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!

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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…

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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.

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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!

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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!

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.

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D&I

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…

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?

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?