What am I missing?

After a long summer away from China – it feels like a life-time but was a scant three months – I am back in the polluted air of Beijing and picking up the strands of daily living. I have to admit I have found myself suffering from ‘blog writer’s block’ but I hope this post will break it…a word of encouragement would be welcome!

Whenever I am in the UK friends and acquaintances are curious to find out about my life here.  If I had 10 kuai (£1) for every time someone has asked me what I miss when in China I would be sitting on a nice little nest-egg by now.

Of course there are many things I miss about the UK when I am here, and conversely there are lots of things about China I miss when over in Britain.  Here are two little lists (items in no particular order) of some of the things I really miss.


1.     Clean air to breathe.

This is obviously a no-brainer and would head any ex-pat’s list. I have a Vog Mask – in fact I am Self with masknow on to my second one – which I loathe using but it is essential.  Every morning when I wake up I (like thousands of other Beijingers) check my ‘China Air Quality’ app to see what the reading is. If it is 100 or less I will open windows and venture out.  100-200 I will go out but with mask on. Over 200 I cancel plans and stay indoors.   Earlier this year the British news media reported that it was over 30 in London and everyone got in a tizzy – man up Chaps! it was only 30. 100 is the nasty level from my POV*.     Just remember to be grateful for air that you can breathe without thinking about it – too easy to be complacent.


2.     The NHS.  

NHSThe National Health System, for those of you who are not British, came into being after WW2 and was charged with providing free health care to all  UK citizens regardless of their means, from cradle to grave. Whether it be treating something as mundane as warts, having your hearing tested, or a full heart and lung transplant, you do not pay. Over the years it has grown into a massive organisation – the biggest employer in the whole of Europe I’ve been told – and now gets as many brickbats as bouquets.    But the re-assurance of knowing it is there should you need medical treatment cannot be underestimated.                                                                              My family and I have been well served by the NHS, and still are. It provides me with the post-stroke medication I have to take every day, and I am truly grateful.                              Living in a country where there is no such system, and medical insurance is still in its infancy, has made me aware of what a jewel the NHS is. Sure it has lots of problems and needs a complete overhaul in certain areas, but we are very,very lucky to have it.


3.     Sunday newspapers.

Of course I can and do subscribe to on-line access to several British newspapers; Sunday papersreading them on my laptop or iPad is a regular part of my daily routine when here in Beijing.           However, there is nothing like having a pile of the Sunday papers to dive into whilst enjoying a lazy Sunday, sipping coffee, reading choice snippets aloud to one’s dozing other half, tut-tutting over the readers’ letters, idly filling in the crossword or attempting the fiendish sudoku – then finding one’s hands grey from handling newsprint.  Reading it on a screen doesn’t even begin to compare.  And you can’t use your screen to cover the table when the DH does his weekly shoe-polishing session!


4.     Zebra crossings.

Crossing roads here in China is often bloody dangerous.  Beijing is very modern  and in the center of the city the traffic lights on major roads usually have the green man/red man indicators, and on either side of the thoroughfare there are pedestrian buttons you can press to stop traffic. These also show a digital display of how many seconds you have to cross the road. Sounds good. Ha!  Traffic (which drives on the right here) is permitted to turn right even when there is a red light. So woe betide you if you are crossing at that time.  Despite the volumes of traffic, most drivers opt for short bursts of high speed and then slamming on the brakes at the last moment as the optimum driving style. Bicycle riders, pedicabs, rickshaws, electric mini-vans do not think any of the regulations apply to them.  Seriously, as a pedestrian you dice with death each and every day.  If you are lucky there is a pedestrian overpass which requires climbing up about a million steps to cross the road and then another million back down (hard for me as I am wobbly and have to use a stick ).      Zebra crossing beatles                                                                                                                                             In the UK we have what we fondly call  ‘Zebra Crossings’ – black and white stripes painted on the road geddit? – and for extra emphasis on either side of a zebra crossing is a Belisha Beacon.  Legally pedestrians have priority (over wheeled traffic) on such crossings; once a pedestrian has set one foot on a zebra crossing on-coming traffic from either side MUST stop and give way to the pedestrian. And they do! it is wonderful, it makes life so much easier for pedestrians.  China, you could learn from this!

