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Guest post: Teacher Rachel’s balsamic glazed chicken livers with cauli-rice and roasted hummus

Guest post: Teacher Rachel’s balsamic glazed chicken livers with cauli-rice and roasted hummus
chicken livers with cauli-rice and roasted hummus

The biggest threat we are facing in 2018 is carbs. The nasty, unrefined kind! The ones that make pizza, curry and rice, the simple toasted sarmie and happiness. They are evil! Worse, way worse than global warming, plastic in the sea or the threat of the Ruskies. Yip, I went there.

Luckily, I have also bought into the #carbcrisis of 2018. Or, have I? I produced a hipster inspired lunch and failed only by my lack of avocado or single source coffee. But, I have created a  worthy, almost vegan (If you ignore the chicken livers and wine, I heard wine isn’t vegan), Paleo friendly, banting worthy (with a small cheat) lunch.

Ladies and gents, who are we kidding, ladies, I give you:

Chicken livers in balsamic glaze on cauliflower rice with roasted hummus.

Cauliflower rice

I don’t live in the land of Woolies food. But I do live in the land of part time cooks, so I have freezer bags of food-processed cauliflower. Freezes like a dream. Having steamed, microwaved and baked my way through cauli-rice, the only method I like is to fry in a non stick pan with a little olive oil. I leave it to start browning on the edges and only then add salt. Salting too early will make your cauli-rice retain water like a matron on a transatlantic flight. Cause I am fancy like that, I add some truffle oil at the end. It turns out nice and nutty this way.

Roasted hummus

This is my current addiction. I roast courgettes with garlic and olive oil and, separately, cauliflower with chili, paprika, cumin and olive oil and blend into hummus with tahini, lime juice and water. Super easy to make and delicious with everything.

La Livers

I love chicken livers. I just never cook them. Or rather never think of them as a meal. This morning having time for a mooch around the supermarket, I saw them, and like that ex that you (I) go back to, I realised I needed the livers. I learned a while ago, that the hardest thing about cooking livers is the prep. They need to be defrosted and then, with a firm yet tender hand, to be prepped (again, like that ex…). They are a little squidgy to touch and it is handy to have a Digger dog ready to eat the discarded bits. But if you actually think of England and choose the choicest bits, and cut them into same sized bits, roughly 2 cm, it will make for perfection later on.

balsamic glazed chicken livers with cauli-rice and roasted hummus

Digger dog (or equivalent) will be delighted with the spoils and you will end up with a perfect dish.

There are so many different ways to prepare the livers. I wanted to try something different. If carbs are your demons, stop reading now. If not:

In a ziplock bag, toss 3 tablespoons of regular flour (sorry Tim) with chilli flakes, chilli powder, cumin and paprika. These play so nicely together, (see roasted cauli hummus above), garlic, salt and some pepper. Shake it about. This is the ziplock’s finest hour, so make that bitch work.

Chop an onion and some garlic and throw into a pan with a little olive oil. Let them do their thing.

Throw a handful of livers in the bag and let them get coated in the delicious carbness.

Remove the onions and garlic and let the livers in. They will need 3 – 4 minutes. A little water will help them on their way and whatever you can lay your hands on. I found Worcester sauce and sweet chilli. After 4 minutes add back the onion and garlic mix around and a splash of balsamic. Start plating and deglaze the pan with balsamic. Let it go gooey. Pour over the livers. Add chopped parsley, pour a glass of rose and bam bitches.

On being 36 and childless

On being 36 and childless

I finally tackled the dishes in the kitchen this morning. It was a pitiful pile. Nothing more than a few side plates with toast crumbs on, the remnants of a solo eater’s culinary adventures these last few days while the other half is playing away in a golf tournament. As I scraped the crumbs off the third little plate, I was gripped by a deep sense of loss so sudden that I felt like I was falling into a void that I hadn’t realised until that moment was even there. I didn’t want to be scraping toast crumbs off lone side plates anymore! I wanted to be cleaning out platters of food that I’d fed my family the previous night. Out of nowhere, I felt like there was supposed to be a little girl there watching me do this as she ate her corn flakes for breakfast, kicking the table leg while she told me what she wanted to do on this beautiful Sunday. My little girl. Our little girl. The one we haven’t had.

