Enjoy a proper cooked meal in a warm room, until - gasp, splutter, 21:30! (Only in Palma de Mallorca)

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Remember this? I don't mean this particular dinner, Chinese New Year almost one year ago, but the act of sitting down together in a warm room with more than five other people?

Chinese_new_year_2020_Sichuan_food_copy Pen & Wok Blog - PenAndWok.com - Cecilie's PenAndWok.comYes, it's happening again; Mallorca is cranking up the action after first setting a curfew between 10pm and 6 am, then decreeing that only outdoor eating and drinking is allowed to the despair of a hospitality industry that was already on its knees, then plunging in yet another knife "...and all bars and restaurants have to close at 6pm" before finally landing on a lovely "oh what the hell. Let's close it all down again. Because it worked so well before!" (At least I presume they thought it worked well, despite having presented no evidence of this.)

When the only outdoor eating and drinking decree came, restaurateurs rushed to buy awnings, big umbrellas and gas heaters, as the outdoor temperature hovered around 9. I hope they managed to scrape together enough profit to pay for it all before the death knell sounded two weeks later. 

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 So it's China to the rescue, again! They started this thing, so they'd better step up. And what could be better than succulent, just spicy enough, piping hot Chinese food on a winter's night - indoors? 

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Right in the middle of El Terreno is a beautiful, candlelit house with a crackling fire and lots of lovely Chinese food just waiting for you. Maximum six people of course - I will stay in the kitchen most of the time and promise to wear a mask while serving. Personalised menu according to your taste and preferences:

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Best of all, you won't have to leave before 21:30, or at a time guaranteed to get you home before the curfew kicks in! Your cook is an expert in everything Chinese Your cook is an expert in everything Chinese with 30 years' of living and cooking in that country. 

Book now! This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

P.S. Chinese New Year is coming up soon. A very special night awaits with traditional Chinese New Year food and everybody's Chinese horoscope for 2021 written out. What animal in the Chinese zodiac are you? Next year is the Year of the Ox. Yes, no more Rat! That's probably just as well?

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Smoke Gets in Your Arse 

Christmas_smoke_small_torso Pen & Wok Blog - PenAndWok.com - Cecilie's PenAndWok.com

Christmas_smoke_small Pen & Wok Blog - PenAndWok.com - Cecilie's PenAndWok.com

As Kirsty MacColl sang in the legendary Fairytale of New York: "Happy Christmas your arse, I pray God it's our last." Fag?

Moving from Hong Kong/China to Mallorca it appears I have fallen out of the ashes and right into the other ashes, fag wise. Everybody smokes. Well, not exactly everybody, but it seems there are a higher percentage of smokers here than in Hong Kong and China because here women smoke too whereas in the Chinese world they haven't quite caught up. 

Christmas always reminds me of the joyous fact that I don't smoke anymore. A few days ago it was eight years since I took my last drag on those smelly twigs, and I haven't looked back. Some ex smokers say they never stop dreaming of cigarettes, calling getting rid of them "giving up" as if it was a sacrifice, but apart from a few fleeting seconds in the beginning where the mental habit manifested itself, I never thought of cigarettes again. 

Over the years I had stopped many times, then started again. I never saw myself as a "real" smoker, but thought I needed fags as a crutch because my life was so difficult. It took me years to realise that my life was so difficult because I smoked. Yes, yes, only when drinking, but that was more than enough. I could easily put away a packet of Marlboro Lights (lights! So healthy!) in an evening. The alcohol and nicotine evened one another out, to enable me to drink more. 

I started feeling heart palpitations and pains in my leg, but would I stop? My mother died of lung cancer and that frightened me, so I needed to comfort myself with my good friends Fags. One day I just got down on my knees and cried, praying to God: "I can't go on like this! Please let me never want to smoke again." Three weeks later, the 20th of December,  I went on a Christmas trip to mainland China with two non smoking friends, and from then on I have been free! If I hadn't been a Christian before, I certainly was now. If God can make me stop smoking without pain, what can't He do?

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Ordinarily, of course, mainland China would be the worst place in the world to go if you want to stop smoking. 

China and smoke are like... lips and teeth. One can exist without the other but it’s a miserable existence, cold and full of longing. Cartons of cigarettes is a currency, frequently handed out, gift wrapped, at special occasions, like your child's kindergarten graduation. Guys light up as they walk into lifts. Restaurants, shops, taxis, massage parlours; no place is off-limits for the Chinese fuming male.

Once, on an already full overnight sleeper bus from Dandong to Beijing, the driver started letting on stray people without official bus tickets soon after departure until every square inch of the bus was full of people, mattresses, blankets, sheets and pillows, presumably of the cheapest material available. The staff’s hull on the Mayflower would have been like a ballroom in comparison. And all the men smoked, maybe to allay their fear of death as the overfilled bus careened all over the road for ten hours.

