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Colour coded

Colour coded

Hello and sorry for the prolonged disappearance of blogs. Seems l’m locked out of this blog via usual website login since l updated my phone (codes not being received by new SIM details etc) . Lockdown returned immediately after Chine New year and we’ve all been in a way conscripted into the fight against Covid. Every other day we are required to queue up for a nucleic acid test and we all have digitalized colour codes on our phones. Green means Covid free and not been near (800 m away) confirmed Covid cases and yellow means been near Covid and red means you have Covid and instant isolation and quarantine for 2 week. We are sort of governed by our colour codes. And so we mainly don’t take the children anywhere as there’s a risk of 2 week separation ( we know of another Brit family where this happened). One blessing is that in our compound we have community and the kids have great friends and are at an age where they don’t want to go anywhere anyway if there’s our pet puppy or friends to play with, nintendo or football options. “What were your highlights of China living; Gideon?“ “fifa and sonic the hedgehog mainly.” lt seems we are waiting for a 14 day Covid free time before schools and things can open again, which may mean we are waiting for quite some time. With the closing down of everything, we have had to create our own small amusements within our compound, so - pancake parties, bake offs and picnics have ensued. Two days ago, Suzhou Family company organised a 24 hour mini break in xishan ( nearby village and islands by Taihu) , which was amazing considering everything is closed. Our bus made a smooth 1.5 hour journey to the destination, having waited a few minutes at the police check point for health code checking where they waved us on without checking. We set off for the destination to be told as we arrived at our accomodation that the police had changed their minds and wanted us to go all the way back for individual code checks. Apart from that, we really enjoyed tea picking and roasting, green tea soap making and short hikes. Our writers group is continuing to be full of good intent for our climate change anthology and l had a poem published in another anthology last month which can be found at: https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/B09S65TJLC/ref=as_li_qf_asin_il_tl?ie=UTF8&tag=httpwwwrobinb-21& We’re all quite excited if God willing, we can return to England in the not too distant future, although l will be travelling back earlier with Gideon and Emily and hopefully Mike will follow on. There have been accounts of the Lord’s faithful protection and way making for a Ukranian sister’s family in our Suzhou believers community and we ask of Him the same over ours.

Moons and Golden Weeks

Moons and Golden Weeks

We are on the ascent to Golden week holiday. It is the holiday associated with the Mid Autumn or moon/mooncake festival (Zhong Qui Jie) and the government grants a week off work. Out of the 4 Chinese festivals, this is my favourite, partly because it was the first festival we experienced when we moved to the country, partly because Chinese New Year is so big and generic across Asia, partly because I have no idea what goes on in the April tomb sweeping holiday (its a solemn, private family affair), partly because never having competed in a dragon boat race, the June Dragon boat festival seems to lack some essential experience, partly because there's something so romantic about celebrating the full moon and I enjoy the moon cake preparation and intend to bring this tradition with me wherever I end up next! Also during October, it feels as though a burden has been lifted from the shoulders of the city as we find our breath again, enjoy blue skies, golden sunshine and cool breezes without the sickening humidity as of June-August. Gideon and Emily's school decided to start the year online again for the first 3.5 weeks from August, because the government was anxious about a spike in Covid again (there were a few hot spots over the summer but cases didn't exceed a few hundred and there hasn't been 1 case in Suzhou for a year or so now, apparently. But China is set on a 'zero Covid' policy and it is therefore still quite difficult to travel domestically. Actually, teacher friends have signed documents confirming they will not travel at all over the next holiday. Masks still required for public transport, entering malls etc and temperature checks and 14 day electronic tracking codes must be presented everywhere you go. Even the children are required to show a health code confirming they haven't been in any hot spot areas in the last 14 days, which would seem unlikely given that a 6 year old and 8 year old probably wouldn't travel out of town in a foreign country without their parents. The current immigration policy here would mean the reality for our family is; if we were to leave soon, we wouldn't be allowed to come back. No wonder anxiety levels in expat living seem to continue to increase. So the online learning was so much nicer than our 2020 experience of no online lessons except for random school work flung on to school internet platforms. This time around there was a full timetable and live lessons and nearly everyone was in the same time zone. It didn't take the kids long to figure out that they could watch youtube whilst 'listening' to lessons and it did begin to take its toll after week 3, during which the kids were pillow fighting and Gideon whacked his head on a deceptively sharp sofa corner and needed stitches. Thankfully, the kids could go back to campus from early September. Gideon to year 4, Emily to year 2 and both are doing alright, they're the kids who are as good as gold during school hours and can be pretty awful when they're home (not always, they can also be lovely). Maybe it's preferable this way round than the other? But the Jekyll & Hyde syndrome can be a little waring! In other news- we discovered we could travel all the way to the shores of Taihu via our new subway line 5 . It takes 55 minutes by subway to leave the skyscrapers behind and find the horizon. This fact brings joy. I'm loving helping 2 sweet children one morning a week with their homeschooling. I am also volunteering in Gideon's school library 1 morning per week- boring for some but given the craziness of most of the week, it's actually almost blissful to be ordering books on shelves in a quiet environment. I'm loving being a part of a bible study/ discussion group on a Friday morning; I find it very helpful in my otherwise haphazard expat trailing spouse's schedule, to come back to being rooted again in truth (and baked goods). Also enjoying being a part of a small writer's group, who are aiming to put together an anthology on the theme of climate change. I am mainly contributing poetry. It may actually materialise 1 day, so watch the Amazon space. And then there are days when I'm sitting with ladies 10-20 years older than me, learning to crochet. These are probably the days when I most question my sanity. Mike is in his 5th year of teaching at Dulwich High School and is continuing to run regularly in Suzhou Striders; 4th anniversary of Parkrun coming up in 2 weeks! We have been watching the Designated Survivor series on Netflix which is quite good. Emily's continuing with some ballet and apparently starting up a drawing club for toddlers and Gideon's entered the football home cup for another season.

