Dearest readers, please enjoy this random update…

Instead of rambling on about god-knows-what like I usually do, I’m going to get straight to the point.

My Chinese Future Husband is now my Chinese Actual Husband. I know! I bet you never saw that coming! (Or maybe you did because you realised that I was far too busy staring at Mr Wang’s nose freckles and cheek dimples to write any blog posts. Oops. Sorry.)

I know you probably want to know the whole story, and I will tell you the whole story eventually, I promise. But not here. I think my “Life after Delhi” has moved on kind of spectacularly, and so I’ve decided to start afresh. Here:

So please go and have a look, and subscribe if you feel like it, and I hope you’ll continue to politely laugh as you continue to read my terrible rambly writings. I promise to keep at it, and stop being so lazy.

Love and kisses,

Mrs Wang


Too many waiters spoil the will to live


How many waiters does it take to serve dinner? Have a guess. And remember we’re not talking about a normal dinner in a normal country. How could we be?! This is Inner Mongolia – Weirdness Capital of the Galaxy.

It all started when my Chinese future husband and I were wandering around the restaurant section of Wanda Plaza, one of Baotou’s moderately swanky shopping malls, trying to decide what to shovel into our faces. Mongolian hotpot? Sichuan spiciness? Korean barbecue? “My Fashion Food”? I was getting kind of tired of all of them. Then we noticed that a new place had just opened. It looked quite fancy. Probably, it was worth a try.

Two extremely enthusiastic waiters swooshed towards us and showed us to a table, handing my Chinese future husband an iPad with the menu on it. How futuristic, I thought. Except that the menu app didn’t seem to be working. The two waiters looked at each other, leaned over the iPad, and got themselves into a very unprofessional state of panic.

After an excessive amount of incomprehensible Chinese chat, it seemed that the two waiters understood what we wanted for dinner. They shuffled off, and left the iPad with my Chinese future husband.

(Okay, I realise it’ll sound a bit creepy if I keep referring to him as my Chinese Future Husband. Especially since I’ve already kind of admitted to stalking him. I mean, we have been on, like, seventy eight dates in the past month, but it’s not like I’m thinking about buying my four Chinese wedding dresses and an assortment of fluffy penguin costumes for our ridiculously cute semi-Asian children. Or anything. So let’s keep things down to earth and call him Mr Wang.)

Anyway, where were we?

Oh yeah.

A couple of minutes passed and then the two waiters returned with two more waiters. They put a big pot on the tabletop hotplate, and then began to produce endless tupperware boxes full of vegetables and raw chicken and herbs.

One of the four waiters, a tall boy who looked about seventeen, wearing gigantic blue plastic glasses with no lenses, slowly opened one of the boxes. There was a sudden shriek from the distance, and another waiter swooped over to our table waving a plastic glove and muttering angrily at the tall boy.

The tall boy didn’t seem at all affected by his colleague – the head waiter’s – outburst, taking the glove and slowly putting it on. I had never seen anybody take so long to put on a plastic glove. It was as if he was used to living his entire life in slow motion. The other four waiters watched him in disbelief, then tutted and rolled their eyes when the plastic tore and his thumb stuck out.

Eleven lightyears and another plastic glove later, the tall boy started placing the chopped vegetables, one by one, into the pot. He did it so unbelievably slowly that I couldn’t decide if he was being really conscientious or if he was just trying to kill as much of his shift as possible. The other waiters and Mr Wang and I silently watched this spectacle of precision until it verged on hypnosis, and then I burst out laughing.

The tall boy then opened the box of chicken, and painstakingly placed each piece on top of the cut vegetables. The head waiter watched over every action like a hawk, occasionally swooping in to make tiny adjustments. It felt like I was watching a group of trainee surgeons perform open-heart surgery. Mr Wang and I looked at each other across the table and shared a kind of telepathic thought; something along the lines of, “Thank GOD this isn’t a first date, because it would officially be the awkwardest, most agonisingest ordeal in the history of human existence.”

And then, finally, the head waiter switched on the hotplate and put the glass lid on the pot. Sizzling commenced. The waiters left. Mr Wang and I finally started a conversation.

But WAIT! They’d forgotten to add salt and pepper!

The five waiters returned; tall boy holding a pepper grinder, walking slower than a fossilised slug.

