my journey to health and well being via exotic destinations

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Mount Fuji is spectacular on a clear day

Classic view!

Classic view!

The trip to Mt Fuji does not start well. Picked up in a large bus at our hotel and told I would have to pay at the bus station before departure. Premonitions of chaos as the bus circles the station three times before we can get off – sakura season (cherry blossom), the busiest time of the year. Continue reading


in which I get the low-down on my biopsy

I hope it doesn't get to this....thanks Annie for sending me your cartoon!

I hope it doesn’t get to this….thanks Annie for sending me your cartoon!

It’s been a tough couple of days since I received the biopsy report. The phrase that keeps on leaping out at me is ‘high grade’, scattered liberally amongst all sort of nasty-sounding long words  – hypochromatic, eosinophilic cytoplasm, karyorrhectic, even the cancer type, myxofibrosarcoma – which all mean absolutely nothing to me. As I am avoiding the internet, I will have to wait until I see Prof Khong again for enlightenment. But there’s a couple of days to kill…

My conversation with Prof Meirion Thomas (my surgeon from the Marsden) has left me feeling extremely anxious, not least the demand I hot-foot it back to London. Not to mention his cross examination of the Singaporean methodology…I tell myself that surgeons are well-known to be a bit gruff; later Prof Khong laughs when I tell him this.

Now come the questions: should I have gone back to London straight away? Would it have saved time? would it have stopped the cancer spreading to teh lungs and other soft issues (the biggest worry)? Deep breaths, Vic, calm down. I have to remind myself that it was not clear until AFTER the biopsy and PET scan that the tumour was malignant, so these thoughts are counter-productive. All the same, once JP has left and I am on my own, these anxieties niggle away and I envisage the little spindle cells  wriggling their way through my blood stream like a sperm seeking an egg.

 A couple of stiff drinks and some Nordic Noir are pretty successful distractions. However sleeping is becoming increasingly difficult and the pain-killers seem to do no good at all. The stocking seems to be growing increasingly tight as I  imagine the tumour growing within its confines.

In the meantime my phone rings constantly and emails ping around, lots of good advice and loving thoughts alleviate the underlying fears which, along with the pain, interrupt my sleep. No Ross to reach out for…he is in Korea.

So time for a bit of pampering: spend an hour topping up the tan by the pool, but as I can’t get my leg wet it’s too hot to stay for long! Then off to see a friend, who I have been helping with various articles on fans, so we escape into a world of Chinoiserie and the French court while we sip home-made barley water. Can’t do a pedicure as one foot is bandaged and they will only remove all varnish as soon as I step into hospital; anyway its too far to walk and too near for a cab. So as I settle for a cut and colour, I can’t help wondering if this is the last time I will have hair to indulge in such a way. I’m thinking of asking Louise’s friend Robyn Coles to design a special post-chemo hat for me; if she can make the princesses Beatrice and Eugenie look nice I’m sure she can sort me out.

‘Oh, what you done to your leg?’ asks Alvin the androgynous hairdresser. ‘Don’t ask,’ say I, ‘cancer but I don’t want to talk about it’.

‘OK, la, we talk about nice things…’. And utters not another word the whole two and a half hours. The word cancer has that effect on people.

Conversely taxi drivers here are delightful, full of concern and ‘God Bless’.

Which brings me on to the God question. I am delighted that so many people believe and are praying for me; even if I don’t share that belief I am sure that every positive thought helps me. Please keep all your prayers, positive vibes, messages, comments  and love flowing my way…

Finally we get to the debrief appointment. For the first time in my week of private medicine in Singapore we are running on time. As ever, Prof Khong is straightforward and honest, and explains everything to me in great depth.

To summarise: it is a high grade tumour and very fast growing. I don’t ask the stage number as I don’t want to scare myself and know that everyone is different so it is meaningless. More significant is the replication rate of the mitosis, which is ‘bad’ at 26. Anything over 10 is a cause for concern. He thinks it has not been there for very long, less than the 6 months he originally guessed.

I ask him what he would do if I was his patient. Operate immediately he says, and then do radiotherapy. These tumours – there are several ‘extremely rare’ present, one of which he has not seen before – do not normally respond to chemo, so he would not automatically do it since the tumour is contained. But other doctors may decide to zap any rogue cells on a ‘just in case ‘basis. He reassures me that it is possible that some cells might have already ‘spawned’ but they are so tiny that they wouldn’t show up for at least 3 months, the time it takes for them to reach 1mm when they can be picked up on a scan. ‘And in those early stages, its very treatable.’ The delays I have been angsting about are put into perspective.

He further explains that the big challenge facing the surgeons is the proximity of the tumour to the main vein, and how they remove it without damaging the main flow and losing it: there are three veins forming the vascular tree in the lower leg, can they damage one and survive on the other two is the question? He draws me a lovely diagram. Skilled stuff. In order to do this effectively he thinks that the English surgeons may want to do a CT Angiogram as it would help them be precise. They cannot rely on an MRI taken two weeks ago as the tumour is growing so fast.

I had taken the precaution of checking out my anticoagulation injection kit: imagine my horror when I remove the protective sheath to discover a needle one and a half inches long! The last ones I had were like an insulin pen. This is in fact my major concern today: it’s funny how anxiety can channel itself into something so seemingly irrelevant in the scheme of things. Hmm, they don’t do those in Singapore…so I am trying to work out if I have enough courage to jab myself inflight, as well as before and after… WAH! Am making contingency plans never fear…my bravery has its limits!

Now I have visions of being arrested and executed as a drug trafficker before I even get off the ground. I will be boarding the flight with a fully primed sharp and a load of the painkiller oxycontin, a highly addictive prescription drug which kills thousands of people each year in the US. Phof Khong is highly amused when I verbalise this fear. ‘You’ll be OK – no white powder,’ he reassures me.

