Live Shellfish and Other Adjustments…

As I inched to my left, trying not to get bitten by an angry looking crab, I decided that it I must be way overdue to write about the strangeness of living in China. Because I wasn’t at the market, I was in a crowded elevator, jammed in with my family and a dozen or so strangers, in the hospital. I nudged Ross so he could also see the man riding the elevator with two very large net bags of live crabs. “Must be crab season”, Ross answered casually, as if the question of whether or not it was in fact, crab season, was the pertinent point to make. I think we’re getting used to China. That was how we started a recent Saturday morning. (Point of order: that’s not true, we actually started our Saturday morning in a slightly overcrowded Buick heading home from a night out with friends, but I digress…).

We were in the hospital to conclude a grueling four week plan of multiple vaccinations, the kind we should have gotten in New Zealand before we left, but which were put in the ‘too hard’ basket and left to do in Shanghai. I’m a big fan of vaccinations; I will eagerly line my family up for any shots that are going, bring it on. My pin-cushion-kids have had any needle-fears long since stabbed out of them. Saturday’s vaccinations and the accompanying paperwork required no less than 30 signatures; it’s worth noting that since moving to China my signature has morphed into a lazy and indecipherable memory of my initials (signing a school notice for Olivia recently I wondered if the teacher would even believe that was an adult’s actual signature).

The children are well into their first term of international school in China, and as expected the standard of work required is much higher than my children have encountered before. It has been a huge adjustment – not the least of which is adjusting to hours of homework a night for children who previously did none. Predictably, Olivia is sailing by and making it all look easy, but Leo and Zoë are going through an intense process of learning to work harder, for longer and to a higher standard than ever before. I’m proud of how they’re doing, they rarely complain, and their first report card made us very proud. Needless to say, this is a marathon effort rather than a sprint, and we’ve engaged a tutor to keep the twins on track. The limits of my own education have revealed themselves – algebra is utterly and irretrievably beyond me! Although I was quietly grateful for a recent English project that enabled me to use a little skill of my own!

As for me, I am still working out what I want and need to do while I’m here. I have turned down a potentially great full time job, am keeping my eyes open for one a little closer to home. In the meantime I have been offered a little paid writing work – a wonderful opportunity, if only my wordsmithing is up to scratch it that may lead to more and more work.

As I write this though, I am interrupted by an odd sound from the kitchen – one of the quantity of prawns Ross purchased at the wet market this morning has made a break for it and was found flapping optimistically on the kitchen floor, having leapt for its life from a large bowl of it’s contemporaries.   I can hear more flaps and splashes in there…I’m not sure how I feel about the buying of live prawns – for one thing I’ve seen the waterways around here, and for another thing I’m not sure that Ross has fully thought through the implications of preparing live prawns for cooking!

Leaving Christchurch…

Moving to China was a two-part decision for us; it wasn’t just about moving to China, it was also about leaving Canterbury. There were many reasons to move to China, reasons regarding Ross’s career, the children’s education, life experience, culture, and the opportunity to travel and do something extraordinary. There was only one reason to leave Canterbury: the earthquakes. It wasn’t THE reason, but it made up a small part of the whole of our decision. We do feel, and continue to hope, that the earthquakes themselves are over, but the recovery has barely begun, and Christchurch – for me anyway, has become a difficult city to love.

I’m happy that we stayed in Canterbury through its darkest days; there was always a certain comfort in being part of a community that together survived that enormous shared experience.

Now it’s an unfamiliar feeling for me, to hear loud sudden noises and know that I’m the only one in that room who briefly thought: “Earthquake!” who for a split second was braced for the race – to find my kids, to survive another one. Back in New Zealand, the sound of a truck rumbling down the road would facilitate a knowing eye contact among strangers, sympathetic half smiles of people who know they’re all feeling the same thing. Here, it’s just another loud noise.

In many ways, it’s liberating, refreshing even, to know I’m on my own in this, because I can let it slide passed and not give it my focus or fear. But there are other times, when I’m with others and a large truck makes the ground shudder under foot, when I’m bewildered that people are chatting and carrying on without the slightest pause, when just for a nanosecond I thought we all might die.

