During December 2014, you may remember I was determined to publish at least two of my books, with two more to follow in January. I had published the first, Inner Sanctum, the first book of the Fractured Series, but only on Kindle. I
could not create the print versions because I was waiting for ISBN numbers.
I was later to discover, these had already been sent, but there was a technical problem with the email address I had used, so they did not arrive in my inbox. This has since been resolved, and Nielsen, the UK agent involved, was most
professional and proactive, once we got into 2015. A-hem.
Lilia was working on covers and manuscript formatting for the second book, Conspiracy Theory, and Boris was working hard on character renders and a cover for the first Star Gazer book. It was a busy time, as I was also rewriting the
third book of the Star Gazer trilogy.
Mama was also with us again, and one morning said we were out of eggs; apparently, she wanted to cook for Rhiannon. I told her the local shop sold eggs, and that we were also out of soy sauce. All of this was accomplished without the
use of many mutually understood words, but it worked for us. I gave her a little money to cover the cost, and she left to replenish the larder.
She was gone for some time, and arrived back with Cheung choi (a common lettuce-like leaf of the mustard family), one dozen eggs, and a bottle of soy sauce. She had obviously gone to the local wet market, and made a derogatory remark
reference something, probably the eggs in the local shop. Chinese prefer the more expensive white hen eggs, a very light beige in fact. I do not because their shells are difficult to crack without rupturing the yolk. There again, Cantonese
never eat runny eggs, but I love them, and so does Rhiannon.
The nearby picture shows how the bottle of soy sauce was presented for carrying—a device that is quite common in these parts. You may think this strange, dangerous even, but Chinese store holders are renown for getting this right. In
the past, I have bought four or five large bottles of beer, tied together with similar string and made into a carrier, and it worked very well.
A few days later, I was delighted to be contacted by Dave, an old friend from way back; he was coming to Foshan for the week leading up to Christmas, and wanted to meet up. I cleared my desk as best I could, and contacted my team to
let them know I would be away for a short while.
Arrangements were slightly vague, I knew when his plane landed, and that we would meet for dinner. Early in the afternoon in question, I left by local motorcycle taxi, and went to a bus stop to catch the little green bus. He wanted to
take me to the bus station, once he discovered my destination, but I knew what I was doing; or so I thought.
The waiting was tedious, and after half an hour, I had seen neither hide nor hair of the bus in either direction, which was most unusual. I rang my wife, who checked with friends, and called back to say the bus no longer ran. I had already
presumed as much, and was already making my way towards the bus station on foot. I needed the exercise, but also wanted to withdraw funds, and doing it at the local bank always makes sense.
I arrived at the main bus station and bought my ticket, the transaction conducted entirely in Cantonese, including times, one person travelling, seat number, departure gate, and all was well. Then the girl told me the fare in Mandarin.
They always do this, and it is very strange. I gave her the money, speaking the figure in Cantonese, which she accepted.
Here is China!
The Foshan coach leaves every twenty minutes, and my departure time was for twenty-five minutes time, meaning I had just missed the purchase window. I stayed outside for a cigarette, and watched the bus I could have been on, depart some
eight minutes later; it was half-full. Ho-hum. I was running slightly late due to losing more than one hour, but not unduly so.
The problem with the coach I took, was that it was express, and only stops at the destination. The green bus would have dropped me near my destination, but the coach would arrive across the city, leaving me a twenty-minute taxi ride
back. Nonetheless, we made good time on the expressway, but pulling off, the driver took a most circuitous route to the terminus. I have made this trip countless times, and the route to Foshan bus station varies slightly.
This time the route taken was new to me, as we went a very long way north, before going east, and then travelling another long way south. There may have been a reason I was not aware of, local traffic jam, road closed, but it seemed
quite odd. We eventually came to the far side of an area I recalled, the driver threading the long coach through local back-streets of a housing community. Double-parked vehicles along one narrow street delayed us, but eventually we got
near to roads I recognised.
The detour added twenty minutes of needless hassle, but in time, I debarked, only to run into a wall of aggressive taxi agents and private car drivers at the exit, all wanting my business. No chance! From past experience I knew they
would refuse to use the meter (illegal) and demand an extortionate fare. Instead, I wandered aside and lit-up, coming to wait at the nearby side-street for an independent cab; something I had done many times before.
