Letters from Shanghai
My grandfather, Xu (Zee) Bao Shan and grandmother Doris Zee
Do you remember what were you doing this time last year?
I was cooking and shooting images for my book, waiting for the rising and setting suns for the right light, not too dark and not too bright. Mexican breakfasts like Divorced Eggs or twists like a Green Shakshuka were on the table and I had neighbours popping in to feast on the leftovers.
I was making changes to my recipes on the fly, ticking off each dish on a carefully prepared spreadsheet and responding to emails from my editor about that I was turning slightly mad. I would go food shopping at night when the supermarkets are quiet and quite frankly a complete mess, to spend an hour browsing the isles and looking at strange ingredients, something I find immensely satisfying.
Mark was about to quit his job, he hated the company and each evening I would offer him reassuring words to hang in there. It wouldn’t be long before he would stop taking my advice and resign and in the end he did the right thing. Last month we left London, our home for almost a decade to live in Shanghai. Mark has a new job and I am here mainly to enjoy the ride, I’m one of those lucky gits that can do their job anywhere.
My grandfather was born here and left during the Second World War for Liverpool. He never returned, and in 1989 passed away. Without wanting to romanticise everything about this experience, I feel like I’ve returned to something I've always known. My father has never been to Shanghai or China (hopefully that will change soon) but in the hours of people watching I’ve done so far, I can see where he gets some of his strange mannerisms like the way he sneezes or his particular table manners.
But Shanghai today is not the city my grandfather left nearly 80 years ago. He left during a time of great upheaval, war, invasion, revolution and at least a decade before the development of pinyun (which is why my family name is Zee and not Xu 徐). Today it is one of the most wonderful and exciting cities in the world.
I want to use this change of scene to start new projects and change some bad habits. Like writing letters to my friends rather than sending an email, writing down my recipes rather than trying to guess later or not bothering at all, to recording the silly and often outright ridiculous observations for you, my followers to enjoy, but also for myself to relish in private (I have a very childish sense of humour).
When these seismic changes happen in our lives it's important to stop and just think for a moment. I believe that we exaggerate what we can accomplish in one year, you’re unlikely to get into shape or become rich and famous, but we hugely under estimate what can be done in a decade. In 2006 I was fresh out of university, naïve, young, badly dressed (I’m still badly dressed) but look how far we’ve come!
My first book was recently published in Taiwan and the Mainland Chinese edition is imminent. It feels a bit like world domination but when I stop and think for a just a second, this is truly a moment, and hopefully a place for brilliant things to happen.