I don’t want to have children. I have never wanted to have children. I would have those words tattooed on my forehead in an attempt to stop all the questions if not for the fact that it’s not that simple. I might not want to have children, but that doesn’t mean I don’t want children. I’ve just never stared into a frilly pink pram, or watched a nappy bottomed little boy toddle over to his toys, and felt an overwhelming urge to start procreating as soon as my temperature next spikes. So I was more than a little surprised this morning when I plonked myself down on the kitchen stairs and just wept for the void left by this child that isn’t here. While I have always felt, dreamt at times even, that there is a little girl who is still supposed to be a part of us, she has always been a peripheral thought, pushed down as soon as it starts rising and not allowed to surface. It makes sense I suppose. Bush man is home for a few weeks. We have dinner together. Dinners that don’t involve toast. Or little plates. We make plans with friends, and watch movies with big bowls of popcorn and walk around the house deciding which odd jobs should get done (or at least what should go to the top of the list of jobs that will never get done). I have a plus one at social events. He’s picking up weight again. It’s almost… normal. I’m sure it’s natural to start thinking hey, this family thing is actually kinda cool. We should make it bigger! I suddenly have that “okay, what’s next?” urge I’m always hearing about and I’ve only ever felt that once, when Bush Man had a contract in our hometown for a couple of years and we were Settled for a while. But come October he will be gone again and I will be so grateful that it still hasn’t happened for us. Because I know, I KNOW, that I could not watch him say goodbye to his child every time he had to leave. And we will be without him. And we won’t be a family. Not like we’re supposed to be. You’d think I’d be used to this by now. My own family stopped being a family when I was four years old. At least, not a family in the traditional sense of the word. I haven’t had a Christmas with both my parents in 32 years, and it hasn’t scarred me for life. But I just don’t want to do it. I don’t want to bring a child into a world where her parents don’t know where they’re going to be next month or whether they will be there together. I don’t want to bring a child into a world where she will have to be reintroduced to her dad every few months because she can’t remember who he is. I don’t want to bring a child into a world where I can’t guarantee her that there will be water for everyone to drink or fish for everyone to eat or polar bears in the wild in twenty years time because her parent’s generation stripped the earth of all its natural resources and overburdened it with a population that it could no longer sustain before she even got here. We are already consuming more resources than the earth can sustain. I don’t want to bring a child into a world where I cannot guarantee her safety in a country that I love so much that I would rather die here with a panga splitting my skull open than call anywhere else home. How could I bring her into a world like this when she has no choice in the matter?

You’re probably reading this and thinking, who gives a shit? Well, apparently, a great many people do. It has just astounded me how everyone seems to have an opinion on what I should do with my uterus, and they’re not afraid to voice it. I have been told I am selfish countless times. Often by total strangers or people who don’t even know why there aren’t children yet. They just assume. I have been told that I have gotten so used to being alone that I am too selfish to make space for another person. Yes, I have gotten used to being on my own. But what is the alternative? Cry myself to sleep every night because I’ve gone to bed alone again? I have felt the chasm between my girlfriends and I slowly widen as they become mothers and I don’t. Many of them have nothing much to say to me anymore, unless it’s “Oh come on now! Time for you to have your own!”. I have had to hear from someone that a mutual friend had said I “don’t do kids” when asked whether he’d be bringing his along for a lunch. Well that was like a kick in the face with an ice skate, considering I love all my friend’s kids and have always tried to make them feel welcome at my home. I have read an article about how fit Jennifer Aniston is, and been astonished at the vitriol spewed by other women because she has never had children and therefore was not a real woman. I’m not a real woman because my body hasn’t bourn children? My cellulite riddled ass would beg to differ. I’ve read insults hurled at a Time journalist who had said she had chosen not to have children that were so venomous that I actually had to read the article again to make sure she hadn’t actually said she wanted to EAT all the babies. I’ve had a woman I had known for all of five hours tell me that I would one day regret the life I live now. Yes, a virtual stranger had an opinion on the invalidity of my childless existence, and casually voiced it in front of a table full of people at a baby shower. Up to that point, “You’re in danger of being happy with the way your life is now.” was the most audacious thing anyone had said to me regarding the issue. I have quietly listened to these opinions about myself and others like me based on this one aspect of our lives for years, and I’d seldom say anything or try to defend myself, mostly because the sheer cheek of it has rendered me speechless most of the time. And then a couple of weeks ago, I made the mistake of telling a pregnant woman who had felt it was her duty to advise me on what I need to do to get pregnant that thanks, but we hadn’t really decided whether we would have our own children or adopt. Holy shit. You’d swear I had pulled out a sock and said “You see this sock? I’m going to sew some buttons for eyes onto it and sprout wheat grass on its head for hair and I am going to call him George and George is going to be my child and I will hug him and pet him and squeeze him and pat him.” for the incredulity with which my comment was received. “You can’t adopt! You have to feel what it feels like to be pregnant! Don’t you want to be pregnant?? Don’t you want to feel that?? You can’t adopt!”. Um. Yeah. No, that’s not selfish at all. And is it just because I live in a small town that being a heterosexual couple with 2.5 biological children is still considered the only acceptable normal?

