Monthly Archives: April 2013

A Rainforest Butterfly

Today was the last day of the Rainforest topic at BISS for Year 3 and all of the students of Year 3 went to school dressed with a Rainforest theme.

Isabelle had chosen to go as a Butterfly (a Monarch Butterfly to be precise).  Owen had managed to order some wings in the UK and he picked them up on his last medical trip over.  She wore a sparkly blue top and black leggings to complete the outfit.

Blue Sparkles and Butterfly wings........  Ava is a toucan, Maddie is a Rainforest Girl and Sarah is another Butterfly.

Blue Sparkles and Butterfly wings…….. Ava is a toucan, Maddie is a Rainforest Girl and Sarah is another Butterfly.

Isabelle told us that most of the boys dressed up as monkeys!  She also thought the best outfit was a peacock – because it had real feathers all over it.

She has really enjoyed this topic and has become very knowledgeable about the Rainforest and its role in our fragile earth.

Check out my wings!

Check out my wings!

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A Naked Retreat Weekend

A lovely weekend at The Naked Retreat at Moganshan, outside of Shanghai. Owen had just returned from one of his UK medical trips and the kids were on Easter/Spring break.  We packed the car and then spent 2.5 hours driving for a lovely long weekend break.

The naked Stables Private Reserve is an exclusive resort in a protected nature reserve.  It is luxury accommodation in spacious Tree Top Villas or single bedroom Earth Huts, spread across a broad, secluded valley in the foothills of Moganshan. No motor vehicles are permitted inside naked Stables Private Reserve but you can get around the extensive estate by electric golf cart or by foot.

We had reserved a Tree Top Villa, “Owl 4” – a 2 bedroom villa with spectacular views across mountain tops.  The deck had a jacuzzi on and a barbecue grill.  We all loved the hot tub and were in it at least twice every day!

Our Tree Top Villa - Owl 4

Our Tree Top Villa – Owl 4.  That is Owen waving down to us.

Owl 4 - all the different areas are named after animals and birds.

Owl 4 – all the different areas are named after animals and birds.

The villas blend in so well with the trees and landscape

The villas blend in so well with the trees and landscape

Now, this is the life!

Now, this is the life!

Relax, get active and get well.  Get ‘naked’.  Lounge on a sundeck beside your private jacuzzi, admire the mountains above the forest and watch the wild deer below, or take advantage of a range of activities from mountain biking, horse riding and hiking.  Cool off in one of our three swimming pools.  Get involved in cultural and culinary events in the evenings.  Children can be let loose in the supervised Little Shoots Kids Club.  For the restoration of mind, body and spirit, the naked Leaf Wellness Center, hidden in the forest, offers personal consultations and a range of treatments, holistic therapies, yoga and meditation, diet and exercise regimes that incorporate all sides of the resort.  It’s pure, private, naked luxury.

Owen and I spent a couple of hours in the spa while the kids played in the Little Shoots Club – it was a fabulous pampering experience.

We had booked both children in for Horse Riding.  Prior to this, Oliver was sure that he did not want to do it.  We persuaded him to try something new and once he was on the horse, he absolutely loved it!  We were so proud of him trying something new….

All suited up and ready to go!

All suited up and ready to go!

Loving the trotting!

Loving the trotting!  He could not keep the smile off his face the whole time!

Isabelle on her horse.

Isabelle on her horse.

The 2 of them walking and trotting around.

The 2 of them walking and trotting around.

The horses at the Retreat are from all over China.  Many of them have had traumatic lives prior to arriving, but they are well looked after here.  One of the horses had given birth to her foal 6 weeks ago.  It was a wonderful creature:

Mummy and Baby

Mummy and Baby

There is quite a bit to do at the Naked Retreat.  I took photos of a tea picking activity:

Tea picking in the mountains.

Tea picking in the mountains.  Can you see them in the fields?

Isabelle and Oliver loved the hot tub.  They were in it at every opportunity!

Night time hot tubbing!

Night time hot tubbing!

More night time hot tubbing!

More night time hot tubbing!

The Kids club was

Indoor and outdoor activities at the Kids Club,

Indoor and outdoor activities at the Kids Club,

Isabelle and Oliver enjoyed spending some time at the Kids Club.  They came back with beautiful paper flowers and stories of falling off the hammock!

