absentfather

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

Archive for the tag “Asia”

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

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Up Town Tokyo in a Typhoon

Dear G, B and E

I’m writing this somewhere over Siberia on my way home from Tokyo.

My first stop was Seoul yet again, but I didn’t really do much to speak of except work and walk. I spent a lot of my time on my own, exercising when I could and relaxing when I could. The trouble with attending events (this one was in the Coex centre in Gangnam) and being in meetings is that the rest of your work has less time to be done but is still there. So I’m a bit behind and very anxious about some of it, mostly because it is in preparation for my next trip with the man who could sack me if he wanted to. But that is just life at work, I think everyone feels like they could be doing more or doing it better.

The “glorious leader” of North Korea, Kim Jong Un has been posturing to the world recently and developing nuclear weapons. He’s been firing missiles over Japan and generally provoking everyone. This is not great when the idiot who is Donald Trump is president of the USA and is as measured and intelligent as an angry bull. So going to South Korea when mock military operations are underway seems risky as tensions and rhetoric are amplified. Seoul would be razed to ashes in 24 minutes should war start according to their strategists. Surprisingly, when you are in South Korea, the locals are talking about celebrities and the latest scandal involving a senior executive at tech giant Samsung, they couldn’t give a hoot about the nutter up North.

Very cool bookshop in COEX Mall, Seoul

After three days I flew to Taipei for presentations and then took the bullet train to Kaohsiung (industrial city in the south) to visit a university. The Taiwan High Speed Rail is fantastic, just like in Japan and I travelled the length of the island in 1 hour and 24 minutes. Super easy, super clean, super smooth. It was baking hot as I got shown around. The university is owned by a steel magnate who is a billionaire and also owns hospitals and entertainment companies. He has builtthe largest mall in Asia there with a theme park attached. Huge Ferris wheel dominates the skyline and it is tacky in a way only that part of Asia can do. Lots of pale pink and blue flashing lights, lots of shoddy workmanship and terrible sculptures of giant comic characters.

High Speed Rail and Casino in. university, Taiwan

The university is the only one I know that has a casino for education purposes (to train croupiers], which was a little strange considering casinos are illegal in Taiwan. The graduates go to Macau or SIngapore or elsewhere. I had some productive discussions and then had a lovely Japanese lunch in the shopping mall. There is a slide that you can take down three floors in instead of the escalator!

Onward to Tokyo, which I haven’t visited in a few years. It was freezing cold and constantly raining, because A giant typhoon was making it’s way to the island nation as a little treat for me. Taxis are prohibitively expensive in Japan and the public transport is so good that everyone tends to use it. I took the Sky Liner fast train from Narita Airport to Nippori station and then to Shinjuku where my hotel was. Still a 5 minute walk in which time I got soaked to the bone.

Japanese toilets are fantastic. They are electronic with heated seats, they can spray water in a cleaning function, then dry, then perfume your nether regions! Then flush when you stand because they have a sensor. I want one.

The approaching storm detracted from the pleasure I have previously had walking around Tokyo and just soaking up all the crazy and marvelling at the unexpected. Instead it was a constant sea of umbrellas and shuffling with wet feet. I went to the Shibuya Crossing where 5000 people cross every 3 minutes and got mesmerised by that again. I stopped at noodle bars and “sushi go around” restaurants for delicious and cheap food when I needed refuelling.

Shibuya scramble crossing, Tokyo

On the Saturday I visited Asato Goto, a fashion designer, at her studio near Roppongi, the most expensive area of Tokyo. She lives in an “old” wooden house, which is 30 years old. I told her that Morton Hill was over 300 years old and she laughed. She’s a really interesting character and we just talked about life for 2 hours over a very Japanese soup she made. Japanese people live in such tiny spaces, usually just 1 or 2 small rooms with tatami mat floors and roll out futons for beds. Tokyo is an absolute tangle of buildings taking up every inch of available space and it comes at a premium.

