2016 So Far…

We rang in 2016 with some wonderful friends in Kuala Lumpur. Maybe it was the heat. Maybe it was the great conversation. Maybe it was the gin(!). This year I decided that for the first time in a long time I would make a New Years resolution. Nothing life changing, but hopefully life enriching. For the 12 months of 2016 (my final 12 months in Beijing) I would try or experience one new thing each month. Big or small, it doesn’t matter. I just needed to be mindful to make sure I collected 12 new experiences. Here’s how I’m doing so far…

January: The Yoga Yard

A colleague had recommended taking a class there for months and I’d still not managed to make it. Despite it being a 10min walk from my apartment. One freezing cold Sunday evening found me realising how bad my form and flexibility had become without regular classes since I left London. I’m glad I tried it. And whilst I’ve incorporated yoga moves into my gym routine, I’ve decided to wait before I go back to regular yoga classes. 

February: Singapore & Pyongyang

I was lucky enough to for in two incredible new countries into one short month. Singapore was a wonderful break from the Beijing winter. Beautiful weather, lovely people, great food – just what the doctor ordered!

It wasn’t all just play!

 
  
Pyongyang. There aren’t enough words to describe the experience. To finally visit a place so closed to the world, which the world is so fascinated by deserves its own blog post (don’t worry it’s not too far away). 

Pyongyang Pagodas

 

March: Beijing – As a Tourist

March brought my father to Beijing to visit us for the first time since we left London. I got to finally see the tourist hot spots is so far missed out on including the Forbidden City and Lama Temple. 

 

Tallest Sandalwood Buddha

 

April: Picturesque Portsmouth

A friend’s wedding allowed me to visit this coastal city for the first time. Charming architecture, historical buildings, the ocean and a beautiful wedding made it memorable. 

 

Sunday Morning Stroll

 

May: Shanghai & Tokyo


Another month that made me feel blessed. I was lucky enough to visit two cities I’ve been dying to visit since we arrived in China. We walked all over both places, are some stand out food and got a taste of two very different Asian cities. There was such dynamism and character in both places, I can’t wait to explore them further at some point. 

Even the rain couldn’t dampen my excitement at the Bund

 
 The izakaya where they filmed a sequence for Kill Bill  

June: Pandas!

I finally made it to Chengdu! And the pandas were adorable! 

  
I also got to see the giant Buddha in Laoshan and get a taste of some serious Sichuan chilli!

 

200+ Steps to the top!

 
& that’s the story so far… I can’t wait for the rest of the year!

Advertisements

It’s been a while…

A very long while. & whilst I have no real excuse I have a lot of (luckily) fun reasons why I’ve not been writing. 

Since my last blog post I’ve been fortunate enough to travel to six countries (three of which were new to me), had our families visit us in China for the first time, and confirmed that 2016 will be our last calendar year with Beijing as our home. 

I’m excited for what this last year in China has in store for us. And, what more I’ll learn from my time on this side of the world. I’ve read a little about how living in China changes you. In my last year I suppose it’s inevitable that I start to reflect on how this whole experience has impacted me. A few thoughts:

I have more patience. Anyone who has sat in Beijing traffic knows you have two choices: be frustrated and angry or chill and wait it out. I most definitely adopt the second approach – now. 

I’m more assertive. With a queuing culture (or lack of) alien to most Brits I’ve learnt to assert myself, or lose valuable time allowing people to push in front of you without giving way.  This of course doesn’t apply every time, but I know when to switch it on when it does(!).

I smile more. And it makes a huge difference to my day to day life. In a city where I still greatly struggle with the language (despite inconsistent lessons for over two years) when you smile people’s whole reaction to you changes. I always knew this but never have I seen it happen so blatantly before. 

I definitely love BIG cities. I always knew this but Beijing reaffirmed this for me. I’m definitely not a country girl (much to my husband’s disappointment). Vast urban landscapes are calming to me. I love the chaos and vibrancy and noise. I’m comforted knowing I have access to anything I might need at anytime. I can’t clearly put my finger on why, but I love this city. 

Maybe it’s how different each part is from the other. Or how I can lost in it and discover new places. Perhaps it’s because this is my first home with my husband and where we started our lives together. 

Or is it just because I now feel like a Beijinger?  I’m not sure I know why and I don’t know if it matters, but, so far so good. & that’s all that matters. 

How to get back in the game

Well, I don’t really know how, I just know I must!