Book Review: The Silent Sister by Diane Chamberlain

Book Review: The Silent Sister by Diane Chamberlain

The Silent Sister by Diane Chamberlain Published in New York by Macmillan: 2014 Diane Chamberlain is from New Jersey; USA. Her career before becoming a best-selling author was in social work and psychotherapy. She has written 27 novels and is the New York Times, USA Today and Sunday Times best selling author. The Silent Sister is a story of mystery as the main narrator; Riley unravels the secrets and lies of her immediate family's past. After her father's death, she returns to her former family home and RV park that was owned by her father. She has an awkward relationship with her brother who has been suppressing early childhood traumas over the years. One of these traumas was linked to the fact that their older sister; Lisa had committed murder and then drowned herself ,(or so everyone is lead to believe). She meets her mother's friend and a couple in the RV park who her father was paying monthly to keep secrets at bay. The wife tells Riley she is adopted which Riley insists isn't true. Riley is enlightened by some paperwork she finds that suggests she was actually adopted and heads to North Carolina to find out the truth about Lisa. This was simultaneously one of the most page-turning but worst reads. The plot was gripping, (slightly predictable) but there was no pithiness and I didn't feel like I knew any of the characters. Wouldn't read another unless desperate.

Yulong River Scenic Area, Guilin; Make the Most of Your Stay

Yulong River Scenic Area, Guilin; Make the Most of Your Stay

The region around Guilin in Guanxi Province, China was the first area to open to tourism after the revolution. Once one has hiked along the furtile Longji rice terraces or strolled along the Yulong river at the foot of the Conical Karst Ruyi Mountains, one can understand why. As someone who has travelled there from Shanghai via sleeper train, it felt as though we were crossing borders into another country, the land was so different, the rural local culture and people so very contrasting to those further in the North, (hospitality was on a higher level, pace of life slow and easy). The only negative would be the aggressive touters! We were not prepared for the levels of persistence and pursuit of vendors ( I was even grabbed by the hand and nearly took an old lady along for a ride attached to our ebike cart). So; haggle and be firm and move on, or you'll end up with one too many floral head dresses or plastic ducks, like I did. This article suggests how to make the most of your stay in the Yulong He region with 8 hot tips. Longji Rice Terraces We were really chuffed that we got to see the rice terraces. They are a 3 hour drive from the Yulong He region and so we drove straight there from the train station (having taken to the sleeper train from Shanghai), and walked and lunched there before journeying to our main holiday destination in the Yulong He area near to Yangshuo. For those without kids, I would recommend staying a night or two in one of the boutique- style hill-top hotels with achingly beautiful views. However, unless your children are enthusiastic about walking, heights and rice, I would say you exhaust the enjoyment of the area within a day. As you descend into the valley on your journey out, it is worth stopping at the Huangluo Yao river where the women of the Red Yao ethnic minority group wash their extremely long hair. We stayed at the 101 Tribal resort in the villages by the Yulong river, close to Yangshuo. Within a 5 km radius there are plenty of activities on offer for families. We found that the best way to get around was via ebike, as taxis weren't necessarily so reliable and there was no local bus service. Ebikes can be hired at various hotels and hostels, some offering a more- cart -like style that carries 1-3 more people in the back seat, depending on size and cramp-tolerance. 2. Rafting on the Yulong River My son's favourite activity (and one of mine) was the rafting on the Yulong river. There are several start and end points for the rafting and it is hugely popular. They actually sold out of tickets by 10 am on the day we chose to go and there was a 4 hour wait. So my tip would be get there as soon as it opens at 8 am to purchase your ticket, expect a long wait and enjoy a walk along the river, purchase some fresh mango and a coffee while you wait. The rafting takes 1.5 hours from start to finish, and each raft takes 2 people. Tickets are 260 per raft. While the Yulong river is like a gentle, warm cup of Barley milk, the Li river is a Long Island ice Tea, packing a punch full of dramatic twists and turns. With sheer cliffs dropping into wide girths of fast-moving waters, it is not dissimilar to the Norwegian Fjords. You can chose from a variety of options for day cruises or buy your tickets at the office for approximately 250 rmb per person. We didn't have time for a river cruise, so we hired ebikes instead and explored the route along the river, stopping off for the famous view point that is on the 20 rmb note. 4. Cable car to the Ruyi Peaks This is an unforgettable experience for sure, for panoramic views over the hills. The cable car will take you to one stop off point from where you can do 2 walks to different view points and cross the glass bottomed bridge and pathway. There are compulsory cloth shoe covers for sale at 20 rmb a pair for the glass. There are a few snack stalls and a cafe points at the peaks but none at the base. Cable car tickets are 194 rmb for 6 +. 5. Moon Hill and the Caves A ticket for the caves and Moon hill combined are 300 rmb. Moon hill is a steep climb of 30 minutes to an awesome archway formed from rock, framing a view over the hills. You will be followed up by a lady carrying boxes of cold drinks. Sign her book and buy her and yourself a drink, you'll want one for sure after the climb. The caves are a cooling alternative to outdoor climbs and there's optional mud bathing and hot springs (free) and inflatable boating in the cave lakes (158 rmb). 7. Cycling up to Fuli bridge, (circular route) An unparalleled cycling path surrounded by sickeningly visceral beauty. Our favourite activity of the holiday. We hired bikes from the Giggling Tree at 50 rmb each for the day. We cycled a circular route up and down the Yulong river to the Fuli Bridge, stopping off for lunch and afternoon sorbet at a riverside restaurant; ( about 20 km in total). If we'd realised the Giggling Tree had a pool, we probably would have stayed there. It's the number 1 guest house for foreigners; staff speak excellent English and are super helpful in advising on activities and the menu is varied. 8. Optional Extras If you have more time that you don't want to use swimming at the hotel's pool, I suggest checking out the ancient town and the gigantic Banyan tree,. Also, calling in at a worshipful family run bakery, (the cakes aren't great but the bread is better and you may be listening to an acoustic version of 'God is so good' in the background which enhances the whole experience). It is also good to try the local speciality of Beer fish, have a BBQ at the Herb's Forest Glamping Park and stop off for fresh mangoes and coconuts. The areas around the Karst Mountains, the Yulong river and the Li river are the most beautiful I have been to in China, one of the most beautiful in the world. Although temperatures were extremely hot and humid in July (38- 44 degrees), the sunniness meant the visibility was fabulous. If I were a long term China expat, I would definitely go back.