“What would happen if this restaurant was full?” I said to Mr Wang. “If they need to hire five waiters for each table they’ll really need to put their prices up.”

Mr Wang laughed and immediately translated what I’d said into Chinese. The five waiters – and I – smiled awkwardly.

With dinner cooking in the pot at long last, I thought our unwanted company would finally leave and find some other work to get on with, but all five of them stayed put at the edge of the table, stirring the food at regular intervals. “Maybe we should invite them to sit down and eat with us,” Mr Wang joked, in English.

For a minute I actually thought they might, but eventually the head waiter announced that the meal was ready, and the troupe marched off. The tall boy hung around for a while, absent-mindedly leaning against Mr Wang’s chair, until he noticed me staring at him. Then he heaved a sigh and sauntered away, pushing his gigantic blue plastic glasses up on his nose.

Mr Wang and I picked up our chopsticks and commenced shovelling.

And roughly fifteen seconds later the five waiters returned – they’d forgotten, of course, to bring the water.

A year of life after Delhi


This morning, as I was waiting for my extremely pretentious puehr-tea-with-dried-chrysanthemums to brew, I noticed my diary from last year sitting on a shelf, covered, as expected, with a light dusting of Gobi desert. It was strange flipping through 2012 again, with notes-to-self including “Republic Day – no Hindi class”, “Train to Orissa 6:30am” and “Chai in Chanakyapuri… Visit astrologer??” March 26th said “Close bank account”; a note which jolted me right back into the Saket branch of HDFC, where I had an awkward farewell with Harshvardhan Singh, who broke my heart by saying “I am destroying your cheque book in front of you, madam” and ripping the thing to shreds. Sigh.

Can you believe, dear readers, that it’s been a year since I left Delhi?

I think about India a lot, and I miss it. The chai and the autorickshaws, the choley kulcha stall at Delhi University. Mother Dairy butterscotch ice cream cones and Café Coffee Day. The smells of Old Delhi, Paharganj, INA market. The cows. The monkeys. The green parrots. Speaking in Hindi. Ajay Devgn’s moustache.

I will never forget my India, ever. Ever.

I promise.

But now, dear readers, it’s time to proclaim to the world that I think my heart belongs to China. To Inner Mongolia, especially. And to Baotou – Centre of the Universe. The city where women wear silver leggings and thigh-high faux-leather stilettoes to go to the supermarket, and where taxi drivers have cigarettes in one hand and iPhones in the other, and where eating frog hotpot is totally normal. It is completely mad here, beyond all comprehension, and for some reason that seems to suit me and I love it. And I’ve signed a contract to stay another year.

My students, some old, some new (including a boy called Squall and a girl called Eric), are hardworking and hilarious. I’m giving lectures on European History and Culture (or, more accurately, what I’ve taught myself about European history and culture via the BBC primary schools’ website), encouraging more Chinglish metaphors in my writing classes, and still attempting to learn Chinese.

The gym didn’t quite agree with me, though. A tragic loss, I know, but now I have a lot more free time to shovel Mr Cake red bean doughnuts into my face.

And what about my Chinese future husband? Well, it turns out he can cook and do kung fu, possibly even at the same time. Who wouldn’t want to marry a guy like that?!

This time last year my hands were doodled with mehndi from Green Park market and my suitcase – full of sparkly sandals, salwaar kameez and statues of Saraswati – was wrapped, Indian-style, in cling film. This year I still wear the jasmine perfume I bought from an old man in Varanasi, and the green parrot earrings from Dilli Haat. And now a fake jade necklace from Beijing. I listen to Bollywood and Fenghuang Chuanqi in roughly equal measures. And, yes, I drink pretentious puehr-tea-with-dried-chrysanthemums, but I also drink adharak wali chai. And sometimes when I try to speak Chinese, Hindi comes out instead.

This year pink cherry blossoms are slowly appearing on the Baotou trees, and I’m sentimental, as usual, but very happy.


26 extremely valid reasons why I haven’t written any blog posts since forever (most of them involve food)

Ooh, arty.

Ooh, arty.

Dearest readers, please find attached (well, not attached, but if you keep reading you’ll get there) a long list of elaborate excuses as to why I have officially become the worst blogger in the cyber-cosmos. Some of them may seem a little far-fetched, but each and every one of them is true. I swear. Even the one where I almost got engaged to a Japanese businessman called Akira.