After much hanging around (Singapore loses out to Switzerland on efficiency I’m afraid), I now have my MRI scan on disc and the biopsy slides, so I am all set for the next stage of my journey. There’s thunder and lightening outside,the oxy is kicking in and I feel mellow and relaxed as I write this…bring it on!

This darling sunbird, sometimes joined by its mate, comes to sing to me every morning on the balcony. Its yellowness reminds me of Louise...

This darling sunbird, sometimes joined by its mate, comes to sing to me every morning on the balcony. Its yellowness reminds me of Louise…

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in which I have some better news

Many thanks lovely friends for all your messages. Now home and can stagger around with help of a stick. Leg is very sore to tell the truth. Proper results Monday, but the lovely Mr Khong has confirmed the tumour is figure of 8 shaped and each one is 5 cms ie quite big. Also that there is a haemotoma so the whole muscle will probably have to come out.


I bought these shorts and top for Sulawesi, so had to put them on!

The good news is that there is a margin of 5mm between the tumour and the nerve and blood vessels, so that a good surgeon/treatment can save the leg…also that while I wait for the wound to heal and get clearance for flying (DVT risk until leg settles down) there is little or no risk of the cancer spreading into lungs, liver etc.

Other good news is that sarcomas are usually painless so only discovered when too late. Ross’s father said I was lucky to have been alerted by the pain, due to its pressing on the nerve. Mr Khong thinks its probably been there 6 months.  It’s grown pretty fast!

So I am going to sit back, relax, have a G & T and finalise my xmas shopping lists, though Ross may have to do the buying!

For now I am being waited on hand and foot by my lovely husband, and on Sunday we have a dear friend, JP Jones, coming form Barbados for a few days.

The  plan is that Ross and I fly back together, arriving on 10 December.

Chin Chin!


in which I resume my duties as a domestic goddess


My return to Singapore was somewhat eventful after two months away. First of all my bag got lost, to reappear several hours later, but what a pain! (Now possessor of several thousand airmails to add to my new Malaysian Airlines Enrich loyalty account.)

Secondly, a nagging calf pain over the preceding two weeks had morphed itself in my mind into DVT, and my first day back was spent at the docs and at the hospital having ultrasound scans. Good news: not DVT; bad news: a haemotoma (bleeding clot in muscle) which would require 4-6 weeks rest. Good news: let off gym antics; bad news: swimming not so good either. Oi vey.

So what to do as accompanying spouse than to cook husband delicious meals, especially as he was due to desert me for a couple of weeks?

We started with crispy skin cod with hot, sour and sweet sauce (Thailand), served with stir friend garlic and ginger greens,

Roasted hot, sweet, and sour fish

Roasted hot, sweet, and sour fish

















then went on to slow cooked pork with ginger, chilli and sweet soy sauce (kecap manis) from Indonesia, again with more yummy greens, this time my favourite kailan, a local kind of broccoli but much sweeter.

slow cooked pork

slow cooked pork












Another night we had spicy grilled chicken with lemon grass, but the finest achievement was my tofu and mushroom miso soup (home-made stock OF COURSE) that I made for myself to keep me company while watching an episode of an Arne Dahl Swedish thriller. Who needs a husband with the complete first season to chomp through?



Before husband left, we headed for a local garden centre, in brilliant sunshine. By the time the bus stopped we were in the midst of a minor tropical storm with no umbrella. Queen Victoria was not amused. Choosing plants in the pouring rain is hard, but we are pleased with the result. The garden centre chaps came yesterday and planted everything up in situ; an hour later our irrigation system arrived, orderd online, cash on delivery. Singapore is wonderful!

Bougainvillea, hibiscus, heliconium, ginger, orchid and lantana - oh and a little chilli plant

Bougainvillea, hibiscus, heliconium, ginger, orchid and lantan

















I also managed to persuade him to part with more money – this time for a reclining chair (to rest my leg obvs) and a heavy teak carved pole from Indonesia to drape a luxurious piece of cloth, as a wall hanging for the bedroom. Latter yet to be acquired (more money to be spent!). No pics as they arrive on Thursday!

In between all this joint expenditure I have been a busy little bee on my own, arranging for more fabric to be mounted and framed for the guest room, and testing the efficacy of the Singapore bus system.

Talking of framing, just before we left London, the wife of a dear friend, Clare Morton, presented us with this mind-blowing collage of Louise, which includes ephemera from her life, for instance photos from the funeral sheet, the words to Cabaret, little in-jokes on being a vegetarian, fashion and all her foibles, plus cut-outs from the Marathon Kebab House menu and so on. It is simply stunning (all on the back of an old door) and this photo does not do it justice.

Clare's stunning tribute to Louise

Clare’s stunning tribute to Louise

Where was I? Oh yes: in hot pursuit of an Indian visa – yes again,dear reader, our patience is being sorely tried by bureaucracy – the system has changed since three months ago, necessitating a huge bus trip to Little India, where appropriately enough the recently outsourced visa service resides, but not before I had schlepped down to the High Commission, where apart form anything else, I got chatted up by another despairing Brit!

But the upshot is that I have nailed these buses and am merrily riding round Singapore for $1 or less per trip. Very satisfying as I try to convince husband that I am not a spendthrift. (note to Janet: some hope!)

Now we eagerly await our first visitors: Mr Tubby who comes on Monday and then the Mr & Mrs JBs, who arrive on Wednesday for 6 days. Many culinary and artistic pleasures await…

Mirror image - bougainvillea, lantana, hibiscus, heliconium, ginger, orchid and also a little chilli plant

Mirror image – bougainvillea, lantana, hibiscus, heliconium, ginger, orchid and also a little chilli plant

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in which we eat lots of different food in Shanghai & I get food poisoning!