The pool shaped like a tea leaf.  The upper pool is heated, but the lower pool is not and was very cold!!

The pool shaped like a tea leaf. The upper pool is heated, but the lower pool is not and was very cold!!

The restaurant served “free” afternoon tea with lots of delicious delicacies.  It also had a lovely buffet breakfast and lots of yummy evening menu items.  The ceiling had an unusual design…..

Ceiling design

Ceiling design at Kikaboni restaurant

The story behind “The Naked Retreat”:   South African Grant Horsfield, the founder of naked Retreats, came to China in 2005.  He wanted to identify a product that he could import and sell to the infamous ‘China market’, the untapped maker of fortunes that has attracted so many speculators for so many years.  Grant is selling an idea, and he has found a vast market for it – while he was working in the bustling city of Shanghai, Grant missed the open spaces of his home country.  He was brought up on a farm, the Veldt and mountains were his playground.  Much like anyone, he found the pace of city life, the pollution, the stress, debilitating. He started looking for an escape, a rural retreat.

After several scouting trips by car and bicycle into the hinterland west of Shanghai, Grant came upon Moganshan, a bamboo clad mountain that was a popular heat retreat in the days of Shanghai’s foreign concessions.  Just below the mountain’s peak and its surviving foreign-built villas, he discovered a farming hamlet called Shanjiuwu, also known as ‘395’.  The houses were old, rundown, and mostly abandoned. A small, aging community grew tea and vegetables on smallholdings and harvested bamboo.  Grant had found his idea – with immense difficulty he tracked down the owners of the neglected farmhouses, he roused the village chief and approached the local township authorities.  His proposal was equally difficult for them to understand, let alone approve and enact.  Grant wanted to rent some underused farmhouses and convert them into guesthouses. He prevailed, and naked Retreats Home Village was born. The year was 2007. The eight guesthouses have been all but fully booked ever since.  Grant, with partners Gabriela Lo and Evan Lai, and his wife Delphine Yip, has built naked Retreats into a well known, successful company and brand.  In October 2011 they opened naked Stables Private Reserve, a purpose built collection of Tree Top Villas and Earth Huts at the foot of the valley below 395. naked Retreats are now looking further afield, yet always within a few hours of a major city, for places to create their unique retreats for the vast, untapped market of urban China.

One of the private rooms at the Kikaboni restaurant.  These chairs are fabulous!

One of the private rooms at the Kikaboni restaurant. These chairs are fabulous!

The cabins are tucked in the mountains.....

The cabins are tucked in the mountains…..  You can barely see them when walking around.

Look at the Bamboo forest behind Isabelle and Oliver.  The whole mountain is covered with bamboo and tea!

Look at the Bamboo forest behind Isabelle and Oliver. The whole mountain is covered with bamboo and tea!

A lovely relaxing, peaceful weekend.  We all enjoyed this wonderful place and will try to get back again before we leave China.

Dinosaurs and Volcanoes

Reception were studying Dinosaurs last term.  Oliver has absolutely loved this topic and can rattle off the names of many of them.  He can identify them by shadow flashcards and has an opinion on why they died.  I say all this because I love his enthusiasm for learning!  He has built his own dinosaur out of “junk” (packaging, toilet rolls, etc that are recycled in these school projects) that had an impressively long neck and was beautifully painted.

I was lucky enough to spend a couple of hours with him at school where he was excited to show me all that they had completed.  He had helped to make a volcano and I was there to see him and some classmates paint it.

Painting the volcano

Painting the volcano

He also did some Dinosaur excavation – a really cool kit that allows kids to learn about fossils!

Excavating for his dinosaur

Excavating for his dinosaur

Here is the finished result!

Here is the finished result!

The Ex-pat Phenomenon

Why is it that I have met so many Ex-pats who say that although they love their “home” country, it is now a place to visit vs a place to live in again?  Most of my friends here (from many different Countries) say that they don’t think they can return home to live.  In doing a quick search on the Internet, it appears that my local findings mirror a global trend – over 60% of British Ex-pats do not want to return home (sources: Daily Telegraph survey October 2010 and  Lloyds TSB survey November 2011).  69% of the estimated 5.5 million Brits living in other Countries have no plans to return “home”.

