2011: Top 10 of Wordgirl…

In the online world, I’ve been noticing a lot of people have been presenting their top five or top ten of this, that and the other as the year 2011 comes to an end. So I thought I’d jump on the bandwagon and tell you about my top ten for 2011…the ten things that have defined the past twelve months of my life. This process has made me realise what makes up Rachel at this moment in time…and it made me smile. This is an incredibly honest blog post to bring 2011 to a close. My next and first post of 2012 will be about what I want from, and what could happen in, the coming year, and my new years resolutions. What are yours going to be? So here is my top ten of 2011…and this time it’s personal. I intended this post to be short and succinct…needless to say, I just can’t stop writing sometimes.

1. My 28th year

After talking to a lot of my friends who are also aged 28, it seems that this year, the 28th year, is quite a defining period. It seems to be the year when you realise what you want out of life, what you like and dislike, what you like to wear, eat and drink, where you want to be, and who you want to spend your time with. You now become selective. Individuality reigns. You start making (maturer) adult decisions…well sometimes…and are content to leave certain parts of your childhood behind. You become content in your skin, body and mind, and start come to terms with what has already happened in your life, and what you have to deal with today…now…this moment. As I state this slightly utopian, rose-tinted view of my 28th year, it doesn’t mean that I don’t get thoroughly frustrated, confused and bewildered by life sometimes…that still and will always happen, in fact it is today. So this is who I am, and 28 seems to be an OK age. I never thought I’d say that. I always thought your early 20’s were the best ages to experience…welcome to your late 20’s Rachel. Exciting times ahead.

2. Friends – new, old and lost

Friends (and family – my family are my best friends too) are so important to me. This is something that my Mom has brought me up to realise, and I really don’t know what I’d do without them. Since the 1st January 2011, after a whirlwind four-month PhD fieldwork research trip to China at the end of 2010, I have made so many new acquaintances, colleagues and life-long friends across the globe. Digital technologies have changed the way the world communicates making it so much easier to keep in touch with my international counterparts, though I will always keep the postal service alive sending letters and notes from wherever I am in the world. Writing letters and sending parcels is a dying art. Only a handful of my friends still do this and I appreciate it so much. Remembering occasions and being thoughtful is in my blood, I swear passed down from my Mom. As she keeps on telling me, making someone feel special…special for everything that they are, special for just being them…is one of the most important things in this life. Older members of my family have also told me that friendships come and go in your life…something that I can’t always get my head round especially after something that happened in June of this year. One of my closest friends decided to end our friendship of many years, and to this day I have no idea why…no idea why certain things were said to me and why I was made to feel the way that I did…completely destroyed. I have never in my life been made to feel that way by a so-called friend. It made me question everything about myself and whether I was that person I was being made out to be. It was a real struggle especially when I was dealing with so many other things (including number 8). At some stage during this life event, I had to trust what I thought and felt inside, and what I knew from other people…trust the fact that my other friends were, and are, still standing by my side, being there for me. Moving to China, in October this year (number 4), also made me realise who my real friends are, and in quite a surprising way. Good friends are hard to find, and they are amazing creatures to have in your life once you do find them. It is important to remember those who are no longer living with us…those even more super special friends who are still very much part of our lives and in our thoughts every single day. To my cornerstones…to “the box of trust”…to those that know me instinctively, inside out…a big thank you for all your love, kindness, encouragement, help, support and words of wisdom of over the past twelve months. Without you, I would not be who I am today.

3. Words about art…the art of words

In 2011, I have gone from my second to third year of PhD research into the translation through interpretation of contemporary Chinese art in the West since 1980, specifically the idea of a transcultural curator and transcultural curatorial practices. I have now started to write-up my 80,000 word thesis in addition to planning a series of curatorial happenings between China and the UK. My work life has stepped up a gear where my world is now made up of words (if you couldn’t already tell)…lots and lots of words. I get incredible word guilt…I would say on a daily basis…so I call myself “word girl” in my head. I have found new meaning to writers block, where it took me nearly nine months (until September 2011) before I could write something of any worth as part of a thesis chapter. Since being in China, I have actually managed to get into a good routine and head space in order to write so I’ll be handing in my first chapter in only a couple of weeks. On top of writing my thesis, I am being offered more and more freelance exhibition review and arts journalism work for some of the art worlds renowned magazines and specialist journals both online and in print…just odd articles here, there and everywhere. I have been a little overwhelmed by these opportunities and still question whether my words are of any worth. The strange thing is the day I got offered one of these jobs, a bookbinding colleague on Twitter said to me “never underestimate the power of one” in relation to my blog. Funny right? I’ll have more specific new about this in 2012.

