I’ve decided to move my blog site to a new platform and new web host. So this website will be closing down and migrating to wordpress.com which is a free hosting site. Hopefully the process is not too complex, to transfer all the old posts and photos, as I also want to try and keep my domain name.
Anyway, you can now find this blog and the latest posts at firstname.lastname@example.org
Hope you continue to enjoy reading it.
When I was young I used to love watching the Sunday afternoon matinee movie on TV with my Dad. Normally it was a classic western with John Wayne or one of the other Hollywood greats, where the hero never died but the baddies always did. Nowadays I keep that tradition alive in China, by watching Kung Fu movies on a Sunday afternoon. It might be an older classic like The Flying Swords of Dragons Gate or a more recent movie release like Ip Man 3. Both are actioned pact (just like the westerns) with goodies and baddies. But watching Chinese movies can also help me improve my Mandarin listening ability.
This morning our arts and craft activity was making fuzzy felt animals. It’s something that I remember doing when I was school, but in those days you had to cut out your own shapes. Nowadays, this box of fuzzy felt comes in pre-cut farm animals shapes, so it makes it much easier and simpler to do for small kids. Tanya and Alicya made about a dozen different animals and there is still enough material for another time.
We took Alicya to the doctors again when her coughing came back. This time they took a blood test to rule out anything more serious which thankfully turned out negative. However, it was the blood test itself which produced the most drama, although it was a painful process. It was just the thought of it and the unknown that really scared Alicya and made her cry.
Dinner tonight for me was mash up of leftover food from the last few days. But Canthy wont eat it or give it to the kids. As like most Chinese, she believes that food should be eaten fresh. So they don’t have this habit we have in the west of eating leftover food from the previous days. I often enjoy eating leftovers like this dinner of steak, baked beans and pesto mash potato, which created a colourful mix of flavours colours and textures.
The cold weather in Beijing makes it the perfect time to eat hotpot, especially at lunchtime as it keeps you warm for the whole day. Canthy and I always order the hotpot broth in the 50/50 split pot, which is half filled with hot and spicy soup. Normally, the other half is tomato soup, but today we went with mushroom broth for a change.
I’ve been learning Chinese since I came to China in 2007 and using ChinesePod from day one. Learning Mandarin is not a destination, but a never ending journey of reaching many highs and lows on the way to fluency. I started at Newbie level and have progressed steadily onto Upper Intermediate where I am now. The progress chart is a good way to see your improvements and get a feeling of satisfaction of completing lessons. And it helps motive myself on this long and often lonely journey to master Mandarin.
It’s not always easy to find toilets in China and when you do the signage is mostly in Chinese. One of the first Chinese characters I learnt was 男 (Nán) which means men, so I would know which bathroom to use. I really like the toilet signs at The Great Leap Brewery bar in Xinyuan street. They look digital although they are made out of black and tiles. The huge signs can’t be missed even after one too many beers, which I guess is the reason they are so big.
At the weekends I try and doing more art and craft activities with Tanya and Alicya. It’s partly to develop their creative skills, but to also limit their time watching TV or playing with iPads. It’s also good that they can do the activity together, which makes it more fun. One of their favourites is sand painting using coloured sand which sticks to adhesive parts of the paper. The only problem is it gets very messy and the sand always ends up all over the floor.
Canthy got Tanya a fashion photoshoot job for a Chinese clothing brand. We had to drive over an hour to the studio on the outskirts of Beijing to get there. The weather outside was freezing, but the studio was heated which was fortunate. As the photoshoot was for range of underwear and swimwear. So it’s normal to be shooting in winter for a clothing range coming out in the summer.
It’s restaurant week (actually 10 days) in Beijing, so a time to try some new places to eat at special prices. Canthy had booked restaurants in some of the best hotels in Beijing including the Waldorf Astoria, Conrad and Kerry Hotel. Eating in hotels is always much more expensive than other places, but they have some of the best restaurants in the city. Food quality and service are always excellent and the promotion makes it a reasonable priced luxury night out in Beijing.
One of our neighbours has just bought a new white Ferrari 458 convertible and parks it right behind our car. It’s a beautiful car priced well outside our budget or dreams, so I joked with Canthy that we are definitely “not keeping up with the Joneses” An English expression meaning that you compare yourself with your neighbour in terms of social standing, class or material wealth. I know I shouldn’t compare other peoples lives to my own, but we all do it. It’s just harder when I have to see that car everyday and wish it was mine 😉
Alicya has been suffering with a coughing for weeks which is particularly bad at night. She’s seen the doctors several times who have diagnosed a cold, then a chest infection and now bronchitis. All in all it doesn’t give you much faith in the medical system in China. However, Canthy and I worry her coughing might be linked to the serious pollution problem in Beijing. If so, that’s a real cause for concern. For now Alicya has to use at atomiser machine for the next week, which will hopefully make her better.
I like eating salads with additional ingredients like this one I made with bacon, avocado and croutons. It’s especially good as the last few days we’ve been eating lots of rich, spicy Chinese food with rice. So the salad helps clean my palate and tastes cleaner, fresher and healthier. The best thing is that you can eat as much as you like and it fills you up without feeling stuffed.
Canthy and I are big Oscar night fans so we always watch the show a few days later when it comes out online with Chinese subtitles. Most of the movies will never be seen in China, due to censor restrictions and limits on number of foreign films that can be shown. However, it’s easy enough to get them on pirate DVD for around £1.50 for the best quality. So we are looking forward to having a few movie nights in and watching the Oscar winning movies on DVD.
