#Party Time at #Christmas – Celebrating 2014 in Style

Celebrating Christmas the International Way

Celebrating Christmas the International Way

When did you start partying for Christmas each year? Last week in December or are you like me, getting your party frocks on as early as November and getting together with friends and colleagues for nights out on the town?

This year is special. Guess why? I have had my first office party two weeks before the big celebration!

Well, it is not really my very first office Christmas do, but the last time I have been to one was so long ago that this may very well be the very first one I’ll actually remember!

As a freelancer, we had no one to organise proper get togethers, be it holiday season or not. In fact, I was on call all the time during my stint as a professional interpreter, I was ‘dragged’ away from my Christmas family meal once or twice, to go to a police station some hundreds of miles away, spending my Christmas Eve and Christmas day in a police interview room.

Fabulous Food cooked by a First-class chef

Fabulous Food cooked by a First-class chef

Christmas 2014 is different. No longer on call and I can, on most days, finish work after 5pm, I am free to make appointments with friends for a HotPot and actually able to make it there. I no longer have to cancel my social activities at the last minute. Consequently I am making the best of this newly found freedom. Friends invited us to their cosy homes and treated us with hospitality and exotic cuisine from different parts of the world.

Always a treat to visit Friederike & Colin Rice

Always a treat to visit Friederike & Colin Rice

As you can see from the pictures above and below, I have had a number of meals out and about, including a very first visit to a Polish restaurant with colleagues from International Office.

A Polish Treat in Birmingham

A Polish Treat in Birmingham

Last Friday was our Office Christmas Party, which started with a quiz session. As a growing International Office, we had four teams competing. Although our team did not come out on top, quite the opposite in fact, I was very pleased to be part of it. Mind you, I did get a couple of questions right when I paid attention, looking away from the WeChat :).

Team of International Partnerships

Team of International Partnerships

Quiz at BCU's International Office

Quiz at BCU’s International Office

Fabulous French Cuisine

Fabulous French Cuisine

Our festive lunch was at Hotel La Tour, which is conveniently located just around the corner from our office. The three course meal was well presented and delicious. I had salmon as a starter, followed by lamb as main. The Lemon Posset was utterly mouthwatering to finish.

3 tables of fun company

3 tables of fun company

Everyone seemed to have enjoyed themselves and then it was time to get back to work. After all, it’s only the 11th of December and Christmas is still two weeks away.

Are there more parties on the way? Absolutely!

I shall take a short break from blogging in the coming week – many more parties to enjoy, and not enough time for blogging. Here are more pictures to share, and I wish all my friends, readers and followers a most wonderful Christmas celebration, and a very Happy New Year too!

HotPot with Hot Girls :-)

HotPot with Hot Girls :-)

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If you are contemplating what to prepare for the holiday season, check out an earlier post for ideas: Festive Foods – What to Cook for Christmas and New Year?

Posted in Food & Cuisine, Social Media & Photography, True Life Story, UK, USA & Europe | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The Rhythm of #Seasons: An Enchanting Symphony

Pandas are Sichuan Native like me

Pandas are Sichuan Natives like me

Winter has arrived in Birmingham.

When I was growing up in China, the seasons were distinctive and more precise. I was born in the spring when the temperature was mild and the fields dressed in green and emerald, with rice paddy fields and young bamboo leaves which my native Sichuan pandas liked to chew constantly.

Temperatures rose steadily and eventually the mercury climbed to 40 degrees centigrade in August, when farmers and workers toiled only in their shorts and naked torsos, and many families slept outdoors on their bamboo bed sheets, fanning themselves non-stop and waiting for the night breeze which seemed reluctant to grace the poor mortals.

Walking in Sutton Park

Autumn Walks in Sutton Park

Autumn, or Fall, as the Americans like to say, ushers in a welcoming change, warm and cool in equal measure. Many people in China call it “Golden Fall”. If you ask anyone in Beijing as to when is the best time to visit, they would inevitably tell you: Come and see the Great Wall and appreciate the colourful Autumn leaves in Xiangshan, aka, Fragrant Mountain.

Most informed Chinese can also tell you when winter sets in, as the Chinese actually use a celestial  calendar, which is punctuated by 24 Solar Terms and indicates exactly when each season begins, when to harvest, to expect rain, heat or great chill.