‘Expats have an enlightening view of the UK, having experienced life both home and away, so it’s worrying that life in Britain appears so bleak when viewed through their eyes,’ said Lloyds TSB’s Expatriate Banking Managing Director Tony Wilcox.

Having left the UK for the first time in 1995 and extending what was then a 2 year assignment into 15 years, returning “home” in 2010 was a difficult transition for me and my family.  The Britain we returned to was vastly different from the Britain we left, and in my humble opinion, not for the better.  Everything is so expensive, taxes are high, crime (and violent crime) is up (or maybe it is reported more sensationally) and the sense of hopelessness I felt in the younger generation was depressing.  Even the brilliant British TV seemed to have sunk to the lowest levels of society.  When did British comedy have to be so crass, rude and mind numbing to be funny?  We could only find QI to save us!

The problem was that living in America we had found ourselves split in 2 and torn between 2 worlds.  We often said that we wished we could “import” our family and friends and then we never would have left.  People become Ex-pats for many reasons – work, a fresh start, a new experience, or in a bid to leave something behind; and although you miss home, the longer you are away, the more your mind creates a memory.  Home in that sense becomes something that it isn’t.

So, in 2012 when I was presented with the chance of a brilliant professional challenge as well as a huge cultural learning opportunity in China, the whole family jumped at it.  1 year on and it has been a roller coaster ride and one that I would not change.  1 year to go and we have no idea what is next.

So, what is next for me and my family?  I believe that we are all now “Global Citizens”.  As such, we no longer fit in anywhere 100%.  We are jigsaw puzzles with pieces that are coloured in so many different shades.  My children have friends from different Countries around the world and could tell you about the traditions and culture in at least 4 or 5 of them.  Diversity is valued and celebrated at their school.  Their passports have more stamps in them in 7 short years than in the first 30 years of my life.  They have seen and experienced more than their peers in either UK and USA.  Will “normal” life seem boring and bleak to them after this experience?  Will their beginning grasp of Mandarin fade into a distant memory?  What do we do with our careers?  Where is the next BIG opportunity for either of us?

So many questions with many possible answers.  And none of them will be right or wrong.  Such is the life of an Ex Pat, such is the life of a Global Citizen.

The Easter Bunny made it to Shanghai

There was uncertainty in our house this week.  No-one knew for sure if the Easter Bunny visited China.  And, if he visited China, would he know that Isabelle and Oliver lived in The Emerald in Shanghai?

Well, Owen and I both woke up to the sounds of excited squeals coming from our garden so we knew that they were busy hunting for, and finding eggs!  Isabelle had written lots of notes for the Easter Bunny and had left them all over the garden.

Isabelle's Easter Notes for the Easter Bunny.

Isabelle’s Easter Notes for the Easter Bunny.

And, beautifully drawn!

And, beautifully drawn!

By the time I got downstairs, both of the children had found all their eggs and were busy counting them all.  Quite the loot……

What a lot of eggs!

What a lot of eggs!

On Saturday we were out running errands and we were parked by this wonderful car:

Oliver is pretending to drive this flash car.  He is very impressed by fast, impressive vehicles and knows the names of all the fancy ones.  As Shanghai is full of "new money", we often see these types of cars around town.

Oliver is pretending to drive this flash car. He is very impressed by fast, impressive vehicles and knows the names of all the fancy ones. As Shanghai is full of “new money”, we often see these types of cars around town.

Right behind the Lamborghini is the Ritz Carlton hotel.  They have a lovely bronze fisherman out front.

Fishing!

Fishing!

We finished Easter Sunday with the kids doing lots of dancing at home.  I know I am getting old as many of the songs that Isabelle likes and can name, are by people or groups that I have never heard of!  After a marathon dance routine involving lots of swinging around and sliding on the floor, it was time to eat some more chocolate and give Mum a hug!

Worn out after all their dancing.  But not so tired to still smile so brightly with their old Mum!

Worn out after all their dancing. But not so tired to still smile so brightly with their old Mum!

A lovely Easter weekend 🙂