absentfather

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

Archive for the category “diary”

Food on Sticks: Xiamen, China

Squid on a stick

Dear G, B and E

At the end of my last visit to China, I visited Xiamen, a seaside city in the south east Fujian province, looking out towards Taiwan. It’s a smaller Chinese city with (only!) about five million people and is famed for its seafood and tea.

And boy, do they love to eat seafood. The Chinese will be the first to admit that they have a preoccupation with food, but Xiamen was a whole new level. I guess many of the people I saw were on holiday so wanted to find and eat the foods they were visiting Xiamen to eat, but the queues for stalls were huge. As was the scale of consumption.

I walked down Zhongshan Road which is a pedestrianised central street lined with food stalls and shops aimed at tourists. Amazing to see people harvesting pearls from farmed oysters and making jewellery on the spot. Chinese liquor (bai jeo, literally white alcohol) in various elaborate bottles, some shaped as missiles and artillery shells. Dried food stuffs (such as 1 metre-long fish) stacked high in shops. But most impressive was the freshly cooked food. And most of it can be bought on a stick for ease of consumption on the hoof.

Fancy a whole BBQ squid? No problem, cooked in front of you in minutes on a stick. Deep fried prawns? Have several, on a skewer. A foot long sausage? You can have one, but it has to be on a stick.

I’m not going to lie, I was whipped up into a frenzy and stuffed my face. In rough order I had:

An oyster pancake (deep fried and so good)

A squid on a stick

A plate of mantis prawns

A bowl of razor clams

Potatoes slices on a stick

A mango smoothie with mango ice cream and mango slices on top

The following evening I went over to Gulangyu island which sits in the bay looking back at Xiamen. It’s where all the old embassies used to be and so has lots of pretty architecture and walks.

On an island further towards Taiwan the Chinese government have positioned a huge sign which reads “One country, two systems”. Which is a bit galling for the Taiwanese.

Anyway, Xiamen is quite nice and is in the running for my second favourite place on the Chinese mainland. It’s relaxed and the people are friendlier. I have work here if I want to come back anyway!

Love

Dad x

Advertisements

Not being able to use cash in India

Dear G & B (and bump),
I’ve spent the past week or so in Delhi, Mumbai and Pune enjoying the heat whilst it hits zero degrees at home.
fullsizerender-6

Mumbai skyline

There is some crazy stuff going on in the world at the moment. 2016 has been a funny old year, but I don’t know how much of this will make the upper rankings of history books, so by the time you read these letters, you will need to scour the web to look them up:
1) The UK left the European Union (“what is the European Union” you ask…?)
2) Donald Trump, a businessman/celebrity/nutter has been elected as President of the most powerful nation on earth
3) Lots of icons have died: David Bowie, Prince, Gene Wilder, Terry Wogan. I suppose this happens every year, but it seems to have been a bumper crop.
4) There was a demonetisation policy in India
I’ve been experiencing number 4 first hand as it unwinds. Essentially, the Prime Minister (Mohdi) announced at 8pm on 8th November that all 500 and 1000 Rupee notes would no longer be legal tender as of midnight that night and just then be taken to banks to be exchanged for new 500 and 2000 notes. Crazy move and something we in the UK would know would cause chaos (and it has) but there is method in the madness: There are 1.3 billion Indians and only 20 million of them pay tax. That is one hell of a black economy and he is trying to reduce it. All those people that deal in cash now have to declare it. If they declare a significant amount that they’ve been stashing under their mattress the government will ask why, fine them and look into their dealings. Overnight (literally) he has made people have to legitimise their businesses and savings.
In practice, there has been pandemonium and it has hit the poor the most as cash has suddenly become scarce and they have no other way of paying or things. If people get hold of  (new) cash they are holding onto it as the queues at banks and cash machines are huge, taking people all day. Even when you get to the front you can only withdraw the equivalent of £50! It is an exercise in patience and I admire the Indian people for that.
img_2383

Queues at the ATMs. This is actually a very small, orderly one compared to most

I queued for 2 hours to exchange currency when I landed at Delhi airport, which turned out to be pointless – nobody wants to accept my crisp new notes unless they can give me old shitty ones that I can’t then use! I have had to use cards and online payments entirely for a whole week and it certainly makes you plan in advance.
Enough of the economic update. I had great day looking around Pune (used to be called Poona and was where the sport of Badminton was invented) at the old Fort and some of the markets. Beautiful colours, terrible smells, but a nice afternoon adventure. There are a lot of stray dogs and stray people, but neither of them bother this obvious fish out of water, they just get on with getting on.
Some images of the Phule Manai (market) and Fort:

I’m now back in yet another airport lounge in France waiting for my connection back to the UK and you little rascals. I just got sent videos of you both performing the alphabet to camera: G is spot on and quite the little thespian, B’s attempt was full of enthusiasm and interpretative movement rather than accuracy. I’m smiling from ear to ear.

fullsizerender-7

A Pune sunset

Love,

Dad x

China in a blur

Dear G & B

So the big news is that you will be having a baby sister in March. We showed G the picture of the scan and asked what you thought it was:

G: “A baby”

Us: “Yes, it’s a picture of inside mummy’s tummy”

G: “Is it me?”

