June 25th: Eating Locally, Hong Kong Style

If we’ve learned nothing else this weekend, we now know the fastest way to get through Hong Kong airport: turn up after the flight has been closed.  Then get escorted through the airport (diplomatic channel for immigration, crew channel for baggage scanning), boarding just before the airplane doors close.   Not ideal… but many thanks to the China Eastern staff for looking after us and getting us home*.

Hong Kong - View from "The Peak"

View of Hong Kong and Kowloon from “The Peak”

The journey to Hong Kong for our weekend away was far less stressful, with Carmen and Heather (the ladies from one of our suppliers in Hong Kong) being very accommodating and looking after our bags as we went exploring for the day.  It’s definitely a control thing with me – if the bus company had let me drive the double-decker bus up the narrow, twisty road to the top of one of Hong Kong’s many peaks, I wouldn’t have spent 20 minutes worrying about the bus toppling down one of Hong Kong’s many ravines**.  We took the tram down to the bottom – 5 minutes of sitting at what felt like 45 degrees was more preferable to the bus.

Inside the seafood restaurant

JB, Carmen, Heather, me and Bron in the seafood restaurant

Not being a huge fan of seafood, I was a little nervous about Carmen and Heather’s invitation to visit a “local” seafood restaurant on Friday evening.  With just plastic stools to sit on and Heather’s local post-SARS custom of washing the bowls and plates with tea (yes, as in tea out of a teapot) in front of us didn’t really help (intriguing though it was).   Having live dangly fishy things waved in front of you in the same manner a waiter may show you your selected bottle of wine was also a new experience for me.  But.. the food was fantastic.  If just out with Bron we probably wouldn’t have selected any items on the menu that were chosen for us, and we certainly would have missed out as a result.  Definitely one of the best meals I’ve had in China so far.

MGM Grand

Rather weird butterfly themed entrance to the MGM Grand Casino in Macau

Following the meal, Bron, JB and I jumped on the ferry to Macau for a weekend of culture gambling.  We’d selected the cheapest hotel we could find, and we certainly weren’t disappointed.  A note to Best Western management: you seem to have accidentally made your mattresses out of concrete.

Macau, being China’s answer to Vegas, offers a wide variety of huge casinos and hotels.  The Venetian is staggeringly big inside, and of course they seldom provide a sign showing you where the exit is.  With a few casinos visited over the weekend (now joined by Jo too) and many a cocktail consumed, I think I got off lightly keeping the losses to a minimum (no, I’m not revealing exactly how much!).

Bar Rouge

“InterNations” event at Bar Rouge

This all followed another busy old week –  Thursday night at an event organised by the “Internations” website; Bar Rouge, a posh bar on the Bund overlooking the Huangpu river, joined by Jo.  On Wednesday night we met Matt again (Karen’s neighbour) on his latest trip to Shanghai; this time at “El Patio” Spanish restaurant.  Very expensive tapas, but worth it.   Rachel, crazy late-night American that she is, came over afterwards at around 11pm for a guided house tour and to pick-up an iron and ironing board (as you do).  Most taxi drivers probably expect to pick-up drunk people at midnight, not ladies trying to stuff a great big ironing board into their taxi.

And a couple of times over the last few days I’ve set the alarm for 3.45am to watch the 2nd half of certain football games, including those that went to extra time and penalties.  Hodgson, you owe me at least 4 hours sleep.

*It still feels strange filling in the Shanghai address on immigration forms as “home” but arriving back in Shanghai after the weekend away, it definitely feels more like it.

**Ok, not technically a ravine.  Fully justified use of poetic license/exaggeration/lack of other suitable geographic words.

June 17th: Camels, Not Just for Riding

Lupu Bridge

Not for those afraid of heights…

“But it’s raining!”.  Sorry, it’s going to take more than rain to stop a couple of Brits from climbing the 367 exposed steps to the top of the viewing platform on Lupu Bridge, after walking over an hour to get there.  The second-longest arch bridge in the world, Lupu Bridge spans the Huangpu River due South of where we live, and offers fantastic views of the city.  Or probably would have done were it not raining.  It’s not somewhere you should head for if vertigo (or acrophobia) is an issue, since the steps climb the outside of the arch with not a great deal to separate you from the river (or road) below.

The Mighty Argos.cn Footy TeamClimbing Lupu Bridge was a bit of an achievement, if only to prove my legs were working once again after playing football on Thursday evening.  For 2 ½ hours.  Well, perhaps a slight exaggeration; 20 of us on a 5-a-side pitch meant plenty of breaks in the 150 minutes we had available, but still more than enough exercise for me seeing as I last played 5-a-side in about 2006.

The Euro 2012 Championships have given us (well, me – Bron chose sleeping as a more preferable alternative) a few late nights this week.  Monday’s England match wasn’t too bad with its midnight kick-off local time, but Friday night’s game – Saturday morning here – was a bit of an effort.  Having kick-off delayed by 15 minutes to 3am was also not ideal.  The England win made it slightly more bearable, but leaving a bar when it’s light outside (when dark upon entry) never feels quite right.  Especially when the old Shanghainese have already appeared to start their morning Tai Chi rituals.  Bed for me at 5.30am as the old folk begin their exercises.

Afternoon cocktails...Saturday daytime was largely spent resting (both understandable and acceptable under the circumstances I think!) but we did manage a short walk to explore Dean’s Bottle Shop, and were forced to suffer a couple of pit-stops on the way home (life’s essentials: mango rum blended cocktails and passion fruit mojitos).  I think I’m starting to worry people – it’s not just Prosecco and cocktails though; I did actually buy some real ale from Dean’s well-stocked shop.