As you may have read in my previous post, a little over ten years ago I embarked on what became a complete overhaul of the way I ate and lived my life.  I went from eating junk on the go (if I ate at all) and never moving to good wholesome food and multiple gym hours a week.

That was ten years ago.  Since then a lot of things have changed.  For one, I no longer live in London (& I’m no longer single).  On the surface that shouldn’t make too much of an impact, I’ve travelled a lot for work and always managed to modify my routine to make it work.  I never thought actually moving to a new city would be any different.  Turns out I was wrong…

74990_10151405079767323_2012194354_n

My favourite act of revenge on my favourite trainer!

The past year has been a whirlwind of work, travel, wedding planning & getting married! All challenging and exciting, but not great for routine.  But I’m adaptable, and whilst I no longer feel the need to continuously watch what I eat when I’m away, I do ensure that I workout.  Whilst  in London I rejoined my gym and made sure that we chose hotels with gym facilities for our other trips.  This fastidiousness when away was not always mirrored at home.  We’re now at the end of the year and for the first time since joining a gym, my membership has lapsed and I have no regular routine.  I’m out of the game… & I’m not happy about it.

184509_10151413417867323_1980799797_n

My workout essentials wherever I train

So what do I do?!  I need a plan of action – I need help making one!  I need some inspiration.  I’ve been here over a year now and I’ve yet to find what works for me in terms of a fitness regime.  With air pollution forcing most of us inside, gym culture is becoming huge in Beijing, but I’ve yet to find the perfect gym fit for me. The few I have sampled were in the basement with no natural light and limited air purifiers, filled with people on their phones in full selfie mode, or in the case of one, had a guy smoking whilst walking on the treadmill!

10336702_10152547511547323_315462652024046096_n

The 1st gym I joined in Beijing – no odd behaviour, but also no daylight

Perhaps it’s time to try other options Beijing has on offer?  In the birthplace of Tai Chi, maybe this is the way forward.  Almost every park and most open spaces can find people practicing this gentle art of movement early in the mornings.  The evenings see them make way for line dancing and ballroom dancing groups swaying to the sound of Communist folk tunes.  The Chinese government encourages fitness for all and has constructed ‘National Fitness Paths’ with simple fitness facilities in open spaces.  A more unusual Chinese fitness trend that emerged this year is crawling.  Yes, crawling! Beijingers of all ages can be seen crawling on the their hands and feet through the city’s parks.  It is claimed that the light exercise is good for the spine and back muscles.  It stems from a 2000 year old Chinese medical practice dating back to the Han Dynasty.  I don’t think that last one is for me!  But what is?

How can I get back into the game?!?  Any suggestions?

 

It’s that time of year again…

I should say it’s somehow already that time of year again. In true style the holidays have rolled around faster than we realised and the merriment is in full swing.

Last holiday season saw us back in London after a very last minute decision to see our families. Their looks of surprise to find us on the doorstep were priceless and worth the long haul flight and subsequent jetlag. Therefore, that means this will be our first Christmas in China – and our first married Christmas(!).

In London for me the holiday season begins with my first red cup of the year (how can you possibly resist Starbucks’ Christmas in a Cup?!) and the lights being put up in town. The sound of Christmas music in stores (which we inevitably tire of by the time it actually is Christmas) and the markets that spring up throughout the city, with their mulled wine and treats.

 

Santa at the Manchester Christmas Markets

 

Here in Beijing the situation seems ‘same same but different’. I still get my red cups, the malls and storefronts are bejewelled with lights and decorations, and there’s definitely a lot of Christmas tunes playing. Same, same and same. But different. With it not being a national holiday here, there is not the same sense of anticipation and excitement. But that is not to say Christmas is limited to shops, restaurants and malls. With large numbers of Chinese students returning home from Western countries for the holidays, China has begun to embrace Christmas. Like so many foreign customs which China has for centuries absorbed, this holiday too is developing its own Chinese characteristics.

Here in China Christmas trees are called ‘Trees of Light’ and are decorated with paper chains, and flowers. Some homes are decorated with beautiful paper lanterns and stockings made of muslin are hung. Santa Claus is called ‘Sheng dan lao ren’ meaning Old Christmas Man and instead of elves to help him, he is accompanied by his sisters (young women dressed as elves). In Beijing he is often shown playing the saxophone – I’m not really sure why. A growing custom is to gift apples wrapped in coloured paper on Christmas eve (the produce, not the products!). In Mandarin Christmas Eve is referred to as ‘Ping an ye’ meaning silent or quiet night, and the word for apple is ‘Ping guo’ which sounds very similar – and so a new tradition is born.