Suzhou Summer Sizzler

Suzhou Summer Sizzler

The sweat has dried off just enough to enable typing without drowning the keys. It's time for another sizzling Suzhou summer with daily 90 per cent humidity saturation and 'feels like 43 degrees' temperatures. We cope by avoiding midday outdoor heat, finding opportunities for water submersion and taking heed of our UTI symptoms, (probably too much running, not enough hydration). Aside from UTIs, a ripped-off toe nail; (Emily) and an infected spider bite abscess; (Gideon), we have been quite healthy. I somehow forget that the blazing Suzhou summer is twinned with electrifying storms and river- erupting monsoons. Gideon can take or leave a storm, but for Emily, the fear is real and she was inconsolable for the 45 minutes of merciless torrential rain we experienced yesterday at precisely the same time we had organised a large group BBQ booking! Thankfully there was an indoor back up plan. Most of our expat friends are off on their China travels, to places like Sanya in the South (the best China beaches), Guilin (with the beautiful mountains) or Bejing, Xi'an or Chengdu (where the pandas are). We are trying not to feel too envious as due to reasons beyond our worldly comprehension, we couldn't travel out of our province this summer (more details on that later, once we have a clearer picture of what's going on). But we do know who holds the future and that in the present we are to expect painful trials (1 Peter 4.12) and that the testing of our faith produces perseverance (James 1.3). So we try to focus on the present. Similar to last summer, we have been organising a culture and language exchange programme, a fortnightly gathering where we have taken a turn at leading and presenting about our home town or a topic of interest. Last week our Japanese friend hosted a tea ceremony. As a participant, it was important to bow before and after the ceremony, to eat and drink until instructed to do so, take note of the pattern on the tea cup and make a big slurping sound after finishing the drink. Gideon and Emily had a week at camp at another international school last week. Emily's first words most days: "I don't want to go to camp, I didn't sign up for this!" But she actually had a good time overall. Mike and I made the most of not having children quite well with steep, pathless hikes, long runs and cycles, (Mike) and a trip to Shanghai in search of art (Hannah). ( There was no art actually, we were a little misinformed). Michael has been happy that his sustainability group lead has arrived from Oz recently, (he is also a keen trail runner).So he is looking forward to having a bit more support in the area of global citizenship and sustainability next year. I have been enjoying being a part of some art and design and sewing projects. I designed a water bottle label (inspired by a photo from my friend Lisa) and digitally simulated by my friend Freya). Sale profits go towards enhancing Suzhou Parkrun. Sewing projects have included creating pouches to contain sustainable sanitary products for ladies in Nepalese villages ( brilliant idea- guess what everyone's getting for christmas this year)! We have also been sewing 'share bears' to raise funds for hospital bills. Although we are missing the emerald isle, (just the emerald parts) and friends and family, we look forward to a joyful reunion one day! Now, time for some shut eye if we are to wake up at 3 am to watch England beat Italy in the Euro cup!

