Wednesday, April 30, 2008

May holiday -a crowded story, as usual

I thought there was going to be some sort of relief this year when it comes to the national holiday, seeing that the Chi Government have changed some days around in order to avoid the travelling hysteria… but apparently not.

Tomorrow’s the 1st of May and this will be celebrated with a 2-day holiday, called ‘labour holiday.’ The whole of China’s population (except hospitality staff, shop owners and the poor personal trainers at my gym) will have Thu and Fri off, and the travel hysteria has already begun. Try to get a train ticket for one of these days and you will know what I mean. Yesterday I went to a train ticket selling agent, just to be faced with a minor crowd around the counter with people yelling and complaining… When it was my turn I was told all the tickets from Shanghai to Suzhou had sold out. So even though I can get to Shanghai, I cannot get back. (I guess I have to reconsider my plans. Maybe I can hang at the gym instead and try to cheer up my personal trainer buddy Sean who works there 7 days a week, including all holidays).

Anyways, I suppose the sold out ticket dilemma is completely my fault. I should have planned things better and not waited until the last minute. But but…

However, the thing that annoys me a lot about this holiday is that everyone will have to WORK/GO TO SCHOOL on Sunday! This is to ‘make up’ for getting Friday, May 2nd off?!! Isn’t this just the most stupid rule u have ever heard? Why pretend people get a ‘holiday’ when u later have to make up for your free time? Couldn’t they just given us the Friday off, and then let us have the weekend as usual? Or, they can give the Thu off (seeing that is May 1st), tell people to work on Fri (as usual) and then let people have their weekend. Swapping a Fri to a Sun seems senseless to me, because it just creates the same travelling hysteria that I thought the Chi Government wanted China to move away from?

Gosh. Sometimes things here really don’t make sense.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Will I EVER be able to write?

Easy-peasy, right?! The only problem is that there are apparently 8000 of them (although many are rarely used) and to be able to read well you should know about 3000-4000 of them.

Last Sunday many of my level 3 classmates took the HSK test. Apparently it was so hard that one of the Chinese supervisors said “Gosh, they are smart if they can do this because I wouldn’t be able to get much right!”

For those of u who do not know, the HSK test is, let me explain:

The Chinese Proficiency Test (HSK) is China's national standardized test designed and developed by the HSK Center of Beijing Language and Culture University to assess the Chinese language proficiency of non-native speakers (including foreigners, overseas Chinese and students from Chinese national minorities).

I guess you can say it is equivalent to the English TOEFL test to determine on what level you are on.

Seeing that the test was so hard I am quite happy I didn’t take it. My Japanese friend Anna also told me that the number of “Ou Mei Ren” (people from Europe and America) was close to zero… adding that: “I think it is fantastic that you guys even can get as high as to level 3 seeing that the Hanzi (the Chinese characters) simply makes no sense to you.” Well, if they can learn English ABC why can’t we then learn Characters?! Although I am not going to lie. I am having a pretty hard time with the writing.

That’s actually one reason why I am thinking that I will never take the HSK test. Even if I can read and understand characters, I cannot remember how to write enough characters to answer by handwriting. And even if I could, my handwriting would be too slow to fit into the time restriction of the test. How do you guys do it (speaking out to Ou Mei –or any other Chinese-as-a-second-language-speakers-who-writes-with-ABC-in-your-native-language)? Do you simply, by some unknown reason, master handwriting, or are you like me: whose handwriting embarrassingly enough often gets compared to the handwriting of a 5-year-old Chinese kid? Is there any easy way around the difficulty of writing, or any secret method to how you can remember all those strokes?

Actually, I asked one of my teachers about this, and she simply replied:

-Easier way? Jonna, let me tell you, the Chinese characters that you are learning now are already very easy, they are the simplified ones! You are so lucky you don’t have to learn the traditional characters that they still use on Taiwan, because that would be a challenge, but this one should be easy!

Oh it should? So where did I go wrong then?!

Monday, April 28, 2008

The Hong Bao Business

In Chinese society, a red envelope or red packet (Known as Hong Bao in Mandarin) is a monetary gift which is given during holidays or special occasions. The Hong Bao, that are mainly presented at social and family gatherings such as Chinese weddings or on holidays such as the Chinese New Year, consists of money (often an even number, like 88 or 600 kuais) and the envelop is always red as the colour symbolizes good luck and is supposed to ward off evil spirits.

I first thought this was a funny idea, but lately, the controversies of the use of Hong Baos are starting to make me annoyed. What is supposed to be used as a gift to newlyweds and children during the Chinese New Year is more and more being used as a bribe to get things your way.

