Sunday, March 18, 2018

Pollution in Beijing?

False myths about China

Let's start dispelling some of the common beliefs or stereotypes about China. 

"In China you won't find yogurts", we were told. And the anathema was so persuasive that our families - knowing we are heavy consumers of yogurts - proposed us to offer us a machine to make home-made yogurt for Christmas…

Second fallacy: in China you can't find chocolate. Our friends filled us up with bags of Gianduiotti, Kinder, Ferrero Rocher before our departure, just to discover the shelf below in the grocery downstairs…

Saturday, March 17, 2018

So, how is Beijing?

You saw our pictures from the Ritan Park. But how is the Beijing "outside"?

Well, it's difficult to describe a 22+ million people megalopolis, and - telling the truth - we have seen just an inch of that.

We will share, little by little, our impressions and stories.

For the moment, here there are a couple of pictures of our neighbourhood…

Friday, March 16, 2018

Fratellini a Ritan Park

Ritan Park (2)

Ritan Park

A due passi da casa nostra c'è il Ritan Park, un'oasi di pace nella downtown Pechinese…

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Chez Paris Baguette: croissant et café au lait

For those that immediately mocked me for the previous post (the classic Italian: pizza, pasta, mandolino - who cannot live for three days without a plate of pasta…), look where Mathilde brought me the following morning…

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

At Rocco's: traditional Neapolitan pizza...

Buoni i noodles. Ottimi i dumplings. Ma tempo tre giorni e la cosa che desideravo maggiormente era una bella pizza…

Da "Rocco", pizza tradizionale napoletana. E anche due spaghi*…

(*) Chinese Noodles? Delicious. Dumplings? Exquisite… But after three days only, the thing that I was craving more was a good Italian pizza…

At Rocco's, traditional Neapolitan pizza. And spaghetti as well…

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Matteo on CGTN

Fa sempre un po' effetto vedersi in TV. Sembra che ci sia un'altra persona...

Visit to the French school

On Friday we went visiting the French International School of Beijing, the school that, starting from Monday, Leo and Tommy will attend.

The impact was very positive: the building is new, modern, and spacious, with a nice outdoor 11-a-side football pitch (which Leo immediately went to watch). The personnel, from the teachers to the administrative staff, is polite and smiling. The corridors are decorated with the drawings and the artworks of the students of the different ages, from the nursery to the lycée. And the classes are a melange of children from all around the world, as not even in Benetton's advertisements…

We will certainly miss the San Gregorio al Celio and Chateaubriand. But we left the visit to the school reassured and with the positive feeling of having made the right choice. The kids were excited - even Tommy, who is notoriously a bit more introvert and adverse to the new.

"I can't wait for it to be Monday" said Leo on our way back home.

We can't deny in the past months we often wondered, with some apprehension, how the kids would have dealt with this transition. Leo's words were music for our ears…

Monday, March 12, 2018

Pilgrimage at IKEA (宜家) Beijing

Well, yes, after McDonald's in the 80s, Starbucks later, and many other international franchising, also Ikea landed in China. A sign of the more and more globalized China, where, in fact, only Google and Facebook still remain outside the Chinese borders…

And as in every country, visiting Ikea is a cultural experience.

In the States, for instance, it is said that the large glass vases for flowers were sold at an inexplicable rate - just to discover that Americans used them as steins for beers or sodas. Not surprising for those that had the opportunity to live in the States and know the Americans…

In China, we discovered that Chinese visit Ikea to take advantage of the air conditioning in summer, to have a pic-nic in the exposed tables during weekends, or to take a nap in the exposed beds in the afternoon…

For us, a pilgrimage to Ikea is a fundamental stop-over in every country we have lived in. And so, we paid visit to the Ikea Beijing as well.

Would you like a detailed report of the experience? Well, ask Tommy…

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Dumpling eaters…

When I was a kid, we used to have regular Chinese dinners at my grandma. According to a family legend that has been passed on and on, they say I once had 40 dumplings for dinner…

Well, Leo & Tommy seem they are well on their way…

(PS: the use of the chopstick could be further improved…) 

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Friday, March 9, 2018

First Chinese noodles

In the country that - hard to admit for an Italian, but it's historically proven - invented the spaghetti, our first dinner in Beijing cannot not be Chinese noodles.

