Thursday, July 31, 2008

Shopping in Shanghai (part 1)

Sometimes I get emails from people that are planning to/thinking about moving to China. Many of those emails are full of questions regarding visas, what kind of foreign food you can/cannot get in Shanghai, where to study Chinese, and so on. The most common question, however, (from both guys and galls!) is regarding buying clothes/shoes in Shanghai, so therefore I figured I could share some of my personal shopping experiences (in Shanghai) and advice people what to expect and maybe what not to. Seeing I am a girl who likes to shop (!) this will probably be a bit too hefty to fit into one post, but let's start of with some simple do's and don'ts and take things from there...


* Expect comments about your figure/weight/boobs/ass/physique... Chinese people LOVE telling others that they look good, and they also love to tell others that they have put on weight/might have had one too many beers lately. There's no point taking this stuff personal, like I did in the beginning. Think how much time I could have saved if I wouldn't have stumbled out of the shop as soon as a woman felt my belly and said: 'aaaahhhh! bigger than Chinese!' or, that time when a shop assistant told me that 'your chest is too big for that size', pointing towards the dress I was holding and thinking about trying on. Instead of just shrugging my shoulders and saying: 'ah, okay, well, I'll try it anyways,' my face went all red and I departed the shop quicker than quick feeling like The Fattest Girl On The Planet. So... DO expect comments and DON'T take them personal. It's all part of the shopping experience.

* Dress up a little (or at least wear heels!) if you want respect from the ultra trendy, super chic, mega cool Shanghai girls in some local shops on Changle/Xinle Lu in Shanghai.

* Always ask for a cheaper price. No matter the 'here u cannot haggle' signs. When they say no, keep asking. But do it in a nice way. Smiiiiiiiiiile.


* Expect to find everything u are looking for in one go. Shopping in Shanghai is an never-ending-experience. There are so many shops that you could basically go shopping for the summer season every day during spring and summer, and when u r done u would have to start all over again coz then it would be winter and u would need new, warm, winter clothes...

* Be sad if you have big feet: so do I!!! I buy most of my shoes at Zara, H&M or HotWind. I have also had handmade shoes once, but those cost a bit... Anyways. There are solutions to all big feet!! U just have to look around.

* Take things personal (I say this again because it is worth stressing!). Once a friend of mine was in a shop trying on a skirt. When my friend (who is Finnish; tall and fit, and who speaks great Chinese) went out of her dressing room to check herself in the mirror she heard the shop assistants talking about her:
-See that foreigner? one said.
-Yeah. What a big bum she has.
-I know. They really have big bums those foreigners!
-Yeah, haha! Not like us!
My friend was mortified. Instead of telling those shop assistants to f***k off (or, in Chinese tell them that their bums weren't THAT small! Ah, think how much fun that would have been?!!) she quickly changed back into her own clothes and left the shop. I still cannot believe she didn't tell them off?! But anyways, u see my point? Don't let comments about your bum get u down. It's part of the every-day shop-talk. Nowadays my friend shops with closed ears. Actually, so do I at times.

Anyways, that's it for now, but there's much more to come....! To be continued

Shanghai sock shops... me like!

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Being scared of the wrong (or maybe right?) things

I don't know when, how or why this started, but lately I have found that I am scared of the most tedious little things, including: bugs (especially bees, and big, unidentified things that make those 'bzzzzz' noises -loads of those in China!), heights (like, being on the balcony on the 37th floor of someone's flat... I get scared I am going to fall down... which is not likely to happen but still!), not having enough money on my credit card and therefore making a scene in a supermarket (I guess I have taken to the Chinese fear of 'losing face') etc etc etc... You get the point, right?? Why on earth am I scared of things that are not going to harm me physically? (unless someone in facts pushed me of the edge of a balcony on the 37th floor..) I am never scared of those, 'other' things that most of my friends back home fear, including: walking home alone late at night, taking a cab alone (u never know if the taxi driver is a phony one), walking through dingy neighbourhoods.... and so on. I guess Shanghai/Suzhou are quite safe places. Actually, VERY safe places if u compare with many cities in Europe (I have heard, however, that some other Chinese cities, like Guangzhou, are not as safe). U rarely hear about people being robbed/stabbed/attacked/raped in Shanghai. Being such a huge city, I think it is kind of strange (but wonderful) that it is still such safe place.

During my 2 years in China there have only been a 'situation' once (which wouldn't even have been a situation unless some guy would have been eager to 'get some').
Once, during a late night (or early morning?) on Nanjing Lu, I was trying to get a cab in the rain when one stubborn beggar decided he wanted cash from me. He started to follow me and when I went up some stair towards a department store and when he followed I got annoyed, especially since he pushed me into a corner and waved his hat to me, indicating for me to put money in it although I kept saying 'no no no!'. Then, out of the blue, a (western) guy appeared and tried to hush the beggar away, pretending to be my boyfriend (totally unnecessary, but I guess it was that time of the night where some guys are willing to do some sacrifices to get laid?) and started a minor scene since the beggar at first refused to leave. The guy pretending to be my boyfriend had obviously had one too many and started being a bit abusive to the beggar, so I decided it was time to take a hike and walked the other way. When the guy noticed this, he came after me, and tried (very eagerly) to convince me to go home with him now when he had 'saved me.' Geeez! This guy was much scarier than the beggar! I have never been happier in my life to see a cab with a green light.