I remembered the vernacular for my destination, and was complimented on my Cantonese, and we chatted a bit along the route. I could not believe how much Foshan had changed in eighteen months; the city centre sported new skyscrapers not
there before. The most amazing was my old main road, ‘gui wah mmm lo’, a main artery of the city that had acquired a major underpass for through traffic.
I was dropped at the hotel I usually stay at, it is a cheap Chinese 2** star affair, but ten quid a night works for me—it’s not as if I would ever use the room, except for sleeping. The foyer had been renovated, the counter now near
the door. The girl behind it was insular and only spoke Mandarin; she didn’t even recognise the Mandarin word for Cantonese, how ignorant, but migrant workers are like this.
I was pretty sure we both knew what I wanted, but she wasn’t prepared to even try, so fifty-fifty was out, and their was no audience; I called a friend. Dave answered Candy’s phone, and after a brief ‘hello’, I asked to speak to her.
She said, “We are coming, I am right outside!”
No sooner had I walked out of the door, than Candy came running to give me a hug, it had been some time between us. I also gave Dave a manly hug, and it felt great to be back in company with these old and true friends. Moments later,
the receptionist, a young girl in her early twenties, was surly with Candy also, but at least my friend spoke Mandarin. This is very strange for Chinese people as a whole, but obviously the girl was having a bad day. The problem turned
out to be that she wanted to sell me a larger room, but Candy got me the basic one I wanted, and I booked in for three nights.
Candy and Dave had been on their way to the ATM, and the third bank we tried accepted the four-digit pin number. China uses six numbers, but four is usually no problem, it was related to that particular type of card, only.
What to do next? Our thoughts turned to having a beer, as it was almost dinnertime. In due course, we arrived at one of our old haunts, ‘ho shun lao’. The boss who recognised us instantly, welcomed us proffering a large grin. He ushered
us to seats, giving me a cigarette in the process. We ordered a couple of beers, which were served by the waitress I first met in Foshan, ten years ago. She gave me her special smile, and made us feel most welcome. Cheers! It was good
to be back home, as it were; it felt like that to me, and more so than returning to Blighty.
What can I say, we had a great night, all three of us catching up on times old and new. The only downside was Foshan authorities had banned tables on the street, but otherwise everything was as always in this back-street backwater. We
ordered food; steamed broccoli with garlic, lamb kebab fragments = a plateful all on toothpicks and delicious, and a ‘chow mein’ or noodles stir-fry.
Candy left us around nine, after ordering the number one dish for us, a large fish. The menu had improved greatly, each dish now had a picture, so it was easy for us to order ourselves. The fish arrived some time later, on a sizzling
platter that was fired by charcoal embers. Wow! The sauce was excellent, and the fish was not riddled with minute bones in most places. We ate it casually as the beers flowed, and we relaxed into old friendship. The one thing that puzzled
us, was that their only seemed to be one side of the fish, the other fillet appearing to have been removed. We were mopping up accompanying vegetables, when I discovered the missing fillet, beneath the bones. We had both looked for it
several times, but it was well hidden, honest.
The next day Dave was committed to business, ordering spare parts to take back to Blighty, and I was free with nothing to do. Having talked about it the night before, I had a formulating plans to catch the metro to Gongzhao (Guangzhou,
[GZ]) and go to food city. I wanted to call and see if Jim was free for lunch, but delayed as we were not sure if Dave would be free for dinner, and when.
Candy rang to say she was coming with me, and would be at the underground station before midday. That was great, but sort of put the kibosh on me meeting Jim. However, having never been to this food city on my own, I welcomed the assistance.
I started wandering in the general direction of the metro, taking a longer route to pass time, and also check for changes to the streets I knew so well; there were many, but small, nothing major.
I reached where I thought the tube should be, but having never been there before, dithered for a minute before calling Candy. She did not reply; I knew she was driving and would call back. When she did, it appeared I was in about the
right place, so I stood aside to wait. One minute later she pulled up beside me, searching for a place to park. We were in fits of giggles, as this was not our arrangement for meeting.