Are you sitting comfortably? (Because this is going be quite long and ramble-y. Seriously, maybe you should go and make a quick cup of tea before we start.) Ok, then. I shall begin…

1. I went to Beijing in January and inhaled so much smog that I almost died. So after all that exam nonsense was over I set off on a six-week Asian adventure to Japan, Taiwan and Hong Kong, to visit some much-neglected friends and eat terrifying amounts of amazing food. But before leaving the country I spent a few days in Beijing with Daniel. Unfortunately I couldn’t have picked a worse time to go. Did you read the news about the killer smog? It was bad, dear readers. Very bad. In fact, the smog was so worryingly thick that Daniel and I decided it would be much safer to stay inside his Dongzhimen apartment, under a duvet, eating takeaway and drinking soju and watching Sex and the City. Which is exactly what we did. And it was marvellous.

Mmm, smogalicious.

Mmm, smogalicious.

2. I went to Tokyo and couldn’t stop being amazed at all the stuff. I’d been to Tokyo once before, but way back in 2005, so it was great to go back. I spent my first day there aimlessly walking around, gaping in wonder at all the tall, swanky buildings and at all the polite, civilised people. People who patiently wait in queues, say things like “excuse me”, and never use their elbows as weapons. These people are also unbearably stylish – the Japanese all seem to be experts at that “effortless chic” thing. I felt a tad ridiculous arriving at Narita from Beijing wearing a reindeer scarf, zebra-print hat and leopard-print earmuffs (which in China, I swear, is the absolute height of sophistication).    



This is the Tokyo subway map. *Brainmelt*.

This is the Tokyo subway map. *Brainmelt*.

3. I got very drunk in Yokohama. And from what I recall, this is what happened: I met my friend Brenna in the afternoon-ish time, and we did all sorts of wholesome activities, like go on a giant ferris wheel and visit the Cup Noodle Museum (because the Ramen Museum is totally overrated). We were even befriended by a lovely woman in a soba restaurant who climbed a stepladder to pick flowers from a tree to give us. But then we started drinking. Like I said, from what I recall, we went to a party… somewhere… and drank stuff… and then took some trains… and drank some more stuff… and then ended up eating sashimi at 3 o’clock in the morning, while drinking yet more stuff. The next day, to recover from the night before, we spent the entire afternoon sampling beer from Yokohama’s many, many craft breweries. Which of course meant we were soon drunk again. Such is life.

Picking flowers, just for us.

Picking flowers, just for us.

4. I got snowed-in in Hokkaido and the only way to survive was to eat tons of ramen and drink loads of Sapporo beer. Ok, that’s a lie. But there was A LOT of snow. And there was a shovel at the door of my hostel which people actually had to use so we could get out the door. Ah, what a lovely hostel it was! Free coffee and toast and central heating, and other guests who became good friends. Together we visited the Sapporo beer factory (which is basically a very small museum above a very large bar, and therefore excellent) and the city’s little hidden street of ramen shops. Who knew you could order a bowl of ramen with a huge chunk of butter floating in it? My arteries still hurt thinking about it. But the snow, dear readers! It was beautiful! 

It was especially fun dragging my wheely suitcase through this.

It was especially fun dragging my wheely suitcase through this.

New friends Cyndi and Lee at Hokkaido University!

New friends Lee and Cyndi at Hokkaido University!

5. I ate so much sushi that I almost died. Have you ever had that feeling when you know you really should stop eating, but you can’t because it’s SUSHI – and not just any old sushi but HOKKAIDO SUSHI – and even though you’re almost certainly on the verge of death, and you know you’ll regret it for the rest of the week, you just somehow manage to keep shovelling it in? Well, I had that. So I should probably avoid all-you-can-eat sushi restaurants in future.

6. I was busy doing strange rituals at a “love temple”. I met my friend Etsuko in Kyoto and we went to the Love Temple to find out our fortunes. The first thing we had to do was close our eyes, make a wish, and touch a special rock thing, and then walk with our eyes closed to another special rock thing without peeking. Which was kind of hazardous considering how many crazed young women were attempting to do this at the same time. There was a lot of treading on toes and screaming. Then we had to pick a paper “fortune” out of a box, and mine translated to something like, “although you’ll have to wait ages and ages and ages, you’ll probably still find some bloke to get married to, so everything’ll be just peachy, innit”. 

