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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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!

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?

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.