 I spent the night in a state of hyper alert, terrified of perishing in a fireball. That’s when I decided to stop smoking, again! And only seven short years later, I did. 

Chinese_smokers_ Pen & Wok Blog - PenAndWok.com - Cecilie's PenAndWok.com 

So now I'm the one sitting alone at bar tables while all the other people are out in the street, smoking. I would say I miss the camaraderie, but feeling smug makes up for it. That, and waking up the next morning happy and free. 


New rag on the block in the cut-throat world of Mallorcan English language publications 

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Woo hooo! Celebrations, jubilations! Asians! Everything that ends in -ons and -ans! MallorCA'N RelishMallorCA'N Relish, the brainchild of affable Leeds man let's call him J. Le Fetlet's call him J. Le Fet, has finally emerged from the primal soup and crawled up on dry land, blinking in the unexpected sunlight. 

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In the first edition you can read articles about the most happening barrio in Palma, El Terreno, the most happening barrio in Palma, El Terreno, how to banish the Covid blues through talking to a transformation coach, transformation coach, where to go for a Staycation in a Mallorca where most hotels are closedStaycation in a Mallorca where most hotels are closed, (hint, one of them will allow you to catch the sunrise in Valldemossa, below)

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You will see where you can get an almost proper yam cha in Palma proper yam cha in Palma as well as how possibly the two most famous women connected to Mallorca, George Sand and Santa CatalinaGeorge Sand and Santa Catalina, lived only a few metres apart. 

Most of all, you will see the weirdest bodega in Mallorca, possibly the world, with, again possibly, the only Spanish wine with a Bengali namethe only Spanish wine with a Bengali name. As well as lots and lots of stuff about places, cycling, scoffing down food, deliveries, services ...

In short! MallorCA'N* Relish is well and truly laaaaauuuuunched! Tonight I'll finally be celebrating before the much needed new restrictions set in. My guess: Stay home 24 hours a day while wearing a wetsuit and breathing through a straw. 

*CA'N means 'home of' in Mallorquin. 

Finally I am the editor 

Corona-Bellver-Castle Pen & Wok Blog - PenAndWok.com - Cecilie's PenAndWok.com

FINALLY! Tomorrow marks the launch of long-awaited MallorCAN Relish,MallorCAN Relish, an online magazine about all the great things about Mallorca, in which I am co editor! Yaoooooo! Be-bop-a lula! Yippeeeee! Etc. This is what I have always wanted.

I'm lucky! It all started with me getting a job as an interviewer and photographer in Olive Valley interviewer and photographer in Olive Valley, a website for Mallorca's business community. The Covid rigmarole/lockdown put something of a damper on that endeavour, but not before I had met John M at an Olive valley function. He asked me to write for a new online magazine he was starting. It was originally meant to be about catering, but then he thought: Catering? Why not cycling too? Why not restaurants? Why not local people who do stuff? 

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Yes! People who do stuff - excellent. They need support and encouragement. This was a dream come true, because in this magazine, no one would be messing with my writing, unlike in my former life in Hong Kong where I worked in English language South China Morning Post as a feature writer and columnist. That was a great job, a magnificent job but... well, let's just say that like many newspapers, the SCMP had this policy where sub editors had to insert their own stuff. And the sub editors were often Indian. They would take my best jokes and puns, and make them look like the minutes of a meeting of chartered accountants. 

That was bad enough, but at least the original meaning was legible. What was far worse was when they took a sentence and changed it to what they thought it ought to be, rendering the whole story meaningless. 

Saxophone_uncle_Hainan_island_ Pen & Wok Blog - PenAndWok.com - Cecilie's PenAndWok.com

Saxophone Uncle in Hainan

The worst thing they ever did to me, yes ME! for I take my writing personally,  was a column about Hainan Island off the Chinese coast. It was about how one should never procrastinate, and was published one JULY. Here is the original:

“I can see you have a lot of dental experience” the dentist remarked as he slammed the metre-long injection needle into my jaw and punched it home. I was having my fourth mouth operation as punishment for procrastination.

 Yes, it turned out to be every six months you should go see the dentist, not every six years. The consequence of my arrogant laziness (and to be honest not a little fear, but how was I to know that dentists no longer drill with a foot pedal-driven wheel and stick you in the arm with an awl to distract you from the pain?) was that I had developed Gum-Something-Itis and had to have my tooth roots scraped off with a sharp instrument, down to the jaw.

 It was bitter to pay so many thousands just to be in pain and unable to eat, but at least I learnt that procrastination never, ever works.

 I had just started the extensive mouth work last Christmas when my friend A and I went on a dignified rampage around Hainan Island. Every time A (a famous shopping procrastinator) saw something he thought he might like to maybe buy one day “but we can get it on the way back or tomorrow,” I shouted out: No! Get it NOW! There may not be a tomorrow!

