Broken Plans & Legs: Beijing

The Chinese flag is ceremoniously raised & lowered 
every day by a guard of honour in Tiananmen Square

I had plans for China. Big plans. But the Universe continued to play a few tricks on me and all of them, it seems, were made to be broken. The country itself had hitherto been uninteresting but I was attracted by the draw of two very special people – my friend Will, based in Shanghai and working for Tesco and ‘American Mark’, a PhD scholar who was living in the Gansu province. Mark was studying how certain aspects of Chinese culture and social structure helped to support co-operation between individuals and he was doing this in the context of an industrial co-operative. I was going to join him there. It would be a unique opportunity to experience the full gamut of capitalism and communism which I thought summed up modern day China rather elegantly. 

Marching towards progress – 
Communist scupture in Tiananmen Square

However, a few days before my arrival I received a brief email from Mark imparting the unexpected news that he was to leave China immediately with no knowledge of if or when he would return. I was concerned by the uncharacteristically brief tone of his message and it turns out I had reason to be. It transpires that the Chinese government were in a particularly edgy mood at the time. Tensions were building between Beijing and Washington after the Chinese dissident Chen Guangcheng escaped house arrest from his village in north eastern China and took refuge in the US embassy. Potentially one of the victims of this fallout, Mark, under suspicion of espionage from the Chinese government, had endured a 13hr interrogation by soldiers with AK47s in a Chinese military camp before being promptly extradited.*

The eerily beautific face of Mao is lit at night, 
lending it an ethereal glow

I had resigned myself to the fact that the Universe wished to divest me of travelling companions at this particular time (how ironic, given that all the time I was in India I had craved solitude…now that I actually wanted company it was being removed from me at every opportunity.) I planned to undertake an epic trip, heading up to Datong to see the Buddhist caves and a hanging monastery, on to Pingyao, the oldest walled town in China with Will and then continue on alone along the Silk Road. But it was not meant to be. After a day or two of sightseeing in Beijing which entailed walking for miles over vast areas, negotiating thousands of steps on the metro, my knackered legs well and truly gave out on me. I was physically unable to walk any more. And so the rest of the trip was spent recuperating and receiving treatment at a Chinese hospital. I must be the only person who has spent a significant amount of time in Beijing and not even made it to the Great Wall! 

The Forbidden City

Fortunately, before my legs gave out I was able to do the prerequisite tour of the incredible Forbidden City, the iconic imperial palace of the Ming dynasty and home to the Chinese emperors for 500 years. The complex consists of 980 buildings and spans a staggering 720,000 square metres… no wonder my legs were fooked after that! The site was so huge that it was difficult to snap photographs, never mind take it all in. But Will and I managed to find the perfect spot to enjoy a panoramic view over the city – sipping cocktails and wine at the Yin Bar, a classy establishment on top of the Emperor Hotel. 

Panoramic views of the Forbidden City at sunset from Yin Bar
Red lanterns in ‘Ghost Street’

Our gastronomic tour continued with visits to the Beijing night food market. The less said about this the better really..I was groped not once but twice and we had some nasty interactions with unscrupulous stall holders who tried to rip us off. Perhaps one of our most memorable and tasty meals was had down ‘Ghost Street’. Strung with hundreds of red Chinese lanterns and stretching over one kilometre, Gui Je (as it is officially known) is Beijing’s most famous eating street. It is populated with more than 200 restaurants open 24hrs and serving all kinds of Chinese cuisine including the infamous and delicious Peking Duck. This dish can also, bizarrely, be found in vegetarian version in most restaurants – fashioned out of tofu (I think) but bearing a very close resemblance to the real deal – skin and all. 

