Hong Kong is known for several things like it’s shopping, eating, drinking and especially its partying. Lan Kwai Fong is probably one of the most famous bar streets in the world. However the bars and clubs around Soho and Wyndham Street are even better places to hang out. It’s been a long time since I had a big night out, but Saturday is the best night for it. I ended up bar hopping around some of the top clubs including Kee Club, Dragon Eye and Drop. One of the highlights of the night was a drag act, which whipped the crowd at Dragon Eye into frenzy. It was a fun night, that ended up in the early hours of the morning. However like everything in Hong Kong, it was over the top, totally outrageous and expensive, so I wouldn’t want to be doing that every weekend.
Friday night is always a big night for going out in Hong Kong. My friend Winnie whom I am staying with tried to drag me out, but I wasn’t going to move. It was the Royal Wedding and wanted to have front row seats along with a billion other people in front of the TV. With the +8 hour time difference to London I stayed up late to watch it all on Hong Kong’s Pearl TV. Which now broadcasts in high definition TV, which makes a big difference to the quality of the image. Afterwards they showed a programme about the last eight royal weddings since 1947. Unfortunately more than half of them have ended in divorce, including Charles and Diana, Andrew and Fergie, Princess Anne and Captain Mark Phillips. The divorce rate is now 50% in the UK, so only time will tell if William and Kate are on the right side of the line. Although they looked like their heads were in the clouds, I think they have their feet on the ground and that why most English people like them. Good luck to them both.
Arrived in Hong Kong and the first thing I noticed at the airport was these HSBC ads. The headlines read “Everyday 200,000 people leave the countryside for the city.” It’s been over fifteen years since I left London for Hong Kong, but that was more of a city-to-city move. When I lived in London I use to drive a bright orange beetle like the one in the ad. The only difference was that mine had a full-length sunroof, which was great in summer. In those days Beetle drivers use to wave or flash their headlights at other Beetle drivers which was a nice touch. So it made you feel like part of a community of in-people. It was a cool car to drive especially during the rave years of going to clubs and parties in London. However, it wasn’t too comfortable to drive over long distances and I wouldn’t want to drive one now. But it made me smile to see it in an ad and it brought back fond memories of times past. I guess your first car will always have a special place in your heart, like your first girlfriend, but that’s another story.
I’ve been living in China over four year now, but my mum still often asks me what I have for lunch. In the UK we have the culture of eating sandwiches, but this idea is fairly new to China, as most Chinese don’t like eating cold food. However Starbucks and Subway sandwiches are becoming more popular among young office workers. Most people tend to bring their own food, eat in local restaurants or order lunch boxes. As there are a lot of cheap places to eat around my school, I tend to eat out or order a lunch box like this one. They normally consist of rice with some kind of meat and vegetable. This one is barbeque pork, which is one of my favourites. It’s healthy fast food, which they deliver to your office and it only costs about RMB 15 (US$ 2.30 GB£ 1.50p). Its much better than eating McDonalds and KFC for lunch.
Canthy has taken Tanya to about four or five photoshoots since she was born. She has been photographed for a number of magazines and adverts, so is getting use to all the fuss that goes with it. Having to change her outfits several times and then act infront of the camera, while the director, editor, photographer and assistants all try and get her to pose for the camera. Normally Canthy is the most vocal as she cheers Tanya on, so I am not sure who enjoys it the most. I tend to sit in the background and watch it all from a distance. As I know what its like to work with animals and children and the worst are always the children’s parents, haha. The only time I get involved is when Tanya starts to get tired then its my job to say “it’s a wrap” and take her home.
I have been studying Chinese for two months now and making some good progress in speaking, reading and writing. Several of my teachers also teach Chinese calligraphy using traditional ink and Chinese brushes. As an creative person I am interested in this and have been watching some other students learning. It is a lot harder than you imagine and takes a lot of time to practice, which I haven’t got at the moment. So I think I will stick to just using a pen for now, until I have mastered the basic strokes of the characters. However, I do like the brushes and stand, so I think I will buy one just for decoration and to inspire me for later.
