Back from Seoul – good bye 2013

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The hanok (traditional houses) in the Bukchon district of Seoul

Well our mouths dropped open when the temperature was announced as being minus 4 degrees celsius upon our arrival in Seoul airport.  Surprisingly, due to the dry air, it didn’t feel any colder than Shanghai (at between 5 and 10 degrees) and we enjoyed 4 wonderful sunny days exploring the city.

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The kids loved the remaining snow that had fallen a few days earlier.

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Waiting for the cable car to go to up to Seoul Tower on Mount Namsan

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Jeongol – raw ingredients covered in stock which is then cooked before your eyes.

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Traditional Korean barbecue with Sebastien’s colleague Sunny and family the 24th of December – this involved wrapping meat in lettuce leaves along with an assortment of seasonings such as sliced garlic, kimchi, white radish, …..

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Kimchi seasoning – garlic, ginger, sugar, rice paste, roasted sesame seeds, dried shrimp, chilli powder, fish sauce

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Here it is – my very own kimchi! Which involved mixing all of the above seasonings with white radish and spring onions and chives before stuffing into salted cabbage – and then vacuum packing for the trip back home.

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The kimchi instructor insisted on dressing the children in traditional clothing (hanbok)

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Two very tired bodies in the taxi on the way back to the airport.  They were wide awake upon our arrival home however in order to open their Christmas presents.

The kids enjoyed the incredibly popular local animation especially Pororo the penguin.  South Korea is famous for this type of entertainment.

The city was clean, easy to navigate on the extensive subway system, friendly and delicious.  It was a very enjoyable diversion.  Among other things I managed to try the ginseng and chicken soup, cold buckwheat noodles with beef and nashi pear but there were SOOOO many other dishes that time didn’t allow me to savor.  It was a little sad however to not be enjoying either turkey and salad in Australia or oysters and buche noel in France for Christmas with family and friends.

And so as 2013 comes to an end I am feeling very strong need to review my intentions.  I feel that my feelings and behaviors have frequently diverted from my resolutions this past year and I crave to be more ‘grounded’ in 2014.

Best wishes to all.

Eating according to tradition.

IMG_2414Last week-end we visited the quaint canal-side town of Zhujiajiao just west of Shanghai.  The kids loved watching the boats going up and down the canals.

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IMG_2407..and sampling some of the specialities of this town such as steamed bamboo leaves stuffed with rice and pork  and malt sugar on sticks

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..and dry-cured duck (well OK, we didn’t actually try this one….. but I will)

It got me to thinking that the food and cooking techniques vary greatly across China but there are (or at least ‘were‘ -because traditions are quickly being exchanged for a more ‘modern’ lifestyle)  common rules for eating:

  • Eat in moderation when hungry,
  • No snacking,
  • CHEW well,
  • Take pleasure,
  • Be mindful (present without distraction),
  • Massage the stomach after a meal (20xclockwise and 40x anticlockwise),
  • Walk after the meal (100 steps will take you to 100 years).
  • Eat according to seasons and eat locally
  • Don’t store foods – especially cut foods
  • Drink soup at the end of the meal
  • Aim to include all of the following tastes: sour, bitter, sweet, salty and spicy and consider the ‘nature’ of food of which their are five according to Traditional Chinese Medicine: hot, warm, neutral, cool and cold.

All pretty good guidelines for everyone 🙂

Below is a photo of the food (in it’s raw state) that is typically offered to the children at school every day.  Beats soggy sandwiches!

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‘Shanghighs’: Strawberry season (in glass houses!) has started and I invited our driver Ben and his niece Anne to join us pick some this past week-end.  I wasn’t aware before but Anne’s parents return to Shanghai only once every two weeks as they are working in a clothing factory.  Anne’s parents want their daughter to stay in Shanghai with her grandparents in order to have her educated in the city – it’s all got to do with the hukou system.  The hukou is a household registration record officially identifying a person as a resident of an area, and whilst you can change your residential area, you will lose many rights such as the right to education.

Rain for 48 hours – not normally considered a ‘high’ but it helped clear the air.

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‘Shanglows’: So husband Sebastien is still in Boston (kindly sending regular photos of the lobster he is eating) and will be working in Korea immediately upon his return so in order to be a family over Christmas we are off to Korea for 4 days. I’ll be taking a class in kimchi which you’re sure to hear about shortly.

‘Shanghunusuals’: Whilst still on the topic of food, I find a great contrast in the labeling and marketing of food here compared with most other countries.  Here rather than promote local produce, the salespeople are proud to announce that a product is imported.  This is probably not too surprising following some rather serious food quality scandals here in recent years.

Now even though Christmas is not officially celebrated over here there are some quite impressive Christmas decorations all over the city.

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Not exactly sure why the kids are making those faces.

And I did manage to pick up a tree from the Hongqiao Flower Market (to the west of Downtown).  This market is like the other speciality markets in Shanghai where dozens of stores are packed into a space and sell pretty much the same things  – and where haggling is expected.  Below is a photo from the Art Market where I went last week but you can also find markets specializing in fabric, fake goods, insects, pearls……

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Happy Christmas/Holidays to all.

