Monday, December 31, 2007

Thinking on your own

New Year again… Time flies!

Last year at this time me and some friends went to a nice American restaurant called ‘Naked Cow’ in Shanghai for a set dinner. The concept was quite simple. For 250 rmb (or so, I can’t remember?!) we were promised a three courses set meal (mash, steak, creamed corn and so on) where our only decision throughout the night was going to be if we would like our steaks medium or well done.

We turned up for dinner at 6pm. This was obviously very early, we realized, as the restaurant was practically empty at this time (what can I say, we are Scandinavians. We like to eat quite early). But that didn’t matter so much. We were a big bunch of people in a good mood when we sat down to have our dinner.

Since it was NY the restaurant had an impressive number of waiters working. Even more impressive than normally (restaurants in China, in general, have a great deal of staff. While some take your orders others specialize in carrying out the food to your table. The funny thing is that they all start working at the same time, so if you arrive early to a restaurant, there are always more staff members than guests). The staff seemed a tab bit nervous and they kept running around our table, filling up our glasses and asking us if everything was ok.

Soon came the moment when we were asked how we’d like our steaks to be done. Two of us ordered medium and the rest of us (six people) wanted our steaks well done.

The medium steaks arrived first. They were very red. Then came some ‘well done’ ones, however, they were just as red as the medium done ones.

I decided to send mine back, and everyone followed. Even one of the guys with a medium done steak said he’d prefer his a little bit more well done.

The owner of the restaurant (a friendly American) watched us with a concerned look on his face and soon came to ask why we all sent our steaks back. We explained and he apologized.

We waited for a while and then finally the well done steaks started to arrive. One by one, with between 5-10 minutes interval. Only problem was that we were eight people, and for seven steaks to arrive we had to wait almost one hour! That meant that the people who got their food first had finished by the time the others got their food, and so on. The guy who had to wait the longest kept a smile on his face until his steak arrived… still medium done! He had then been waiting for more than one hour. Once again the owner came to apologize and this time he was so ashamed he gave us a free bottle of champagne and took his staff to the side to yell at them.

We couldn’t help to overhear the conversation:

Owner: How many people ordered well done and how many ordered medium?
Scared looking waiter: Six ordered well done and two ordered medium.
Owner: And how many people got well done steaks?
Scared looking waiter: No one, they all got medium done.
Owner: Why on earth did you give those six people medium done steaks when they had ordered well done ones?
Scared looking waiter: Because the chef gave me medium done steaks.
Owner: Jesus Christ, you have to think on your own….

Think on your own? Might be too much to ask. However, we were really curious about what the restaurant’s chef was thinking when he decided to put one steak to the side for one hour, then warm it slightly and send it back out...

This NY we are going for Italian food. Too avoid confusion we've all decided to stick to pasta.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Traffic’s a bitch!

Chinese cyclists rule this city. At least they think so. Six months ago I decided to be a part of the chaos and bought myself a bike.

During my six months in the traffic I have realised a few things (some I already knew, but...):
The traffic here is mad, frustrating, dangerous, and it doesn’t make any sense at all! Nobody follows the even most obvious traffic rules (like stopping when there’s a red light) and when I once slipped and fell with my bike right in front of a car, all the driver did was to honk!! (Not helpful, man!)

As if that's not enough, there are a lot of other, slightly annoying things about this city's traffic. Here are a few of my biggest dislikes:

* People that ride on the wrong side of the road (Every second cyclist or so)
* People that tries to overtake you when you’re on a very narrow road (especially older men loves doing this).
* Chinese men on motorbikes who enjoy scaring you by honking when they are right behind you (those ones who then turn around and give you the blinking eye are the worst!)
* Drivers that think it’s hilarious to see a western girl on a bicycle (don’t ask me why, maybe it’s my own personal style?) and therefore want to drive slowly behind you rather than to overtake you.
* Couples riding bikes next to each other and holding hands (Suicidal)
* Taxis and buses (please don’t kill me because you are in a hurry. Please, PLEASE!)
* Pedestrians (why do you have to walk ON THE BIKE LANE?!)
* Pedestrians/cyclists/dogs (yeah, even the animals here knows nothing about traffic!) crossing the roads without looking if there’s a car/bike coming.
* Older men that like to “secretly” race with you. I am not in the mood for this sort of madness –ever!
* Older women who likes to ride their bikes in the middle of the lane rather than on the right side.
* People riding on the wrong side of the road (WHY?!? Just tell me WHY!!!)
* Traffic guards (they always continue to yell at me in Shanghainese even though I have already yelled back –in Mandarin- that I don’t understand what they are saying!)