Twice a month, normally at the weekend I get our ayi to cook up a special batch of her Hóng Shāo Ròu 红烧肉. We’ve started having it instead of the usual roast dinner on Sunday which makes a nice change. She has also been teaching Canthy how to cook it, but it takes a lot of practice to perfect the recipe. The secret is in the sauce and cooking the meat till it’s so tender and soft it just falls apart in your mouth.
Most weekends Canthy cooks her special fried rice which the kids and I love. It’s made with carrot, cucumber, spring onion, egg, sweet beans and smoked sausage all finely diced together. For best results it’s better to use day old rice which make the fried rice taste even tastier. It makes a great filling snack on its own, or as part of a meal with other dishes.
Canthy has been suffering with a cold so her remedy was to eat spicy Mala Xiang Guo. It’s not exactly Traditional Chinese Medicine, but the idea is the hot spicy food helps with the nose and throat. Not sure if or how it really works, but it cheered up Canthy so it’s probably more psychosomatic than medicinal.
I’ve started watching the Chinese TV series, Romance of the Three Kingdoms on Youtube. This version comes with English subtitles, so it’s easy to watch and understand the story. It’s a good way to practice listening to Chinese, although it has lots of historical references and names that are hard to grasp at first. This series has 95 (one-hour) episodes, so by the end of watching it I should be very familiar with all the characters.
I used to think parents who cut crusts off bread, before giving them to their kids were pathetic. But that was before I had kids; as I’ve now turned into one of those pathetic parents. In fact I’ll do anything to make my kids eat their food, including cutting their toast into shapes. These ones we call “Marmalade Heart Toast” because they’re girly, made with love and Tanya and Alicya love eating them from breakfast.
Trying to comb Alicya’s hair every morning is a challenge, as she often wont let anyone touch her hair. One solution is to get ayi to braid Alicya’s hair, which keeps it neat and tidy for days. When it’s done Alicya has with between four to six mini pigtails called 辫子 “biànzi” in Chinese.
It’s officially the last day of the Chinese New Year holiday period and traditionally a time to eat 汤圆 Tāngyuán. These ones were small round eyeball size, made of glutinous sticky rice filled with sweet sesame filing. They are served in a sweet soup and meant to be symbolise good fortune. They are a bit too sweet for my taste, but I ate just enough to give me good luck in the coming year.
I’m starting to feel more comfortable now my Chinese level has reached HSK 5. It would be easy to stay on this plateau. However I decided today, that I need to move on to climb the next mountain, the enormous HSK 6! The difference between the levels of HSK 4 and HSK 5 is big, the gap between HSK 5 and HSK 6 is huge. As you need to learn an additional 2500 words making a total of 5,000 words for HSK levels 1-6. This mountain of words is so high I can’t even see the summit, which is shrouded in mist. From today I’m giving myself until the end of this year to complete HSK 6 vocabulary on my Sticky Study app. It’s not overly ambitious timeline, as I want to try and enjoy the journey, but it will still be a tough climb one word at a time.
Sunday lunch this week was chicken, but in a salad rather than roasted with all the trimmings. Both Canthy and I have over indulged over the Chinese New Year holiday, so we’ve beginning the New Year on a health kick. Canthy’s started back to the gym with a personal trainer to keep her on track. And I’m trying to cook more high protein low fat and low carbohydrate meals that include lots of chicken, fish and fresh vegetables. So this Chicken Caesar salad is part of our healthy new start to the Year of the Monkey.
Alicya came home excited from school today with an award as star citizen of the week. Canthy was even prouder as they had framed her award (which included Alicya’s photo) and hung it on the wall outside her classroom. It’s only a small thing, meant to foster and reward good behaviour or special achievement. But it probably has a bigger impact on the parents like Canthy who get the right to proudly tell everyone about it for a week.
Tanya and Alicya are big fans of Kung Fu Panda, so when they saw him on a box of cornflakes we had to buy it. We normally avoid buying cereals for kids, as they are loaded with sugar, but corn flakes are a much healthier option. The third Kung Fu Panda movie just opened here in China, but our kids are still too young to sit still in the cinema. Anyway it’ll be out on pirated DVD in a few weeks so we’ll watch it then.
I’ve been using the salad and celery that the kids picked at the organic farm to make lots of healthy dishes. I used up the last of the celery to make this amazing soup. As a kid I always remember celery soup being lumpy and stringy so I didn’t like it much. However, I blitzed the soup in a blender then strained it through a sieve, which gave it a lovely smooth and silky taste. Cream of celery soup (with parmesan shavings) never tasted so good and the kids couldn’t get enough of it.
I rarely watch TV, but I have been overdosing the last few weeks watching programmes about China. The UK’s BBC 2 channel is hosting a “China Season” featuring documentaries, dramas, news and current events programmes which have been fascinating to watch. My parents are also enjoying watching it and learning things that even I didn’t know about China, although I have lived here for many years. It’s great TV and a must watch for anyone expat living in China who wants to understand more about the history and culture of this huge country.
Whenever I start studying a new Chinese textbook I always go through it and highlight new words. This book has between 60-80 news words per lesson, mostly specific to business and marketing. It’s quite a lot, so it can make reading a slow and sometimes frustrating process, as I have to continually look up new words. The more words I know the more words I realise I don’t know. However, there is no way to avoid this frustrating part of Learning Chinese. I just have to practice, practice and practice reading until the words become familiar and stick in my head.
Beijing Roast Duck is one of my favourite dishes, so I can eat it anytime, but it’s especially relevant at Chinese New Year. A sign of a good duck restaurant in Beijing, is one that is so busy you have to queue and the chef has a fat belly. Our local duck restaurant is such a place and is even walking distance from our home, which makes it a great choice.