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

Archive for the tag “blogging”

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.


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…


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:


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”


Me:”Your name is better.”


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…


Dad xx


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.

2015-03-16 14.35.17 2015-03-16 14.35.01 2015-03-16 14.12.50 2015-03-16 14.10.29 2015-03-16 14.10.12 2015-03-14 16.24.41 2015-03-16 14.40.35 2015-03-16 14.51.42 2015-03-16 14.38.47 2015-03-16 14.25.34 2015-03-17 13.45.14

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:

2015-03-29 11.11.25-1 2015-03-28 13.46.08


Dad x

Your Dad the Pakistan TV Star


Badshahi Mosque at sunset – a wonderful vista

Dear George,

I have remembered another story from travels past and thought I should jot it down before I forget:

During my last trip to Pakistan in 2010 I was treated incredibly well by all the locals I met, greeted with lots of “thank-you-for coming” smiles that were both inquisitive and apprehensive of my reaction to their country. This was a time when very few people in my industry could travel to Pakistan as their employers would not let them. It was following a couple of years of heightened alert and increased terrorism following a large bomb at the Marriott hotel in Islamabad and civil unrest due to political instability. Your mum was pregnant with you at the time and was anxious about my trip, but I know from experience that perceptions from the outside are always overstated and incorrect. I only saw a handful of white faces during my 8 day stay, all on which were in my hotel in Islamabad and one of which I think was the Hollywood actress Angelina Jolie. She was there to raise awareness of displaced refugees and the impact of NATO operations in the region at the same time as me and I saw someone very much like her leaving my hotel one morning.

My stay co-incided with Ramadan and every evening was therefore a social event to break the fast (an Iftar), eat traditional treats and talk business. At one event I met gaggles of fashionable women, all well groomed, well-educated and full of strong opinion and life. My Pakistani colleague was really well connected and knew a great deal of people in each city we visited. One of her contacts was Ayesha Sana, a daytime TV star and we were somehow invited onto her show together to talk about education in the UK.

Set of Meena Bazaar TV Show

Set of Meena Bazaar TV Show

The lovely and bubbly host, Ayesha Sana

The lovely and bubbly host, Ayesha Sana

Looking "Bradford ready" and a little nervous

Looking “Bradford ready” and a little nervous

The set up in the studio for my interview

The set up in the studio for my interview

And so it was that I found myself in front of a lightbulb-lined mirror having my hair heavily coated in gel by a camp make-up assistant in a rather grotty green room of the PKTV studios. He spiked it up aggressively, stood back and stated proudly, “There you go my friend, Bradford ready!”, as if that is a good thing. So not only was I going to make a fool of myself on national television, I was going to do it with bad hair.

We were ushered into the studio and sat, waiting our turn whilst I tried to follow what was going on. Someone was talking about bangles, showing examples on a display table. The odd word or phrase in English, but otherwise I had no idea what was going on. This was a light-hearted lifestyle programme, aimed at women in the home, I thought. Before I knew it the ads were on and I was being miked up. “Don’t worry, relax, you’ll be fine. Nice hair,” said Ayesha with a warm smile, before having her make-up touched up, finishing a text on her mobile and shouting fiercely at a cameraman. Her beaming smile appeared again instantly after her tirade and she started to speak at camera, welcoming the viewers back and introducing me. I can’t remember much about the next 20 minutes but I did manage to record it all on Sky TV
back home and I don’t think I did too bad a job of being relaxed, giving light-hearted answers and trying to charm Ayesha. My colleague was a natural and rescued me a few times I think.

Glad it was over, we went to a shopping mall that evening for dinner where I was instantly recognised by a fellow diner. “I saw you on Meena Bazaar today”, she said and right there and then I knew celebrity. Your father was a z-lost celeb in Pakistan for a day.

The rest of my trip was fine, without a hint of trouble. I even had a couple of whiskeys, which I thought would be impossible in Pakistan. It was on a rooftop in Lahore overlooking the big red mosque at sunset and was a lasting image for me. Beautiful.

Pakistan has suffered many problems in recent decades and is a complex country, to often dictated to by outside events,
hindering its progress. There are elections this year and Imran Khan, the former cricketer, has a huge following. He  promises reform, independence from external forces and to clamp down on corruption that interferes with everyday life there. I do hope he makes it to the election alive, is elected and can make some changes. The world needs it.

I’m on another plane as I write this, at the beginning of a two week trip away from you to Seoul, Beijing and Tokyo. Great
places to visit, but a long time to not see you. You are 2 years old and hilarious and incredibly cute. We found out yesterday at a 20 week scan that you will have a sister in August, which is just lovely and so exciting. You’ll make the best older brother.



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