Will looking bookish at the Bookworm Cafe

Speaking of vegetarianism, we also enjoyed a fabulous and flamboyant feed at the Pure Lotus, a vegetarian restaurant with a twist. The only way I can describe this is like ‘Alice on acid’ – although given that it is a Buddhist restaurant ran by monks, there are no chemical influences at all – not even alcohol served. Sumptuous dishes made from fruit, flowers, vegetables and all kinds of goodness were served up flamboyantly on enormous leaves, in silver art nouveau dishes. Glittering chandeliers hung from the ceiling and monks in jazzed up, sequinned garb, flitted between the tables. 

Art in Book worm Cafe

However, our favourite hang out became the Bookworm Cafe – a restaurant, library, bookshop and events space all rolled into one. Here Will and I enjoyed some ‘Slow Boat’ real ale on draught (wow! for the first time in 7 months!) and marvelled at their single malt whiskey selection. It was a beautiful place to relax with your nose in one of the many good books adorning the shelves and get lost in the art they had on display. Another little gem we came across was the 12 SQM bar, once famous for being the smallest bar in Beijing and now a gorgeous little atmospheric pub with a great selection of booze. The Ozzy barman was very friendly and a meeting of the local book club was in full swing during our visit. 

Hutong life

We stayed at an excellent hostel called Red Lantern House, a traditional Chinese courtyard house set in a sleepy Hutong – narrow streets or alleyways traditionally lined with courtyard houses and common in Beijing. I enjoyed hobbling around the Hutong and taking in the local life – carts full of melons trundling along, street vendors selling everything from fresh ginger to dates, nuts and ‘1,000 year old’ preserved eggs. Some of my most wonderful, human interactions in China were in the Hutong. Despite having no shared language at all, smiles and gestures melted hearts and opened doors. It was lovely to wander around at night as stall holders barbecued in the street, people sat peeling vegetables and old men played cards. 

My legs during moxybustion. YUK!

A serendipitous discovery was that the best Chinese alternative medicine hospital was located just around the corner from Red Lantern. Here I received massage, acupuncture, electric wave therapy and moxybustion (cupping) every day. This was the first time I had tried any of these treatments and it was certainly an experience, having to lie there whilst a doctor poked sticks into my legs. However, I felt grateful that I was able to get such comprehensive treatment so easily and I felt that it all added to the authenticity of the experience. From Beijing. Will and I took advantage of his corporate air miles and flew to the not-so-Chinese tropical island of Hainan (still part of China but off the mainland). There we lay on our backs on the beach for a week, enjoying fresh coconuts and sunshine. Well, even yogis need a holiday sometimes, don’t they? 

“I’ve got a lovely pair of coconuts” in Hainan

*Luckily, Mark escaped unharmed and has now been allowed back into China, where he continues to pursue his studies…


Anhui Antics: Mt Huangshan & Hongcun Village

Tangkou, the gateway to Mount Huangshan

A rather fabulous and drunken final evening was spent in Shanghai at a mini film festival watching documentaries about appropriately, food, at an artsy venue above the Dutch Design workshop. Sipping free beers on the roof and indulging in a gourmet barbecue amidst the hipster ex pat elite, I felt that, had it not been for the low hanging hazy air and the neon lights of the metropolis, I could have been in Shoreditch. Having been suitably oiled up with free booze we spent the night franticly packing before heading off on adventure – out of the city and into the Chinese countryside. The day began with a schlep across town to the long distance bus station. The ride took approximately 6 hours. As a seasoned traveller, this was OK for me – I had my headphones firmly plugged in and could while away the hours with my tunes. Poor Will, however, was subject to the cacaphanous sounds of screechy music over the loudspeaker that screamed incessantly down his ear. Along with that and the not so dulcet tones of the couple sitting behind us (I didn’t realise that ‘tonal’ was synonymous with ‘shouty’) we were glad to finally arrive in Tangkou, Anhui Province. 

