March 31st: The First (Treetop) Barbecue of the Summer

P1040749Back home in the UK, one particular event always indicates the start of summer, and never mind fiddling with the clocks or the wearing of shorts.  Whether early in a March heatwave or late in May’s eventual surrender to warmth, our goodbye to winter is always indicated by the first barbecue of the year.  So this year, as the UK currently clings to winter in an inversely proportional way to how Bron and I are clinging on to life out in China, our first barbecue carried an inevitable Chinese feel.

Our ‘Tree-top Villa’ in the mountainous Moganshan region was just that – one of about 30 villas bordering a narrow valley, positioned high up overlooking the trees. Each with its own barbecue, hot tub and personal (ish) host. Lillian, our host, performed an admirable job, succumbing to the many demands of Isaac, Chong, Bron and I without complaint as we attempted to relax amongst the trees.

SAM_0584‘Naked Retreats’ (please note: not ‘nudist’ retreats) offers its guests the opportunity to spend a few days away from Shanghai’s relentless pressure to ‘Do Something’ by choosing instead to do absolutely nothing, which is pretty much what we did. Shunning the available activities such as bike riding, hiking, archery and incongruously, Land Rover driving, we chose to spend our time popping in and out of the hot tub, ambling around and of course, having our first barbecue of the year.

Three hours from Shanghai, the Naked Retreat resort is a staggeringly effective use of a landscape, making use of nature to provide its guests with a unique, eco-friendly experience.  March has given us a few fantastic weekends, and this one no different (despite losing at majiang to a very sleepy Isaac).

I am curious, though, as to how such a relaxing, effortless weekend can leave us all feeling so tired…

11th November: Trees

Teetering on the edge

Nicole and Bron out on a glass platform

Late in the evening, pouring with rain, dark and foggy; I’m grateful we couldn’t see much through the coach window as we gradually ascended towards our Moganshan country house.  I’m not sure how the coach driver could see much either but he got us there somehow.  Moganshan is a mountain (719 metres high) about 200km from Shanghai, and has a national park much beloved (according to our guide) of senior Chinese state officials.  Even when it’s cold, wet and windy it’s a beautiful place.  It has fresh air, rolling hills and a luscious, green landscape: all the things Shanghai doesn’t have.

As part of an Internations group of around 30 people, we arrived late on Friday evening following our 4 hour coach journey to be met with a local cuisine delicacy – beef bourguignon.  Sadly, no local Moganshan beer available; instead a couple of QingDaos and off to bed for a relatively early night in anticipation of the early rise on Saturday.

A wobbly bridge

Bron and Anca on the somewhat wobbly bridge

We’d made the right decision to bring walking boots with us, since what we thought might just be a minor stroll around the local sights turned into a circa 10 mile hike*.  Picking leaves off the tea shrubs/bushes/plants (whatever they’re called) lost its appeal when the guide told us we’d need to pick about 8000 leaves** to make enough for a single decent cuppa.  Lunch in a local restaurant somewhere near the top of the mountain with pre-picked tea was an eminently more sensible idea.

In the Moganshan house

Bron and the gang in the house

We were given an additional tour in the afternoon by a British Bloke living locally: Mark Kitto, author of a book called “China Cuckoo”.  A few insights into the ups and downs of an ambitious, but foreign, entrepreneur trying to do business in China and hitting, well, a few stumbling blocks.

Back to the house in the evening for a home-cooked meal from Shanghai chef Tomer Bar Meir – we’ve yet to visit his restaurant but will probably do so now.  Skye, owner of the most exotic of dance moves, yet again proved his dancing prowess to the amusement/bemusement of all.  An interesting mix of people in this trip, but just seven blokes.  If any single men in Shanghai are reading this – you need to be heading out on a few Internations trips.

With the weather massively improved on Sunday morning, we ignored the urge to stay in bed to sleep off any of the previous night’s excesses to head out for another walk – much shorter this time.   With much better views in the sunshine, I’m glad we did.

As is becoming normal with these Internations trips, we’ve met a great bunch of people that we’ll hopefully meet up with again soon.  Two young British girls were also there (recent graduates, working in Shanghai for their first jobs) and despite their offer to go out clubbing, I graciously declined after pointing out I was nearly twice their age.

All in all an excellent weekend – thanks to Skye and Yael for organising and hosting.  And thanks to Nicole for providing Saturday evening’s late-night entertainment (doubtless unintentional!).

Dodgy decor in Closless

Hannah, Marcel and Bron in Closless

Back in Shanghai; in previous posts I’ve mentioned a cocktail bar near us with about 10 seats in it.  On Tuesday night (following a curry in Tikka, our closest Indian restaurant) we took Marcel and Hannah there, but all the seats were fully occupied.  We’d always been aware there was some kind of small room at the other end of the bar but figured it was a private lounge or something.  It isn’t – we were ushered into the tiny room on Tuesday night to discover the walls were adorned with tasteful (honest!) photos of bums and boobs.  Hannah: “What have you brought us here for?  It’s like a sex room!”.  Admittedly, the blankets available for use by its patrons didn’t help.

On Thursday we received a parcel in the post from Rhian.  Shreddies, biscuits, shower gel and a few other British goodies – a fantastic surprise; thank you Rhian.  We were like kids on Christmas morning.

*Yes, I know some people run 10 miles on a Saturday morning and think nothing of it.  But we’re normal.

**I forget the exact figure.  Probably slightly less than that.