#Picnic in the Park: #Spring Excursion in Sutton Park 春游伯明翰

Walk in Sutton Park

Walk in Sutton Park

Last Monday, during the first of the two Bank Holidays in May, I organised a picnic in the park, inviting all the visiting academics from Birmingham City University. It so happens that part of my job is to look after them during their time at BCU, and according to my weather man at home, Monday was predicted to be sunny.

As many of us know, Bank Holidays don’t always get perfect weather in the UK and more often than not, it either pours with rain and is overcast or cold. Not on this Monday.

So on this perfect day, my charges from China all travelled to Sutton Coldfield, where John met them at the train station. As ‘instructed’ by myself, all the ladies brought something to share, ‘Pot Luck’, a phrase I learnt about ten years ago, when each one brings something to eat, or to drink.

Band of Sisters: Ying, Lele, Huan, Jie, Junying, Yuan, Yan and Yue

Band of Sisters: Ying, Lele, Huan, Jie, Junying, Yuan, Yan and Yue

I did my bit too. With the help of my friend Lele, I did my special fried rice, with bacon, eggs, prawns, soya beans and sweet corn, spiced with fresh chillies, ginger and Sichuan pepper. We also made a spicy salad with beancurd, vermicelli and seaweed, mixed with my brand of hot sauce.

Yummy food for all to share

Yummy food for all to share

As you can see from the pictures above and below, we had a variety of yummy foods, perfect for a warm spring day out in the park.

John and I have been to our local park ( One of Our Favourite Pastime: Walking in Sutton Park) hundreds of time in the past dozen years since we moved to this fabulous town and made it our home. It’s our favourite place to hang out either by ourselves or with friends. John knows each inch of the park and could take us to any one of the seven lakes in the park without consulting the map.

Our first stop, was the Wyndley Pool where we found groups of swans, Canada geese, Greylag geese and Mallards fighting for their share of the bread thrown to them.

Stories of swans and ducks

Stories of swans and ducks

The ladies, from different parts of China, from the Northeast of Harbin and Shenyang, to the Southern city of Shenzhen, as well as one of the biggest metropolis in China Chongqing, gathered in Sutton Park, as John led us through a small part of the park, learning a little about the names of the different trees and little stories about the Park.

John shared his knowledge of Nature and the Park

John shared his knowledge of Nature and the Park

The highlight, of course, was the sharing of beautiful food, ranging from roasted chicken thighs, wings and feet, to pig’s ears, sushi, spicy beef, salad and fruits, not to mention chocolate cakes to finish. We were so stuffed that we had to go for another walk following the picnic.

Some of us played games. Frisbee, boule and badminton. Time flew by as we sunned ourselves on the grass and chatted away happily.

Timer some exercise

Time for a little exercise

Before the excursion came to an end, I took the ladies to a couple of side streets near the park. I knew that they would appreciate that little diversion. The little residential streets were lined by cherry trees on both sides and they were all in full bloom. In fact, some of them have been in blossom for days and leaves had started to fall, covering the grass area with pretty pink, white and shades in between.

Cherry Blossom and falling leaves

Cherry Blossom and falling leaves

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It was beauty beyond words and as each of us ‘wowed’ our way along the pavement, each posed for photos and snapped away to our hearts’ content.

It was, simply a perfect day with great company, delicious food and superb weather – what more could one possibly wish for on a Bank Holiday? Well, perhaps to wish for another day like that for the next Bank Holiday and many more happy days ahead :)!

Thanks to all the beautiful ladies for a perfect day!

Thanks to all the beautiful ladies for a perfect day!

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Life is Grand in #Chengdu (1): #Facebook Friendship and Fabulous #Food

'Little Zhang' & a family friend who collected me then treated me with HotPot

‘Little Zhang’ & a family friend who collected me then treated me with HotPot

‘Big sis, over here,’ I scanned the crowds at the Arrivals Hall at Chengdu Shuangliu Airport, trying to locate the caller. I knew that it was meant for me, but I wasn’t sure which face to link with that voice.

Shortly before I was flying out from Birmingham, I received a group message on WeChat. My brother Jun circulated a message in a group chat titled ‘Bros & Sis’, soliciting a pick-up car/driver to meet me at the airport.

Following a couple of offered hands-up, the task was placed on someone referred to ‘Little Zhang’. Who was this person? I wondered but didn’t ask – obviously she or he would be someone from my extended family or a friend of the family, and I was supposed to know her. The majority of ‘bros and sis’ are really my maternal cousins, and I have several of them, of both genders, as well as their partners of both sex.

