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An Aussie's life in Yunnan: tries local food & admires picturesque scenery

By : InKunming | Published: 2018-07-12

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Customers dine at Ozzie’s

[InKunming--Interviews & Polls]  Banzhu backstreet scents of food aromas. Many foreigners choose to open their restaurants and shops here, such as Japanese sushi, Congolese cafe, Brooklyn pizza and so forth. An Australian man, Charles Bluett, also owns a western restaurant named Ozzie’s on the street.

At lunch time, the kitchen of Ozzie’s was busy. The chef was cooking tender beef and made it bathed in its own natural gravy. Garlic butter melted slowly in the heat emitting enticing smells. Charles was serving steak to guests while was calling the supplier of Dongchuan potato.

When the guests wiped their mouths and left, Charles sit at the front door with a cup of coffee. “Kunming has changed a lot over the years. There weren’t any of those parking lots when the restaurant opened,”  he pointed across the street and said.

“The air of Kunming smells like my hometown”

In 2006, after several years working at IBM in Australia, Charles decided to give himself one year off. He chose Kunming as travelling destination, but he would never expected to stay here until now.

Like most foreigners, these words “tourist attraction, climate, food, slow pace of life” are always used to describe the feeling of living in Kunming. Furthermore, there is a “smell” Charles mentioning.

The first time he arrived in Kunming was in the middle of summer. Accompanied by friends, they went to An’ning city of Yunnan. It took two to three hours to drive along the old road next to the West Hill. Tall eucalyptus trees standing on both sides emitted a special smell.

Charles rolled down the window. The warm air mixed with a familiar smell of eucalyptus made him feel in his country. “Australia is rich in eucalyptus. When summer comes, you can smell it in the air,” Charles felt amazing, “I’ve been to many countries, but for the first time I found a sense of hometown in a strange place.”

Maybe because of the eucalyptus smell, or the unique scenery, Charles was attracted by Yunnan. He resolutely quit his high-paying job in Australia and started another mode of life in Kunming. 

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Charles stands at the bar of Ozzie’s

At the beginning, he taught English at Kunming University of Science and Technology Oxbridge College, and also helped foreign companies to do some IT-related stuff. By chance, he met his true love and got married in Kunming.

The traffic in Yunnan at that time was not as good as now, but it did not stop this couple from travelling. They drove around the province and tried local delicacies. “Yunnan cheese, Tengchong waterless rice noodles, fried er’kuai, potato cooked rice, preserved spareribs, Chinese sauerkraut fish...” This foodie actively talked about local cuisines, among which he loved Tengchong cuisine the most.

Occasionally, they would choose to hike or take a boat in order to visit some remote villages, such as Lijiang, Tengchong, Hekou, Xishuangbanna and other places. Charles likes to visit villages and try things that he has never seen before. The villagers in Xishuangbanna caught several bamboo mice and cooked them with bamboo sticks. They invited the foreigner to eat with them. Charles took a bite and said, “it tastes good, but there are a few bones.”

When he has been to Honghe, and villagers were frying snake in a large iron pot. With an attitude of “never stop trying”, Charles sat down with the locals and ate a bite of chives and snake meat.

On the way of Dali Cangshan mountain, he saw a bottle of liquor dangling in someone’s basket. Charles greeted in unskilled Chinese, and the person friendly invited him to try the liquor. “It was chili corn wine. It made me feel warm.” He recalled the memory, as if the warmth has been retained in the heart.

After tasting Yunnan cuisine, Charles thought about how to bring Australian flavor to Kunming, so Ozzie’s opened.

“Yunnan’s potatoes and avocados are of good quality”

In 2013, only four or five shops opened on Banzhu backstreet. The road was not paved and the parking lots were not built. Passers-by paid little attention to the foreigner who stood in the street. 

Charles investigated many places and finally made his mind to open a restaurant to the east of Banzhu backstreet. In fact, he had a lot of plans for the future, and all the good ideas were put into his restaurant. However, running business is never an obstacle-free path. “When my business started, I had to go to several organizations for applying a certificate. It took me two or three days to do it. But now I only have to go once or do it on the internet. It becomes more and more convenient,” Charles said.

