Spice Up Your Life!

We’ve been in our current apartment for just over a year now and have been slowly getting to know our fellow tenants. There are four apartments on our floor and I have to say that with apartment urban living, though we are so close in proximity to each other, we rarely see one another.

After trying to get to know the other tenants, we only recently succeeded in getting to know one neighbour. Christoph and DS leave for work at the same time each day and so share the lift each morning. After many elevator rides, we invited DS over for dinner (I concluded that many people don’t do that any more, which is a great shame) and we ended up having a terrific evening together. We found out that DS heads a spice company and he found out that I like to cook, so lo and behold, I got to enjoy the ‘friends with benefits’ but not in the way that you think!

You never know what may happen when you form a new friendship. 

You never know what may happen when you form a new friendship. 

When I returned to Shanghai, this loot was waiting for me. Isn’t this the coolest neighbourly welcome home surprise ever??!!

Weather and Weird Tastes

Happy 1st of September everyone! It’s been such a busy time but Shanghai has surpassed a heatwave and we are now enjoying absolutely fabulous weather! So a big 'thank you' goes to the G20 Summit that is being held in Hangzhou, a 2-hour drive from Shanghai. I have read and been told that factories have been shut down for the duration of the summit, local residents have been given an extra 7 days off work as to reduce traffic congestion and to make it even more enticing to help the government put on a good show, they get discounted tours to destinations outside the city which will of course lesson crowds. Talk about crowd-control; just get them out of the way!

These are just a few measures the authorities are taking to ensure an uneventful summit meeting while it may be interrupting the lives of thousands of people there, I know that everyone in Shanghai is loving having so many clear blue sky days. I know I am.

Fantastic weather

Fantastic weather

Apart from enjoying great weather, I have been continuing my lessons on Chinese culture. What I mean is that after so many years here, I am still learning new things about Chinese culture, beliefs and traditions.

It’s common knowledge that the Chinese go crazy for ‘exotic’ foods and medicines namely for health; shark fin, sea cucumber, blood of deer antlers, caterpillar fungus etc. I’m learning that ‘for good health’ is the number one reason why most people eat all this stuff. I have yet to hear someone say they eat it (whatever exotic species they are referring to at the time) because it tastes delicious and that’s why they like it. Hmm.

Top left and clockwise; caterpillar fungus, sea cucumber, bee pollen and birds' nests.

Top left and clockwise; caterpillar fungus, sea cucumber, bee pollen and birds' nests.

Since Q1 of this year, I had been sporadically taking Ikebana classes. My teacher is Chinese but speaks fluent English, Japanese and French so I learn in English but she teaches mainly Chinese students. What I love about my classes is that not only do I learn Ikebana but I also get to brush up on my Chinese skills with my fellow students. At a recent Ikebana class, we were chatting about our summer vacation and going around the group asking what was new with each person. One student, LQ, had started an import/export business of her own and is now importing birds' nests from Malaysia. She’s only just starting out but has already created a big demand for her product. For those of you who aren’t familiar with birds' nests, they are a delicacy here and prized for their health promoting properties. The nests are built by birds with their saliva, yes saliva, and cost around 2,500 USD per kilo. LQ asked if I wanted some but I sadly declined declaring that I wouldn’t know what to do with it! I really don’t.

Next on the weird and wonderful, our teacher, LZ, had gone to northern Sichuan and found some amazing local organic honey. No one here trusts the Chinese honey being sold in the supermarkets as they mostly comprise of sugar, water and colouring, so to find local organic honey was wonderful. Along with the honey, she also brought back pure bee pollen. I have never seen pure bee pollen before and was fascinated. LZ shared some with us and it was a nice surprise. I also wouldn’t know what to do with this product other than using it as a sweetener, but how interesting is that? Bee pollen!