The other day I realised that my bike rides have turned me into quite a bitter person. Before I used to find cycling relaxing and enjoyable; now I am like this tensed, angry girl who curses in three different languages when riding her bike (this has been my opportunity to learn all those bad words in Chinese) and who shows no respect to anyone or anything. In other words; I’m acting like the Chinese cyclists. (Only difference is that they don’t curse in three different languages. They honk instead).

”But a lot of women want to sleep with me!”

I have a very young and ambitious Chinese friend. Her name is Jen and her biggest wish is to learn how to speak English fluently and get a good job with a big international company.

Of course, learning a second language is not painless. Especially not in China. Here the story goes...

In order to improve her English, Jen was looking for foreign friends and that’s actually how I first met her. But I wasn’t her only friend. Sometimes she would meet other friends too. Friends that she had found on the internet.

Once, an Italian man in his mid forties started to chat with her on ICQ. He was also living in Shanghai with his wife and kid, and he was keen to "meet locals" and “get to know the city better”. Soon he asked Jen if she’d like to have a coffee with him.

She declined, but then changed her mind and they met for a cappuccino. Jen found him nice and polite. Wearing a suit, pulling out her chair, paying for her coffee she believed he was a real gentelman! He also seemed very interested in her life and asked a lot about what kind of work she wanted, what her biggest dream was, and so on. He told Jen that he wasn’t after a new relationship but that he just wanted a local friend. And she believed him.

Some days later they were chatting again on ICQ. He asked if he could take her for dinner. She asked why.

Him: Because I want to meet you again!
Jen: Okey. So we go for dinner?
Him: Yes, and then afterwards I have a surprise for you!
Jen: What kind of surprise?
Him: I will take you to a hotel room and ……..
Jen: What does “…….“ mean?
Him: It means we will go back to the room and have some fun!
Jen: I don’t want to do that. I don’t want to sleep with you!
Him: Why not?
Jen: Why are you even asking this? Before you said you don’t want any relationship because you are married and you have a kid?
Him: But then I met you and I realised I want to sleep with you. I changed my mind.
Jen: I am not that kind of girl.
Him: Why not? Many girls want to sleep with me! You should feel lucky.
Jen: I am not the person you are looking for!

Jen then made her smartest move since she met this wanna-be-Italian-stallion. She blocked him from her list and shut her computer down.

When she told me (about 2 months later –if I would have known at that time I would have forbidden her to go and meet this Italian sleaze ball) I was shocked, but at the same time not.

A lot of (married) Western guys seem to turn into Romeo (who forgets everything about words like 'family' and 'marriage') as soon as he comes to Asia. And why? I suppose because a lot of Asian girls are not as smart as Jen.

Friday, December 28, 2007

My first (and hopefully last) car accident in China

I was on a field trip in south China’s Yunnan province when I had my first car accident in China. We were driving from the town Yuxi to the mountain village Daxi, an isolated area in urgent need of development. With me I had the volonteer workers Vance (who also drove our car) and Lotta, as well as my friend and translator Panda (yes, this is her name!). We were a happy crew and if it wasn’t for the fact that it was raining quite heavily, I might have even enjoyed our five hour drive through the beautiful mountains.

But the heavy rain made the roads slippery, which made me… nervous. Much due to the fact that we were travelling at a very high speed. (Our driver, Vance, didn’t like to drive around the mountains at night, so obviously he was eager to reach the village asap).

After driving for maybe 2 hours (and already getting lost once) we were going down a curvy hill. I was in the middle of telling Lotta about my experiences of China so far, when I looked out the front window and saw the road disappear in front of me.

Although it happened very fast I still remember things so well, as if it went in slow motion. Vance was pulling the steering-wheel, while screaming in Chinese, and the next second I was thrown to the left, landing hard on Panda and getting a bag of litchis (that I had been holding) all over me. Of course there were no seatbelts in the back seat of this van. There seldom is in Chinese taxis or vans.

Now we were damn lucky due to 2 reasons:
1. This didn’t happen at a steep cliff, and
2. The car never flipped over.

It was a white-faced Vance and three shocked girls who climbed out the car. Panda was in obvious pain due to me almost crushing her, but except for that no one had suffered any wounds. Vance dialled some emergency number and then followed 2 hours of waiting (in the rain) for a maintenance car to arrive. During those two hours, two trucks that came from the same direction, and in the same speed as us, almost repeated our mistake. We soon decided to move away from the highly slippery curve that was far more dangerous than it looked.