But without an opportunity to go home and spend time with family, here, this holiday lacks something. It’s interesting to me that in a city that seems ever more commercial, where image, consumerism and the luxury goods market are ever present, that the true meaning of Christmas (or any holiday) is brought home to me. Without being able to spend time with their loved ones at home, Christmas in China feels like Valentine’s Day or Chinese New Year at home: a good excuse to socialise, eat good food and have some fun. Back in the UK it takes on much more significance because we can go home to our families and enjoy some quality time with them. That really is what this holiday is about (for me at least).

 

 

As my first Christmas away from family approaches, I’m starting to wonder what it will look like and what it all means. So far I know that I’m excited to spend my first Christmas with my husband in our home in Beijing. I know I’ll be hoping for a little bit of snow! & I know it’ll be a great opportunity to relax, catch up with friends and see some more of the city (pollution permitting). I’m looking forward his cooking, to starting some of our own traditions.  & I’m looking forward to going apple shopping!

Closing the book

So real you can touch it and so beautiful it aches…

chanyado

You get married and you think this is the man you will spend the rest of your life with.

Then life happens.

You separate, and for the next three years you don’t see him. You don’t hear his voice. The soft lilt in his Rs. You don’t see him ruffled up in the morning before he puts on his armour to face the world. You don’t smell him in the corridor before you leave the house. You don’t see his name pop up on your phone. You don’t know what song he belts out as he drives with the window down and Bluetooth earpiece on. You don’t know what person he thinks is a complete muppet. You don’t hear the word muppet anymore. You never have to put the toilet seat down.

You begin to wonder if you dreamed the whole thing up.

The waves now wash over you once every…

View original post 1,135 more words

A Lot Can Happen In 10 Years!

For those of you that know me well, you’ll be aware of my struggle with weight and body image growing up. Always the chubby kid, I was never severely overweight and came to accept that I was always going to be bigger than my peers. During my teens I found a confidence independent of my size and weight, and never let the numbers on the scale impact what I wanted to do or achieve (not that I ever worked up the courage to get onto the scale).

And then something happened. I’m not sure how or when – quite gradually I guess – I started to gain more weight. By the time I graduated from university and was back in Law School in London in I could no longer say I was just chubby. It most certainly wasn’t baby fat anymore. I grew unhappy with how I felt in my clothes and began to shy away from certain social situations. I hadn’t realised it at the time but I’d refuse to be in any pictures, always offering to be the one taking them, and my confidence began to wane.

February 2005: I saw a picture of myself taken when I was giving a speech and my first reaction was ‘Who is that girl in my outfit?!’. I didn’t recognise myself. The image of me in the photograph didn’t match my image of myself & I didn’t like what the world could see, which I’d chosen not to see myself. But still I was not ready for change, or didn’t quite know how to change.

A couple of months later on a random afternoon I was in a bookstore with my mom, over a cup of coffee, we came across Gillian McKeith’s ‘You Are What You Eat’. A family friend had achieved great results following the advice it contained for healthier skin. As an acne sufferer myself, I thought I’d give it a try too. My mom pointed out that the book talks about a holistic approach, not simply incorporating/excluding foods for a better complexion. For the best results I’d have to commit a little more. And so on what felt like a whim, I decided to do just that. We snapped up the book and went home via the supermarket to pick up fresh foods (in accordance with the book). Once at home we purged the kitchen and pantry of anything that was prohibited on the initial 8 week detox, and rid the house of any possible temptations. No ‘last meals’ or final indulgent treats, no mourning the absence of my favourite foods from now on, no prior planning at all in fact. I still don’t know what was so different about that day that made us do this, but now I know what made that day special.

Early on in my weightless journey

Early on in my weightless journey

April 9 2005. Exactly 10 years ago today I took a step that I believe literally changed my life, and gave me a much better one in return. Ten years ago today I was pretty much a UK size 18 (not fun when you’re just over 5 ft 1” tall), constantly tired and yawning with zero energy, and aging quicker than I should have been. In the last decade whilst I have not always got it right, I have not regressed and am incredibly proud of the work I’ve put in and the progress I’ve made. I went from couch potato to gym bunny, from obese to a healthy weight and from an almost size 18 to a size 6. I’ve sky-dived, bungee-jumped, competed in dry triathlons, hiked, trekked – and got to wear clothes I’d only ever dreamt about before. It wasn’t easy initially and people, myself included, wondered if this would be a lasting change. One decade on and I think I can safely say it is. I canNOT believe that was 10 years ago! Sometimes I wonder if any of it actually happened, if I really did make the changes, or if this is all some weird dream. Sometimes it seems like yesterday I was waiting for something to change so things would get better. Most times I can’t imagine ever going back or comprehend how I used to eat before.