Anyways, this is obviously more a fun story to share than a 'situation' so maybe u get my point: I'd say it's quite safe to live over here! I guess you are better off watching out for being 'scammed' (the famous 'come and have tea with us'-scam or the 'we are art student from Beijing'-scam being the most popular I believe?) than worrying about walking home alone late at night. Or? Am I wrong? Any people living in China experiencing their city as more unsafe?

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Sharing is caring

My folks learned the art of food sharing during their first trip to China... (as u can see my dad was a huge fan!)

One of the things I miss the most when I am outside of China is... cheap taxis. And food sharing!

The latter, which I wasn't such a huge fan of when I first moved to China, has come to grow on me and nowdays when I visit Sweden I can barely go to a restaurant without selecting at least 3 things from the menu that I want. And no, I am not talking 'starter, main, dessert,' it's more like 'starter, main, main (+ maybe a side order... if one of my mains comes with potatoes -a popular choice in Scandinavia- I might want a side dish of rice... or pasta).'

I am so used to always sharing food with people that I even sometimes forget that my friends in Scandinavia are not living after the same norms as I am (their strange looks when I accidentally nibbled from someone's plate last year put me back in place. This year I have to remember to BEHAVE!) and they are rarely interested in my idea of ordering a bunch of dishes and sharing them.
-The waiters would think we were really weird! They say.
-So what? The food here is already overpriced -and it doesn't say anywhere that you CANNOT share your meal?!'
-Well, sorry jonna, it's just something that we don't do here.

OK, OK, I get it. It is not something I used to do either until I moved to China and discovered how great the whole sharing idea is. First of all there are often a lot of good stuff to choose from at Chinese restaurants, and the dishes tastes so much better when u mix the tastes up a bit... Some mapu tofu and then a bite of egg-tomato stir-fry( 西红四鸡蛋)and then u have a bite of eggplant, some spicy beef, some rice... yum. I love the fact that u can have so many different things at once!

Secondly, the food here is great and cheap. Why settle for one thing when u can have many? I actually gave up being a vegetarian (something I had been for 7 years!) when I moved to Shanghai. Sure, it was a bit odd at first but I got sick of ordering vegetarian dishes that were swimming in meat sauce, or, tofu that came with slices of meat (when I asked the waiter about it and pointed out that I didn't eat meat and that I had therefore ordered something that didn't have meat -tofu- her reply was: -but there is no meat in this tofu? The slices are only there to give taste! It's a spice!)

As my holiday in Sweden is approaching I am reluctantly thinking about eating in Sweden. Sure, there is a lot good Swedish comfort food that I have missed (home made meatballs -here I come!) but it's a shame that the whole sharing thing doesn't work over there. Not even at Chinese restaurants in Sweden (or anywhere else in Europe/America I believe?) can u share -the dishes there are made to be ordered one by one and it would be way too expensive to order a bunch. Maybe I'll try to do what my Chinese friends have told me they do when they are travelling in Europe: they go to a Chinese restaurant and tell the waiter (if s/he is Chinese) to tell the chef to cook for Chinese people. In that way they get a bigger variety, and, more stuff to share. And they don't have to eat the infamous 'sweet and sour chicken' that to many Europeans is 'authentic Chinese food.'

Monday, July 28, 2008

Angry 'tai tais'

People always say that Suzhou is full of famous gardens. I say Suzhou is full of expat housewives, or tai tais as they like to refer to themselves as. Visit Starbucks around midday, any time of the week, and you'll know what I mean. Starbucks seems to be meeting point number one for housewives, as the combination of gossiping and extra-cream-frappucinos and muffins is particularly popular.

I am normally not invited to join the tai tai gangs in my hood. I suppose mainly because I am not a tai tai. Also, I am younger than most of them, I often come accompanied by my Chinese books, and, I don't drink frappucions. (So no, I don't take any offense. Obviously we don't have that much in common). During my 2 years in China, however, I have had the occasional 'tete-a-tete' with a Suzhou housewife, and I have been surprised to notice that many of them, despite having great lives, still seem so...angry.

Despite the fact that they don't have to work (thanks hubby!), don't have to do housework (thanks Ayi!), don't have to look after their kids (thanks Ayi/school!), don't have to cook (again, thanks Ayi!) and don't have to worry about money (thanks hubby!), many of them seem rather... unsatisfied? In some cases it makes sense, like when the wife initially didn't want to come to China but did so for the sake of her husband's job, or when she's feeling lonely and lost in her new country (I've been there too). However, the tai tais that I don't understand are those that HAVE a great group of friends in Suzhou, a lot of spare time since they have chosen NOT to work, a great gym membership (with a personal trainer 3 times a week of course), and plenty of lazy lunches in the sun, and STILL manage to complain about the fact that 'it's such a hassle sometimes to take taxis' or 'that Chinese people should speak better English' (are we living in the UK or in China?) or that 'You never know if you can trust the health care here' or (this is my favorite) that 'their friends back home don't understand how BUSY they are over here in China and shows a lack of understanding for their new life.'

