First piece of toast and a visit to the kitchens 25th January 2015

Not the most inspiring title to most people who own toasters (hope you are enjoying your toaster Naomi), but bizarrely we haven’t bought bread for 6 months. But given that our “oven” has a grill facility I decided to buy bread and toast it this morning. Compared to a toaster, grilling bread is a laborious process, manually turning it and rotating it with turning, it isn’t just flipping it, and keeping an ever watchful eye on it. The bread isn’t mothers pride or hovis but it will do. It is quite sweet bread.

Since the last blog, Eleanor and I are now 3 weeks into doing the school run on the e-bike, and I am now 2 weeks into cycling to my Chinese classes. We ditched the school bus at it was a sizable portion of Martin’s salary. The journey to school on the ebike takes anything between 13 and 20 minutes depending on how many junctions I have to stop at. Both of us have our helmets and our pollution masks on. We have had a couple of journeys in the rain which has meant using our double-headed poncho. One poncho big enough for two adults and the ebike. It keeps Eleanor and I both dry but putting it on and taking it off is a bit of a palaver. For we both have to be on the ebike to get it over our heads and then we put the helmets on as the head holes are not big enough to do it the other way round. Having done all that and not dropped the bike we then take it very steadily to school as the roads can be slippy. Thankfully my tyre treads are thick but take a corner too tight and the ebike will fall. I know because I witnessed an accident from our balcony the other day. However the person got up, picked up the ebike and rode away. I am not sure I would be in the same position – so am taking no chances.

Of course the school run is also at the height of rush hour, which means that there are people wandering across the e-bike lanes to get to their work bus, at one stall there are about 20 stalls all making and selling “breakfast products”. Over the course of the couple of years doing that route the sellers were moved on, and no longer were they operating from the back of the e-bike truck, but instead they are in little huts. Also when the school eventually moved from downtown, I found that it was also Martin’s breakfast place too. In the rain all the stalls have umbrellas. In the dry it is like a McDonald’s drive thru. E-bikes go to the stall, buy the freshly made egg pancake and ride away – all usually within the appointed 35 seconds between the lights turning red and green. Now there is even a policeman directing the traffic!

There is a bike lane on each side of the road. Usually the bikes go in the direction of travel – but not always. You also get middle lane drivers (despite the fact that there is only one lane!) E-bikes are also sometimes pimped up with stereos blaring out music, and to be fair, it isn’t just the bikers, it is also the walkers.

Here people walk backwards, or they walk forwards swinging their arms round and round, either keeping warm or feng shui. But some have clearly never heard of headphones keeping their music to themselves. Personal radios are carried around playing music or a couple of months ago I heard a person learning English on his “personal stereo” with the phrase “do you want sugar in your tea?”

Living in the Netherlands meant that I grew accustomed to seeing odd things on bicycles. One girl carried her cello, another her umbrella (up), speaking on mobile phones was usual as was holding hands with a loved one as they cycled through the streets together. But here, on one rainy school run (there have only been two since the start of term) I saw an e-biker’s umbrella blow inside out. However, it wasn’t the e-biker – it was the passenger’s umbrella!

As I said above I have also started cycling to Chinese lessons. I take Eleanor to school, ride back home, park and lock the e-bike, go up to the flat, get my bicycle and 30 minutes later I arrive at  Chinese. My legs are cold, but the rest of me is cosy because I bundle myself up on the e-bike but then don’t shed any layers as I do physical exercise.
Some expats say that they won’t ride an e-bike, but they will ride a bicycle. For me, I feel more vulnerable riding the bike, than I do the e-bike. Testament to that is that I was nearly taken out by a taxi. I was going straight at a junction (lights were green in my favour) I had looked all around me, and believed I had time, but I did not take into account the taxi who sped up to turn right at the junction. To make right turns you don’t need to stop at junctions, just turn right and someone the oncoming traffic allows for that to happen. The taxi missed my back wheel by 30 cm. For those of you now worried about my safety, please believe me when I say I am ultra cautious in everything I do.

The Croziers also had their first Hot Pot last Friday. Hot Pots are like fondue, you cook whatever you want in a broth. The broths (you can choose from spicy, tomato, mushroom and probably there are others) are contained in square metal containers, that can be divided so that you can have two or more broths simmering at the same time to cater for different tastes. We had one spicy and one tomato. At Hai Di Lao, the hot pots are cooked on a stove in the middle of a square table. We were given an iPad to flick through the pictures and order (beef, green veg, prawns, fish balls, squid, mushrooms, tofu) and because went with a Chinese/English family we were also given a tick list menu in English.

The children had a soft play area that was supervised and if Eleanor had been over 7 then she could have painted pottery. There were complimentary hand massages, shoe cleaning, photo booths and a Chinese mask dancer. I was also approached by a worker to ask if I wanted to see the kitchen. I had already eaten, and had been impressed by the attentive service, the free plastic toy mermaid that Eleanor had been given and the basinets available for babies, so I was intrigued by the idea of visiting a Chinese kitchen. I wasn’t expecting to put on a hair net or a facemask which I had to do. The kitchen was immaculate. Different prepping areas glassed off – a room containing an aquarium, a room for prepping said fish, a meat room, a veg room and a room for ditching the oil and a room for cleaning the dishes.

When we left we were informed that the staff are amongst the highest paid in the restaurant world of Suzhou, they don’t work over Chinese New Year and they get free food over the new year period also. We will definitely be going back. Thankfully we found a Hai Di Lao in Xinghai Square which we frequent often. 

For the past two weeks I have also spent more time in Eleanor’s school than I ever thought I would. Eleanor’s class is in charge of assembly on Tuesday. The topic is the history of flight. Believe it or not I have got quite creative (it won’t last long) and I have made a hot air balloon, wings for Icarus and Daedalus, aeroplane wings for Orville and Wilbur Wright, kites and finally my own unique take on Da Vinci’s Ornithopter. No photos!

Today, Sunday 25th we have been to see The Imperial Ice Stars in Swan Lake on Ice at the Culture and Expo centre. Very captivating and breathtaking.