August 24th ’13: Gong Fangrong in the UK

“Would Paul Sims please contact immigration”.  Not the friendliest of welcomes for Anny at Heathrow airport, as she’s taken to one side and quizzed about her reasons for visiting the UK.   I kept my natural predilection for sarcasm suppressed as the immigration official asked questions such as “Are you expecting anyone at Heathrow today?” (“No, I just hang around airports hopefully”, I didn’t reply).

Since my answers matched Anny’s (How did I know her, what’s her Chinese name, what’s her situation in China, how long was she here, etc.), they eventually let her in, only an hour later than planned.

Our house became the temporary holiday home for our Chinese guest, privileged as we were to entertain Anny on her first ever trip outside China.  Olney lived up to our description – no questions now on why we want to stay here rather than move closer to London (where Bron and I are now both working).   A two week trip to the UK which saw Anny explore our small market town of Olney, as well as Cambridge and Oxford (Anny being determined that her daughter should study sufficiently hard to gain entry in the future – either would do), London and Maidenhead for a stroll along the Thames.

Our house now feels a little empty; Anny – you were a perfect guest, and entertaining company as always.  Plus, we had an added bonus of having a few home-cooked Chinese meals ready for us upon our return from work.   We’re sure you’ll be able to visit us again in the future.

August 2nd: Olney

Poor, neglected blog…
Bron and Tim waiting for the rafts to appear

Bron and Tim waiting for the rafts to appear

We’ve been back in the UK for just over 2 months now.  We no longer have to worry about melting in the Shanghai summer, with temperatures reaching 40 degrees Celsius  (although this particular British summer has somehow managed 30 degrees on a few occasions), crossing the road (pedestrians having right of way here) or cockroaches in the bed.  I do, however, have to worry about over-eating (a British calorific diet contributing to my commensurately expanding waistline in just a few weeks), expensive petrol and access to online shopping.  Despite the plethora of colourful, offer-rich, information-explosive shopping websites in China, being unable to read (and hence, transact) the Chinese sites is a pretty good deterrent to buying things you don’t actually need.

With Isaac and Chong on the beach at Bray

With Isaac and Chong on the beach at Bray

But we miss constantly being challenged with language barriers, we miss the never-ending flow of bizarre but unforgettable random encounters (from hot springs on mountaintops to karaoke swimming pools) and we miss the strange bunch of people that became our short-lived Shanghai family.  With regards to the latter, we’ve realised the world isn’t that small.  Marcel’s 6 week stint in the UK as part of his MBA gave us a great night out in Olney a few weeks ago (always good to introduce UK market town life to a South African), and we’ve been over to Ireland for the second part of Chong and Isaac’s wedding.  A meet-up with Rachel beckons later this year.

It hasn’t take us long to settle back into life here; from weddings and a plethora of beer festivals to the eccentricities of British life demonstrated by the annual Olney raft race (build a raft out of floating stuff, paddle it a few hundred metres down a slow moving river; dodging the over-enthusiastic crowd, some of whom have made it into the river) after the annual Olney rubber duck race.
Our visas expire in March 2014 – maybe there’s one more trip on the cards (got to use the airmiles somehow) before we finally put an end to our Chinese experience.


February 18th: England, Home of Simple Pleasures

Warning: Airport lounge alert. 

Thanks to the combination of a full price economy ticket, several thousand airmiles and cash for airport tax we currently find ourselves in the Virgin Clubhouse at Heathrow Terminal 3.  In the lounge they have unicorns, baths full of wine and a Piers Morgan dartboard.  The staff float around on pink clouds offering manicures, exotic eyebrow extractions and black puddings.*  Other than not actually getting on the plane, there’s no better way to start a plane journey for somebody who continues to be terrified of flying.  But I now have my way of dealing with this (not for public consumption on a blog).

Many thanks to all our friends and family who looked after us or came to see us over the last couple of weeks as we completed our mini-tour of the country (for those considering a visit to England, I would highly recommend our route of Olney–>Woburn Sands–> Olney–> Worksop–>  Southport–> Liverpool–> Banbury–> Olney–> Peterborough–> Epsom.  Worksop optional – hen parties only).  For some we know you changed your schedule to take holidays or “work” from home, and we really appreciate it.   We didn’t get a chance to see everyone so will definitely try to do so next time we’re back, whenever that might be.

I’m ridiculously tired and as ever, returning to Shanghai with mixed feelings. If nothing else, I need to get back to Shanghai to protect my waistline after nearly two weeks of pies, curries and other British delicacies.

Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve discovered that at my age, simple pleasures are the best.  The day after landing, we were sat in The Bull in Olney, me with a pint of British bitter, grinning like an idiot.  We’ve done little else than drive to see people, eat and drink with people, then drive somewhere else.  It’s been exhausting, but worth every single lost hour of sleep.  And with a mini-keg of beer on offer at the O’Grady’s and a never ending beer fridge on offer at the French’s (in addition to housing some lovely people), Olney still feels like home despite having other people currently living in our house.

*Some of this paragraph may be inaccurate.

Olney on a Cloudy Day

Olney on a Cloudy Day