Jess with Andrea at table no 1 by Jason Atherton

Jess with Andrea at table no 1 by Jason Atherton

Double cooked belly prok (centre), rice balls in date skins (behind), deep fried dick legs (eft); clay pot aubergine (right)

Double cooked belly pork (centre), rice balls in date skins (behind), deep fried duck legs (eft); clay pot aubergine (right)

Crispy friend fish with spring onions, and delicious black mushrooms, withe garlic/rice vinegar cucumber

Crispy friend fish with spring onions, and delicious black mushrooms, withe garlic/rice vinegar cucumber

We came, we saw, we ate! Thanks to  our gourmet guide Jess we managed ot sample many different cuisines; but strangely enough the first meal we had, which was also the cheapest, was the best. Jian’guo 328 is owned and managed by a Taiwanese lady but serves real Shanghai food. It’s tiny and basic, with Formica tables and closes by 9.30. We had beer but I was surprised to see a couple drinking Chablis on ice!

prawns and mixed veg

prawns and mixed veg

lotus root and cucumber

lotus root and cucumber

The following night, we decided to try Sichuan, so off to the Sichuan Citizen in the French concession, a rustic bistro, quite trendy serving cocktails and wine  – we had a bottle of decent Santa Rita sauvignon for the record. As Jess is allergic to meat we stayed fishy – sampling red hot chilli prawns (in their shells so a bit crunchy), a whole tilapia in Sichuan sauce (a bit gloopy sadly); ma po bean curd in Sichuan peppercorns – to die for, mouth numbing hot as it’s meant to be; and some vegetables – plus soused cucumber with garlic & chilli (again – a great favourite this), pickled lotus roots and more greens.

stuffed lotus roots (left); pomegranate flowers (right) galette (top)

stuffed lotus roots (left); pomegranate flowers (right) galette (top)

grilled goats cheese; mint salad

grilled goats cheese; mint salad

The next night Ross was working late so Jess and I had a girls night – braving the dangerous-sounding Southern Barbarian, famed for its Yunnanese delicacies and wide varietes of Czech and Belgian beers! We stuck to Tsing Tao. Here we feasted on more lotus roots, this time stuffed with a little Chinese bacon as it turned out (sorry Jess!);  stir-fried pomegranate flowers in a sour/sweet sauce, with spring onions, totally scrumptious; grandma’s potato galette – quite ordinary, just crispy potatoes; and the house speciality, grilled goats cheese, with a delicate little mint salad in rice wine vinegar, sugar and garlic. One to make at home….

seared tuna

seared tuna

succulent scallops - but was it one of these that poisoned me?

succulent scallops – but was it one of these that poisoned me?

Then we gave Jess a night off and went to drink cocktails on the Bund with Ross’s colleagues, at the Glamour Bar, followed by El Willy’s, a taps bar (their choice). The air con wasn’t working properly so it was hard to enjoy the food with sweat trickling down one’s neck. Some was good – the seared tuna and scallops, plus the marinated fish, but there were a couple of horrors including glutinous patatas bravas and calamari coated in a greasy, thick batter. And to crown it all, it was after this meal that I fell very sick indeed…I will say no more other than sight-seeing with clenched buttocks is no joke! But – and I cant resist saying this – Chinese loos are very clean…

roast turbot at Table no !

roast turbot at Table no 1

The big night out was to be at Jason Atherton’s (Maze fame)Table number 1, set in a renovated factory in the up-and-coming area by the  Cool Docks. People who live in the east always need a change of palate, so we were delighted to go West for this treat. I was, however, put off by having to share a refectory type table with other diners (a very ugly couple who ate noisily and were on their mains before we even got our starters); and disappointed that the waiters had no ideas on provenance of the food I was interested in ordering (was still feeling distinctly queasy at this stage so purity of ingredients rather critical!). Answer came there none, which is always a bad sign. Thankfully, Jess and Andrea loved their main courses, roasted turbot, while Ross and I were slightly disappointed – he with his rack of lamb and me with my sole (still don’t know where it hailed from, but it was on the dry side and possibly FROZEN!). The starters were delicious – tuna carpaccio and scallop ceviche, and the deserts unctuous, with accompanying sauces in little teapots. But if you read this Mr Atherton, I do strongly advise you to pay attention to your brand if you intend to franchise it out. Reputation management and all that…

Smiling lady getting ready to serve food at lunch time (didn't look too appetising!)

Smiling lady getting ready to serve food at lunch time (didn’t look too appetising!)

THis is the lunch she was about to serve

This is the lunch she was about to serve

No trip to China is complete without meandering round looking at street food. On my various wanders round the Old Town back streets, I came across some wonderful looking food, and some great characters….

ready meals waiting for buyers....

ready meals waiting for buyers….











I also discovered that there is a market for ‘ready meals’ – better than Sainsbury’s any day. Eat your heart out M&S!

delicious -looking dumplings in the back streets...

delicious -looking dumplings in the back streets…





Dumplings are all steaming away, ready for buyers…








Or you can buy a yummy stir fry…stock up on some dried fish, or go shopping in a smart store and get sea slugs, hundreds of varieties of mushrooms and all sorts of sickly-looking sweets (the Chinese have a very sweet tooth). And you can round it all off with a slice of cake! Not for me…

Stir fry anyone?

Stir fry anyone?

sea slugs anyone? hideously expensive, must be a great delicacy

sea slugs anyone? hideously expensive, must be a great delicacy

mushrooms galore

mushrooms galore

Sickly-looking cake

Sickly-looking cake

Bon appétit!

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in which we cool off in Tongli

Tongli- the Vence of the East

Tongli- the Venice of the East

A Water Town! Sounds like a way to cool off in we thought!

Still suffering from the Shanghai tummy trouble, we wisely opted not to take the train and then a bus to Tongli, chosen for it being more inaccessible and hopefully less full of tourists. Ross’s ingenuity secured us a local taxi for one quarter of the cost of taking a tour, so we set off with Jess at a civilized 9.30 am.