In the UK, the changing of seasons is somewhat less distinctive. I remember that in the information guide I received from British Council while eagerly anticipating my studies in the University of Warwick many years ago, I read something like this: In Great Britain, we have summer in the winter, or vice versa. You may also experience four seasons in one day.

Cherry Blossom in Birmingham

Cherry Blossom in Birmingham

No kidding! After living in this country for more than two decades, I can confirm that it’s true! No wonder the Brits like to talk about weather.  You know why? Because it’s changing all the time and never quite predictable enough as to what to wear at the start of the day :-).

Despite the unpredictable, ever-changeable weather, the seasons in the UK, like everywhere else, follow a pre-destined pattern. Our Mother Nature has been repeating this enchanting melody of Four Seasons, just like the namesake of Vivaldi’s violin concerto, played year after year, in beautiful harmony and synchronicity.

Every year, the cherry trees of various shades of pink and white burst into bloom, announcing the arrival of Spring, a time for renewal and revitalisation. As you can see from the picture taken in our back garden, the eternal clock of nature greets us in April, making my birthday (in the middle of April) always a very memorable occasion.

Spring colours in our front & back garden

Spring colours in our front & back garden

Spring Flowers in Sutton Coldfield

Spring Flowers in Sutton Coldfield

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I love the British Summer, short as it always seems to be. Vibrant colours decorate both city and countryside with an awesome selection of flowers, competing for attention under the caressing sunshine. The Brits do not need beaches or palm trees for sunbathing, you can see them everywhere on the green green grass dotted around the country, or in their back yards.

Spring has sprung

Spring has sprung

Autumn is also a favourite of John’s and mine, because we can go for long walks in Sutton Park, listening to the crunching sounds of leaves on the ground, spotting wild mushrooms and appreciating the still reasonable long daylights before winter chill sets in.

Wondering in the Winter Wonderland

Wondering in the Winter Wonderland

Now winter is here, something to celebrate too. Every year in the past decade or so since we relocated to Birmingham, we are blessed with a winter wonderland right here in the city centre: Frankfurt German Christmas Market. With over 180 stalls, it is the largest outdoor Christmas Market in Britain, attracting millions of residents and tourists alike.

Just over a week ago, I walked through the maze of stalls with my students from Shenzhen, taking in the sweet, tempting smells of mulled wine and hot chocolate.

On Friday as I headed back to office after a meeting in the fabulous City Council building, I could not help but treat myself to delicious mini pancakes with banana and Nutella, and not to mention Pretzels to take away.

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Snowman on a bike?

Snowman on a bike?

Would we have a white Christmas this year? The forecast says no. I don’t mind either way. As for cyclist John, I think it is easier riding in a dry and sunny place. However, being an outdoor enthusiast, nothing, let alone snow, can stop him from doing what he truly enjoys.

Have you done your Christmas shopping and filled up Santa’s sack this year?

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A Study Tour of #Birmingham, #BCU and Beyond – 深圳大学学生伯明翰游记

Two Sundays ago, I collected a group of ten Chinese students from Shenzhen at Birmingham International Airport.

Arrived at Birmingham International Airport!

Arrived at Birmingham International Airport!

It was a cold but dry November day, thousands of miles and oceans away from home for these students. They were visiting Birmingham City University for the first time, and except for one, they had never been to the UK before.

Sights of Birmingham

Sights of Birmingham

It was my job to look after them during their two week study visit, and I must confess how much fun I had spending time with them.

The students attended a number of classes, seminars and workshops in our fabulous buildings across the city, from the modern, purpose-built Parkside, home to the best part of our Faculty of Art, Design and Media, to Millennium Point, linked by the bridge; through to our historically significant, magnificent Victorian building on Margaret Street, home to our School of Arts. As I took them to each of the landmark buildings, I could see that they were impressed, as was I.

Their learning and experience of UK student life did not stop within the BCU campuses. Part of their itinerary was to tour around Birmingham, a city which has been home to me for a dozen years. We visited art galleries and museums, took many photos while jostling our way through the bustling German Christmas Market, enjoyed the panoramic view of the city on the roof garden of the Birmingham Library, and not to mention the fabulous impromptu dinner we shared in my home on a beautiful Sunday evening.

Roof Garden of Birmingham Library on a beautiful day!

Roof Garden of Birmingham Library on a beautiful day!