Pick a fortune, any fortune...

Pick a fortune, any fortune… oh and by the way it’s 200 yen.

7. I stayed in a hostel in Kyoto and had to put all my energy into not killing all the Americans (no offence, Americans). It was one of those huuuuge hostels with a common room specially designed (with tatami) for irritating backpackers to sit about in all day comparing which Asian countries they’ve “done”. Normally I would have avoided this room completely, but there was free coffee there. And I just couldn’t help listening in on the Americans’ conversations, especially when they were Skyping their moms back home…

“It’s so hard here because, like, everything’s in Japanese, and literally nobody speaks English, so it’s, like, impossible to do stuff.”

“So in Tokyo we went to this, like, fish market, and I tried a bunch of stuff, but I have no idea what any of it was.”

“Ohmygod, the guys in Japan are, like, sooo cute! I met this totally awesome British guy in my hostel in Osaka…” 

I drank my free coffee and thought, Kill. Me. Now.

8. I stayed in a traditional ryokan and couldn’t get out of my futon/stop watching Japanese gameshows. I couldn’t understand the gameshows, but that didn’t make them any less entertaining. Especially since I could watch them from the comfort of my futon while wearing my yukata and drinking green tea.

Any idea what's going on here? Me neither.

Any idea what’s going on here? Me neither.

9. I became obsessed with green tea-flavoured stuff. I was in matcha heaven in Japan. Cake, ice cream, hot latte, iced latte, Lipton Matcha Milk… and when I found green tea shortbread in a bakery in Nara I think actually shed a tear of joy.

Bliss in a teacup.

Bliss in a teacup.

10. I discovered takoyaki. An Osaka specialty, it’s basically bits of octopus in batter, fried and topped with various amazing sauces. And it’s cheap and you can get it all over the city. YUM.

Shoji-san's takoyaki shop of wonders.

Shoji-san’s takoyaki shop of wonders.

11. I almost got engaged to a Japanese businessman called Akira. Shoji-san, who owned a takoyaki shop near my hostel in Osaka, recommended a local bar and said I should go and check it out. So of course I did. The bar was about the size of an aeroplane bathroom and was absolutely packed with tipsy men in suits. “Come! Sit!” shouted the barman, pointing to the one free stool in the room. I sat, and ordered a beer. The men sitting beside me eventually plucked up the courage to introduce themselves, via Google Translate, and before I knew what was happening I was knocking back pint glasses of sake and tomato juice with them. And then another man-in-a-suit came and joined us. “I am very much looking forward to receiving your telephone number,” he said, and showed me his company ID badge. His name was Akira. He continued, “We had a lot of snow here last winter. Rome was not built in a day! I love you!” I ordered another sake with tomato juice from the barman and asked Akira if he was from Osaka. “I love you! I need you! Marry me! We had a lot of snow here last winter!” was his reply. And so the evening continued.

Akira: “Rome was… not…”

Me: “built in a day?”

Akira: “Yes! I need you! Last winter…”

Me: “We had a lot of snow?”

Akira: “I love you! I am very much looking forward to receiving your telephone number!” 

When I decided to finally leave the bar everyone seemed genuinely devastated. “Come back tomorrow,” said the barman. “This is my wife!” shouted Akira.

12. I was busy taking photos of really old people taking photos of really old trees:

You can write your own caption for this.

You can write your own caption for this.

And this.

And this.

13. I was throwing magic beans at Tomomi (who was pretending to be a demon, obviously). The day I met my friend Tomomi in Osaka also happened to be one of Japan’s strangest festivals. “On this day every year, someone dresses up as a demon and everyone throws beans at them to drive out their bad luck,” Tomomi explained. Well I’m always up for driving out my bad luck, I said. So the only question was where could we purchase these special beans? “In 7 Eleven!” said Tomomi. Well of course! So we did the necessary shopping and then went to a park and took turns wearing a plastic demon mask and throwing beans at each other. And I can say for a fact that my luck has definitely improved since, so the ritual must have worked. For example:

14. I got invited out for dinner by two 70-year-old Japanese guys. Ai, a girl in my hostel, and I were wandering round the local neighbourhood looking for a place to eat, when two very enthusiastic and possibly slightly intoxicated gentlemen asked if we’d let them take us for dinner. Obviously, we said yes. It was hilarious.