Will about to have his first taste of baijo
Arriving late in the afternoon and having subsisted on very little other than some dubious Chinese snacks, our first port of call was to get some food. We ended up eating at the restaurant of the taxi driver who had given us a ride in: ‘Mr Chengs, the only English speaking restaurant in town’. After a decent late lunch (actually more a dinner by Chinese standards) and not having much of the day left to play with, we decided to have some fun by purchasing a bottle of baijiu – 60% ABV Chinese rice wine and kicking back in our characterless hotel room. The baiju came in an imitation porcelain bottle and we poured ourselves a couple of measures into dreary white hotel mugs. Ah the glamour! Will’s tasting notes.. on the nose: “some kind of childrens sweets”, “like an aromatic chemical”, key tones: *cue enormous coughing fit from Will which renders him speechless*  Sophie’s tasting notes.. on the nose: “ammonia, urine”, bouquet reduced: “bleach, nail varnish remover, horse piss, propynol, confectionery, peardrops.” I think that tells you everything you need to know about baiju.  

View from the cable car halfway up Mount Huangshan
The next day we were up and ready to explore Mount Huangshan – the famous ‘Yellow Mountain’ – a sprawling range of glacially-formed granite craggy peaks, peeping out of the top of fluffy clouds and whose lower summits are dotted with tall pine trees – the quintessential Chinese landscape. Due to ongoing issues with my leg, we purchased a walking stick (oh the shame) and joined the throngs of tourists that were queueing up for the cable car. Had I been match fit I would not have hesitated in hiking up the mountain – still the views from the cable car were excellent – although it felt a little shaky as we ascended higher and higher, our carriage was rocked by tempestuous winds. 

‘Lover locks’ on Mount Huangshan

Once we had settled ourselves into the cheapest accommodation we could find on the summit, we went walking. The Chinese have wonderfully evocative names for things and have bestowed such on 72 of the mountain’s peaks. How can you resist paying a visit to ‘bright peak’, ‘heavenly peak’, ‘celestial peak’ and ‘cloud dispelling pavillion’? We took in the breathtaking views and vistas. Whilst we were scrambling about we came across several bunches of ‘lover locks’ – padlocks which adorn bars and chain fences along the mountainside. Lovers visiting Huangshan together ritually lock these to the mountain then throw away the keys down the cliff side. The little iron bond that remains symbolises their love: immortal, unbreakable, locked. 

Sunset meditation
Despite the many steps and my ongoing battle with my leg, we managed to ascend to a suitable vantage point for sunset and found a quiet place away from the madding crowds to undertake a peaceful meditation and a spot of sun gazing. Although the day had been good, I could not help but pine for the ‘natural beauty’ of India and Nepal. Mount Huangshan is one of the top tourist attractions in China, but unlike in other countries where mountains would be left as they are, I was unsettled by the fact that the Chinese had taken this thing of natural beauty, paved it all over it with concrete, installed enormous LCD screens and put even a basketball court at the summit. It completely detracted from the whole experience. As we traversed the concrete staircases, gripping onto ‘imitation wood’ concrete fences, it felt surreal. Will and I joked about being in some kind of nightmarish artificial world, like ITV’s The Prisoner. The piped music that would eerily float into our ears just as we were gazing out at the sky only enhanced this feeling. In fact, the landscape of Mount Huangshan is so picture perfect that we began to wonder just what was real and what was fake… Then we would be brought back to earth again by the hordes of people, the megaphones, the matching baseball caps. 

The infamous purple cloud mists around the mountain
Although it is easy to be unkind about groups of Chinese tourists, I learned that there is a lot more to this phenomena than meets the eye. Due to laws imposed by the Chinese government, peoples movements around their own country are extremely restricted. For the most part, the Chinese require visas or special permissions to visit other states. Chinese employment law also only entitles people to very limited holidays per year (a couple of days) so when they do have the chance to get out and about, people like to see things and do stuff. Because people are not used to travelling independently, the standard way to travel is to do it in a big group. When Will’s Chinese colleagues first heard about my trip, the first thing that they all said was that I was “brave”. I guess that it must appear so to people to whom independent travel is a strange notion. And so, despite the ubiquitous presence of guides with flags and endless amounts of tourists in varying ‘all weather’ garb from ponchos to sun visors, I tried to not let it irritate me. Instead I focused on how lucky I am that I have the freedom to be able to travel through this world on my own. 