The springtime weather in Beijing is really beautiful so it’s a great time to be outside. Our Ayi takes Tanya out everyday to get fresh air and meet the other kids. Over the last few weeks she has been teaching her to walk which is amazing to watch. As long as you hold her hand, Tanya can toddle a few steps then normally loses her balance and falls down. She really gets excited when she is trying to walk so I think it wont be long before she cant walk on her own. However Canthy is a little nervous, as she is worried Tanya will fall over and hurt herself. Unfortunately this will happen but I told Canthy it’s all part of her growing up. And falling down and getting up again is just part of life. I’ve forgotten how many times I’ve fallen over, but the trick is you always get back up. Like the Chinese proverb says “ If you fall down seven times, get up eight”
At the weekends we always take Tanya out for lunch, but a familiar question also pops up, “where are we going to eat?” Both Canthy and I are bored or saying and hearing it, but there are just too many choices in Beijing. Despite this we often end up going to the same old places as they are familiar and you know what you get. However to change this routine I looked at Time Out Beijing Magazine’s Restaurant Awards for 2011. Although we had been to many of them there were a few new one we thought wed try. Modo, won the “Best Value Lunch” so we went to Sanlitun to check it out. The food was excellent, as was the service and the environment was bright and relaxed. Canthy got talking to the owner Alex, who it turned out also had a 10-month-old baby girl. After we finished eating his wife, Eva and their daughter turned up for lunch. So the two mums got to swap stories about their daughters, as there is only a week difference between them. It’s easy to see why Modo deservedly won the award, as it really offers a different and unique eating experience. We will definitely be back again and maybe try the dinner menu when I am not driving. As I am sure the food would taste even better with a glass or two of wine.
I had another flying visit to Shanghai so up again at 5am for the fight. The Shanghai Motor Show opened this week so I was hoping I might get time to visit. Unfortunately the show was only for media and not open to the public until next Monday. So I didn’t get to see any new cars, but I did see the world’s first car produced by Mercedes in from 1886. A working replica was on display outside the Ritz Carlton Hotel in Pudong. With its hard wheels and steering handle it looked more like a mortised tricycle. It was fascinating to look at and I spent ages studying the car. It looks nothing like my Mercedes, which would look like a rocket beside it. But then in another 125 years we could all be flying around in spaceships like in the movie The Fifth Element, with Bruce Willis. Well, I wont be around but I am sure Mercedes will still be innovating cars for the future, whatever they might look like.
Tanya’s over ten months old and becoming more self confident and self sufficient. She can pull herself up to stand up and even walk if she holds onto things. She also now holds her own milk bottle and can feed herself. Her personality is starting to come through as she becomes more independent. She is still drinking baby formula four times a day but we are also supplementing her diet with fruit and vegetable. Although she can feed herself, if I am home I will still give her the milk. As I want to treasure the time to hold her and feed her while she looks into my eyes. It’s an amazing feeling, but I can already sense that these times will soon be over, as she grows up and wants to do more things for herself.
I went with Canthy back to the Traditional Chinese Medicine hospital. She was suffering with pains in her knees so she wanted the doctor to give her fire cupping on her joints. It was interesting to watch the doctor working. After half an hour of Chinese massaging to her body he applied the cups. It was actually quite a simple process to perform. He first put a lighted flame into the small glass cup, which takes out all the air. This creates a vacuum once he puts in on her knee and then sucks up the flesh to bring the blood up to her skin. Canthy told me it’s a painless process, but it just feels a bit weird. The doctor offered to treat me again, so maybe next time I will give it a try.
Canthy took me back to the Shuang Lai Fang Zhuang Chinese restaurant, as she wanted me to try another one of their special dishes. The last time we sat in a private room but this time we sat in the main restaurant. The interior design has a rustic feel using lots of wood and stone. This style matches the Shaanxi food they serve, which is quite simple and basic to prepare and cook. What I found most interesting was the “AobaMao” poster on the wall. It was depicting President Obama in a Chairman Mao pose and wearing a traditional Chinese suit from the 50s. Obama is very popular in China, especially when he came to visit the mainland last year. At that time posters and t-shirts with his image on were banned from being sold during his trip. This one seems to have survived but it’s rare to see these now.
We had the window cleaners come over to our apartment this week. I also noticed a few other buildings being cleaned like this office tower. It always amazes me how these guys clean the window with a bucket of water and a squeegee, while abseiling down on a rope. It doesn’t look too safe but I am sure they get use to it after a while. I read recently that the French climber nicknamed Spiderman climbed the world’s tallest building in Dubai. Not sure how they clean the windows at that building. But at over 800 meters tall, I am sure they don’t have people dangling on the end of a rope.