5.     Wine Gums.

Wine gums 2Wine Gums are a type of sweet. They have been around for well over 100 years. THEY DO NOT CONTAIN WINE.   They are a stiff fruit-flavoured jelly type confection and I love them. Each wine gum is embossed with the name of a drink – Champagne, Port, Hock, Sherry, Burgundy, Gin etc.                    I have never had a particularly sweet tooth, but when, four years ago, I had several strokes my tastes changed. Actually, my ability to taste altered dramatically. I have been told that this is not uncommon post-stroke. For some, their sense of taste goes back to normal after time. This has not happened for me.  It is extraordinary how I now dislike anything sweet, and that doesn’t just include biscuits, cakes, desserts etc, but sauces with any element of sweetness, cereals, fruit yoghurts, ice creams. Chocolate tastes particularly foul.  I have no desire for any of these any more. The one thing that has slipped through the net is Wine Gums, heaven alone knows why.  So when in the UK they are a treat to enjoy, but I can’t buy them here. Maynards, get your marketing act together!



1.     Foot massages

There is nothing so heavenly as a foot foot massage 2massage after a long day on your feet, or climbing, hiking, pounding the pavements, or for no reason at all.  Here in China foot massages are very popular. You can get them anywhere and everywhere, in all towns and cities.               You don’t have to go to a fancy spa, there are little local places, or a foot masseuse will come to you. In the UK there are people who practice “Reflexology” which is rather new age-ish, and slightly ‘alternative therapy’.   foot massage 3                                                 Not here, foot massages are centuries old and extremely commonplace.   They are also very social. I have been with Chinese friends to a foot massage parlor where we have sat side-by-side, chatting, drinking tea and whiling away an hour or so.  There is a chain of extremely well run foot massage parlors called Liangzi, and I always like going to them, they are so kind and will let you sit and gossip for ages after the hour long massage is over.


2.    Chinese food

IChinese mealt is really difficult to find ‘real’ Chinese food in the UK. Most Chinese restaurants serve what they think westerners like: Spring rolls (bought frozen in bulk from the nearest Chinese wholesaler), crispy seaweed (dried shredded cabbage bought in bags from aforementioned wholesaler), sweet-and-sour pork (lumps of pork in heavy batter with a horribly gloopy sauce),  kung-pao chicken (chunks of chicken meat with cashew nuts and a mild chili sauce), stir-fried rice (containing yesterday’s left-over bits and bobs), the list goes on.

Nearly all the Chinese restaurants in Britain are owned/managed and run by Cantonese families who came over years ago.  As a result many Britons think that Cantonese-style food – dumbed down for us guailo/laowai – IS Chinese food. It is NOT.                            China is a country bigger than Europe, there are as many styles of cuisine as in Europe. Swedish is not the same as Greek or Italian, and neither is Sichuanese food the same as food in Shanxi.  Shanxi oat noodlesThere are of course some honorable exeptions to the average Chinese restauranters in the UK – Fuchsia Dunlop for one is breaking new ground.  Alas as far as Scotland is concerned I’ve found nothing, so if I want jiaozi I have to make my own.        Pot noodles anyone?


3.     Hi-speed trains

China hi-speed trainWe British invented the railways, they were part of the driving force that powered the Industrial Revolution and helped create an Empire.  Other countries cottoned on and we exported railway technology all over the world, to Europe, India, America, South Africa and Asia and that helped all of them to develop.  So it pains me to say that now, we in Britain, are being left behind.  China is a vast country, Britain is not, but we should be up with the Chinese in terms of our railways.

I use the Gaotie 高铁(High Speed Rail) here in China rather than fly to many places. china-high-speed-railway-mapIt is super efficient, goes like a rocket, is always on time and the journey is smooth as butter. You can stand a glass of water on your tray table and there will be nary a ripple even though you are travelling at 320 KmPH, and the loos are regularly cleaned during the journey .  Contrast that with one of my recent (regular) journeys between Kings Cross London and NE Scotland, on what is called a ‘hi-speed’ line.  There was Wifi to be sure, but the train vibrated and jiggled so much that any work requiring the use of a pen was well nigh impossible, the lavatories became disgusting after less than an hour into the journey.  There were delays on the line and one could never be sure one would arrive in time to make any onward connection. However I will say that in both China and the UK the staff on the trains were friendly and helpful.                                                                                                                                                Wake up Britain, we NEED  proper high-speed rail on dedicated tracks – once the pain of gettting it built is over, everyone will embrace it.   Hint – why re-invent the wheel, get a Chinese railway consortium to build it!