I don’t want to have children, but that doesn’t mean I don’t want a child. It doesn’t mean I don’t sometimes wish our lives were different and that your telling me how it should be doesn’t feel like a punch to the gut. It doesn’t mean that I wouldn’t want to see a small part of my husband in a child so much sometimes that my heart physically hurts when I think it might not happen. It doesn’t mean that it isn’t hard for me to sit with a group of women and feel like I don’t belong, because I am the only one who isn’t a mother. And I know there are countless parents out there who have to go it alone, or who have to be the one saying goodbye too often. I know that people who are poorer / less secure / in war torn countries / totally incompetent have made the decision to bring another person into this world. But this is our journey and you don’t know where our roads have led us. So if you’ve been blessed with a child, please stop asking me why I haven’t. Stop assuming. Stop offering unsolicited advice. I mean, I’ll try a restaurant because you’ve told me I would love it and simply must try it, but I’m probably not going to base my decision on whether to be a mother on your recommendation. I have a niece that I knew I would quite literally kill someone with my bare hands for the minute I first saw her, so your telling me how a little being will change my life irrevocably is not news to me. I know. So just support me on my road as much as I have supported you on yours. It’s not always as easy to walk down as you might think.


Elke mens het ’n plig. Party teel, party neem aan en ander kweek awareness– en dis my job.

                                                                                                                                                                        – Nataniël

On Shanghai’s bird & insect market & the plight of China’s animals

On Shanghai’s bird & insect market & the plight of China’s animals

Please note: This post is not at all in keeping with the usual tone of this blog. It contains upsetting images and information which, although not new to anyone, is a blow to the gut every time you hear it again. Click on the “more” button at your own discretion and please note that some of the links provided contain disturbing graphics.

Caged kitten

I mentioned a few days ago that we went to the bird and insect market in Shanghai last weekend, but only caught the end of it. Yesterday, after a lovely morning strolling through the Former French Concession area I took a deep breath and went back, hoping we had somehow caught it on a bad day. We hadn’t. I am shocked that so many travellers have described the market as “an interesting place to take photos” on the net. It is not interesting. It is horrifying and a heartbreaking confirmation of humanity’s misguided and self imposed superiority over those creatures we believe are there purely to serve us.

Crickets in jars at the bird and instect market in Shanghai

It is probably an indication of how acceptable the vendors think it is to keep animals in these conditions that they all smiled when I took photos (all but one guy who had what I’m sure were probably threatened – if not endangered – turtles, endlessly swimming to nowhere in little tubs behind a glass door, and with whom I then had a heated monologue about what he was trying to hide, to which he just nodded his head and smiled).

While there is the odd stall holder that provides large cages and adequate food and water, most of the birds and animals are kept in tiny, overcrowded cages. More than half of the kittens had rheumy and infected eyes and there are sometimes so many shoved into a cage that they have to lie on top of each other. There was a cage with rabbits in that was crammed so full that I cannot believe the ones at the bottom could survive the day in there.

Rabbits stuffed into cages
Many of the animals at the bird and insect market in Shanghai showed signs of illness.
Many of the animals at the bird and insect market in Shanghai showed signs of illness.

Birds are kept in tiny, filthy cages and many of them are missing tail feathers. Almost all the birds I saw – hundreds of them – were hyperventilating due to stress. One parrot was so stressed that he had plucked out virtually every feather on his body. Another sparrow was not caged, but was tied to a perch from which he frantically kept trying to fly away as the passersby frightened him. There were hundreds of larks, thrushes, mynahs and other wild birds. It is worth noting that it is estimated that one of these tamed birds is equivalent to ten deaths among wild birds.

Song birds in small and filthy cages. Can you say bird flu?
Song birds in small and filthy cages. Can you say bird flu?

Grasshoppers and crickets are kept in tiny jars, often without food and water and many were dead. The crickets are kept both for their stridulation and for cricket fights, and while owners expend huge amounts of time and money on getting the best singers and fighters, vendors are less concerned about the condition these insects are kept in. 