Leo did not like them too much.

Tommy, on the contrary, liked them a lot…

Thursday, March 8, 2018

That magical night…

Many of my "generation" do certainly remember their first flight.

Mine was a Milan-Rome in a grey day of February 1984 to celebrate my tenth birthday. I do keep vivid memories of that day, because - in fact - in those times, flying was somehow an "exceptional" event.

Different times, different generations: Leo and Tommy have already flown plenty of times: Leo for the first time when he was one-month old. I can't remember exactly when was Tommy's first flight, but it was certainly within his first year of life.

Yet, there is always something "magic" in taking a plane, and despite Leo and Tommy are seasoned frequent flyers, they are always somehow excited when they have to take a plane. Moreover, this time was the first time they had an intercontinental flight…

I wondered what would remain in their memories of this flight: whether they will have the same vivid images, the same vivid memories that I have of my first flight when they will be over forty-year old.

Only times will tell. 

However, what is posted here is what remained the day after.

The drawing above is Tommy's. What I like is that he captured the fact that we left in the evening, we flew over night, and we arrived in the morning - as suggested by the small sun on the left edge (sorry, it is a bit out of the picture - I will take a new picture of the drawing and post it again ).

I am not sure what the five lines on the right edge are. One interpretation (comparing with Leo's drawing below) is that this could be the logo of Air China.

The drawing below is Leo's. I like the Air China logo on the tale of the plane, the writing "Air China" on the body of the aircraft (both in Latin characters and Chinese ideograms!), and the fact that he captured (with some irony?) the fact that we were sleeping…

I also like some of the details that captured his attention, as only the eyes of a child can do: the fuel couplings on the wings and the hold door for the luggage on the body of the plane.

If this Blog will be still up and running in 38 years, we will be asking Leo and Tommy what memories they keep of this night. But for the moment we do have a clear evidence that this flight, even if not the first one, even if not the last of this kind, has hit their imagination…

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Rome-Beijing...

How did the kids take the announcement that we would move to China?

Well, as it could be expected, they went through ups and downs.

To be honest, when we first announced it, they did almost not have a reaction - to the extent that we had to ask twice: "Did you understand? Are you happy?", only to receive a quick and almost annoyed "Yes, yes…"

But things changed in the following weeks. Leo in particular had a few moments of real crisis when he finally visualized what 'moving to China' concretely meant - particularly the image of someone else living in our apartment.

"Either me or China", or: "You go, I stay. Don't worry: I will take care of myself…" were some of the sentences that Leo, in his moments of deepest crisis, said in tears (making me wonder: what I am doing…)

Tommy is by nature more introverted and difficult to decipher. We thought (or hoped) that you was still too little to realize what moving actually entailed - although we were at one point told that since he was made aware of the decision to move to China, he isolated himself from the group at the childcare - perhaps a mechanism of self-defense…

However, one thing that really got them excited about the move to China was the prospect of the flight to go to Beijing.

"Can you imagine -- I once heard Leo telling one of his friends -- we take the plane one day, and we arrive in China the following day! We fly the ENTIRE night: we can watch SIX movies!!!"

And so, the day of the departure arrived. Kids were excited, as we couldn't wish more.

Tommy, to be honest, did not resist much, and after 20 minutes of the first movie he was rolled up on his seat soundly sleeping. Leo resisted two movies, but after that he also fell in a deep and sound sleep.

And the following morning, as if by magic, we were in another city, in another continent, ready to start a new life - with smiling Sun waiting for us…


(PS: Les M&M's travel light…)

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Beijing

It may be a coincidence - or maybe not - but the Blog re-starts, after three years of inactivity, precisely where it stopped: in China.

With one little difference: this time I am not alone.

How have Les M&M's, or - better - Les M&M&L&T's ended up here is a long story, which we will tell little by little…

Rejoice: Les M&M's are back!

Monday, March 9, 2015

Meet Mr. Fu Hao

That of ‘the world is small’ and of the ‘chance encounters’ around the world is a recurrent theme in our Blog (ref. to Emanuele, Henrik, Juan Carlos, Martin, Bruno and Alejandro just to name a few recent ones).

But what happened to me a few weeks ago in the middle of the Yunnan province in China is somehow… surreal, because I met a person that… I didn’t know!