It's too damn hot - 40C, but we pose like Chinese for our photo with the ubiquitous peace sign

It’s too damn hot – 40C, but we pose like Chinese for our photo with the ubiquitous peace sign

Like us, she had never been outside Shanghai, and we were pleased to see open countryside, with paddy fields and fish farms lining the roads, interspersed with high-rise apartment blocks and luxury developments. Not surprising really as the Water Town area was where ‘due to charming environment and abundance, in ancient times, many noblemen and distinguished families built their private gardens…low bridges, running water and small villages has won its fame as Venice of the east. All these make your trip full of poetic and artistic imagination from the moment you arrive here.’

Jess and Ross in the Tusi Gardens

Jess and Ross in the Tusi Gardens

So said the local guide. And it was true. After queuing for a little shuttle, ‘driver having lunch, she come when finish’, we arrived in the walled town, which at first glance looked rather tourist tacky, lots of shops selling tat and rickshaw wallahs touting for business. But once you left the main streets and wound round the back, life here is probably much as it was a century or two ago – small little one/two storied stone houses with little courtyards, or small gardens. People lolling around inside in the heat, cooking smells lingering in the fetid air. A small breeze just about ruffles your hair on the numerous bridges that cross the canals.

Tusi Gardens

Tusi Gardens

We enjoyed the formal coolness of the Tusi gardens, and made our first tourist purchase, an exquisite and intricate paper cutting of a pair of carp, in blue – bought from the artist.



Whoa - thats some phallus!

Whoa – thats some phallus!

A visit to the Chinese Sex Culture Museum is a must, especially as Jess’s friend Andrea had interviewed the owner for a news piece…in fact it is more culture than sex, although there are some magnificent phalluses on display. A Chinese boy sidled up to me as I was

And another....

And another….

admiring one. ‘You like?’ he whispered in my ear.

Another fine old mansion was host to a museum of Qing dynasty beds – all exotically carved teak, the Moon bed especially designed for ‘conjugal bliss’. Hmm, I’ll have one of those, says Ross.

Ross is hot!

Ross is hot!










We made a bad error over lunch spot, but we were so hot. Literally drenched through from top to toe (yuk!) that, instead of continuing along the canal, where we later saw some waterside cafes complete with electric fans, we made our way to the main square where we found air con, a beer, and the most repellent greasy rancid dumplings I’ve ever seen, plus some lurid pumpkin buns…Jess stuck to the cucumber, Ross ate the dumplings, I drank the beer, no one ate the pumpkin!

East meets west - or Disney!

East meets West – or Disney!

This girl had never met a foreigner before...

This girl had never met a foreigner before…

After lunch we met some gorgeous girls all dressed up in local Disney Princess outfits aka local traditional dress – hot synthetic gowns with long sleeves and frills, in garish colours, all having their photos taken. More than happy to be photographed by and with us – one girl told us she had never met any foreigners before; her friend spoke impressive English for a girl from the provinces. None of the pretty girls, posing for their friends, minded being photographed either. Ross is now building up quite a collection of Chinese beauties. I’ll have to watch him.

Jess and her new friend, who spoke passable English

Jess and her new friend, who spoke passable English

This couple were enjoying all sorts of strange poses

This couple were enjoying all sorts of strange poses

Cool it was not, but a fascinating day out. We saw only one other group of laowai (foreigners) the whole day; and it really wasn’t that crowded so our planning paid off. I rather like that the Chinese (and the Malaysians and the Singaporeans and the Indians) are all such inveterate tourists in their own countries. I suppose their lands are so vast and varied that it makes sense. Why go abroad if it’s all on your doorstep?

A Selfie of us all, true Chinese style! Love you jess!

A Selfie of us all, true Chinese style! Love you jess!

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in which I go it alone in Shanghai – well, almost!


view from our hotel towards the Bund

Who would turn down a week in Shanghai, staying in a suite in Le Meridien in the centre of town, with free cocktails in the Club Lounge every night? And almost all paid for by the company…the only snag, as accompanying spouse, is that you have to fend for yourself during the working day. And in Shanghai’s heatwave – each day registering between 38-40 C – that’s quite daunting. Especially when half way through you get food poisoning, rendering each expedition a major feat of planning.

A Selfie of us all, true Chinese style! Love you jess!

A Selfie of us all, true Chinese style! Love you Jess!

Following my own guideline number one for a successful ownsome trip – go somewhere where you have a chum – here we were lucky to have Louise’s dear friend and neighbour from Clapton, Jess Lehmann, in Shanghai on a WPP scholarship and working for Ogilvy. Firmly ensconced in the French Concession, Jess has become an expert on Shanghai eateries and tips on how to make the most of it. Like having

Amazing grace and agility on display

Amazing grace and agility on display

an after-work foot, neck and shoulder massage, which is de rigeur in Shanghai I learn. Or knowing which of the Acrobat shows we should go to; we went to Circusworld, (no animals, honest). It was truly spectacular but its staging clunky and low budget. And pretty unsafe, not many safety nets or wires in evidence, and seven motorbikes in a wall of death is pushing it! But the spontaneous joy of all the children was uplifting just as the noise in the theatre was unceasing.

The extraordinary skyline on the BUnd

The extraordinary skyline on the Bund

Having had a grand reunion on the first night and a delicious meal (probably the best of the trip – but there will be a separate food blog so no more on food here), suitably primed and raring to go, on the first morning I foolishly set out to walk to the Bund, the famous promenade where all the finest merchant buildings of the early 1900s are found. Shanghai was a freeport and it attracted traders from all over Europe,

Chinese tourists taking the air...note umbrellas

Chinese tourists taking the air…note umbrellas

and after the Russian Revolution there was an influx of rich Franco-Russian aristocrats and Jews; and again during the Second World War. Sadly all my efforts to see the synagogues and the Jewish museum were thwarted by lack of time, high walls and heat.