Some of our new friends here are interested in hearing about what happened in Christchurch, what it was like to experience those earthquakes. Its good to talk about what happened with people who weren’t there, and know that those experiences are actually behind us. The earthquake recovery is not something we are living through anymore, but many people we love still have their lives weighed down by their own earthquake recovery – whether it be the practicalities of living in broken houses still waiting for repairs or rebuilds, or the less visible recovery of the anxiety and mental toll it has all taken.

I feel fortunate in many ways, fortunate to have survived without too much mental injury, fortunate that we were able to move on in a way that was right for us, fortunate that our earthquake experiences – while harrowing – were never more than we could cope with, fortunate that we can look back on lots of those earthquake experiences with a sense of humour and remember funny things too, among the memories that still – and maybe always will – make me cry.

We often find ourselves telling the funny, light and interesting stories, and avoiding the hard ones. Stories of overcoming the difficulties of having no power or water supply, improvising toilet facilities in the backyard – and in a hurry! Pooling resources with friends and creative problem solving under pressure. Homeschooling the kids unexpectedly when the days of school closures slowly added up to seven weeks.

Stories of ingenuity and resilience are energizing and uplifting – and I think most of us felt that in the early days of the quakes. But, when the quakes kept coming that resilience and energy for overcoming adversity became harder and harder to find. I’ve heard so many Christchurch people cringing at the word ‘resilient’ now, you can tell people how resilient they are a million times, but its not a self-fulfilling prophecy, many of us just felt a bit broken after a while.

Choosing not to describe moments and hours of terror and despair, choosing not to discuss stories of indescribable loss is a conscious choice, there are stories that aren’t mine to tell here, and stories that aren’t right for this blog.

I’d like to say that living so far away, that the earthquakes don’t feature in our lives anymore, but they do. We have one child who is still recovering from that trauma with nightmares and fears, but they are noticeably, significantly fewer over here. My children will study earthquakes in their geography curriculum at school here this year – its my hope that rather than feel anxious about this they will feel empowered to share their experiences and contribute to understanding of earthquakes: what it really feels like to be flung out of bed, to be unable to stand, to see your house, your street and your school cracked and broken. My children have different memories than me, as they were at school during the worst of our quakes, I hope they feel able to talk about how that was, how frightening it was but how heroic (yes!) their teachers were in dealing with the enormous task before them. My twins have described to me the surreal scene of getting up off the ground to see the teachers’ staffroom doors, which were jammed tight shut, get pummeled open and release a swarm of teachers coursing at speed out and over the playing fields to reach every child. Olivia has described scrambling to try and get under a school desk while it was bouncing up and down and chairs were flung about – an impossible task when the quake is that violent. I hope they can convey how awesome people can be when the going gets tough, that wherever there was damage there was another hero with a spade, a bandage, a plate of food, an embrace or a joke – because there were groups of people managing each of those needs, and some of them are still meeting those needs today.

I still love Christchurch, but it’s people I miss and not the place. We hope to come home and see the promised rebuild finally taking shape one day, we hope that the innovation and creativity shown in the city plans and as promised by local and national government will really happen. Like everyone else though, we’re worried that it won’t, and I can’t imagine a greater opportunity lost than to fail to rebuild Christchurch with innovation, creativity and courage.

Kia Kaha Christchurch

xxxxx

Food-Focused!

 

I think I must be a very food focused person, to be writing about food yet again, but I really do want to share another food-shopping experience here. This week we ventured again into the local wet market. You may recall, we’ve been once before, on that occasion we were in hot pursuit of Peking Duck, which we acquired by being led into the wet market by our driver, who conducted the transaction for us while we furtively glanced around and then left again.

 

Our impressions that first time were of a vibrant, busy market, which was in equal measures fascinating and overwhelming. For a family who receives the bulk of our food in plastic packages passed through the front door of our apartment every week, an open market of fresh food is both appealing and foreign. On our first visit we barely saw a glimpse of what was really on offer, but this time we explored.

 

My parents were with us, and as true foodies they were interested in checking out this kind of place on their short visit from New Zealand. The four of us wandered in to explore. At first the smell of the fresh fish and seafood is off putting, its strong and its everywhere and its so unlike how we’re used to seeing food like that displayed for sale, its confronting.

 

I found myself wondering what words and phrases I need to learn and practice to be able to shop there, how can I learn to understand the prices they’re telling me? How can I get a grasp of the units of measure they use? How can I go back to plastic wrapped online produce when I have this resource so close to home?