4. China

I moved to Shanghai, China, in October of this year to carry on with my PhD research, lecture in visual arts at a private art and design academy and to carry on with all my other creative endeavours…independent curating, arts writing, bookbinding, book arts projects, running, cycling, ballet, eating, drinking, thinking, over-thinking, living and breathing. China has become quite a large part of my life since starting my research in 2009 and since spending four months here at the end of last year. Living in a place like this makes you realise how little you need to live and how much we take for granted in the West…things really happen here, happen and change fast in the blink of an eye. So now it really has become part of me…it’s culture caught under my skin and we’ll see how long for. That decision is yet to be made but will be in the early months of 2012. I’m enjoying my adventures here every day, even though you have your good Shanghai days and bad Shanghai days. You only know what these are if you’ve lived in Shanghai, right?

5. Cycling

This is one thing that I can’t live without – my bike. This is my English bike…my 1980’s Raleigh Wisp. I miss it so much. I’m currently riding around the streets of Shanghai on a black Chinese Battle bike that is too small for me. I swear if I invest in one of the beautiful custom-built single speed bikes that are so much cheaper to buy out here, it will get stolen in a flash. I wouldn’t be able to keep it in my apartment as I have a seven floor walk up. Cycling helps clear my mind and is good for my soul as it makes me smile. I cycle nearly everyday now and can’t ever see it not being a part of my life.

6. Weddings

2011 has definitely been the year of the wedding…going to or being invited to them. All of my friends seem to be at that age (if there is a certain age for it) of getting hitched (or having babies but I think that will appear in another years top ten list and not far off either!). I could only attend six from the nine invitations I received, as I was either out of the country or there was some other “personal” reason as to why I could not attend, as mentioned in number 2. For my closest friends, I handmade and bound their wedding books as my gift to them. I like doing this as it’s something so special. Here’s to Zoe and Dave, Jemma and Dave, Jackie and Chris, Aamna and Luke, Hannah and Chris, Heather and Dan, Frankie and John, Laura and Jim, and finally Liu Yi and Lu Wen Qing, I raise a glass (or mug of peppermint tea that I currently have) to you all, and wish you a world of happiness in your many years together. By the way, I already have three invitations for 2012…and so the wedding train continues.

7. Baking

Since becoming a homeowner in 2009, and since being a little ill during the past year (see number 8 below), I have become very interested in my kitchen and what goes into my food…how to make good food by choosing the right ingredients and thinking about every step of the cooking process. So instigated by my Gran’s (now infamous) ginger biscuit recipe (as you can see below), throughout 2011 I have become slightly obsessed with baking…baking cakes, biscuits, tarts, cheesecakes, desserts, pies, savouries…you name it, I’ll try and bake it. Carrot walnut and banana cake, cherry and almond cake, Victoria sponge, gingerbread loaf, maids of honour, jam tarts, baked raspberry cheesecake, Viennese biscuit cake, lemon drizzle cake, feta pesto muffins, lemon thins, wholewheat pizzas, bread and butter pudding, banana and raisin flapjack, soda bread, coconut snaps…the list goes on and on. For all parties and occasions, I will come accompanied with one of my “bakes”…it is almost expected now. People are known to be slightly addicted to the ginger biscuits, where batches are often baked on demand. I tried to make them here in Shanghai for Christmas Eve celebrations but they were a little bit of a disaster, even with Chinese ginger sugar and ginger powder that I thought would increase their potency they failed. I blame the table top oven and the imported baking powder…things that I’m not used to using so it completely throws you. You get used to your own oven right? I fear in 2012 I won’t be baking quite as much as I’ll be in China…unless I crack using the glossy red table top oven.

