that line the route. We went to the lookout point between the two beaches and took in the views before descending to the beach gym. This place is great – the weights are iron bars with concrete on the end! No nonsense and packed with meatheads who obviously spend a lot of time either working out there or eating chicken. After another section of jogging we bought coconuts to drink and jumped in the sea to cool off, throwing in some body surfing for good measure, all before 9am.

Rio is a special place, changing fast and gearing up for the spot light of the World Cup and Olympics heading there soon. It has it’s issues, but generally it’s a really positive place to visit and for once I came back from a work trip feeling refreshed rather than exhausted.

I land in Mexico in two hours and will hopefully see some interesting things to write about for you. Part of the British Government’s Great campaign, this being a creative industries tour. There is an ambassadors reception (I’ve been to quite a few now) so that in itself should be amusing.

Love Dad

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Istanbul: chicken pudding and riots

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From September 2013:

Dear George and Bea

This is my first time away since Bea was born and she is only 4 weeks old (2 weeks fashionably late) and I’ve been attending a conference in Istanbul, a new city to me as Turkey is a new country. I didnt really want to leave but at the same time was excited about visiting a place ive seen on film so many times and heard so many good things about. All friendly faces and smiles when I arrived, despite the ridiculous queues at immigration. I had some free time on my first morning and took a tram to the old city to look around the blue mosque (Sultan Ahmet) which was busy but at the same time serene. The signs ask that everyone stays quiet and it has a calm, cooling effect on the crowds. There are 1000 blue tiles in the ceiling and is pleasant, but not breath taking. I think the mosques are more effective as structures from the outside, creating one of the most dramatic skylines in the world, especially around dusk when the haze and light create a middle eastern hue. Outside the mosque a guy asked to clean my shoes. I’ve never had it done so agreed for a few lira and a chat. A nice guy that had moved to Istanbul 20 years ago and now had almost flawless English learnt from tourists, along with Spanish, Italian, Russian, etc. Not very good at cleaning shoes though.
I walked around soaking up the atmosphere but soon had to dash to meetings. This was pretty much my only free time during the day for the entire visit, but was worth the trip in itself. It’s an incredibly atmospheric city.

That evening I took myself off to find something to eat after asking hotel staff to recommend some places. Those places looked quite high end and not the experience I was looking for. Instead I carried on walking through that area and found myself at a little cafe at the side of the street. I ordered a Turkish coffee (another first) and got chatting to the waiter. I said I was looking for good, cheap Turkish food and he said look no further. 10 minutes later he brought out mashed aubergine and garlic, salad and kofte. I think it is probably the nicest thing I have ever eaten, closely followed by the tiramisu he brought out for desert. With a handshake and thank you I said goodbye and must remember to write a review online for the place, the total cost was about £10.

After the conference’s first day I headed out with some colleagues to find a restaurant near the centre of the city, Taksim square. There have been protests recently so it was no surprise to see police around, thinking this was quite normal. Then there were more police and more police and police with riot shields and gas masks…..then they started putting on their gas masks. At that point I could see protesters coming the other way and decided to get out of there. Behind me I could see the tear gas being fired and could har chanting and sirens. I ducked into a cafe and luckily the protest was driven in the other direction. My old boss was caught up in it and got gassed – not a pleasant experience.

Continuing my gastronomic journey the next night I went to the most Turkish looking kebab house I could find: garish decor and the most amazing smells. Ordered all the things I couldn’t identify on the menu just to see what would come out and got a soured yoghurt drink, a lamb kebab, and a pudding made from minced chicken and cinnamon. All delicious in a strange way. I’ll bring you guys here one day – it is worth it for the views and food alone, but the people are great too.

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A quick whizz around Mexico

Panorama showing pyramid of the sun

Panorama showing pyramid of the sun

Dear G and B

In November I took part in a GREAT week, which is part of the Foreign Office’s current marketing of the UK to other countries for trade purposes. It involves taking a group of companies overseas on a mission and networking across various sectors and with government, etc. This one was focused on the creative industries and was in Mexico.

It started in Mexico City which I haven’t visited for three years and is a city I really like. It is far more developed than I expected first time around and sprawls on and on, so when you are driving through the city it simply seems like an endless mass of four storey buildings. But it is alive and, edgy and great fun. Work involved a lunch in one of the city’s tallest buildings and there was a stunning 360 view right out to the surrounding mountains which really showed the scale and that it lies in an old lake. Apparently the city is sinking, actually quite fast, because of the soft ground it is built on. That evening we had a drinks reception at the British ambassador’s residence which was really rather nice – a whiskey tasting bar, a beautiful house and lots of talk with diplomats about the world’s woes.

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Our tour took us to Puebla, Guadalajara and Queretaro all of which seemed quite nice (mountains of Puebla, old town of Guadalajara and beautiful old squares of Queretaro) but we didn’t have much time to stop and look around as it was a full on week of work. The organisers really got their money’s worth from us. One day I got up at 4am and was still working at 10pm that night. Coupled with travel it was an exhausting time. One evening in Guadalajara we went out to an old Cantina where elderly gents played piano and sang traditional songs whilst drinking tequila in a very rustic atmosphere. It was a genuine Mexican pub equivalent. I ordered snacks and got pickled pigs knuckle, which I wasn’t expecting. Maybe I need to work on my Spanish.

After a week of mixed success I made it back to MC on Friday evening and had a day to kill before my flight home. That evening I went to the Arena Mexico to watch the Luce Libre, or traditional wrestling. The atmosphere was amazing and the (obviously faked) matches were a hoot. The crowd got really excited by it all and seemed to take it quite seriously, standing and shouting out whatever they liked all the time. Great theatre. I had heard of the mesoamerican pyramids outside of the city before and decided to head there on Saturday instead of hanging around the city. They are collectively called Teotihuacan (meaning place where gods are born), which was established in about 100 BC and was around for about 8 centuries, at one time probably the largest city in the Americas, with about 150,000 people living there. I stopped off at a shop on the way selling carvings and souvenirs and learned about the local cactus, which natives used to get water from, brew an alcohol from and use for fibres to sew and weave with. It even has a built in needle to use – amazing. The pyramids themselves are joined up by boulevards, plazas and various other structures and I was totally blown away by it all – I wasn’t expecting it to be so well maintained and so dramatic. Lovely, clear hot weather and quite hard work walking up and down the main pyramids,especially the massive pyramid of the sun. Easy to imagine a civilisation living, working and practising their human sacrifices, lopping off heads with blood pouring down the steep sides of the structures.

Getting sacrificed

Getting sacrificed

There are local merchants dotted around the place selling trinkets and I picked up some clay whistles for you, shaped like a cougar and a colourful bird. I got myself some sun burn.

Luce Libre!

Luce Libre!

The flight home was a killer: 12 hours on Aeromexico in a terrible plastic seat with no movies. Thank god for iPads.

Love

Dad

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