The pathway into Hongcun village

We awoke at an ungodly hour to take in the sunrise from another viewpoint and battled it out with the tourists (most of whom were trying to photograph me, rather than the sun). When we descended the mountain, we narrowly avoided being ‘Chenged’ again – a phrase we had coined for being ripped off by Mr. Cheng, who – it turns out, we were informed by a travel blog – is the local charlatan and well known for using and abusing his position as ‘the only English speaker in the village’. We think that this was about right, given the fact that Will had very probably caught food poisoning from a Cheng breakfast and the extortionate taxi prices that he was quoting us for our onward journey. It took a bit of cunning to remove our bags from his place and slip out unnoticed, but we did it. Before Cheng had time to protest, we had hailed a local cab and squeezed in with a couple of Chinese locals who would apparently be sharing our ride. Cheng came out and had words to say to our nonchalant cabbie who cooly replied, fag hanging out of his mouth.  I think we only saved $5 in the end but Will and I definitely felt some satisfaction as we drove through the beauty of the Anhui landscape – free, at last, from the Cheng! 

The village is built around a crescent moon shaped pool

We rocked up in Hongcun in the glow of the afternoon light and immediately knew we had found somewhere special. Hongcun (a UNESCO heritage sight) is an 800 year old village, built around a pool in the shape of a crescent moon and the shape of it represents an ox – the waterways that run through it, its entrails. It was quiet, tranquil and mercifully free of tourists. With no plan as to where we would stay, we wandered into the beautiful open plan courtyard of an incredibly old house and were greeted by the gappy warm smiles and the clasped brown hands of an elderly man and his wife. 

One of our best meals

If the house wasn’t at least 300 years old, they could have been. In pigeon Mandarin, Will managed to get the point across that we needed a bed for the night. The old man seemed to understand but sadly dispatched someone on a bike to find alternative accommodation. Will and I were both disappointed, but we needn’t have been. We were instead shown down the whitewashed lanes and around the pool and ended up at a similarly beautiful place –  a homestay belonging to a younger family. We entered the courtyard through stone circular doors. That night we ate what was probably one of the most memorable meals in a courtyard restaurant replete with beautifully carved wooden furniture, Chinese characters painted on the walls and a pool of koi carp. 

Me, checking out the koi carp

The next day was spent exploring the village, which consists of 137 buildings of the Ming and Qing dynasties (1368-1911). Some of these, such as the Chenzhi Hall were decorated with orante wood carvings and had ‘peep holes’ through which the females of the house could take view prospective male suitors without being seen! Sadly, we didn’t have much time to spend at all in Hongcun… If I were to do it all again I would have definitely stayed there for longer (Will said he could have stayed forever!) There is not much else beyond villagers going about their daily life – sitting outside in the alley way, hanging out washing, laying out fruit and meats to be cured in the sun…just peace – perfect peace. 

Meat hanging up to cure in Hongcun

Hanging lanterns in Hongcun
The courtyard restaurant 
One of the examples of Anhui architecture

One of many cute fluffy dogs we saw

Inside the Chengzhi House

Circular doorways 

Doing a ‘Leonardo’

Chinese Food Porn* Photo Blog

Earlier this year, if you’d asked me about my favourite foods, I would have happily waxed lyrical on many Eastern cuisines: Vietnamese, Japanese, Thai. But Chinese food wouldn’t be on the list. In fact it would not have even come close. I mistakenly believed that the luminous, MSG-ridden stuff you get in foil containers with cardboard lids takeaways was the real deal. One day, a friend who had grown up in China chastised me for my dismissive attitude and told me I hadn’t lived until I’d eaten on the mainland. And, oh how right he was. 

