“Can I eat that”: A Coeliac in China

Most people who know me will know how difficult I am to feed. I was diagnosed with Coeliac Disease at the age of eight; this means I cannot eat gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley and (indirectly through cross contamination in mills) oats. When I told people I was moving to China for five months one of the most common responses I received was “China?! But you can’t eat noodles or soy sauce. What are you going to eat?!” I’m not going to lie this was a concern for me as well, I never eat Chinese food at home because the risk of contamination is usually too high. Add to that the obvious language barrier and well, I knew it wasn’t going to be easy.

Having said all of that, I have never let my Coeliac Disease stop me from travelling before and I wasn’t about to let it stop me this time either. After a conversation with the ImmerQi team here in China, via skype, I was reassured that food would not be an issue. On arrival in Beijing we were each handed a name card along with our room key, on the back of mine was a hand-written note explaining in both English and Chinese that I am allergic to gluten (still not entirely sure everyone in China knows what gluten is but it seems to have served me well so far). I used this every day in the canteen in Beijing and they knew exactly what I meant.

Allergic to gluten card
Allergic to Gluten

I was placed in a Southern Province of China, I assume this because in the South it is more common for people to eat rice than noodles. As part of my placement meals are provided by the school cafeteria, I found after the first week that this was a bit of a hit or a miss for me in terms of what I could actually eat so I decided to apply for a meal allowance from the school instead. This was initially turned down. I applied a second and the this was accepted, thanks to the efforts of my awesome ImmerQi contact Ben and my wonderful school contact Rani. I will now receive a food allowance along with my living allowance that is already provided as part of my internship on the fifteenth of every month.

Eating at restaurants has been an interesting experience, I find myself spending more time asking “can I eat that?” than actually eating anything. It’s a long process but eventually you get a meal out of it, even if everyone else is finished by the time yours arrives.  It helps to have someone with you who speaks Mandarin if you don’t speak it yourself, this way you don’t spend the whole meal trying to communicate through google translate (not to put down google translate because I have to say it can be an absolute life saver in some situations).

 

hot pot 2
Create your own Hot Pot

 

I think the key to being a Coeliac in China is to have patience; be prepared to explain yourself, sometimes multiple times, it’s just one of those things. Coeliac disease and gluten intolerances aren’t really a well-known thing in China like they are becoming in the Western World. Also, it helps if you like rice…

 

 

Some tips for a travelling Coeliac (whether you are travelling to China or France, Tanzania or Morocco):

 

  1. Before you leave the country visit this website http://www.celiactravel.com/cards/they have an explanation of Coeliac disease translated in just about every language. Print a few out so you can hand them to your servers in restaurants. I have been using them since I went to Portugal in 2010!
  2. If you don’t have the card with you have “I am allergic to gluten” saved as one of your top phrases on google translate and LEARN IT! Before you go, while you’re there, up to you but if you can say it and show it then people are much more likely to take you seriously when you say you can’t eat something.
  3. If it doesn’t look gluten free, it probably isn’t. Don’t risk it! There is absolutely nothing worse than being glutened abroad, especially if, like me, you tend to travel alone. Try explaining to 3 people you just met why you need full use of the bathroom for the next hour…
  4. Be prepared. I always have snacks on me; not just because I like to snack but because if we go out to eat and it turns out there is nothing there for me, at least I have a back-up to keep me going until I can find a proper meal

What I realised in 2016

Since 2016 was famously the year of realising stuff I decided to write a list of everything I realised last year (feels weird writing last year when it was only two days ago).

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full video (30 seconds of your life you will never get back) : https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCWkYXtnAuu7VTLPwUcRSB6A 

 

  • I realised how much I can achieve if I put my mind to it and stop procrastinating!

I am the world’s best procrastinator, I’ve seen myself be in uni for three hours and achieve nothing, but when I really focus on something I get the job done and the results are worth the time not spent looking at pictures of cats on Instagram. I talk about what I achieved last year in my previous blog post so I won’t go into to much detail but it turns out when I set my mind to it, this little dyslexic human can get an A in Critical and Contextual Studies!!

  • Likes on social media are really unimportant and actual human interactions hold much more value than those on a phone screen.

I used to really worry about the fact people weren’t going to like something I posted on social media, to the point where my flatmate was ordered to go through my Instagram at least once a week and like anything I posted..but I realised that is  just absolutely ridiculous. You are worth so much more than the amount of likes your last selfie got. Who you are off screen is far more important than who you are on screen and no amount of Instagram hearts and Facebook likes can ever compare to quality time with real life, present human beings.

  • Friends who you haven’t seen for four years but when you finally meet up with them it is like nothing ever changed are the best kind of friends!

