Blackberry picking and other adventures

You find me sitting in Birmingham International Airport eating a ham and cheddar sandwich on brown bread with kale chips and a soy milk latte. I realize that doesn’t seem newsworthy, but getting such a meal in Guangzhou would be a major feat. Unfortunately, as much as the food is delicious in China, I find it doesn’t nourish my body and soul in the way food in the UK and Europe does. Even with so much processed food in the US, it’s still much easier to find healthy, wholesome food there too.  Since arriving in the UK a week ago, I’ve eaten so much good, simple, wholesome food, and I feel it making a difference in my health and general wellbeing. Spending time with my grandparents, aunt, and uncle and seeing old friends have also reinvigorated me.

 My view last week while waiting for my flight to Birmingham 

As much as I love Guangzhou and my life there, I’m grateful for the break. I’ve been feeling so tired lately, in need of time with family, and desiring a break from the constant challenge life in China poses. It’s hard to explain, because my life in China is incredibly blessed, rich, and full, and on a daily basis I love being there. But it’s taxing to be away from family for so long and to constantly navigate a difficult language and a culture that is so different from my own. I read an article recently on how you know you’ve lived in China as an ex-pat for too long when you’ve not only adjusted to but embraced certain cultural differences. Things like actively seeing the benefits of squat toilets, pushing back without a thought in the crowded metro, and enjoying drinking hot water at meals even in the hot summer. It definitely rang true for me! I’m glad I’ve settled in well into Guangzhou life, but I also find myself to be a bit more of an aggressive person lately, especially when it comes to the dreaded taxis. It’s important to get away and reset for a bit, find myself again.

Time passes differently at my grandparents’ house in Shropshire. On one hand, days have a slower pace, with time and attention paid to the little things in life like preparing meals, playing cards, picking fruit in the garden, reading, and taking leisurely afternoon naps. On the other, time passes so quickly. I’ve often surprised myself looking up at the clock and realizing that hours have passed in what felt like minutes. I’ve managed to spend quite a bit of time out in fresh English air. Actually, the first thing I did once I exited baggage claim last week was to head to the nearest door and just breathe in clean air. Admittedly some people were smoking outside, so it wasn’t so fresh, but still a huge improvement to the hot, humid, swampy fog Guangzhou has been lately.

I just caught the end of blackberry season here, so have been out a couple times gathering fruit on my walks through the woods, and also harvested berries from my grandparents’ cultivated plant in the garden. I have memories of being a little girl wandering through the woods and picking blackberries. It was a bit sad to find so many wild berries left to rot away and hardly any families out on a walk over the weekend enjoying the good weather. Then again, I’m on holiday and my time is largely my own, so I have the luxury of staining my fingers purple. I was able to avoid the rampant nettles quietly taking over the woods, but did collect a few scratches on my arms while reaching for hard-to-reach fruit. Back at home, I made a blackberry and pear crumble using homegrown pears from the garden along with blackberry and elderberry jam. If it sounds idyllic, it was.

Making jam literally from scratch(es)

Of course, I’ve also spent a lot of precious time with my grandparents. My grandpa and I talk about his past travels and bemoan current events; my grandma and I look through old photo albums and I share my wedding album with her alongside theirs. Most early evenings we play cards, Scrabble, or Mah Jong…. They usually win.  My grandma’s short-term memory has faded, but she is still the reigning champion at Gin Rummy.

I also caught up with my best friend from childhood, Hannah, who I’ve stayed in touch with for the 20 years since I left the UK. She has a little boy now who is already walking and just about to talk. We went down to Ironbridge, the site of the oldest iron bridge in the world, and had scones with clotted cream and jam. Last night, I went out to dinner with family friends who’ve stayed close with my family. They see my parents relatively often between their trips to New Zealand to visit their son who lives there and my parents’ occasional trips back to England. It’s a rare pleasure for me to see people who’ve known me for so long. I’m thankful to have that stability in my life of pretty constant change.

The Iron Bridge in Ironbridge

Meanwhile, Amaury has been having a lovely time in Argentina, eating lots of steak and drinking lots of red wine and mate. We’re both looking forward to being reunited in a couple weeks, but have been enjoying our solo adventures. It’s fun to catch up every couple days and share stories.

Today I’m heading on a plane again though to visit friends in Paris (and eat French bread, croissants, and patisseries…). I’ll spend a long weekend there and then head up to Edinburgh for some solo exploration of that city. I haven’t explored Scotland much at


so I couldn’t resist taking the long way back and heading there after Paris. I’d forgotten how affordable budget flights are here. I’ve also just planned a trip down to London, seeing family and friends along the way. So my next newsletter should be full of tales of those cities.

In the plane on my way to France

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