I am a self confessed foodie and having subsisted on lentils, vegetables, dahl and dahl baht for the previous 6 months, by the time I landed in China I was ready to eat. And eat I did. In fact, I couldn’t stop eating. Each meal was just too good to be true – and in local Chinese restaurants the price was an absolute snip. I enclose below, some ‘food porn’ for your gustatory viewing pleasure. Enjoy! 

*apologies to John Beaton 

Beautifully cooked fish in Anhui Province
Shanghai street dumplings

Eggplant fried with chilli and garlic in Anhui  
Cabbage with goji berries and chestnuts

Shrimp with fish sauce, Shanghai

Whole black carp steamed with ginger & garlic, Zhujiajiao 

Leeks fried with garlic

Eggplant cooked with French beans & garlic

Muscles with spring onions & ginger, Hainan

The infamous ‘Peking duck’, Beijing

Sticky fried pork with walnuts

Water spinach

French beans with Yunnan bacon

Chargrilled eggplant 

And now for some less appetising dishes…

Scorpions on sticks, anyone?
Seahorses on sticks…

Stinky tofu & ‘100 year old’ preserved eggs – the only dish I had to leave…

More weird things on sticks


Me and Will: back to city life
China. I embarked from a plane with probably the most lax attitude to airline safety ever in terms of people wandering around, belts off, as we were landing and queuing to get out before we had even taxied off the runway. In Shanghai I was confronted with total, Western first-world-madness beginning with the high speed Maglev which rocketed us from the airport to the city at 140km/h and culminating in the glittering 24th floor city apartment which would become my home for the next week. The flat belongs to my dear friend Will who had ‘jumped off’ 8 months earlier and taken a placement in Shanghai from his employer, Tesco. Will and I have had a deep and long standing  relationship and it was interesting coming face to face with him after a hiatus in which both of us had undergone such a profound life change. There he was, relaxed and comfortable in his ex pat life and here was me with matted hair, a tan, BO and a head full of Shiva!
The iconic Pudong skyline
On our first weekend I was plummeted headfirst into the decadence of ex pat living, with a fabulous meal in the leafy French concession (pomegranate flowers, goats cheese, Yunnan bacon – yes I had to surrender my vegetarianism), washed down with a few glasses of white wine (my first in 6 months! Bliss!) On Sunday I managed to blow about a weeks worth of budget with an obligatory ex pat ‘brunch on the Bund’ – sipping champagne and eating off white linen tablecloths overlooking the Huangpu river and the Pudong skyline. This is a spectacular array of skyscrapers and incredible when you consider that, just 8 years ago, there was nothing there – a true testament to the breakneck speed of modern day Chinese industrialisation.  At first it was bewildering in the urban jungle and although I was grateful to be enjoying such hospitality after 6 months in the developing world, I missed my beloved India and the dark and silence of the mountains. The neon skies of Shanghai were ever luminescent and a dirty great cloud of pollution hung low in the smoggy air.
Chinese lessons with Sean
But I soon found my groove in the metropolis and whilst Will was at work, I relaxed in his flat, ate fruit, drank coffee, did yoga and wrote. In truth I enjoyed facing the challenge of a new city, its customs and languages. I was impressed with how quickly Will had mastered Mandarin (which sounded like comic gobbledy gook to me) meanwhile I instinctively answered questions in Hindi and had to stop myself from wobbling my head at – well – at everything! Strange how these things have become second nature to me. Still, I embraced the new and enjoyed a Chinese lesson with Will’s tutor Sean, learning how to introduce myself, ask and answer a few basic questions and write my Chinese name, Su Fei, in characters – 苏菲. Apparently I am very good at writing in Chinese – I have always been able to render things well in 2D which I put down to my illustrious heritage of talented graphic designers (dad) and signwriters (my beloved Grandad George).
The smokey, subterranean JZ club