Just an average night in Osaka, maybe.

Just an average night in Osaka, maybe.

15. I went up the Umeda Sky Building and OH MY GOD.

As the Lonely Planet says, it's like  "Arc de Triomphe meets Bladerunner"

As the Lonely Planet says, it’s like “Arc de Triomphe meets Bladerunner”…

And involves going up the scariest escalator ever...

And involves going up the scariest escalators ever…

To see views like this!

To see views like this!

16. I went to Taiwan and it was Chinese New Year and I ate so much food that I almost died. After Japan I spent ten action-packed days in Taiwan, which is probably the best country ever. I was lucky to be staying with my wonderful friend Meikai and his family, and that meant that I got to experience Chinese New Year in the proper way: with family, friends, temples, red envelopes, lottery tickets, card games, and (of course) a LOT of food.

Have you ever seen anything more amazing?

Have you ever seen anything more amazing?

17. I was busy going up and down mountains in Taiwan at a fzillion miles an hour with Meikai who should not really be allowed behind the wheel when there are hairpin bends involved. But what’s important is that everyone survived. So no need to worry, mother.

18. I couldn’t stop shovelling amazing Taiwanese food into my face. As you know, I’m quite adventurous when it comes to trying new food (must I remind you of the duck feet?) so every time somebody asked, “do you want to try ___?” I responded with an enthusiastic YES, OF COURSE… I HAVE NO IDEA WHAT IT IS BUT GIVE ME ALL THE FOOD NOW. And  I swear, everything I tried was beyond delicious. Even the stinky tofu. And the slimy oysters. And the mysterious black soup.

Mmm, stinky.

Mmm, stinky.

Mmm, slimy.

Mmm, slimy.

Mmm, mysterious.

Mmm, mysterious.

 19. I discovered Ice Monster in Taipei. Remember ages ago when I said that frozen yoghurt was the new ice cream? Well I have news for you, dear readers: Ice Monster is the new froyo. I went to this snazzy joint with my friend Vivian and ordered (on Etsuko’s recommendation) a mound of mango flavoured shaved-ice-stuff roughly the same size as a basketball. “I’ll never be able to eat all of that!” I exclaimed, before devouring the entire lot. And what a satisfying brainfreeze I had afterwards!

 20. I was writing wishes on a paper lantern and sending it into the sky, and it was ever so nice:

Original artwork by me.

Original artwork by me.


Up into the stratosphere, or somewhere.

21. I went to Hong Kong and they have things like Irn Bru and pear cider and hummus there, and so I temporarily forgot about the outside world. But can you really blame me? 

22. I was watching another sunset from another skyscraper. I’ve decided that my new travelling “thing” will be to go up to the top of a skyscraper on my last evening in a country, take arty pictures of the sunset and get all sentimental about leaving.  On my last evening in Japan I went up the Umeda Sky Building, which was by far the best skyscraper I’ve ever been up (did you SEE the pictures?!), but the place was kind of overrun with affectionate sunset-observing couples and I felt a bit like a stupid foreign gooseberry. The top of Taipei 101 was more fun because I had Meikai to take arty pictures of the sunset with. But in Hong Kong, for the last night of my six-week Asian extravaganza, I was alone again in my skyscraper. And also it was so misty/smoggy that the view was sort of non-existent. But I still managed to get all nostalgic, and there was a coffee shop, so it was ok.

It's a long way down...

It’s a long way down…

23. I came back to Baotou and have gone mad and joined the gym. Please try not to die of laughter, but since I got back to Baotou (nine days ago) I have decided to turn over a new leaf and take some exercise. Which means I’ve been doing ridiculous things like running on treadmills and participating in “hot yoga” classes. Yes, dear readers, I know exactly what you’re thinking: why in the name of Genghis Khan did I wait a year after leaving INDIA to take up YOGA in INNER MONGOLIA? And the answer to that is… well, actually I have no idea, but I can tell you this: I did a headstand last night in a ten-billion-kajillion-degree room and I didn’t die. And the Chinese yoga teacher even kindly helped me when I got stuck upside-down, and he didn’t even laugh. Very much.