Let me explain. I happen to be on a field visit in Yunnan, in the Xinping county, a few hour drive from the capital Kunming, when I exchanged my business card with a local officer of the Bureau of Agriculture, Mr. Fu Hao, who, when he read my card, said:

- Oh, Matt-eo, -E-O… I met a Matt-ia, -I-A, in 1994…

Now, there are many Mattias in Italy, and 1994 is 21 years ago (I don’t even remember who I met 21 years ago) - so the chances that I knew this person were practically zero. But, incredibly, when Mr. Fu started describing a bit this Mattia we discovered that the Mattia he met 21 years ago is the same Mattia I know!

Well, I may be trivial, it may be a cliché, but it is true: the world is small! 

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Buffet at the Kunming Hotel

Mathilde says that, food-wise, I am spoiled.

And she is right: after one week on mission I am craving for a plate of pasta, a mozzarella, some Parma ham. As soon as I land in Fiumicino, the first thing I do is to have a cappuccino and a cornetto. My favourite restaurants in Addis, Washington DC, and Delhi, where I spent overall ten years of my life, were the Blue Top, Two Amys, and Amici - all Italian restaurants.

Fussy? Difficult to please? Spoiled?

Well, do eat for a week at the buffet of the Kunming Hotel in Yunnan, China, and then let me know…

(Ps: for the records, on the buffet you can find bamboo worms, cicadas, wasps, silkworm pupas, grasshoppers, dragon flyers, and holotrichia. Help yourselves, as much as you like!) 

Saturday, March 7, 2015

While Matteo is running around Asia...

While Matteo is running around Asia like a spinning top (after Ulan Bator and Manila, I am heading to Nanchang for a few days, then Shanghai, and finally Beijing, before returning to Rome), the news coming from Rome are not very rosy: both Leo and Tommy are sick and under inhalation therapy. And apparently, Mathilde doesn’t feel very well as well.

Luckily we have Dr. Tommy in charge…

Friday, March 6, 2015

In Manila

And after Ulan Bator, 8 hour flight and 61 degree Celsius later, Manila!

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Mongolian & Europian

Fa anche rima! (it rhymes as well!)

Genghiskhanlandia

Genghis Khan (Chinggis Khaan in Mongol) was the founder of the Mongol Empire, the largest contiguous empire in history.

Renowned for being a great military leader and an extraordinary strategist, Genghis Khan is also credited for having unified the nomadic tribes of Northeast Asia, for establishing the first written Mongolian law, for practicing meritocracy, for fighting corruption and bribery, for encouraging religious tolerance, and - thanks to the cohesive political environment under his empire - for having increased the communication and favoured the cultural exchanges between the Buddhist and Taoist Northern Asia, the Muslim Southwest Asia and the Christian Europe.

No surprise then that here in Mongolia Genghis Khan is more than a hero, more than simply the founding father of Mongolia. In Mongolia, Genghis Khan is here, there, and everywhere: 

Genghis Khan is the gigantic statue at the entrance of the Parliament, Genghis Khan is the name of the main square in Ulan Bator, Genghis Khan is the name of the Ulan Bator international airport, Gengis Khan’s birthday is the Mongolia national day, Genghis Khan is the icon on all Mongolian tögrög notes, Genghis Khan is the name of the national vodka and of the national beer…

Welcome to the land of Genghis Khan, welcome to Gengiskhanlandia!

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Mongolia from above

Vast, endless, pristine, essential… Mongolia has been for long long time one of my top three dream destinations (the other two are Patagonia and the Sahara Desert).

Well, this time it's Ulan Bator only. But in June…

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Ulaan Baatar!!!

Not sure I mentioned it yet, but since October last year, in addition to the China portfolio, I am now responsible of the Mongolia portfolio as well.

And this is my first official trip to Mongolia.

Below is the conversation I had this afternoon during my first meeting at the Ministry of Finance:

- So, Mr. Matthew, is this your first visit to Mongolia? 
- Yes
- And how did you find Mongolia?
- Well, I have just arrived this morning, I haven’t had yet time to see much. But when, before leaving Rome, I saw that the temperature was -29oC…
- Oh yes, it has been two weeks that spring has started…
- !!!
- If you come in two weeks, it will be -10oC…
- !!!
- If you had come one month ago, it was -45oC…
- !!!
- Yes, this has been an unusually warm winter. It must be the effect of global warming…

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Les M&M’s 2015

Apologizes for the delay: a very happy new year from Les M&M’s!