Why am I overthinking this? Surely I just need to show up with my shopping list and figure it out!

 

So today, we did. We started with a rather triumphant trip to Carrefour. Triumphant because I’ve come home with massive quantities of UHT milk, cornflakes and toilet paper; these are our three major stock-up items, and looking at my cupboards I can’t imagine a day when I might actually run low of these things ever again, bring on the apocalypse, I’m ready! I have also acquired more cheese and butter than I’ve ever bought in one day before – I think I’m getting the hang of things here.

 

Next stop – the local wet market. I took the kids for a look through what I call the ‘fresh’ section (aka- still alive), before touring the butchery (recently deceased) before venturing into the relative peace and comfort of the vegetable section where we easily completed our shopping.

 

Walking out of there, I was struck by the contrasts of our life here, and the choices we make about experiencing that or not. I can be driven around the city at a whim, with a car and driver at my beck and call, or I can find my way to the underground and for a few cents find my way across the city with independence and alongside all kinds of people. I can shop online and pay over the odds to have imported foods delivered to my door, or I can walk to the wet market and pay a pittance for really good, fresh food. I’m sure I’ll continue to make all those choices from week to week, because to be realistic, I couldn’t give up all the easy choices either, but to deny ourselves the experiences of the harder choices would be to choose to learn less, see less and gain less from this whole experience.

 

 

As for my parent’s visit, did my plan from my last blog pan out? Yes and no, we never quite made it to The Bund for dinner, but we did have some fabulous meals. The sidecar tour exceeded all of our expectations and as well as giving us a fantastic time and taking us to some outstanding street food, they picked us up from pre dinner cocktails in Xintiandi and delivered us to the restaurant I’d booked for a post-tour dinner in the former French concession. After dinner we took in another cocktail at a 38th floor bar where we could relax and admire the view of nighttime Shanghai. It was a wonderful four days, and we left enough of Shanghai unseen and untasted for my parents to make many future visits.

My Parents Are Coming! My Parents Are Coming!

 

Its high excitement in our apartment this week, we are on the countdown, only a couple of sleeps to go and my parents will be here in Shanghai, checking out our new life here for the first time!

 

Of course, my primary objective is to show Mum and Dad that our home really is a home. The children are settled in their own rooms, we have our own things around us and this is now our home. I want to reassure them on the points that parents and grandparents might need reassurance on, by showing them where their darling grandchildren will go to school, where they will run around and swim, where there are western doctors and good food. I want my parents to see that our home is safe, comfortable and well – nice. My mother is a super stylish lady with a keen eye for décor, so of course I want everything to look great! High on the agenda is getting our paintings hung before they arrive – including a beautiful framed print which was a gift from my parents and a fun painting of my family that my mother painted for us years ago, along with our favourite Tin Man picture (Christchurch friends will understand that one).

 

Once they’ve had the grand tour of our apartment, we have four short days to introduce them to Shanghai! Four days?? Such a short visit? Yes, well, this is because they already had this trip booked for months before we had booked ours – this was to be a stopover in Hong Kong on the return leg of a few weeks in Europe. What was to be a lovely long stopover on the way home to New Zealand has evolved instead into four days in Shanghai. Which raises another issue – not only is time short, but I think my parents will already be tired and probably not in the mood for being tourists in another big city. Thankfully, as seasoned travellers, they have been very clear about their expectations for their four days in Shanghai – “Pick four excellent restaurants”, said Dad assertively, “and that’s about it”.

 

My parents are foodies, the best kind of foodies; lovers of both fine dining fare and fantastic street food, they are enthusiastic about superb food superbly prepared, whether it’s served on a silver platter to black tie patrons or on a greasy stick to bare-footed locals. So my challenge is clear: I have four days to give my parents a snapshot of the best of Shanghai’s food. The brief is clear, the pressure is on, and the research has begun.

 

If I’m going to give them a snapshot of our local favourites, that would mean a stroll down the road to where we eat as a family: pizza, Mexican or excellent steak among other offerings. Its good food, but its not exciting, it doesn’t make the list.

 

There’s The Bund of course, Shanghai’s most famous street and home to many fine dining options – arguably some of the best eateries in Asia, so surely that makes the list? Yes! But where to go? We haven’t dined there yet ourselves so I am asking around for recommendations, counting on the palates of others when it comes to finding somewhere suitably gorgeous and with food to match. This will have to be something special, posh frocks and French champagne special.

