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

Archive for the category “exercise”

Eating Brains and Climbing a Mountain in Chengdu, China

View from the top of Mt Qingcheng

View from the top of Mt Qingcheng

Dear G & B
I haven’t been overseas since April, possibly the longest time in about a decade when I have been just in the UK, and it was wonderful. We’ve had a lot going on, including moving to our new house and G starting school, so it has been great to spend so much time at home.
But, travel has started up once again and my first stop has been Chengdu in south west China. It is the 4th largest city in China and famed for being (I think I might have mentioned this before) the home of Pandas, spicy food and pretty girls. One of those myths that the people here like to proliferate, but isn’t necessarily true. I’m only here for a few days before flying over to Kenya via Doha.
Chengdu, Sichuan Province

Chengdu, Sichuan Province

I arrived on Saturday and couldn’t work on Sunday, so decided to go on an adventure: Climb Mount Qingcheng, an ancient place of buddhist worship about 2 hours drive from Chengdu. I thought I would save cash and make it a real challenge by forgoing a taxi/driver and taking public transport. First stumbling block was buying a ticket at the bus station and navigating my way to the mountain itself.
The station signage is almost exclusively Chinese as are the announcements, so I was particularly happy with myself by being able to order my ticket in Chinese and ask if I was on the right bus. I struggled a bit when the bus stopped and I didn’t know if I should get off or not, but the universal language of mime and a few key words saved the day. The bus still stopped quite a distance from the Mountain and I managed to find an English speaker to ask advice from. She turned out to work at the American Embassy and was waiting for her colleague – she said that I was free to join them to make it to the mountain, which was really nice of them. We got a cab to the cable car (it was already about 2pm as the bus had taken over 2 hours to get there) and then had something to eat. I say something because I wasn’t at all sure what it was and didn’t ask, just some kind of meat in spicy oil. The walk through the “high town” was really interesting, a lot like a European mountain town, but with traditional Chinese architecture and lots of stalls selling cured pork, heads and all.
Chengdu bus station

Chengdu bus station

My bus ticket

My bus ticket

Dried pork, high town

Dried pork, high town

The cable car up allowed us to skip 4km of the climb but there were still three more to tackle to the summit. But it was steep. What amazed me were the amount of people carrying young children and even some women wearing high heels! Dressed like they were off to a nightclub. I struggled in sensible trainers. The path was thin at times, the concrete steps wonky and the it wove through the mountain following a stream with waterfalls, bridges and a cool damp atmosphere. It was really beautiful and peaceful. Well, unless there were a group of men spitting and shouting in front of us. There was a small lake where we had to board a boat and get punted across which was very serene. After about 40 minutes my new friends decided they didn’t have enough time to get to the summit and turned back, but I pushed on, adamant that I had to keep going if I come this far. I virtually ran up the remainder of the hill and it was really tough, I was covered in sweat when I finally reached the White Cloud Temple, expecting great things. It was a bit of a let down, the temple was pretty generic, the statues concrete and recent, the view no better than several hundred feet below. I stayed only a few moments to watch people pray with incense and then turned to bound down as fast as I could. If I missed the last gondola I would have an 6km descent to deal with and would be doing the last of it in the dark!
Looking like I just rushed up a mountain

Looking like I just rushed up a mountain

White Cloud Palace at the top

White Cloud Palace at the top

Cave with hundreds of buddha statues

Cave with hundreds of buddha statues

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Wonky steps

Wonky steps

Punting the lake

Punting the lake

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I did miss the last gondola, but there was a dirt track and some cars waiting. Again in broken Chinese I negotiated a trip down the hill, which turned out to be one of the most terrifying drives I’ve been on. I often read the newspaper when tourists die overseas doing stupid things (like getting into unlicensed taxis and asking them to drive along a mountain road) and think “idiots!” – well, that was me. Terrifying but relieved to get to the bottom, where I bumped into my two chums again. We arranged a car for £5 each to take us back to Chengdu and I finally got back to the hotel, exhausted, at around 8:30pm.
I was taken out for dinner by a prospective business partner last night and I requested hot pot, which is the local speciality. Essentially a pot of boiling chilli oil that you dunk food into to cook and eat. I said I eat everything so he really tested me, first with gizzards, then arteries and then finally with pig’s brain. Not to look like a wimp I scoffed it down with (feigned) relish although the texture was pretty revolting. It had been in the boiling oil for only a few moments when my host scooped it out and plonked the whole thing in my bowl. I chalk it down as an experience.
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Hot pot!

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Pig’s brain


Solo in Seoul

Images: Cherry blossom; Conch that became dinner; Green tea and banana frap; Korean steak tartare





Dear G and B

I’m in a “limousine bus” on my way from Yeoksam in Seoul to Incheon Airport after a week away here. It is April and the cherry blossom is out everywhere making the city look almost Japanese in parts, especially the small side streets jammed with traditional restaurants (including tons of Japanese izakayas and sushi bars). The weather has been perfect – sunny and 21 degrees and this makes everything more pleasant and people happier.

I’ve been coming here for many years now and feel like I know the city reasonably well and have made some good Korean acquaintances through work. Korean is another language I wish I spoke as generally Koreans don’t have good English and it must be incredibly hard for them to learn. Even the people I meet who have studied overseas for several years still struggle with pretty basic stuff. Not that I can talk (literally) my language skills are appalling. Korean is a pleasant and polite sounding language.

When I arrived at my hotel I was looking at an art exhibition being run there and thought I recognised the name of the artist. I checked Facebook, and sure enough it was an ex-student, so I got in touch and we met up the following evening for dinner. She talked me through her work and then took me down the road for dinner to somewhere “very Korean”. I like to try something new on the food front each time I come here and this time it was boiled conch, a kind of shellfish that looks exactly like a giant snail. It was chewy, fishy and not all that appetising, but I poked it down in politeness. The restaurant was a really run down little place full of loud, noisy, drunk salarymen toasting each other and talking business. Atmospheric. We left and she introduced me to two of her business colleagues – Mr Ahn and a girl called Jenny. What cracked me up was that Jenny would not stop either taking photos of me (with her in it) or taking pictures of herself on her phone. Unabashed narcissism that is totally normal here – one of the origins of selfie behaviour. They were nice enough and we had a couple of over priced drinks in the rooftop bar of the hotel.

I walked around Gangnam the next day after I’d finished work in the afternoon to get some air and notice a proliferation of two types of business: coffee shops and plastic surgery clinics. More clinics on one street than in the whole of London probably. Plastic surgery has become normal for Korean young people of a certain social class, endorsed by the stars of their soaps and K-pop. They have nose jobs (to make them thinner but bigger), an eye operation to make their eyes rounder and they even have a jaw operation to saw away the bone to make it literally more chiselled. I actually interviewed someone today who was straight from having an eye operation – they just had shades on!

You cannot believe that one city can sustain so many coffee shops. A Starbucks on every corner and then the home grown big names (An Angel Inside Us, Coffee Bene, Paris Baguette, A Twosome Place) followed by loads of American outfits like Dunkin Donuts and Krispy Creme. They must drink about 5 cups of overpriced brown stuff a day. They really like iced coffee here, which I don’t really like, but I do like the crazy frappuccinos. This time had green tea and banana and it was awesome. With all the fast food joints and donut/cake shops you would think the Koreans might have an obesity problem on the way, but it doesn’t look like, not compared to the west anyway. Must be the main diet of healthy Korean BBQ and the high levels of superficiality! Maybe that is just Gangnam.

I wanted to have a run by the river, but didn’t get time, mostly because I have suffered with horrendous jet lag once again. No matter what i tried I could still not get a good nights sleep and it really gets to you after a few days. I should sleep like a baby on this flight home. I’ve done some shopping: some equivalent to £1 stores for crazy stationery that your mum likes and some Korean sauces and kimchi for Ouma, who has watched a TV chef and now wants to make Korean food. Good luck to her.

You two have had your first photoshoot together this week, which I have missed but can’t wait to see the results of. You are very cute together: B loves watching G playing and G loves cuddling B. You are going to make quite the team as you grow up.



Running Rio


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



Run Asia continues: Bangkok and Hong Kong

Dear George,

I’ve just woken up on an Airbus A380 on my way home to you and your mum from Hong Kong via Dubai. I’m flying business and managed to sleep pretty much the entire (9 hour flight) like a baby. I love this plane.

This latest work trip was back to Bangkok for a week and then to Hong Kong for a week as there were two large exhibitions I had to attend as well as some other meetings. I stayed at Novotels (jokingly “Novo-hells) in both cities to try to be loyal and they weren’t too bad, apart from mosquitoes in the lobby in Bangkok and the pool being drained in Hong Kong. At least I get my points in.

I’m on a fitness regime at the moment, which started on January 1st. It involves:

1) Doing P90x for 90 days – this is a set of DVDs where you follow an American guy called Tony jump around, lift weights, do pull ups and strain through yoga. I’m a third of the way through and actually really enjoying it, but it’s pretty intense and time consuming.

2) Not drinking. I thought this would be hard for me, but turns out it isn’t. And I feel really good on it. My family think I’m weird though.

3) A diet that mainly involves eating healthily and avoiding white carbs. Again, if you told me I couldn’t eat bread I’d have thought it impossible, but it makes you experiment and try a lot of new stuff.

I’ve lost about a stone (7kg) in weight, although I don’t have goal, or even really any idea why I’m doing it. I think it is a reaction to the news that your mother is pregnant again with your brother or sister! I think I want to be a healthy dad so I go hell for leather at it. I tend to be all or nothing. He or she is due at the end of July so we’ll have double trouble and will probably need to buy some sort of mini van to transport you, him/her and your cousins around. It all feels very lovely.

I spoke to you on Skype a few times this trip and it is amazing how quickly your speech is coming on. You are two in three weeks. You can pretty much get your point across for anything you want and you are cheeky as hell. Last night you stirred pasta in your mum’s tea and told me there was a shark in there.

So what of Bangkok this time? I had plans to go the Thai boxing at Lumpini Stadium, see a snake park and even fire machine guns at the rifle range, but none of these came to fruition. Instead I went to some nice restaurants and did a morning run around Lumpini Park with a colleague, which was great and incredibly tiring in the heat. I went to a restaurant called Bed Supper Club which is in a really interesting structure. You sit on beds (free massages are available) for your dinner and are entertained in the central part of the restaurant by contemporary dancers. It was great. I had a night out with a colleague at “In the mood for love” which is a Japanese restaurant and some of the best food I have ever eaten. Afterwards we went to a pool hall and played a few sets with the women there who are ex-sex trade workers and also happen to be very good at pool.

In Hong Kong I feel I have been so many times it is hard to get motivated to see sights, so I did a morning run there to and ran half way up The Peak to Bowen Road fitness track and took in the views. That’s quite a few cities I’ve gone running in around the world now and it is a great way to get to know them and soak up atmosphere.

Looking forward to giving you a huge squeeze when I get home



Photos: bed supper club, Siam Square decorations, street art (all Bangkok), halfway through my run up the Peak in HK





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