Asato in her studio

I walked around Meguro and found some of the crazy things I expected, like dog hotels, where you can rent puppies to pet. Went into a toy shop that had Japanese manga style dolls, Godzillas and the latest crazy crazes.

”Dog hotel”

The following day I went out for dinner with a couple of English guys who do the same work as me. We went to an isakaya, which is a Japanese pub. You order food on an iPad. We then went to Golden Gai which is a really interesting area of Shinjuku which was established as a bar district after world war II. It has 280 different bars in 140 buildings over 7 small streets. The bars each only seat about 6 people and are personalised by the owners so they all have their own feel. Some don’t allow foreigners in them, some almost only get “gaijen” as customers. After that we went for a traditional karaoke session. Karaoke businesses are everywhere and are vast, some with hundreds of rooms. You can order in food and they even supply outfits if you want to dress up.

The typhoon was raging by now with the rain coming heavy and sideways. I got a notification to tell me my flight home was delayed the next day, so was dreading it being cancelled but fortunately it passed over Tokyo beforehand and by the time I got to the airport it was blue skies. The only time it didn’t rain the whole time I was in Japan!

Pops had a fall on a walk and was taken in an ambulance to hospital, but is apparently ok. I’m going to see him, straight from the airport, hopefully back at his and Ouma’s house and not the hospital. I feel guilty for being away at these times and not being any use.

Eleanor has learnt to crawl whilst I’ve been away, but only in a kind of commando shuffle, I’ve seen evidence by video call. You guys are on half term so I’ve taken the week off to have some time with you before another trip to China, the one I’m dreading. Looking forward to some hugs when I see you later tonight.

Love

Dad x

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.
Love
Dad
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Hot pot!

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Pig’s brain

798 Art District, Beijing

Dear G & B

Just returned from a two week trip to China, Thailand and Malaysia. My first stop was in Shanghai (which I love) and stayed in an old 1920’s hotel near the Bund which was wonderful. Ate well, walked around, met nice people. I was introduced to some clothes manufacturers and taken out to dinner by them and then they give you both sets of clothes as gifts. The old lady who owned the company was very taken with the photos of you I showed her (“ke ai!” which means cute!).

When I arrived in Beijing the taxi driver took me to the address of the hotel I showed him but seemed to stop in the middle of an industrial estate and proceeded to tell me that I was at the right address. I told him I wasn’t, that I needed a hotel and I wasn’t getting out of the cab. I called the hotel and soon enough a little porter emerged from the darkness and helped me with my bags. The hotel was in the 798 Art District and was so cool that it decided not to have a sign or any sort of frontage. Once inside it was really nice, full of contemporary art, great rooms and a really different feel.

I had some spare time the following day, so strolled around the massive art district which is made up of old factories now converted into galleries, shops and cafes. It is almost European/American in the way it has been developed and feels very different to the rest of Beijing. I tried to find Ai Wei Wei’s workshop but couldn’t so instead I took a look around the UCCA gallery and some smaller ones, full of interesting work. Had a little stop off at a cafe and watched the cool kids of Beijing walk by, models on fashion shoots and other foreigners following maps. Photos are some of the things I saw.

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I went on to the warm of Thailand and Malaysia, which was nice and then home to you two. You have chickenpox so are going a bit stir crazy being confined to the house, but are both hilarious. We’ve been playing Star Wars Lego “miggie-figures” and lots of living room acrobatics. Check out how crazy you both are:

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Love

Dad x

Clear Skies Over China for Once

A post from a few weeks ago that I never got round to uploading….

Images: Beijing river, Maglev train, Shanghai skyline from Pudong

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Dear G and B

I’m coming to the end of a 10 day work trip to Taiwan, Shanghai , Beijing, Sichuan and Kuala Lumpur and am yet again on a flight, not far from landing in Birmingham. Just watched 3 terrible films in a row, which on top of sleep deprivation and jet lag has all but melted my brain. I’m very excited to see you both in a couple of hours though. Whilst I was away you went to your cousins 5th birthday dressed as batman and robin (George says “batmeeeeeein” which is hilarious) and the photos look great. Haven’t spoken to you much whilst I’ve been away as I was travelling most evenings trying to get a round and get the trip over as quickly as possible. Anyway, done now.