24. I have finally started studying Chinese. Seeing as I live in China and am surrounded by quite a lot of Chinese people, I thought it might be about time to consider expanding my vocabulary beyond “ni hao” (hello) and “ting bu dong” (I don’t understand). And so I have been in Baotou Library with my very patient friend, Dani, practising the four infamous tones and whatnot. So when a group of naked-but-friendly ladies in the gym changing room started a conversation with me the other day, instead of looking gormless I was actually able to say “I’m learning Chinese, but I can only speak a little bit.” To which they responded, in the typical Baotou way, by screaming and flailing and telling me that I’m beautiful.

Proof that I did some studying!

Proof that I did some studying!

25. I am busy stalking my Chinese future husband. More on that later, perhaps. 

26. I am getting ready to start another term of “teaching”. Yes, dear readers, the long holiday is finally over and I have to go back to work tomorrow. But now that I know my students (and am practically fluent in Chinese) it really doesn’t feel like work anymore, but more like chatting with loads of ridiculously friendly Inner Mongolian girls about life and love and what we ate at Chinese New Year. So I’m actually looking forward to it. All those weeks of travelling in all those places was incredible and fabulous, but there’s something about Baotou that I just love. You still might not believe me, but Inner Mongolia really is the centre of the universe.

The End-of-Spring-Festival fireworks in Baotou, last Saturday.

The End-of-Spring-Festival fireworks in Baotou, last Saturday.

Friendship is a Chinglish metaphor


Ah, Chinglish. Sometimes it’s what gets me through the day (you know, because it’s just so stressful eating all these noodles and drinking all this cheap beer and getting paid loads of cash to teach my students to sing “Friday I’m In Love” by the Cure).

Seriously, though, I have actually had to do some proper work recently. It’s the end of term and that means three things. One, that I survived an entire term in Inner Mongolia! Two, that I’ve just begun a two-month period of paid holiday! But, three, before all the weeks and weeks of fun begin I have to grade a stack of exam papers roughly the same height as the inflatable panda outside my local supermarket. And that, my friends, is a pretty tall inflatable panda.

But fortunately I got to write the exams for the subjects I teach, and so for the writing papers – knowing I’d have to read several hundred of them – I tried at least to encourage the students to write something with a bit of entertainment value.

So the questions included, “Write a paragraph describing a person you really hate” (who knew these sweet little Inner Mongolians were so full of anger and hatred!), “Write a paragraph about how to behave on a first date” (the best tip was to “remember to keep smelling all the time because boys don’t like a girl who looks unhappy.”) and finally, “Write a paragraph with the title ‘What is Friendship?’”

I chose this topic on purpose because I already knew exactly what the students would write: hundreds upon hundreds of hilarious, yet strangely beautiful, metaphors with a Chinese-English twist. Like this one, for example.

Friendship is sugar which make my heart sweat. 

Or this one:

Friendship just like a sunshine, it always shining in my mind.

Or this one:

Friendship is just like a sea. Sometimes peaceful, sometimes fierce.

Or this one:

Friendship is a rainbow which you could get along with well with other people.

It truly is amazing what their bizarre little imaginations can come up with in the panic of doing an exam with no dictionary. Many students opted for comparing friendship with some kind of beverage:

Friendship is a bottle of water when you need water.

Friendship is just like a coffee. We should taste it slowly.

Friendship is like wine, stick to it so long, lasting so sweet.

Friendship is a cup of water, it’s so clean. You can see anything through the water. Just like your friend realized you. She knows your everything. 

Others went down a more surrealist route, deconstructing clichés and creating brand new Chinglish delights:

Friendship is a bridge that relate to person and person. It’s a spark lighted in your life.

Friendship is clothes. It looks funny but friendship is important like your clothes. You couldn’t live if without it. 

Some students, who must have actually listened in class, had a go at using the technique of negation – describing what friendship is not – to write their definition of this tricky abstract noun:

Friendship isn’t cola – after you drink and throw it away.

Friendship isn’t like an old house. If you push it, it will be break.

Friendship is not a piece of gold, even though you leave it alone all the time, it also can shining like ever.

Friendship not only appreciate your achievement, but also talk your faults and weakness. Like stars always accompany the moon.