 

Then there is authentic Chinese, that’s got to make the list! Ross and I have eaten at a few, and there’s one outstanding contender – I clearly remember my first impression of this beautiful building, the unique décor and the food was so special, unexpected, unusual, unforgettable, and divine.

 

As for street food, I know it’s out there somewhere, but Shanghai is a big city, where do I start? On this point I’m cheating, and despite their simple request for four days of simple foodiness, I’ve booked a little tour. A private tour, we’ll leave the kids at home and just the four of us will head out to explore Shanghai at night with a private guide – on a couple of motorbikes with sidecars! So I have that night loosely sketched out – we’ll start with a lovely dinner in the former French concession (where I can recommend a divine Turkish place or a tranquil Japanese setting both with spectacular examples of their native fare, beautifully presented), then a couple of hours on our sidecar bikes will take us, at my request, where the street food is – for a more adventurous supper!

 

That makes three, so for the last night? I’m tempted to take them to some lane of many restaurant choices, to wander along and peek at menus as we go until something draws them in – one of my favourite ways to dine, and I think theirs too. I can already think of three such places to choose from, but the best option may be right in the city, where we would be surrounded by the spectacular sky scrapers with their many roof top bars.

 

As for the myriad of other ‘can’t be missed’ offerings of Shanghai’s food, well, thank God for lunch! I think one thing is for sure, I won’t be cooking much of anything next week, but I may need to make time for the gym!

Dear Dale,

 

Things are starting to feel a lot more normal around here, it’s been 6 weeks since we arrived and I think we’re getting the hang of things. By the time you arrive in a couple of short months we’ll be well settled – I hope!

 

Anytime we head out here, we stick out; you’re going to notice that. That’s never going to change, and to be honest it doesn’t really bother me, I’m not generally aware of being stared at– although its hard to miss when we’re having our photo taken a lot, something that tends to happen if we’re in a more touristy area. Those taking our photos are probably tourists from parts of China and Asia where they don’t see a lot of blond haired, blue-eyed families.

 

Our immediate neighbourhood is fairly international, apart from the occasional truck full of workers noticeably slowing down to stare at us as they drive past, we don’t tend to stick out at all in a community of hundreds of international families – very close to two major international schools.

 

At a popular tourist spot a couple of weeks ago I noticed some parents urging their child to come and stand near us so they could get a photo with their child in it. I naively decided to play nice so got my kids to turn towards the camera for them…oh what a mistake! Seeing our compliance, suddenly Chinese children were being thrust towards us from all sides and grinning parents waved cameras around, nodding their thanks to us for letting them get the shot. Now, its nice to be noticed, but I’m no Kate Middleton, and facing the paparazzi got uncomfortable very fast! A few camera flashes later and I was urging my bewildered kids to get walking, we were out of there!

 

At the market yesterday, I noticed a change in the kids.  The market stall-holders are predictably aggressive, but the kids aren’t intimidated anymore and have learned to keep walking, have learned that it’s okay not to stop and engage with everyone who talks to them. Olivia bartered for a new handbag with little help from me, even getting the hang of how to play the game and get her price. There is no way of ever knowing what the real ‘right price’ is, we assume we pay a premium because of how we look, but the point is to find a price we’re happy to pay rather than the lowest that they’ll go. I’ve learned to stop and think about what I want to pay for something before I ask the price. We’ve all learned that as soon as we’ve asked a price we’ve entered into something that will take some assertion to get out of if you decide not to buy, but we can do that too.

 

We’ve all been working on our Chinese, and trying to make an effort to use it more. Its great to hear the kids asking for water in restaurants using Chinese – it’s a small start but I know they’ll get more comfortable with it. The biggest help to learning language is our lovely driver: car journeys can be long, so I’ve taken to bringing flashcards to practice some Chinese as we get around. Our driver over heard me teaching the kids a phrase in Chinese and was keen to join in – so we have someone to correct our pronunciation and grammar and praise our efforts as we move around the city.  He’s not shy about telling us who has the best pronunciation either (Olivia always wins!).  Our ayi is also always keen to teach the children something in Chinese, I see her shifting almost into a grandmotherly role with the children, praising them and spoiling them! She has met some of our children’s friends, who are fluent in Chinese, she is so impressed with them she has taken it as a personal challenge to get our kids up to the same standard.  She has taken a shine to Leo in a big way – most days she manages to corner him, make him eat tiny apple pieces she cuts up for him and repeat Chinese phrases back to her as he does, I’m usually eavesdropping from nearby trying to stifle my laughter, its hilarious. I’m sure what she says is right though; if Leo wants to grow up to be tall and cutie like his Daddy he should definitely eat apple everyday.