Crickets, bunnies, chicks, squirrels and budgies for sale on a sidewalk in Shanghai.

Like everywhere on the street, turtles are kept in small bowls of water, and in my travels I have found more than a few that have flipped upside down, and then drowned because they couldn’t get back up.

Between the bars
A bird tied to a perch at the bird and insect market in Shanghai

Live crickets and grasshoppers in boxes.
Live crickets and grasshoppers in boxes.

I know that there are worse cruelties being inflicted on animals not only in China, but in the rest of the world too, but what disturbed me the most is that this was not a dog and cat meat market where the slaughtering practices are hidden from the general public or a bear bile farm in the middle of nowhere. This is a pet market on a busy street in the biggest city in China. A cosmopolis where China’s increasingly affluent, growing, pet-loving middle class can purchase dog food and aquarium plants and cat baskets and generally SEE what is going on there. And yet, despite the growing number of pet owners in China who clearly love animals and who one would think must be outraged at what is happening in these pet markets, the animals are still kept in appalling conditions. And it’s not just here. It is in your face on the sidewalks of Shanghai every day. Turtles, bullfrogs, ducks, quails, pigeons and chickens are shoved into nylon bags and left on the sidewalks in the sun without food or water all day. The lucky ones are sold and hopefully killed quickly, but more often than not they lie like that for hours before being shoved into a plastic bag (some, after having a leg cleaved off so they’ll sit still while being weighed) to be taken home. Now I love my pork chop as much as the next guy, but there is a way of treating animals – whether they have been bred as companions or for human consumption – in a way that does not only take cognisance of our impact on the environment, but that is humane and ensures that these animals are taken care of responsibly.

A woman sells turtles out of nylon mesh bags on Xizang Lu, Shanghai.
A woman sells turtles out of nylon mesh bags on Xizang Lu, Shanghai.

Dog eating festivals have caused worldwide outrage in recent years, highlighting the plight of these animals and leading to the cancellation (but not ban) of some festivals. But many Asians have claimed that we should not enforce our Western ideas of what is acceptable to eat on them and I cannot disagree. If intelligence was a factor in determining what we are prepared to eat, we would no longer touch bacon. I am not saying that the Chinese or Koreans or Vietnamese or whoever else chooses to do so should not be allowed to eat dog meat. Just because a cow has never wagged its tail when I walked by or looked for affection from me doesn’t mean I can condone the eating of one, but not the other. But companion animals are bred to depend on human care and form bonds with their human owners, and the dogs at these festivals are reportedly often stolen and arrive in the trucks with their collars still on. We have bred these animals to be our companions, to protect our homes, to play with our children, so to then turn around and eat the very animals we have demanded (and received) undeserved loyalty from for twenty thousand years seems like the worst betrayal. And even where they have been bred purely for meat, as they reportedly do (although some claim stray dogs of all breeds are mostly eaten) with the Nureongi in Korea, the consumption of dog meat should be done in a humane way both in the treatment of the animals while they are being raised and the manner in which they are slaughtered. The dogs arriving to be eaten at these festivals are crammed into tiny cages without food and water, and sometimes travel in these conditions for days. It is reported that dogs are purposely slaughtered in front of other dogs to increase their fear and stress level, as this is supposed to enhance the flavour and increase the adrenaline in their meat, which according to Chinese folklore, boosts virility. Dogs are also hung upside down, beaten and then left to hang and bleed out slowly or cooked alive for the same purpose.

Caged puppy

The Chinese government has the monumental task of ensuring economic growth and the supply of food to its over 1.3 billion inhabitants, so ethics, morality, social responsibility, environmental impact, labour rights and animal welfare are often ignored. Chinese authorities are understandably not motivated to tackle the problem of animal cruelty as this could lead to a downturn in economic growth and threaten the livelihood of a large portion of the population.

Caged birds

China is the world’s biggest animal farming nation and farmers are adopting Western farming practices such as gestation crates, battery cages, ear-clipping, beak-trimming, early weaning for calves, castration, tail-docking for pigs, and the force feeding of ducks and geese for weight gains and foie-gras production faster than European Union and other Western nations are phasing out such practices. Humane slaughter is still a largely new concept and is yet to become a requirement of slaughterhouses in the country. Production intensification and the sheer number of animals needed to feed a country that is considering phasing out their one-child policy means that the world’s greatest number of farm animals are raised in welfare compromised conditions. Even 10 000 of China’s state-protected species (yes, you read that right) –  the Asiatic Black Bear – are still kept for life in cages too small for the bears to even turn around in, in order to extract bile from their gallbladders through an open wound cut in their stomachs.

