I just heard that Gretchen Rubin (of ‘The Happiness Project’ fame) has completed her latest book ‘Better Than Before’ which is……….all about habits! As I mentioned habits in the last post and as I really like this author I thought I’d give you her summary of the book : “in a nutshell: There are no one-size-fits-all solutions, and to change our habits,we first have to figure out ourselves.” Hmmm, sounds like the appendix of ‘The Power of Habit’: “The problem is that there isn’t one formula for changing habits. There are thousands”. Habits it seems, DO die hard.

quotescover-JPG-84 ……….That quote kind of suggests that you CAN’T teach old dogs new tricks….?

Well what I see here are that people (youth) ARE changing their habits..and rapidly. The current generation seems pre-occupied with raising their quality of life, more than anything (more than fighting for their freedom for example). Fuchsia Dunlop  goes some way to explain this in her book ‘Shark’s Fin and Sichuan Pepper’: “In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the evident supremacy of the Western powers triggered a crisis in Chinese identity. Some thinkers and political activists came to see traditional Chinese culture as luo hou (backward)… they despised it. The future, they thought, lay in Western science and rationality. A century later, these anxieties about the Chinese past, and green-eyed envy of the West are as strong as ever. Ironically, just as the Western middle classes are losing their faith in science and getting soggy with emotion over the holistic traditions of the East, the Chinese seem to be on the brink of ditching what’s left of their own philosophical and technological heritage.”

Cafes (a new Starbucks opens up every week..or is it every day?), afternoon teas, KFC, fluffy white wedding dresses, bakeries, dyed hair, McDonalds, Oreo cookies…you name it….out with the ‘old’ and in with the new. How sad … yes I’m one of those nostalgic Westerners.

OK here’s another example: One of Sebastien’s colleague recently decided to ditch the free shuttle bus service to get to work – that took less than an hour mind you – to become a car owner (one of the 5000 granted permission in Shanghai last month). She had to pay almost as much for the number plate as for the car – which incidentally is A LOT. Now it takes her 1.5hours to get to work…BUT…… in her own car! IMG_4512

And another example –  Just stick this on above your eyes for instant eye lids! IMG_4403

One habit NOT to change is the use of Wei jing (‘the essence of taste’ or in English ‘Gourmet Powder’ or Monosodium glutamate) has been used extensively in China since it became widely available in the 1970’s. Fuchsia Dunlop devotes several pages to this white powder in her book ‘Shark’s Fin and Sichuan Pepper’. She explains that during that period meat was scarce and grain was rationed and MSG offered the possibility of emulating rich, savory tastes. She feels that as the Chinese generally have a positive view of science and technology, the gourmet powder is simply a means of offering a ‘turbo-charged intensity of gastronomic pleasure’.  Personally I prefer flavors that are gentler and more natural. In my cooking classes MSG itself  is not used  BUT it is still there because it is in many of  the standard ingredients used – chicken stock, many of the sauces and even the vinegar.


Rong shao tipang – So I learned this recipe in cooking class this week. Nice flavor with star anise, ginger, soy sauce and sugar. Apparently duck can be cooked following the same recipe then served cold….. sounds good.

Incidentally, MSG is ‘generally recognized as safe’ by government authorities……….hmmm but then so is Coca-Cola!

Shanghighs‘: California connections: I received a treasure box from my friend Liz in California. She made a whole collection of herbal goodies specifically created for me and even included her poetry book (Neo-logo-isms). Liz completed the same Wellness Coach training as me. If you haven’t looked at her work (she’s on my blog list to the right) I invite you to take a peek. I particularly like her quote:”And remember, shit makes gardens grow, so if you have a lot of it right now, your potential for a beautiful and abundant inner garden is very high!”     http://anahatahealingarts.net/ 

I also had a chat with Juliette (our former pre-school teacher and friend) who as usual had some great parenting advice and Blanche was able to see her dear friend Shemsu.

I was elected parent representative for Blanche’s class which I take as a personal victory and sign of acceptance  (even though that it was probably the ‘foreign’ Swiss, Chinese, Canadian parents who voted). This is because I feel that French parents – or should I say French mothers – are notoriously difficult to get to know (according to my own personal experiences in France and according to the non-French expat community here).

I finally have some kind of routine in place which includes a french-english exchange, speech therapy work, Chinese lessons, some yoga, cooking, blogging……..

Shanglows‘: HA, just when I thought our  housing issues were behind us, it turns out that our landlord has decided to sell the apartment (and already has a buyer!)……hmmmmmmmmm. Normally we should be confident that we can stay until the end of our 12-month lease………….but my sixth sense tells me that this is not going to be the case…..TIC (This is China!)