Sure, we all like to complain at times (I am very good at doing it here in my blog) but sometimes I wonder what people need in order to be satisfied/happy? Do we have to get an approving nod from every one around us so that we can feel happy with our lives?

Another interesting complaint is the one about health care. When I broke my foot in Scandinavia one winter I spent 4 hours in an emergency room waiting for an x-ray, a doctor and a painkiller (yes I was screaming our loud but nothing happened still). Why are we forgetting that the systems 'back home' are not so perfect just because we live in a country with a not-so-developed social security system? Every time I have had a medical condition in China I have got 'served' very fast. Actually, most of the times when I have called a dentist or a hospital I have been told that I can come straight in. One angry tai tai kept on saying to me that she had small kids and that she lacked trust in the Chinese medical system.
-What about private Western hospitals then? I said. Here's plenty of them.
-Well .... if there is an emergency maybe u don't have time to go to a private place?
-Well if there is an emergency, no matter where u are in the world, isn't it always then a bit critical?
-I still feel safer in my home country.

Safer yes, sure. But if you are so scared of emergency situations u should basically be afraid to leave the house. No matter where u are.

Having said this, though, I am obviously not a mom and I don't kow how it feels like to worry for your children. Maybe I am being too harsh towards those tai tais. Am I? What do you guys think?

"Your Say" at China Daily

Picture: China Daily

Someone at China Daily seems to dig my blog as s/he now twice has quoted me in a section called 'Your Say' (what I find extra funny is that unless a reader would have pointed this out I would have been clueless about the fact that I have had a 'say' at China Daily...). I'm not quite sure if it is a good or a bad thing that s/he calls me 'an inventive young lady'.... It sounds a bit smug?!

Anyhow, here is a link to my 'underwear in your handbag in order to avoid metro guards'

And here's me talking about dirty warehouses being homes to good vegetable markets....

Friday, July 25, 2008

Same ol, same ol...

Today I went to visit a company I worked for 3 years ago... The management is Chinese/Finnish and the staff are westerners from Finland, Denmark, Belgium, France and Sweden plus some Chinese. Quite a mix, in other words.

One thing that bothers me when I visit this company is how people there (which I see about once a year when I place my annual visit) always tell me:

-Oh jonna, you look exactly the same!

(Well except for the guys. They have learned how to make a woman smile by now. Even before the take a good look at me they yell, 'JONNA YOU LOOK SO SKINNY!??!?!' And gosh, do I smile or what?!)

But seriously. I look exactly the same? Do I? really? 3 years ago my hair was reaaaaaaaaaally long! Like, really. And I believe I dressed differently. A bit more... I don't know. Colourless? And I never wore heels.

Compared to how I look now (pretty short hair, often dressed in colourful dresses and always in high heels) I believe there is a slight difference. Oh, and now I wear earrings! Before I didn't. Or did I? Well at least it feels like I didn't.

I suppose them telling me I look the same means I haven't put on weight. Or got any wrinkles. Or bad skin/cellulites/all those other things that we women are supposed to fear as we get older. So I guess their comments actually are good signs. I mean, imagine If they would have greeted me by saying:

-Jonna! Oh, you look so... healthy!

Which we all know, means: 'oh, you've put on some kilos! Good for you! (ha ha! -a NASTY 'ha ha')'

Or, they could be as blunt as my own dad was when I came home for Xmas after my first year in Australia in 2002:

-Jonna! I can tell that you have definitely not been starving over there!!!! Ho ho ho!!! Been putting on some kilos haven't ya?!
And then mom almost killed him. But it was too late. I didn't touch the Xmas pudding that year.

Meeting the Chinese management at this company is always different though. The managing director is from Beijing, so he's a very honest and direct man. He always tells me if I look skinnier/fatter than last time we met. This time he said nothing though. Very unlike him. I wonder what that means? (interpretation skills, anyone?!)

Anyways, after we'd finished those friendly greetings I proceeded into being introduced to some new Chinese people working for the company. Two of them are Shanghai girls and they were over the moon when I greeted them with a 'Nong hao!'

Actually, they were so happy to see me that the CEO suggested they'd join us for a beer after work.

-'Of course!!!' They gushed. 'We'd love to!!!'

Then I went to have a meeting with a journalist and the deputy editor, and when we 30 nmin later returned back to the office, at 5.15pm ('xia ban'/finish time is at 5pm) the place was empty. Everyone had left. Including the 2 'so-keen-for-some-after-work-beer-girls.'

I guess some things, just like my looks (apparently?) never change.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Toilet thoughts


Some months ago I read an article about the toilet facilities provided during the Beijing Olympics were upsetting Westerners because most of the sporting arenas had squat- rather than western toilets. I seriously don't get it. WHO wants western toilets in a country where 1.3 billion people prefer to squat?! Who wants to sit on a toilet seat that is covered with soil? Who? And why?