 

 

Love,

Katie xx

Dear Scottie,

 

Have you been tempted to look at airfares to China yet?  Have you thought about bringing my niece and nephews and my gorgeous sister in law over for a Shanghai adventure sometime?  I really hope you are, it would be amazing to have you all over here.   It really would be an adventure!

 

There are the planned adventures of course, attractions and tourist spots, and last night I went on an incredible night-time bike tour in the city which I will highly recommend to all visitors by the way – I sure saw some sights and smelled some smells!  Shanghai is amazing during the day, but seeing the back alleyways, gardens and lane houses, as well as the lights of The Bund in the middle of the night is something else, and navigating those crazy big intersections on a bicycle adds a nice little element of danger to the occasion.

 

Then there are the unplanned adventures that are just part of everyday life trying to navigate living in this astonishing city.

 

I took a taxi home from a function in the city today, the concierge took my address card and talked to the taxi driver, so clearly he knew where he was going and I could sit back and enjoy the ride – about an hour back to my apartment. 

 

There I go again, making assumptions about how things are going to go, must not assume things anymore!

 

Like many Shanghai taxis, this one had no seat belts, so I was already feeling slightly less safe.  Then we got onto the highways, and my ride home started to feel more like being in a pinball machine, this driver was in a race against something – weaving across lanes, braking suddenly, heavy on the horn, and we were flying along at a horrific speed.  I did try to be at peace with the Shanghai taxi experience, I tried to relax and remind myself that this taxi driver knows a lot more about driving here than I ever will, that the taxi was in pretty good condition so he must be adept at avoiding contact with other vehicles, but I started to get a little scared.  I certainly felt inspired to learn more Chinese – I couldn’t even ask him to slow down.

 

Then, on an elevated highway, he stopped without warning.  He didn’t pull over, he made no attempt to find a safe place to stop; he simply stopped.  Once again my total lack of language skills made me completely helpless, I couldn’t even ask what was going on!  I did lean forward to try and see what he was doing, and was utterly dismayed that with a look of complete confusion on his face, he was studying my address card – which has my address written in Chinese as well as a map.  Not only was this guy a terrifying driver, he also didn’t know where he was going.

 

I had travelled that road enough times to know that we were in fact going the right way, and that we were about halfway home, so that was encouraging, but of course I couldn’t tell him that.

 

After a few minutes, he continued driving, and at every intersection he paused to study the card some more.  I didn’t know the rest of the way home and the roads started to look less and less familiar.  At every intersection I considered my options and thought about jumping out of the car and taking my chances in another taxi, or on the metro, or pretty much anything else but staying in that taxi.

 

It was a while before I started to see familiar streets again, and I realised I wasn’t far from home.  Needless to say, I’m writing this because I did get safely home, but not without a chunk of anxiety along with the ride.  There was a lovely big glass of wine waiting for me, which always helps in times like this!

 

So, today’s lessons are all about learning enough Mandarin to be able to manage those situations a little better, and perhaps knowing my way around enough to be able to communicate directions to less than ideal taxi drivers, and also knowing that these things will happen and I will be okay.

 

Don’t let this put you off, we have a fantastic driver who can ferry you around the city to your heart’s content – and I can recommend a great cycle guide if you want the extra challenge!

 

Come see your sister in Shanghai!  You know you want to🙂

 

Love,

Katie

Dear All,

IMG_1013

Today marks one month since we arrived in China.  It feels like years ago.  We arrived on a typical Saturday morning, it was hot and muggy with a murky sky – like many days since.  We arrived excited and tired after a long overnight flight, we were relieved to get through immigration quickly and easily.  We had the maximum baggage allowance down to the last gram – there was a lot of baggage weighing and repacking at Christchurch airport.  All travellers know, seeing all your baggage inch its way to you around the baggage carousel is a great, great feeling, especially when there is soooo much of it to lose.