Us: “No”

G: “Is it B?”

Us:”No, we had this picture taken in the hospital yesterday”

[Long pause, gradual realisation spreading across face]

G: “Are we having a baby!?”

Cue lots of hugging and tears. It was so lovely, I just wish I had taken a video of it to show you later in life.

So utter carnage will reign again and we will probably need a bigger car. Very much looking forward to it.

I’m in the KLM business class lounge in the newly refurbished Schipol Airport, deciding if 5:45am is too early to have a glass of champagne. I think I will probably crack and have a glass as I’ve just come off a 13 hour flight from China and think I deserve it. The last few hours before getting back home to you guys after one week and four cities in The Middle Kingdom.

I flew into Chongqing (a city few people in the UK have heard of, and why would you, it is only a small settlement of 30 million people!) in Sichuan Province for my first appointment and everything went swimmingly. I hadn’t been to this city in about 3 years and, like much of China, it continues to develop at a frightening pace with endless skyscrapers and monstrous, monolithic pieces of experimental architecture. Look up the Chongqing Theatre or Guotai Arts Centre and you’ll see what I mean. I could see both from my hotel room, just about, through the fog. There is a very old Chinese saying: “A Szechuan dog barks at a sun,” because they so seldom see one. I had my fill of mouth-numbing Sichuan food and followed the Yangtze River by plane to Wuhan.

img_2233

Me with some friendly locals in Chongqing

First thing in the morning I took a stroll through the city to a shopping district to try to buy a local SIM card for my phone, but was told they had moved to a new system and I needed a Chinese ID card to do so. Wondered around a supermarket and marvelled at the snack section. All wrapped in plastic you can buy duck’s tongue, duck’s gizzard, duck’s neck or duck’s feet – meeting all of your duck snacking needs. Carrefour (big French supermarket) is there but has very regional context – you can buy live seafood and plenty of dried animals as well.

I now have that glass of champagne…

fullsizerender-5

I then flew on to Shanghai, a city I do like very much and had a very hectic schedule, but did manage a wander down Nanjing Road and a nice relaxing dinner with a nice colleague. As we flew into Hongqiao Airport, I was yet again blown away by the scale of China. I know that there are 30 Chinese people for every British person on the planet, so I always use this as a mental scale: There must be 30 times as many everything (houses, hospitals, power stations, chicken nuggets, etc) for China to work, but even so, when you look down from the air on the volume of housing and the size of the cities, your brain just can’t deal with it. I took this photo of row after row of identical houses, but I’d already flown over another 50 areas like this:

img_2248

Onwards to Guangzhou and the most important meeting that I had organised with my big boss coming to do niceties. Two years of my work in the making and it all went really well, so I celebrated with colleagues afterwards and looked forward to jumping on the plane home. Did some banqueting.

Me:”We call this a Lazy Susan, what do you call it in Chinese?”

Host:”A table that turns”

[Pause]

Me:”Your name is better.”

img_2247

G is playing rugby now and I have been helping out with the coaching, which is great fun. You got kicked in the head by the baby bump whilst resting on your mother, which you found hilarious.

B is still acting up in every way, comedian and diva all wrapped into one. You want to call the baby Jackie. Not sure how to get you to drop that idea…

Love

Dad xx

China….again

Dear G and B

I’ve spent the last week in China, this time flying into Shanghai, down to Guangzhou, back up to Ningbo (which is pretty close to Shanghai) and then farther up to Beijing. I’ve been with two colleagues much older than me, but much less seasoned travellers, so I’ve been hand holding but also having a good time with them. One of them definitely on the autism spectrum. 

So what to report? 
Shanghai: I went to the Shanghai Sculpture Space, which is a lot like the 798 district in Beijing, but smaller and a bit more commercial. It was lovely sunny, winter weather and a stroll around quality public art was a good tonic to the horrible jet lag I suffered for the first few days. See the pictures of some of the crazy work there. 

        

  
Guangzhou: My other colleague arrived and brought with him a sickness bug that immediately knocked him out of action for 24 hours, locked in his room. We did our best not to breathe his air and got on with our meetings and saw a few interesting buildings whilst driving around, including the golden coin building or Guangzhou Circle. Although cities have not been planned with any foresight in China, there has been free reign on the architecture front and some spectacular structures have arisen. Check out Guangzhou Tower on the Internet, that is only a few years old and I think is currently the worlds second largest building. It has a kind of roller coaster on top of it. Why not, eh? 

