Currently…

I’ve been a follower of Khushboo’s Blog since she started writing it a few years ago, and recently came across a post of hers I’ve chosen to replicate (thanks for the inspiration KT!).  As well as talking about all things health & nutrition, some of KT’s posts show what she is currently into/upto…  One of the reasons I began this blog was to share my life in Beijing with family and friends at home.  So here goes…

Current Book: Having just finished a random collection of light chick lit books still around from the summer, I’m about to start Gone Girl.  I know, I know; way behind the curve on that one!!!

Current Guilty Pleasure: Starbucks Red Cups filled with the Tiramisu Latte. Divine & Festive. Drinking dessert in a cup at lunchtime feels beautifully decadent!

First Red Cup of the Season!

First Red Cup of the Season!

Current Music:With plans to check out Wild Beasts next week when they perform in Beijing, I’m listening to their album Present Tense

Current Drink: Beijing right now is all about the pomegranates, and today I discovered fresh red pomegranate lemonade. So YUM!  Simple, healthy & refreshing; perfect for a fresh November day 🙂

Current Nail Colour: OctoberFest by OPI: a rich metallic burgundy shade I’ve been in love with for over a year now!

Current TV Show: Downton Abbey.  At this time of year it’s what Sunday evenings are all about – or were… Since moving to Beijing we download the latest episode once it’s aired, and there’s no way I’m waiting till the following Sunday to watch an episode.  So this year, I’m enjoying season 4 on Monday nights, post workout.

Downton Abbey

Downton Abbey

Current Obsession: Soft wool scarves. I’ve always been a fan in every season but right now the soft and warm variety are my obsession and craving. Perfect for warding off cool November breezes as I cycle around town.

Current Need: A cute rucksack. With my commute requiring a bicycle and no Oyster card these days I’m in search of a little rucksack for my essentials. Any suggestions?

Current Triumph: Sleep and Hydration! It might sound simple and not very triumphant but after spending most of October under the weather managing to sleep 7-8 hours each night and drink enough water seems a minor miracle. And I feel so much the better for it.

Current Bane of My Existence: No heating. It’s November and the city is yet to switch on the heating. Luckily it’s not that cold yet, but certainly chilly enough to have me reaching for a blanket once I come home in the evening.

Current Indulgence: Coca~Cola. I can’t help it and I don’t wanna! The small red can makes a weekly appearance at the moment, and I’m not sure I see that stopping anytime soon. Especially with the catchy holiday jingle they always have at this time if year!

Always Coca~Cola

Always Coca~Cola

Current Blessing: My Fiancé ❤️ He’s had an incredibly busy week at work yet I’ve come home dinner cooked for me and a clean apartment. He works so hard for us and takes great care of me. I have many things I’m blessed with and some great people in my life, but these past few days he’s been amazing.

D&I

D&I

Current Mood:  Serene.  A week of fitting in errands at lunch breaks and after work has left me not only very satisfied and feeling productive, but also a little more at home.  Some tasks which I was clueless about completing a few months (or even weeks) ago I can now do with an ease and familiarity that show me I very much live here now.  & it feels great!

Current Food:  EVERYTHING!  In the 7 months we’ve been here we’ve not had one bad meal.  Food is amazing here!  This week I had my first proper Chinese Hot Pot experience: a large bowl half spicy, half fragrant broth bubbling in the middle of the table like a small cauldron with a vast array of meats and vegetables you dip in and cook in the liquid before devouring.  A-MA-ZING!  & A meal I’ll definitely repeat.  The spicy half filled with different chillies and peepers (including the numbing chillies – that got interesting) and the milder clear broth with whole dates and goji berries floating in it.

Current Link: I don’t actually have one! I’m in the colour phase of wedding planning and spending an inordinate amount of time on Pinterest. Any remaining online time inevitably ends up being spent on reading the latest issue of The Economist…

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Holidays Away From Home

I first wrote this blog post a couple of weeks ago, but a busy schedule, birthdays and a temperamental VPN conspired against me and I’m now only just managing to post it!

First Beijing Birthday

Diwali has now come and gone, but I still wanted to share my thoughts.  And so, here it is, dated & delayed, but here all the same(!)

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After a Summer of London, New York and of course Beijing I can’t believe it’s October.  Usually in London the stores would be filled with Halloween goodies and Christmas treats would begin to make their way onto the shelves.  There’s no avoiding the fact that holiday season is approaching!

To me the end of Summer will always mean new stationery and books, new shoes and scarves and an incredible, vibrancy as the leaves turned golden and everything is coated in new possibilities.  This time of year also means Navratri (the nine day festival celebrating the different aspects of the Hindu Goddess Durga) with Diwali not far behind.