I craned my head and my eyes landed on a pretty smiling face: she looked familiar. I had seen her once during my previous visit when my family had their regular get-togethers, usually a big feasting meal followed by Mahjong playing.

Just as she was approaching, I heard another joyful cry: ‘Junying. Welcome to Chengdu!’

With that, I saw another pretty smiling face among the crowds. Again the voice came from a stranger but I knew exactly who she was – her name is Yan Ge and she is an author, and I met her on Facebook!

Catch up with Yan Ge at The Bookworm Bar

Catch up with Yan Ge at The Bookworm Bar

Yan Ge and I were introduced on Facebook a few years ago, shortly after I published my books on Amazon. We had never met face to face, until that moment at the airport. It turned out that Yan Ge just got married, and her parents-in-law were travelling to Chengdu that same day. What luck! She spotted me and we exchanged a quick hug, promising to meet during my stay.

As a result of this unexpected diversion, ‘Little Zhang’ was confused, thinking that she had picked up the wrong ‘Big Sis’, so she wandered off to speak to someone on the phone. Apparently she had been uncertain that she would recognise me and the fact that some stranger spoke to me confirmed her fear.

It also transpired later that ‘Little Zhang’ was a friend who married one of my cousins, so by default, she was now my cousin, truly a part of my family.

Hotpot with Bros and Sis

Hotpot with Bros and Sis

The first part of my stay in Chengdu was all family reunions. The day after I arrived happened to be the Easter Bank Holiday in the UK and I had no business to attend to. And Chengdu, the provincial capital of Sichuan, happened to be the place where my Mother chose to retire to as well as most of my family lived.

What do families do in a place like Chengdu?

We eat. We eat a lot and we eat constantly.

Food is not simply food, or fuel, as it is to many British people. It is, for the majority of Chinese people, a way of life, an art form, and an obsession. That ‘obsession’ is especially prominent in Chengdu – Do you know that Sichuan cuisine (川菜)is the most famous of Chinese cooking? Chengdu is best known as a city for a massive variety of spicy food and fine living.

Food, delicious food

Food, delicious food

Every time I went back, I seemed to eat non-stop, at my mum’s home, in family gatherings or on the streets. This time was no exception.

That Saturday we had a party, celebrating my Mum’s and my birthdays together. We were both born in April, days apart, so why not? My brothers and their families have travelled from Xi’an and Chongqing for the occasion, and a restaurant which my relative frequented had been booked.

Tao, my son, had been working in Dalian for a few months. He flew over with an English friend, Alex.

Happy reunion with Tao and my brothers

Happy reunion with Tao and my brothers

Happy Birthday, Mum!

Happy Birthday, Mum!

I had celebrated my birthday in China a few years ago, and that time we had about five tables of guests, some of whom I did not know. This time, I made a request to my Mum: keep it small and keep it within the family.

So she did. We had two tables, filled with plenty of great food and happy laughters.
Of course, my enjoyment of spicy food did not stop when the party was over. In the afternoon, as the elders got together with their Mahjong playing, my brother Bin, Tao, Alex, my two nieces and I went for a bit of Chengdu local culture. Our destination was the renowned Wide Alley, Narrow Alley.

Wide Alley

Wide Alley

With Tao, Alex, nieces Xiao Ke & Xian Yi

With Tao, Alex, nieces Xiao Ke & Xiao Yi

It was pulsating with an energetic vibe and tourists from all over China and beyond seemed to congregate there.

We were immediately greeted by the smells of Chengdu, the inviting street eats and snacks were packed along both sides of the narrow alleys – the wide alleys were not exactly wide either, and with people pushing and shoving their way on both directions, we quickly lost Tao and his friend in the crowds.

When we finally located them, we found a place to sit and ate more delicious little treats, as each store offered their specialists, from spicy kebabs to fried dumplings and steams sweet bums.IMG_2944

Wide Ally, Narrow Alley, a place that you did not want to leave, just like Chengdu!

A couple of previous posts about this mega city Here and There.

Pop back in next week for another post.

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#Shenzhen University (2): Fabulous Art, Enchanting Campus, Wonderful Food & Delightful Students – 2015深圳大学访问记

Beautiful campus, beautiful students

Beautiful campus, beautiful students

Today I continue to report on the fantastic times I shared with my wonderful hosts in Shenzhen. Yes, three days few by in a blink of an eye, but memories were made and would stay with me forever, or for as long as my mental faculties function ;).

I was joined by my students for a fabulous dim sum ‘morning tea’, in a typical Cantonese fashion, when we were served dozens of mouth-watering dim sums, from prawn dumplings, phenix claws to a variety of sweet treats. Happily stuffed with heavenly treats, I was shown around the beautiful campus of the University. Only about 30 years old, Shenzhen University exudes appeal: modern, spacious, green and tropical.