Victor's art noveau cafe in the Peace Hotel

Victor’s art noveau cafe in the Peace Hotel

Sticking to guideline number two, have a clear plan, I had my Lonely Planet neighbourhood walks guide, so resolutely set out to follow the North Bund route, melting all the way despite the breeze, which turned my brolly inside-out (Chinese always shield themselves form the sun with a brolly, as I did, until I found a stall which sold straw hats and a fan!). A fine iced coffee in Victors, the art nouveau bar at the Peace Hotel set me to rights.

The mobile hat lady who saved my life

The mobile hat lady who saved my life

Rather deterred by this experience, I thought, aha, guideline number three now – take a tour! The afternoon therefore found me on a bus tour, with only me, the guide and a driver in a posh car. Despite some good ‘sights’, I soon discovered that in Shanghai the sole

Reclining Jade Buddha in Jade Buddha temple

Reclining Jade Buddha in Jade Buddha temple

purpose of a tour is to take you to places where you will be parted from your cash…so the Jade Buddha Temple (jade effigies); Confucian temple (tea, although the tea ceremony thrown in was delightful and I wavered and bought some fine ginseng oolong, chrysanthemum and jasmine teas,

Confucius Temple a haven of tranquillity amidst the skyscrapers

Confucius Temple, a haven of tranquillity amidst the skyscrapers

where the flowers unfold – interestingly all teas can be topped up at least 7 times so they are good value!); silk factory (silk quilts and clothes); pearl factory (pearls) and so on!

The tea-lady - well it was a ceremony in fact, note unfolding jasmine blossom in foreground

The tea-lady – well it was a ceremony in fact, note unfolding jasmine blossom in foreground

In between all this hard-sell, we managed to take in various points of interest; the French concession, the house where the first Communist Party Congress took place in 1921, and some streets in the old town, where the little stalls were preparing their snakes, bull frogs and all sorts of other indescribables for their fate. Most of these houses still have no running water or lavatories, and you can see slop buckets being carried to and fro or left out to dry, as I saw the following day on another old town wander. There are in fact very few old alleys left intact, but on our superb sidecar tour (a joint activity, and highly recommended!) Sammy from San Diego took us inside some of the shared tenements, where the tiling is pure early 20 century, there are communal washing and cooking facilities, and intricate

Preparing for the onslaught - or slaughter should I say

Preparing for the onslaught – or slaughter should I say

Snakes and bullfrogs at the ready....

Snakes and bullfrogs at the ready….

Old house with shared washing facilities

Old house with shared washing facilities

and shared cooking facilities, note old furniture ad floor tiles

and shared cooking facilities, note old furniture ad floor tiles

carving and old furniture is gathering dust and decaying quietly. Soon all these will go the way of the rest – knocked down for mega apartment blocks.

Rather jaded (haha) by this commercialism, I decided to spend the next couple of mornings wandering about by myself. Due to the heat, almost all of the normally crowded places like the YuYuan Gardens were practically deserted,

YuYuan Gardens

YuYuan Gardens

so I enjoyed ambling around, taking in the serene Chenxiangge nunnery; winding streets; food markets; the Bubbling Lanes; the house where Mao stayed when he first came to Shanghai in 1924 (fascinating photos); the Flower, Bird, Fish and Insect Market

The Chianxx

The Chenxiangge Nunnery

(not for the faint-hearted, although these are all destined for pets, including cicadas,

Cicadas pre-packed to be played with by children - a sort of rattle, I suppose. What a racket

Cicadas pre-packed to be played with by children – a sort of rattle, I suppose.

they are kept in very confined spaces; one hesitates to wonder what happens when they get past their sell-by date).

should you want to choose your cricket...these are alive!

should you want to choose your cricket…these are alive!

Gorgeous kitties in the market

Gorgeous kitties in the market

Talking of pets, dogs really are a fashion accessory here – not uncommon to see dogs with little shoes on, and men in particular mince around with tiny lap dogs on long leads – Chihuahuas, schnauzers, all shorn of body hair. Nothing can beat the pink-eared poodle that whizzed by me in her mistress’s motorcycle basket though.

Gambling in the park...

Gambling in the park…

In the afternoons, more gentle local walks down the E Nanjing Rd, round the People’s Square, past the Park Hotel, watching young and old playing cards and Go, gambling furiously (illegal in China), taking in a strange exhibition celebrating 10 years of the Museum of Contemporary Art.

Typical street in Old Town

Typical street in Old Town

A vertical garden, very popular, in the Peolpe's Square

A vertical garden, very popular, in the Peolpe’s Square

Talking of Art, also visited the area known as M50, a hub of Shanghai art galleries. Apart from it being broiling and impossible to get a taxi back, it was a disappointing expedition. I know Chinese art is big ticket these days but, with one exception, Yang Xiaojian, I found it tacky in the extreme.

The Bubbling Well Lane, 1930s and very picturesque

The Bubbling Well Lane, 1930s and very picturesque

So how easy is this to do by yourself? Well, it’s fine if you have a concierge or friend who can write down all your destinations on various pieces of paper (don’t muddle them up though, as I did at one point!); then the taxi driver takes you to where you think you are going. Often it bears no resemblance to where you believe you are headed, so quite a lot of ingenuity is involved to locate yourself as you are unceremoniously dumped on a busy pavement, somewhere…

This was the start of my off-piste excursions....through an old archway, so enticing!

This was the start of my off-piste excursions….through an old archway, so enticing!

Can't resist showing you a Tang horse

Can’t resist showing you a Tang horse

Then there’s the safety issue: having been told Bali was perfectly safe and was then promptly victim to an attempted mugging, I was slightly wary. But here there are so many people, it’s a safety in numbers feeling. The only time I felt slightly on guard was when I went off piste in the old town, pursuing exciting food stalls, and found myself in a down-at-heel area, surrounded by labourers and unsmiling bare-chested men, no women in sight. So I upped the pace and headed off in what I hoped was the right direction (it was!).

Bet you never knew about Tang camels?

Bet you never knew about Tang camels?