I took a trip down to the South of England in September to visit some new friends I met thanks to my adventures in Tanzania but while I was there I also took the time to meet up with a really good friend I met while living in South Africa. It was honestly one of the best things to sit and have a proper catch up, because as much as we keep in touch you just can’t beat a good old fashioned chin wag! Friends we meet while travelling are like no other friendship you can make, that shared experience bonds you for life and it is a hard bond to brake! (If you’re reading this Lynda then Happy New Year, love ya! Oh and you are coming up to Scotland this year if it kills me! We have a hill to climb!)

  • Travelling and Photography are two things that truly make me happy. Apart from maybe dogs…and cats…and rabbits. Ok Travelling, Photography and Animals are the things that truly make me happy.

New places and new experiences are worth more to me than anything I can think of and capturing those memories as they happen through your camera is what I love about the power of photography. The year I visited Germany, Tanzania and just took some really nice small trips to various places in the UK and it has been great. Hopefully if my driving lessons keep going well I can pass my test this year and go on even more mini adventures all over Scotland, just me and my camera (and anyone else who wants to join us).

I also became a vegetarian this year after thinking about it a lot I realised it just made sense to me not to eat meat. However, if you follow me on twitter you might know that drunk me disagrees. After about three vodka cokes all I seem to want is a McDonald’s cheese burger but I’m getting better at sticking to the chips, baby steps baby steps.

  • Bras are not always necessary. #freethenipple

I honestly never thought I would wear an outfit that required the absence of a bra but this December I wore three outfits that required just that! It is still an absolutely terrifying concept to me but I am actually pretty proud of myself for having the confidence to go braless. I know that it probably isn’t a big deal to most people but for me it’s a lot.

  • I own to many things.

Around the middle of summer I watched a documentary on channel four called “Life Stripped Bare” if you haven’t watched it then I recommend you do but also be prepared, it is very bizarre. To give you a brief run down of the programme; people volunteered to have all of their possessions removed, from their mobile phones to their clothes, absolutely everything was taken away! They then picked an item each day that they felt was essential and they could go and collect it from storage. It pretty much stripped them back to basics and showed them what they could and couldn’t live without. Having said that the show wasn’t as deep as it sounded, one of the volunteers picked their onesie as their first essential item so, yeah take from that what you will. Any way it did make me think about the about of useless tat that I own, not to mention the ridiculous amount of shoes and clothes that are currently in my wardrobe, so since watching it I have been really slowly trying to get rid of the things I don’t need in my life. So far a lot of clothes have been bagged up/given to my sister but I still have a long way to go until I am back to only the essential items. I might not ever get there but I can  at least try. Also I don’t know how I’m going to fit all my stuff back into my parents’ house when uni is finished…cross that bridge when we come to it I suppose.

  • Turns out I’m allergic to dairy as well as being a Coeliac, fantastic!

After returning  from Tanzania I kept getting what felt like gluten pains when I knew for a fact I hadn’t eaten any gluten. I had, however, always either eaten a lot of cheese or had a glass of milk around the same time that I was in pain. So I made a conscious effort to cut dairy out of my life, after having a chat with my GP, and what do you know I feel so much better! One day I’m just going to end up allergic to every item of food known to man kind and have to live of lettuce for the rest of my life…

  • Lastly I realised just how lucky I am to be in the situation I am in.

I feel like I write about how lucky I am all the time but I really truly am. 2016 wasn’t a great year in terms of world events; the war in Syria, terrorist attacks, the Zika virus and so much more awful things have happened. It really makes me appreciate the luck of growing up in Scotland, I always feel safe here. I can’t imagine how it must feel to not feel safe in your own home and for that I am truly grateful everyday. Another thing that made me think about how lucky I am was a movie called “I, Daniel Blake” about a man in the benefit scheme who to be honest gets quite badly done over by the system. I highly recommend watching this film especially if you don’t know how the system works, it really opened my eyes and also brought home how easily you can end up in such a hard situation.

I’m sorry that post ended on such a sad note but I think it was one of the most important things I realised this year. Just appreciate what you have because you never know how long you’ll have it for. The world is a scary place to live in right now.

Anyway that is enough of my late night ramblings for one day. I am going to try and post something on here every Monday, we’ll see how long that lasts once I get back into a routine for uni (I say back in a routine like I had one before…) but I’ll give it a shot. In the meantime I read this article the other day, maybe give it a look?

Adventure is out there, TFFN!

2016 Only Seems Like The Worst Year Ever For Celebrity Deaths: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/2016-worst-year-celebrity-deaths_us_5865a387e4b0eb586488d8fa

“I, Daniel Blake” trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ahWgxw9E_h4

“Life Stripped Bare”: http://www.channel4.com/programmes/life-stripped-bare/on-demand/63815-001