4.     Affordable made-to-measure clothes.

In the UK, like much of the western world, we have become used to buying our clothing ‘off the peg’. The dressmakers, tailors and seamstresses of yester year are long gone. And although you can have clothes made to measure they usually cost a fortune.                                                                           suits-you-sir AIn many Asian countries, China being one,  having clothes made specially for you is still possible, and at very reasonable cost. There are numerous skilled craftsmen and women who provide this service,and it has been a boon for me. I know what I like and what I am comfortable wearing. Being able to take a favourite garment to a tailor here, buying the cloth I like and having a ‘copy ‘ made is fantastic. When we first came to live here permenantly my DH had some suits and shirts made and I blogged about it.  They are worn regularly and are still in tip top condition.   When I know we are going to leave China for good, I think I will order a whole load of garments including a designer shroud – an item which would be hard to find on a UK high street!

5.     No tipping.

no tippingI wrote a blog post about this when we first moved here, and it is still one thing that I find really pleasing about China. Recently I was talking to a Canadian friend who is a long-time China resident. She was talking about her most recent trip home to Calgary and how her father was shocked when she treated the family to a meal in a local restaurant and then left without leaving a tip (he rushed back in to remedy the situation). “I completely forgot” she told me.  In the UK, most of Europe and north America tipping is mandatory – but the interesting thing is who gets tipped. Restaurant and cafe staff, hairdressers, taxi drivers all expect (and get) tipped..but does anyone tip the drycleaner, the butcher, baker or candlestick maker? No.  It is a system I loathe, it’s demeaning, we’d be better off without it.



*POV = point of view

About herschelian

Started my 60s by moving to China with my DH. Surprised to find I am still here in Beijing eight years later - still finding it an adventure!
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34 Responses to What am I missing?

  1. Delia Charton says:

    Great and interesting blog, Jo! Keep them coming!

    LL Dxxx

    Delia Charton “Poplar Grove” 6, The Valley Close Constantia 7806 W. Cape South Africa

    271, Main Road Eastcliffe Hermanus 7200


  2. Jennie Skidmore says:

    I’ve been missing your posts – this one so great that it almost makes up for the recent dearth! J xxx


  3. tantalus2013 says:

    Thank you Jo. I’m delighted to read your blog again; what we have all been missing is you. Best regards and good health, Cynthia

  4. I’m going to try to pretend I’m not upset that the wine gummies contain no wine.

  5. Great read and I’m amazed about the air quality. This is something I expected when I arrived in Beijing March 29th of this year( for five days). We had come prepared with masks but never used them. I saw a couple of people wearing masks and couldn’t figure out why because the air quality was okay and only one or two young ladies wore them. From there we traveled to Xi’an, Zhengzhou to Suxhou and Shanghai all the way down to Hong Kong.
    In Shanghai, while waiting after dinner to go to the theater, we had an hour to kill and walked the sidewalks and explored the area around and it struck me I could not smell the gasoline of the cars on Nanjing Road, which amazed me. Yes, they are all reasonably new cars but still with all the traffic, I expected to be aware of the stink of it.
    My next post this upcoming Friday, I would like to attach a link to you blog if that is okay with you.
    Interesting reading in your posts.

    • herschelian says:

      Hi – I think you got lucky with the air in BJ – because the city is (like LA) in a ‘bowl’ surrounded by mountains, when the pollution builds up it is trapped unless and until strong winds come to blow it all away. I’m delighted you want to put a link to my blog on yours, thanks!

  6. Marj Wilson says:

    Welcome back Jo, always enjoyed your blog, missed them of late…..now we know what N can bring to Beijing end this month!

  7. Sheila Taylor says:

    Hi Jo – great blog as always. And of course the main thing I miss is you! J and I are having a wonderful trip in India. Saw 2 tigers a few days ago and a sloth bear who seemed pretty perky! Now we are in Jaipur and I have hit the shops using V’s book and recommendations – got some fab things! See you in a few months and for a Skype at the end of the month. Sheila xxxxxxxx

  8. Hello! I love reading your posts. Living down here in Qingdao for the next few years and learned many things from your blog. Have never been to Beijing…yet What are the most interesting areas of Beijing to you?

