China: Day one…

Posted on March 27, 2012


…I’ll be honest, expectations weren’t high on moving to Beijing.  But they weren’t low either.  Because somewhere in the swirl of last minute meetings, with clients and friends, baby Leo being ill and trying to sort out all the practicalities of the move, I’d somehow managed not to set any real expectations at all.

That meant I could stroll off the plane at Beijing’s really rather impressive, modern and quiet airport knowing that almost everything I saw and encountered would be a surprise – being seated next to Lin Dan on the way out was merely the start.

Two weeks in seems a reasonable amount of time to reflect on what’s happened so far – and what has happened has contained more than a few surprises.

Although the sun is firmly shining today, just a week ago it was snowing.

Of course, central planning being what it is, the very same day that the snow arrived was the scheduled day for turning off the heating in all of the municipal buildings – including my apartment block.  It’s meant a steady decline in the temperature that has been inversely proportional to the number of blankets needed.  I’m assured that next week we’ll be firmly into the furnace that is the Beijing summer.

Then there has been the challenge of buying dairy products in a country whose population is overwhelmingly lactose intolerant.  Gold, pink, blue, green or red packaging for semi-skimmed?  With cartons containing nothing but Chinese characters – save for a picture of cows and the calories per 100ml, it seemed sensible to choose based on the latter.

266 must be whole fat compared to the 238 semi-skimmed right?  Sadly not.  It’s actually the difference between strawberry and plain yoghurt.  Lovely stuff, as it happens, but probably best not added to tea.

Finally, the language.

It certainly shouldn’t have been a surprise that Chinese isn’t a language that I’m going to pick up overnight – so it’s just as well that I’m planning to be here with Oxus and Peer Group for some years to come.

Yet even here, the surprises keep coming.  Lunch on day one included a shredded pork dish that sounds suspiciously like ordering a “Roger Moore.”  But my favourite so far has to be Friday evening at the Red Rose restaurant hearing Rob order what sounded to me like “chocolate roll.”

As it happens, this turns out to be the Mandarin for “fried, roasted meat.”  Accompanied by belly dancing and naan bread, this xin jiang dish, washed down with a glass or two of baijiu was a surprise of the nicest possible kind.