Quails, chickens, ducks and pigeons are often squashed into nylon mesh bags and left in the sun without food and water.
Quails, chickens, ducks and pigeons are often squashed into nylon mesh bags and left in the sun without food and water.

It is said that more than three quarters of the Chinese population have indicated a desire for improved animal welfare protection and an end to the dog meat industry. So why are animals still being treated like this? Because Mainland China’s animal welfare laws are virtually non-existent. Animal abuse is not a punishable offense. Authorities prefer to create a production environment that is obstacle free – read, free of all those pesky animal rights requirements that could slow down the process. Therefore neither authorities or the average animal lover on the street has any way of taking appropriate legal action or making a stink about the inhumane practices they see around them. According to Peter Li, Associate Professor of East Asian Politics at the University of Houston-Downtown and China Policy Specialist of Humane Society International, China is at the bottom, if not the very bottom of the global report card in terms of its animal welfare track record. And while many Chinese, especially the older generation who grew up under Mao (it is estimated that up to 60 million people starved during the Great Famine, when I’m sure you didn’t care how what you’re eating lived or died as long as you survived) are indifferent and insensitive to animal suffering, there are many young Chinese people today who are active in the fight against animal cruelty and have stopped seal product imports from Canada, rodeo shows and dog slaughters and protested against the live boiling of cats , not without opposition from less progressive locals. While the overall political environment is against activism for animal protection, there is a perceptible shift among those that did not grow up under Mao Zhedong – driven by rising incomes, urbanization and increased pet ownership – to regard and respect animals as feeling, sentient beings.

And while I realise that this little pet market is a drop in the ocean, we cannot just throw our hands in the air and shout “But what about force fed ducks? Or the gorillas?? Or starving kids in Ethiopia???” and then go and sulk in a corner while we fail to do anything at all. In 2011, a 600 year old dog eating festival in Qianxi, China, which commemorates a battle fought in the town after an invading army killed all the dogs to prevent being exposed by barking (like then eating 15 000 of them every year makes sense!) was stopped by the Chinese government for the first time in its history because of pressure from netizens after information about the festival went viral. Sadly, the Yulin dog eating festival in the Guanxi province is gearing up again for this year’s festival, where dogs are often skinned and cooked alive, and at the time of this post, the Chinese government was not interested in stopping it. 

Just so much garbage.
Just so much garbage.

So if the Chinese government won’t listen to their own people, maybe the rest of the world should start making their voices heard. Before the Beijing Olympics, the government made restaurants in the city remove dog meat from their menus so as not to offend Western sensibilities. The Chinese government wants to present themselves as a progressive society. It matters to their economic growth. It’s not true that there is no such thing as bad publicity. Bad publicity is bad publicity.

So what can you do to help?

1). Sign online petitions. Add your voice by virtually only lifting a few fingers. These are just a few current petitions (not all China related). If they have expired, simply search for the latest ones. NB!! The Yulin festival in Guangxi province is set for mid June! Please act now!

Stop the Guangxi province dog eating festival

Stop animal abuse in China

Stop animal abuse at Wenling Zoo

Stop shark finning

Stop puppy mills

Boycott China  

 2) Support organizations, such as One Voice, Animals Asia, Chinese Animal Protection Network, and the Humane Society International, which all work to end the animal cruelty and abuse in China and around the world.

3). Support local animal shelters and local animal welfare laws and initiatives.

4). Become an informed individual and stand-up for animal welfare and for your beliefs.

5) Put pressure on your own government to pressure the Chinese government to introduce animal welfare laws. In 2012, the USA alone imported $425,643,000,000.00 in goods from China according to the United States Census Bureau

6) Put pressure on local companies to pressure the Chinese government to introduce animal welfare laws. Walmart alone is responsible for 15% of the total amount of goods imported to the USA from China.

7) Spread the word. Share the information you have read here today so that others can take action. Get your community involved not only in animal welfare in China, but in your own community. The East is (sadly) constantly looking at emulating the West. What will they see when they look at us? Collective outrage can help bring change.

8) Boycott China and those companies that sell their goods. This one will be tricky. Have you ever considered how many Chinese products you use on a daily basis and what your life would be like without them? This one would require extreme dedication and a thorough knowledge of the origins of your consumables.

