I spent a large part of the weekend trying to catch up on this blog and sort and collate my photos and videos. I have tens of thousands of photos, so it’s a big job to catalogue them all. But more importantly I am determined to complete all the missing days (going back five years) before it gets too out of hand. It’s time-consuming but something I need to do for my personal satisfaction and my family.
While I was doing this I came across a video of Tanya from last month. I was randomly filming her talking when she casually said the F-word. I was shocked, but she didn’t know what she was saying and was just copying what she had heard. At her age she is like a parrot and will often repeat words or sentences she hears people speak. I showed Canthy the video and she was adamant that she never said that phrase. I haven’t been home for weeks so I didn’t think it was me. But then I do sometimes use the F-Word (and Canthy rarely swears) but I just can’t remember ever saying that. However, like most couples we have had some heated fights in the past, so maybe Tanya picked it up during that time. Hopefully she’ll forget the word and it wont become part of her vocabulary until she’s old enough to know what it means.
During the weekdays the gym on campus is packed every night so you have to be lucky if you can find a free treadmill, bike or weight machine. However, for some reason the gym is empty at the weekends which makes it a great time to go. There are also two outdoor swimming pools which just opened this weekend, as they are normally closed during the winter months. From the balcony at the gym you get a good view of the pools so next time I go back to Beijing I need to bring my swimming trunks and goggles. Outdoor pools are very rare in Beijing in fact I don’t ever think I have seen one. But in Shenzhen with summer temperatures above 30ºC, this pool is going to be a great place to cool off. It looks empty at the moment, but I think it could get very busy as the summer comes.
Canthy and I talk several times a day, but mainly at nighttime when the kids are in bed. Weekends are our main family Skype time when things are more relaxed and Canthy’s mum comes over to help babysit. Over the last few weeks Tanya has become closer to Canthy and wants to spend more time with her doing things. She has also become less jealous of Alicya and is playing a more active role in looking after her as her big sister. Tanya will often say to Canthy “I miss daddy and I want to see daddy”, so it’s great that we can Skype at almost any time of the day when she misses me.
I often worry that Alicya doesn’t know who I am, but she seems to recognise me. Although she is still very young so I am not sure how much a six month old baby really knows. The coolest thing is she can now lift her body and crawl on her hands. A few weeks ago she could only crawl on her belly, so she is developing quite quickly. Canthy said Alicya is crawling fast, so you can’t leave her unattended for a minute. I can’t wait till I am back home and get to play with my crawling little baby.
Shenzhen has a sub tropical climate so the weather is warm and mild most of the whole year. It’s very different from Beijing which has more extreme temperatures and distinct four seasons. Shenzhen is sunnier but also has a lot of rain during the summer months with rainstorms, thunderstorms and even typhoons. There is always a good view from my office so I can tell that this weekend looks like being a wet one. And the start of the rainy season that lasts for about four or five months right throughout the summer.
I work for a young company and most of the staff are also very young. There are over 40,000 employees working on this sprawling campus with an average age around 28 years old. As almost half work in R&D so the dress tends to be more casual than formal suit and tie. However, sometimes the casual can go extreme so some new posters have appeared with a stricter dress code. We are not allowed to wear flips, crocs, strapless shoes and no ripped jeans, cargo shorts, mini skits or short dresses. With daytime temperatures almost 30ºC and high humidity, there are still many people yet to observe these new rules, apart from me as I wear a suit everyday to work.
Tanya attends the British School in Beijing, which is the only UK Government accredited school in China. The curriculum is based on the English system and follows all their holidays and traditions like school sports day. Parents were allowed to attend so Canthy went to cheer on Tanya. I would have loved to be there on her first ever sports day, but Canthy send me lots of photos instead. Tanya did well but got upset when she saw other children with their dads and then started to cry and say she wanted daddy. Not much Canthy could do apart from explain to Tanya again that daddy has to work away from home. Tanya is getting use to the fact and usually accepts it as normal. But from time to time she gets reminded of it and doesn’t understand why I am not there. Next time I will try to be there, as I don’t want to miss too many of her little milestones in her school life.
It’s been many years since I’ve had to work on my birthday, as when I worked at Landor the company gave you the day off. Because this year my birthday fell on a Tuesday I also couldn’t spend it in Beijing with my family. So this year I had my birthday cake in the office with my colleagues. And Canthy sent me some flowers which I displayed on my desk. I was hoping to get a new iPad for my birthday as I lost my last one. But I’ve heard Apple will bring out a new version in June or July so I decided to wait until then to get one. In the evening I spent the night on the telephone talking to Canthy, my family and friends. It was probably my quietest birthday ever, but we decided to celebrate it next time I go back to Beijing.