What can I tell you about this one? I went on the Maglev (short for magnetic levitation) train in Shanghai that goes to the airport from the city in 10 minutes. As the name suggests it is levitating on magnets, so there is no friction and it goes up to 300km/hr. Not sure how fast it has gone in the past. I’ve always taken taxis before which take about an hour, so will definitely do that every time from now on.

The strangest thing was that the skies were clear all across China – no smog or evidence of the pollution that usually makes everything so grim. It was actually really crisp and fresh. Then I realised the national congress for the communist party was being held in Beijing and they had probably shut down all of the factories to get the skies clear for the that. Or the cynic in me thinks so. Was nice to enjoy the views of the ever more impressive sky lines they are creating at alarming rates. Apart from constantly being exhausted I had a good time – work was much easier as we have employed a local to run an office for us in Beijing and it took the usual stress of not being able to order food/taxis, etc away. I have to learn Chinese, as will the rest of the world in the not so distant future.

Always surprised by China and find it more and more developed each time I go, both physically and culturally. Their absorption of the rest of the worlds habits, cultures and technology has happened so quickly. As a guy I met at the British council said: “there will never be another china” and I think he was talking about it as an economic phenomenon. I wonder what it will be like by the time you are both grown up. I either think civil unrest will have weakened it and split it into fractions, or it will be ruling the world and causing upheaval overseas.

Just as I was flying into China there was a massacre in Kunming where a minority group used knives to kill 30 people and injure 4 times as many. These types of events are happening more frequently, or rather technology is allowing the world to witness them. Your mother always thinks I am going somewhere dangerous, and these events don’t help her nerves. As I was flying from China to Malaysia, a flight coming the other way dropped out of the sky and 230 people were lost and nobody knows how. Air Malayisa Flight MH370 – look it up. I think you have to fly non stop for 300 years to be certain of being involved in an air crash, so the probabilities are ridiculously small and being rational, I simply can’t worry about it. I love flying.

Love

Dad

Seoul Food

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Dear George,

The tour of east Asia continues and I am nearly at the end, here in Tokyo. It is cherry blossom season and the branches are heavy with white and pink blooms; enthusiastic photographers aiming their expensive telephoto lenses at them from tripods in the park. Tokyo is a relief after Beijing, only three days there is enough for me.

This work trip has lasted two weeks and my first stop was Seoul, Korea. It wouldn’t be a normal trip for me if there wasn’t imminent doom predicted, and the tensions between North and South Korea are at a peak. All rhetoric of course and it was hardly mentioned during my stay. I worked solidly for 6 days, my only down time was at the gym and being taken out to Korean BBQ restaurants by clients. It is always a BBQ restaurant and you have to act as though it is something really special for you each time. After three nights of it, I was ready for something less time consuming and more western, but the BBQ kept coming. Some guidelines: marinated beef is best, followed by chicken followed by pork, which is generally really fatty and sometimes still has hair on it. They cook the skin too. The places with genuine charcoal are my favourite as the heat is homely and the popping fuel makes it feel more authentic. Grab a leaf, add some rice, a bit of spicy paste and some snipped up meat then shove it in your mouth. Wash down with local beer, makoli (fermented rice alcoholic drink that looks like milk. All the cool kids mix it with lemonade) or soju if you are feeling brave. Of course, it is accompanied with kimchi and pickles.

One exception was a trip to Korea House, a heritage site surrounded by traditional gardens and serving food made from centuries old recipe books. It is fine dining, Korean style and is quite an experience. Boxes with many compartments containing shredded vegetables, pickles and meats arrive for you to build miniature pancakes with. Baked abalone, seafood soup, meat patties, kimchi and sweetened nuts all make up an 11 course menu washed down with tea. The setting makes it a unique experience.

