February 28th: Ending

And so it ends.

With somewhat of a shorter trip than planned, Bronwen and I will be returning home to the UK within the next couple of months (no, I’m not going to go into further detail on why within this blog).

Inevitably we have mixed feelings on this – psychologically not quite ready to return yet, but will obviously be happy to be home.  Particularly as the UK economy is now looking so rosy and none of the credit agencies are entertaining the idea of downgrading the UK’s credit rating.  Oh.

So following JB’s week of leaving events, Richard consoled a few of us on Monday night by agreeing to lose at pool to  the fearsome team of me and Bron (following a curry).  We will no doubt see Richard again when back in the UK, but it’s on nights like we realise we have little time left to spend with our Chinese friends and our other expat friends we’ve met locally.  We broke the news to Andrea and Grace on Tuesday night at yet another curry (with Rachel), and will no doubt have many more nights like this one over the coming weeks.

Felix came over tonight for a band session.  Yet another reason to be gutted about leaving Shanghai, since (recognising this is a somewhat biased opinion) we have a few cracking songs.  And some even better ones.  We’ll try and record them all before Bron and I leave and force them on the world a little later.

The blog will live on until we return.   I may kill it soon after.

Me, Tim, and the boys from IT

Me, Tim, and the boys from IT

November 26th: Hot Springs and Love Jenga

After the hike

Me, Rachel, Jeff, Bron, Stefan, Emily, Bruce, Anca, Patrick, Echo and Jane after the hike. Hot springs awaiting…

For those who know me well; do not worry.  What follows is not an account of some kind of spiritual awakening, nor is it an attempt to connect with my inner self (or even my middle self, content and paunch-like as it is).  And as such, If I do ever utter* anything even vaguely akin to “being at one with nature” then I vow to immediately stop the blog, come home to the UK and reconnect with my hidden Scouse self.

On Sunday we returned from another weekend away in the mountains.  This time a mere 4 ½  hour bus journey away, near a place called Anji in North Zhejiang province.  A group of 13 in total; 7 of us (including Bron and I) from a group of local friends sufficiently intrigued by the offer of hot springs atop a mountain, 5 other interested people and Jeff, our guide (a Chinese guy with a French accent  – because he lived in Denmark for 5 years).

So on Sunday lunchtime, instead of lying on the sofa watching DVDs or heading to the local supermarket, we find ourselves outdoors on top of a mountain wearing swimming gear, sitting in a Jasmine infused hot spring with the rest of the group.  We watch the cold mist spreading across the mountain through the bamboo forest (all visible from our hot spring) whilst Echo** starts to sing a traditional Chinese song (about Jasmine, funnily enough).  My brain never normally shuts off, constantly working at 100mph, so this was all a little unusual for me.  Relaxing, peaceful, and so different to anything we’re ever likely to experience in Shanghai.  No need to dress this up as anything else – just a bloody lovely way to spend a Sunday.

Bron and the waterfall

Bron guarding the waterfall

Jumping from hot spring to hot spring (for there were many) was also a great experience – a few seconds of very cold temperatures followed by long spells enjoying the warmth of the hot springs.  We also tried out the water massages, fish-that-nibble-your-feet (well, Bronwen did) and a human jet-wash – plenty of other water-based ways to keep visitors amused.

We’d met up with Jeff and co on Friday evening to begin our bus journey, arriving in the village of LongWang (literally “Dragon King”) just before midnight.  Our lodgings could be considered halfway between a hostel and a 2-star hotel – individual rooms but freezing cold.  Each room had an air-conditioner theoretically capable of blowing out hot air but in actuality only capable of circulating an asthmatically wheezed puff of tepid air at random intervals.

Narrow paths...

The start of the narrow min-canal path

On Saturday we were accompanied by the local mayor on a hike up through the mountains on 1000 year old paths leading from one village to another.  Nothing too strenuous and plenty of time to appreciate the surroundings.  High up in the mountains they’d built an ingenious mini-canal to collect the water and force it into a single point of entry in the village, providing the locals with both electricity and water.  Part of the hike involved walking along the edge of this mini-canal; the walls were about one foot wide, so with a sheer drop one side and water on the other, the hike slowed down significantly.

Before the days of technology, the village of LongWang was famous for paper made from local bamboo.  Far too much detail to go into here, but with the amount of effort required to produce a single sheet of paper (as demonstrated to us) it’s no wonder an industrialised solution was found.