Chinese media are big Hong Bao consumers. Many birds have whispered in my ears that some Chinese journalists won’t even turn up to events unless they get their little envelope with money as a ‘thank you for the effort.’ Defenders of the Hong Bao claims that it’s ‘taxi money’ to get to and back from the event, however, I once received an envelope with 400 kuais (at a hotel opening which I was covering for a city magazine), and taxis seldom costs more than 25…

Another Hong Bao occasion is when Chi men take their driver’s licence. In order to pass their driving test they should provide the teacher with a Hong Bao. In other words; no red envelope, no driver’s license…

What’s next? Handing over a Hong Bao in order to pass your midterm exams? Sacrificing Hong Baos to the gods so that u get a healthy child? Slipping Hong Baos under the table at restaurants so that you get less msg in your food? Or are all those already valid situations for when a Hong Bao is passed over? Don’t ask me because I am only just finding out.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Early wknd

I am going to Shanghai today to see my old work mates from SH Magazine (Where I used to work before). Not so many left at SH nowadays, one had gone to Time out, some are at some Luxury Sailor’s magazine (?) and some are… just bumming around. We are going to eat at Yin, an ‘authentic’ Japanese/Chinese restaurant (apparently there are 2 sections so u can choose -I am guessing we will go for Chi) at Maoming Lu. I seriously cannot wait!

Then on Fri I have a girl's day of pampering and then a girl's nite out on the agenda. My good friend Anna has recently become single and what better way to get her out in the game but to fill her up with some pink cocktails and take her out in the balmy Shanghai night.

Saturday... I suppose I will be recovering.

The weather forecast for the weekend is for ONCE sunny! For every weekend now for the last month it has rained, so I am quite excited about swapping my sneakers for ballerina shoes and putting on the sunnys... IF the sun comes out that is. U never know what a heavy polluted sky can do to sunlight...

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Trainer at your back

Future goals

2 days ago at the gym I went to do an advanced ‘measure your fat percentage test’. It was actually quite fun, especially since I was below the average despite the fact that I haven’t trained much for the last 2 years, plus, I like to stuff myself with everything from cookies to pasta… (I have very few.. or okay, I have NO food restrictions at all...)

Anyways, the trainer who helped me do the test suggested I’d build some muscles to tone up.

"Sure," I went. Even though I hate weights. But when u have just been told that you are below average and the trainer asks you to tone up (and not down!) and your name is Jonna you will pretty much agree to do anything.

Later, I was at the free weight section (since that is the area where all the muscle men normally hang I figured it would be the best spot) working my biceps when the trainer came up to me.

-What are you training?
-My biceps?
-No you’re not.
-You’re training your shoulders. You should do like this instead.
(quickly shows me a bicep move) And, you should lift at least 10 lbs, not just 5!!
2 minutes later I was almost killing myself at the same spot with the much heavier weight trying to imitate the move the trainer just showed me.

-What are you doing, you are now doing a movement that trains the whole arm!
-I am? Well that makes sense coz this is veeeery hard…
-Well I told you not to do it like that, you should do like this!
(quickly show me the same bicep move as before, very similar to what I was doing at that moment I have to say!)
-I think I might be too tired to lift something more right now….

Jeeez, this weight business is tough stuff. And especially when you have a trainer hanging over you. My bf laughed when I told the story. Before he used to work out at the same gym as I am now at, but he eventually changed because the personal trainers were constantly at his back, asking him to do this move, correcting him when doing that move… In the end he was so busy trying to explain to them he wanted to do things his way that he barely had time to train. When they started calling him during his ‘rest days’ asking why he wasn’t there he decided it was time to switch gym.

I sure hope that story won’t repeat itself. Today I'm going in again.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Text msg me no more, please!

There’s this thing with text messages, when u should use them or not. I’ve personally always been a fan, but since I arrived to China I have actually changed my opinion about them, because over here, people text each other about EVERYTHING…

It is like the thought of picking up the phone and making a phone call doesn’t even occur to people. Either they text, or they email, or… they text you again?! Phone call? Very rare. Sometimes u get one though, and a stressed voice on the other line is asking u:

-Didn’t u receive my text message?! U haven’t replied!

The reason why I find this annoying is because it is not the usual:
“Let’s meet for lunch at Whisk at 12.30pm” or
“I’m sorry, running 20 min late”.

But rather, it is important stuff, from kind of important people?!

Before I worked at an English city magazine in Shanghai. Often I would set up interviews, go out and meet companies or check out new places, and very often would I be contacted by people, via a text message:

“Dear Jonna I am xxxx from xxxx I would love it if you could come and visit us….”

I sure could, but don’t u think that conversation is more suitable for a phone conversation?

Or like the other day at the gym:

I had an appointment with a trainer named Sean, but had to cancel it. Seeing that Sean was busy with another client I told another girl to pass on the message to him. I also asked her to ask him to call me so we could set up a time for a new appointment. No Sean called, however, but the next day when I came to the gym he came running after me.

Sean: -Jonna, Jonna! Didn’t you get my message about the appointment?
Me: -What message?
Sean: -I sent you a text message asking when u want to reschedule for.
Me: -I didn’t get it.
Sean: -Oh… how strange *takes out the phone and starts looking for the message he sent. When he finds it he hands me the phone and lets me read it*

“Hi jonna, this is Sean from the gym. What time would you like me to schedule you in for a meeting?"

Me: -Well I never received it. You must have the wrong number.
Sean: -Ayiiiyaaa… yeah maybe. Oh, bummer...

Phone call, anyone? Since when did it became so hard for people to interact?!

Monday, April 21, 2008

Belly dancing or jelly dancing?

Yesterday I went to try a belly dancing class at the gym.