   
  
Ningbo: twin city of Nottingham and I thought it was rather nice on my last visit – calm and civilised. Not really on this visit – seemed to just spend our time on broken roads and driving through wholesale markets, with men holding up turtles on sticks for sale.  Did meet some lovely people though and was taken out to dinner on The Bund and practiced my terrible Chinese. 
Beijing: the most amazing hotel, Hotel Eclat in Chaoyang. You turn the bedside lamps on an off with a plastic gun! Kapow! Full of art and just brilliant service and ambience. My new favourite. I went to a media partner and spent some time looking around their studios and then just worked away, not really doing anything newsworthy. Beijing is so different to the first time I came over 10 years ago and there are new, spectacular skyscrapers going up every time I visit. There are murmurs of a collapse in the economy from everyone I know there and the world’s economists so we’ll wait and see. It could be pretty bleak for the world if they do go pop, and very bad for my job! The scale of China means the scale of the problem will be massive. Apparently there are 40,000 media companies in the Beijing Media Corridor alone. 

   

Hotel Eclat

  

Chinese TV studio

 
I’m now taxiing on Beijing Capital Airport’s finest runway on my way to Seoul for some barbecue and soju fuelled escapades. 
I’m missing you both more and more with each trip. I worry about what I’m missing out on and I worry what you are thinking about with me being away. I think time is more of a fluid concept when you are a child, but I remember days taking months and weeks taking years when I was 5, I hope it doesn’t seem like I abandon you. 
George: doing really well at school and can read books by yourself now. You love Lego still of course, you got a bike for your birthday and we are going to spend the next few months working on getting the stabilisers off. You tell jokes now and are such good company. Bea on the other hand….haha! The cutest of little girls, you play with your dolls house all the time and and little characters you have to hand, making up stories as you do, with full script narration. You do like attention though, but we don’t mind giving it. You do anything to make us laugh and have some killer dance moves. Here is you going all Banksy on our kitchen:

  
Love 
Dad

Nairobi National Park (and a small car crash) #travel

Dear G & B

I’m sitting by the pool on a Sunday in Mombasa at the Whitesands Hotel, palm trees swaying in the wind and Afro beats music drifting over from the bar, sipping a beer. I can’t work today and downtime like this is great, although it is over a week since I left you guys at home and would much rather be there. Or have you here.
I’ve just arrived from Nairobi after a short flight past Mount Kenya. I haven’t been here for 6 years and nothing much has changed, except it is a lot quieter, I suppose because of perceived risks of terrorism.
Mt Kenya from the plane

Mt Kenya from the plane

I was working for 3 days in Nairobi but finished yesterday at 3pm so managed to arrange a quick trip to Nairobi National Park, which is a game reserve right next to the city containing all the wildlife you expect in Kenya. The car that picked me up (along with 4 other people) was a bit beaten up and I assumed that we’d be on Tarmac roads for the whole trip. After a short drive we arrived at the gates and had the usual wait for tickets that you expect with any organised activity in Africa. As soon as we set off we saw small antelope and a tortoise walking along the side of the road. We stopped at the ivory burning sites where dignitaries burn seized poached tusks as a symbol of disdain for the Ivory trade. Great views out across the plains but weird to still see the city in the background.
IMG_8737 IMG_8758

Wild animals

Wild animals

IMG_8740 IMG_8733

Just chillin'

Just chillin’

We next came across herds of huge buffalo with calves and birds sitting on their backs, more antelope, zebra, a lone ostrich running behind us and some distant giraffes striding through the tall bush. As the sun went down it cast a lovely hue over the clouds and the big sky turned dramatic. Seems unreal to be so close to a capital city with that backdrop.
Pano of the National Park

Pano of the National Park

Up close with some big buffalo

Up close with some big buffalo

Buffalo feeding in some amazing light

Buffalo feeding in some amazing light

Ostrich silhouette

Ostrich silhouette

The roads were not Tarmac, but very much potted dirt tracks and boulders. After a while there was a knocking noise from the fron of the car which sounded a bit serious. We made it out of the camp after dark and started the short journey home, the knocking getting louder. I told the driver I thought he might have problems and it sounded serious, so he should slow down. He did, and sure enough we turned a corner and his front right wheel snapped off sending us skidding into a lay by. We were close to the hotel, so after checking he was ok, we set off on foot to finish the journey. If he had been going faster it might have been serious.
Whoops!

Whoops!

Only two days here then back to you guys. Bea has had her first hair cut and G keeps getting all the awards possible at school, bright as a button. So proud.
Love
Dad x

Post Navigation