We headed across Shanghai on the last leg of our journey; the children were strangely quiet as they took in some of the remarkable sights of their new city on that first drive through it.  I remember a similar drive some months earlier, feeling in awe of the incredible diversity of the architecture, where ramshackle structures, seemingly ancient Chinese buildings and space-aged looking sky scrapers co-exist in a stunning and unique landscape.  I could imagine how my children were feeling seeing it all for the first time.

It took around an hour to get to our apartment, within a big, green and resort-like compound.  We had a little trouble getting into our apartment.  Apparently arriving on a Saturday is just not a good idea.

After half an hour to explore the apartment and count the bathrooms (we have an unreasonable amount of those) claim bedrooms and have a half-hearted go at unpacking, we were back in the car.

Before nightfall, we would need a few basics:  sheets and towels, duvets, pillows and kitchen utensils, all the things we couldn’t fit into our suitcases and which were not provided in our furnished apartment.  Like every fresh off the plane expat we headed to Ikea.  Ikea is a busy place at the best of times; Ikea on a Saturday morning in Shanghai while jetlagged and with three freaked out children in tow is insane.  Even more insane was our decision to have lunch there.  There’s a first time for everything; that was the first time we ate meatballs, with chopsticks, standing up, in a very crowded room where we are visibly the only foreigners.  It was possibly also the last time.

We filled the rest of the day exploring our compound, we found the local shop and bought some essential supplies – we paid far too much for a couple of bottles of New Zealand wine for no better reason than it was what we drank at home.

Finally, we finished our first day with a celebratory meal out at a local Mexican (!) restaurant, with a lovely Kiwi family in their fourth year in Shanghai.  It was incredibly surreal, the complete normalcy of having a drink while the kids try and find nachos on the menu and debate the merits of chilli beans and sour cream.  But we were in China – to stay, it was super hot – in July, this was anything but normal.

One month later, our explorations have taken us further and further out into the neighbourhood and into the city, and we have plans to go further afield and see other parts of China soon.  Its hard to say we’re settled in yet, our belongings from New Zealand have yet to arrive, and with the children out of school for another six weeks we still feel we’re in transition from our old life into this new one.

Our one-month anniversary has been a normal kind of a day, Ross went to work, Zoe baked a cake – something which fascinated our lovely ayi, who then wanted me to show her all the ingredients used (that we put milk and butter into a cake is apparently astonishing) she has asked for Zoe to show her how to bake, a reciprocation of last week’s dumpling lesson.  Leo got a haircut (we all decided, behind his back, that Leo was going first for this – but it all turned out okay despite having very few words in common with the hairstylist, notably ‘short’ and ‘longer’).  Ross and Leo have gone on a short errand before dinner – we’re fairly sure they’ll be coming home on a newly purchased motor-scooter any minute now.

Its been a crazy, wonderful, scary and eye-opening month, I thought about listing highlights and lowlights to mark the day, but to be honest, its hard to think of many lowlights.  This is a crazy adventure, but we love it.

Then, to celebrate our one-month milestone, we’re going out for dinner, maybe we’ll even have Mexican.

Love, Katie

 

PS.  Just as I was posting this, Ross got home with his new toy!  So happy to see the helmets🙂

Dear Fiona and Hayden,

Our foodiest of friends, I know I promised lots of foodie pics and descriptions by now, and I fear you’re probably diving into this letter in anticipation of such, and I may have to disappoint!

 

Its not that we haven’t been eating well – because the food here is great – we just haven’t yet launched into the full Chinese culinary adventure yet. In our first week here I think we ate out several times: first night it was Mexican (the cocktails were fab), then we had Indian, after that was pizza (very, very good pizza, excellent pizza, but still pizza), we’ve been to the home of some wonderful friends and eaten fabulous Sri Lankan food, we’ve been to the other side of Shanghai for Taiwanese, we’ve had wonderful dumplings that were apparently in the Hong Kong style, sublime Vietnamese noodles and Ross even took the kids to Burger King when I was out one evening, what we haven’t had much of yet is Chinese!

 

The closest we’ve come to Chinese food is what Ross has been cooking at home, enchanted by some roadside noodles he enjoyed on one of his earlier trips here, he’s been cooking up a storm of noodle dishes at home. As for me, I think its clear to the whole family at this point and I can no longer hide it – somewhere between Christchurch and Shanghai I have totally lost my cooking mojo. It’s rather distressing, as I’ve always thought of myself as a pretty good cook, but my offerings thus far have been sadly lacking. Maybe it’s the lack of ingredients – or familiar ones at least, maybe it’s the sparsely filled pantry that I’m starting from scratch, maybe it’s the inadequately tooled kitchen – bare of all my favourite cooking implements and pots, which I hope are somewhere on their way to us, but I’ve completely lost the knack.