Beijing experienced it’s first sand storm today. Canthy and I tried to take Tanya outside in the morning but decided against it. The winds were so strong that the streets were deserted. However we did make a trip to the supermarket but came home quickly as the skies looked like a real storm was coming. Luckily it wasn’t so bad but the weather forecast is for more storms to come. The sands are blown down from the deserts in North West China, which have been made worse by environmental problems. In previous years the sand storms turns the sky yellow and you have to make sure all your windows are close. Otherwise the sand gets everywhere and blankets everything with a layer of yellow dust.
We take Tanya out everyday to the gardens in or apartment complex at Central Park. At weekends it turns into a kindergarten, as there are so many kids around. It’s becoming a real community and a good place for Canthy and our Ayi to meet other mothers and talk about babies and stuff. It was even more exciting this morning as one of the Ayi’s brought along a little duckling amd chicklet. All the kids went crazy and wanted to play with it and even Canthy joined in too. Tanya was to young to hold it and didn’t know quite what to make of them as it’s the first time for her to see these animals. One of the mothers made a joke about Peking Duck, but the kids were to young to understand that one day they may be eating these little fluffy creatures.
A new restaurant opened a few months ago called Casa Brasil. It’s on Guanghua Lu and we drive past it everyday on our way home. On the spur of the moment we decided to stop off and try it out. It was only 6pm but we love having a “Beijing dinner”. In the west, most people tend to eat around 8pm or even later. Where as in Beijing people like to eat around 5pm or 6pm. I am not sure if the food was Brazilian but it some of the best food we have had in Beijing. The quality of the food, especially the meat was very good. And the food presentation was surprising and creative with added to the experience. It reminded us like another one of our favourite restaurants called Salt. Then we met the chef who it turns out use to work at Salt and it all made sense. The chef told us they also do a good set lunch, so I guess we have to try that out next time.
Canthy’s office went for a company lunch and her boss invited me to join them. I have had lunch with them before but normally I don’t say much as they don’t speak English. However this time was totally different as I was able to understand most of the conversation and join in and talk with them. My two months of studying Chinese is paying off though at times the speed of conversation was too fast for me to catch. And by the time I wanted to add something the conversation had moved to another topic. Still it was a good start. The restaurant called “Shuang Lai Fan Zhuang” is just across the road from my school and is designed with traditional Chinese elemnets. With lions and lanterns outside and a roof that looks like it comes from the Forbidden City. The food was good so I think Canthy and I will be going back there again and I can practice my Chinese at ordering the food.
Many of our friends say that Tanya looks like me but I still she looks more like Canthy. Not that I am concerned as I would rather she looks like Canthy as she is after all a girl. However people also comment on how big her eyes are and that she definitely gets from me. Canthy also thinks her stubborn character comes from me but I say it comes from Canthy. I think it’s funny how we seem to blame the faults of our children on the other parent. Whereas we only think our child gets the good things from us. I often find myself praising “my” daughter for doing something really good. And then when she is naughty she turns into “your” daughter and I jokingly say it’s Canthy’s fault. I suppose we all see the world though our own eyes. But sometimes its good to see it from another person’s point of view to understand where they are coming from. Especially when you look at the world through the eyes of a child.
There are so many new building go up around Beijing you become oblivious to yet another building site. Walking past this one near my apartment I was struck by the size of the steel structure. However what really caught me eye was the two guys (in the middle of the photo) sitting on top of the steel girders. They looked like they were chatting away like it was just another day at the office. At times like this I wish I had a real camera with a zoom lens and not just a point and shoot. As I couldn’t get close enough to photograph them and get a really clear picture of the two guys. High-rise work is a dangerous and perilous job especially considering how fast and high things get built in China. But these guys looked like they were having a nice tea break while waiting for the boss to tell them what to do next.