    • herschelian says:

      Hi Meghan, I am so glad you enjoy reading my blog posts. The most interesting areas of BJ …hmm that is a difficult question to answer. The city is SO huge that there are areas I don’t know at all. I do love going round the hutongs, and the modern art district at 798 is absolutely fascinating… too much to write in this comment. BTW I have never visited Qingdao, think I need to make an effort and do that!

  9. Peter Cartwright says:

    Grandjolini, Your CONCjesty – yes – please keep the, coming. I am an avid reader. Peter xxxx (Cut Sleeve UK Division)

  10. Mary Walker says:

    Glad you are back. Missed you and wondered what happened.

  11. Helen Bowes says:

    I missed your posts but knew you were away. I really enjoyed this one. My son recently visited a friend who is teaching English as a second language in Jinan. He enjoyed Beijing and visited a few other places and was most impressed with the bullet trains. He found the people very friendly and would like to visit again.

  12. Behind the Story says:

    An excellent post!
    Isn’t it interesting that so many people asked you what you missed when you were in China. Didn”t they ask the opposite question?
    Wine gums: Now that’s a funny one. But clean air … Oh, my! Beijing’s smog must be terrible to live in. Fortunately you have all those great benefits of living in China to balance things out–the foot massages, the food, dressmakers, and high-speed trains.

  13. Lee Rodwell says:

    Welcome back. You were missed in suburbia.

  14. camparigirl says:

    Welcome back! Bloody time! Reading your post made me realize how lucky I am to live in LA, of all places. I was just in London and Italy and really noticed the smell of pollution in the air. LA is better??? I wondered. It is. The air is cleaner here (and we do have fantastic Chinese restaurants thanks to the immigration influx and cheap and heavenly foot massages, also compliments of the Chinese). A note on fast speed trains – that have not found their way to the US. I just took two while in Italy and they were wonderful: fast and quiet and on time. I was afraid they would make me sick but I had to glance at the monitor repeatedly to check the speed was indeed 284 km/h because looking out of the window it didn’t feel we were going that fast. Could the UK have something to learn from the screwed up Italians??

  15. I always enjoy your posts and had missed this return one, but thanks to Tess linking to you I found it! I lived in America for a few years and I always got asked what I missed about the UK, and like you say, back here I’ve been asked what I missed from over there.

    They do that right turn on red thing in America too did you know? Not in all states because of course they all have slightly different driving rules state to state, but they did in Nevada where I was. I could see the logic when I was driving, but I was really shocked when I first came across it as a pedestrian, I was like “How can they have the green man up saying it’s safe to cross, when cars can still turn in?!”

    I barely ever buy a Sunday paper, but now you’ve given me an urge to! I know what you mean about them, it’s just not the same reading on screen. One reason I stopped buying them though is because there is just so much to read in them, I would spend hours and hours!

    Wine gums are yummy aren’t they, they’re not overly sweet and there’s something about the flavours and that firm texture that is so good.

    The other thing about trains is that they need to make them cheaper over here, it costs a fortune to travel the country!

    And I totally agree about tipping, it’s horrible and awkward! I’d rather just pay a bit more for the thing.

    Sorry that was a really long comment wasn’t it!

  16. I visited Guandong Province in 2008 and was struck by the following.
    1. The people where very friendly and helpful.
    2. People stirred at me in the supermarket. This may have been due to me being a westerner and/or owing to me being blind and carrying a white cane. I am not sure how many blind people are seen in public in China? Also I was with my (then) Chinese girlfriend which may have excited the interest of fellow shoppers.
    3. It was easy to get people to help carry cases. For only a small amount my then partner and I had our cases carried for some considerable distance.
    I was interested in your comment about reading newspapers online. Are western news sites ever blocked by the authorities.

    Thanks for an interesting post. Kevin

  17. I meant to add, I also am a lover of wine gums, a love which developed as a young boy growing up in Liverpool.

  18. herschelian says:

    Hooray! another Wine Gum lover, you have good taste!

    • I must confess to having tried both the Maynards wine gums and the supermarket’s own brand. I always feel that Maynards taste best but perhaps this is due to me knowing which brand I have purchased. Where someone to offer me a wine gum without telling me whether it was a Maynards or supermarket’s own variety I am not certain whether I would be able to tell the difference. For some reason I prefer buying the bags of wine gums rather than the round tubes. Perhaps you should lobby Maynards to import them into China!

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