Saturday, 28 February 2009

I can make sushi!

Azusa demonstrating the sushi making process.

After spending 10 days in Japan enjoying the beautiful foods, it was time to learn for myself. Last night, I headed across to Azusa's (it's so great to go to a friend's place for dinner, when you only have to go down the elevator, run 20 metres across to the next building and then up again!) to learn how to make sushi. Azusa was a great teacher, very patient and she made it look so easy - my sushi rolls were definitely not as neat as hers.

Concentrating very hard! Perfect sushi roll!
When the cooking was done, it was time to sit and enjoy salmon and tuna sushi rolls, teriyaki chicken, mushrooms, a salmon salad and the staple Japanese drink of sake! I must say that sake is definitely not for me, far too strong. After dinner, we shared photos of our recent holidays around Asia. Azusa has travelled to so many interesting places, it makes me realise how little I have seen. So, I have some new places to add to my 'While I'm living in China' travel wish list, most notably Cambodia and Vanuatu.
The finished product. What a feast!

Friday, 27 February 2009

Saturday brunch at Uberfood...

Sunday magazines in nice surroundings - how luxurious!

This morning, Amy and I discovered what could become a new dangerous addiction in Wuxi - 4 course brunch at Uberfood! It was so nice to have a long, lazy brunch, while reading Sunday magazines and Vogue. We enjoyed a German pastry basket, poached eggs with smoked salmon, an antipasto platter, chicken and bacon salad and black forest cake - all spread out over a lazy three hour period. A perfect way to start a weekend.

The Uberfood larder. Weekend bliss - delicious breakfast and Sunday magazines.
Real black forest cake.

Wednesday, 25 February 2009

Birthday celebrations....

What an international group - China, Australia, New Zealand, Japan and Germany were all represented at my birthday dinner.

It was off to Uberfood last night to celebrate my birthday with lots of good food, good wine and good company. Most of us enjoyed the four course meal of sea bass with asparagus, salmon salad, beef with risotto and a selection of desserts - yum! All washed down with sparkling wine of course - bubbles on a birthday are a must, I say. Amy, Azusa and Tracy were very sneaky in organising a birthday cake, complete with sparklers, for me. It was my favourite Uberfood cake - mousse cake topped with strawberries.

Hazel about to begin her huge salad! Azusa is the dessert queen.
I was very spoilt, with wonderful presents, including a 'party recovery' kit from the German girls (Kiki, Justy and Barbara), with lots of other lovely treats as well. Since it was my first birthday away from home, I also treated myself (ah, the joys of internet shopping!) with some Trilogy beauty products and an accidental purchase new CD off itunes (warning - be careful where you click when you are looking at 'Pumping Iron' CDs for $120 each!). Chocolate mousse birthday cake - yum!
Hazel and Tracy look on as I make a mess of cutting the cake!
After dinner, it was off for a foot massage and a cup of tea, to allow for the delicious but filling food to settle before going to bed! I'm looking forward to my 29th year, another year filled with challenges, surprises, new experiences and lots of fun.
Do I feel tall or what?! Apple (on the left) who baked my lovely birthday cake and Patricia who always looks after us at Uberfood.

Tuesday, 24 February 2009

Another year closer to 30 ......

My 27th birthday - Picnic at Hanging Rock.

I'm not that excited about turning 28 - I feel like I should be a little more grown up. Everyone keeps telling me that 28 is a sexy age though, so maybe I have a good year ahead of me? As hard as it might be to be grown up, sexy and sophisticated here in Wuxi! I actually feel a little homesick today because I would normally be spending my birthday with family back at home. But the Davidson family are currently all over the world - Mum is in Jordan, Dad is in Canberra, Tom is in Melbourne and Rob is in the UK. What a well travelled family!!

My gorgeous family (minus Dad).

So, because they are not here to celebrate my birthday with me, I thought I'd share them with the world by posting some pictures of them and indulge in a little 'I love my family/my family are great' rant! I know that I may be biased and that everyone thinks their family is wonderful, but mine really is, sure we're not perfect but we always have a good time together and support each other when we need it. There are so many things that I love to do with each of my family members - I love going for a walk with mum and then chatting over a glass of wine, talking to my dad on skype and seeing him with the dogs on the video, training in the park with Tom and going for a horse ride with Rob (when the horses were alive) and more recently travelling around China with him. All the Davidsons will visit me here in China at some point while I am here and I can't wait to share those special times with each of them. I can't forget my grandmother either - I love having chats with her on skype and receiving her packages of magazines and DVDs.