Being away from home meant that for the first time I was unable to celebrate Navratri with family and friends.  It is without doubt my favourite festival and it saddens me that those nine evenings passed unmarked my first year here.  This year is also my first Diwali away from family.  Whilst in University I would always return home to celebrate with everyone.  Flying home for the weekend is unfortunately not an option right now!  But I’m slowly realising that beginning my own traditions, is.

‘Diwali Beijing Style’ gives me the chance to make not just my own traditions, but our own ones; this is the first Diwali I will spend with my fiancé in our new home, as we begin to plan for our married life.  And whilst it won’t be the same, that doesn’t mean it can’t be fun.  I’m a little excited as I start to think about the possibilities!  Instead of cooking family favourites, maybe we order pizza (a firm Palan Favourite!) and in lieu of sending cards to people, we Skype home.  I know I’ll still light candles throughout the apartment, but maybe I’ll get creative adding fresh flowers and floating candles into the mix.  And just because I can’t be with everyone at home doesn’t mean I can’t celebrate and share the day with new friends.  Maybe some of these new rituals will be ones we carry with us through our lives and will feature in our celebrations for years to come.

I won’t lie, the thought of being away from everyone at this time of year still saddens me, but I am excited about all the new possibilities.  Perhaps that’s a sign of growing up?  Perhaps it’s just what happens when you find yourself away from home on the holidays.  Either way I’m looking forward to making our first Diwali away from home, in our new home, memorable.

The Remnants of a Midnight Feast on Diwali

How do you celebrate holidays when you’re away from home?

Dingqin or Dinghun – Engaged or Engaged?

Traditionally in China an engagement was arranged by parents or matchmakers and consisted of six courtesies from beginning to end:

1. Marriage proposal

2. Asking of the names

3. Praying for good fortune

4. Sending betrothal gifts

5. Sending invitations

6. Welcoming the bride

These traditional engagements are called ‘Dingqin’, literally meaning fixed by the parents or blood relatives (Ding = agreement or fixed and Qin = parent or blood relative).

While some families may still opt for an arranged marriage or set their children up with other friends’ children, many young people in China find their own soul mates and decide for themselves when to get engaged. This is known as ‘Dinghun’ which literally means agreement to wed or marry (Ding = agreement and Hun = to wed or marry). These engagements often follow the western custom involving a diamond ring and a man on one knee.  Or as is becoming a worldwide a flash mob surprise proposal(!).

flashmob proposal 2

While modern engagements differ from the past, most still follow some of the Chinese engagement traditions including offering betrothal gifts, a bridal dowry, and consultation with a fortune teller. A hybrid engagement or the best of both so to speak for the modern era.

Chinese engagement customs and traditions bear a striking resemblance to the Indian customs surrounding engagement and marriage.  Traditionally parents or the elders of the family would choose a life partner for the son or daughter of the house.  These decisions were based on caste and family, and astrologers and pandits would be consulted to ensure the horoscopes and stars were aligned.  There would be discussions of dowry, betrothal gifts and ceremonies leading up to the wedding itself.  Like many Chinese couples, Indian couples now also opt for a more western approach to getting engaged – with some traditional elements (why choose if you don’t have to?!).  I’m just not sure you can distinguish the two in Hindi like you can in Mandarin…

iEngagement

Why am I focusing on the rituals of engagement?  A couple of weeks ago I said yes to the question ‘Marry me?’.  There were no parents or family elders, no fortune tellers or astrologers, no betrothal gifts or even a diamond ring.  There was however, a full moon, a beautiful beach, a sky filled with stars and a man who loved me very much.  It was perfect and I couldn’t have been happier. What made our joy complete, was knowing how happy this would make our parents and family.  We may have opted for the Dinghun, but that doesn’t mean we don’t value the family element the Dingqin, and we can’t wait to celebrate our engagement with them we’re home.  Some elements of tradition and ritual are too precious to let fall by the wayside in the name of modernity and progress. And nowhere is that more evident than in a place like Beijing where old and new, traditional and modern have found a beautiful balance.  A balance I know I’ll be striving for as I begin this new chapter of my life.

Styling It Out

We all have our own style, our own sense of what works for us, what looks good and when we feel at our best.

