“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

Morocco – 12th – 13th of June

Image

We began our journey to Morocco with an 11 hour bus trip to London from Aberdeen. This was not as bad as I had originally thought it was going to be as we had bunk beds on board the bus to sleep on instead of being crammed into tiny seats. I managed to get a good 5 or 6 hours sleep on the way down so I was looking forward to our day in London.

Originally our flights to Marrakech were due to depart at three in the afternoon but they had been changed to later that night so we had a whole day free in London to go sight seeing. We started off by heading to the Childreach International offices at Hand Court so we didn’t have to carry our bags around all day with us. While we were there we were shown a short video from the vice president of Childreach’s partner organisation the Assafou Association; he welcomed us to Morocco and said a few words about the village and the project we would be working on.

10461370_10202805468712751_6258054117748286813_n

From the Childreach offices we headed to Trafalgar Square and stopped to eat some lunch. While we were sitting on the steps in front of the National Gallery two drunk men decided that the heat was just to much for them and jumped into one of the fountains in the square. The security guards could do nothing but stand and watch in horror; they did not want to go in after these men. Eventually they cooled down enough or the joke wore off because the men climbed out of the fountain and continued with there day as if nothing had happened.

After our lunch we headed towards Westminster, we stopped at Downing Street to have a look through the gates and met a very nice police officer there.  I had never realised how tightly surrounded Westminster Abby and Big Ben were by other buildings, I guess because I had only ever seen it once before in person from the other side of the river or on the TV.  We had another break after Westminster in St James’ Park, it was an extremely hot day. We all decided, after about half an hour of sitting on the grass, that ice-cream was definitely needed so we went on the hunt for an ice-cream stand. It was not long before we found one but to my dismay they only did ice-cream in cones, which being a Coeliac was absolutely no use to me at all. When I asked if they could just put the same amount of ice-cream into a coffee cup instead they said that wasn’t allowed and that if I wanted a tub I would have to pay almost double for a Sunday which was not what I wanted, queue Coeliac rage mode. I went to the next ice-cream stand and they told me the same thing, so I settled for a Solero.

Buckingham Palace is a lot shorter in real life than I thought but I am pretty sure it goes back for quite a bit. Don’t get me wrong I still think it is an impressive building, it just looked a lot bigger on the footage from the royal wedding than it does when you stand right in front of it. We were going to head back to the Childreach offices after Buckingham Palace but on the way to the subway station we walked past Hyde Park and decided to look around. By this time we were definitely sunburnt, apart from Imogen because she was smart enough to put sun cream on that morning.

Back at the Childreach office we got a talk from some of the people who work their, it was amazing to see how passionate they were about the charity and to here about some of the other projects. We did a workshop in child rights where we had to pick the right that we thought was the most important and explain why. Childreach do this workshop with children in some of their projects around the world to teach them that they have rights whether they have been good or bad, which surprisingly a lot of children do not realise. We were also shown a trailer for a film that will be previewed this year and is set to be released next summer called “Sold” which Childreach have worked very closely on, about child trafficking. The film makers say: “We hope our film, SOLD, will inspire a global movement to address this crime domestically and internationally.” Watching the trailer for this film brought tears to my eyes and I am looking forward to its release.

If you would like to know more about the film or watch the trailer please visit their website at: http://www.soldthemovie.com I greatly recomend that you do.

I think it is safe to say that the Underground’s self service ticket machines brought out the angry Scot’s in all of us as they refused to take our Scottish bank notes! Eventually we thought it was best to suck it up and pay by card but don’t you think for a second that we didn’t mutter and mumble under our breath about “legal tender” and “it has the queen’s head on it doesn’t it” and ” we may swell be independent when you treat our money like this”!

After a very crowded train ride to Gatwick airport, we finally arrived at the North Terminal and met some of our Welsh team mates.  All we had to do now was check in and wait for our flight! This was not as easy as it should have been due to the size of our bags we had to put them in the oversized baggage, but nobody in the airport seemed to know where this was. Thankfully we found it and went through customs, got some food and my last Banana Split for two weeks! Before we knew it we were sitting on the plane and ready to go, Morocco here we come…

 

TO BE CONTINUED