Going to a public toilet (especially those in Shanghai shopping malls) as a girl is never a pleasant experience. I can only speak for the girl's loos because I haven't peeked into the men's room, so if someone (preferably a man) wants to share their experiences -please, go ahead. Anyways, back to the girl's room. It's always the same story. You walk into a toilet area full of 'really-have-to-go-girls' and start off by engaging in the 'toilet hunt' game. Forget lining up. Even if you came in last you can go first, if you are quick enough. You just have to sneak into one of the booths as soon as someone walks out of it. Let me emphasize the words: 'AS SOON AS,' because in this case, you should be very 'soon'! First one to the booth = first one to pee. Basic mathematics. Simple rules.

I used to suck at the 'toilet hunt' game but lately I have gotten much better. Especially if I really need to pee, man, then I can be I total bitch. But so many girls have 'stolen' the booth I've been waiting for before so I have stopped feeling bad about it. Only once, when I without thinking skipped the whole line at the airport in Seoul and just walked into a booth did I experience a 'what the hell am I doing?!' moment -but well, it only happened once, so I believe I can live with that. (I guess I should watch myself when I go back to Sweden this summer, though. If I don't remember things wrong you might get executed for cutting line there. No kidding).

Now, while getting into your peeing space might be easy (once you understand the game rules. And really, -new female expats in Shanghai, don't waste time on being polite!) -the actual peeing is a whole different story. Especially if it is a western toilet with a toilet seat ring.

I used to have problems with squat toilets before due to a over-stiff ankle as a result of a broken foot (which -resulted in an inability to squat!) but now the ankle has loosened up and so have I. I don't even mind simply 'hole in the ground' toilets anymore (sure they stink but I am not going into, or even touching the hole am I?). What I mind, however, is western toilets in China, because Chinese girls tend to use them as squat loos -meaning: they climb up on the toilets and squat on the toilet seat. The result: soil and pee all over the place.

I don't blame them. I have personally never tried to squat on a western toilet seat but just the thought of it makes me exhausted. Obviously not every single Chinese girl climb up and squat on a western toilet, but from what I've heard from my Chinese friends -they do refuse to touch the seat with their bum, hence the result of soil everywhere. Sure, there are many western girls leaving stains too, but in general I think the dirtiness of the female loos are a result of girls trying to squat on the toilet seat ring. The fact that I have seen several foot print on toilet seat rings is enough evidence to me.

Another thing is the flushing. I know that some squat toilets have an automatic flush function and I LOVE THIS FUNCTION. What I don't love, however, are people who simply do their dirty business and then walk out without even thinking about flushing. Seriously -we are talking about pushing a button or pulling a string here: it doesn't require that much effort! Still, so many girls don't bother. Very often it is one of those 'princess girls', dressed in pink, sky high heels and all made up who leaves it up to me to flush down her business. Gross!

I guess I could from here go onto the often over flowing paper basket next to the loo, but well, let's just stop it right here and now. Most girls know what I talk about anyways if I say that toilets in China are in desperate need of a sanitary box!

The point that I want to make is: why are they even building western toilets in China when Chinese people obviously prefer squatting toilets? Squat toilets (especially those with the automatic flush function) are often much cleaner than western toilet loos? Westerners complaining about having to squat at the toilets in Beijing during the Olympic Games should actually be grateful. They don’t know what they are ‘missing out on.’


Tuesday, July 22, 2008

How to avoid having your bags checked in the Shanghai metro

The power of Hanky Panky

Annoyed with all those guards standing in the metro wanting to check your bag? (as part of stepping up security before the Olympic Games?). Well, I have found a perfect way to avoid them. When they stop you, and direct you to the guy who wants to peek into your bag, you simply tell him:

-My bag's full of my underwear -are you sure u want to take a look?

This has to be said in Chinese, and I swear, if it is a guy he'll let you go without as much as opening your bag. The younger the guy the better. He might even apologize!

The fight for our deposit

Yeah -if it was only THAT easy?!

Landlords -love them or hate them. When talking to people about their renting experience in Shanghai, you get enough material to write a book. Meanwhile most people (or expats I should say) find the ''moving in and negotiating the price' process quite pleasant, the moving out experience, including trying to get your deposit back, often is dreadful.

Take our last landlord for instance. In the beginning everything was sugar sweet. She was keen on having us in the flat, and during the negotiation process we managed to lower the rent a couple of hundred kuais, get a lower deposit (she wanted two months of rent -8000 kaui- as deposit but we only agreed to pay 4000 -thank lord for that!), plus get some new things for the flat, like a micro wave, a new washing machine, and so on. She seemed cool and easy going and so were we, so things went well.

After one year of living there we decided to extend our contract for another 6 months and our landlord was over the moon. She even lowered the rent to 2000 kuai during the first of the new six months, and once again renewed the washing machine (turned out -the cheap version she'd chosen one year ago was already giving us problems). Everyone was happy and things went smooth.