The flights between Beijing and Shenzhen are always packed, as I left it late to book, so the only option I had was to fly business. These days I rarely fly business especially for short flight in China, but it made a nice change. Especially as the flight was delayed again and we spent an hour and a half on the runaway due to bad weather. I was flying and an Air China 747 Jumbo Jet, which was one of its latest planes, but to be honest the interior and cabins looked old-fashioned. The food, services and inflight entertainment in business was way below other international airlines I have flown like Cathay Pacific, British Airways and Singapore airlines.
Air China’s first class was very grey and boring and didn’t look very premium at all. Not surprisingly on a short flight it was almost empty and only had two passengers.
I sat in Air China’s business class which had big seats but not that comfortable. The food was basic and not as premium as other airlines. But the worst part was the inflight entertainment as I couldn’t find any movie that was less than two years old. Despite the bad service business class was full.
Air China’s economy looked pretty grim and cramped so I was glad I wasn’t sitting here. By the time the plane was ready to take off the economy section was full. I don’t normally fly Air China, as I prefer China Southern Airlines on the Beijing to Shenzhen route. As it tends to have better newer planes, probably as they are headquartered in Guangzhou close to Shenzhen.
It’s the last day of the May Day holiday so I need to fly back to Shenzhen tonight. These trips always end too soon, as there is never enough time to do everything you want. It teaches you to really appreciate the time that you do have and it makes coming home the next time seem even better. I am lucky that my family is only in Beijing, so I can come home for a weekend. But I know many people work away from home and their kids are in another country. So if I look on the bright side of life, Beijing and Shenzhen are not too far away. We still haven’t made the time for a group family photo, but this one of my three favourite girls will have to last until I am back home again.
Canthy’s been feeling rundown and stressed out, so we took a drive out to see her TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) doctor. In TCM diagnosis the doctor will look at your tongue and check your pulse to find out what’s wrong with your internal body system. He gave her a prescription for some herbal medicine and then put her on the bed to align her spine. The procedure can look quite rough as he bends and flexes her joints in her neck and shoulders. Sometimes you can hear a cracking sound as the joints align although the process is painless. After Canthy’s treatment she immediately felt much and said her neck and shoulders felt more relaxed. As we were leaving we saw another patient being treated by having the nurse walk up and down her body. We could hear the patient groaning so I am not sure what was wrong with her, but this treatment looked a little more uncomfortable.
McDonald’s restaurants are frequent sight in most Chinese cities but it’s rare to see a drive-thru restaurant. I passed this one on the way to work and had to stop and take a picture. Interestingly, the first one of this type opened in Dongguan in 2005, due to city’s prosperity and high number of cars owners. This one opened in 2007 and is a joint venture with Sinopec, so its next to one of their petrol stations. Beijing’s has more than five million cars, but in comparison to the US or UK the number of McDonald’s drive-thrus is still very low. The concept of eating in your car is still in it’s infancy in China. But as the car population grows and habits change this will become more frequent especially among the new younger drivers. On this occasion I decided not to stop, although my Chinese is good enough to order in McDonalds. But as I gave up seriously eating McDonalds a few years ago, it’s better and healthier for me not to drive-thru, but to drive-by.
I spent a lot of time during the holiday baking and cooking western food. I really miss eating healthy salads and good home cooked European style food. So it was good to have the time and opportunity to play in my kitchen and prepare some simple, tasty dishes. It also made a change for Canthy, her mum, ayi and Tanya, as they only really eat western food when I am home to cook it. We had a lot of leftovers, so dinner was a combination of salad, pizza and pasta washed down with a decent bottle of Pinot Grigio for Canthy and I. The menu was fennel, tomato, avocado and pine nut salad; salami, mushroom, tomato, mozzarella cheese and olive pizza; spicy tuna with anchovies, sun-dried tomato, and garlic spaghetti. Nothing too difficult—just old fashioned healthy food—made with the freshest ingredients, which are easy to find where I live in Beijing. However, I need to savour the flavours, as once I am back to the outskirts of Shenzhen it’s like living in a food desert with no healthy western food to eat.