At the weekend, Ross became free, so as well as our side-car tour, we visited the Shanghai Museum, tastefully arranged with riches galore – bronzes, porcelain and intricately carved jade. Not as much as in Taiwan – but then, as the Chinese will tell you, Chiang Kai-Shek stole the best

pieces! We also enjoyed an early morning trip to Zongshan Park to see the elderlies doing Tai Chi, despite the fact the place was a building site, so we decamped to the much more tranquil Jing’an Sculpture Park.

Jing'an Sculpture Park

Jing’an Sculpture Park

It made me think about modern China, seeing so many old people enjoying Tai Chi, in contrast to the large numbers of mainly young people at the completely renovated Jing’an Temple – it was only rebuilt in the past 10 years, and in the Cultural Revolution was converted into a plastic factory before being burned down in 1972 –  who were enjoying throwing coins into the vast cauldron, rather as you would at a slot machine.

The elderlies doing Tai CHi in Jongshan PArk on a Saturday morning

The elderlies doing Tai Chi in Zongshan Park on a Saturday morning

Consider that in 2007 40% of Chinese people were under 40 years old; and 20% under 15 years of age; therefore half the country has grown up NOT KNOWING Mao (and the percentages will be higher now). Then remember that most middle-aged parents will not have been in a car or had access to a private phone until well into their 30s. Look around you in the heaving streets (Shanghai has 24 million inhabitants and is the largest city in China) and all you see is people glued to their tablets and androids; every sight you go to, click, clunk, whizz – the sound of camera phones (one woman I saw in the Shanghai museum was taking snaps of every single porcelain exhibit!) taking photos and selfies, fingers posed in the ubiquitous V sign. Jess tells me that digital companies are having to re-strategise how to make money from mobile technology as no one phones or sends texts anymore. Fascinating stuff.

on the side-car in the French Concession

on the side-car in the French Concession

And now suddenly Buddhism and Confucius are back in fashion, having ‘disappeared’ during the height of the Revolution. It must be very confusing. Cynics say that adherence to these old customs can be expedient for business – certainly the monks were pocketing their red envelopes with alacrity at the cleansing ceremony we witnessed in the temple. I don’t think that’s what is meant however!

The Nine Nos, just to remind you this is an authoritarian state! (Don't do this, Dont do that!)

The Nine Nos, just to remind you this is an authoritarian state! (Don’t do this, Dont do that!)

The cleansing ceremony at the Jing'an Temple

The cleansing ceremony at the Jing’an Temple

Take the one-child policy, largely misconceived in the West (it appears more damage was done at a local level by over-zealous implementers than the policy actually set out) as there were always exceptions – for instance for the 54 minorities; now if two single children marry they are allowed to have more than one child.

There is, no doubt, a major concern about the aging population and the in-balance of men and women.

A slop bucket drying in the sun, a reminder of how everyone lived and some still do...but not for long I guess

A slop bucket drying in the sun, a reminder of how everyone lived and some still do…but not for long I guess

Add to this the modern Chinese phenomenon of the Superwoman – she does not want to marry and have children, but wants to have a mega career and be super-rich and successful. It’s a big problem for the government, along with the Four Es, as Jeffrey Wasserstrom puts it: China has four main challenges – economy, environment, energy and endemic corruption and, in many ways, they are linked.

There is little doubt that on the surface China is booming, consumer goods are everywhere – no self-respecting Chinese middle class girl would buy a fake Louis Vuitton – and surfing the net is an addiction. However, there are restrictions on what you can access as I found when trying to write this blog – even with the hotel VPN which allowed us access to google and twitter,

Wells are still in use for washing water in some areas of the French Concession

Wells are still in use for washing water in some areas of the French Concessionwordpress crashed every single time.

wordpress crashed every single time. Yet there is a concern over the level of creativity compared to the other Asian tiger, India. While naturally entrepreneurial, recent history has rendered the Chinese very good at following orders and beavering away, but less so at taking the initiative. So which of these two will win out in the end remains to be seen.

Cant have a blog about China without Mao making an appearance - this is at the house he stayed, in 1924

Can’t have a blog about China without Mao making an appearance – this is at the house he stayed, in 1924

Experts say that China is – successfully it would appear – managing the expectations of the young by carefully balancing their economic aspirations with a modicum of control. For that reason it is unlikely that you will see a Chinese Spring or another Tiananmen Square in the near future.

Exquisite jade funerary rings, between 10-12,000 BCE. Amazing

Exquisite jade funerary disc, between 10-12,000 BCE. Amazing

The next blogs will describe our outing to Tongli Water Town and all the food we ate.

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in which we move into our new apartment

View from our balcony at night, overlooking the pool

View from our balcony at night, overlooking the pool

Hello Singapore, goodbye 34th floor Great World City, and welcome to 11th floor in Holland Hill!

First thing we did after we got off the plane (one night in a hotel before the big move) was to rush off to Jumbo seafoods for some proper Chinese cooking. Calamari, BBQ tilapia and some delicious steamed kai lan (a kind of spring cabbage) with garlic. Too disoriented to take photos I’m afraid!

Next morning, bright and early – 8 am to be precise – found us outside the Ministry of Manpower to register for residency and work permits. We had no appointment, but were through in 15 minutes. Singapore never ceases to surprise at its efficiency, and politeness.

Ross enjoying wi fi on the first night

Ross enjoying wi fi on the first night

Then off to Parivs apartments to meet Glenn our relocation manager and – ta-da – we enter our new abode. Much better than I remembered, marble floors and white walls throughout and devoid of other people’s ghastly furniture.

our Burmese chairs, on the marble floors

our Burmese chairs, on the marble floors

Within minutes the air-freight has arrived (bedding, hoover and iron – domestic goddesses never travel without, don’t you know – and of course desk-top computer, TV, and dvd player). Quickly followed by the cable man who installs wi fi etc in a trice; the IKEA delivery of two beds – but heavens – we have no water, electricity or gas, and the stuff we left in Singapore has not arrived either, plates, kives, forks and glasses…so Ross has to zoom down to nearby store for lunch and cold beers! After lunch the electricity  and water are switched on at precisely 2 pm as requested, and my two lovely Burmese chairs arrive, followed by the balcony furniture. Only the Gas Man cometh not till Friday…so luckily no way I can cook until then!