When the maintenance guys finally arrived they looked slightly amused. Within 15 minutes that had managed to get the car back on the road and we were asked to pay a hefty sum. Before leaving, one of the guys told us that during the last three days him and his crew had been back at the same spot to pull up cars that had had similar accidents. When Panda asked why they didn’t put up a warning sign he just smirked and walked away. Too lucrative for business, maybe?

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Let's get physical

The gym that I go to in Shanghai is an exciting place. I see so many funny things there every time that I go there, I just have to share some with you:

• I was just about to get dressed after my shower when I girl in tracksuit pants came in and started changing next to me. After slipping out of her pants she put on a pair of skimpy shorts and a minimal top, and sat down in front of the mirror. There, she took out here make up bag, and a bag of KFC chicken wings and started snacking while applying her make-up. Note: this was BEFORE she proceeded to the actual gym to work out.

• Two PT:s (Personal Trainer) in front of a mirror next to the free weights. One is fixing his hair and one is squeezing a zit.

• Girls coming straight from the shower, butt naked and dripping wet. But instead of using a towel, they grab the public hairdryer and use that to dry themselves!

• A guy, so busy with checking out himself in the mirror while he's running on the treadmill, that he eventually loses balance and falls off the machine.

How to master a squat toilet when you can’t squat

One of my biggest fears before my first trip to China was the toilets. I’d heard so many horror stories about them. Stories about toilets with no doors, toilets that didn’t flush, toilets that flushed so strongly that you were sucked into them… (no, not really, but almost!)

My fear wasn’t simply shallow. I actually had my good reasons. 6 months prior to my first China trip I had managed to slip on an ice spot and break my left foot. Although the foot was back to normal, my ankle was still stiff and I couldn’t really bend forward… or squat. So imagine my dilemma when I on day 2 in China, dressed in sky-high pumps was faced with my first squat hole toilet.

It wasn’t like I could just hold back and go later. I really HAD to go. After several cups of green tea my bladder was on the verge of bursting.

So I had no other choice, but to squat (mainly on one leg, while the other one went straight out in the air…) as much as I could and hope for the best. Of course it went terrible. I almost instantly fell backwards and managed to miss the hole with one inch. Desperately grasping onto everything in my reach I eventually found a position that I could stay in without falling (although I was swaying slightly). Getting up was torture and when I eventually emerged the toilet there was a bit of a line outside, and I tried to ignore people’s giggles when they saw my red and forced face.

How I survived the rest of my 3 weeks in China with my stiff ankle? Yeah well, that’s a mystery to me too! All I remember is that I never wore those pumps again.

But seriously. Don’t come here unless you can squat. Or at least do some squat training beforehand. It will help. Really.


The Chinese Government LOVE the phrase “creating a harmonious society”.
In every big presidential speech this phrase returns, like a boomerang they are throwing out that almost immediately comes back to repeat itself.

China wants their people to be happy. Calm. And harmoniums. When people are harmonious the society becomes harmonious. And no one will dream of criticising the Government. Or something like that.

In order to achieve this fluffy society the Government launches various “harmony” campaigns for the people. The campaigns can involve everything from “not spitting” to “not crossing the street when there’s a red light” to “welcoming a foreigner to our country”. At least that is the only explanation I can think of to why I was so warmly greeted when I first came here.

It happened in October 2006, when I’d only lived in Shanghai for about 2 months.

It was an early Sunday morning and I was sitting outside a huge mall at Nanjing Lu, waiting for a friend to come and meet me. The (otherwise very busy) street was still quite empty, and I was watching its modest amount of pedestrians walking on the other side of the pavement. Suddenly one guy (who was walking on the opposite side to where I sat) spotted me, and froze.

After staring at me for a stiff, five seconds, he started to run (with his face still turned to me) to the pedestrian crossing, where he spent a few, restless seconds waiting until the light turned green. He then crossed the street (still running) and finally arrived (panting slightly) in front of me.

“Hello!!!!!!” he said and smiled.
“Hello?” I said, slightly bemused.
“Where you from?” He continued.
“Sweden.” I replied. (He seemed harmless)
“I am from China!” He announced proudly. “Do you live here?”
“I just moved here 2 months ago”
I said and smiled.
“Oh… Welcome to China!” he said
“Thank you!”

As he started to slowly walk away from me, he suddenly turned and said:

“You are very pretty!”