Best Coffee Shops in Suzhou

Best Coffee Shops in Suzhou

If you are looking for a cuppa, some of the well-known franchises such as Starbucks, Costa and Pacific Coffee have made their indelible mark in Suzhou Industrial Park, (SIP). Hands down, Costa make the best mocha in the land. Starbucks has an impressive reserve in both SIP and Shanghai. But maybe you are looking for something a little less obvious and mainstream. Thanks to arduous, lengthy, caffeine-fuelled research, I have created a favourites list that will take you off the beaten track (a little) and involve very good coffee. For the more quirky and the quaint, I would recommend heading to the Old Town. But for the foreign investment and European- style coffee shops, SIP has a decent offering. We've even just acquired 2 Peet's Coffees (1 in the Suzhou Center Mall and 1 in Times Square) and 2 brand new Tim Hortons, (1 in Suzhou Center Mall, 1 in Times Square). This article focuses on SIP. 1. Cafe Mersey Situated on the cross roads between Tangpu Road and Xinghu Street, next door to Starbucks, this place has a modern, fresh and chic feel. It's good for breakfast, lunch and brunch and fresh, artisan takeaway bread which they bake on site, (quinoa sour dough and fennel & cashew nut ciabata among others). Coffee comes in little glasses or mugs, and as well as the traditional options, the menu also includes some original concoctions such as dirty coconut coffee. It's a hit with the Chinese, (always busy) and there's a little outdoor seating opposite the fountains. A recent discovery but I can't wait to go back to try another of their coffees and loaves. 2. Patisserie des Alpes No 32 in the Horizon residential compound, next to the Suzhou Center shopping mall, on Xinghan Rd, this cute little cafe offers a little shaded outdoor seating and limited indoor seating. As it is rather hidden, snuggled behind walls and shops in the compound, it's probably the residents' of the Horizon compound's best kept secret; (not any more)! It's surroundings are surprisingly peaceful given it's not far from a main road. If you go before noon, you can get the free croissant with any coffee deal. It's purely coffee and pastries here, not a lunch munch spot. But there's definitely something deliciously crispy and buttery and French about the pastries which makes a refreshing change from Chinese imitation brands. 3. Seesaw On the ground floor of the Suzhou Center shopping mall next to the Uniclo Clothes shop is Seesaw and it's bedazzling coffee sophistication. For a quality chemex or pour over, this is sleeker alternative to Costa or Starbucks and is serving customers from the minute they open at 8 am. They also have a few cakes and cookies to accompany the coffee! It might be hard to find a seat! 4. Baker & Spice Baker & Spice is in a central location in Xinghai square, next to the Phoenix mall on Suzhou Avenue West. As well as good coffee, the menu is quite extensive, offering Asian-western- fusion dishes such as seared salmon and black rice, Thai curries, wraps, pasta, sandwiches, fruit smoothies and salads. Long, wooden benches and tables provide a great space for family seating and there are also quiet corners for lap-top fiends. It's open from 7 am to 10 pm every day. A cafe by day, a wine bar by night! Baker & Spice is super popular with expats and locals alike. My kids really like going here! 5. Echo Cafe Slightly more off the beaten track, tucked away at the back of the 'New, Old Town' named: Xietang Lao Jie, which is located just south of where Songtao Road merges with Nanshi Street. It's a cozy cafe, and the most peaceful on this list. A great selection of coffee; (roasted beans from around the globe) and cake. The surrounding area is a pleasant reconstruction of an ancient town. Wandering the lantern-lit, cobbled streets you will feel as though you have travelled back in time to China's ancient past. Admire the little bridges and the open canals and you'll be spoilt for choice for craft beer and meal options as the restaurants vary from Korean to Indian to Italian to Local style. 6. Unico Centrally located at Moon Harbour, the area in front of the Cultural and Arts Center. Unico was one of the first coffee shops I visited and have repeatedly gone back. It's dark and cool in summer and warm and cozy in winter. Every other seat is a soft, welcoming sofa and as well as coffee, this is where you'll find the best waffles and fruit plates. So, that's my top 6 round up of best coffee shops in SIP. There are of course many more, especially in the Old Town and New District, but they may have a blog post all to themselves, depending on the whether the next coffee shop research proposal gets approved....

Book Review: House Rules by Jodi Picoult

Book Review: House Rules by Jodi Picoult

House Rules by Jodi Picoult, published in 2010 in America The story is told from multiple characters' point of view. It is divided into short chapters, and each chapter is seen through the eyes of one of the characters. The story's central character is arguably Jacob, a teenager with Aspergers syndrome who has a special interest in forensic science. As the plot develops he is framed as having murdered his good friend who his mother is paying for him to socialise with, (and on whom he has a crush). The second most significant character is Jacob's sacrificial, loving mother who works at least two jobs to support her sons and has convictions about the association of Jacob's ASD and his MMR vaccine. Jodi does a fantastic job of unpacking the condition of ASD and what that means for the people close to Jacob. She doesn't simply describe traits but allows the reader to scrutinise for themselves what it means to have the condition and whether this drives his personality of whether he has glimmers of empathy . You feel empathy to nearly all the characters, especially Jacob's hard-working mother who's first husband left her when he couldn't deal with having a son with ASD and with Jacob. You are endeared to Jacob because he is portrayed as a rule-abider with non-malicious intentions. He knows he is innocent but can't seem to make anyone around him understand. His understanding of key information is so different to people without the condition that it's implied for almost the duration of the story that he is the culprit, only at the penultimate chapter are further ingredients revealed. From a reader's perspective is more than a little dissatisfying at the end, what you want is a big revelation scene with exposure to all the final facts, but one must remember it's not supposed to be a whodunnit. The story explores how society responds to people who are different and whether we should expect them to play by the same rules. It is interesting that the adults around him assume that he will be totally mis-represented and misunderstood in court, due to his different communication style. They want to protect him and are sure he will have a more severe consequence in court if he is allowed to simply tell his version of events. So because of these assumptions, Jacob's true version of events is ignored until the very end. I think I have read two others; The Pact and Plain Truth, both of which I enjoyed much more than House Rules. However, I would gladly read another Jodi Picoult.