Belly dancing is one of those 'things' that during the last 1.5 years or so have ballooned into popularity in China (at least in the Shanghai area). When I lived in Shanghai I used to dance at a professional club and there was always a fierce competition between the belly ladies about who was going to get the spots closest to the mirror… Anyways, since the dance is so popular many of the Shanghai gyms have also started offering the class to their members. Dancing at a professional belly dance club is kinda expensive so I thought this was a great idea, until I went…

A quick summary of how it went:

Music: a mix between techno (!) and hiphop. (Where are the Arabic/ Turkish tunes that are fun to swing your hips to?!)
Clothing: The belly dance teacher was dancing in…. a bra. And fuffy flower-power pants.
Class tempo: Kind of high. We tried to do everything at once, or so it seemed.
Big downside with doing the class at the gym: the large group of cheering Chinese men outside the glass-walled room. (Can’t they just go and lift weights or something?!)
Quality of teaching: Well, I left 45 minutes into the class when the teacher started teaching us a sexy version of ‘the robot.’

I guess now I know why the real belly dance clubs’ membership is so pricy. They have real teachers.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Chinglish to make u smile

What better way to decline someone?

Don't rely on any outside help


What better day to cure the Sunday blues (yeah, I have Sunday rather than Monday blues... you?) than with some great Chinglish?! Always puts a smile on my face.... :)

Friday, April 18, 2008

Wear red -be lucky

My friend Zhizi sporting a red dress on her wedding.

I’ve noticed (and especially during winter) that a lot of Chinese men and women like to dress in red clothes. Especially red jackets! But also small things, like red shoes, gloves, scarves, and jumpers. I like wearing red clothes too, but only during those few days before Christmas eve….

Anyways, out of the blue I was given an answer to my thoughts the other day when my spoken Chinese teacher told us that when you are 12, 24, 36 and 48 years old in China you are in your most ‘unlucky time’ and during these 4 years you must protect yourself by wearing a lot of lucky clothes. Lucky clothes = red clothes, so there goes!!! All those boys in red jackets?! Now I understand why!!! The must be unlucky 24-year-olds trying to turn their destiny!?

I asked my teacher if she took this sort of belief seriously.

-Of course, she said. When I was 24 I wore red underwear every day of the year.

Fitting in or not

Wow –I have been neglecting my blog this week! Life’s been a bit full on and I am trying to catch up but it isn’t really happening so thank lord the wknd is ahead of us!

The other day I went to a seminar at the Swedish chamber. Every time I go to those chamber things I realise how damn tall Swedish men are. Yeah, sure, the ladies are pretty leggy too, but the men?! Bloody giants?!! I love being surrounded by them, it makes me feel small. I appreciate this especially seeing that everywhere else I go in China (the metro, the bus, the university, the gym, the park) I am a giant. But around Swedish giants I’m pretty… average.

Anyways, the lady who was speaking (a brainy Canadian) started off by trying to reach up to the microphone someone put out for her.

-Obviously someone Scandinavian has spoken in this one before! She said, glaring at us long legged people.

This brings back a memory of an interview I did some years ago at a Beijing Gymnastic school for kids. The school was training 3-8 year olds to become the future gymnastic stars of China. The kids were tiny, not to mention bendy.

I asked about everything from diet to training and at the end I asked the trainer (who was a former Olympic Gymnastic judge!) what he thought of Swedish gymnasts.

-Swedish gymnasts?! Haha! A joke! With your giant legs you can never look good on that bar.

Later at the school, I went to use the kid’s toilet. Seeing that the school was in the outskirt of Beijing, and many of the kids came from far-away provinces, they had never seen a foreigner before. So they followed me around everywhere, and five brave seven-year-olds even went with me into the toilet! Anyways, I closed the door to my cubicle, did my business (it was a squat thing) and when I stood back up I realised the wall to the cubicle was so tiny that my whole upper body was visible! Rising over the cubicle wall I realised that the five brave kids had been joined by another 15 curious ones, and when I turned up behind the wall saying ‘hello’ they all panicked, screamed and ran out.

I guess I should stick to the chamber meetings.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

When I met Nike

This is what Kunshan industrial zone looks like.

I spend yesterday afternoon in Kunshan, doing some work, and like always in China, things took longer than expected and I ended up missing my train back to Suzhou.

I went to buy a new train ticket and asked the young Chinese guy in front of me if he knew when the next train to Suzhou was leaving. He didn’t, so we asked the ticket seller.
-6pm she answered.
It was 4.15pm.

The young guy asked me if I wanted to share a cab, and I thought ‘why not’ and walked over to a place that had a ‘common’ taxi service, meaning he would drive 4 random people who wanted to go to Suzhou for 25 kuai each. Haha –screw the trains! (Does anyone know if this sort of taxi service exists in Shanghai????!)

During the journey back to Suzhou me and the young guy got to know each other. His name was Nike.

-Nike, as in the….
-I really like sport!!! He said.
-Yeah me too. I replied.
-So maybe you should change your Chinese name to Adidas?

By then I knew we were going to be great friends.

