On my 10 minute bike ride to Chinese lessons, I ride past 46 restaurants and a big shopping mall with another 25 or so eateries inside. I'm not sure why but I counted them the other day. As if I needed to remind myself that it's convenient and fun to live in the city and to be spoilt for choice!
Some of you may remember my blog post from last month about possibly moving outside the city The idea of a lovely villa with a garden as well as a shorter distance to the kids' school started to seem attractive to us. But there is no denying that my husband and I are city people!
In a city of 25 million people, there are obviously places that are very far away from us but everything we need in our daily lives lies within biking or walking distance from our home. Whether it's work, Chinese lessons, the supermarket, the hairdresser's, the dentists', the dry cleaners or said variety of restaurants.
We like to have the hustle and bustle around us. We do not mind the slightest that you can hear the traffic on the busy road below us from our apartment on the 7th floor, even with all the windows closed. The charm of Chinese 差不多 "quality" housing.
We like how distance is never really an issue when it comes to discovering the sights in the city centre. The fact that we can meet friends in the evening or go listen to some live music without too much planning going into it. The fact that, just by crossing Nong Than Guan Nan Lu, we're in the Tuanjiehu neighbourhood with its markets and communities where it's not uncommon to meet elderly men taking their birds in a cage for a walk. We agree that taking your bikes to the theatre in the evening is priceless - as is biking to the Forbidden city on a Sunday afternoon.
But most of all, we like to feel part of the city. See Beijingers, listen to Běijīng huà being spoken, horns being honked and spit being spat! ....no wait...
Cooking has always been one of my least favourite chores and since we moved to China I have really tried to find the passion for cooking by buying new cook books, strapping recipes from magazines and watching cooking channels - including my friend Jens's genius youtube channel peking papa. But alas. Ask me to host a dinner party and I'll be quite happy but everyday cooking, not so much.
But I have a solution for that. An incredibly privileged solution! Like 99% of expat families in Beijing, we have an Ayi. A maid. She comes a whopping 5 times a week for 4 hours. She tidies up, washes and irons our clothes, cleans and...cooks. I still have to get used to having a maid so I am still as disorganised as when we lived in Belgium. I would like her to cook but I forget to plan ahead, buy the necessary groceries or ask her to pass by the market so she can pick up what she needs. But all that is going to change now thanks to my new purchase! A cookbook of everyday French dishes with all the recipes written in English AND Chinese! Ladies and gentlemen I give you "Cuisine mei wenti!"! Mei wenti means "no problem" in Mandarin. The book is divided into sections with starters, main dishes, side dishes and desserts and includes useful information about the differences between Western cuisine and Chinese cuisine. For example, point 6 is "MSG is not usually used" [in Western cuisine]. Yes this book is the kind of idea I wish I had had! Just like other great ideas that cater for expats and tackle the language barrier here in China. But the woman who DID have the idea is called Olivia Guinebault and I am very happy that my neighbour Anna passed me her contact. However, I am very curious to see if the book lives up to its promise on the front page: "Daily cooking becomes a pleasure". Well if not for me then for the Ayi :-)