Two months before the new lease was up we had decided that I was going to move to Suzhou, so we told our landlord that we wouldn't be interested in a new lease. Her friendly tone instantly changed into a frosty, and somewhat annoyed voice, asking us to keep the flat clean and shining for the next two months so that she could start showing it to people. Since we already had our flat in Suzhou we offered to move out 2 weeks earlier than our lease expired, just to be nice. We cleaned our flat very well and to be honest, we had been taking care of it well too... only thing broken was one window handler and then we had lost a small piece of paper which had the code you need to establish an Internet connection (via China mobile). We told her this and she seemed very annoyed, and told us we should be ready to pay up to obtain a new code. We found this a bit funny. Seeing it was an ongoing Internet contract, shouldn't you then be able to obtain your code simply by calling China Mobile and telling them your customer number? According to our friends: yes. According to our landlord: No. Absolutely not. She said she had to have 2 people from China Mobile to COME TO THE FLAT (!) on order to obtain a new password. We refused to agree to pay for this, saying that we could call China Mobile ourselves, and eventually she stopped mentioning the whole thing.

Two weeks after moving out we got an email telling us we'd get our deposit once she had received the last bills from us living there. No probs.

Three weeks followed and we decided to check in what was going on by sending her an email.
The response that came was very to the point. She had added up all our bills and then came some lines of complaint:

Damages in the flat included (according to her): scratches on furniture, walls and floor and the broken window handler. On top of that, she wanted compensation for some things that were missing, including: the Internet password, a kettle (which we had never used, and therefore placed in a cupboard above the stove), plus (hear this out!): MANUALS to the micro wave and the FRIDGE! (!).

"If you want to buy these things I am sure we can negotiate a good price!" she added at the end.

Buy the password to an Internet connection? Buy a 2-kuai-kettle that she cannot find because she hasn't been looking? BUY the instruction book to the FRIDGE!?! (a book that was most likely to be in Chinese and which we had never even seen?!)

We responded quite short that we had not lost anything except for the internet password, and that the 'scratches on walls and floors' that she claimed was 'damages' was in fact marks of living and that most of them had been there before we moved in. Besides... when u rent a flat, u are supposed to use it, right? That's why you pay rent? We also added that we obviously hadn't taken any manuals with us, and told her where the kettle could be found.

The next email was aggressive. Here she accused us for being extremely rude and that she had thought we were decent people, but that we, via the previous email, had proved her wrong. She said it was a tremendous hassle for her just to obtain the new internet password and that we should show some more understanding. UNDERSTANDING!? for what? Just give us our money for crying out loud?!

Some more angry emails (from her -which we didn't respond to) about what bad tenants we had been followed (quite insane... only 6 months earlier she had praised us for being the best tenants ever, especially since we then had paid her 6 months of rent upfront). We talked to my bf's company and they said the case was very common and that most landlords are willing to go through fire in order not to pay the deposit back to their tenants. My bf's company offered their lawyer to us, but fortunately we never had to use her, because suddenly our landlord paid us the money she owed. We still don't know why, but we weren't that keen to question her decision, but simply decided to erase her contact details from our emails/mobile phones a.s.a.p. In the end, she only deducted the money we owed her for our final bills and the repairing of the window handle (a total of 15 kuai) and that's it. nothing for the 'missing password' or some lost manuals -thank lord!!

Anyways, I know that this is a 'sunshine story' compared to what some people have to go through in order to get their deposit back. Only advice I can give is: be persistent, don't be scared to use a lawyer (some of our other friends did -and won their money back), and... when renting a flat, never agree to pay more than one months of rent as your deposit.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Dental care in Shanghai -cheap, and professional

Must do when you visit China (Shanghai): go to the dentist! Waaaaay cheaper than back home (at least if home is Scandinavia -but I believe dental care is expensive in most countries).

I had a bit of an emergency last fall when the screws from a chin operation that I had 13 years ago (??!!! yeah -don't ask!) started to give uncomfortable complications and after 3 days of suffering I decided to visit a dentist. It wasn't without being suspicious. My mom is a dentist and she has always been the one in charge of my teeth, so I'm not that comfortable with having strangers poking around in my mouth... But at this time, I was in so much pain I simply had to go and get things checked.

After googling around I decided to visit Kowa Dental at the Jin Mao Tower in Pudong, and I have to say I was positively surprised by the service I got there.

For starters, I got immediate treatment. I called and got an appointment the very same day. I went there with a lot of pain but no clue what was wrong, and since they couldn't see anything at first they took an x-ray. The x-ray showed a big infection in the root of a tooth (caused by screws that I have in my chin from a former operation. Long story. Nothing interesting. But anyways, those screws were pressuring the root so badly they were causing the infection) and the dentist suggested an urgent root canal filling/treatment (or whatever they r called) because if the infection would spread it could be quite damaging.

I was in so much pain I was ready to agree to anything, and when I said 'OK, when can we schedule it for?' she said: 'I'll do it straight away?' Straight away? As in, NOW?! Yes, she meant now. But first she showed me the price of the treatment: 1000 kuai, including the check up and three cleanings. It was a go.

The filling was painful but still smooth, the dentist (and her TWO nurses... they were not saving on staff at this place) were very kind and gentle. When they finished, the dentist gave me her home number when I left and told me to call her if I experienced any more pain. I did just that and decided to call her a bit later the same day. But first I called my mom and told her about the whole thing (her being a dentist I felt she has the right to know...). When I told about the immediate treatment and the price for the root canal filling mom almost started laughing.