Friendly and hungry squirrels, pictures by Shenzhen students

Friendly and hungry squirrels, pictures by Shenzhen students

They had a trip to London on the first Saturday, which we arranged for them. Although I did not go with them in person, I was with them all the way in spirit. With the Chinese social media WeChat, I was able to follow them throughout their tour of the British Capital, and through their eyes, and their lenses, I saw the London Eye in the mist, St Paul’s Cathedral, squirrels in St James Park, Buckingham Palace, Big Ben, National Gallery and many more iconic sights.

A day trip is far from enough to enjoy this great city, full of culture, history, awesome selection of art galleries and architectural landmarks, but it gave the students a flavour of what London has to offer. Fortunately, they had a few extra days at the end of their Birmingham tour and as I write this, they are in London, doing more sightseeing and enjoying this amazing cosmopolitan city.

On Thanksgiving day, they officially finished their study tour with Birmingham City University. At the farewell lunch, they were each presented a certificate of attendance by one of our senior academics at the Faculty of ADM.

BCU's Pro Vice Chancellor & Associate Dean at Farewell Lunch

BCU’s Pro Vice Chancellor & Associate Dean at Farewell Lunch

I know the students greatly appreciated this opportunity to visit BCU. As you can see from many of their photos and posts on WeChat, they shared many of their impressions and their gratitude – some of them fondly called me their ‘Mama in the UK’, which I took as a great compliment. Personally I am thankful towards them too – their enjoyment and what they can take back with them is my biggest reward.

A celebratory meal in my house - 过年了!

A celebratory meal in my house – 过年了!

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To end this picture blog, I would like to wish each and everyone of them the greatest success in their life and career! May you all be blessed with personal happiness and professional achievement in the years to come!

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I dedicate this blog to my beloved students, and my ‘children’, in no particular order: Li Zhaohao, Wei Deyi, Zhang Huan, Wang Jianming, Liu Qianhan, Zhang Jingwen, Chao Yuanming, Huang Qiurong, Huang Huiran, Sun Huiwen.

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#Dubai: A Modern City Where the East Meets the West

Screen Shot 2014-11-23 at 14.53.11By John Kirk

Dubai is a symbol of the modern world, energy hungry, multinational and dedicated to consumerism and the pursuit of luxury. Thirty years ago it barely existed, a minor port in the Arabian Gulf; one of the less significant of the United Arab Emirates. Today it boasts the World’s tallest building, the tallest hotel and one of the busiest international airports.

Location is everything in retail and Dubai sells itself to investors and consumers by being slap bang in the middle between the high growth economies of the East and the old economies of the West. Just seven hours from London and eight from Shanghai with a liberal attitude to incoming money and people Dubai proves, like Las Vegas, that you can make something out of nothing. Emirati natives make up a mere 20% of the population of 2.2 Million, with a male/female ratio of 3:1. This small country runs on ex-pat labour from Africa, the Middle East and South Asia with significant cash flowing out to support families back home. I met with three academics at a partner university – a Sudanese professor, an Iraqi associate dean and a Syrian lecturer. My taxi driver was Nepalese, the hotel receptionist was Kenyan and the belly dancer at our evening entertainment hailed from Brazil.

1653378_10153308384493852_4266681920878629273_nThe UAE realised about 20 years ago that a modern and growing economy has to import money and labour to thrive and survive. Dubai has done this in a spectacular fashion. Property prices boomed and then crashed, and are slowly recovering. The streets are choked with luxury vehicles. I have never seen so many Bentleys, Rolls Royces, Aston Martins, Range Rovers and other high-end brands. The majority are British brands as Dubai is very UK centric. The three academics had all been educated in the UK – Bristol, Hull and Manchester and had remained loyal to my country ever since.

Dubai is an artificial construct, completely dependent on air conditioning as the temperatures soar to 50C with desperate humidity during the summer months, rising out of the desert sand in a mere 20 years. It is in stark contrast to the UK which seems to be pulling up the drawbridge and making itself as unattractive as possible to overseas labour, blaming foreigners for all of its ills instead of seeing the energy and enterprise that they can bring. It is a mere 2,500 miles from Clacton- upon- Sea to the exploding economy and golden sands of Dubai, but it might as well be on a different planet. The North Sea is no longer the World’s trading basin, that honour has shifted to the Indian and Pacific oceans.

Dubai by Night

Dubai by Night

If we are not careful we will be left far behind.

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