Wednesday, February 20, 2013

One world, many plates

If you spend the majority of your time in Anglo Saxon country you will know that the food is a tad bland and devoid of any real flavour and so one of the best things about travelling is trying many new, exciting and wonderfully tasting dishes.

One of the stand out trips for me, food wise, was Thailand. Volunteering in a hill tribe meant that food was super authentic and very different.

We ate stir-fry pretty much all the time which was prepared in this hut and brought out on this small round table we ate outside with chickens and dogs running around our ankles. Likely, I love food and have a fairly robust stomach so I wasn’t bothered by this in the slightest.

My most memorable dish was Chang Mai Noodles and this is a bit like the Malaysian Laksa but hotter and with crispy noodles. The first time we had this dish was on a local road side joint on the way to Chang Rai and I thought the amount of chilli would propel us in to space but seriously, it was divine. The second time around was a lot more bearable chilli-wise but no less wonderful.

Another great memory from this trip was doing a cooking class. I totally recommend this for anyone who likes food and travels a bit as you get more of a feel of the local cuisine and hopefully a few tips on how to cook some dishes at home. Some classes even take you to the markets to pick up some supplies and this can be great as markets are always entertaining and full of the unexpected.

Spending 3 interning months in Malaysia was incredible in so many ways but one of best thing about it was, because of the cost, eating out every day of the week.

If any of you know some Malaysians you will know that one of the first questions that they will ask you after saying hello is ‘have you eaten yet?’ I know the enjoyment of food is pretty universal but the Malaysians take food obsession to a whole new level. It soon became very normal to start planning what you eat for breakfast, lunch and dinner from the moment you woke up.

With Malaysia being home to 3 major ethnic groups, means that the kinds of dishes on offer is very diverse. You can have curries one night, noodles the next and Satay or Laksa the next with a Subway (I just had to get some fresh veggies in at some point) for lunch. Nasi Lemak was always a favourite for breakfast.

Trying food from street stalls was another great memory. At first I was a little nervous as I thought I would be getting gastro from eating the food but then I realised that I should stop being a princess that has given way to 'Namby Pambiness' and that I had nothing to worry about.

Long after I have returned from Malaysia and Thailand, I’ve always gravitated towards their cuisine and really attempt to recreate some of the dishes at home but, in reality, they are a poor imitation.
You wouldn’t necessarily go to Ghana for the food but spending 5 weeks there meant that I got to taste a far bit of local food.

Ghana being on the coast and an exporter of seafood, fish was a major part of any meal as too was rice which often constituted a third of what was on the plate.


Food in Edinburgh doesn’t always come to mind but I really enjoyed it. The carbs and processed meat (i.e. sausages and Haggis) was always welcome after a long day running around sightseeing this wonderful part of the world.    

tasted nicer than it looked
Having just spent time in Shanghai and India I got to try many amazing dishes. 

Chinese food was a delight, with its noodles and dumplings that has me going back for more than what was good for me. I loved every meal and every dish was amazing. Using chopsticks was a great noverlty as well as ordering multiple dishes and sharing them among you and your friends because, after all, eating is a communal activity.  

Nicer than it looks, trust me!!
I wouldn't say the Indian that I eat was a disappointment but it was just different to what I had grown up eating. Because I was in the south, it was vegetarian and a lot of rice. Not that I dislike rice but the amount did seem to be a fast track to type II diabetes. But there were several dishes that we did eat that were amazing and to die for but they were often at our local restaurant (don't think it catered for westerners) rather than at our homestay.    

I love food!!! Food is great and obviously each place that you travel to offers something new, different and totally exciting. That's what makes travelling so cool. 

Monday, February 18, 2013

The things you see

One of the best things about travelling is some of the random things that you get to see and here are some of my favourite.

Matchmaking in People's Square, Shanghai

fish in Shanghai

Shopping in Shanghai

Dead Chickens in Shanghai

Undies in Ghana

Cow head on sale in Ghana
record keeping in Madurai, India

Street Art in KL?
Dog Roasting in Thailand

Goat walking in Switzerland

Friday, February 15, 2013

China’s demand for luxury keeps Louis Vuitton in a job

I must admit that I am not rich enough to buy products from high end brand such as Chanel and Louis Vuitton but having recently spent time in China I have become interested in their relationship with these luxury brands. Louis Vuitton has recently become China’s favourite luxury brand and the Chinese are their top customers.

It has been especially interesting to see how the Chinese have continued to purchase high end products despite a global financial crisis and a decline in the ability of the rest of the world to afford such products. It seems that the Chinese fascination with these products has kept Louis Vuitton in a job and will continue to do so in the future.

It has been said by Bain & Co that the Chinese purchases of luxury brands in 2012 has gone up by 31% (although a HSBC reports claims that it is only 25%) while globally there has been a 7% growth. CLSA, a large investment bank in Asia, claims that by 2020 China will be responsible for 44% of the purchases of luxury goods worldwide.  Although it is important to remember the majority of what is purchased by the Chinese is done overseas. A HSBC report noted that only 10% of purchases are in mainland China.

As you can see the figures are astounding and this got me thinking of why the Chinese are responsible for supporting such brands as Louis Voitton and Chanel when much of the rest of the world is limiting what they spend on products that are considered extravagant. I am also interested in the impact that this increase has on Chinese society.

The reasons for the growth of China’s interest in anything extravagant and opulent are many and varied but essentially can be seen as an indicator of their own success.    

The past 20 years dramatic changes in the Chinese economy. Not only are their manufacturing sector growing to meet the needs of the world technology and clothing needs but because of the lack of welfare state in China, they are required to save for their own retirement and it is this block of saving is that is funding US debt.

But times are changing. With the opening up of the Chinese economy and the transition from a planned economy to a market based one, Chinese people are now choosing to spend their money on goods that they perceive to raise their status and give them importance in a society where your place in the social ladder is of great importance.

While I think there is no doubt that economic progress and the growing Chinese middle class are good things, the rise of consumerism without any insight into the effects of such behaviour is a negative side effect of this development.

The most obvious side effect it the environmental impact of overconsumption. Luxury items are by their very nature transitory, they are never in vogue (literally) for very long. As a result, products are brought and then discarded to make way for the latest model.

Whether it is luxury goods or technological goods, this culture of just discarding products because it is out of fashion or there has been a new model released has a great environmental impact.

The downsides of China’s interest in luxury items.

There are social implications of China’s passion for anything luxurious. In a article on why Chinese love luxury items, Jiao Haiyang describes what happens when consumerism comes into conflict with traditional Chinese values. He notes, ‘If the people of a state become materialistic and especially worship the luxury goods, it will mislead and distort people's value of the society, increase the psychological imbalance of low-income groups and affect the social harmony and stability’.

I never really looked at the consumption of luxury products from this prospective before but it does make sense that if a society does become too materialist, what society values such as community spirit, supporting others (especially those who aren’t well off or those who could not describe as sophisticated, trendy and come straight from Paris Fashion Week) and cultivating more than just your physical appearance.           
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