And a few students really went all out with the imagery. This gorgeous extended metaphor brought a tear to my eye. Possibly a tear of laughter, but anyway:

A saying goes said, “a man without friendship is an angel without wings”. Friendship is the most beautiful flower in the world. Without friendship, we are dying. It’s just like the flower without rain, they won’t grow up stronger. Friendship is wine, it can remember the best memory with your friends. 

But of course, dear readers, I’ve saved the best for last. I had to give this student full marks. In a word, it truly is a masterpiece of Chinglish literature in my mind (oh no! Now I’ve started writing in Chinglish too!):

If you take friend as a sun, the friendship is sunshine, give you warm. If you take friend as a river, the friendship is a sea, become of river is together, the friendship is always strong, never dry. If you take friend as a tree, the friendship is a tree group. They give you all they can give. So what is friendship? You know? 

Well, you know?

Caffeine dreams

As most of you know, I spent much of my time in India cultivating a dangerous chai habit. Every time I passed a local chaiwallah in Delhi I couldn’t resist buying a tiny cup of sweet, milky amazingness. It got me through the painful Hindi grammar lessons at DU, warmed me up on chilly winter mornings and gave me a little kick on hot, summery afternoons. These cups of desi tea were the sugary punctuation marks that organised my day.

But I have a confession to make. As much as I love a scalding-hot cup of full-fat cardamom chai, my first love – hot beverage-wise – has always been coffee.

When I was twelve, my friend and I used to go to a cafe after school and force ourselves to drink extra-chocolatey mochas. We hated coffee but were determined to acquire the taste so that we’d be able to sit sipping cappuccinos like sophisticated European grown-ups. The training worked, and before long I was on the hard stuff – strong, black, no sugar. And I never looked back.

In fact I admit that I may have turned into a bit of a coffee snob. Sure, there’s a time and a place for St*rbucks, but everyone knows you don’t get a decent caffeine hit from a Grande Extra-Hot Super-Skinny mug of milk.

Not that I only drink coffee for the caffeine. Making proper coffee is a morning ritual (as well as lunchtime, mid-afternoon and evening); the smell, the water just off the boil – and of course, if there’s time, it’s best enjoyed while still wearing pyjamas. But yes, I suppose the caffeine does count.

Drinking decent coffee is a particular necessity for teachers, obviously. I mean, how else could I survive a Monday morning class at 8am with twenty five students obsessed with Gangnam Style dancing? It takes energy. And when it’s still dark and minus fifteen degrees, I don’t have a lot of that.

So it’s a pity I’m living in another country of tea drinkers. Don’t get me wrong, I love Chinese tea (and here we’ve also got Mongolian milk tea, but best not to get me started on that), it’s just that it’s a bit too… healthy. Flowery. Leafy. A cup of water and leaves is not going to help me teach “Encounters with Westerners” classes to a lecture theatre full of giggling Chinese twentysomethings.

They also drink cups of plain hot water here. I mean, come on.

Anyway, for almost three months I had no choice but to resort to Nescafe. It works, and doesn’t taste all that bad, really, but oh, how I pined for my French press, my Italian moka pot, my Turkish cezve...

And then a miracle happened. Lisa took me shopping the other week so I could stock up on a few essentials (Christmas lights, alphabet fridge magnets and satsumas) and in the market I spotted a glass cafetiere. At first, in shock, I was sure I was dreaming, or suffering from some sort of Nescafe-induced hallucination, but no. It was real. Made in China, of course, but still with all-important proper-coffee-producing capabilities. I may have shrieked with joy.

Oh, and it was £3, I might add. I was smugness personified.

One week, and the scouring of the “Imported Goods” aisles of three Baotou supermarkets later, I acquired some ground coffee. And my life in China hasn’t been the same since. I can even take my freshly-brewed caffeinated amazingness to work in a thermos, to slurp with satisfaction as my students sit at their desks, bundled up in puffa jackets, writing topic sentences, discussing intercultural communication, Gangnam dancing…

It was all just blissful until English Bloke decided to calculate my daily caffeine intake. Because now I feel a bit like a drug addict. But never mind – unlike all the Indian chai, at least this habit won’t require a root canal treatment.