Shangunusuals‘: Saw a couple of parents pulling their children along the street by their ears………..wonder if that approach works?


Ah so that’s why…!

I do love a good neurological explanation for behaviour which is why a couple of years ago I enjoyed listening to Tina Payne Bryson (author of ‘The Whole-Brain Child’) as she explained exactly WHY a toddler goes crazy ape bonkers when their cookie breaks (and other seemingly illogical meltdowns) – which I very much appreciated at the time with a 2-year-old in the house.

I mentioned in my last post that I recently read an interesting book – ‘The Power of Habit’ (Charles Duhigg) which describes the neurology behind habit forming (and habit breaking!). So habits, apparently, are stored in the most primitive part of the brain and don’t require much if any ‘thinking’ to take place (which explains why you might forget if you’ve locked the door/turned the light off….etc because it is possible to do these actions without actually ‘thinking’… and which is why habits can be so difficult to break). In this way, (some) habits are actually pretty handy as they allow you to use your ‘higher’ brain for things other than for performing repetitive daily chores. AND SO it dawned on me that moving to another country (and thus disrupting ALL of the daily routines and habits) requires a great deal of mental power (the ‘higher’ part of the brain/cortex)………..and so I have a neurological/scientifically-based explanation for my brain fog over the past year! I am not losing my mind.…..

Speaking of habits, I’d been passing this long green vegetable (below) at the markets for months but didn’t have the habit of using it. Thanks to my recent cooking classes it (garlic stems) has become a family favorite. Simply wash, chop, wok! (with a dash of oil and pinch of salt)


And during the classes I also produced (with much help) some xiaolongbao:



My son was SO happy to have the class mascot (POLO the panda) last week-end.


I found this on the table – my daughter has been practicing writing Chinese characters (with auto-correction)

It is ‘hairy crab’ season in Shanghai in October and November and one of Sebastien’s colleagues kindly offered to take us to a famous lake (whose name escapes me) where we could discover them ‘at their best’ (although she admitted that all of the best crabs are sent to Beijing)






Served ‘Shanghai style’ with black vinegar, ginger, dash of soy sauce. Female left, male right.

Shanghighs‘: The weather has been PERFECT. For those planning a visit, October is the time.

Shanglows‘: My son bit me today! …. is there a neurological reason/excuse for him?

Shangunusuals‘: I think it is scaffolding season here….bamboo poles are cropping up everywhere and making walking on footpaths even more hazardous than usual.


Back from Vietnam.

I’d been wanting to visit Vietnam ever since going on a food tour of Victoria Street, Melbourne 20 years ago where I discovered restaurants with rice paper rolls (goi cuon), fish sauce (nuoc mam) and the delicious noodle soup pho. I was not disappointed with our trip to northern Vietnam last week!

My mother-in-law joined us in Hanoi and we went north-east to Cat Ba  from where we took a boat for 3 glorious days around Halong Bay with kayaking, sightseeing, swimming, and for me mostly lounging on the boat deck reading while the kids were being entertained by their Mamie…(more about the book I read to come…)






We then headed to the hustle and bustle of Hanoi. Here there were far more scooters than in Shanghai and it was more difficult to cross the street as there were no traffic lights!(except for on the main roads)



In Hanoi all of the buildings were very narrow as property tax is based on the width of the building.


Then we headed south-west to a little village near Mai Chau in amongst rice paddies and sugar cane plantations.





There was a monsoon that hit the rice fields a few days before our arrival and the farmers were busy tying the flattened stems to stakes.

The people we met were so friendly, courteous and smiling 🙂

We stopped en-route to take in the views and to try some sticky rice in bamboo that was roasted on a fire and then served with ground sesame seeds, peanuts and salt.

This post would not be complete without a virtual taste of some delectable dishes:


Bo Bun – cold noodles with beef and herbs served with nuoc cham (water, fish sauce, lime juice, vinegar, palm sugar, lemon grass, chilli and garlic).


Banh Cuon – steamed rice ‘pancake’/noodles filled with meat and mushroom filling, sprinkled with fried shallots and peanuts and served with nuoc cham.


Cooking the banh cuon.


Hanoi’s famous and absolutely delicious Bun Cha – cold rice noodles with grilled pork, herbs and …… nuoc cham! This is usually eaten at lunchtime but on our very last evening I was able to source some of it and it turned out to be the best dish of the trip


Not sure what these are called but it’s some kind of meat wrapped in bettel leaves then grilled. (check out those dirty finger nails!)


Ahhhhh pho served with banana flowers, herbs and a squeeze of lime.


THE common element in all of these dishes is the use of DELICOUS fresh herbs – without which you’d simply be eating rice, meat and…..nuoc cham!