 

On a great recommendation from friends, we ventured out on Friday evening for Peking Duck. Not the elegantly served, delicate morsels of downtown, but the local variety, prepared and sold at the local wet market, pretty much where only locals shop. Armed with directions and even a photo of the required vendor, we lost courage at the last minute and took our lovely driver into the market to assist us. We found the stall in question, accessorized with dozens of cooked, hanging ducks, with heads intact, and a giant wood-fired oven in the background. Sticking out like the only foreigners in the place, which we were, we lined up for duck. We watched parcel after parcel passed over the counter to waiting locals, and waited our turn. Ducks were pulled down from their hooks, deftly chopped up, parceled into little boxes, pancakes, hoisin sauce and spring onions added. The Chinese man in the queue behind me grabbed my arm to excitedly and loudly shout something in my face: “He wants to know if you like duck” our driver explained, that’s all. I smiled and nodded like an imbecile, even I know how to say ‘yes’ in Chinese, something I seem to only be able to remember during my Chinese lessons. We got our duck, had our photo taken (a couple of times that we saw, and no doubt more that we didn’t) and went home to enjoy our Friday night takeaways – China styles.

 

Knowing that you lot are visiting next year means I clearly need to do further food research. I’m going to have to eat out a LOT more, I can’t possibly have you arrive and not have a list of spectacular eateries for you to sample – Chinese and other. I intend to compile a rather varied list – from the best of street food to the grandest of fine dining restaurants, I just know you’re going to want to try it all! Just don’t ask me to cook, I’d hate to disappoint!

 

Love,

Katie

Dear Robyn,

When it comes to my kids, I’ve always been super safety conscious – and I know you’re the same. We were always the ones who triple checked our children into their carseat harnesses, sun blocked them to within an inch of their lives and God forbid that they be allowed in the front seat or wearing a lap belt! This was never difficult of course, most parents around us had similar beliefs and local safety standards certainly supported our ideals. (Ideals can be difficult to maintain of course, I wont forget the day years ago when I triple checked that baby Olivia was strapped safely into her car seat, only to have completely forgotten to strap the seat itself into the car – something that became only too clear as I took a left turn bend a little too fast and her car seat cartwheeled across the width of the backseat before I could stop – poor child was rather startled, but still safely strapped into her seat!)

 

Over here, child safety, and in particular road safety, is a bit of a challenge for this kiwi mum.  Remember that fantastic week we shared in Rarotonga?  You and I both managed to put aside our safety ideals and let loose a little – my kids sat five across the back seat of an open-top car without seat belts, and you were seen letting you hair blow free on that scooter as you zoomed around the island without a helmet! Over here, electric scooters are the mode of choice for many families to get around – local and foreign alike, and just like Rarotonga, helmets are a rare sight!

 

Those pictures we’ve all seen on our screens, of comically overloaded Chinese scooters navigating city streets – let me assure you, those are all real! That could be any Chinese street on any day! Traffic is wild here, its fast and it seems chaotic – but somehow its not, I haven’t seen a crash yet and I haven’t noticed any dented vehicles either, I can only conclude that the Chinese are excellent drivers – but they drive very differently to what I’ve seen before.

 

The issue facing me now, is that Ross is about to buy a scooter, and I don’t for a second think he intends to buy any helmets to accessorise with. It’s a case of ‘when in Rome’ on this point, but it’s a hard one to swallow – these aren’t the quiet island roads of Rarotonga, these aren’t the predictable, rule following drivers of New Zealand. This is China, where it’s a little scary crossing the road.

 

In the weeks to come, I predict that my children will be riding on the back of a scooter, through traffic, gleefully joining their father on some excursion or another. I think its my job to let go a little, have a little faith in Ross’s driving – in everyone’s driving – and let them participate in what is a normal part of life here for all of the kids. So think of me, chewing my nails down to the quick while Ross takes one of the kids down to the shops. But trust me Robyn, the helmet conversation isn’t over quite yet!

 

Love you,

Katie xx

 

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