My wonderful family! Grandmother and the grandkids.
Well, there is my moment of self indulgence today. I'm looking forward to a lovely dinner with my family of friends this evening - at the nanna hour of 6pm I was informed by my friend, Kate! We do have to allow time for a delicious 4 course meal, followed by a massage though. And yes, as my aunt Jenny guessed correctly, my birthday dinner will be at Uberfood! I hope everyone has a lovely day as well.
Ahh, how cute - Tom and I very proud of our new baby brother, Rob.

Monday, 23 February 2009

Hao chi! (Delicious!)

Yummy summer fruits ..... in winter?! All this fruit for about $10 - very expensive for China, but so cheap for Western prices.

Since I began spending a lot of time at Anita and Ben's farm, 'Wild About Fruit', in Coldstream, some years ago, I learnt a lot about the production and selling of fruit. In particular, I learnt about the value of eating seasonal fruits and vegetables. Seasonal fruit however seems to be a little different here in Wuxi as the best fruits to buy at the moment are all summer fruits - pineapple, mangoes and strawberries. It certainly feels a little strange to be eating such yummy, juicy fruits when it is wet, cold and miserable outside!

My local fruit store.

I always visit the same fruit store, normally 2-3 times a week, and always after I've been to the gym. I have been trying to practise my Mandarin on the store owner and she is always so patient with me. We seem to be able to communicate successfully with a combination of poor Mandarin and a lot of sign language. She always thinks it's funny when I come in on my bike, with my face red and sweaty!

What amazing service!!

I try not to think too much about where the fruit has actually come from, preferring to wash it thoroughly and enjoy the taste. The only orchards and vegetable gardens I have ever seen here have always been next to the dirty canals or factories pumping out loads of pollution into the air, and no doubt onto the fruits and vegetables. I have also heard other disturbing things about fruit and vegetable farming - apparently, they dye the soil or the actual vegetable to ensure that it looks fresh and colourful! Hmmm, no more unpeeled fruit and vegetables for me then! Lovely fruit lady!

Sunday, 22 February 2009

Country girls from Wuxi head to the city .....

Chloe and I - finally catching up in China.

It was with much excitement that the girls from Wuxi (and Changsha) headed to Shanghai on Saturday afternoon for a weekend of shopping, eating and drinking. First stop was to drop our bags off at Ashley's place where we met Ash's new housemate in a fairly awkward situation. So, it was quickly out of there to find the fabric markets and order some new clothes ready to be picked up tomorrow. The fabric market in Shanghai is so amazing, so many beautiful fabrics and different styles of coats, shirts, dresses etc.

Shanghai street food ...... yum!
Fur anyone?

