Wednesday, June 25, 2008


Thought it was time for a garden update. This is what we have planted (read left to right/clockwise):

- Two tubs: one with young lettuce and spring onions, one carrots and parsnips
- On the bench: two troughs of lettuce
- Two tubs of dwarf French beans behind the end of the bench, one set of which lost their seed leaves in the high winds we've had, but they look like they might recover.
- In front of the bench: a pumpkin and a courgette plant
- In front of the grow house: a tomato plant, a (very small, but looks alive) blueberry bush, sunflowers
- In the grow house: chilli, small lettuce plants, delphiniums (taking ages to grow), more beans, more young lettuce, more sunflowers, basil, and the next generation of spring onions
- On the window sill: more lettuce
- In big tubs: 8 tomato plants in two tubs at the back, 3 pepper plants and 3 aubergine plants in two tubs at the front.
- By the door: rosemary and some million bell flowers.

Phew! That’s a lot of plants, and a lot of lettuce to eat! At the moment it is only the lettuce that we're harvesting (although I worked out that we will easily save about £40 by growing our own), the rest will mostly start cropping over July, August and September.

P.S. Can you spot our two new arrivals to the family sat on the gas box. My handiwork, I'm a very proud mama.

Saturday, June 21, 2008


Well I've just checked in to my Hong Kong hotel - a "Chinese boutique hotel" - in HK boutique does seem to mean small rooms, but also beautifully decorated in a modern Chinese style. Much better than a faceless euro-hotel box. And how big a bedroom do you need anyway?

As I checked in I had to give a credit card to put a deposit on the room. I looked in my wallet, and my heart dropped. My Natwest Visa card was no longer there. Trying not to panic I handed over my other card. I've just ransacked my bags and I just can't find it. I haven't used it since Wednesday so it hasn't been out of my wallet, and my wallet hasn't been out of my sight. I've never left it in my room, it's always been with me in my bag. Nothing else is missing.

So I rang the lovely "Card loss" centre and I've cancelled it - luckily no other transactions have been carried out since I last used it - so it must be lost, or stolen by someone really inept. I still feel a little stressed, as I've never had a card lost or stolen before. But it is cancelled now, so no harm done. A new one is winging its way to me in the post. Luckily I have other means of paying for things, and I intend to wander around Hong Kong rather than shop.

Time for some lunch I think and a wander, before heading up Victoria Peak.

P.S. I can read my posts (and your comments) now I'm in HK....

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Boy's night out, Guangzhou style

Oh am I ready for my bed! Today has gone well, but the heat is really taking it out of me. We've managed to get through the initial negotiations regarding the collaboration, so tomorrow will not be so intense.

Dinner tonight was in the brand new international convention centre. I don't think I've ever seen anything like it in my life! The reception was in an atrium 3 storeys high and completely lined with marble. It would make a great ballroom dancing space.

The food was good - I am having a little trouble with being a vegetarian, mainly because they don't serve rice or noodles, as these are the "poor man's fillers". So I'm eating a lot of lovely bok choi, mushrooms and tofu, but my goodness do I crave some carbohydrate.

Our companions for the night were some university classmates of our Chinese colleague, along with other academic staff that he knows. It was lovely to see D smiling and being happy with his friends, and it was a lot more relaxed than the formal dinner last night. A great deal of Chinese red wine was consumed on their part and it got quite silly at one point. Very fun.

Tomorrow we will get to see some of Guangzhou city itself!

Sight of the day:
- Roadside knicker stand.

Bizarre realisation of the day:
- I can post to my blog, but not read it.... Chinese internet blocking in action

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

In a very big country

Today I'm blogging from Guangzhou, a very large city in south-eastern China. This is the first time I've been anywhere near this part of the world - and despite the horrendous lack of sleep (I think I've had about 1 hr in the last 30 or so) I'm enjoying the adventure. I'm here for work - vi sting a local University - but I'm happy not to be a full blown tourist and get a chance to talk to people who actually live here.

I flew into Hong Kong and then got the high speed train to the city centre, a short taxi ride (in distance, not in time, the traffic was pretty much stationary) later I had transferred to Hung Hom station to catch the train to the mainland and Guangzhou. Through immigration (again) and then 1hr 45mins to look at the Chinese scenery.

So today on my travels I have seen.....

1) A man carrying about a dozen live chickens in a crate strapped to the back of his bicycle.
2) More 50+ storey apartment blocks than I ever thought existed. I was expecting these to cover Hong Kong Island and Kowloon, but they also stretched into the New Territories and over into Dongguan and Guangzhou.
3) Lots and lots of factories and their dormitories - a large proportion of people live where they work here. Some were in varying states of decay, some had big towers belching fumes, some were clean and tidy... but they were everywhere, wherever there weren't 50 storey apartment blocks.
4) Immobile rain... I think its a new category I've identified, somewhere between mist and rain... that hangs around (and falls at the same time) around Mount Baiyun.
5) A black cat.
6) The biggest container port I've ever seen - with containers stacked six high and cranes bigger than my office building.

Right, I'd better go before my brain collapses completely. I promise more ponderings, particularly on the nature of the social and cultural construction of reality...

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Food thoughts

I sat down on the train this morning and smiled with pride at my cargo. On the table in front of me were two tomato plants, just beginning to produce flower buds, which I have grown from seed. 8 of the original 12 plants are planted up in two big troughs in our garden, two have gone to live with Adventuring Jen. These two were going to be divided between two of my colleagues who have been eagerly awaiting their arrival.

On the train I decided to listen to one of the back catalogue of the Speaking of Faith podcasts which I am slowly working through on my iPod. Coincidentally (although I'm sure my subconscious had something to do with it) I chose an interview with Barbara Kingsolver about her book "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life" which tells the story of a year in the life of her family after they decided to truly eat local - growing or rearing most of their own food, supplemented by the local farmers market. I know of Barbara Kingsolver through her wonderful novel "The Poisonwood Bible" which I read about 8 years ago. The interview has, however, made me want to discover more of her non-fiction writing - I've already reserved a copy of "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle" at a book shop in town.

The podcast also made me think about the changes that my husband and I are making in our lives related to food and sustainability. Since we've owned our own home, and are settled in our life together we've become gradually more focused on the longer term pattern of our lives. A major part of our lives is the food we eat. I love cooking creatively and also enjoy baking cakes as a key means by which I de-stress.

This year I've also taken on gardening properly for the first time. Over the course of our first full year in our house we managed to clear out the big weeds and over-grown plants from our garden - so this is the first year I've actually be able to plan (well a bit) of what we might grow. We invested in a mini-greenhouse for £15 from the local garden centre and I raised 40 annual bedding plants from seed. They are now in the border, suffering a little from the excessive rainfall, but doing ok considering.

I also had the great urge to grow some plants from food. So far we've been harvesting our first "cut and come again" lettuce crops - which is truly wonderful. I don't think we'll ever buy a bag of salad again. All we do now is walk out of the door and pick it straight off the plant. Within a couple of days a new leaf has starting growing and so we get a steady supply. I've also got a very small container with carrots and parsnips as an experiment this year. The dwarf french beans are starting to germinate (planted a little late, but they'll be ok) and the basil is doing well.

We've also planted two varieties of sunflowers from seeds we harvested from our first batch last year (if anybody wants some, just let me know, I'm sure its not too late). These are growing so quickly I must plan them out this weekend.

If all goes reasonably this year maybe next year we'll see if we can get one of the allotments down the road and grow many more vegetables. I love knowing exactly where what we're eating has come from, and what has (and has not) gone into growing it.