7 Tantalizing Reasons to Visit Shanghai

7 Tantalizing Reasons to Visit Shanghai

Thinking about visiting Shanghai but not sure where to start or what it really has to offer? Shanghai is fascinating melting pot of foreign, private and state investment (approximately 1/3 each). It is a modern, bustling, coastal city that seems to sprout new attractions and buildings almost overnight. Read on to discover why the glittering lights of Shanghai have so much gravitational pull, with some helpful tips to make the most of your stay. 1/ The Huangpu River The city is essentially divided into half by the Huangpu River, with Puxi area, (the more established, historical part of town) in the west and Pudong, (the newer part), in the East. So a ferry crossing is a great way to get a flavour of the river and surrounding city as well as travelling to the east/west parts of the city. Booking a river cruise is highly recommended, especially at dusk, when you can experience the vibrantly lit river and surrounding architecture (the Chinese love their lights and they pretty much lead the world in this form of technology). Most cruises last around 90 minutes. Tickets for river cruises can be purchased at the kiosks on the Bund (Puxi), at 2 East Zhongshan Road, and East Nanjing Road. For more cruise options, you may visit: https://www.viator.com/Shanghai-attractions/Huangpu-River/ Top Tip: take a walk along the Bund once the sun has gone down for a free, bedazzling experience of the light displays across the river. 2/ The biggest, the best and the fastest..... Shanghai boasts the second tallest building in the world, (just pipped to the post by Dubai's Burj Khalifa). The Shanghai Tower is a 128 story, 2073 ft tall sky scraper in Pudong. It holds the world record for the highest observation deck at 1847 ft. You can't miss it from the Bund, it's nestled in the dramatic, almost futuristic skyline of Pudong. Shanghai is also home to the most coffee shops compared to all other cities in the world. This fact surprised me because China doesn't have a widespread coffee culture yet, tea is still the nation's favourite. However, when you think per capita, with approximately 23 million residents, it makes the ratio even- out a little. One of these coffee shops is none less than the world's largest Starbucks! The Starbucks reserve is situated in the Jing'an District on the West Nanjing Road. Don't confuse it with the little off-shoot Starbucks, (like I did, which are only a few hundred meters from the actual roastery and reserve). In the reserve you will observe the roasting and sorting of the beans. It is also a good spot for lunch, offering a wide selection of pizza, salads, hot meals and sandwiches. For the world's fastest land transport, Shanghai also wins the prize for the Maglev, (high -speed magnetic levitation trains) who's top speed reaches 430 Kph. 3/ Things to do for kids! This city has museums and art galleries, aquariums a - plenty, not to mention Disney Land out on the Chuansha New Town district, not far west of Pudong international airport. Disney Land aside; the following attractions come enthusiastically recommended for family trips: Science and Technology Museum Located: close to Century Park in Pudong, take line subway line 2. Entry fee: adults: 60 RMB Lots of. mini areas with small science experiments. Will keep your kids busy for 2-3 hours at least. Natural History Museum Located: In the Jing'an district of Puxi, take subway line 13. Entry fee: Adults: 30 RMB, children: 12 RMB Wonderful life-size displays of extinct and living species from different parts of the globe make this is a memorable thing to do for a family day out. Haichang Ocean Park Located: south of Pudong international airport, a 20 minute walk or 10 minute shuttle bus ride from the Lingang Avenue subway stop on line 16. entry fee: starts at $64 per person, you may find better deals on Klook APP. Newly opened in 2018, this provides a fabulous family day out featuring rides, simulations, dancing killer whales, orca and dolphin shows, mermaids and more. Shanghai Museum Located: on the People's Square in the Huangpu district. Take subway lines 1,2 or 8. Entry: free The museum hosts galleries filled with ancient Chinese art, sculpture, jewellery, furniture and textiles, from all of the dynasty eras. Epson Teamlab Located: Huayaungang Road, Puxi Entry fee: adults: 229 RMB, children above 100 cm: 199 RMB This indoor, borderless digital emersion experience displays cutting edge, interactive light technology. Fun for the all the family. Zhongshan Park and Century Park Zhongshan Park: located in the Changning district, subway line 7 Century Park: located in Pudong, take subway line 2, Yanggao South Road Station If you are feeling a little tired from walking or site seeing, the parks are the perfect places to kick back for a chilled hour or so. Zhongshan Park has very pleasant green lawns and an area for children's rides. Century Park has different themed areas such as the bamboo forest, bird island, fountains, a children's park and entry is free. Top Tip: Zhongshan Park has a small fair-ground area. You can buy a token card at the kiosk with a deposit of 10 RMB and each ride is 10 RMB. 4/ High and low- end shopping