A quick reportage of our Christmas trip to Sicily, before going back to our backlog of yet untold stories…

Con l'assicurazione - da parte di due nostri amici siciliani - che “in Sicilia a dicembre fa caldo”, “si va al mare”, “i tedeschi fanno persino il bagno”, “il vero mese freddo è gennaio”, Les M&M’s decidono di non andare a Zanzibar, vecchio sogno di Matteo, ma in Sicilia - che tanto fa caldo uguale.

Non solo: convincono gli amici francesi - Christophe, Clemance e bimbi - a lasciare la fredda Normandia per raggiungerli, promettendo caldo e bel tempo.

A dire il vero le previsioni del tempo qualche giorno prima della partenza qualche dubbio lo insinuano: pioggia tutta le settimana e temperature che non superano i 10 gradi - ma tanto, quando mai le previsioni del tempo c’hanno azzeccato?

Morale, lasciamo i maglioni di lana e i piumini a casa (che occupano tanto spazio in valigia) e portiamo infradito e costumi da bagno. Il bagno forse non lo faremo, non siamo tedeschi, ma una bella passeggiata sulla spiaggia in bermuda con foto annessa farà morire d’invidia i nostri amici…

(Comunque, per non saper né leggere né scrivere, io il maglioncino di cotone lo metto in valigia).

E ora il resoconto.

Atterriamo al Catania International Airport e veniamo accolti da una pioggia fitta fitta e da un grigiore milanese che ci fanno dubitare di essere arrivati al posto giusto.

Ma dove siamo arrivati veramente? Scozia? Irlanda? Kamchatka???

Provo ad allungare l’orecchio per cercare di capire la lingua, ma nonostante i miei trascorsi in giro per il mondo, onestamente si tratta di un ceppo linguistico a me sconosciuto.

Alla fine un po’ in inglese, un po’ a gesti, riusciamo a comunicare con gli autoctoni e - a sorpresa - ci viene detto che sì, siamo atterrati nel posto giusto, a Catania. Vabbhe’, un pomeriggio di pioggia capiterà anche in Sicilia, in fondo siamo nell’era del climate change.

Lascio moglie e bimbi in aeroporto, e vado a recuperare l’auto a noleggio. Devo farmi ripetere tutto due volte dall’addetto perché non capisco quello che mi dice. Alla fine, un po’ per fatica e un po’ per vergogna, dico ‘si si’ a tutto quello che mi viene detto e faccio finta di aver capito tutto.

Recupero tutti e via, sulla Catania-Siracusa.

Dopo un’oretta di viaggio eccoci a Siracusa, o meglio Cassibile, o meglio ancora Fontane Bianche - ridente località di villeggiatura del siracusano: villette, giardino - non c’è un’anima in giro. Si sente qualche cane abbaiare da lontano.

I nostri amici Clemance e Christophe ci accolgono un po’ interdetti - lo sguardo è interrogativo: “e il sole?” sembrano voler dire. Cerchiamo di rassicurarli: “tranquilli, vedrete domani”. Ma qualche dubbio cominciamo ad averlo anche noi...

Ma il problema non è solo il freddo e la pioggia fuori. Il vero problema è il freddo dentro. Ossia dentro casa. La proprietaria ci aveva accolti, probabilmente un po’ stupita di aver clienti a dicembre, dicendo: “dovreste venire in estate, questa calda è freschissima, si sta benissimo”.

Si, fresca in estate, gelida in inverno!

La tecnologia del calorifero sembra non essere ancora arrivata da queste parti. In realtà, probabilmente intimoriti dal fatto di avere ‘ospiti dal nord’, i proprietari avevano anche acquistato due termosifoncini elettrici - di quelli che scaldano dieci centimetri intorno. Ma il problema è che se si accendono quelli, non si può utilizzare nient’altro di elettrico. Insomma la scelta è: avere un pochino di calore, o vivere nelle tenebre.

Comunque, per noi che possiamo vantare nel nostro curriculum camping in Islanda e Alaska, ci facciamo coraggio e decidiamo di resistere - che tanto sarà qualche giorno di freddo, e poi alla fine il sole arriverà...