Corporate machine by day, Will (a Renaissance man of many talents) is a semi professional musician by night and I spent my first Monday in Shanghai in the basement of a smoky jazz club, rocking out to his Big Band over a few Chinese beers. Immersed in big beats and awesome improvs, I was put in mind of Kerouac and his heroes Sal Paradise and Dean Moriarty endlessly in search of bop….”blow”! And it was here that my powers of manifestation became clear to me once more. I had suffered very badly from an injury in my right leg for much of my time in India and that and both of my knees (bent for too long in cross legged position and from climbing multiple Asian mountains) truly gave out on me when I was trekking in Nepal. My leg had not recovered since and my resultant limp had prompted Will to give me the nickname  ‘Hopalong Hippy’. What I really needed to do was to see a doctor, but at Shanghai prices this was impossible. In the jazz club I got introduced to a quack (yet another American) who was in SH on holiday and he agreed to see me in his hotel room the next day.

The sleepy canal town of Zhujiajiao

Not only did I get a free consultation with Eric but we enjoyed each others company and decided to spend the following day travelling around together, visiting the sleepy backwaters of Zhujiajiao, a canal town outside of the city. Having failed to meet up in time to make the tourist bus, we negotiated the metro and a long distance bus out of town. This was no mean feat given the unrelenting heat, the lack of English spoken by anyone we encountered and his basic (and my non existent) Mandarin. I was proud of the fact that I managed to identify the Chinese characters for Zhujiajiao on the front of a bus. 

Vegetarians, look away now!

Once we finally got there we spent a pleasant afternoon wandering down the alleys and along the canalside of this amazingly preserved 1,700 year old water town. As we strolled through the ancient streets, men lazily cast fishing rods into the water, children played and women wrapped bundles of sticky rice in leaves. There were huge bowls of live shrimps and other seafood laid out in front of every restaurant and stalls were selling pigs trotters and other unidentifiable meat. In fact there were so many of these stalls selling so much food that I wondered quite how many pigs trotters one entire town could consume in one day.

Ladies making up bundles of sticky rice, Zhujiajiao

But then again, food is a theme in China and one that I will return to many times. Wherever one goes you can find food  being sold or enjoyed and the act of eating (chifan – 吃饭) is an enormous social institution. Every day between about 11am and 1pm everything grinds to a halt as the Chinese get out their bowls, chopsticks and spoons and chow down on their zhongfan 中饭 (lunch). Given that they’re all so skinny, I would like to know where it all goes! Hollow legs, I think. It is easy for us to make fun but I guess that for a nation scarred by famine as recently as the late 1920s then starvation is still a tangible memory, if not for this generation but for the grandparents of my Chinese contemporaries.

Smoking hot!

However, starvation was the last thing on my mind. In fact, if the “pray” chapter has now closed for a while, then China was certainly all about the “Eat”. I gorged myself on everything from whole black carp fish to divine eggplant, Hunnan bacon with French beans and I think a Szechuan dish of shrimp that I ate whole (head included which was the best bit) cooked in red chillis, oil and with whole peppercorns. That dish was completely insane – my mouth was on fire afterwards and I was left reeling – not knowing if I had entirely enjoyed the experience or not. A bit of a metaphor for China I think. 