View from balcony

View from balcony

In fact the gas was the only low point of this care-free move. Man came at appointed hour on Friday, stayed all of 7 minutes, turned everything on, showed me how to switch it off when we go away. Come evening and first gourmet meal ready to go in the wok – Thai red fish curry (paste hand-made of course), with Chinese broccoli – and no gas!

the first meal - Thai red curry - once the gas man had re-installed the meter

the first meal – Thai red curry – once the gas man had re-installed the meter

Several phone calls to afore-mentioned Glenn and two gas men arrive within 15 minutes! Can you believe that in between the man turning us on, another man had come and taken our meter away altogether. Wah!

But all is not lost, these two lovely men have one in their van, it is duly fitted and we are eating by 9.30. It really is efficient here, even when there’s a glitch

Kinara curry - yum!

Kinara curry – yum!

Off to sample the victuals in Holland Village, first night a rather mediocre meal in Crystal Jade (Cantonese, rather than Shanghai, so no noodles or dumplings), but the second night a really delicious curry at Kinara – house special chicken, Kerala fish curry, okra and black dhal.

Please admire the gorgeous Ikat cushions bought in local shop sale, not forgetting the colour coordination

Please admire the gorgeous Ikat cushions bought in local shop sale, not forgetting the colour coordination

Meanwhile Ross has been back at work and I have been exploring the local shops – bought some fine new cushions, some lovely Egyptian cotton sheets (all the ones I bought did not fit as Ross bought beds larger than instructed!).

No move is complete without the mandatory trip to IKEA and we fill the numerous gaps left in my meagre transportation of goods from England – which of course are yet to arrive – guest duvet (bed now too big!), laundry baskets, loo brushes, rubbish bins,  lamps – bedside and living room – etc etc. It was really not too bad; as it’s open till 11pm I think people don’t all come at once.

Obligatory rice cooker!

Obligatory rice cooker!

Our balcony is stinking hot in the middle of the day, so Saturday finds us back in Great World City buying a floor fan (sorry English people, they are abundant here, can I get one for you?); a printer/scanner as I have found someone in London to transcribe my mother’s letters, which I plan to edit into book form; and a must-have for here – a rice cooker!

Pool as seen from balcony; the landscaping is fab too

Pools – all four – as seen from balcony; the landscaping is fab too

Meanwhile the new lap pool is 60 m long and I have started my daily 1 km workout, pre-ceded by the gym. Ross – who for those who haven’t picked up on this – has become addicted to swimming and has started lessons with a local TI (Total Immersion) teacher. Whatever keeps him happy – although he looks ridiculous ploughing up the pool in his swimming snorkel.

Ross enjoying a noodle soup at local Food COurt on Saturday

Ross enjoying a noodle soup at local Food Court on Saturday

And tomorrow we are off to Shanghai, me for a week, Ross for a bit longer. Louise’s dear friend Jess lives there so we are looking forward to a more local experience of the sights, and some gastronomic adventures.

forgot to bring and bedroom chairs, so we have bought a Yo Yo

forgot to bring any bedroom chairs, so we have bought a Yo Yo

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in which I enjoy midsummer in England’s green and pleasant land


Wild woman of the fells – going up the Gable

It’s hard to remember that only two days ago I was standing on top of Great Gable in bright sunshine admiring the Lakeland vistas from one of its highest peaks.

 As I sit here on a grizzly June afternoon on the train from Durham to Kings Cross I try to recall the past two weeks of my return to the green green grass of home.


Parkhill Road, new lawn and cornus in full bloom

Leaving Singapore to return to England for a four-week foray has been fun – meeting old friends and family for lunches and suppers; celebrating our 30th wedding anniversary; doing the first cut on our newly laid lawn; the first balmy al fresco supper – on Midsummer’s Day,  the anniversary of Louise’s memorial, so always a special day, and one of her favourites. I show off my Tom Yum Goong to Son and friends. Also doing the not so fun – deciding what to take to Singapore for the next few years, what to leave, fighting with John Lewis deliveries and directing the packing.

The Tom Yung Goon special on Midsummer's day

The Tom Yum Goong special on Midsummer’s day

A little mental titivation at Cambridge University in between, with old chum Fi, to hear Professor David Spiegelhalter, speak engagingly and fascinatingly on hazard ratios (he is a statistician!) and its effect on us: encouraging that as a woman I am going to live longer than men, less so that my life chances decrease by 9% per annum between the ages of 25 and 80, but on the positive side, its only the first 20 minutes of exercise that do any good, the next 40 are a waste of time…phew!

Glen View cottage in Grasmere

Glen View cottage in Grasmere

And so to continue on my very English odyssey by way of several days in the Lake District. Dear friends John and Hilary Pooler have pretty cottage in Grasmere (Glen View can be booked via and are local experts. We had two great days walking in fine weather – a Great Gable circuit, starting at Honister Pass and ending at Seatoller; and then the Helm Crag circuit, descending via Far Easedale; and two more normal Lakeland days, meandering about at lower levels in the on/off drizzle.

Great Gable summit

en route to Great Gable overlooking Buttermere

Hilary atop Green Gable looking across to Great Gable

Hilary atop Green Gable looking across to Great Gable










In another life, when I worked for Heinemann Educational Books (1979 -1993), our founder and my mentor, the old man of Lakes Alan Hill, used to organise an annual, what would now be called ‘teambuilding’, trip to Borrowdale, where Heinemann owned a share in Seatoller House, a charming B&B. The Lake District Trip, as it was known, was a great leveller, with 30 plus of us at all stages of fitness and fatness chugging up and down dale and hill in the day, and repairing to hostelries of an evening (always the same rotation: the Bridge at the Scafell Hotel, the Fishes in Buttermere, and the final night party at Alan’s Rossthwaite house); finishing by playing charades and parlour games – squeak piggy squeak and wink murder were favourites.