Shenzhen University Campus in Spring

Shenzhen University Campus in Spring

Many photos were taken and I was asked to pose at various locations, on my own and with those exquisite creatures whom I have the fortune to call my ‘children’. The campus tour was followed by a visit to the OCTBAY Happy Mall where we watched a moving film called “Lost and Love” (失孤) starring the Hong Kong superstar Andy Lau. It had been a very long time since I last went to a cinema in China, so it was special.

As we wandered along the man-made beach, watching fountains bursting into songs, and children playing blissfully in a hot sun, we stumbled into a posh tea house, where the hospitable hostess showed us their facilities, with expensive art works, a floor to ceiling bookcases, designers’ jewellery and traditional Chinese instrument Guzhen. It was a place for the well-to-do artists, authors and middle class customers to hang out with their like-minded friends and business partners.

Afternoon Tea, Cantonese style

Afternoon Tea, Cantonese style

Happy Outing in Shenzhen

Happy Outing in Shenzhen

Food, naturally, featured prominently in any Chinese gathering, especially with a reunion like ours and in a place like Shenzhen. Genuine Cantonese food takes a long time to prepare and there are different offerings for different occasions. Apart from the fabulous dim sums we had as ‘morning tea’, ‘English style ‘afternoon teas with ice creams and cool deserts, we went for a fresh seafood dinner featuring oysters and prawns, porridges and pigeon soups.

Morning Tea - Yummy Dim Sums

Morning Tea – Yummy Dim Sums

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On the 7th of April, Zhaohao, the fine artist among my students, escorted me to an artist’s studio. Master Li had a large room full of treasures, from classical Chinese beds with artistic, time-consuming carvings and decorations, to modern sculptures, each piece with a history and story to tell. I met with Master Li Ruishen himself and chatted briefly about his works. He allowed me to take photographs and posed with me. I wish I had more time to hang around there but I had a lunch meeting with Dean Wu and other Faculties executives.

Art by Li Ruishen

Art by Li Ruishen

More fabulous food were served by my gracious hosts. I was totally spoilt.

Teaching is in my genes

Teaching is in my genes

That afternoon, I gave a presentation on British Culture, Birmingham and BCU, the prime reason I was in Shenzhen and in China. Their Associate Dean of International, Professor Cui introduced me to a group of Art and Design students, and a few members of staff.

Teaching and sharing knowledge has been one of my passions in life. Looking at many young and enthusiastic faces in front me, and telling them what I have learnt studying and working in a Western country, I felt a surge of satisfaction and happiness. It was a rewarding experience.

I was especially pleased that some of my students were present to support me – when they visited Birmingham a few months ago, I gave them a similar talk. Yet they chose to be there for me. During the session, they stood up and answered questions from other students, about Birmingham and BCU, despite their visit was brief. My heart was filled with immense pride and joy!

Memories of Shenzhen 2015, photo by Zhaohao Li

Memories of Shenzhen 2015, photo by Zhaohao Li

On my last evening in Shenzhen, a Karaoke was on the agenda. Time to really let my hair down and have fun.Just as we were bursting out into one song after another, a fabulous Birthday cake was brought in. It said, for Mama Zeng and Huan Huan.

Party Time!

Party Time!

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Two birthday girls, many years apart. Huan Huan would turn 24 on the 12th of April, sharing my birthday that coming weekend. So five days before the special day, we celebrated it together, ‘Mother’ and ‘daughter’ joined in fate and in bliss.

Playing a happy tune

Playing a happy tune

To end today’s blog, I wish to thank a number of people at Shenzhen University:

My children whom I adore and love, in alphabet order: Chao Yuanming, Huang Huiran, Huang Qiurong, Li Zhaohao, Liu Qianhan, Sun Huiwen, Wang Jianming (Sorry that you missed this reunion because you’re in Taiwan but you were truly missed), Wei Deyi, Zhang Huan and Zhang Jingwen.

Birmingham City University Visit 2014

Birmingham City University Visit 2014

Members of staff: Dean Wu, Associate Dean Cui, Associate Dean Wang, He Qinyang, Dr Patrick Peng, Gu Wei, Wen Qi, Artist Li Rui Shen and a number of others I met. 谢谢你们!

Shenzhen, I will return!

University Campus, a delightful haven!

Shenzhen University Campus, a delightful haven!