Lastly, weird and not so wonderful. One student works in the medical field (I’m not sure as what yet, still working that out) and she was talking about how good frogs' uterus’ are for women combatting uterine fibroids. I understood the word frog when she said it but couldn’t decipher the next word until I pulled out my dictionary and found uterus. I had to ask her again if I had found the right word and she said yes. So to heal your uterus, you eat uterus’ from frogs. It did not sound appealing at all and I liked that my teacher was grossed out as well!!

So these are some of the local things that I get to learn about ;-)

City Living

I cherished my recent Swiss visit and being able to be up in the mountains and in nature was wonderful. Although I do love nature (I mean, who doesn't?), I have to admit that for the age bracket that Christoph and I currently fall into, city living suits us very well. I recently had a great example of why I appreciate our urban lifestyle:

What do you do when you don't feel like cooking but still want to eat something decent? Have you ever been able to get a take-out that was super yummy, healthy and still warm when you got home? My recent dinner was from a Lebanese restaurant called Zula and it was hummus with mushrooms and accompaniments. I love hummus and find that when I make it at home, it never tastes as good as what I get from Zula. So I didn't need to cook for one nor did I need to clean up afterwards. Could it be that the convenience of being in a city pays off when I need it to? I certainly think so!

My favourite take-out meal but don't come close to me afterwards...  I did eat all those onions and it wasn't pretty!  

My favourite take-out meal but don't come close to me afterwards...  I did eat all those onions and it wasn't pretty!  

Neighbourhood Harvest

Linh arrived back in Berlin last week and she was the perfect accomplice to pick plums with! Nearby our apartment is small public green area/ seating corner that has a plum tree. Each summer thus far, I walk past the plum tree, eat a few and wonder why no one picks all of the fruit?

This year, we sampled some of the plums with Christoph's help; he's tall enough to reach for more than what I can get and decided that we definitely needed to get some more! So Linh and I went back home, grabbed the ladder and set ourselves up to fill a bag with juicy sweet yellow plums!

Top left and anti- clockwise: the non-descript green corner, the view from under the tree, a very happy Anh with the free goodies!

Top left and anti- clockwise: the non-descript green corner, the view from under the tree, a very happy Anh with the free goodies!

I was pleasantly surprised that no one battered an eye lid even though I was walking around with a full-sized ladder! Linh and I were very happy with our harvest and still have some left to enjoy. Love enjoying the fruits of our labour :-)

Neighbourhood Watch... And Eat!

I love our neighbourhood and surrounding area. I also love wandering through fleamarkets and lucky for me we are close to the Flohmarkt am Mauerpark. It is touted as the largest fleamarket in central Europe, while others tout it also as where all stolen bicycles in Berlin end up! Overall, it's really a place of 'Trash or Treasure' and watching people go through the endless crates of stuff is so interesting.

Left and clockwise: sifting through the crates of stuff, antiques, street musicians, a stall with up-cycled wares, tea anyone?  

Left and clockwise: sifting through the crates of stuff, antiques, street musicians, a stall with up-cycled wares, tea anyone?  

On our way home, we went via the Kulturbrauerei and discovered that a fine food market had started taking place every Sunday. How cool is that? We hence had a fun progressive lunch, moving from mini food van to mini food van. Everything was tasty and well-crafted and I think because the sun had come out, that made the entire morning all the more wonderful!

Top left and clockwise: cake van, empanada van, crepe van, Christoph with our last lunch course from the grill van, sausage van, coffee bike :-) 

Top left and clockwise: cake van, empanada van, crepe van, Christoph with our last lunch course from the grill van, sausage van, coffee bike :-) 

Ich liebe Berlin!

A Great Start to the Year

Christoph and I have spent the last few days visiting family and friends in Switzerland and southern Germany. It's been a tight schedule but we were so happy to have had the chance to meet up with those we saw. To you- Thank you for having the time to catch up with us :-)

One of my Swiss highlights is always when I visit with RR and HR. They live in a small village but have a wonderful set up in a renovated farmhouse. We always feel very spoilt whenever we are here, especially me as RR and I spend a lot of time together crafting or cooking. As a group, we share lots of laughs, enjoy furious debates and share decadent home-cooked meals. On this visit, RR and I made fresh pasta for one of our meals. To use our very own hands to make something that so many of us take for granted - dry pasta in a box - was so satisfying and great fun that I'm already looking forward to the next visit!