options The first department stores opened on East Nanjing Street in the 1920's and on a public holiday the street will become a sea of people. It is this street that helped Shanghai get its reputation as the country's most fashionable city. Amy Lin's Pearls can be found on West Nanjing Road. For other higher- end shopping venues, try Shanghai Museum's art store for books, prints, ceramics, scarves and bags. Nuomi on Xinle Road is a Shanghai- based brand for organic cotton and silk outfits and jewellery fashioned from recycled materials. If you're looking for quirky crafts, art and boutiques, look no further than Tianzifang in the French Concession. This delightful little carved out area of narrow, crooked alley ways is fabulous for those souveniers and gifts, traditional and modern alike. Likewise in Pudong, the Xinyang fashion and gifts market next to the science and technology museum sells tons of merchandise and fakes, from ornaments to suits, etc. Top Tip: There are often outdoor markets for hand-made goods in various locations in the city, attended by sustainable and eco-friendly product vendors, and promoted by Shanghai's sustainability platform: Boomi. 5/ Food and drink So this topic maybe more for the western food- deprived, longer-term western expats than the fleeting tourist, but Shanghai offers a very welcome refreshing plunge into world cuisines that are much scarcer in other Chinese cities. A couple of choice recommendations: The Central Perk Cafe- 160 Harbin Road This is a fun, unique replica of the cafe in the show: 'Friends'. It had a very reasonably priced and vegetarian-friendly menu, and 'Gunther' will bring you your coffee. Laowai Street, (foreigner street). A little further out of town to the West, toward the Hongqiao Airport, this street is dedicated to an eclectic mix of restaurants, representing different global cuisines. It's the place to be on a Friday night for a relaxed, bonne vivre - feel with live music, happy hour deals a-plenty and great food to satisfy any palate. We have personally tried the Greek restaurant and the Indian and both hit the mark for authenticity and flavour. The local, Shanghainese cuisine is rather sweet and consists of a lot of fish and seafood and includes the original fried (shengjian) and steamed (xiaolongbao) dumplings. For Chinese food, try: Lost Heaven on East Yan'an Road for folk cuisine from southwestern China. For spectacular views of the Bund: Mr & Mrs Bund- French cuisine at East Zhongshan Road. M on the Bund for dishes like crispy pork and chicken tagine or afternoon tea For a classy, cocktail- fuelled evening, (the chance would be a fine thing), and dreamy views of the bund: The Captain on Fuzhou Street, Puxi. Honestly, though, the Bund's scope for eateries is eclipsed by what's on offer in the French Concession . For noodles, Indian, mediterranean, fusion food, Asian, American, tapas and French- style cafes and patisseries, not to mention the foreign- invested coffee shop chains, the French Concession has the lot. Thanks to international schools in the area, the newly- developed Pudong also has a vast foreign investment in hospitality and a plethora of great options for eating out. 6/ The eclectic influences Shanghai, (meaning 'on the sea'), has long been a significant trading port. In 1842, the British opened their concession and modern Shanghai arrived. The French and the Americans quickly followed the British and the port became the most powerful in the nation. The city became liberated from foreign oppression, (slavery and the likes) by the communist party in 1949 and the splendour was largely replaced by bland landscape of factories. In 1990 the Pudong area on the East of the river was newly developed and is now an incredible icon for modern China, a commercial mecca for the Chinese. 7/ Safety As cities go, I have never felt safer in one, especially after dark. For a city of this size (approximately 23 million people) it is very safe. Crime against women is extremely low and the main areas to watch out for are petty pick-pocketing in crowded areas, and scams. Make sure to take only licensed taxis. Security checks on the subway are consistently thorough but the metro gets super crowded and can be a frustrating way to travel with young children. Walking and taxis may be the better option for young families. In conclusion... Shanghai emits an invigorating and inspiring aura. You will leave Shanghai feeling a mixture of enchantment from wandering the leafy French Concession and awe from the dazzling lights and heights of the views from the Bund. And if you're an expat in China, you'll be planning your trip back... Top Tip: places to stay We can recommend: City Go (French Concession), the Westin on the Bund and Blossom House, (the Bund) the Golden Tulip, (Hongqiao). iconic Bund, pearl tower, handbag etc, boat trip pudong vs puxi places to stay- city go, serviced apartments, westin, blossom house, golden tulip french concession- tainzifang laowai street quirky cafes- friends cafe parks century park, zhongshan ark, peoples square disney aquarium park nat. history museum, science and tech museum food- french concession pain au chaud, tim horton,s starbuscks reserve, liquid laundry, yuyuan gardens