M50 art community
Another of my passions that I indulged in heavily in Shanghai was art. Many of you may know that in a former life I was a curator and led my own collective for a while before becoming disillusioned and taking a break. In China I re-immersed myself into art with a vengeance, spending hours roaming around MoCA and the Shanghai art museum. I studied east Asian art in Australia where I learned that, without our Western metanarratives of impressionism, cubism, post modernism etc. eastern art has evolved in a completely different way, making it difficult for us to apply our traditional critical eye. I have to admit that I wasn’t enchanted by landscape scenes with large white borders for  calligraphy (which proves authenticity and in some cases takes precendence over the art itself). There were a couple of evocative details that I liked – a goldfish here, a cloud there, but on the whole it’s not really my bag.
Amongst the graffiti at M50
However, contemporary art is and we spent a marvellous day wandering around M50, an art community comprising over 120 galleries and studios in a post industrial creative space in a former textile mill. We found an exhilarating art collective called Island 6 who produced such brilliant, poetic, cheeky and sexy art it made me wish to spirit myself away to London immediately and curate a show. Another memorable exhibition was the SH John Moores painting prize. SH is actually the sister city of Liverpool (my birthplace) and Liverpool famously shows the John Moores painting prize every year. We managed to see the twinned show in SH. It was very affecting and gave me an insight into the disillusionment of Chinese youth with increasing urbanisation, censorship, the colliding east and west cultures and the ensuing loss of their own traditions. Food for thought indeed. The show is travelling to the UK in the autumn so anyone interested in seeing the latest in Chinese art talent can catch it then.

Propaganda Poster Centre

An interesting afternoon was whiled away in the Shangahai Propaganda Poster Centre, an experience that necessitated a taxi ride to a nondescript suburban block, navigating around the back of several buildings and taking an elevator down into a gloomy basement. In this incongruous location I discovered an Aladdin’s Cave of original twentieth century posters, paintings, Mao maquettes and ‘dazibao’ – hand daubed calligraphy posters that were mostly desultory attacks on political leaders. I spent hours sifting through original Maoist woodcuts (yes, I did procure one for my art collection) and beautiful communist style books. I had to stop myself from buying an original ‘Shanghai lady’ print – those glamorous and iconic cigarette adverts. I had already spent far too much money in SH!

KTV with Will and his colleagues

Being a melting pot of Western and ex pat culture, SH is decidedly NOT China, but I still managed some typically Chinese activities such a blaring down the mike during a Saturday night session at KTV (the ubiquitous Asian karaoke institution). The selection of English tunes was not very comprehensive or up to date come to that. I am still completely bemused by how popular The Carpenters are in China…in fact, if I have to hear “Yesterday Once More” I might actually kill someone.

Line dancing en masse, Nanjing Rd

I spent a lot of time in public parks, which is very much a Chinese pursuit.  I really enjoyed this community aspect – just as in India, lives are lived out on the streets and people come together to smoke, play games, talk and just generally enjoy time together. This is something entirely lost to our generation, cloistered up in our nuclear homes with the drawbridge firmly up. Come nightfall, practically every area of green space is full of children playing, couples hanging out and old people exercising.

Stop staring at my boobs! 

The elderly people in China appear to have an insatiable desire to keep fit. I don’t know if it is all the fags they have smoked and the ensuing need to reverse the ageing process or all the dumplings they have to burn off, but they are at it all the time – in all places – with one caveat – there must be as many of them doing it together as is humanly possible. Every night in the park across the street elderly men and women would assemble en masse to perform tai chi, tango, ballroom dancing or aerobics. And it wasn’t just in our park – it happens everywhere. I even got in on the act myself, muscling in on a mass line dancing fest in the middle of Nanjing road one Saturday night. I don’t think it went down too well…Neither did my imitations of the Chinese elderly walking (and even jogging) backwards (apparently it is good for your brain..) 

Getting back on the whiskey in SH 

Anyway, I’m sure that my playfulness was only fair given the amusement that I seemed to provide to the Chinese who were fascinated seemingly by my height – and my breasts! I have never endured such ‘boob staring’, not even in India. And by now I am definitely the most photographed person in Shanghai. I don’t even want to think about how many times my mug is going to appear on Facebook. Actually, scratch that – FB is of course banned in China – whose infamously strict internet regulations meant that I was unable to access most sites for the duration of my time there (particularly American ones). So now that I have finally popped up from behind the ‘Great Firewall of China’ expect many more updates from my oriental adventures coming soon….