Pasta in the making and as a main course accompaniment. 

Pasta in the making and as a main course accompaniment. 

Travelling and Cooking Thai Style

Our friend OM has just left us after a week filled to the brim with activities! I'm exhausted and I hope she is too so that she was able to sleep on the long flight back home.

OM was a great sport in accompanying me in my experiments with using local transport. We had decided to go to Hua Hin for a couple of nights and normally many people rent a car with driver for 2,500-3,500 BHT one way for a 2.5 hour drive (each way). I had heard of the express trains which take 3.5 hours and cost 412 BHT per ticket, per way (the cheapest is 88 BHT for no A/C, hard seats and on the slow train). After almost 5 hours, we made it to Hua Hin unscathed and although the train was delayed, we felt it was worth it if you weren't under time constraints. Our seats were comfortable, reclinable, had a footrest and a fold-out table. The toilets were simple but clean and drinks and a lunch were included. For 12.70 USD, what more do you need?!

Clockwise from top left: platform at the Hua Lamphong Railway Station, the locomotives, OM walking the tracks at the Hua Hin Station and what 412 Baht buys you.

Clockwise from top left: platform at the Hua Lamphong Railway Station, the locomotives, OM walking the tracks at the Hua Hin Station and what 412 Baht buys you.

Once we were back in Bangkok, we partook in a cooking class the next day. To my horror, I discovered that I had been cooking Thai food all wrong! So now, I am extremely glad that this has been rectified and look forward to learning a whole lot more about Thai food :-)

Clockwise from top left: typical Thai market supplies, making soup in a wok, my tom yum goong, pad thai key flavourings, the national Thai dessert- sticky rice with mango, penang curry, our work stations, pad thai.  Centre: OM and I making green curry gai.

Clockwise from top left: typical Thai market supplies, making soup in a wok, my tom yum goong, pad thai key flavourings, the national Thai dessert- sticky rice with mango, penang curry, our work stations, pad thai.  Centre: OM and I making green curry gai.

I love how colourful Thai food is and have really gotten used to eating chilli in and with almost everything. Yum!

Splurging in China

Christoph and I noticed how our habits have been changed by our surroundings - of course it would have to, we live in China. But what we used to take for granted; clean air, safe food, food choices etc, are things that we really cherish when have the chance to get our hands on some.

Last week after popping my head into 3 expat-orientated supermarkets, I could not for the life of me find Christoph's preferred yoghurt. That sounds weird, but yoghurt is different in China.

Tailored for the local market, yoghurt is generally very sweet and drunk with a straw. New to the market in the past couple of years are thicker yoghurts, but still very sweet and a little untrustworthy, especially after the whole milk scandal thing. So we stick to international brands - and that's where we feel like we're splurging... on an exotic and extravagant luxury item just to consume.

So far, we prefer Paul's yoghurt. It's imported from Australia and comes into the country in batches, you never know when you'll find it on the shelves. It's the most economical of the plain imported yoghurts which then explains why they're sold out within a few days of arriving.

Here are some pricing examples:
Paul's Yoghurt 500g - 58 RMB (6.82 EUR or 10.34 AUD)
Black Swan Greek Yoghurt 500g - 79 RMB (9.29 EUR or 14.20 AUD)
Bulla various flavours 200g - 24.8 RMB (2.92 EUR or 4.46 AUD)
Emmi various fruit flavours 100g - 11 RMB (1.29 EUR or 1.98 AUD)

We bought two tubs when we saw it in the shops on Saturday. Can you believe it? TWO TUBS! Since February 5 of this year, this is the second time we've had yoghurt in our fridge at home ;o) Happy Days!