Bali LagunaOnly a couple of nights out this week – on Tuesday night Andrew took Richard and me to an Islamic restaurant near the office.  I’m not sure if in Islamic countries the waitresses dance between the tables with soup bowls on their heads, but they did here.  Camel meat hadn’t been top of my list of foods to try (or to expect) in China but it was on the menu, so appeared on the table: tasted a little like hardened luncheon meat.  The rest of the food was excellent (if less exotic), and probably explained the hour’s wait for a table.
On Friday night, Bron and I met up with Tim and Sarah to visit Bali Laguna, an Indonesian restaurant recommended to us by Rachel.  A venue definitely living up to its billing, with a glorious setting in Jing’An park.  Sat outside in the cooling evening air with the mosquitos mysteriously absent, we had a great evening with superb food, entertaining company and banana based cocktails beer.  Yes, definitely beer.

And certainly one of the highlights of the week was Bronwen’s home-cooked curry on Saturday night (yes, our first Saturday night at home since moving here!).   I love the food here in Shanghai, and you’re certainly never short of varieties/flavours to try, but I haven’t half missed a proper, home cooked spicy curry.  Bloody lovely.

June 10th: Sofa So Good (sorry)

Furniture arrives at last...128 boxes were taken away from Olney, and a little over 2 months later, all 128 turned up in Shanghai.  The 6 blokes from Crown (the relocation company), seemed unconcerned at the sheer number of random items being unpacked, despite the bewildered looks from their owners.   It’s indescribably fantastic to finally have a sofa to sit on (no offence to our now abandoned Ikea chairs), but the bread bin, recycling bin and other items that back in March seemed sensible to pack now seem just a little superfluous.

Too much stuff

Too much stuff. Far too much stuff.


Still, Thursday was obviously a momentous – if a little stressful – day for us both.  The Crown fellas did an excellent job of lugging everything around and rebuilding desks, beds and other items without any instructions to follow.  The size of the task became apparent early afternoon, at which point the 6 on-site blokes had turned into 10.

So pretty much most of our week has been spent preparing for, receiving and unpacking the shipment from the UK.  From the minimalist feel of the house on Wednesday to a house resembling that of one of the hoarders from Life of Grime on Thursday, our ayi must have been in shock when she arrived on Friday.

Despite living here for over 2 months, we still seem to find something new each time we venture out.  During Saturday’s brief excursion (as a respite from the unpacking) we came across a Belgium beer bar pretty much 2 minutes from the house.  I have no idea how we’d managed to miss it until now.  We’ll be sure to keep popping in just to make sure it’s still there.

On Saturday night we joined Jo and a few others in an Italian restaurant to celebrate her birthday.  Having drank decent beer during Saturday afternoon, I couldn’t face a lager.  So yet again, I was forced to drink Prosecco.  I’m discovering it’s a very manly, bubbly drink.

Our Mandarin lessons are proceeding nicely, but we’re still so far away from engaging in conversation at any meaningful level.  It’s all very well being able to ask “What are you doing at the weekend?”, but if the answer is anything other than “We will go to the library”, or perhaps “We will eat rice” then we’re stumped.

So as I type this, I’m sat on our sofa from Olney, with reminders of England dotted around (Union Jack cushions from Emma & Simon and John & Stella, wooden Union Jack heart decorations from Tim & Kim) and it feels a lot more like home.

Apart from the fact it’s currently 33 degrees.  Never mind melting, I think I’m dissolving.

June 3rd: Absinthe Makes The Heart Grow Fonder

Not that an excuse was really called for, but a few pints of locally-brewed beer at the Boxing Cat Brewery seemed a fitting way to celebrate our six-year wedding anniversary today.  In addition, Tuesday marks our two month anniversary of living in Shanghai so we felt it appropriate to have an additional pint  to celebrate.

The Constellation Bar

Absinthe and Gin based cocktails for those wedding anniversary moments

This all following last night’s extravagant impromptu cocktail session at the Constellation Bar: never before has walking past a bar, stopping and going “That looks worth a try- should we pop in for a look?” proved so expensive.  A few hours, several cocktails (tequila based, absinthe based, other-miscellaneous-based) and much lighter in pocket later, we decided not to bother heading towards our original destination.   Classy Brits as we are, our evening meal consisted of nuts from the Constellation Bar and a few chips (the British, not American version) from an Italian Restaurant that made the mistake of still being open for serving gone 11pm.

Earlier in the day we’d joined Rachel in a bottle of Prosecco at her nearby apartment to accompany an excellent home-cooked meal (prepared by Rachel’s ayi).  It hasn’t just been a weekend of drinking though – my quick estimate looks like almost 10 miles’ worth of walking around (the Fitbit reckons 14 miles, but it’s a bit like estimates from fishermen – take a third off and you’re closer to the truth).

Bron and Rachel in Xujiahui ParkOver the weekend we walked to two parks on opposite ends of the Former French Concession, with Fuxing Park today giving us the unexpected aural battle between a bench-based lady opera singer and a full-on band playing a couple of metres from each other.  We have no idea who arrived and set-up shop first, but with the whole park at their disposal, you’d have thought the cacophony of discord would result in one of them admitting defeat.  It didn’t seem to, and nor did it seem to dispel the curious crowd.

The Prosecco was purchased at our nearby Marks and Spencer, selling British food at very reasonable prices.  By reasonable, I mean if you’d popped into Harrods with fifty quid and bought Prosecco, crisps, fish fingers, biscuits and little else you’d probably not complain.   M&S out here is our little Harrods.  That little slice of luxury (fish fingers) is sometimes essential.

And speaking of essential, yesterday’s Prosecco and cocktail session meant today’s reversion to beer was purely medicinal.

So Happy Anniversary Mrs Sims – let’s hope next year we’ll be celebrating in a house with furniture to sit-on!Xujiahui Park