9) A great little tip from The Petition Site:Compile receipts from Non-Chinese items purchased instead and send them to your country’s Chinese Ambassador with a “Revenue Lost” boycott letter.

10) Don’t buy faux fur items unless you are completely sure that the product really is fake.

And most importantly, be kind. “For there is nothing heavier than compassion. Not even one’s own pain weighs so heavy as the pain one feels with someone, for someone, a pain intensified by the imagination and prolonged by a hundred echoes.” – Milan Kundera

 *If you want to go over to the Bird & Insect Market in Shanghai and make a massive fuss, without actually being understood or just to give a bit of love to the animals there (it will break your heart, because despite their condition, a few of them still respond to human affection), take Line 10 to Laoximen station and exit through exit 1. The market is a 5 minute walk to the north.

Following the madding crowd

Following the madding crowd

Bush Man and I spent the weekend in Shanghai. (Yes, we’re technically in Shanghai, but it’s so far from the center that we can actually say we’re going to the city. The way farm folk do.). It was taxing to say the least. But it was my own fault.

I somehow got the insane idea that a trip to the bird and insect market would be a great idea. It wasn’t. There weren’t just birds and insects. There were kittens sleeping in their dirty litter trays and puppies that looked like they have never known happiness. Do you know how sad you have to be to be a PUPPY and look like you’ve never known happiness? Truth be told, even the grasshoppers managed to look sad in their little woven baskets. It was heartbreaking.

We got there when most people had already packed up, so I should probably go back and get the story out, but I’m not sure I have the constitution or the emotional stability to handle that. Added to that was the usual dodging of feces and globs of spit. Don’t ever, under any circumstances, wear a dress to the city that touches the ground. That hem has seen things. Horrible, horrible things. Things that cannot be unseen.

Don’t get me wrong. There is a lot that I love about this city. The sights, most of the smells, some of the people. But every now and then I need to just lock myself in my hotel room for a day or two and pretend like I’m not here. And then I get bored. Today was one of those days. So in an attempt to amuse myself, I created a Facebook page for this blog. Just like everyone else. You can follow it here.

Now here’s photo of a sad kitten on a rubbish heap. When I do Monday blue I do it right!

Maybe he’s one of the lucky ones?

How do you say “Get me the hell out of here?”

How do you say “Get me the hell out of here?”

Well this is demoralizing. One month later and I haven’t written a damn thing. This has been so much tougher than I expected. I did 6 months in Poland when Facebook was still a twinkle in Zuckerberg’s eye, I didn’t even own a laptop and whatsapp was how old people erroneously pronounce the latest catch phrase and I was happy there for crying out loud! Surely China would be a breeze with all the options available to me to stay in touch with home and with what is going on in the rest of the world? But nothing prepared me for this. I am feeling increasingly disconnected from the life and people I have left behind, but I have not managed to connect to the life I have here now. I don’t think I have ever felt quite so alone. This is a concept more foreign to me than the country I find myself in. I’ve always loved being alone! But it turns out that was when I knew a friend was just five minutes away with the bottle opener poised over the Diemersfontein Pinotage if need be. It’s very different when you really need someone to talk to and you know everyone’s on the other side of the world and deep into their REM phases.

Now, I realise that not having company shouldn’t be such an issue right? I’m in a new country with a fascinating culture and people. I should be out there soaking it all up, learning as much as I can and embracing this new world. But oh my word, it’s a lot harder than I thought it would be! We are only thirty kilometers from downtown Shanghai, but we might as well be on Mars. (Or at least from there based on how we get stared at here. People actually take photos of us when we pass by! This is very disconcerting for someone who has a mild case of social anxiety. I mean, I used to not even want to go to Pick & Pay on my own because I was nervous dealing with strangers that might look at me! I had to get over that little issue pretty damn quick.). Even though there are other expats in the area, we are still an anomaly and people usually react to us in one of two ways: They are either almost embarrassingly friendly and quick to help in any way they can, eagerly repeating the one or two English words they know till you want to say “Really, I’m nobody. Please carry on as normal.”, or they avoid eye contact and just say they don’t understand you. They won’t even look at you and try to decipher what you’re saying while you stand there impersonating a 6 armed orangutang as you point and grunt and gesticulate till you want to shout “Look at me and let’s work this out! I’m a person with needs dammit!” And yes, I know, I should learn Mandarin and then this will all be a lot easier, but I have all but given up. For example, I want to do something as simple as ask the housekeeper to please change our buckwheat pillows for hollow fiber ones. So I don’t try anything as complicated as learning the Mandarin for buckwheat, hollow fiber or even pillow. Just “swop” and “the same”. The props and my miming should convey the rest right? No, it does not. I might as well be speaking Greek. A language that is probably easier than Mandarin, which I’m starting to think isn’t even a language at all really! It’s just a plot to confuse the rest of us to facilitate Chinese world domination while at home they speak English to each other. I have told an old man that I like his allergies, informed the front desk that my success is broken and tried to convince a bunch of ladies in the park that I am a green shoe. So eventually I just stopped talking or asking for anything anymore, because no one understands what I’m saying and they don’t want to make an effort to stick around and figure it out together. I can’t even ask them to write something down so that I can translate it later. I cannot get used to unpacking my groceries at the till and not being able to make small talk with the checkout lady. 1.3 billion people and I feel utterly alone. I miss my home, I miss my animals, I miss my friends, I miss my family, I miss the security I felt knowing where we would be next week, next month, next year. I miss it all.