It’s the first day of May and the last day of the three day “Wu Yi” public holiday in China. It’s more commonly called the Labour Day Holiday in other parts of the world. However, in China it’s called “Wu Yi” which translate to “five, one” symbolising the fifth month and the first day, so May 1st to us in the west. As I was driving home I saw these huge posters of the “Wu Yi” characters, so I just had to stop and take a photo. They were on the entrance of the People’s Daily, which is the official newspaper of the Communist Party in China. The paper also has an English language website but I tend to read the China Daily to get my news in China. Although as all media in China is still controlled by the state, you can’t beat the BBC News for a more international and unbiased view of the world. Anyway, the posters remind me the holiday is over and it’s back to work tomorrow for everyone in China.
It’s been a while since the view from our apartment has been such clear blue skies, but this is how I remember Beijing weather use to be like. The weather toady was 30ºC, but breezy, so a lovely day to go outside and play. As daddy was home Tanya wanted to go out boating and play on the lake at Tuanjie Hu park.
It’s been a long time since we last came here and the first time to bring both kids. Tanya is still very possessive with her toys and clothes so its hard for her to share with Alicya. One of the biggest problems was she wouldn’t let her sister use her Stokke stroller. Every time Canthy tried to put Alicya into it, Tanya would scream and stop her. So we decided to buy the Stokke Sibling Board, which has turned out great. Tanya now lets Alicya use it, as she can also ride on the board.
Canthy told me that Tanya has been getting closer to her over the last few months, since I went away to work in Shenzhen. Now instead of wanting ayi all the time, she is aways wanting her mummy. So now it’s “mummy mummy” and Canthy can’t get any rest, but she said she would change it for the world.
Tanya likes driving the boat, but her favourite activity is feeding the fish and ducks. The lake have thousand of golden koi carp that swim up to the boat when you feed them. I have to hold Tanya in case she falls in, as she always leans out too far as she is totally absorbed in feeding the fish food. I keep telling her to be careful incase she falls in and then she will become fish food and be eaten by the fish I probably shouldnt scare her like that, as you never know what young kids remember as they get older.
The other reason Tanya likes to go boating is because of the food served at the restaurant next to the park. It serves the best Shanghai Hong Xiao Rou which Tanya loves. I also tell Canthy we are going for Tanya, but actually I enjoy the boating and the food as much as Tanya if not more.
I flew back to Beijing for the May Day holiday didn’t back home till 2.00am as the flight was delayed again. In the morning Tanya ran into our bedroom so excited that daddy had come home. I only had a few hours sleep as Canthy is still breastfeeding during the night. However, I didn’t feel tired as Tanya gives me energy and I was also excited to be home too. She went to get her new book “Who Am I” which she wanted me to read over and over again. The book is about animals so after a few reads I changed the story and we started making animal noises and play guess the animals. Here’s a photo us making our favourite “moo” sounds. In two months time Tanya will be three years old, but sometimes she looks a lot older especially with this hairstyle.
I was telling Canthy it’s a “bummer” having to work the weekend but she didn’t understand the English expression. So I had to explain that it means “disappointing” or “a pity” that I couldn’t fly back to Beijing earlier for the May Day holiday. Canthy knew the word “bum” so sent me a picture of Alicya’s fat bottom, which made me laugh. Canthy is still breast feeding five or six times during the day and night, which is why Alicya is growing so fast and strong. She’ll be five months old in a few days time, but as I am flying back to Beijing tonight, I cant wait to hold Alicya her and squeeze her bum
Next week it’s May Day so there is a three-day public holiday in China. However to get the holiday the Chinese government makes you work the weekend before, so it’s a bit of a con. Working on Saturday and Sunday never feels right, but one consolation is the campus is nice environment to work in. So at lunchtime I took time out and went for a walk around the lake. The air quality is Shenzhen is so much cleaner and fresher than Beijing and the smell of the trees and plants are quite strong around the campus. I might have to work at the weekend, but I think myself lucky that I can take time out to smell the flowers.
What originally drew my attention to this billboard was the painting of the old Chinese horse-drawn carriage and the tricycle parked in front of it. I thought the idea of showing the ancient transport with the more modern pedal powered made an interesting juxtaposition. When I first came to China in the late 1980s the cycle still dominated the roads and more than 90% of the traffic was bicycles. Nowadays the traffic is 90% cars with fewer and few pedal cycles. I’d love to find my old photos from that period, but I think they are in storage somewhere in the UK probably at my parents house. So next time I go back to the UK I will try to dig them out. As Canthy is often asking to see old photos of me from my first trip to Beijing in 1988.