She parked and paid; amazed she could park there all day for a set charge, unlike the nearby streets that charged by the hour. All are attended by parking officials, who have a block or so to attend to. The entrance to the metro was
just across from us, as I thought, although better signs would have helped. The only problem was, the major road we had to cross, was fenced off in the middle; we would need to go around.
Around we indeed went, half a mile up the road to a crossing point, across the road in turn, and then another half a mile walk back to opposite where we had been half an hour before. Maybe I exaggerate, but it was incredibly stupid,
even for China. Candy explained, “The local residents refused to have an entrance/exit on this side of the road, so they built two close together on the other side.” Neither of us were impressed. Here is China!
The carriage was deserted and we took seats for the long haul into GZ, although at Y7, or seventy pence – $1, it was a snip. We watched the in car TV, and thirty minutes later, reached the end of the line. We had to walk up and down,
plus around, for about half a mile, before connecting with the GZ metro. Again we got seats, but it was a close call. The transfer was relatively quick, we changed again for the last time, and fifty minutes after leaving Foshan, arrived
at where we needed to be, I thought.
You see, we were destined for Nan Tai Road, and my online map showed two of them, disconnected. I had mentally superimposed the metro map, thinking I knew where we needed to be, but it turned out to be a dud. Obviously we needed to be
on the other Nan Tai Road, but that was a long way away, on foot. Candy asked a local shopkeeper, who gave us directions for ‘pei fa xi Cheung’ or the nearby wholesale market.
Returning to the main road, we hailed a cab, and he took us on a very roundabout, but understandable route, dropping us off at somewhere I did not recognise. Candy said, “We are here. It is across the road.”
I did not recognise the thoroughfare, but it was called Nan Tai Road. Hmmm. We wandered across the road, and it became not quite familiar. We were obviously on the edge of a large food market, stalls and shops indicating the sole purpose
of the area. However, they were selling nothing I wanted to buy, so we wandered inwards for a while. Cresting a hill where they sold appliances like industrial fridges and hobs for restaurant kitchens, I kept my eyes peeled for an oven,
but nary was found. Instead, the street wandered on, as we followed.
The area was segregated in calamitous fashion, into blocks that stretched back on my right for hundreds of yards, indicated by the corrugated tin rooves of the greater shed; I won’t call them buildings as such, because they weren’t.
More like myriad stalls within a cattle market, each a rabbit warren of its own device. They matched what I knew, but we were still in the wrong place.
We walked for thirty minutes, over one mile, I jest not. All the while, the rooves from this teeming and small main artery, spread northeast for hundreds of yards. As we neared the bottom of the hill, things started to feel familiar.
Then I saw it, away in the distance, the main road I knew, and within a hundred paces, shops I recognised. We had made it!
I still cannot believe how large the area was. It was the size of an English town, but all dedicated to supporting the restaurant trades people and food industry. Incredible! It must have covered one square mile, as a self-contained
unit. Massive does not begin to explain just how big the place was, and all clumped together in shantytown fashion.
With great relief, we reached the end of this connecting road, also called ‘Nan Tai Road’, and we came into … you guessed it, ‘Nan Tai Road’, again. That’s four of them by my count. We would eventually travel along seven ‘Nan Tai Roads’
that day, all completely different, never segregated as west, south, numbered, it was the same road; several were utterly disconnected. Here is China!
Upon reflection, I guess the entire area was known as Nan Tai Road in prehistory, and the name stuck, even as the wholesale market grew, especially in latter times. Remember, in Toisan, I live on the main artery road that services an
estate of over one hundred thousand people; that road does not have a name, but the area does = ‘poi zing zhong hok’. I deduce that Nan Tai is the area, and any road within is called Nan Tai Road = simple, when you understand the local
One strange thing about the entire area was that there were no restaurants, zero normal shops, nor anywhere to buy simple refreshments, or sit down. They catered for the industry, not their clients. I knew there used to be a shop half
a mile up the road, and passed the crest of the hill; but knowing China, wondered if it was still there. The mood was ‘tired’, we decided to get in, and get out. It would be a long and heavy trek back to known civilization.
We scouted my known small area for what I wanted to buy; the stalls I knew were still there, and I was recognised by some owners. Our plan was set, but we came to the other side, and I simply needed a few minutes. We hoped for a shop,
but there was none. I perched on the rockery surrounding the base of a tree to smoke, while Candy stood nearby eating dry-preserved fruit.