-1000 kuai, for the treatment? It cannot be possible? Are they real dentists?
-They are!
I assured (with very high tech equipment as well!)
-In Sweden it would have cost you at least 4000 kuai. At least. And you would have had to wait for maybe 1-2 weeks before someone would be able to schedule you in.
-I know

Turns out, it was good I was in China and not in Sweden at this painful time. Since the pain didn't subside the dentist asked me to come back the next morning and she took new x-rays. The infection (a big, black spot on the x-ray -looked kinda scary) had already spread and they suggested I'd do a second root canal treatment (on the neighbour tooth) and come back the next day.

-If the infection doesn't calm down we might have to operate you in order to clean it out' she said.
-Do the root canal filling!!!!! I yelled.

Thank lord then, because the infection didn't spread any further and I didn't have to do any operation or any more fillings. After the second filling I went back to do the additional cleanings before she eventually filled both roots. No pain came back and I was pretty relieved.

And the best bit? Total price of this all: 2300 kuai, including some antibiotics and a big, final cleaning session.

Yes people, it was very professional. Very well done. And no pain has returned. I got the dentist to email all the x-rays to my mom, who obviously contacted the surgeon and asked him how this could be possible (turns out -it normally isn't possible. The surgeon says I am a 'one of a kind' case -funny, coz I've always wondered what it is like to be one of those but now when I am it turns out it is not fun but rather annoying and unlucky- and that him and his surgeon mates wants to meet me when I return to Sweden this summer to study how it could possible happen), and both mom and the surgeon were impressed with the dentist's work.

So, if you are suffering from tooth ache, or need to get something polished, cleaned or filled? I'd say: do it here!

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Never go to a grocery store hungry!

I just had 2 huge buritos filled with everything u can imagine. Still to go are:

* Half a chicken
* A large salmon fillet (?)
* Cheese and olives
* Blue berry pie (frozen, but slowly defrosting!)
* Ice cream
* Muffins
* 4 different kinds of chocolate (small pieces, but still)

Lesson learned: Do NEVER go to the grocery store when u r absolutely starving and craving western comfort food.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Procrastination (somthing I am good at)

I wonder why I keep doing this to myself. It is 6am and I am 'ready' for my morning run. Well, ready or ready? I did get up up, and then I had about 1 liter of water (I should really pea!) and now I am procrastinating leaving my flat. I don't like these morning runs! It doesn't matter how healthy or good they are, I still despise them! Mornings are for sleeping, days are for running?! Stupid Shanghai Marathon that has to be at 7am in the morning. And even MORE STUPID me who decided to run that thing. Now I've waited for 15 minutes and if I don't go soon I know I will be very disappointed with myself later today. But damn... who said getting used to running during the mornings were easy? Remind me, if I ever start talking about race challenges or things like that again that remind me of the fact that it's not for me.

OK, here we go. 45 minutes of torture is about to begin. And I don't even have any peanut butter. Not that I like peanut butter but still. Damn.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Seen at the gym

A tall, western guy walks through the reception, is greeted by a cheerful 'Ni Hao!!!' by the five girls behind the counter. The ladies gladly accept and swipes his card meanwhile giving up excited giggles.

The guy walks to the men's changing rooms that is next to the reception.

Five minutes later, the same guy walks out from the men's changing rooms, and passed the reception on his way to the main gym area. (this is something everyone has to do when they go from the changing rooms to the actual gym).

-Zai Jian!!!! Bye bye!!!! The girls say in choirs.

A slightly confused looking guy enters the gym area.

Urban jungle

You need to be no Sherlock Homes to notice that Shanghai lacks in terms of green areas. Having said that, however, it's not until you see the city from above that you realise what an urban jungle this place really is!? (Anyone don't believe me? I recommend u to visit the City Planning Museum on People's Square). Geeeez... give this city some more parks and trees?!

Oh and btw.. Huangpu river is NOT that blue! Actually, it's not blue at all!

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Why settle for one when you can have three?!

No, it's actually not the cake I am talking about this time... Althought three of that would be great too!

I just watched the 'Sex and the City' movie, so it's kind of impossible to think about anything else but 'getting married' right now. I have personally never been big on the idea of a wedding, one of the main reasons is that I cannot see myself wearing anything that makes me look like a white, giant pastry. Over the years, however, it has become more and more common that brides choose something less 'fluffy' and more 'modern/feminine/sexy' as their wedding dress, some brides even playing with colour combinations, and this has possible changed my opinion a little bit, even though I am far from that sort of girl who dreams of a 'big fat wedding' ..

It wasn't until I attended a Chinese wedding, however, that the thought of getting married became real. No, it wasn't the tacky soap bubbles or the mixed stage performance throughout the night that convinced me, but rather the fact that a Chinese bride changes dress THREE times during the wedding!!!!!!!?! Now, how cool is that?! It's like u have 3 favorite dresses -and u can wear them all on your big night?! And they can be colourful (red or yellow being popular choices in China), AND tight/flattering....?! Sounds too good to be true?! Well, it is. Because despite the fact that you, as a bride, during a wedding in China can change clothes up to three times (I've heard that some brides changes even more times, but I've never personally seen it), they also have to be involved in a lot of silly wedding games, such as smoking shit loads of cigarettes (why? Doesn't really benefit a healthy start of the marriage...) and drop by every single table to have a cheers with all of your guests (and at Chinese weddings, there tend to be A LOT of guests!). Well, the cheers bit I don't mind, but in China, cheers is 'gan bei' meaning: bottom up! And there's no way you can be a chicken and just take a sip.