Bungee in New Zealand

Bungee in New Zealand

Iceberg Trekking

Iceberg Trekking

Under Water Cave Abseil

Under Water Cave Abseil

A lot of life has happened in since that April, but I haven’t let life become an excuse to stray from the path of being healthy. Going from my post grad into full time work I was apprehensive about what being away from my kitchen for 2 meals a day would mean. More work and more play also meant another change in habits, as did more travel and most recently moving to Beijing. All these changes could have meant that I gave up or went back to bad habits, but instead they meant I found a new balance and a way to keep going. Don’t get me wrong – I can still eat with the best of them, I simply choose not to do that except on occasion. (Chocolate Cake & Cocktails from the Smokehouse Deli in Mumbai come to mind at this point!)

Cocktails @ The SmokeHouse Deli Mumbai

Cocktails @ The SmokeHouse Deli Mumbai

As I look back I can’t quite believe how far I’ve come and how much I’ve learnt, not just about food and nutrition, but about people as well. I definitely couldn’t have done it solo. Without the amazing support that was my mom, friends that were willing to change dining plans and my trainer who convinced me dry triathlons were the thing to do(!) it would have been difficult, and very isolating. To all those people I want to say I’m very grateful. So thank you – you’ve made my journey so far a lot of fun, a lot easier – and I promise: no more random kitchen experiments (those gluten, dairy, sugar and fat free banana muffins were not awesome the first time)!

The After Shot: 5 Yrs Ago  Having reached my goal size & weight

The After Shot: 5 Yrs Ago
Having reached my goal size & weight

Gong He Xin Xi

New Year, New Resolutions. That’s usually how it goes. We associate a new year with a fresh start and a chance to start anew. It’s a tradition associated with New Years as much as the countdown and a kiss at midnight. December 31st came and went with the countdown, the midnight kiss and resolutions the next morning. Tick. Tick. Tick.

NYE Antics

NYE Antics

Before it got a little blurry

Before it got a little blurry

I know how to do New Year. Or so I thought. Six weeks later and another new year: Chinese New Year. The year of the Sheep. Spring Festival and a week long national holiday in China (though not for me). These guys know how to do New Years!! I couldn’t wait!! How different could it be? Countdown. Midnight Kiss. Resolutions. I’ve done this before. I was going to be fine. And I was. But I was also wrong. The Chinese New Year means something different. It is not just the beginning of a new year and the chance to begin anew, and so the traditions and customs are different. Celebrations begin on the eve before new year (that I can identify with) and culminate with the lantern festival fourteen days later. The Spring Festival is a time to honour deities and ancestors and spend time with family. People clean their homes to sweep out bad luck and make way for incoming good luck. They hang red decorations symbolising health, prosperity and good fortune. Red money envelopes are exchanged and firecrackers and fireworks are lit. My first Chinese New Year in Beijing was a mix of Chinese and Western traditions, with a few Diwali sentiments thrown in (why choose if you don’t have to?). There were the many meals with friends, the traditional jiaozi (dumplings) and many many many fireworks! Did I mentions the multiple firecrackers that make me jump out of my skin? I swear they’re louder here! New Years Day saw us gather (post hangover) to go to a temple fair, a must for anyone in Beijing over this holiday. IMG_4427-0 The temple was calm and quiet (rare in this town). Everywhere you looked there were people hanging charms from the trees, making wishes for the coming year and lighting incense before bowing three times as they prayed to deities and ancestors.

A woman bows in prayer

A woman bows in prayer

It was beautiful to see and be able to share it with people it meant so much to. For my part, I made a wish, milled flour (a lesser known tradition) and braved the cold for so long I could no longer feel my face! The post temple fortune cookies and hot pizza were greatly appreciated! I shared the precious days off with friends and my fiancé, laughed a great deal, indulged in delicious food (including making jiaozi) and made a few memories I’ll hold dear. The perfect blend of Chinese, Western and Indian New Years. & I saw once again how similar we all are no matter where we come from and what language we speak.

IMG_4425-0

D&I