It was time to go, and we took a few minutes to wander around; I wanted to show Candy all the bags of herbs and dried mushrooms for sale. I also had an eye out for secondary items I wanted to purchase, should I spy them. We then hit
the main stalls I knew of, and I bought what I needed, Candy also purchasing a variety of small cheeses: Danish blue, camembert, and Philadelphia. I tried to pay, but she refused. I bought similar, along with 2 Kg of frozen bacon for
Y68 (£6.80). My local supermarket sells small packs of eight rashers at Y45 apiece, so a great saving; same with cheese, on the rare occasions it is available.
My other main purchases were a 5 Kg block of Anchor cheddar for Y400, a 2 Kg ball of wronky Edam for Y125, a very large tin of Colman’s mustard that was eight inches high. English mustard is common in Foshan, but I have never seen it
in Toisan. I added a couple of 1 Lb tubs of Flora, which freezes well, but I had already stocked up on butter in Toisan, it being available for a change. I also got a litre can on Knorr demi glace sauce mix; it’s a sort of gravy, but
not quite, and ideal for adding a spoonful, for a hint of flavour to pot noodles – just stir it in.
The final must have was Hellmann’s mayonnaise, to which I'm addicted. We toured the area, but no trace was found. On my last visit it had been everywhere, and this was important to me. Virtually every other stall was selling some Chinese
crap, which looked like the McCormick stuff that comes in either sweet or very sweet varieties. I knew better. This is used instead of cream in China, for topping fruit salads and the like. Cream does not exist in Canton. Some stalls
also sported other Chinese copies = No! Tiring rapidly, I came across some Heinz mayonnaise, but the label was all in Chinese. I did not want to leave empty handed, so took a chance on it; Y58 for a 3 Litre jar was not a lot to lose if
it turned out inedible. Note, it turned out spot-on, and I will buy it again. On the way out I also snapped up extras, like a tin of Chinese corned beef (unsure about this, but the tin is the correct shape), Dijon and grainy mustards,
and a large slab of corned (salt) beef.
Man was it heavy! Even with Candy to share the load, it became a nightmare. Next time I am taking a suitcase or trolley. My rucksack alone was over half a hundredweight, never mind the carriers. We were lucky to get a cab quickly, and
returned to the tube station. I wanted to call Jim, but speaking to Dave, we discovered he would soon be free and was waiting for us. “Sorry Jim, I’ll see you next time, promise, and we can share some quality time together.”
The hours of an afternoon appear to disappear when one is travelling. The return journey was galling, but using the wait for next train technique, we did get seats for the two longer legs of the trip back. The final set of stairs up
to the exit in Foshan almost killed me, but I made it, and Candy tried to get us a cab, succeeding eventually. I got back to my hotel and dumped the stuff, needing to rest for a while before going to meet Dave; Candy went on up the road
to his hotel directly.
I joined them a few minutes later, and we decided to book a room similar to his for my family, ‘friend the fish’ would take my present room for the night. The room was Y168, and had a large double bed, and a three-quarter bed, plus good
facilities. Candy helped me try to book the room for the next evening, and it was OK, but I wanted one on the quiet side of the building, as otherwise the place was directly opposite Rave Party nightclub. They charged more at weekends,
but eventually the receptionist retrieved Candy’s VIP membership (She uses this to book for Dave, not herself), and we were set. I would have to wait, but was assured a similar type of room at the weekly rate. Job done.
We had no plans for that night, and Candy left for her home when we departed the hotel; I felt sure I had worn her out and she needed to escape. We did a repeat of the night before, and most excellent it was. However, around nine we
left and wandered a short way up the road to DJ Café, a western bar that sold large stein’s of Tiger and other imported draught beers. Delish! I did not think I would finish one, but remember consuming three.
Later we needed to line our stomachs before bed, so went to KFC just around the corner. It was empty, and the food selection dire. I have since come to realise that all McDonald’s and KFC in Canton now operate a very restricted nighttime
menu. Chips are only available to special order; and most of what little is for sale are child portions missing most of the trimmings. The nearby picture of my ‘zinger’ burger relates, but fortunately, I had also ordered a fajita wrap
to fill the far lands. The two staff compounded this bad experience by only speaking Mandarin, the guy being large and unusually disagreeable. I eventually managed to get some fries out of them; they were old and cold. Nightmare!