The week after cyclist Sir Chris Hoy, Britain’s most decorated Olympian and six-time Olympic champion retired from the sport, I have started cycling again at the gym. I’d forgotten how hard it is, so I can’t imagine how much training and effort is required to get to Olympic standard. The spinning bikes recently arrived at the gym on campus, but there aren’t any classes which I am use to doing. So I have made my own music compilation and put on my Jabra wireless headphones and do my own class by myself. I probably look a bit strange, but it feels great to do spinning again. The only problem is the bikes like most of the equipmemt in the gym is not very good. But it’s the only gym around for miles so its better than nothing.
Many years ago when I first heard about “Secretaries Day” I thought someone was joking, as I didn’t remember it being a special day in the UK. The holiday originated from the US but has become part of the corporate culture in Chinese companies. Although it’s not an offical public holiday, so they still have to work, I think the secretaries gets gifts or bonuses. We had a fruit party for our team secretaries, which made them feel special and appreciated. As often their work goes unnoticed, but if they weren’t there we would soon notice and miss them.
I’ve been eating canteen food for months, so I have a few favourites that I like but I am often still not sure what’s in them. It can be hard to know what meat you are eating or whether its chicken or duck. With all the food scares in China I often avoid the meat dishes and try to get tofu or something more vegetarian. The canteen is self-service with thousands of people being served, so you don’t have time to ask the servers too many questions, as the line of people moves so fast, you just have to grab what you can and hope for the best. It’s trial and error, especilaly for foreigners, but as there is nowhere else to eat you soon get use to whats on the menu.
I always know when I have left Beijing and landed back in Shenzhen because the first thing you notice is how crappy the taxis are. The city is one of the richest cities in China with a population of over 10 million people and some of the most modern and tallest buildings in the mainland. Yet despite this a large majority of its taxis are old, filthy dirty with these metal grills across the cab. I always have to decide whether it’s safer to sit in the front, where there will be a seatbelt. But if you crashed you would whiplash the back of your head on the metal grille. Or sit in the back where there is no seatbelt but sometimes feels safer. At nighttime the front feels safer as the taxis drive faster, but daytime I prefer the back seat. Beijing use to have the same problem with these old style taxis, but they got rid of them back in 2008 before the Olympic games. Unfortunately Shenzhen still has them and I can’t see them being phased out anytime soon.
Another day and another visit to the hospital as Alicya had a slight temperature and her face had swollen up. I told Canthy is was nothing to worry about, but she insisted we go back the hospital again. When we got there I thought I heard our doctor say “you lai le”, which means “you’ve come again” but apparently I heard it wrong. Although I think Canthy has probably been to the hospital almost everyday this week, but with two sick kids to look after on her own its better to be safe than sorry. Our doctor (called Raymond) checked Alicya and told us the swelling and rise in temperature was probably a minor reaction to the antibiotics but nothing to worry about. It was good to know and he put Canthy’s mind at rest so she left the hospital feeling relived, relaxed and happy. Which is why everybody loves Dr Raymond.
In the morning when Tanya and Alicya woke up they were both still sick. I could tell they didn’t have the same energy as before and their eyes lacked their usual sparkle. They are both taking antibiotic medicine, which should have them fully recovered within a week. Alicya hates the medicine and tries her best to spit it out. So we use a syringe to inject it into her mouth and have to hold down her body and hands while we do it. Tanya on the other hand loves the medicine and uses the syringe herself to inject the medicine into her mouth. I am not sure if the two antibiotic medicines tastes the same, but Tanya often asks if she can have some more. After giving them medicine they spent most of the morning resting and I kept them company reading Tanya some books.
This weekend I was supposed to work on Saturday in the office. But with two sick kids and a stressed out wife, I decided to fly home for the weekend. It’s just over a three-hour flight, so it’s not too long, but it takes eight hours door-to-door from Shenzhen to Beijing. I will have two whole days to be with my family and fly back on Monday morning, so its worth the hassle. Shenzhen airport was packed on a Friday night as usual and the bad weather had delayed all the fights. I arrived in Beijing in the early hours of the morning and it freezing; 20ºC colder than Shenzhen. We landed at Terminal 2, (the old airport) so had to make the trip from the plane to terminal by bus. Last time the taxi queue waiting time was over an hour and I didn’t get home till 2am. Fortunately this time I had booked a driver who was waiting for me with a “Welcome to Beijing” placard. It was a welcome sight after a long journey, but I still didn’t get home till 3am!
