A week holiday in George, South Africa
After six months in China, I took a week out to visit my family in South Africa.
Leaving China had more of an impact on me than I expected. I didn't realise that six months was long enough for China to become a whole world, instead of just a country.
The first thing that struck me as the plane came into land was the blue sky. So blue. A deep, clear blue. It is rare to see blue skies like that in China, the norm is white. Even on a clear sunny day, there is always a slight haze. Whether its down to the pollution (although Xiamen is reputed to have clean air) or the humidity I don't know. My friend said that in one of her English classes up in North China, the students were drawing a picture and leaving the sky blank. When asked why they did not colour it in blue, they said, 'But Teacher, it's white!'.
The next thing was my new-found ability to understand all the conversations going on around me. It was a bizarre feeling, and I almost felt guilty for understanding what other people were saying to each other, like I was forced to eavesdrop against my will.
And the Chinese was hard to stop as well - found myself asking for prices and saying thank you in Chinese when buying a drink at the airport. Strange that it took longer for me to fumble for the correct response in my first language than it does in my second.
I was also amused to see the transition of prohibitions at the airports as I flew from China to Africa: from 'No Spitting' to 'No Bare Feet'. That's Africa.
George is a beautiful town at the very tip of the African Continent. Pristine beaches line the coast, with quaint, mediterranean-style towns dotted between rich pine forests and sprawling farms. We stayed a 2-minute-walk away from the beach at the famous Plettenberg Bay. Very privileged to have such easy access to one of South Africa's best beaches.
The quiet beauty of the whole place washed us with peace and filled our whole week with a simplicity that was good for the soul. That and family time made up my soul's chicken soup recipe. Walks along the beach, fresh seafood, select shopping, cultural cuisine, midnight moons and great company.
The food was so fresh and healthy it was almost like my whole body was smiling after a meal there. Not a normal occurrence in China. Although I live near the sea, and there is plenty of fresh (live) seafood to be had, it seems the 'eat it as it comes' approach requires an adjustment in the digestion system. The preferred method of cooking here is frying. Apartments generally come equipped with a gas hob but no oven for roasting/baking. Such things need to be ordered over the internet and are still rare to have. We invited some friends over for dinner and served roast chicken, steamed veg and fresh salad dressed in lemon juice. They commented that it was nice, but they could not survive on 'plain veg' (usually swimming in oil and spices).
I stocked up on all the much-missed goods I could. My family looked on in amusement as I clutched a rather odd array close in my basket: cotton underwear, oat-based breakfasts, vitamins, facial toner, quinoa, mayonnaise, masala spice, chai tea, size 6 footwear- most of which, bewilderingly, is made in China.
One would think that a good would be widely available, and sold at a cheaper price in its country of origin. But this is not what I have found in my 6 months experience of living in the largest manufacturing country in the world. iPhones are generally sold for just under 4000RMB (equivalent of £400). And then the demand for certain food products is just not here in China. It has continually confounded me that rice cakes - the popular health snack in the west - is literally unheard of here in China. Rice cakes. Cotton is a luxury here, with only very exclusive shops selling proper cotton clothes- all over 1000 RMB (£100) a piece. Having said that, the online retail giant TaoBao has the world in its tabs all at dramatically cheap prices, it is just difficult to access for foreigners with no national ID and limited language ability. But I'm determined to acquire the skills to navigate it to my advantage.
Coming back to China was just as strange, the stark differences ever more apparent.
Oh the variety that is life.