Top 5 Flea Markets in Suzhou

Top 5 Flea Markets in Suzhou

As a foreigner in Suzhou it can be hard to find the locally- acclaimed and established amenities and shopping spots. The following provides details of some of the best market-style shopping facilities within and around the city. 1. Pearl Market Wei Tang Pearl Market Located: 20 Km North of Suzhou Industrial Park in the Xiang Cheng District. Zhong Guo Zhen Zhu Cheng, 88 Pearl Lake Lu, Wei Tang, Xiang Cheng District Tel: 13616270215 Travel by car takes approximately 45 minutes Travel by bus 7 and 871 takes 1 hour 40 minutes. The wonder of this market is that you are encountering a significant part of the city's heritage, pearl growing and jewelry. There are two sites next door to each other with two floors. Individual vendors are situated around the building and you can browse pre-made items or have items hand strung for you. Vendors sell a mix of fresh water and sea- water pearls, varying from black to pink to cream to white. Some coral, jade, turquoise amongst other gems are also available. Many vendors are open to bartering for multiple purchases. Top tip: Take some lunch and a drink, cafe and refreshment options are a little scarce! 2. Cultural Market Located: 18 km west of Jinji Lake. Address: Wenhua Shichang, 117 Siqian Street, Old Town Travel: 40 minutes by car, 50 minutes by subway line 1, exit at Yangyu Xiang. The unpretentiousness of this site renders you feeling as though you have accidentally stumbled into someone's attic. The second floor in a rather haphazard array of stationary and art supplies, including any crafter's item you thought possible, from felt flowers to fishing wire, to caligraphy paper and glow paint. I suppose it's the equivalent of Hobbycraft in the UK, but most items are quite a lot cheaper. Top Tip: take a reusable bag or two, you'll probably come away with more than you intended. 3. Embroidery Town Located: North West of Suzhou Industrial Park; approximately 45 minutes drive. Address: Xiu Pin Shichang, Zhen Hu Si Qiao Dong Jie Silk embroidery reaches deep into Suzhou's ancient past. It is heart-warming to find that in this little neck of the woods, the old tradition of hand- weaving and hand embroidery continues. The area boasts a small museum and a long street dedicated to the embroidery shops. As I ventured into the museum, a guy of about 30 years of age spoke very good English and offered a small tour of his family's work. He talked of how his mother had taught him to embroider in the specific, ancient method and he has since become an artist and explored more abstract ways to create art through the medium. It was great to view the differing styles of his and his mother's work and admire some authentic silk-embroidered items from the dynasty eras. Top tip: Most vendors are open to bartering for multiple purchases. Make sure your didi, (taxi) APP is in good condition, it can be difficult to find an alternative method of transport back. 4. Fabric Market Location: Opposite the Suzhou Central Railway Station. Travel: Subway Line 1 to Leqiao, Line 4 to Suzhou Railway Station (two stops). There are actually several fabric markets in Suzhou, however this one is the best as it sells authentic silk, whereas the others sell more fake silk. You will also find many other types of fabric and haberdashery. Top Tip: Cross the road from the central station and you will see a large complex. The fabric market is situated inside the complex, on the 3rd floor. The B side is usually open, whereas the C side is sometimes closed. 5. Plants and Flowers Market Address: Su Nan Hua Hui Zhong Xin, 1108 Youxin Road, Gusu District, (Old Town) If you are attempting to spruce up your balcony for those dreamy, mosquito- infested summer evenings, this is the best place to kit out. There are three floors. The ground floor holds potted plants and bouquets. The Basement holds wholesale items, priced at 10- 30 RMB (1 £1- £4) per bunch. The picture below shows one of the outdoor shops, there are at least 20 more inside. Top Tip: Take a taxi, or your own car, taking 5ft bushes on the bus is not advised.

Top 3  Chinese Restaurants in Suzhou Industrial Park, (on a budget).

Top 3 Chinese Restaurants in Suzhou Industrial Park, (on a budget).

Within a two km radius of where we are based in Suzhou Industrial Park, there are many small restaurants, mainly noodle houses or hot pot places. Most are selling soupy noodle dishes, or variations on this theme. I would turn down Suzhou soupy noodles for a cheese sandwich any day but I have, after some investigation, discovered three wonderful little joints, serving a variety of tasty snacks and meals, all of which are frequented by locals and rarely by foreigners... 1. Jian Kang Ye Shi Location: Shicheng Road by Nanshi Park Best pit stop, (other than street food vendors), for a hearty breakfast. You will sample the nationwide, famous youtiao, (long savoury doughnuts), that you can dip into soy milk or rice porridge. You can also try chun tian, ( spring rolls which you buy from the freezer in Asda, but they're not quite the same), flakey pastries with sweet nutty/raisin paste filling and xiao long bao, (delicate steamed dumplings). All this would cost you approximately £ 3 . 2. Zhen Lao Shan; means: Very Traditional Northwestern (food). Located: Just outside the south side of Vanguard Shopping Mall, Fangzhou Road This little place has a rustic, homey feel, generated by the simple wooden style benches and long tables. The food is based on Xi'an, (where the terracotta warriors are), style cuisine, so tends to be more savoury than the local Suzhou style, which often is a little sweet. My favourite lunch bites are: The Rojiamo Succulent shredded beef or lamb incased in a flakey, buttery bun, (soooo yummy). Biang Biang Mian Thus called because of the sound created when the noodles are made from scratch, they are slapped on the table top to stretch them out. This dish's thick noodles in a hot tomato- based stew is super nourishing and warming for a cosy winter's day lunch. 3. Ga Kao Jiang- Chinese Barbeque Located: Just beyond Nanshi Park, half -way down Shicheng Road This place welcomes garlic and oil like an old friend, in equal quantities, and well, the food is rather satisfying as a result. I recommend this place for a post- run calorie top-up or a girls' (or boys') night out. I found peanut butter flavoured beer in bottles and it's given beer a whole new echelon of esteem and admiration in my mind. Must tries: spicy lamb kebabs (also non spicy) open grilled herby aubergine (oh my) corn on a kebab grilled, oily mushrooms potato kebabs grilled green beans mushroom kebabs A decent meal and a drink will cost you less than £ 10 . So; there we have a breakfast, lunch and dinner recommendation all within a 5-10 minute walk.