It was so much fun to get a chance to speak Chinese. This might sound a bit odd to many of you, but getting to know Chinese people, unless you work/study with them, is kind of hard?! I get this feeling that every time I try to approach people get scared, or, they simply reply to my Chinese attempt by speaking English back. Not so encouraging.

But Nike was a champ. Young, fun and open-minded. When we later tried to get a taxi in the rain (yeah, the downside with this taxi service was that it dropped us off in the south part of the city, kind of far from where I live) he taught me some useful phrases that I’d never get a chance to learn at uni, including: ‘oh my gosh!’, ‘damn!’ ‘shit!’ and some other curses. You know, those every day phrases you sometimes feel you lack…

Less fun moment of the day: Nike eventually deserted me for the bus. I was also going to take a bus but after waiting for 30 min (without the right bus turning up) I gave up and tried to get a taxi again. By that time there were bit pools of water on the roads and the cars took turns in splashing it on me. I didn’t get home until close to 7pm, and by that time I was a soaking wet story.

But hey, I got to see Kunshan (an industrial wild-wild-west), I met a new friend, and, I ALMOST took a public bus! That doesn't happen often during my every-day life in China!! Can't believe the buses here cost 1 kuai! Yes, ONE single little kuai!!?! No wonder they sometimes cannot be bothered to turn up...

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

How to get tall

Had lunch with my class last Fri and as usual when you dine with short Asians (my class consists of me, some Koreans and some Japanese so I am the giant of the bunch) ‘how to get tall’ and ‘how to get white skin’ became the topics for discussion. Meanwhile one girl shared that she rubs her skin with fresh lemon slices every morning and night (!) another girl confessed that she drinks 3 glasses of milk each day so that she can grow tall. She’s already in her mid 20ies, but who cares? If she believes in it, it is probably worth doing.

Another ‘how-to-get-tall’ advice came from my Chi teacher, who said that ‘eating noodles or pasta’ makes you tall. And what evidence did she present for this theory? Well, she claimed that Chinese people from the northern parts of the country are normally taller than people from the south, and northern people prefer noodles meanwhile southern people likes rice.

Oh, oh, oh… this never-ending discussion about height. I tried to give some input (seeing I am tall) by telling my classmates that in northern Europe we drink a lot of vodka, but most people looked at me in disbelief, and one girl even asked: “What is vodka? A kind of milk?”


Fredrik Reinfeldt's clothing dilemmas in China

Sweden’s Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt is currently in China to discuss some political matters with Hu Jintao. I can already sense how that discussion will go (I bet Hu Jintao is very concerned about what little Sweden thinks about world matters… or hang on a minute… No, he’s probably not) but since he is here I should mention it!

Classy comfy pants? I don't think so...

Sporting a suit at the Great Wall.

So far, Swedish newspapers have mainly been writing about what Mr Reinfeldt has been wearing, because despite his role as a man in power, he doesn’t get the whole dress code thing. When he walked off his private airplane in Beijing and was greeted by a rather overwhelming welcoming delegation (all in suits) he was wearing comfy pants and a worn out jumper. Then, one day later when he went to climb the Great Wall, he did so in a suit, meanwhile his wife was wearing a skirt and a suit jacket.

Say what you want about the political agenda, but one thing is for sure. Sweden’s prime minister needs a stylist! Rachel Zoe, can you here us?!

Pictures from

Monday, April 14, 2008

When I first came to China...

I’ve been asked to write a chronicle (for a Swe magazine) about my initial impressions of Shanghai when I arrived here in 2006…

Since the chronicle is about initial thoughts and experiences of arriving to Shanghai or China in general, I have to bring out some old memories of me being lost in the big city. Coz seriously, I was lost! Probably more lost than many people who come here, armed with their Lonely Planet. Yes, I had a map but that was about it. And no, despite brave efforts with a young Chinese girl from my previous work place in Finland, I didn’t speak a word of Chinese, and neither did I understand something.

During my first month in China I completely relied on sign language… that I made up on my own. Or, I tried to imitate what I heard other people say. My first Chinese friend told me that when I get out of a taxi I should ask for a 'fa piao,' a sort of receipt that is good to have if you leave stuff behind in the car. Sure, I thought, and for some reason I mixed up fa piao with the phrase ‘mai dan’ which you say when you want to get the bill in the restaurant.

So there I was, two days later, at a restaurant shouting ‘fa piao, fa piao!’ to the different waiters passing me. The looked at me as if I was from another planet. I hadn’t even paid yet and still I was calling for the receipt?

My Chinese friend was not impressed when I told her this story.

Another day, me and my bf when to our local little supermarket to buy some chicken. (When I first came to China I tried to keep up my 8 year long vegetarian diet, but it didn’t take long before I crumbled and gave in to first eating chicken, then beef, then… everything else from the meat kingdom. But yes I know, boooo, bad me! But it's so hard not to eat meat here? Even when you order tofu it is swimming in meat sauce?!).

Anyways, we were standing in front of the fresh meat counter and looking at the different packages of meat, trying to guess which one was chicken and which one was beef. This was at an early stage in my ‘eating-meat-comeback’ so I didn’t want to upset my stomach with beef, and therefore it was very important for me that we bought chicken and nothing else.