 In charming Sanya on the southern coast we headed straight for the beach where under the palm trees we found dozens of musicians playing the erhu and other traditional Chinese instruments, belting out the revolutionary songs of their youth.

 One group interested me in particular; a band of old men and women playing saxophones and clarinets. Their saxophone teacher, Mister Wang, was there, 85 years old and nimble-fingered like a saxophone playing mountain goat. The 86-year-old Mister Li, playing a mean Moscow Nights himself, had only been learning the instrument for two years, and it was he that made my newfound non-procrastination rule kick in.

 “This is it!” I declared to A. “As you are my witness, I am finally going to start playing the banjo, a dream for 30 years!” If an 86-year-old could practise for only two years and produce such great tunes (although they did sound better live than during subsequent viewings of the video I shot, where it appeared that they were all playing different melodies) I’d be damned if I couldn’t learn the banjo.

 And as soon as I got back to Hong Kong in January I bought a banjo and began. I also printed out all my photos of Mister Wang et co. and sent them to him after procrastinating only for two months, with a letter thanking him for a great day and inspiration. Carpe diem!

 That letter came in return two days ago. It was marked “unclaimed”. 

Chinese_musicians_Sanyu Pen & Wok Blog - PenAndWok.com - Cecilie's PenAndWok.com

But the editor had changed it to: "The letter came back two days LATER." WHAAAAT? What letter would take two days to be returned unclaimed in the same building, let alone from Hong Kong to Hainan including looking around for a saxophone player who had sadly died?
A nadir in my writing life. 
But now, glory, all mistakes I make will be mine and mine alone. Yaooooooo! Above is a documentary I made from that trip. The music uncles start at 08:21 


Trying to create a new identity: WriterCorona-table-new-table-laptop Pen & Wok Blog - PenAndWok.com - Cecilie's PenAndWok.com

As long as I can remember I have wanted to be a writer, or rather, an author. Oh, to see one's name on the back of a book, and on the front, preferably followed by "Oliver Twist" "The Three Musketeers" or "Tom Sawyer's Adventures," my three go-to books as a child. I must have read them 50 times put together, in addition to the hundreds of other books I read each year to escape from my childhood. 

The problem with those books was: They made me want big adventures. I wanted to go everywhere and see everything. I wanted to BE D'Artagnan, Tom Sawyer and, to a certain degree, the Artful Dodger, not sit in a room by myself and write. So I half solved it by, when I finally became an adult, travelling a lot but writing hundreds if not thousands of letters to friends and family. 

When I finally ended up in Hong Kong, I somehow managed to be asked by a publisher to write a book - about anything. The result was Blonde Lotus, a semi-autographical novel Blonde Lotus, a semi-autographical novel set in China and Hong Kong, which took me five months to write.

Book_tour_Blonde_Lotus Pen & Wok Blog - PenAndWok.com - Cecilie's PenAndWok.com
Book tour of Hong Kong

That's when I realised that what I really wanted from life was to have had written books. Book launches, book tours, signing books, yeah, baby! But the actual process of writing? Not for me! It was so excruciatingly boring and mentally punishing, not to mention physically painful (arms, back) that I swore one was enough. 

Then a Norwegian publisher asked me to translate and rewrite Blonde Lotus, a novel, ... to Blond Lotus, en roman! to Blond Lotus, en roman!  That was only slightly less punishing, but the book tour of Norway (to all of two towns) was great fun. After that, I wrote Don't Joke on the Stairs, Don't Joke on the Stairs, a collection of essays/travelogue describing 20 years of travelling through the surreal fun fest that was the China of yore, complaining of back pain and boredom all the way, and swearing "never again."

Then I felt compelled to write a cookbook, CHILLies, Sichuan Food Made EasyCHILLies, Sichuan Food Made Easy, while the whole time working at South China Morning Post as a columnist and feature writer. South China Morning Post as a columnist and feature writer. 

But do you think I saw myself as a writer? Oh no. Writers sit in brown, book-filled rooms in Paris overlooking an autumnal park, not on an island in Hong Kong with humidity-sweat dripping down on the keyboards, teaching Cantonese for a living, running an AirBnB and buggering off to mainland China at every given opportunity. 

China-Jiayuguan-fortress Pen & Wok Blog - PenAndWok.com - Cecilie's PenAndWok.com

But now! Now I live in Mallorca and spend my days writing. Next week a business associate and I are launching an online magazine which is all about Mallorca! Watch this space.

mallorca Cecilie filming main photo Pen & Wok Blog - PenAndWok.com - Cecilie's PenAndWok.com

It's so exciting. This is what i always wanted to do: Like the late great A.A. Gill of The Sunday Times, to "go to places and interview them." And I write in a beautiful room overlooking a garden with falling autumn leaves. 

Do I feel like a "writer"? Do I hell! But I've come to realise that the label or identity isn't so important. The most important thing is jolly well doing it.