When it comes to my own personal sense of style, there are five principles I’ve always believed in and followed:

  1. Know yourself.  Clothes express you and your personality, so wear what makes you happy, not what makes a fashion house money.
  2. Labels don’t equal style.  Individual style comes not from buying brands but from creating a look personal to you, regardless of where you shop.
  3. Find what fits best for you.  A number on a label means nothing, how you feel in it and how it fits are key.  We’re not all supposed to fit into the size two jeans (thank goodness!) and we’re not all built like catwalk glamazons. That doesn’t mean we don’t look good.
  4. Make it your own.  Whether that’s with accessories from a store or a scarf you painted yourself – add little touches to personalise and finish your look.
  5. Confidence is key,  Have fun with your look and know that no one out there can wear it the way you do, so make it your own and enjoy it

This week I realised that style transcends beyond the sartorial.  Having trawled through a list of recommended schools this week we embarked on a set of trial language lessons with various teachers.  I’m still surprised at how different each was.  The first class was a painful two hours where we were forced to repeat the vowels and alphabet in each of the four tones of Mandarin.  No real explanation, no grammar, almost no translation(!).  An emphasis of rote learning.  Having not formally learnt a language since I was a student, and knowing how tough Mandarin was, I presumed this was the only way to learn.  Boy was I wrong.  Last night saw us in a beautiful, vibrant language school that not only had a sense of community, but the teachers an technology that put an emphasis on practical language use.  Just 50mins saw us leave with sentences, grammatical knowledge, and the ability to order kung pow chicken in any restaurant.  (crucial when it tastes so good in this town!!)

I became curious as to why the difference was so stark (and startling).  A little research revealed that there are in fact five language learning styles.

  1. The Vocabulary Based Approach. This stresses vocabulary acquisition and emulates the way we learnt language as children
  2. Double Translation. A pre-1900  method that requires you to translate text from a foreign language into your native tongue and back again (not great if you’re trying to order french fries)
  3. The Grammar Based Approach. This requires memorising grammar rules with an emphasis on reading and writing
  4. The Communicative Approach. Adopted by most modern language schools, alternating students’ focus on one receptive skill (reading or writing) and one productive skill (writing or speaking) in each lesson
  5. Immersion. Get there and do whatever it takes to be understood from charades to googling images.

It turns out my language style is as eclectic as my wardrobe!  Immersion is most certainly happening (6 weeks in and I could beat any of you at charades!).  Between google translate, my iPhone and phrase book i think I can say so is Double Translation.  But it is definitely apparent that my natural style is the communicative approach.  Rote learning vocal and grammar rules, whilst effective for some, are most certainly not for me.

Like my sartorial style shows me, it’s about finding what works best for me, being confident in it and having some fun with it!

Something tells me that this school, that not only teaches classes out in the real world but also teaches you Chinese through Kung Fu, is most definitely me.  I already have a mean right hook, let’s see if I can kick butt at the roundhouse kick too!

What’s your style?

Seeing Double

Part of the process of moving to a new place is packing up your belongings for your new life.  How do you decide what to take?  Will I need this skirt?  How many books are enough?  Can you ever have too many shoes?  (the answer to that is no by the way – never enough, and you can never take too many with you anywhere!) Do I need ALL of my wine glasses with me?  What would I need in this new life in a new place?  What would I want to have with me to remind me of home and what do I leave to make room for new belongings?

For me however, this process was a little more complicated, not only was I trying to decide what I’d need for China, I was also trying to figure out what I’d need for the first time I lived with someone.  My boyfriend was moving with me, I was going to live with a boy(!).  I didn’t know how to live with a boy, let alone how to pack to live with one in China!  Who’s kitchenware do we take?  Who’s books, CDs, DVDs, etc?  At that stage I still saw our belongings in two categories: mine and his.  I hadn’t fully subscribed to the doctrine of ‘ours’.  The packing process changed all of that.  His book collections tripled with the addition of my pages, and my kitchen has almost quadrupled with the addition of his culinary equipment.  We now had belongings that amounted to 78 boxes to be shipped out here.

A couple of days ago those same 78 boxes arrived to be unpacked in our new home.  Those of you that know me will know that there are few tasks I loathe more than unpacking!  Thankfully these would be unpacked by the moving company, all we had to do was arrange our possessions into their new homes.  As we placed books on shelves and clothes on their hangers we realised that as prepared as we’d tried to be, we’d been slightly amiss in how we’d imagined ourselves living out here.  Some of our London life belongings had no natural place in our Beijing life.  Sixteen wine glasses and as many champagne flutes made sense in a home where having guests happened often.  In our apartment here where our friend circle is still growing and our families are far away seems a little ridiculous.

Two days later and as I survey our worldly goods mingling with each other, becoming friends and getting acquainted with their new surroundings, I realise that’s the phase I’m still in here in Beijing.  I’m still getting acquainted with this new life where my heels live next to his trainers and my champagne flutes are jostling for space next to his martini glasses.  I still see myself with two lives and two selves: the London Me in my London Life and the Beijing Me in my Beijing Life.  I’m searching for that point where it’s just me and just life, regardless of what city I’m in.  Something tells me that’ll happen when Beijing feels like home.  And whilst it hasn’t yet, with everything now here, it’s certainly starting to.

