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

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!

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

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.

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.