Ma invece del sole, alla fine è arrivata la famosa ondata di freddo siberiano che aveva colpito il resto dell’Italia - non temperature da -20 come veniva riportato in Molise, ma 3 gradi (dentro e fuori casa) e la neve che in Sicilia - a detta di Salvatore, il proprietario della casa - non si vedeva da 80 anni!

E cosi, dopo una settimana polare, siamo stati contenti di rientrare a casa a Roma, dove avevamo lasciato i termosifoni a 18 gradi - ed è stato un po' come arrivare ai tropici...

A parte questo, la Sicilia ci è piaciuta: Marzamemi e Capo Passero, Siracusa e il canyon di Cavagrande, Pantalica e Noto.

Ai bimbi (e forse anche ai grandi) è piaciuta soprattutto Pantalica.

A Mathilde Marzamemi.

A me Noto più di Siracusa.

E soprattutto abbiamo mangiato benissimo. L'oscar l' ha vinto il Grillo Parlante a Siracusa.

A Clemence e Christophe è piaciuto soprattutto il panettone al pistacchio, il risultato sublime della fusione tra cucina lombarda e cucina siciliana.

Avremmo voluto fare grandi spese di prodotti locali e invitarvi tutti per una cena siciliana, ma alla fine eravamo in ritardo per la riconsegna dell’auto e abbiamo saltato la tappa finale all’Auchan di Catania.

Sarà per la prossima volta - rigorosamente in estate!

Friday, December 5, 2014

Guess who I met in Siem Reap

That of ‘the world is small’ is a recurrent theme in our Blog. Moreover, lately, for a strange stars’ alignment, I have been accidentally meeting many old friends during my trips. But of all the chance encounters of the past few months, this was the most unexpected…

Our Blog’s regular readers should well know Emanuele - my twin divided at birth (as well as best man) - and the story of our parallel lives that, sometime, cross each other: Turin 2000, Addis-Nairobi 2001-2003, London 2003-2005 (missed), Washington DC 2006-2009 (including Paris 27.06.2009), and Delhi 2009-2010.

Recapitulation of the last few years: while I was in Delhi, Emanuele moved to Mozambique. As Emanuele was regularly travelling to Delhi from Washington, his move to Maputo sadly interrupted his periodic visits and our regular meetings. Shortly after his move to Mozambique, I moved to Rome - perhaps not geographically, but certainly psychologically closer than Delhi. During this period, I have looked several times for an opportunity to go and visit him in Maputo - but, for a reason or another, I never managed it. Last August I have been very close to go to Mozambique on mission (I even had got my visa!) - but at the very last minute my trip was cancelled. And while I was thinking of a new chance to travel to Mozambique, Emanuele moved to Geneva. Well, now that Emanuele is just one-hour flight from us, I am sure we will be seeing each other more often, in Rome, Geneva or mid-way - I thought.

Well then, in fact we finally managed to see each other, but not in Rome, Geneva or mid-way, as I expected, but in the most improbable place and in the most accidental circumstances.

Last week I was in Siem Reap, Cambodia, to attend a workshop. On Thursday I was about to check-out from my hotel, and before switching-off my computer I absent-mindedly checked Emanuele’s Blog, and - unexpectedly - I saw his latest post announcing he had safely arrived in Cambodia two days earlier.

What???

Without too much conviction (Cambodia is big, and the chances he was in Siem Reap were not too many), I wrote a comment on his post: Where are you?

Now, if the chances he was in Siem Reap were not too many, the chances he could read and respond to the comment in the few minutes before I checked-out were even fewer…

But against all the probabilities, Emanuele responded, and - surprisingly - he was in a hotel just five minutes far from mine!

And so, while rushing to the airport, I stopped by his hotel, where in 20 intense minutes we updated each other on the past two-three years. Looking forward to the next time: in Rome, Geneva, or… who knows???

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Leo & la scavatrice (Leo & the excavator)

- Leo, what was the thing that you liked more in Ischia?
- The excavator…

Sul traghetto (On the ferryboat)

The beauty of parenthood is that many of the things you have been doing for years, suddenly become exciting again as your children experience them for the first time.

This was the first time Leo and Tommy took a ferryboat. And, in a way, it was as if we had taken the ferry for the first time as well... 

Wednesday, December 3, 2014