-Is that chicken? We said, pointing at one package.
The large Chinese lady behind the counter gave us a snort. Nope. She didn’t understand a word we were saying.
-Chicken! I tried again, this time flexing my arms in the air like a bird.
Another snort from the meat counter lady. And some curious glances from the shoppers around us.
My boyfriend tried, as if that would make her understand.
It didn’t.

I was about to give up when I suddenly saw my boyfriend starting flexing his elbows in the air, adapting a strange walk, swinging his head back and forth and doing a sound that obviously was supposed to sound like a rooster/chicken/hen… "My lord," I thought. He is imitating a bloody chicken?! And I am not even that hungry?!!! I don’t think I need to tell u he looked like a mad man in a mini mall.

-Aiyaaaaa!!! It came from the counter. The meat counter lady had understood us! With a big smile she handed the package of meat (obviously chicken) to my boyfriend while saying something in Chinese. By this time a small audience had gathered around us and an older gentleman wearing a suit came up to us and said in a business like manner:

-If it is chicken you want to buy, that package has chicken!
-Yeah, we also understand that now
! My bf replied.

Oh the sweat memories. I almost want to come here again for the first time just to make a fool of myself! (not!)

Friday, April 11, 2008

Feng Shui -reflect your luck

I’ve just got to share this tale of Feng Shui luck with you…. (Who knows, it might inspire someone?) Everyone knows what Feng Shui (风水) is, right? If not, wikipedia will tell you the following:

“Feng Shui is an ancient Chinese practice believed to utilize the Laws of both Heaven, (astronomy), and Earth, (geography), to help one improve life by receiving positive Qi”.

Anyways, the other week, one of my friends, Sam, had a Chinese friend to come over to his house. Quite fast, the Chinese friend saw a big mirror the previous tenants had left facing the front door and told Sam that this was particularly bad because all Sam’s good luck would be reflected out of my front door. Sam thought “why not” and moved the mirror about a week ago.

One week later, he was at a job event and there was (as usual) a lucky draw. And guess who ended up winning first price, which was an airline ticket to India? Yup. Sam!

I don't know about you guys, but yesterday I moved my mirrors around. It was kind of hard though, because most of them are attached to the wall?

Eating in China is a group thing

Finish this all by myself? No way!!

On of the (very few) downsides with Chinese food in restaurants is that when you go alone you cannot really have the same nice meal as you can if you go in a group. Yeah sure, u can start ordering 4-5 different dishes but then u might receive some curious glances from the wait staff. On the other hand, ordering only ONE dish is an even bigger no-no. A friend of mine once tried and the wait staff wouldn’t leave his table before he ordered himself something else too.

Those times I’ve gone for lunch alone I always end up with way too much food, and still I just order 2 dishes (which are normally some veggies –eg cabbage or broccoli) and then a tofu or a beef dish. But if I would go for a third one there would be an overwhelming amount of food on the table and I would be very likely to overeat… So how do you guys do it, if you are lonesome lunchers in China? Do you order a bunch of dishes or do you just not go when you are alone? Or, do you order lots and then take what u cannot finish home/back to the office with you?

Thursday, April 10, 2008

520 1314 = I love you, always and forever!!

Numbers have a whole different meaning in China.

Most of us know that the Chinese are very superstitious, but just HOW superstitious didn’t become clear to me until yesterday when our teacher went through some very interesting number facts.

The number 8 is as known a lucky number in China (why else do u think the Olympic Games opening ceremony will take place on the 2008-08-08, at 8pm?) The reason why? Well, the pronunciation of ‘8’ in Chinese is ‘ba’ 八 which is very similar to ‘fa’ 发 which in Chinese means wealth/make a fortune.

When the Chinese choose mobile phone numbers, a number combination like ‘188’ or ‘518’ is very popular, and this is because ‘188’ (yi-ba-ba) also can sound like ‘yao fa fa’ 要发发 (want to make a fortune), and ‘588’ (wu-ba-ba’) can be read as ‘wo fa fa’我发发(I make a fortune).

The Chinese despise the number 4, however, because 4 is pronounced ‘si’四 and is very similar to another word: ‘si’ 死which means death in Chinese.

In the complex where I live, there are 28 floors, but no 4th, 14th or 24th floor. Yup. That’s how much they despise number 4! Giving presents that includes the number four, like 4 boxes of chocolate, an envelope with 400 kuai etc.. is therefore a big no-no. Go for number like 8 or 6 instead.

If you find yourself falling for a Chinese boy or a girl, but are on the shy side, you can always express your emotions with a cute number-sms: 520 (wu 五 er 二 ling零 –which almost sounds like ‘wo 我ai 爱ni 你’= I LOVE YOU) and then 1314 (yi 一 san 三 yi 一si 四 –which sounds like ‘yi 一sheng 生yi 一shi世= ALWAYS AND FOREVER)

There you go. Love and numbers. Now u can finally tell your partner what s/he's been longing to hear...

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Getting cheated or not

The other day me and some friends were talking about how we used to get cheated (in terms of prices) when we first came to China. A French guy (who now speaks perfect Chinese) told us that when he went to Beijing the first time he bought a beautiful tea pot that had been reduced from 400 to 100 kuais. Back in Suzhou, he had some friends over and used his new pot when he made them tea. A girl complemented him for the tea pot and asked him what he had paid for it. When he said 100 the girls started laughing and said he was good at making jokes, seeing that she had seen the same tea pot on sale in Suzhou for 25 kuai. He didn’t have to give any further comments.

I’ve been cheated too, many times. In the beginning I found the haggling process a bit uncomfortable, I didn’t know what price to ask for, and seeing that many sales people start off with an outrageously high price, I always went for the 50% off price, which is still way too high. Anyways, now I have become a bit better and if I want to buy something I don’t even ask what the price is, I simply say how much I am willing to pay, and then it goes from there.

However, when the price is already quite low (eg when it comes to buying fruits) it is still quite easy to get cheated. Like some months ago, when I was buying apples from our local fruit man. I wanted five apples and he asked me for 20 kuai. Sure, I thought, picking up my wallet, when I suddenly heard a Chinese couple, who had been watching me, say (to the man, in Chinese)

-Wow, now we understand how you make your money! Cheating stupid foreigners!

I don’t know if it was the word ‘stupid’ or ‘foreigner’ (the used the word ‘lao wai’ –which I hate!) that pissed me off, but anyways, I ended up pulling back my twenty, putting down my bag of apples and giving the man an angry snort before I said something lame like:

-I don’t want your apples anymore! Or any fruit! (yes, pure drama queen) and walked off.

I never went back to the same fruit man. I had been buying my fruits there for the last 6 months, so by the time I stopped going he must have already made a fortune of my purchases.

Anyways, now I’m not that conscious. I try to buy my fruit at the same time as Chinese people are in the shop, buying the same fruit. That way I know I can get the same price. It’s funny though, every time you enter one of those fruit stands. The surrounding Chinese people really follow every move you make. They want to see what you are buying, and, what price you are getting. Yesterday I bought some pineapple (on a stick) on my way back from uni and a minor crowd was gathered when they heard me order two sticks (in Chinese). When the man charged me 2 kuais (1 kuai per stick), however, everyone lost interest and seemed a tad disappointed. Everyone except for me, that is. I knew I had, for once, gotten the right price.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Where to spend summer




I’m about to book the flight tickets for my summer holiday in Sweden and, as usual, I am having a hard time deciding on what dates. Summer in China is not like summer in Scandinavia. Summer in Scandinavia means long, bring days of an (almost) endless amount of daylight, clean air, lakes, ocean, parks, greens, family and friends, however it can also mean: rain, wind, rain and more rain (that was the case with last summer). Summer in Suzhou/Shanghai, however, means: humid, sweaty, heavy polluted air, hot, 3 showers every day and lack of places where you can cool down. Hm… so why am I even having a hard time deciding?

I only go back to Scandinavia once a year and it is always during the summers (winter in Sweden is simply depressing; barely no daylight and everyone just sits inside their homes watching TV, drinking glögg, and waiting for spring to arrive) but this time I feel so torn. Spending some time away from China is always good, at least for the lunges, but what if I miss out on everything fun that is happening over here? And what about my Chinese, that now is finally hitting some sort of breakthrough. Will four or five (!) weeks away from China harm my language progress?!

No guys, you don’t have to tell me how silly I sound, I just needed to say it myself. I’ll book my holiday now. Just wondering what I should call my blog while I am away? SHE in Sweden? But who wants to read about that?! “Oh, here I am walking on a green field, eating some salmon, and soon I’ll hit IKEA”. Yeah, that’s what I mean. Don’t worry; it’s still more than 3 months away.

(And how typical of me to start worrying about it already…)

10 m²

Seeing it is now April, we should soon be able to find out if we will get the tickets to the Olympic Games or not. I really, really, DESPERATELY hope that we will get them, seeing that we have already paid for them, and for our flight tickets. When it comes to accommodation, I am relying on my old Beijing friend, Panda (no, she's not a Panda, Panda is her name). Panda’s a star when it comes to finding budget alternatives.

I was thinking about Beijing the other day. About my favourite area around the Hou Hai lake (north of Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City) and about all the yummy foods u can eat over there. Yeah, I am a big fan of Beijing food. Compared to Shanghai’s sickening sweet seafood, Beijing dumplings and noodles is like a sent from heaven.

Yes. It's tiny.

Speaking of food, if you are heading over, for the Olympics or for some other occasion, don’t miss out on this yummy little joint: 10 m². It serves up the spiciest and most delicious vegetables you can think of! Think cucumber, eggplant and mushroom, spiced up to its max and you’ll get an idea what I am talking about. Nothing for the faint hearted or for claustrophobic people (the space is –as the name implies- only 10m²) but definitely worth a visit if you want to trigger your taste buds.

Cucumber sticks

Wall of fame...

I left my taste opinion posted on the wall. (Gosh, I write like a 5-year-old...)

Monday, April 7, 2008

Horseback riding in China: know-how

My bf's company is going horse back riding. To make sure everyone is prepared they sent out this little 'riding formula'.

Horse riding is a safty activity if you can follow the rules.Following are the notice and some suggestions for horseback riding.

Not allowed to share one horse by two or more than two person.

Not allowed to speed-compete when riding.

Don't go nearer than 2 meter to horse back legs from behind. Horse might be scared and might kick. It'ssafe to go near to horse head.

When the horse comes near, don’t shout;don;t make some movement abruptly;don’t wave truncheon.

Be friendly but strict to a horse. If you ask horse to move, it must move (ask as many times as needed). When horse moving stop asking。

Don’t make fun with your friend who is on the horseback.

★上马时脚尖内蹬,下马时先左脚脚尖内蹬,然后松开右脚,然后下马。上下马脚尖内蹬很重要,一旦马受惊或拒乘而跑开,人至多摔一交,如果全脚套在蹬内,就会拖蹬,这是非常危险的。 When mounting,your tiptoe energizes towards innerside;when dismounting, your left tiptoe energizes towards innerside,ease your right feet,then get down from the horseback.It would be very dangerous if you use your whole feet energizes towards innerside.

★不要在马上脱换衣服,尤其是鲜艳衣服,马容易眼生,你换衣服时马受惊跑动,人一下就摔下来了。 Don’t take off or exchange your clothes,especially the colorful clothes.The horse would could not recognize you and then running suddenly because of being scared.Then you would fall down.

"Don't make fun with your friend who is on the horseback" -hehe, classic!

French brunch in the French Concession

French brunch -yum!

Forgive me for my lack of blogging; I spent the weekend house-sitting in Shanghai. Some funny incidents happened, but I don't have time to share those now as I am already late for my morning class (gosh, 'class'. Something that has been highly neglected lately!)

Anyways, I thought I'd share one of the best weekend brunches I've had... ever! At cafe montmarte at Ulumuqi Lu (near Changle Lu) in the French Concession. The menu was promising and reality didn't disappoint us when the tray came in with the following:

French toast
Apple and cinnamon crepe
Smoked salmon toast
Tartine with butter and jam
Eggs (scrambled, sunny side up, fried -you name it... They make it!)
Grilled bacon and sausages
Chocolate mouse

Yum, yum, yum!!!! 138 kuai for this feast, nothing I would do on a regular basis (I simply cannot eat that much, however yummy it is!) but sometimes it's fun to spoil yourslef for a bit.

(I'll be back in the blog buzz later this arvo, until then -don't droll over the picture, k?)

Friday, April 4, 2008

One too many

Always a few too many.

The gym I’ve started going to in Suzhou is pretty small. It only has one floor, which is divided into a machine section, cardio section, free weights section and so on… I prefer to go to the gym straight after my Chinese lessons at university has finished, because at that time (around 12.30) the gym has a maximum of 5 people training there and I can get access to anything I want, anytime I want.

A very interesting thing I’ve noticed, however, and this doesn’t just appeal to this gym, is the amount of people WORKING at the gym, at this off-peak-hour. There are at least 4 girls in the reception who fight over who’s going to get the chance to swipe my gym card. Two guys in the empty smoothie bar who deliver encouraging smiles to sweaty treadmill runners. Seven personal trainers who walk around with straight backs, looking as if they own the place. And three dance instructors who tend to practice doing the moon walk in front of every machine I use. Then there are about five cleaning ladies and 15 other girls who walk around wearing a shirt that says ‘staff’ but who doesn’t stop long enough at one point for me to pinpoint what they are actually doing. And one trainer who plays ping-pong all day long. Or at least it seems so. He’s quite good.

I know that this is not a special case. Almost every single work place in China seems to suffer from the same ‘over staffed’ issue, no matter if they are busy or not. You rarely walk into a Chinese shop to be ONE shop assistant. Normally there are at least three, and most likely five.

I remember when I interviewed a restaurant owner of a tiny little restaurant in Beijing and he told me that he ‘only had 15 staff’.
‘Doing what?!
’ was my instant reaction, pointing out at the seven empty tables and the tiny little till.
‘We have seven waiters, one behind the bar, one is a host, one takes care of the payment, one is a supervisor, one is a…..’ Well, you get the point.

I guess that is how it goes when labour is cheap? In my opinion, however, –it simply slows down the efficiency of things.

Thursday, April 3, 2008


I couldn't help overhearing this conversation from two young Chinese girls (C1 & C2) who were out and about with one young American girl who was apparently going back to America (A1).

C1: I cannot believe you are going back to America! We are going to miss you!
A1: I know, I will miss you too!
C2: So what will you do in America?
A1: I will go back to school again. I have to finish off my degree
C2: Does your school have many hot American boys?! *giggle*
A1: Haha, yes, I guess it does!
C2: Maybe you can bring my photo and show to them. Maybe you can find me an American boyfriend!?!
A1: Hahaha...
C2: But really! This is a good idea! Show them my picture! Find me a boyfriend!
A1: Okey... I will try!
C2: Great! I am sure they will like me!
C1: My God! You are so desperate!!!

Talk about pure honesty.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Last night's train ride

Many people wanted to take the same train as me, last night at 10.30pm...

As Monica pointed out in the comment's field, I have to tell you guys about last night’s long train ride. As expected, the ride was:

* Stinky
* Crowded
* Slow
* Loud
* But overall, okay!

I didn’t make any friends though. I got a mix of approving and confused looks when I took out my notepad and started practicing writing Chinese characters. When I finished writing, a Chinese man who sat opposite to me, pointed at his Chinese newspaper with a smile. I couldn’t help it, but I had to pick it up and pretend I could read and understand everything –which I did by delivering some content nods while I was turning the pages (But seriously, no way, Jose! Reading newspapers are still at least 6 months away for me!). Thankfully, this was just before we pulled up at Suzhou station and I could get off without being busted for faking my level of knowledge when it comes to Chinese characters.

However, I never really got around what the train was doing between Shanghai and Suzhou for such a long time. The only stop we made was at Kunshan station. I suppose our speed wasn’t the highest, so that must have been it.

(Oh, and the cookies were long gone long before I entered the train….)

Shanghai street bites

Someone asked me what I think of the Chinese street food. Well, I definitely haven’t tried everything yet (stuff like duck’s neck is still a little bit too wild for my taste buds and mindset) but the most usual ones, like oysters, baozi (steamed breakfast bun), jiaozi (dumplings), wheel cakes, pancakes, pumpkin cake and meat sticks have gone down without any problems. Actually, I really enjoy most of the street food I’ve had here, although I have a bit of a sensitive stomach so the oil and the greasiness always results in me getting a stomach pain afterwards. But anyways, those days I go out to eat from the street stalls are those days that I end up saving a lot of money. Street food rarely costs more than 10 kuais (most things are actually between 3-5 kuais) in Shanghai and you don’t need to much to fill yourself up!

Anyways, I always tend to end up at Ulumuqi Lu or a section located behind Nanjing Xi Lu (close to the metro stop) when I go to grab a street snack. Does anyone have another place (in Shanghai or Suzhou) that they can recommend? When we first came to Shanghai we stayed at a hotel close to a nightly street food market, I think it was called ‘Yunnan Street Food’ or something like that. But at that time I was (embarrassingly enough) too scared to try anything because I didn’t speak a word of Chinese and I had this idea that I would get stomach sick if I even sniffed on street food. Thank lord that attitude is long gone!

Sometimes this gets to me

Outside Shanghai railway station

Waiting for a train to Suzhou...

People's square, an average Monday morning around 8.30am

Some places in Shanghai just never seem to lose their crowds.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

How a short-distance train ride at night becomes a long one

Try taking a train from Shanghai to Suzhou after 8pm at night, and you’ll be faced with this:

A hard seat at a N-train that will leave at 10.35pm from Shanghai, and arrive in Suzhou around midnight.

Okay, so first of all…: the normal 30 minutes trip will be stretched out to 1.5 hours. I am actually a bit curious to find out what the train is going to do for such a long time on such a short distance? Are there going to be people pushing the train forwards manually, or are we just going to move forward in a snail pace? Is the train going to make a 30 minute long coffee-break stop at Kunshan station? Or are the train drivers understaffed?

Second of all: The only seat left was a hard seat on an already not-so-nice N-train. Who will be my travel companions? I am guessing farmers. Now, will they dislike me and start throwing peanuts at me? Blow smoke in my face? Or are we going to totally bond over a game of mahjong and exchange phone numbers at the end of our journey? After all, we do have 1.5 hours to kill...

And finally: What is the train going to do for 1.5 hours between Shanghai and Suzhou?! SERIOUSLY?!

The race is on!

Ready, set... go!

I am so proud of myself right now. No more talking from now on. Yesterday I joined the gym. The race is on! (the race= the race to Beach shape 2008)

Now, some funny details I’ve noticed about the gym is (except for the fact that girls nude up and dry blow themselves dry –from top to bottom- with the public hairdryers… Yum!) the fact that a lot of people don’t seem to understand how to use the machines, and mainly the treadmills or the cross-trainers. Either they climb up and almost fall off when the machine starts, or, they simply don’t turn the machine on, and just… starts working out with zero impact. Nevermind that there are about 999 “Mr-beef-look-alike-personal-trainers” walking around the place, those dudes are too busy mirroring themselves up to help the helpless.

If you’re a westerner (or a very hot guy or gal) you can expect to get some special treatment. Next week I’ve agreed to let a beefy dude measure my fat percentage… Yeah I know. This is like diving into shallow waters: you know you’re gonna hit the bottom hard. But I am curious to find out how the beefy guy will handle my session. I even feel like booking him in for a PT session straight afterwards.

The gym I joined has an impressive selection of classes: spinning, body balance, body jam, body combat, body this and body that. A lot of body activities, basically! Normally I skip everything that starts with ‘body’ and go for the most high-impact thing I can find at gyms, such as spinning or fat burner. But yesterday I watched a class of body jam and it looked like so much fun (2 lanky guys standing at a stage, waving their arms and doing some east coast signs) that I’ve now decided to give it a go. Actually, I am going to give EVERYTHING a go this time. Next Monday it will be me swinging my hips to the sound of snoop, meanwhile Mr East side will be cheering in delight.

Who knows, maybe I can find myself a dance partner?! From what I saw yesterday there are a lot of Chinese guys taking that class too.