Imperfection…. a good thing?

I recently mentioned to my dear friend Rachael in Australia that I didn’t feel capable of doing everything that I wanted/needed to do to which she replied:  ‘Be kind to your self and try to lower your expectations just a little’.  Later in the week someone else said practically the same thing ‘Don’t be so hard on yourself’ followed by the same advice from my mother.  Hmmm, I think that I’ve been pretty down this past week 😦

Perfectionism:  Now I can’t possibly consider myself a true perfectionist – because I’m not good enough for that! – but I do think that I have a tendency to set the bar high.

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I admit that I used to think that perfectionism was rather a positive trait but I began to suspect otherwise quite a while ago and have been trying to focus on and enjoy the process of doing things rather than the product/end result  I had also  purchased a book ‘The Gifts of Imperfection’ by Brene Brown earlier this year – but not being good enough I hadn’t picked it up….until this week.

It was timely as I was beating myself up about so many things – about not speaking even basic Mandarin (not even close), not arranging for my biannual hair cut, not finishing my studies on time, not keeping up with world news, comparing myself to the large proportion of highly motivated and energetic expatriates living here …….blah blah blah (‘shenma shenma’ in Chinese)

I’d already seen Brene talk here: http://www.ted.com/talks/brene_brown_on_vulnerability.html  and I loved her style.  Her book (what I’ve read so far) was equally insightful.

She confirmed my suspicion that perfectionism was harmful and can lead to depression, anxiety, addiction and *life-paralysis.

* = all those opportunities we miss because we’re too afraid to put anything out in the world that could be imperfect.

I’m pretty sure that I can learn a thing or two here about avoiding  a pattern of ‘life paralysis’ because here in China things seem to be done rather quickly…..and rarely perfectly…. but by golly they do get done!  For example, we had some book shelves installed recently in the living room: they are not straight nor well placed, but boy were they installed quickly!

Another example of just getting the job done.

Another example of just getting the job done – imperfectly.

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Brene actually has the topic of perfectionism under the heading of ‘Self-Compassion’ and talks about the importance of positive self-talk:  “Exploring our fears and changing our self-talk are two critical steps in overcoming perfectionism”

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So my 2 positive mantras for the coming weeks just might be:

– ‘Progress and not Perfection’ is the goal

– ‘Be where I am and not where I think I should be’

…….and god forbid if ever I should I forget them, I’ll be compassionate and forgive myself :)…………..maybe.

 

ps. My friend Juliette  sent me this after reading this post: “Did you know, …. , in native american weaving tradition, it is customary for one to make a point of having imperfections in one’s basket, as only great spirit can be the perfection of creation”

 

Happenings and observations this past week.

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There is SO much construction going on in Shanghai and there is usually very little concern for the residents and pedestrians  – here’s an example of our blocked path on our way to school.  The forced eviction of families from prime real estate  has apparently stopped (slowed?) recently but this hasn’t stopped ‘progress’

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I decided to visit a bulk food warehouse this week. A labyrinth of noodles, spices and boxes of unrefrigerated butter and cream cheese!

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Smoking is still popular here but I actually expected to see more of it. I was surprised to find that women generally don’t smoke.

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I also went to a professional kitchen supply warehouse where I purchased a ‘multipurpose swing disintegrator’……….what an earth!?  Can you guess what I’m going to do with it?

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When a new shop or restaurant opens it is traditional to decorate the shop-front with huge flower displays and then celebrate with a bang – literally…. with firecrackers .  Firecrackers are also used for weddings and their use is not restricted to week-ends as many couples choose to marry according to the day/date.  Not much happens on the 4th of every month as the number 4 is considered unlucky (as the word for 4 sounds like the word for ‘death’).

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Peppers drying on the curbside.

Tis the season for hairy crabs. Not sure if these are actually hairy crabs but I've seen a lot of them about.

Tis the season for hairy crabs. Not sure if these are actually hairy crabs but I’ve seen a lot of them about.

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I’ve been trying to take a photo of the pajama fashion for a number of weeks and finally succeeded. It’s not uncommon to see people wandering around in their pajamas.

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We visited a very interesting collection of modern art galleries called M50. This was a very cool place to take the kids as the art was very child-friendly.

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A local Belgian restaurant was offering classes to kids to draw some of the classic Belgian comic characters – among them TinTin which the kids are really enjoying at the moment.

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The proof!

We spent a lovely afternoon at BioFarm - an organic farm where we even got to feed the animals

We spent a lovely afternoon at BioFarm – an organic farm where we even got to feed the animals

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The beautiful plane trees which line the streets are slowly losing their leaves – which is lots of fun!

Shanghighs‘: Grace, one of our neighbors stopped me this week and said “It’s your Christmas soon” and handed me a present for the kids that her sister had made (can’t tell you what it is as it is sitting unwrapped under the Christmas tree).  We’ll have to make her something for Chinese New Year.

Shanglows‘: Some Beijing-like air pollution this week… cough cough splutter.

Shangunusuals‘: It’s unusual that I haven’t started wearing MY pajamas in the street – I’ve always thought that dressing up was over-rated.

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Another stylish doggie