Having said this, however, I suppose I should add that there's an easy way out of it too...Because most Chinese girls are no fans of booze, and most of them wouldn't be able to handle 20 + glasses of wine anyways, so in order not to be rude they either mix their drink with coke, or, the simply replace it with sprite or some other soft drink... Hm.. sprite on my wedding? I don't think so! But being able to wear 3 dresses during one night (without anyone thinking you are a freak!).... aooch. It's a tricky one.

Oh, and no no no... I suppose I should add that I am NOT planning on getting married or anything (not even close...!!!) I just can't help being a little bit inspired after watching Carrie wearing Vera Wang. Kind of impossible not to.

One -white and fluffy (I would go for something less 'I am a giant cup cake' like...)

Two -tight and chic -me love!

Three -traditional.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Getting used to morning runs (so far -painful!)

I don't want to look like this on the race day...

In order to prepare as well as possible for the Shanghai half marathon in the end of November, I've realised that I have to start moving my daily, afternoon/evening runs to early mornings. All races that I know of in China takes place early in the morning, and Shanghai marathon is no exception. If I don't remember things wrong I think the Shanghai marathon started at 7am or 7.30am in 2006 (when I last ran). That year I hadn't prepared to well, and even though I got up at 4am on the race day to give myself time to have, and digest, my breakfast, I still got a stitch five minutes after I started running. Awful! I hate running with a stitch! (who doesn't?!)

Anyways, so today, I got up quite early and headed out on an empty stomach. Now, a thing about me and mornings and breakfasts: I LOVE BREAKFAST! It's my fave meal of the day, and from the moment I wake up I am always more or less starving, and always hurry into the kitchen to prepare my favorite feast of the day. So, waking up, and putting on running shoes and shorts rather than the coffee maker, was kind of strange itself. Going out for a run on an empty, rumbling stomach, was even more strange! All I could think about was food! And try hitting a hill with weak legs? Not enjoyable.

Still, I will continue doing this morning run until my body gets used to it (I figured it will take 1-2 painful and hungry weeks?) because I don't want to be slowed down at race time because of a stitch. At the moment I am doing quite short distances (I just want the legs to get used to things slowly) so I don't see any point eating anything beforehand, but I suppose eventually I will have to start feasting on those pre-run snacks that runners of the 'Runner's World' forum recommend, including spoon fulls of peanut butter, almond butter or half a banana. Hm... none of these snacks sounds tempting at the moment (those butters actually sounds sickening sweet and as for the banana -I've never been a fan. I find the texture a bit strange?!) but hopefully I'll adjust to them eventually. Main thing is to learn how to run on an half empty stomach (I simply won't be able to eat too much on the morning of the race day -it just results in a stitch for me) and, to get used to running with the early birds.

I can't say I am excited. But at the same time. Not everything in life can be exciting. Gosh. That sounds a bit sad though!

Monday, July 14, 2008

Plastic bags -charge or no charge?

I'm a bit confused about this plastic bag policy. When should you now pay, and when should the bag be free? Most grocery stores I've visited in Shanghai/Suzhou have made it clear that you now have to pay for your bags. If you go to a local wet market though, a bag charge is completely out of the question. But what about clothing stores? The other day at Zara I was charged for a bag (of course they asked first if I wanted the bag or not). Later the same day I bought some stuff from H&M and wasn't charged for the bag. So what's the deal? Charge or no charge? Not because I am stingy, but more because I am curious to find out if some clothing stores are trying to cash in on the bag-ban.


...has been playing steadily in my ipod for a while now? Is that cheesy? At first I found most of their tracks to be kind of weird, but good enough to listen to when going for a long run. Now I would lie if I said I don't enjoy most of their songs?! Gosh?! Never thought I would fall for a Chinese girl band!

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Bits and pieces

Three funny things that have occurred within the last 48 hours.

1. Me and my bf went into a shop. He went to the booze section and I went for some ladies stuff. When I'd found what I needed I went over to him, as he was standing with a bottle of Bai Jiu (gift -no we don't drink this sweet poison) in his hand, chatting to two male shop assistants. They looked at him as if he was the Hulk, and barely glanced as me when I came over.
-You are so strong! You are so tall! I heard them saying as I grabbed my bf's arm and dragged him to the check out counter. I couldn't help it, I simply just had to stop them from boosting his already close-to-exploding-big-head. I mean, they call him 'handsome' (帅哥) at the gym for crying out loud?!