Steep descent via Aaron's Slack  to Styehead Tarn- now a much better path than in the 1980s

Steep descent via Aaron’s Slack to Styehead Tarn- now a much better path than in the 1980s

Great Gable from Honister Pass brought so many memories flooding back: Alan and I leading the slow group – re-named on two occasions as the ’pregnant cripples’ to reflect our respective statuses; banana and honey sandwiches, crisps and Just Juice forming the perfect picnic; baking hot days and stripping off to undies to swim in the tarns and pools – such as Sour Milk Gill; the time our new and reviled MD dropped a pack of condoms out of his wallet (he never recovered form the ignominy); sharing a double bed in the ‘family room’ at Seatoller House with female colleagues. These were indeed the times of our lives.

Self outside Seatoller House

Self outside Seatoller House

Thinking of Alan, long since dead, reminded me of the times I used to take him round Africa to help decide on company strategy. So eccentric was he that he packed two identical suitcases – lest one got lost! He was renowned for always wanting to change his room, wherever he stayed and for being professorially absent-minded. On every departure I had to check to see what he had forgotten – shirts, underpants and his medications – always at least one – and scoop them up! He loved to regale people of our adventures (and we had many) – always embroidering the tale to make it funnier.

On top of the shoulder leading fromHelm's Crag

On top of the shoulder leading from Helm’s Crag

The Lakes also reminded me of family holidays with our son, then aged three, rampaging up the fells and our beloved Louise, in a back pack. And later, with the Pooler family again, the children in their teens, girls rock climbing, boys desperately trying to follow the World Cup in Japan, even resorting to taking a portable TV up the fells.

A lonely sheep...

A solitary sheep…

Happy memories of happy times. Tinged with sadness.

Looking towards Grasmere

Looking towards Buttermere

Its all about friendship...

It’s all about friendship…

Grasmere meadows - fileds of cloth of goldGrasmere meadows – fields of cloth of gold

Looking towards Grasmere

Looking towards Grasmere

A babbling brook - I come from haunt of coot and tern

A babbling brook – I come from haunt of coot and tern

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in which I cool down in Switzerland

The Dents du Midi - and CHampery -  from Finnair

The Dents du Midi – and Champery – from Finnair

Discovered a new route to Europe – via Helsinki. In fact there is a scant one-and-half hour connection compared to the new routing by Emirates and Qantas via Dubai where one is marooned for more than FIVE hours, waiting for a connection. Never been that far north before – was rather appalled to see huge pints of lager and shots being consumed at 6.30 am! And the lingo is strange….but all very efficient and I arrived in Geneva a l’heure.

Europe has been enjoying its one–week heat wave and the views from cousin Christine and Diego’s garden of Mont Blanc and the Alps in the haze, foreground of bright blue iris and magnolias reminded me of just how gorgeous Switzerland is in the summer.

Boys will be boys -Ross with two of his Swiss chums, host Tim (centre) and Peter

Boys will be boys -Ross with two of his Swiss chums, host Tim (centre) and Peter

A grand reunion of Swiss friends at Tim and Annie’s BBQ, which coincidentally was also their 27th wedding anniversary. Our 30th is next week! How time flies…

Not a very good pic of my tubs in progress, rockery built in Ausut

Not a very good pic of my tubs in progress, rockery built in August

Then up to Champery to check up on our apartment last seen knee-deep in snow. Now the rockery we built last year is bedded in, the wild geranium, alchemilla and the domestic sedum, aubrietia and ajuga are flowering; our Montana has died again, but the three other clematis I transplanted from our Geneva terrace have all sprouted and one is even in flower – a darling little macropetala. I added to the jollity by planting up my summer tubs – but I wonder sadly who will be there to enjoy them?

Champery High st, with the Dents Blanches in the background

Champery High st, with the Dents Blanches in the background

In my few days in the mountains we enjoy some great food – what a change from noodles, seafood, lemongrass and chilli – new season asparagus and cafe gourmand; and manage a walk below the snow-line and by the river which, as in the rest of Europe, is flowing fast and furious. The meadows are full of wild flowers.

Wild flowers in the meadow

Wild flowers in the meadow

First asparagus of the season

First asparagus of the season

Delicious Cafe Gourmande at the Auberge du Grand Paradis

Delicious Cafe Gourmand at the Auberge du Grand Paradis

Walking by the gushing mountain streams

Walking by the gushing mountain streams

Great drama however in opening the post, which has been waiting 3 months for us! We have been cut off by the cable company – so no internet or phone…neither the company, the bank nor Ross is taking the blame. All I know is its not MY fault. I am livid! It’s costing me £10 per day in data roaming!

Worse than that, numerous letters from the tax authorities as Ross’s former employer (who shall remain nameless though they don’t deserve it) has not paid his tax as promised…there is even one from the police saying: Report immediately to the station; if you don’t, WE KNOW WHERE YOU LIVE! In French of course….on asking our local Aubergistes if this is  a vain threat, Juliet says ‘Oh no, they come in the night and remove your car plates, so you have to go to them and get them back’. As I write this, sitting here, four hours to go until I leave for fair England, I am full of trepidation.

Oh God, there’s the doorbell… it’s Madame la Poste…with a registered letter. Ross is on the phone as I open the door. Should I sign for it? Pointing to the addressee: ‘C’est n’est pas moi‘ . She looks at me strangely and I have to admit it is ‘mon mari‘. So I sign, open it and find it is a recall for our Hyundai, some problem or other. I feel extraordinarily relieved its a simple case of mechanics and not a prison cell!

Early morning and the Dents are mysteriously silhouetted

Early morning and the Dents are mysteriously silhouetted