8. Health

Anyone who knows me well, knows that over the past few years, well since 2003, I’ve had something wrong with my renal and digestive systems that specialists, doctors and nurses just can’t seem to work out. This year, I was subjected to another series of very intrusive scans, tests and operations (cancelling my 28th birthday) that knocked my confidence, getting me further frustrated with my current health situation, as the results came out (mostly) inconclusive. Some of what I have to deal with can be controlled by my diet and daily routine…so I am often to blame for some of the times when I get ill. Control like this is hard sometimes, really hard…but then most of the time I don’t think anything of it. I’m forced to eat, drink and act healthier…I don’t eat meat, only fish…no more alcohol or caffeine…nothing acidic, processed, or anything that is basically bad for you…that can’t be a bad thing right? My routine medical tests for my visa in China also flagged up something new, which I wasn’t really prepared for and I have to get checked out in 2012. I never thought my body would start falling apart at such a young age. I hear a lot of my friends say that too. Through dealing with loved ones who have degenerative health conditions for my whole life, it has made me think differently about certain things…about what is and isn’t important in life…so that’s why number 2, friends (and family)…people are so important. Experiencing health issues either yourself or with/through other people really gives you a different perspective on, and appreciation of, life. I’m hoping that 2012 will be the year to finally find out what is going on with my body…perhaps with Chinese medicine, perhaps with Western…either way I hope a solution (or understanding) is there for me.

9. Food

If you read this blog regularly, you should know by now that I like to take pictures of virtually all the food that I eat wherever I am in the world. I’m not entirely sure why and how this happened. I think it might have something to do with the fact that, as I’ve said previously in numbers 7 and 8, I’ve become very interested in knowing what goes into the food I eat because of my health. I love the colour in food too…the natural colours. Foods have their own palette. You certainly are what you eat. I also think this obsession with photographing food comes from me constantly trying to archive my life just like in my fine art degree show back in 2005, where I typed on a typewriter over 30,000 6″ x 4″ ruled index cards, which were sorted into fifteen categories including aphorisms, statements, words, verbs, names, dreams, fears, all housed within an index card cabinet. I suppose this blog acts as a 21st Century version of archiving my life…the next stage up from the index card cabinet…I can’t wait to see what’s archived in 2012.

10. Ballet

Finally, I started ballet when I was very young with, I think, the Royal Ballet School at an accredited studio in Surrey. In the mid-1990s, my parents had to move north to the Midlands, UK, for work, so my ballet routine couldn’t really be maintained. It was hard to find a dance school that was even remotely comparable…so lessons stopped and it slowly disappeared from my life, apart from watching on-screen and stage with a slight ache in my heart. At the end of October this year, now aged 28, in my 28th changing year, I’ve started my love affair with it again. I joined a dance studio in Shanghai, round the corner from where I live, and I started ballet lessons all over again and it is one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. Just like cycling it helps clear my mind and is good for my soul as it makes me smile. Smile. Smile.


  1. what a lovely list… and I was astounded by all the strange coincidences from my (long gone) 28th year….. around that age I was studying art history and chinese language at uni (by distance!), treddling everywhere on my trusty 15 speed mens racing bike (corr it was a beauty – but talk about high gear ratios!) I took to the bike when my health and bank balance hit the skids…. I was just ending a marriage, making massive life changes – yes 28 WAS a big year

    hope 2012 is fantastic for you – happy writing and making (gawh 80 000words…. eeeek!)


  2. I’ve been following your blog since doing one of your wonderful book-making workshops in Wolverhampton, and realising I’d stumbled across someone doing a PhD in something I find seriously interesting!

    I spent 6 years of the last decade working in China, and would say exactly the same as you, ‘… it really has become part of me…it’s culture caught under my skin …’ I’m sure your particular reason for being there has made this more rather than less likely to happen, but there’s also something about living and working within a culture that’s so, so different to the one you grew up in, first became acculturated in.

    As to ‘… good Shanghai days and bad Shanghai days …’ I think westerners living anywhere in the PRC say just the same about their own experience. I’ve lived in five different parts of China, and felt something akin to that in each of them!

    I’m looking forward to reading more about the 80,000 word mountain and 2012.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s