…not my mob. But they enjoyed taking part and that’s what matters, isn’t it? WELL, ISN’T IT?? I’m sure all our Olympians feel the same way!
Many years ago, I used to belong to a little gang of mates. We’d go on pub crawls together, get into fights together (well, one), and put the world to rights together. And then we went our separate ways and barely kept in touch.
One of these mates was called Steve. He was a successful guy. Had kids young, set up a business young. And then blew the lot. Still young. His business folded; his wife and two sons moved to the other side of the world, literally: China.
And Steve spun his wheels, drinking too much, talking shite too much. Wasting his life. Just like the old days.
And then, after nigh on 20 years of never setting eyes on each other, Steve and I bumped into each other in a pub in the town near to where we grew up.
He told me about his life, his wife, his sons. In China.
He had barely worked since his business had gone belly up 10 years earlier. He’d tried to find a job. LIke me, after I was made redundant: tried and failed. And he’d pretty much given up.
This was his life now, the life I was observing. It wasn’t a bad life, if you did it once in a while. But it was a spectacular waste of life if you did it every day, as Steve was doing. No job; no purpose. Just the next pint of Guinness to look forward to.
Several pints of Guinness later, I said to him: ‘Why are you sitting here wasting your life? Why aren’t you in China?’
And do you know what, he agreed – and then promptly did something about it.
I haven’t seen him since. But it’s different this time. There’s blogging, which is how Steve found me. And this week, he emailed me, about his life, re-united with his wife, and his sons – and even a job – in China.
I feel so proud of him. Cheers, Steve.
So what is his life like over there? What is the reality for an ex-pat living in Beijing? With his permission, I’ve re-produced this slice-of-life email from him. What strikes me most is how utterly ordinary it sounds.
So, life in China. I’m not going to write this as such just keep on typing whatever comes into my head as I remember things so forgive me if it jumps around a bit. Karen (Steve’s wife) was here for 18 months before I joined her and her early experiences were much more difficult than mine.
She arrived not knowing anyone and were given an apartment by school out in the parts of town where you just don’t see a western face. It didn’t take her too long though to make friends with teaching staff who are all non-Chinese and she moved after a year into the apartment we now share in the very heart of expatriate and wealthy Chinese Beijing.
Then I arrived!
We live in a very modern, smart apartment block housing Chinese professionals and the ever dwindling number of westerners working for multi-nationals and International Schools. Thankfully the school pay the rent as it costs £1500 per month for our pretty small three bedroom apartment.
Beijing is an international city with everything you’d expect to find in London, New York or Paris. There is a huge gap opening up between the rich and poor. You don’t have to walk very far from our building to see families living in traditional courtyard homes with mum, dad, kid and both sets of in-laws living in a couple of small rooms.
There are some people here making huge amounts of money and people living in poverty and even University Lecturers only get paid around £5000 per year. Now’s not the time or place to debate such a thing but I don’t know how China’s leaders are going to keep a lid on it forever. There is a TV programme on BBC at the moment called China: Triumph and Turmoil, it’s not wholly accurate but interesting.
Talking about TV, we are able to download most shows from the UK and watch them so get to see Dr Who, Match of the Day, Masterchef etc etc. As you probably know China is the place where all copied DVD’s come from so we can buy box sets of tv series or brand new movies for very little.
Chinese TV is pretty rubbish, it’s either game shows or some Sino-Japanese war drama. They do show live premier league football on terrestrial tv though and there’s always at least one of the live games being shown. When there is only one game ie Stoke v City you are guaranteed to have it on at home, the only downside is the time difference being 7/8 hours so e.g. that game was on at 1.30 am.
If the game isn’t on TV I can go to any one of a number of bars showing the games, Paddy O’Sheas, The Den, James Joyce, Black Sun, Franks, Parkside the list of bars is endless and they sell beer from all over the world, especially Guinness, the Chinese love it.
We tend to go out to eat a few nights per week and you can have anything from extremely cheap street food, through Chinese, Japanese, Korean, French, Italian, German, Russian, Belgian, Indian of varying quality where you can spend £5 a head or £150 a head and anything in between.
We do live quite a sheltered expat lifestyle and after a spate of eating Chinese after first arriving just eat the same everyday stuff that you do. There are some odd things though like the bacon isn’t the same, they put sugar in the milk and bread but you can buy western style milk and bread from western supermarkets.
They even had a delivery of Cadbury’s crème eggs last week. I have more Chinese friends than Karen, through my teaching I suppose but we both tend to hang out with westerners. The football team I play for only has one Chinese guy but we do play against Chinese teams.
The language is very difficult but again because of the part of town we live, most speak a little English anyway and are always desperate to have a conversation with an English person. However if you go just a few miles out of town you will not see a western face and nobody will speak English.
Getting around is very cheap, you can get anywhere in the city by subway for 20p and a very long taxi ride is rarely more than a few pounds. I’m skimming through what I’ve written and it doesn’t quite sound like ‘Our Man In……..’ so I’ll talk about China culturally as that has been the most incredible part of being here.
There are iconic places in the world and The Forbidden City, Terracotta Army and The Great Wall are amongst them, I’ve been to the wall probably four or five times with guests and it still takes your breath away but there are parts you can walk to that haven’t been rebuilt and they are interesting.
I have seen huge palaces, giant Buddhas, enormous temples, the place where the emperors lived, where Confucius studied but the one place that still stops me in my tracks (I didn’t even mean that as a pun until I just read it but I’ll leave it in) is Tiananmen Square, overlooked by Mao’s portrait and home to his mausoleum there is such a feeling of recent Chinese history in every part of it.
It’s still my favourite part of Beijing although I am in the minority with that one. Most people find it soulless but I think the complete opposite, it thrives with energy.
Anyway I have been droning on a bit now so I’ll finish up, one quick last thing that I have found here completely by accident is an exciting indie music scene with some incredible Chinese bands. It happened because I went to see The Buzzcocks at a venue called Yugong Yishan and they were shit but the support band were brilliant so the week after me and a mate turned up and saw another few great young Chinese bands, then started to try a few different music venues around the city and have been treated to some really brilliant nights. Bands such as Carsick Cars, Queen Sea Big Shark, Mr. Graceless, Gar, Rustic, Hedgehog, Tizzy Bac, Pet Conspiracy, Birdstriking and Streets Kill Strange Animals to name but a few. A number of them have played outside China too and I wouldn’t be surprised if one or two don’t end up at a UK festival this summer.
Hope that’s given you a little flavour of life in 21st Century China or at least my life in China.
Tara’s challenge for this week’s Sticky Fingers’ Gallery is Extreme Close-up.
Here’s mine. As Rolf used to say, can you guess what it is yet?
This is the simplest and most effective recipe I’e ever done – though you have to have a Sous Vide, so not for everyone, I guess. You could always invest in one, though. Here’s a link if you’re interested.
1 slab of pork belly, approx. 400g
And for the rest…
Leeks: finely sliced, sauteed in butter and double cream
Potatoes: mashed with butter, salt, pepper and garlic pulp after roasting in low oven for 45 mins
Apple sauce: 2 Bramley apples, peeled and finely chopped and cooked until they fall apart
You could add herbs e.g. thyme, to the Sous Vide vac-pack before, cooking, but I don’t think it needs any flavour enhancement.
The result is the juiciest, softest, tastiest pork belly you will ever try. Continue reading