After signing the contract, Charles and friends started decorating. The walls were painted white and several paintings were hung on it. The black green leather chair and wooden table were placed neatly. Warm yellow lights added some artistic atmosphere. “I can control the lights with my cell phone,” Charles said proudly, “I can switch them on and off at home.”

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Kangaroo and koala doll in front of Ozzie’s

Charles put a koala and a kangaroo doll on the bar at the entrance of the restaurant. Ozzie’s officially opened.

In order to cook a real Australian steak, Charles has very strict requirements on the ingredients. He tried to buy them online, but they were mostly stale by then, so he turned to Yunnan local ingredients. After years, the restaurant has reached regular delivery who deals with more than 30 companies. “Yunnan’s garlic, red onion, blueberry, strawberry, potato all have very good quality, especially the potato here,” Charles put his thumbs up.

There is a mashed potato in Ozzie’s, which is learned from Charles’ mother. When potatoes are cooked, puree them with cooking machine. Stir in light cream, black pepper and salt. Sprinkle with crushed chives. “Some people say it is not western food because China also has a similar dish.” Charles laughed while learned the tone of customers.

Charles introduced, “there are many kinds of potatoes in Yunnan. We use Dongchuan potatoes now.” Because of his frequent dealings with suppliers, he can distinguish between different potatoes now.

Not only potatoes, Charles also prefers Yunnan’s fruit. “Avocado trees usually take three to four years to produce. In recent years, the quality of Yunnan’s avocado has become better and better,” he said. In 2015, Yunnan’s Menglian county began to plant avocado trees in a large scale, with the planting area of 7,500 mu (about 500 hectares) ranking the top in China. As this year ushering in the harvest season, Yunnan local avocado shares more market compared with the imported ones. Ozzie’s has completely used Yunnan’s native avocados as ingredients.

The avocado salad that just came out of the kitchen and served to guest undoubtedly deserves to pay for it. Topped with green arugula, red onions, lemon, walnuts, mustard, and thickly cut pieces of avocado, take a bite and the strong smell will spreads out in your mouth.

Besides veggies and fruits, Yunnan Green (coffee arabica) also appears on Ozzie’s menu. Unlike South American coffee bean, which have a rich mellow taste, the Yunnan Green has a sweet and sour taste that attracts a large number of guests. Charles also goes to Pu’er city to teach coffee beans baking every two weeks. He sighed, “there are endless things to do every day”.

“Hope my friends would come and enjoy the picturesque Yunnan”

Although work is busy, Charles also takes time to do charity with his friends. On the eve of Spring Festival this year, he took sandwiches, while friends took odorless paint. They came to a welfare house located in urban villages, and helped children to paint the wall in pink to greet a warm Spring Festival. 

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Volunteers took a group photo in the welfare house

These enthusiastic people also organize a charity party in Jinding Science Park every year. They sale coffee, beer, food and so on, and all the revenue are spent on nappies for the children in welfare house. 

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Volunteers are painting the walls

Running a restaurant takes a lot of his energy, but Charles knows that it is important to be with his family. Whenever he had time, he would take his daughter and wife to travel around the province. “I have lived in Kunming for 12 years, but I still have a lot of places to go,” Charles said. As well as ten years ago, he likes to go to a remote village and sit with the local at the same table for dinner, and go to minority area to celebrate festivals.

In recent years, new expressways, new airports and high-speed railways came into being, which greatly shortens the journey time travelling among Yunnan’s cities. “It is convenient to go anywhere now. It only takes one day to go to Xishuangbanna.” The foreigner’s eyes brightened when talked about the changes of Yunnan.

Charles prefers Dali most. Speaking of the new high-speed railway from Kunming to Dali, he said in a tone of excitement, “Dali will be ‘closer’ in the future! What a pleasant place!”

As long as a friend asks Charles’ advice on where to go in China, his first recommendation must be Yunnan. “There are many picturesque places in Yunnan that people don’t know yet. I will take my parents and friends to visit someday,” Charles smiled and thought about the future.

He may open another restaurant in the future, and undoubtedly spend more time with his family. Along with the rapid development of Yunnan, Charles’ ideal life is coming true. 

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(Editors: Christine, Rachel)

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