Then on to Beiijng, a city that is changing at an incredible rate. When I first went to China in 2005, I was still a little bit of a novelty, kids stopping me in the street to have their photo taken with me. There was 16RMB to the pound and I couldn’t spend money however hard I tried. A bottle of beer was about 30 pence and a hotel room in the middle of the city was about £40 a night. Now beer is £5 a bottle and hotels don’t come much cheaper than £150. I was staying in Haidian, a student district, and was struck by the massive increase in foreign students there – hundreds of American, British, Russian and Korean kids taking the opportunity to experience China and learn Chinese.

My hotel was hosting some snooker players playing in the China Masters, so I was eating breakfast next to sports celebrities (in the UK and China anyway) every morning.

I met up with a friend one evening and went to Hohai lake for dinner and drinks. We went into the hutongs behind the main drag and found Bed bar, a converted peasant house that now charges £4 for a mojito and you sit on beds to drink them. We ate some Vietnamese food and went to a bar owned by an American couple. Just shows how Beijing is now a very different city to a decade ago – truly international. We whinged about the dirty air, the traffic and the spitting taxi drivers, but it was fun.

I arrived in Tokyo last night and love this city. It’s efficient, convenient, massive and bonkers. When your mum and I first came here in 2002 we felt like we had landed on mars, but things are a little easier now. The subway has English signs for a start. As always, I’ve got a pretty packed schedule, but I’m looking forward to the food, maybe a run around a park and hopefully something cultural one morning.

Love

Dad

Pictures:
Seoul food
The gardens at Korea House
Snooker players in Beijing
A funny sign at a university in Seoul
The view out of my hotel over Shinagawa station in Tokyo

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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

Love

Dad

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

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A week in Taiwan

Dear George,

No surprises, I’m on board a plane again. I’m on the Tarmac at Taipei’s Taoyuan International airport waiting to fly 12 hours to Amsterdam then home to Nottingham.

I haven’t been away with work since Hong Kong in August but now have a devilish couple of months when I am away 4 weeks out of 5 in 4 different countries and will mean I see very little of you. To make matters worse, I am only back from this trip for 2 days and for most of those you will still be on holiday in Mallorca with your mum, grandparents and cousins. I see you for one evening and then wake up at 4am to fly to Brazil. You’re at an age (almost 2 now, where did the time go?) where you are doing new things every day and I’m missing them. Skype has let us down this week which makes it worse.

So what of this trip? Not much to tell you really, it was all work until into the evenings and then moving on to the next city. I went to Taipei, Hsinchu, Taichuhng, Tainan and Kaohsiung then back up to Taipei. All I really saw were hotels, Starbucks, a Karaoke bar and a couple of restaurants with no time for being a tourist. I’ve been to Taiwan so many times now and all I have seen is the cities. One day I’ll make time to see the eastern side and middle of the island that everyone here assures me is beautiful. Taipei continues to grow in population, sucking the youth from the rest of the island whilst the middle-aged move out to Hsinchu and Taichung to larger, cheaper housing and commute on a fast train. There is real worry about the economy as wages haven’t gone up in the best part of a decade, growth has slowed, the hi-tech industry is being out-competed by other parts of Asia and the population is ageing. The rich are rich and everyone else is slogging away for not great returns, so property is too expensive for most couples and this is delaying family life. Someone told me that people have kids more out of duty than anything else – to help the economy.

Karaoke is massive in east Asia. In the UK it is a public performance, but here you go to huge buildings full of lots of small private rooms for only you and your accomplices to use. You can order all types of food and drink with waiter service and usually even have your own toilet. It is a time-sucking black hole once you are inside and have drunk a couple of beers – the hours fly past in a blur of Blur, crooned Frank Sinatra, and frankly optimistic Whitney Houston . The performances start, the Viking in you comes out and everyone starts crucifying well known tunes. It is great fun, but only because it is so strange to us Europeans and treated as a bit of a joke. Locals use is as a social and business forum and not the drunken screech-fest that we do. I am particularly good at Faith by George Michael and Chasing Cars by Razorlight (by that I mean not totally appalling) and not much else.