Life, China, happiness, mojitos

(Note: the guy flying the Hello Kitty kite was by himself and about 75 years old)

Dearest readers,

Please accept my sincerest apologies for the extreme lack of blogginess over the last month. I expect you think it’s because I’m holed up in the middle of the desert and there’s nothing remotely interesting to write about. The novelty of ducks’ feet and donkey sandwiches has probably worn off, and all I probably do is go to work, day after mind-numbing day, to teach my 300 Cinderellas and Rapunzels that ‘the’ is pronounced ‘the’, and not ‘za’.

Well, my lovely, neglected readers, I would forgive you for thinking this, but let me tell you something: you couldn’t be more wrong! The truth is I’ve spent the last month having fun – ridiculous amounts of it – and I just haven’t quite got round to blogging about any of it yet.

(I mean, it’s not that I haven’t had plenty of free time, but unfortunately most of that’s been used up since Brandi gave me her Netflix password.)

The biggest highlight of the last few weeks was the Mid-Autumn Festival, where the entire population of China goes mental for Mooncake. These bizarre bakery products come in all different sizes with all kinds of weird and suspicious fillings. Like red bean paste, for example, which, like many Chinese delicacies, sounds repulsive, but when you finally pluck up the courage to try it, actually tastes quite nice. One of my students, David, gave me a whole carrier bag full of tiny, individually-wrapped Mooncakes (including coconut ones!), which I polished off in a far shorter time than I’d like to admit.

But believe it or not the best thing about the Mid-Autumn Festival wasn’t tripling my daily calorie intake with cakey goodness – it was the week-long holiday.

Because, beloved readers, teaching 26 hours of classes a week is tiring. And when you include all the other hours spent preparing lessons, grading and procrastinating, it adds up to a pretty long week. So I really should have spent the holiday having a nice, long rest and allowing my brain cells to repair themselves after being severely damaged by so much Chinese Nescafe.

But instead I went to Beijing and partied for four days.

And it was amazing.

For one thing, I met up with Mauktik, a writer and traveller who blogs far more extensively than me (and has written an actual book, and had it published). He’s in the middle of a one-year, round-the-world travelling extravaganza and it just so happened that his arrival in Beijing coincided with my week of freedom. I knew we’d get on from the moment this happened:

And I thought India was the country of bling?!

That first night back in the Capital was as bizarre and Beijing-y as it gets: weird, unidentifiable food; cheap beer; heated discussions about Hrithik Roshan’s lucky/creepy extra thumb; getting lost in the Hutongs; discovering a sinister karaoke bar with signs reading ‘No drug trafficking, No whoring prostitutes’; Tsingtao by the lake, and a trendy live band trying to sing in English in a bar with walls covered in semi-pornographic posters. What a fabulous city!

Ooh la la, etc!

Now, my gorgeous readers, the Lonely Planet will probably tell you otherwise, but there are only two things in Beijing which you can’t afford to miss. One is the street stalls that sell cheap mojitos, and the other is Daniel (but obviously you can have a combination of both). I met Daniel via my blog and our shared interest in India, and again it was just by chance that we got to meet up in China. He’s recently moved to Beijing to live and study, speaks about five thousand languages fluently (including English in the best Yorkshire/Spanish accent ever) and has a deep appreciation for mocha-frappuccinos, chai and Ikea.

(Yes, I am wearing animal ears, but EVERYONE wears them in China, I swear.)

For three days and nights, Mauktik, Daniel and I (as well as lovely Canadians, Chinese, Taiwanese and a handsome Argentinian) gallivanted around town as a multicultural gang of devastating fabulousness, fuelled by coffee and mojitos. We fought the crowds in Tiananmen Square, almost lost our voices at KTV, danced all night and sang to the taxi drivers on the way home. I wanted to stay forever.

But my surreal desert city was waiting. In the last couple of weeks Baotou has become cold and autumnal and beautiful. I need gloves to ride my bike now, and there’s frost on the ground in the mornings. My 300 Inner Mongolian students never fail to make my day (especially when they shout ‘SO BEAUUUUUUTIFUUUUL!’ at me in the corridors); I have a friend called Lisa with a kitten called Henry, and to top it all I’ve recently discovered where you can buy sugared doughnuts filled with red bean paste.

I must say, my wonderful, dazzling readers, that life is pretty damn peachy at the moment. And if I can tear myself away from Netflix I promise to write about it more often!



Susanna Wickes: shortlisted to be the new Empress of “Inner Mongolia”…