When I left university, one of the first books I read was Ogilvy on Advertising. It had been published a few years earlier and was already a classic. It’s been 20 years since I read it, but when I was given a new copy I thought it was time to reread it. It’s written by David Ogilvy, one of the giants of advertising and came out long before email, Internet and the rise of social media. I can’t remember much about the book, so it will be interesting to see if it’s still relevant in today’s digital world. I was also given a version in Chinese 奥格威谈广告. The first three characters 奥格威 (Ào gé wēi) are a transliteration of “Ogilvy,” and the last three 谈广告 means “discussing advertising”. However, it will probably be another 20 years until I can read all the Chinese characters in that version
Tanya’s symptoms got worse, as she was coughing and being sick and having trouble breathing. Her fever was over 39C, so Canthy rushed her back to the hospital. She called me in tears and I did my best to calm her down. After more tests, they confirmed that Tanya had pneumonia which was probably caused by bacteria or a virus. Canthy asked the doctor to call me and explain and he said, it’s common for children under five to get this. It called “walking pneumonia”, as the patient can still move around is not confined to bed with the more deadly type of this virus.
Fortunately it’s not too serious and a course of antibiotics should clear it up within in a week. I tried to be philosophical and told Canthy not to worry, as there are many children with far worse illnesses, so we are lucky. But Canthy reminded me she is a “mother” who has “two sick babies” to deal with on her own. Being two thousand miles away when your kids are sick and your wife is stressed makes you feel helpless. But at least we have full medical insurance, with international levels of coverage which is very important in China. Also as they attend the United Family Hospital, which is the best international private hospital in Beijing, which gives me some comfort and peace of mind.
Update on Alicya: The poor little girl has also been put on antibiotics as she has a serious urine infection, which is what was causing her fever. Hopefully now Tanya and Alicya are on medication, they should both recover quite soon.
When I tell my colleagues at work I really like watching Chinese movies, they always look at me puzzled and ask why? This is because most people think Chinese movies are not very good and prefer to watch Hollywood movies and American TV shows. And actually they are right, as Chinese movies are generally not very good and often have copied storylines from the west. However, most of the best ones come out of Hong Kong and are filmed in Cantonese. The main reason I watch Chinese films is to improve my language skills. So I always play the dubbed version in Mandarin with English subtitles. The other reason is that I often enjoy watching the Kung Fu, Police and Gangster movies, that are popular subjects in Hong Kong cinema. And in China you can buy DVDs on almost any street corner for as little as 10 RMB (UK £1.00).
Tanya and Alicya have been sick all weekend with a fever and their temperatures have been going up and down continuously. Just when Tanya’s temperature is going down Alicya’s goes up. And then when Alicya’s goes down, Tanya’s goes up. Canthy told me its been really frustrating and worrying especially for Alicya as she is not even 5 months old. Canthy hasn’t slept all weekend and has been calling continuously but they is nothing I can do being so far away. But the worrying thing is we are still not sure what is causing the fever, so Canthy took the kids back to the hospital again.
At the hospital the doctors did a throrough exmaination and body check up as well as taking blood samples and other tests. Luckily it’s doesnt seem to be too serious, but the fever is not going away. Canthy sent me these photos and said that Tanya was very brave, as she normally hates seeing the doctor. But this time she was good and even held Alicya’s hand, so she would be scared. When your kids get sick and you dont know why, its the worst feeling, as fevers can be dangerous for young kids. But unfortuantely, it’s Canthy who is really scared and I wish I could be there to hold her hand.
Living on campus in the company hotel is convenient, as I can walk to work in 15 minutes. The downside is living on your own in small room; so it can sometimes feel more like a prison cell, (although with all the mod cons). I do miss my family and the space of my apartment and having my own things around me. So I decided to bring my Nespresso coffee machine down to Shenzhen, which I bought last year in the London. You can buy the machines and coffee capsules in China. But like many imported products its over 50% more expensive than in the UK. Living so far out of the city there isn’t a Starbucks or Costa for miles around. I think the nearest one is over half an hour away by taxi so to far to go just for a cuppa. But now I can have decent coffee in my prison cell and it feels a little bit more like home.
Canthy was in Shanghai on business, so I had planned to meet her and go to the Shanghai Grand Prix on Sunday. Originally we were going to make it a family trip but we were worried about the outbreak of H7N9 virus in the city. But then Tanya and Alicya got sick in Beijing and our ayi took them to hospital. Canthy decided to fly home early as she was worried about them as they both had a high fever. The doctor said they was not much you can do, as it’s not advisable to give young babies drugs. So the best thing is just to monitor them and try to call them down. In China you can buy these cooling patches which are ideal for cooling babies and adults. Lets hope the fever subsides on its own.