I will leave the reader to work out what this main road fast food place should be offering for sale, even at one a.m. There are two major nightclubs within three hundred yards, and the local streets were alive with people.
Saturday arrived a little after midday, and I came awake with Malaysian 3-in-1 coffee that I always carry in my rucker; which is an excellent restorative. I could hear cleaners working outside, but when I checked they had disappeared.
I had another coffee, noting the extractor fan in the bathroom had stopped working; it was getting smoky in my room. I opened the door and window wider for draught, and saw the cleaners returning from lunch. I asked them to change the
sheets; this had been a worry, as ‘friend the fish’ would sleep there that night. They went to work immediately, not only changing the bedding, but also attending to bins and making a quick wipe round. It was not a full room cleansing,
but more than enough for our purposes. They were also friendly and chatty = nice, and happy in their work. I washed out my mug, and went to find Dave.
The local shops and malls were alive with a version of Christmas; Christmas trees, Jingle Bells on tannoy, and people wearing red costumes with fury white trim. We ate at the nearby western restaurant, which had also renovated and moved
up a class. It was fine; Candy and her daughter Grace, who is one year older than Rhiannon, joined us for luncheon. She again parked her car where she had done the day before, thus saving a lot of money.
The evening meal was scheduled for 6 p.m. at the Little Sheep, and we arrived early. In part, this was to complete Siu Ying’s birthday treat; remember when we went, the Hoipeng restaurant had closed. We have since discovered it moved
to new premises, shame there is no forwarding address where it used to be.
We secured a round table for ten people, and drank beers as we waited. The staff at this particular restaurant are usually very busy and businesslike. However, we did get chatting to one waitress of older years, who proudly told us she
had an English husband. Her English was pretty good, and she spoke Cantonese also, even though she was not born in the region. As the hour rounded to seven, we became hassled to order, our special waitress advising us to order the main
hot pot and a side dish, the supervisor would then leave us alone.
That is what we did, and someone made a bet on which of our expected guests would arrive first, Candy’s husband Lawrence, or my wife, Rhiannon, and ‘friend the fish’ who was driving. Candy offered Y50, and I agreed. It was for play only,
but Lawrence was the first to arrive, if only just. I made sure I honoured the bet, thus paying Candy back for the day before, fares and parking, and the like. This time she accepted, which was cool. Had it been the other way round, I
would not have accepted; fair is fair.
Siu Ying was immediately tasked with completing our order sheet, which she is expert at. It has hundreds of choices, never mind options, and is a bit of a task for the new patron. Meanwhile, Fi, or ‘friend the fish’ joined us for beers,
and being a smoker like me, sat next to me. The two youngsters, who had never met before, got on really well and had a great time to themselves.
The meal was great, and going to the loo, I asked for the bill. It never arrived, so some time later I asked again. Lawrence and I battled over it, he winning because he spoke the language. Damn! I would get him back. That was Y400,
or forty quid for a meal for eight, and we were stuffed, never mind the dozen or more beers that accompanied. My one regret is that I was so busy competing to pay with Lawrence, that I forgot to use my VIP card, which gives me a discount
and points towards ‘something’ ill-defined.
We parted that night having enjoyed a great meal, and having a fantastic time. It was just like old days, and one we promised to repeat. Lawrence was now the boss of his father’s company, and had declared a holiday for the Monday, a
festival that is not official but many still honour, The Winter Solstice.
This was perhaps a convenient ploy on his part, as his company were in the process of moving to new premises. However, it left their family free to join us in Toisan for the next day, Dave already committed to staying with us. They would
give him a lift back to Foshan on Monday afternoon.
We all went our separate ways, but Dave and I still had some stuff to talk about, so we alone went on to DJ Café. I have no idea how many stein’s we drank that night, but what I remember of it was a blast. Later they were showing Premier
league football, which Dave was really into. We got caught up in a dice game, which really brought the essence of old times back to us, and apparently at some point in the early hours, I lost it. Not badly of course, I do remember most,
but I was well wrecked, and Dave guided me back to the hotel. I had to knock the door for Siu Ying to let me in, and I fell asleep holding her and Rhiannon.