BubBye London, NiHau Beijing!

Summer 2013 saw me apply for, be given and accept a posting in Beijing for two years.  Until that point, for me China was a faraway almost mystical place of which I shamefully knew very little.  The opportunity to see and know more and explore was part of my motivation to accept the job.  I can never say no to a new adventure, and what could be better than two years in a country I’d never been to in a region I’ve been dying to explore?!? And so I began the preparations for what felt like a life changing move.

As the months flew by and arrangements fell into place I began to realise that I wasn’t only preparing to say hi to a new city and new experiences.  I would also be saying farewell to an amazing city and some incredible people I’m fortunate to have as my family and friends…  Was I sad? Sure, who isn’t when saying farewell… Would I miss my little world in London? Without a doubt. & will I make it in a new city with new people? Only one way to find out..!

So here I am and here are a few of my first impressions of Beijing:

  • I’ll start with the weather.  Whilst most days it’s fantastic there have been a couple of days when I’ve woken up to a hazy orange smog.  Although it’s barely perceptible when walking down the street the air is laden with microscopic sized particles which pass through the lungs into the bloodstream.  The Americans monitor the air quality whilst the Germans tests the lung function of all their staff before and after postings in Beijing, we’ve ordered gas masks from Amazon(!)

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  • Architecturally, it’s not particularly inspiring.  Many of the buildings looks like 60s tower blocks and those that don’t are identikit shining steel and glass atrocities.  It seems that much of the old Chinese architecture was swept aside in the name of progress.  That said, there are some stunning buildings – the buildings built by Chairman Mao in Tiannamen square are awe-inspiringly huge and stand as a proud and majestic reminder of China’s communist cultural revolution.  It’s interesting to contrast these with some of the more recent buildings designed by award-winning architects which are temples to consumerism and full to the brim with brands that would put Selfridges to shame.
  • Beijing is huge.  Katie Melua can’t have been too far wrong when she said there were 9 million bicycles in Beijing.  As a city of 20 million, there are people everywhere but many seem to have given up their bikes in favour of scooters and cars.  The traffic is a killer (literally – crossing the road sometimes takes nerves of steel and a good dose of sheer luck).
  • The middle class is big, and it’s rich.  I don’t know what I was expecting but there’s no hiding the fact that China is the world’s second largest economy.  It seems that everywhere you go within our district (home to 8 million) there are hoards of young Chinese decked out to the nines dropping big money on meals, designer clothes and stretched versions of premium cars – many built that way especially for the Chinese market.
  • There’s significant disparity between rich and poor.  It’s safe to say that those families higher up the party leadership chain are the wealthiest – the rich are powerful and the powerful are rich but the average salary is still just over £500 a month.
  • Beijing isn’t even slightly multi-ethnic.  The Han Chinese are the ethnic majority in both Beijing and China as a whole and their superiority is somewhat of an accepted ‘fact’ in certain circles.  As well as the Han being officially encouraged to settle in the outer Chinese regions to more widely distribute their genes there is some positive discrimination in favour of minority Chinese from outer provinces so that they may ‘better’ themselves.  Like India, the supermarket shelves are stuffed with face whitening products (think bleach in face moisturiser) and whilst most people are overwhelmingly friendly and go out of their way to help, there’s no disputing the number of stares you get just walking down the street.
  • Having said that I can’t help but people watch.  The style and fashion you see at every turn is as exciting as it is inspiring.  Fashion really is a form of self expression here in a way I’ve not encountered in many other cities.  There’s no specific trend per se, and whilst each look is peppered with pieces from the new season the way it’s put together is unique.  And it’s not just the women I’m talking about.  There are some seriously stylish men in this town that could have walked off the runway at London Fashion Week.
  • The food is incredible! I don’t think I could muster enough adjectives for what my senses have encountered so far.  The colours, the choice, the fragrance,the flavour; simply mind-blowing! Whether you crave Michelin starred couture cuisine or simple fast street food, Beijing has it all. And at a price that renders many kitchens in this city derelict.  However as I’m a believer of kitchen therapy mine shall not be one of them.  Whilst I’d like to say I’ve eaten out and cooked in equal measure, the truth is with so much to try and my kitchenware still in transit to Beijing, so far my kitchen time has been minimal.  But the markets and food stalls have inspired me and I can’t wait to get cooking!

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  • English isn’t widely spoken and Mandarin is hard.  I’m really anxious to get begin Mandarin classes started so that I can say more than the very basics.  Currently I can say hello, thank you and order a drink (barely!).  This city will never make me it’s own if I can’t speak its language.  For now I feel reduced to watching it from the sidelines and not quite belonging.  My priority is to get some language skills and get involved – ASAP!