Canthy’s been going once a week for treatment at the Traditional Chinese Medicine hospital. She had a particularly hard session today of massage and fire cupping, which I don’t know if it’s good or bad thing as it looked really painful. The redness just highlights how bad her problem is, so Canthy said the treatment is really helping. Despite what it looks like it appears to be working, but it will be many weeks or months before she is fully recovered. After seeing Canthy’s back I told her I will put off going to see the doctor for diagnoses. And anyway I don’t think I have anything wrong with me. But that’s the key difference with Chinese and Western medicine. In Western medicine we go to see a doctor after we are ill. He then gives us drugs to treat the symptoms and make us get better. In Traditional Chinese Medicine you go to a doctor for prevention not cure. So he treats the cause of the illness not the symptoms. The effect is not always as immediate as in Western medicine but it is suppose to be better for you in the long term.
My old friend GG came over to visit this afternoon. I haven’t seen her in almost a year although she only lives 10 minutes away from my home. She brought Tanya a present of a Mickey Mouse plush toy. Tanya loved it but the toy was even bigger than she was. A few days earlier Disney announced it had broken ground on the new huge theme park it is building in Shanghai. It wont be open for about five years but I can’t wait to visit it. Tanya will be around five years old and I will be around 50, but I will probably enjoy it as much, if not more than her. The Disney brand is very popular in China. So the only problem will be the crowds, as I expect it to be just as busy as The Shanghai Expo was last year.
Canthy had to work today and with no ayi, I had to look after Tanya on my own. I thought I would find it hard to do, but once you get into her routine it not so bad. The weather in Beijing is beautiful at this time of year as Spring is officially here. I spent most of the afternoon pushing Tanya around outside in the park. Showing her all the new flowers and buds in the trees. At this age she is interested in anything new so I gave her these petals to play with. However I turned around for one second to put my camera away and when I looked back she had already eaten half of the flowers. I quickly tried to get my fingers in her mouth but I was too late. She then gave a little two teeth grin, as if to say I swallowed them so what! Well nothing I could do so I decided it was probably time to go as Canthy would be home around six o clock. She had been calling me all day to make sure I was OK with Tanya. However I don’t think I will tell her what happened with the flowers.
It’s been two years since Canthy went to visit the tomb of her father. As we didn’t go on Tuesday the official Qing Ming public holiday we decided to go today. I have never experience this before so it was the first time for me to visit a Chinese cemetery. At the entrance to the cemetery we bought flowers to put on the tombstone. Canthy also bought lots of paper money and other gifts, which you burn as an offering, which is meant to protect her father in the after life. When we got to the tomb Canthy started to clean it and talk to her father about her life. She said In Chinese, that she loved him and missed him and wished he was alive to see how her life had turned out. Now she was happily married, with a big apartment, a car, and most importantly a little baby girl. She then took out a picture of Tanya and showed it to her father’s image on the tombstone. By this time the tears were rolling down her face, with a mixture of sad and happy emotions. As I stood by her side I made a promise to her father that I would always look after Canthy and Tanya and he didn’t need to worry as I was here to protect them both. It was an emotional experience for us both, which brought home the fact that we are all mortal and some day have to face our maker. Despite the sadness Canthy felt a relief and joy in visiting her father’s grave. In a few months time it will be the fifth year anniversary of his death and we will need to come out her again. This time we will bring her mother and Tanya, so I will need to prepare myself for another emotional day.
I came home from school today and realised I am turning into one of “those parents” I thought I would never be. The ones that think their child is the smartest, cleverest, beautiful, most talented, etc, etc etc baby in the world. As I walked into the door our ayi showed me the paintings that Tanya did in class. My first words were “wow they are f***ing amazing” and then I went to give Tanya a big hug and kiss. It turned out that Ayi had helped Tanya with the hand-prints but the yellow abstract painting was all done by Tanya. They could have been early Jackson Pollock abstract paintings worth millions, but to me they were priceless, as they were her first ever paintings. I put it up on the wall of my study and told Canthy we have to get it framed. I bet Tanya gets her creative artistic skills from her proud father, haha.
TLI, my Chinese language school had a visit today from a very important person. I recognized his face from one of the posters in the school, as it was Dr Marvin Ho, the founder of the TLI school. Apparently he often comes to Beijing for business and pleasure and always drops by to chat with the teachers. Haley, the school head introduced me to him and I nervously tried to talk to him in Chinese. Well, I garbled all my words, as I introduced myself and told him I was pleased to meet him and other pleasant stuff. I then asked if I could take a photo with him and garbled that too, so Haley helped me out. I think he understood most of what I said in Chinese. But knowing I was a beginner he then replied in perfect cultured English, sparing me any more embarrassment. I had the typical experience that anyone foreigner has in learning Chinese. I fumbled all my words, got my grammar back to front and generally felt stupid. However, I reminded myself that this will happen again and again and you just have to work through it. Hopefully next time he comes to visit I will be more prepared and more confident, so we can have a two-way conversation in Chinese.