And so it came to pass, the next day I was feeling like shit, but we managed to late breakfast at KFC, who unusually, were selling items from their main menu. After coffee, not a KFC strong point, we headed back to Fi’s microbus, and
piled inside. He had already brought down my purchases before joining us at KFC, and he did mention how heavy everything was, but is a respectful and humorous way. He’s a great bloke.
We hit the road, and escaped Foshan city, headed for home. Candy called; apparently, they were also on the road, and arrangements were made to meet for convoy. One hour later, we diverted to the new Toisan bypass, and shortly found their
car parked up waiting for us. Fortunately, they had only been there for a few minutes, and a few minutes later, we were drawing up outside Chateau Jonno.
We welcomed them to our home, and as we had all enjoyed late breakfast, skipped luncheon. I passed the time with Dave, showing him our Chinese renovations in some professional depth, the youngsters continuing from the night before, and
much fun was had by all.
Candy headed off for the local hot springs, accompanied by her family, Siu Ying and Rhiannon. This was our daughter’s first experience of large water and swimming, not quite. She had a great time, and returning several hours later, wanting
to go again the next day. Santa giving all the kids a Christmas present perhaps aided this; the pictures and video I have showing me she was in her element.
That night I had wanted to take Dave to a fish restaurant we enjoy, but Siu Ying had other plans. Dave loves fish, but not the bones versions sold in Canton. These are basically various types of carp, some several feet long. If you love
fresh kippers without the smoking, then these would be for you; otherwise forget it.
We ended up in the countryside and arrived at a shanty place we had been to before that was renowned for fish hot pot. That time the food was OK. This time they ordered different things, and several ‘friends’ who drank and smoked like
all local people, even the wives and girlfriends, joined us. The night turned out to be quite good, but there was not much Dave and I were interested in eating. We filled up on hot pot cooked spud slices, and other things. Both of us
tried the fish, which was full of bones, and the scarce meat we found tasted like ‘fish’. However, I did manage to pay for the meal, which is quite a problem in Canton. I was aided by Siu Ying who would take no messing.
Fi drove us back home after consuming his customary (small) bottle of rice wine; I remember when Blighty was like that, but those times are long gone. Similar restrictions are slowly coming to China, but they have not really gotten to
these remoter parts, as yet. I am just relating how we live down here, not making a statement, nor passing judgement, asking for one even = this is how it is for ordinary people.
All except Fi stayed the night, we three remaining boys ending up watching football and drinking beers into the early hours. By the time I slothfully roused the next morning, Candy and her family had already breakfasted at the local
sik juk restaurant, and Dave was coming awake, working intently on his iPad, and using our Wi-Fi to catch up on email, whatever.
The kids were still getting on great, and had become firm chums = excellent! In time we all roused and headed out for lunch, this time going to the nearby fish restaurant I had wanted to visit the evening before. I looked at the tanks
of swimming fish, and ordered ‘Lo Bo’, a flat sea-fish that has few but major bones, and is very tasty; a sort of sole if you like. This was accompanied by many other courses, Dave being wowed by that restaurants version of cauliflower;
it is steamed with garlic and red onion slices, and has bits of spring onions, celery, and other complimentary vegetables to assist the perfection of this, local dish. I loved it, and so did Dave. It remains highly original, moorish,
and very delicious.
The one thing we managed to work out, was that the cauli, and broccoli, were each steamed with a little oil in the pan, not much, but enough to provide a slight glaze to the veg and resultant sauce. This is the key to both dishes, which
was also confirmed by our friendly waitress at The Little Sheep. Siu Ying corroborated, as if we were stupid, “Of course, flash fry the florets with garlic in oil before steaming.” She gave us a withering look.
I must update my recipe pages to reflect this new insight; I mean, she cooks it regularly at home, but not with restaurant presentation in mind. In due course we said our goodbyes at the restaurant, the others going to spend the night
in Xi Qiao to celebrate the shortest day, as we returned to our everyday lives.
It was really good to catch up with these old and trusted friends, renewing old bonds, our children forging new ones. We have already made plans to visit the hot spring over Chinese New year, but will miss Dave, unless he is free to
join us. What are your plans for deepest February?