I didn’t have time to reply because after he said that he started to run. He turned around a few times and looked and smiled at me, but all I could do was just to sit there, and stare after him. Not until he was safely (?) back on the opposite side of the street did he change his running pace into a quick walk (still with his head turning back to look at me).

Now this was a sort of cute little moment that I wouldn’t have reflected over more unless I hadn’t been approached at the metro station, only a few days later.

I was waiting for the tube at People’s Square when someone tapped me on the shoulder. I turned around and was greeted by a large Chinese boy with a huge smiley face.

“HELLO!” he shouted. (Yes, he SHOUTED!)
“Eh.. hi?!” I said and stepped back.
“Eh, yes…”

I barely had time to say “thanks!” before he was gone. Just like that. He just said it and walked away.

I am guessing that this means that as part of “a harmonious society campaign” the local Government that month had asked its citizens to welcome a foreigner to their country. That’s the only decent explanation I can think of. Since that day, no one has ever ‘welcomed’ me to China again.

But I wonder what it would take to make Swedes welcome foreigners in Sweden… Probably a little bit more that a Government campaign.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Chinese Honesty -speaking your thoughts before thinking twice

Before I moved to China I was working for a Chinese company in Finland. This is where I experienced my first, cultural ‘blunts’ with Chinese people.

Since I (in the beginning) knew embarrassingly little about China I committed all those primary beginner's mistakes. I poured myself drinks and not the others (considered very rude), I stuck my chop sticks in the rice (wishing other people death) and I didn’t accept the name cards that I was given with two hands (showing ignorance and lack of interest in the person you’re meeting). But sure, those things you learn as you go, right?

Harder to learn, however, was how to react when someone else would be blunt to me.

Our company boss, the prominent Mr Z, was a Chinese man of power. Claiming he’d never been a communist party member he still had an impressive network of Chinese political power men. That, however, I obviously didn’t know then. After working for him for only one week, all I knew was that he was a very honest man (who told me after our first lunch that I was “quite skinny”, which was “good!”). He was friendly (I should have lunch with him often he said), warm (If my family ever dropped by he would invite them for dinner he announced) and demanding (I should make him "a helluva good webpage and if possible work day and nite now in the beginning to get things going") and wanted to have a very personal (“call me by my first name!”), yet professional (“remember I am your boss!”) relationship with his employees.

After working for Mr Z for only one week I was sent on a boat cruise to participate in the Overseas Chinese Association Annual Conference (or something like that) and unaware of what exactly I was supposed to do on this ship, I ended up following Mr Z around the boat during the most of the first day.

I was introduced to about 50 Chinese people of which few spoke English, so you can probably imagine my relief when Mr Z suddenly spotted a western, mid-thirties-looking man and waved.

“Hey! Carl! Come on over here! You have to meet my new staff member Jonna!”

Me and Carl exchanged handshakes, smiles and name cards and I was just about to start chit chatting when I hear Mr Z say:

“Isn’t it great huh?! Finally we’ve got a hot blonde working for us too!”

Yup. So much for chit chatting. For the rest of the trip I received bemused smiles from this Carl dude who obviously thought all the wrong things about me and my new boss.

SHE in China -Seen, Heard and Experienced in China. The journey starts NOW!

Why blog about China? There’s already so many China blogs. Yeah, I know, well, China’s a huge country; there are loads of things to write about! The media loves pouring criticism, as well as fascination, over China. A lot of bloggers do that too. I’m not going to do that. This blog is supposed to be an easy-going, playful platform where people that are living in China, or interested in China, or have lived in China (or who just happened to have stumbled across this blog) can meet and discuss/share their experiences and views of this amazing country. I’m neither a China expert, nor am I trying to force any ideas or views on someone else. I’d just like to share my every day China experiences with you all, and hope that you enjoy reading about them.

China’s an extraordinary place and different to any country where I’ve ever lived before (which includes England, Sweden, Australia and Finland) or travelled to (which includes a lot of places so I’m not going to start rambling). Moving here has been interesting, cool, fascinating, as well as hard, touch and challenging. Before I moved here I’d only visited China once (during a 3 weeks business trip I went to Beijing and south China’s Yunnan Province) and obviously I had no idea what it was going to be like to live here.

And yeah, well, what can I say? That coming here open minded (and a bit naive maybe?) helped me overcome the language barrier as well as the culture shock? Nah, not really (because it didn't. The culture differences all hit me like a slap in the face) But it sure helped me having a lot of fun about it all!