I left Pakistan four years ago to pursue my bachelor’s degree in English from the UK. One thing led to another and now I am pursuing my master’s here too and, thus, haven’t lived in my home country for four years. The decision that I made in the beginning still stands, however living in the UK and only visiting Pakistan in the holidays has led me to discover new things about the UK, Pakistan and myself.
You’ve probably never heard of my small island home of Tasmania. It is situated at the tail-end of Australia and is sometimes left off maps, although I can assure you, it really does exist.
To me, Tasmania is an almost magical place, an idyllic isle. It is where I was born, and where I plan to grow old. My love affair with this place has so far never left me. I come from the North West, living my life on a small hobby farm on the side of a valley, surrounded by trees, mountains and rolling hills.
We have no immediate neighbours, save the tall spindly spines of the plantation trees that up until recently surrounded our home. Occasionally, native wildlife such as possums and wallabies wander through our yard late at night. I can often go days without seeing anyone, if I choose.
If you visit the Xintiandi district in Shanghai, which is now a leisure and entertainment complex, you will be completely absorbed by its modernity. It may then surprise you to learn that Xintiandi is one of many districts in Shanghai that is significant in terms of explaining the concept of community and neighbourhood within China.
Evidence of this community is the fact that Xintiandi comprises of many Shikumen houses. The locals in Shanghai translate Shikumen to mean ‘Stone Warehouse Gate’ in English. Judging from the framing that surrounds the doorways, the name is apt. After all, the doors were made from a thick black wood that was commonly framed with pieces of red stone. You will be surprised to hear me refer to them as houses, because they have long since been renovated. Their modernisation means they are now restaurants, clothes shops, bookstores — to name but a few. All traces of domesticity have been dissolved – or have they? Continue reading
Part Five: The Food
It’s 8.45am on a sunny Sunday morning. I’ve been told to have a lie-in by my host mother and I’m making the most of it. I’ve been in Italy for three weeks now, and tomorrow morning my second camp starts. I get up and open the shutters on my balcony doors, stepping into the sunlight to survey the scenery before me. The plains of Lombardy have been swapped for the hills of Piemonte, and I am living in a house situated in the middle of the historical centre of a medieval hill town, complete with a room in which I have my own en suite bathroom and a balcony with a wicker chair. My stomach growls and a small mental cloud crosses the picture of paradise before me. Italian breakfasts! I dress and go downstairs, preparing myself to consume a polite few biscotti and a glass of milk and then wait until lunchtime, when I’ll be fully able to sate my appetite. What awaits me on the table after I have greeted my host parents is astounding.
Italian food is a topic that deserves an article all of its own. If you’re a breakfast lover, you might have to ask your host family for a little bit more: Italians don’t really do ‘breakfast’ the way we think of it. (Note: if you’re a porridge lover like myself, ask for ‘fiocchi d’avena’.) I struggled through my first camp on a near-empty stomach from the start of the warm-up circle through to lunch, and then resolved to stop being ridiculous and just explain to my next host family that Brits eat breakfast, especially when facing a ten hour working day in the blazing sunshine. But, there was no need. I came down to breakfast on the first morning to a table loaded with cake, cereal, bread, yoghurts, fruit juice, bananas, croissants, biscuits and focaccia. Stunned, I sat at one end of the table with no idea where to start, while my host parents sat at the other end nursing their espresso cups and proceeded to watch me eat. With another family, I arrived at the breakfast table to find cereal and milk had been laid out, but the only crockery or cutlery to be found were an espresso cup and a teaspoon. My host mother looked a little surprised when I asked for a bowl and a big spoon, but for the rest of the week they were there on the table with no further questions.
(Italian breakfast is different but sometimes you’ll be greeted with pastries and coffee. whenangelscook.com)
If you have a specific dietary requirement, don’t fear! Studies have shown that, despite being the homeland of pasta and pizza, there is a high prevalence of celiac disease within the Italian population, and that doesn’t take into account the potential level of undiagnosed sufferers. If you’re vegetarian or pescatarian (like myself), it’s not a problem. They may not understand why anyone would voluntarily forgo beef lasagne, Bolognese sauce or slices of juicy cantaloupe draped in prosciutto, but they accept it and do a very good job of catering for you nonetheless.
The food is seasonal, succulent and there’s so much of it! I gorged myself on cherries and strawberries when I first arrived, which was swiftly replaced by antisocially juicy peaches, and then everything courgette. Chuck into that a regular dose of aubergine, mountains of sun-sweet tomatoes, huge tubs of mozzarella balls and a constant supply of fresh, light pasta, and the whole two months made for a very happy and healthy Charlie indeed.
The term ‘home’ gets thrown around a lot in so many different contexts. Sometimes it means that a football team is playing at ‘home’ rather than ‘away’; in everyday conversations we hear the phrase ‘I’m going home’. Ultimately, ‘home’ denotes a point of origin, or a sense of place to which one ‘belongs’. Moving abroad from your native country is bound to be a jarring and quite frankly bizarre experience, regardless of your motives for emigrating. I moved to Barcelona when I was eight years old, along with my mum and my then two year old brother; and whilst it was perhaps the most interesting experience I’ve ever had, it certainly took a while to become accustomed to.
It all started when my mum disappeared to Barcelona alone for a few days, returning to England with a huge grin on her face waving the tenancy agreement for a ground floor apartment in Sant Cugat, a town just north of the city. My semi-absent father had been looking after us while she was away, convinced she’d return dejected and unsuccessful. Astounded and mildly irritated that she’d struck a deal, he flew back to his home in Zaragoza with his tail between his legs. My uncle and aunt love a good drive, so they hired a van and piled all our possessions into it, drove it across Europe and pulled up outside the new apartment just as we arrived from the airport. My father appeared shortly afterwards in what he wishfully and somewhat ridiculously called ‘the Merc’, which was in fact a hatchback Mercedes emblazoned with the fluorescent orange ‘Easyjet’ logo. This, accompanied by my brother bashing his head into a wall and requiring hospital treatment, the washing machine aggressively vibrating its way across the kitchen after being fitted incorrectly and the not-so-subtle aura of hatred wafting through the air between my father and my uncle, was pretty exhausting. It was all about as glamourous as it gets when moving house.
The move didn’t really sink in until I started at my new school. Each day my mum would ask “so, do you feel like this is home yet?” Being bundled onto a school bus caused reality to crash into view very promptly, and this was what eventually made me reply to my mum’s question with “yes” after realising that we were no longer ‘just on holiday’. Kensington School in Pedralbes, at the heart of the city, is without a doubt the best school I have ever encountered. Private, English-speaking and embracing children from all over the globe, it was a fantastic opportunity to learn about everything. I befriended Korean children who let me try sushi from their lunch boxes, girls from India who were chauffeured to school, a lad from England not dissimilar to me but who spoke fluent Portugese at the age of six, and some Dutch and Russian kids who were to become close friends. I acclimatised to the searing heat and humidity, adored the pool just outside our apartment, revelled in the treats on offer in Spanish supermarkets and learnt material at school that on my return to England wasn’t even touched upon until GCSE classes. School dinners would include everything from empanadas and croquetas to fish fingers and mixed meat curry, and P.E. usually involved dodgeball rather than the horrific gymnastics torture I was used to. The reception class would have visiting animals, so I’d regularly be found there holding a new-born chick, dangling silk worms between my fingers as they munched on mulberry leaves or stood covered in stick insects as they explored my frizzy hair. Continue reading