So it’s been hard. I have been trying to get out there and trying to write, but I don’t know what I’m looking at most of the time and no one wants to read a blog where the best description I can come up with for something I saw is “Chinese people doing something festive with a rabbit, a paper dragon and a piece of old ribbon. And I think that bit there is porridge. And I cried into it.” Every night I go to bed excited about going out and exploring and I return to the hotel the next day, alone, demoralized and feeling like I just sat through a movie where I couldn’t read the subtitles and everyone else thought it was life changing and hilarious. My confidence has been shattered and there are so many days that I just don’t want to go out there at all and all I can think about is how much I want to go home. Everyone keeps telling me what an amazing opportunity this is and how they wish they were in my shoes, and I feel like I’m letting them down. I’m letting myself down.

Man, I’m having an awesome pity party here! I wish it was easier to cater for, but I don’t know how to ask for a sandwich platter.

Little Sheep

Little Sheep

I could never understand why my husband was stuck in such a dietary rut here. Beer and tuna salad were pretty much his staples until I arrived and I couldn’t see how this gastronomically fairly adventurous man had been reduced to this timid epicurean.

And then I started doing the grocery shopping for us…

Shopping for new and never before tried foodstuffs in China leaves you a bit like a puppy that thinks he’s been let out of the house into an unsecured yard with the whole world outside open to explore when really, there’s a shock collar around his neck and sensors on the perimeter set to buzz him the moment he gets too close to freedom. You know the type? The first day you rush out, all happy and bright-eyed and excited to try out the fabulous cuisine this country has to offer. You’re delirious, eager, ready for anything. The world is your never before tasted, exotic oyster. And then BAM! You eat something that you took off the shelf with only a vague idea as to what it is. And it’s vulgar. You are shocked, your taste buds assaulted, but you’re sure it’s just an isolated incident. So the next day you rush out, slightly less eager, a little more hesitantly, but still ready to try anything. And BAM! You are shocked again. What in the name of all that is holy IS that?? Surely this is not food? How can anyone eat something so foul? Like a smoked sausage that appears to be chorizo, but tastes like a piece of plastic sweetened with too much sugar or a spring roll stuffed with nothing but what’s supposed to be shepherd’s purse but tastes like shepherd’s mouldy undies. So eventually, just like that little puppy shocked one too many times, you peer hesitantly around the corner when the elevator door opens by day 4, wondering if you really should venture forth because it can only turn out badly for you. You slink slowly into the supermarket and, defeated, you buy an onion, two apples and a bag of Lays because at least then you should know what you’re going to get. Honestly, they could make Ready Steady Cook: The Extreme Edition in this place – whip up a meal with an onion, two apples and a bag of Lays. Finding something to eat when you don’t have time to make everything from scratch is a minefield. Which brings me to the purpose of this post: Every now and then you find something that’s really pretty good! (Note how I am not overly extolling the virtues of these foodstuffs – I’m just saying they’re pretty good okay? I know there is great food out there – I just haven’t found it! Yet.). And if we find something we like, I’ll share it here in the hope of helping some other poor, lost expat standing in the supermarket and unsure of what to try next.

