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‘Couple Blogging’ – finding new communities not generating envy

Last week was as a strange one as at about 2am on a Wednesday night (Seoul time) a friend sent Jen an email saying we were in the Guardian in an article on ‘couple bloggers’. The gist of the article was:

you’re young, you’re attractive and you’re in a relationship. Your flat looks like a Vogue Interiors shoot and your wardrobe’s bursting at its hinges with vintage goodies. Not content with hand-stroking over dinner tables or inflicting your lustfulness on friends, family, innocent bystanders or fellow public-transport users, you come to the conclusion – seeing as it’s the 21st century and all – that you should blog about it

The idea that we or most of the people we know blog to generate “real-life, online lifestyle envy” is faintly ridiculous. I could spend a few thousand words rebutting it but I think Jen summed it up best when she said someone “who takes pictures of crabs in her sink is ‘lifestyle envy’?” (referring to her crab tapas recipe).

The reason we blog is a bit simpler, I think that if you want to be part of a community you have to offer it something. The community I’m talking about in this case is not as narrow as ‘foodies’ but generally people who are passionate about where they live and the traditions, history, culture and food of that place. It just happens we are a couple and the blog is *hopefully* us being part of it.

When I first started thinking about doing food reviews on a blog I realised that without something extra they were little more than cynical little soundbites. I mean who really gives a crap about whether this [x] restaurant is good in this [y] city? This sauce wasn’t thick enough etc.. Even I don’t care. Restaurant reviews which have some context and try to understand the culture which generated them are a lot more interesting. Even blogs which are nominally ‘restaurant review’ blogs – Cheese and Biscuits for example – are popular because they do far more than list dishes with scores but talk about food trends and explore dank corners of London. Add in some recipes which try to riff off local ingredients and techniques, a passion for the more unexplored areas in cities around the world and a bit of travel, organize some food events and hopefully it results in something a bit more optimistic. And it meant I could steal Jen’s recipes.

This is what we have tried to do. And putting the effort in to do this is not some modern form of 1–upmanship. Quite frankly it is a fairly extensive time cost, a not insignificant money cost for hosting the blog and indulging the camera fetish and a relationship cost every now and then when you tweet your ass off during what should have been a romantic meal. But the result of it has seriously improved our lives and has been paid back a thousand fold in our move to Asia.

Now we are in cities where we don’t know anything or have any support network, ‘couple blogging’ has been one of the ways in which we have made friends and meet people who share similar interests.

Moving to Hong Kong scared the crap out of me for several reasons. First, I am a closeted over privileged Londoner. Second, most of the people I had met who had worked as expats in Hong Kong spoke glowingly about the low tax rate and that you could get Western food in Soho whilst sporting girlfriends out of their league with expensive handbags on their arms. This was of no interest to me. The thought of being stuck with such people day in day out terrified me.

And that is where blogging came in; a friendship group coalesced around a group of passionate bloggers, cooks, industry types and chefs in Hong Kong who worship food and love Hong Kong. It was a ragtag group of Hong Kongers, American born Chinese, Australians, Indonesians, Malaysians, Brits, Yanks, Taiwanese, Canadians etc. who I would have never met or known without ‘couple blogging’. And they all share or create in some way to form this community.

This isn’t 1-upmanship, this is actually vulnerability. Those bloggers and all of the other people we have made friends with write words, take pictures and open themselves up to criticism. And from doing this it creates a base for a community. Quite often when I blog something someone will point out to me I am absolutely thoroughly wrong and I look like an idiot. But I learn something. Look at the comments to the Guardian article if you are curious about the kind of opprobrium this can generate. And this is in return for a bunch of ‘couple bloggers’ giving insights into themselves and recommendations which you are free to take or leave (for free).

And the generosity of some of the people we have met by being ‘couple bloggers’ has been quite amazing. Some recent examples would be @SeoulInTheCIty spending the past 2 weeks negotiating with estate agents and haggling for washing machines as without Korean you are kind of stuffed in Seoul. @E_ting publishing posts to serve as personal tours for when friends have visited, replete with pictures to show non Cantonese speaking vendors in Hong Kong. @DimSumDiva spending hours writing recommendations on where to go and what to eat in Bangkok. Cook offs hosted by @Mochachocolata where people bring food and wine and ask for nothing in return.

PS obviously our flat looks more like a Monocle interiors shoot, and I am far more about early Modernism than vintage goodies.

PPS I have to say the one positive thing I took out of the article was a chance to look at some of the other ‘couple bloggers’. Sometimes I get a bit too focused on the food side of blogs so it was nice to refresh myself with the wider scene. All of the other blogs who were vicitim to the snark attack are obviously very personal and, again, vulnerable efforts. You can mock them, but you probably don’t make the effort. If you did, you would appreciate what went into them. So go look at Louder than Silence and What Katie Wore for a welcome break for all this food stuff :)

17 Comments

  1. We are couple-bloggers – not so young, ugly, living in a hovel. We would love envy

  2. I quite often blog in third person. does that make me a couple blogger with myself? no? dammit. great little write up though – and for the record i think you and Jen complement each other fabulously :)

  3. Yours is a much better piece than the one in the Guardian.

  4. sunfug

    Your post says it all. Tom/ Jen your blog is one of the most insightful, eloquent and enjoyable reads around. Thanks for the work you put into it and for a glimpse into your interesting lives in interesting places. The Guardian writer is clearly clawing for a story.

  5. well said…well written…well put. will always be a fan of you guys, can’t wait to spend more days:)

  6. Great post! Bloggers cop so much criticism, so it’s lovely to read something so positive about what inspires you to do it. Hope HK is going well. Am planning a couple of nights there on my next trip to Australia – will be turning to your blog as my trusted resource before I do.

    • Well you realise how much it can actually improve your life if you contribute and become part of the community. DOn’t worry I’ll write you an itinerary. But still, you should swing by Seoul..

  7. Good for you. Don’t pay those haters no mind. They’re just haters. Had lunch with Michael at Peking Garden today, he says you’re having a blast in Korea – if I manage to get over there in the course of the next couple of semesters I’ll let you know!

  8. Bob Smith

    love the blog. but i must admit, aren’t you even slightly thankful for the huge amount of publicity you’ll get from that guardian post? sure, it was written with a fair amount of sarcasm, but i didn’t think you came off that badly, especially considering the spike in views your site is likely to get from it. just saying…

    • Well, two sides to this. First, we don’t do any advertising or take free stuff so quite frankly free negative publicity that is the equivalent of people turning their head to watch a car crash isn’t well… of any use.

      That said, if more people come along who like what we do and can suggest cool places for us to go and eat and tell us stuff, yes you are right!

    • Bob Smith

      Yea makes sense. For the record, I came via the article, and I love your site and what you’re doing, as I imagine will most.

  9. People used to think mine was a group blog, but actually it was just me. Keep up the good work. :)

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