Some things I saw this week:

– Din Tai Fung – a Michelin starred but very reasonable dim sum restaurant, which was excellent
– The Eva Air check in desk at Taipei airport which is Hello Kitty themed. Hello Kitty is a cultural phenomenon in Taiwan and has arguably influenced visual culture in the asiatic region for the past twenty years – hence their fondness of cute characters in all advertising, etc
– Painted junction boxes. It’s like middle class street art
– Kiss and ride sign. This is the drop off point for cars at stations/airports, although it sounds much ruder

My flight has taken off now and it’s close to midnight, so I’m going to kick back and try to get some much needed sleep.

Love,

Dad

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The Big Mango

Dear George,

I arrived in Bangkok early yesterday morning (around 1am), had about 5 hours sleep and then had to get up for a full day of appointments, so my sleep deprived existence continues. I missed speaking to you on Skype because your mum had to leave the house to collect your grampa’s car and I couldn’t speak to you last night because the internet was down in the hotel, so I haven’t seen you in a few days. Apparently you are crying all the time unless someone holds your hands so that you can practice walking. Please don’t start walking before I get home. I suppose I am going to miss all these things because of travel. Apparently you are already saying “car” and “shoes” and I’ve only been away just over a week.

Bangkok (the ‘Big Mango’, as opposed to the Big Apple) is not how I remember it from 4 years ago. It is busier, more modern with far more westerners here. Your mother and I first came to Thailand in 2001 as part of our world tour and gave Bangkok a miss,  instead just visiting islands and beaches. Even then it was incredibly popular as a holiday destination, not just for northern Europeans but for Asians, Americans, Latin Americans – it was verging on being ruined by its own popularity and I can only assume those same beach resorts now are. I’ve been here one full day, but even in that time you get a sense of changes, attitude and people around you. I like to categorise the westerners  I see around me and so far this is my little game when I am the BST (Bangkok Sky Train): In my eyes there are only a few categories:

1) Couple dressed casually = tourists

2) Couple dressed scruffily, probably with braids, fishermans trousers, bangles, etc = backpackers

3) Man in suit = visiting business man

4) Couple with pram = expats

5) Couple of tanned men sharing iced drink = gay expats

6) Man on his own, or holding hands with much younger Thai woman = sex tourist

I know, I am a terrible stereotypist, but it keeps me amused. Why does the entire world descend on Bangkok? Everyone can find the experience they are looking for here – a luxury break, the cheapest of holidays, a hedonistic weekend or a spiritual journey – and the local people are forward thinking, accepting and business-minded. The City, like many in Asia, comes alive at night when market stalls are erected and the population pours onto the streets to find everything available to mankind. I met up with two colleagues last night and took a wander through the (rather sterile for BKK) streets around the hotel. I’m staying in the Novotel in Siam Square, bang in the middle of the city, which is much more developed and westernised than I remember. There are still children made to work, either begging, playing instruments or as part of the enticement game for tourist stalls – it makes my blood boil. The malls over the road have all the trappings of Europe, the USA and the rest of the consuming world: Krispy Kreme donuts, McDonalds, Tesco, Starbucks and restaurants from all four corners. The only thing I couldn’t find was Thai food! We looked for a bar to relax in, but I suppose retail space is so expensive that they cannot afford to set up and the only place open in the whole district was a Hard Rock Cafe playing very loud live music so we gave it a miss and had a couple of beers in the hotel lobby instead, getting bitten on the legs by mosquitoes.

I’ll take my camera out tonight and try to get a visual record. When I first started travelling for work I took my camera everywhere, but after a while I became ambivalent and stopped. Such a mistake, as there are some places that I used to visit frequently that I will probably never go back to now – I only have 2 photos of Bogota in Colombia for example, hardly any photos of Uganda or Nigeria or Pakistan. I’m going to make more of an effort to capture this period of my life, although there is always the question of what I’ll do with these pictures. They tend not to be the kind you frame or put on your wall. Just for me and memories I suppose. Here is the view out of my window until later:

View across Siam Square, Bangkok

Love

 

Dad

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