I have been pleasantly surprised by the mutton (I haven’t found lamb yet) we have had in the restaurants around here. I think I had more mutton in the first week than I ever had in 7 days back home! I kept thinking it’s a fluke and we won’t see it again. But, even though you can’t find fresh lamb or mutton in our immediate area, we were rather chuffed when we discovered Little Sheep mutton kebabs in the frozen foods section at our local supermarket. The meat is tender (maybe even a little too tender, but the Chinese seem to like all their meat that way – I’m not sure whether that’s due to their less than stellar oral hygiene?) and it is perfectly spiced with cumin, without having the usual Chinese 5-spice obliterating all other flavours. It’s properly muttony though – the way I like it – with quite a strong sheep flavour. I actually prefer the Chinese mutton I’ve had so far to the Karoo lamb we get back home (cue the collective gasp). Simply grill the kebabs for a few minutes and serve with salad, flat breads and dressing.

On Faltering Follicles

On Faltering Follicles

I found my first grey hair today. I glanced up unsuspectingly and there it was, mocking me from a mirror that is not my own, in a hotel room that is rented by the month, in a country where I, try as I might, cannot communicate enough with the locals through grunts, sign language or Google Translate to ask in which isle they keep the Nice & Easy.

If you had told me ten years ago that I would get my first grey hair before having my first child, I would have smiled knowingly and smugly looked away. Not only because the Krugers are born with exceptionally strong follicles, but because I had it all planned. Finish my Masters degree (check), marry The One by 27 (check), move to one of the most beautiful parts of the world (check), settle down with two dogs (check) a cat (okay, we had three, so I slightly overdid that one) and a veggie patch (erm…) and start a family once we’re all nice and cosy and ready for the logical next step. How hard can it be, really? I mean, everyone does it. Even drunk teenagers get it right completely by accident. It’s the path your life has to follow so that you fit in with the norm. Love. Marriage. Kids. Retire. Death. Easy. But we were never the norm. My husband’s work took him away from home often so, besides not being overly keen on getting intimate with a turkey baster when there wasn’t ‘t even someone there to hold my hand,  we never seemed to get to the next, logical step. There was never the security of a whole family, complete but for the pitter-patter of little feet. The only thing I felt that was missing from my life most of the time was more of him. So I dealt with the “When are you?”’s and “Why haven’t you?”’s as best I could, often having to field the questions on my own and wondering why that alone wasn’t enough to tip off the questioner. I don’t think people are cruel on purpose. Most probably they’re just making small talk and don’t know what else to say. Or they’re just so completely and utterly in love with their new bundles of joy that, being the caring friends that they are, they want that for you too and they’re convinced your life won’t have any real meaning until that bit is sorted. The same amnesia that sets in after childbirth and ensures that women all over the world think what the hell, let’s push something the size of watermelon out THERE again, also makes them forget how being childless makes you feel like you no longer belong with the very people who used to be your mirror. They forget how you start wondering whether you can do enough with your life to make up for the fact that you are not a mother. Whether it matters that you have your own successful company, have ridden Space Mountain, can make homemade croissants from scratch and once improv’d on stage on a cruise ship, if you have failed at the most basic of female purposes. Or maybe it’s just me. Erm. Where was I? Oh yes. The best laid plans. So the kids hadn’t happened yet. But we weren’t worried. 2012 would be The Year of the Kid. I didn’t even tell my husband that this was my thinking. Rather under promise and over deliver right? Just in case. I am 35. A number biologically more important than Fibonacci’s sequence. Whatever happened, we had to make it work. We would grow my business and my husband would give up his contract work. We would finally have a stable home environment and we would not spend months apart ever again. Sure, financially it would be a little scary, but we had a plan. Or so we thought. Then, overnight, it all changed. As much victims of the current economic climate as of the type of unscrupulous people your mother warned you about, my business would no longer support us and we had no choice but to pack up our lives, say goodbye to our friends, family, home and animals and head for China.

So now, here I am. One grey hair richer and my self esteem in pieces. (Okay, I lie, I yanked that pigmentless bugger out the minute I spotted it). I’m closer to forty than thirty and living like a twenty year old again. I have arrived here with whatever I could fit into two suitcases and the only thing to cook with is a tin pot that Adam purchased before I got here. I’m not really sure what to do from here. I really have only one overriding, all consuming thought: Where are we going to get cheese and cream in this place? There’s nothing in this district unless it’s whipped and sweetened. I am sure there will be bigger challenges to living here, but for now I’m tackling this one. It’s a baby step, okay? And hopefully, once I’ve crossed that bridge I will find something to write about. Because this blog should be about embracing the new things around me and trying to hold on to what I can never leave behind.