Oreo Brownies

Oreo Brownies

For the sweet tooths; this recipe is for you. My friend from Arkansas made this for a girls' night and boy is it sweet. Using lard in icing does take a bit of getting over, (only in America eh? and Suzhou Industrial Park), but the brownies turned out really well, more convincingly chewy and brownie like than the recipe I usually rely on, so I've upgraded to this one for future use. You might want to go for a run after consumption. FOR THE BROWNIES 1 c unsalted butter (or two sticks) 2 c granulated sugar ½ c chocolate chips (or your favourite chopped chocolate) 3 eggs 2 tsp vanilla extract ⅓ c unsweetened cocoa powder + 2 tbsp 2 Tbsp black cocoa powder (if you don’t have black cocoa powder, you can use dark cocoa or more regular, unsweetened cocoa powder instead) 1 c all purpose flour ½ tsp salt FOR THE OREO FROSTING ½ c unsalted butter (or 1 stick) ⅓ c lard 1 tsp vanilla extract 2 c icing sugar 1–2 Tbsp milk (more as needed to create fluffy, light frosting) 12 Oreos (crushed into coarse crumbs; leave some larger pieces) INSTRUCTIONS FOR THE BROWNIES Preheat the oven to 350°. Grease a 9 x 9 inch baking pan with cooking spray or a bit of canola/vegetable oil. In a large microwaveable bowl, heat the butter on high until fully melted. Remove from the microwave. Stir in sugar and chocolate chips until smooth and silky. The heat of the butter will melt everything together. Allow the butter mixture to cool slightly and come back to room temp. When ready, add eggs, then the vanilla extract to the butter/sugar/chocolate mixture and stir well. In a separate bowl, whisk together the cocoa powder(s), flour and salt. Add the dry ingredients to the butter/sugar/chocolate chip mixture and gently fold & stir together until there are just a few small clumps in the batter. Do not over mix. The batter will be thick. Pour the batter into the prepared baking pan and bake for about 35-40 minutes. The top should have large cracks and if you insert a knife into the middle, it should be just about clean. Allow the brownies to cool completely. TO MAKE THE OREO FROSTING Mix the butter and lard until light and fluffy in a large bowl. Add the icing sugar, 1 cup at a time, mixing slowly in between each addition until most of the sugar is mixed (the mixture may still be dry at this point). Add the vanilla extract and 1 tablespoon of milk. Mix on medium speed. Add more milk slowly, enough for a frosting to come together. Mix on high speed until super light and fluffy. The frosting should be soft and light. Lastly, stir in the crushed Oreos by hand. Frost the brownies generously. Serve.

Easy Easter?

Easy Easter?

Easter was blessed by the arrival of a good friend's new baby boy who I had the privilege of being the first non-family visitor in hospital for cuddles. And he was blessed to narrowly miss being an 'April fool'- born at 8.30 pm on 31. March. We were looking after his older sisters while he was brought into the world, which was fun for Emily as she and Cora are tied at the hip and a challenge for Mike and I. Mike doesn't generally shout, and I rarely shout at children that aren't my own, but this proved to be one of our exceptions when at midnight the girls are still merrily chatting away, with the puppy joining them, enshrined on the duvet, despite a rule we have about no puppies on beds , keeping the two year old sister up despite missing her nap and having been asked to quiet down umpteen times as they have work and school in the morning. The two year old awoke several times crying 'Cora, my monkey, Cora my monkey' because she couldn't locate her monkey dummy. The bathroom was soaked in blood, which I learnt the following morning was due to Cora's tooth wobbling out and Emily's bed broke under the strain of it being transformed into a nest like that of the 'Croods' (an animated film family). But, three egg hunts later and despite the complaints and spaghetti food fights, we are all still friends and probably closer as a result. The first of the afore mentioned egg hunts took place in the park where we hold parkrun, and Suzhou Striders joined with Suzhou Family (a company running family activities) and Decathlon for a short run and egg hunt. Mike lead the warm up and got everyone hopping around the park and then it was everyone chasing the eater bunny and a Decathlon-ordained hopscotch and archery experience. The second egg hunt took place on the Sunday after a church celebration, which some of our Suzhou Strider friends also attended, which is a joy, and the third was in our compound garden, hosted by Cora's family. So despite the general absence of Cadbury's products, family members , roast beef and simnel cake, it was a memorable Easter and Jesus has still risen and is still very much alive. Praise Him!