Posted in Arts & Culture, China & East Asia, Entertainment, Food & Cuisine, Social Media & Photography, Travel Logs | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

#Shenzhen (1): a Modern Chinese City of Contrasting Experiences

Beautiful Spring at Shenzhen University - photo by Huanhuan

Beautiful Spring at Shenzhen University  -photo by Huan Zhang

I admit. I have been to Shenzhen before, three times. And I did not like it.

The first time I travelled to Shenzhen was in the summer of 1999, when I was passing through, from Chongqing to Hong Kong. I remember getting off the coach from the Airport, dragging my large suitcases with me, sweating, panting and out of breath. No ‘Bangbang’ men in sight (Chongqing was full of men with sticks who offered to carry your heavy luggage, ten floors up or down, for a tiny fee). Here in Shenzhen, as soon as I was disembarked from the coach, a man walked in front of me and dropped his wallet.

“Miss, you have lost your wallet,” he said and tried to hand over the wallet stuffed with money.

“It’s not mine,” I grunted a reply, and struggled on with my heavy load.

Hong Kong is just across the border

Hong Kong is just across the border

Seconds later, only a few steps further, another man dropped his wallet in front of me, and did exactly the same. This time, I just ignored him and pushed my suitcase harder, wishing to hurry out of the city as soon as humanly possible.

For those who do not have much understanding of China in the 1990s, that was a trick people pull. They get you to say that the wallet full of money is yours and then lull you to a corner and rob you. One way or another, you’re stuffed.

So my first impression of Shenzhen? You can say that it was not appealing.

My second visit was better, when I travelled from Hong Kong to Shenzhen with a friend. We visited one of SZ’s tourist sights, Beautiful China (锦绣中华), where different ethnic minorities from all over China danced and sang for the tourists dressed in their bright, multicoloured costumes in front of mock traditional villages.

The third visit was quick, exiting Mainland China via Shenzhen during the Chinese New Year 2013. No train ticket available from Guangzhou during the largest human migration “Chunyun”, so I had to travel via Shenzhen to cross the border. It was so crowded and manic that I fell on top of my suitcases as people shoved me aside on the escalators, and a woman shouting at me while I lay on the floor, hurt and bruised by the fall. No help in sight but how dangerous and frightening it was – it could easily be a much bigger pile up and I could have been crushed at the very bottom! I vowed there and then that I would never return, if I could help it!

Border crossing between China and Hong Kong

Border crossing between China and Hong Kong

Return I did, and I chose to.

On the 5th day of April 2015, I travelled to Shenzhen again, to see my “children” whom I met last year in Birmingham (A Study Tour of #Birmingham, #BCU and Beyond – 深圳大学学生伯明翰游记). They are postgraduate students at Shenzhen University. Of course, I had business to attend to as well, but that would be another story.

Coming out of the Arrivals in a very modern, stylish Shenzhen Airport, I was immediately greeted by four beautiful, smiling faces, those of Deyi, Jinwen, Qianhan and Yuanmin. Their cheerful shout of “laoshi”(Teacher) and “Zeng Mama” travelled from their heart to mine. I hugged each of them, like children I have not seen for too long! My heart was filled with love and gratitude.

Warm Welcome at Shenzhen Bao'an Airport

Warm Welcome at Shenzhen Bao’an International Airport

On arriving at my hotel, Huanhuan, Huiran, Huiwen and Zhaohao came along. Proper reunion time began. After a quick shower, washing away a little dust gathered from my journey, I was happily led out of the hotel and on our way to a pre-booked Cantonese restaurant. The evening sun hung low on the sky, it’s fabulous rays reflected on the high rise shopping malls down the flyover. We paused to appreciate the views and pose for a group photo.

With my beautiful children in the evening sun

A Happy Family: with my beautiful children

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Our special room was located in the restaurant and I left the ordering to my capable and gracious hosts. Plates and bowls of cold and hot sides, seafood and deserts, each utterly delicious and welcoming to my palate, arrived one after another. It was a cool change from the super hot and spicy food I had been eating till then.

During the meal, we caught up with with the news. Jinwen got married and is pregnant. Qianhan, Yuanmin and Zhaohao are busy with their dissertation. I talked most of all though, as there were many questions from these curious students, who wanted to know everything, from universities I went to in the UK to life stories of people I met. It was a highly enjoyable and engaging meal, with lots to eat and even more to talk about.

And a selection of dim sum :-)

And a selection of dim sum :-)

Just a few out of many dishes they ordered

Just a few out of many dishes they ordered

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The next two days flew by like a whirl wind. Please come back next week to read more about my life-affirming experience of this modern Chinese City, just across the border from Hong Kong.

To be continued

Posted in China & East Asia, Food & Cuisine, Short Stories, Social Media & Photography, Travel Logs, True Life Story | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments