absentfather

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

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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.
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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.
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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.

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A Pune sunset

Love,

Dad x

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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.

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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…

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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:

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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.”

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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

The People I meet

Dear G & B
I spend a lot of time being driven in cars on the way to airports, or in hotels surrounded by hundreds of strangers, or in fleeting meetings on foreign shores with people I may never see again. We chat, we make small talk and share observations, trying to pass time or make small bonds. But sometimes we share intimate secrets, because there is a safety in our obscurity. It is a lesson in humanity to ask strangers about themselves. Nobody is what you expect them to be because you are always using yourself as a marker of normality, but to the majority of the planet you are a weirdo. Your beliefs, your tastes, your habits, your superstitions, your family – all of them are nowhere near everybody else. The further you travel the more you realise this, but you also realise that these differences are small and in fact we are mostly the same. We are driven by the same instincts. We all put our trousers on one leg at a time.
In the past few months I have been driven by:
– An ex policeman who spends at least 4 months a year on cruises to the Caribbean
– A father of a professional ice hockey player who works on steam railways in his spare time
– A man falling asleep at the wheel because he has to drive 18hr shifts in Kuala Lumpur
– A Chinese girl who spoke flawless English but had never been to an English speaking country
All of these lives, so many events, tangent timelines and everyone of them different. But actually all driven by the same needs and wanting similar things out of life.
And basically that is the problem with the world: we are more connected than we have ever been to each other. Through technology and travel we can communicate better than at any other time, but instead of finding out how similar we are and just getting along, we focus on the differences. The rise of nationalism and fundamentalism are worrying as we really should have got over all that by now.
So when you meet people, find out about them. You might think they are weird to begin with, but actually they are just like you.
Love
Dad

A Calligraphy Artist’s Studio in Xi’an, China

From December, behind the great firewall of China:

Dear G & B

I’m just coming to the end of a two week trip to Taiwan and China and am in the usual zombie state brought on by early starts, long days and the exhaustion of travel. Looking forward to getting back to you all and the warmth of home before Christmas. 

I haven’t written any of these for a while, mainly because I have been going to the same places over and over again, and there seems little new to tell you about. My experiences have not been exceptional for me, although in the past 4 months I’ve been to India, Korea, Brazil and now East Asia in a blur of hotels, airports and forgettable meetings. 

I’m learning Chinese at the moment, as I am sure you will given the importance of this country in the future of the world.  I am beginning to understand the country and the people better because of this, and although it still annoys the hell out of me, I appreciate China more than I used to. 

It is rapidly changing, and although traditions and the arts are making a resurgence and becoming more valued by everyday Chinese, the cultural revolution of the 1970s is hard to recover from. Free thinking and creative expression was subdued and much of the ancient treasures destroyed along with those that appreciated them. I was fortunate enough to visit some art exhibitions and schools this time and had one wonderful experience I thought I should tell you about. 

One of the cities on this trip was Xi’an, a former capital of China, still fully encircled by an enormous medieval wall and proud of its heritage and culture. It is seen by Chinese people as a historical city, home to the terracotta warriors and other significant sites, but it is still a rapidly developing and modern Metropolis. I was visiting Xi’an Academy of Fine Arts, one the “Great Eight” art schools of China and was invited to take traditional tea with a well know calligraphy artist, Yang Bin. 

His studio was in a tower block on the campus but once inside you could have been in a traditional house. Books lined the walls along with rolls of beautiful calligraphy of various styles. He sat us down at an elegantly carved table and went through the motions of a traditional tea ceremony. Boiled water goes into the pot with loose tea which is then poured out into a glass vessel and then poured back over the tea pot (which sits on a wooden grill over a tray to catch the tea). This gets rid of initial bitterness. The pot is then re-filled and the tea poured into very delicate, tiny, handleless cups and drunk. It tastes great. It feels special. 

He then asked if we would like a piece of calligraphy to remember our visit by. Of course I said yes and he began his work. He took out a piece of textured rice paper in a fan shape and selected his brush hanging from a dead bonsai tree. His ink was in a large ceramic bowl and he pondered his message before he began, writing in a traditional font. He told me that people sometimes do not value calligraphy as they think it takes no time to produce, but he said he has been in training for over 20 years and it cannot be done by just anyone. Once he had finished the four main characters he signed and dated it in characters also. It reads “all here are striving from calm and elegance” or similar and is a Chinese idyom. He then took the lid of a red ink gum which must be manipulated and the stamp worked into it before pushing it down onto the paper for the “chop”. He makes the stamps by carving them painstakingly out of stone. I felt really honoured to be given it and it was a special moment being in his house to witness him work. 

I tried calligraphy two days later in a studio and was told that I was naturally good at it, must be my artistic youth! I was presented with two calligraphy brushes and intend on practicing. Maybe once I have learned enough I can send Prof. Yang a piece of my own in return. 

George, you are currently obsessed with Lego and super heroes and are the chattiest of little boys, always full of stories of what has gone on over the last few days. You summarise beautifully for me on Skype. 

Bea, you are saying your first words, “shoooooooes” and “no way” and couldn’t be cuter when you do. You toddle around with such awareness and are a complete clown, always trying to make people laugh and catch their attention. 

Much love

Dad

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Solo in Seoul

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

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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.

Love

Dad

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

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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