By Lorraine Clissold
A blast from Lorraine Clissold's past took her from Richmond in North Yorkshire to a new life in Beijing, China. She's back in the sleepy dales now, but she tells us what life was like in the vibrant Chinese capital.
I first went to Beijing in the summer of 1993 and lived there for ten years from 1995. It was my good luck to experience this vibrant city at a crossroads. The new state of the art skyscrapers were still interspersed with street upon street of traditional courtyard houses and the fast pace of business was still tempered by predictable movements of ordinary people.
Beijing’s residents were very evident in the community, sharing communal facilities and sitting together in the hutongs (narrow streets) to watch the world go by.
A vegetable stall in Beijing
Always fascinated by food, I loved the colourful local markets. I was amazed by the sheer volume of foodstuff that could be loaded onto a ‘san lun che’ (three wheel cart). People shopped with energy and enthusiasm often entering into lengthy exchanges. I was determined to understand more.
Not that food had not been the first thing on my mind when I set out for Beijing. A voice from my past had proffered an invitation to visit the East, and then a single mother of two young boys, I wanted to see what had captured his heart. China in 1993 was a land of opportunity and I positively revelled in the incessant activity. If the markets scintillated my senses by day, the local eating-places, which we frequented at night, totally blew them apart.
Lorraine enjoys shopping in Beijing
Two years later, a ring on my finger, a short Mandarin course under my belt and a third child in tow, I was on my way to a new home and new career. My first task was to crack the language barrier and I set about my studies with a vengeance. Mandarin is relatively simple from a grammatical point of view, but coping with four tones and learning to recognise the characters was a struggle.
My teacher used my interest in Chinese food as an incentive and would find menus or recipes to translate. It was not long before discussions about food began to dominate our classes. Then Chinese Central Television’s Chinese cooking programme approached the language school: “We are looking for someone who knows about Chinese food, can translate recipes from Chinese to English and can chat and joke with the chef on the set.” I was open-mouthed when I learned that I had the job.
Lorraine's boys enjoy Chinese food
The transition from TV presenter to teacher in my own cookery school was a natural one. I became increasingly aware of both the vast differences between the Eastern and Western attitudes to food and the potential for bridging this gap. In particular I wanted to understand how the Chinese eat so much (and research has shown that they actually consume more calories than Americans) and yet, when I lived in China, no one was ever on a diet and there were none of the food-related issues which beset the West.
Since returning to live in Richmond, North Yorkshire in 2005 I have published a book: ‘Why the Chinese Don’t Count Calories’ to share my experience with a wider Western audience.
last updated: 29/07/2008 at 15:52