Next stop was a drink at Barbarossa, a beautiful bar right in the middle of the People's Square. It would be a great place for afternoon drinks in the sun, not so for evening drinks in the rain! Then it was on to Simply Thai for a delicious meal of different Thai foods accompanied by mocktails (we were starting the night in a sensible manner!).
Stunning Barbarossa bar in the middle of the People's Square.
Inside at Barbarossa.
The night had begun perfectly, so it was only right that something went wrong next! We got to Ash' place to beautify ourselves before hitting the town, to find that the toilet was blocked. Chloe, being the glamourous London TV producer she is, decided to star in her own film while we were in hysterics as she attempted to unblock the toilet. After several attempts, we decided that staying in a 2 bedroom apartment with 5 people and no toilet, was not a good option. So, we headed out in the rain again to find the nearest (nice) hostel. We were in luck, finding ourselves in a family suite at a very lovely hostel - all for about $60 a night (for all of us!).
Handyman Chloe trying to unblock Ashley's toilet.
The curly hair and the stylist.
Here, we quickly got ready and made ourselves look stunning before heading out in the rain again. Justyna played stylist for the night and I headed out with a head full of curls - a first for me and my dead straight hair! As we left, we ran into a couple of guys we knew from Wuxi, and we all banded together to find the exclusive Mint Club.
The girls.
We were pouting 10 years ago at 18.......still pouting at (nearly!) 28!
How we managed to get into the Mint Club, I'm not quite sure. We were greeted at the door by the bouncer asking, 'Are you a member or a shareholder?' 'Ahhhhhh, neither?' we replied. But somehow, we ended up in the elevator to the 24th floor, handing over our (very wet!) coats and walking down the hall lined with fish tanks filled with small sharks into the bar.
Everyone wanted to pout!
Even the boys!
We quickly discovered that it was to continue being a sensible night once we took a look at the price of the drinks - $55 for a glass of bubbles, $180 for a cocktail, $10 for a bottle of water. We splurged and had a drink each - a champagne cocktail (half a glass of bubbles with a splash of something peach flavoured) for $30 each. However, it was well worth it, just for the thrill of being in a western style club with a great DJ, terrific views over the Bund and fantastic people watching inside the club - there were some very glamorous people there! It was lucky that we had dressed up and (kind of!) looked like we fitted in.
Savouring the $30 half glass of bubbles!
We danced the night away before heading back to our family suite and having a luxurious sleep in on Sunday morning. It was great to wake up feeling refreshed rather than hungover (yes, mum, I know I can have a good time without drinking!) and we ventured off to Element Fresh for healthy smoothies, pancakes and eggs and bacon for breakfast - ahh, the joys of sitting in a civilised cafe for breakfast!
What a poser! Glamorous Chloe.
Look! Can you see the shark?!
Chloe and I then went in search of western groceries at City Supermarket where I was able to stock up on lots of wheat free products and Australian red wine. We met the others at the fake market soon after. I have never really been interested in the fake products, I'm not a terribly glamorous type and always prefer quality rather than name brands. However, I was amazed at the quality of some of the products we saw (but ask me again in 6 months how my purchases are going!). It was fairly frustrating process batting off persistent sellers as we wandered through - 'bu yao' (no want) definitely came in handy. Chloe was hilarious as she bargained and tried to escape the persistent sellers - she has a very posh English accent and is just so polite. If the queens of bargaining, Kiki and Justy had not have been there, Chloe surely would have been ripped off! Despite me saying 'I don't need anything', I still managed to walk away with a beautiful 'Chloe' leather bag ($50), a pair of Puma street shoes ($30) and a pair of Ugg boots ($30).
Tired but not hungover! At the hostel on Sunday morning.
The girls in black - matching coats! Lucky we will soon be living in three different countries!
From the fake market, we headed back to the fabric market to pick up our orders from yesterday and we were all very impressed with the quality and service. My winter wardrobe is now complete and I'll be back in a few months for a new summer wardrobe. It was so sad to farewell Chloe, hopefully I will see her again soon - it's my turn to visit her next time, so a trip to Europe is definitely on the cards for next year, as is thinking about the next teaching position in Europe (Amsterdam International School here I come?!). Chloe and I both agreed that you definitely know you have a good friendship when so much time can go past and you can just pick up the conversation and the laughs right where you left off. We decided that we'll be 70 years old, sitting on a beach somewhere still talking about love and life - bring it on I say!
Chloe bargaining at the fake markets - she was a terrible bargainer! Way too polite!

Friday, 20 February 2009

The weekly Uberfood experience!

Amy getting settled on the couch at Uberfood.
It's definitely becoming a fixture on my weekly calendar - drinks and nibbles at Uberfood. Despite me saying 'Only one drink....I have to go to the gym!', it wasn't to be, it was a perfect afternoon to sit inside on the couches drinking a glass of red and enjoying dessert of hot strawberries. It was hard to believe that only a week ago, we were sitting outside enjoying a balmy evening and drinking white wine.

Hot strawberries, yum!

Unfortunately, today my body sent me a pretty strong message that it was feeling the stress of the last few weeks - I woke up with horrible stomach pains and had to stay in bed for pretty much the whole day. I must have really needed the rest because I slept for most of the day! Chloe arrives tonight and I am so excited about seeing her. We met on my GAP year nearly 10 years ago and we're only seen each other once since then. We've both been really looking forward to this weekend for ages....look out Shanghai!

Azusa's crazy rain outfit - I love it! It's been raining nearly all week and Azusa still rides her bike to work, brave girl!

Wednesday, 18 February 2009

Is China really this deluded?

Every day, I cycle past the above sights on my way to school. As you cycle off the main road into Regent International Garden (where school is), you pass a row of shops - a bakery, an international book store, a cafe, a florist. There are signs promising you that your life will change if you live here, that living in the park will enhance your life. There are pictures of happy families with blond hair, strolling along the treelined boulevardes. Wow! What a nice life you could have if you lived in Regent International Garden, you think. However, the shops are not open, there is no one living in Regent International Garden and it seems unlikely that there will be in the near future. Not just because of the economic crisis, it's been like this in Wuxi since I moved here and from talking to others, long before I moved here too. Are the Chinese really so deluded that they think Wuxi, an huge industrial city, can look like a contemporary European city?
The reality is more like the pictures below. Regent International Garden is not the only place like this in Wuxi, they are popping up all over the place. However, most apartment buildings in Wuxi seem to be empty. 'We're building for the future' I've heard more than once......hmmmm, considering that most buildings don't last that long, how soon do they think they can fill these apartments? In Venice Gardens, the family friendly compound, they totally gut and redo the apartments and houses every two years. Most apartment buildings are demolished after 10 years and new buildings replace them. It totally baffles me, but it seems that the Chinese are addicted to building.
View from my office.