House on a mountain

Our hosts for a cup of tea halfway up a mountain

On Saturday night, our evening of food (served in part by the local mayor), Jenga and cards were accompanied by a mysteriously yellow coloured rice wine, which swiftly became the drinking punishment.  I’m quite happy playing cards but I didn’t know there was a “Love” version of Jenga.  Think of normal Jenga but with forfeits written on each block.  Our version was in Chinese with an English translation underneath; sample forfeit (verbatim) “Make a queer smile”.

So following Sunday’s hike up to the hot spring and several hours of relaxation, we had a slow, reluctant trip back to Shanghai.  Nothing spiritual going on here, but one of the best weekends we’ve had since arriving in China, with a great bunch of people.

On Thursday night we were honoured (nay, privileged) to be invited by Rachel and Andrea to join them at an American (is there any other kind?) Thanksgiving event at the Boxing Cat Brewery.  I have to admit being somewhat trepadicious for fear of being whooped and hollered to death (if Brits are occasionally like Mr Bean, then Americans are occasionally like Dog the Bounty Hunter), but despite Rachel’s attempts to secure the contrary, we ended up on a comparatively quiet floor.  Shedloads of food, free-flowing drinks (including specially brewed “pumpkin ale” which tastes a lot better than it sounds) and a top night all in all.  If China is neutral territory for the Brits and the Yanks, Bron and I were understandably outnumbered on Thursday night.  The first Thanksgiving meal I’ve had since living in the US many years ago; good to experience a little bit (well, a huge amount) of Americana here in Shanghai.  Either that or my first Christmas meal of 2012.

* if one can utter on a blog

**a footnote solely for fans of the Sega Megadrive: Echo, one of the Chinese girls in the group, not Echo the Dolphin.

September 2nd: Healed by Curry

A day of rest for Bronwen on Wednesday as advised by the Doctor followed by a medicinal curry in the evening and she was back at work on Thursday.  The magical healing power of Indian food.  And a shedload of antibiotic cream.

The lump on the head has pretty much subsided but the huge bruise on the knee more than makes up for it.

As to why nobody showed any concern as Bronwen lay face down on the pavement, our Chinese friends and colleagues have re-emphasised the cultural differences and compensation culture that led to last year’s news story about the toddler being ignored having been run over twice by a van.  Not that they’re saying they think this is acceptable; their point being most people are so worried about being held responsible or made to pay medical bills that they daren’t intervene.  That and the language barrier that prevents a simple “Are you OK?”.  China’s a tough old place sometimes.  Ironic to think some people in the UK don’t value the NHS.

Closless

Tequila cocktail.  That’ll just be tequila then.

Normality resumes at the weekend; Friday night back at De Refter saw a free round of beers from the landlord (and a replacement meal) after playing spot the Mozzarella on Andrea’s “Mozzarella Salad”*.  I think each time we’ve been there, a small problem or other has been rectified graciously by Nick the landlord (technically, he’s the manager, and it’s a bar, not a pub; but “landlord” makes it sound more, well, pub-like).  Nick tells me the recent acquisition of a huge fridge in said establishment may result in extra capacity to stock a few “off-menu” beers (subject to his supplier’s range of stock) if I would agree to visit regularly enough.  I told him if he’s looking for a reference for this type of arrangement, The Bull in Olney would be happy to oblige.

After a bit of a late one in Closless (“What base would you like for your cocktail sir?”.  “Tequila”.  A shot of tequila is poured.  “That’s not a cocktail!”.  “OK sir, I’ll give you a double for the same price”.  More tequila is poured.), we just about made it to lunch on Saturday with Tim, Sarah and JB.   The plan being to go to a random park or visit a local cultural sight.  The reality being a gentle, relaxed walk through the northern Jing’An area, stopping off at a few bars (well, three in total).  Back home at around 7.30pm, we jumped at the chance of a quiet-night in.

A late Sunday brunch over at Masse (of “We can see our house from here” fame) with Isaac and a few of his co-workers; a rare opportunity to get a reasonable bit of bacon with (late) breakfast.

The Big Bamboo beckons this evening for Liverpool v Arsenal.  Hopefully we can end the weekend on a high.

Crisps on a stick

Why can’t we get crisps-on-a-stick in the UK?

The picture, by the way, is of a Qingdao street-food delicacy; crisps on a stick.

* This, I think, is referred to by readers of The Guardian as a “1st World Problem”.