Today is the Qing Ming Festival 清明节 (Qīngmíngjié), and a public holiday in China. The holiday is also known as Tomb Sweeping Day, where people go to visit the graves of their families and ancestors. It’s normally a crazy busy day so best to avoid going out if you can. As the cemeteries are packed and the roads are jammed with traffic so we decided not to go out today. Instead we stayed close to home and just walked around our apartment. On the way we dropped into the Smart Car showroom to check out the latest models. Canthy had seen the new television ads featuring Kobe Bryant and I wanted to checkout the cars too. You can read more about this on my other blog “Smart’s Small Car Big Idea”. Canthy has always liked the cars, as they’re cute, easy to drive and easy to park, which is often a problem for women drivers. But unfortunately they cant fit a baby seat so no good for her at the moment.
Canthy has been suffering with pains in her joints especially her back, shoulders and arms. She told me it was related to her pregnancy and her caesarean operation. After giving birth many Chinese women believe in “zuò yè zi” 坐月子. The practice where the mother has to stay at home in bed for a whole month. She can’t do any work, go out or even be allowed to leave the room. She cant eat cold food, take a shower or wash her hair and you cant open the window or use the air con. Canthy observed all of these, but cheated a little on one or two of them. Which is how the cold got into her body. Nothing seems to help so we went to the Beijing University Of Chinese Medicine. It’s one of the best Traditional Chinese Medicine hospitals in Beijing but nothing to look at from the outside. The doctor has been using many different techniques including fire cupping (bá guàn) 拔罐 , which translates into “take cup”. The process involves heating the air within the jar and then placing them on your skin on your bare back. This causes a suction effect drawing up the blood in that area. It looks painful but Canthy said it doesn’t hurt, it just leaves big bright red circles on your skin. Next time the doctor said he will diagnose me and I can try it to it I want.
We take Tanya out every weekend in the car and she has gradually got use to sitting in the baby seat. At first she use to cry all the time, which was hard for Canthy and our ayi to bare. They both thought it was ok just to hold the baby on your lap, which is what most families in China do. When we were in the UK Canthy saw it was illegal for a baby not to be strapped in a car seat. But China doesn’t yet have this law, so it’s not uncommon to see parents holding babies in the front seat without even wearing a safety belt. So despite Tanya’s tears her safety comes even if she cried and didn’t like it at first. Now she is much more comfortable and will often fall asleep on the journey. The only problem is she is outgrowing this one, so we need to change for a bigger one in the next few months. Then we might need to go through the whole process of getting her use to another new car seat. But hopefully this time without the tears.
Our ayi has every weekend off so Canthy and I look after Tanya on our own. As it’s hard to make time to study Chinese at home I came up with a great way to multi task and get two things done at once. So now I can look after Tanya and also practice my Chinese using flashcards while teaching her Chinese and English words. It actually works quite well as Tanya gets easily bored so you need to constantly stimulate her with new things. The only problem is when she gets hold of the cards, which she always tries to tear up or eat. This new system is helping me with my Chinese, but I think it might end up confusing Tanya. As she doesn’t yet know what words are English and what are Chinese. I think I need to be careful otherwise she might grow up speaking Chinglish, haha.
Since becoming a full-time student I haven’t taken a flight in six weeks. This is probably the longest time in the last seven years I can remember not having to fly somewhere on business. However today I had to make a quick trip to Shanghai, so up at 5am to go to the airport. It really was a flying visit so no time to do anything and spent the day in planes, trains and taxis. The only photograph I had time to take was out the taxi window of the two tallest buildings in Shanghai, the Shanghai World Financial Center (492m / 1,614ft) and the Jin Mao Tower (421m / 1,380ft). However, in a few years time these will be dwarfed by the Shanghai Tower (632m / 2,073 ft) being built nearby. Making Shanghai the new the skyscraper capital of the world.