2. I was awarded a price (!) for (OK, folks, hold your breathe for this one!) 'student that has made the most progress this semester' at my university!!!??! Cool, huh? Although it wasn't only me who got it. Me and another guy from my class, plus a bunch of other people from other classes. But still! We had a kind of 'end of semester ceremony' when my name was suddenly called out (I didn't get it at all. I heard my name being called out and I thought they were calling out the names of student who needed to go to the office to clear out visa issues...) and I got to go to the front of the lecture hall and pick up a diploma (which came with an envelope with 100 kuai! A study Hong Bao I assume?). I don't understand much of what the diploma says (I haven't made THAT much progress yet!) but I am still childishly happy because of it and has placed it close to our door so that anyone who steps into our flat can see and read it. Yes. You are allowed to do this, I tell myself.

3. I have inspired the personal trainers at my gym! By now, everyone knows I am a big fan of skipping ropes. What do you think I saw 2 days ago? Oh yes. Trainers commanding their clients to skip, skip, skip. Now I am just waiting for them to come up with a common skipping class too. Something like 'body combat meets skipping rope', or, maybe they could combine it with yoga? First you hop, then you drop (onto your yoga mat)?! Okay okay, maybe no class then, but still, I am very happy to see other people joining my little skipping party. It is such a great exercise after all, so there are few reasons not to skip.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

There's two of them!!!

Ah, imagine my joy?!

If you have read this blog lately u might have noticed that I have become good friends with Rock, alias the Hunan boy at my gym. He speaks the most understandable Mandarin I have come across yet, and, he's a lot of fun, so I am very happy about our friendship. Not only is it nice to have a new friend and to get a chance to practice my Chinese, but it also nice to have a Chinese male friend that u can actually connect with without it being odd (U know the whole boy-girl-just-friends-thing), and who is TALLER than me, and who doesn't think I look (or sound) like a giant when I come walking/running on the treadmill. Yes, as u hear: I am very happy about becoming friends with this guy.

So just imagine my joy when I some days ago started talking to another, really nice trainer at the gym... and he turns out to be Rock's cousin! Two Hunan boys at one gym?! Two guys who calls me 'You LA' instead of 'You NA' and says 'nui LAI' (milk) instead of 'nui NAI' (sorry cannot help it, it just makes me smile when they say it!)?! And two guys that i can understand when I am talking to them (because -and I don't know if this is because they r from Hunan or because of the fact that they r just trying to be nice to me- they don't speak so darn fast as most other Chinese do!)?! And, two guys to tell me everything I need to know (and more) about Hunan, as part of the planning of my upcoming trip there. Ah, it's almost too good to be true!

The other Hunan boy's English name is Frank (they sure know how to choose their names here don't they. Yesterday I met 'Willing' by the way. A girl... ).

Funny thing when Rock and Frank talk about each other they describe the other one as their brother, when they in fact are cousins. But by now I am used to this over here: as a result of the one-child-policy most young Chinese speak of their cousins as 'sisters and brothers.' It's sometimes hard to know which one is the 'real' siblings and which one isn't? Rock, for instance, has a real sister back in Hunan, although he rarely mentions her. (Actually, he talks more about his dog that passed away 10 years ago than his sister).

Anyways, brothers or cousins, both Frank and Rock are great fun and it's nice to have met some Chinese friends that u can talk to about more than 'where do u come from, why did you come here and what are you doing here.' (basically my usual, shallow chat with everything from taxi drivers to the girl who waxes my legs....).

Friday, July 11, 2008

Hot spot for wedding pix

Another coffee loving couple? Well, at least they were shooting longing glares at my latte while I watched them (though the window) striking pose after pose.

Hengshan Lu in Shanghai. There must be something about it. I am not exaggerating now, but during the last 6 months, every, single time when I have walked on that road, there have been Chinese couple shooting their wedding pix outside Starbucks?! I know that Hengshan Lu is quite beautiful, but why Starbucks? Who wants to associate their wedding with huge, commercial cups of coffee?

Another funny thing about those wedding shoots... is it only me or do both the groom and the bride sometimes look exhausted, frustrated, bored and purely miserable?! As if they were on a trip to hell? And then a moment later the photographer says something and their faces break into forced, but believable smiles? Why bother with that wedding album (that for most young Chinese is a 'must have') if it's such a pain? From what I've heard it's quite expensive too?

And why on earth do it outside Starbucks?!!!!

Oh yeah!

Remember when u were a kid and you used to do this thing with your friends? There were 'fordbidden words' that u didn't dare to say on your own, so instead you and your friend counted to three and said it at the same time? Well, OK, maybe it was only me and my friends who did that... but anyways.

Yesterday I was walking on Hengshan Lu in Shanghai. From far, I saw two young Chinese guys approaching. When they saw me, they started to whisper to each other, even though I was quite far from them and I wouldn't have had a clue what they were saying anyways... then, once we passed each other, they said in choir:


Hahhahahahhahahahaha.... I cracked up then and there! Hilarious! I wonder if they counted '1-2-3' beforehand too?!

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Who's got the most foreign friends? Let's open our wallets and have a look!

Most wanted.

Some days ago I was talking with my friend Rock, alias 'the Hunan boy' from the gym. For some reason we started discussing money, and suddenly he pulled out an old version of a 10 rmb note from his wallet.

-See, isn't it beautiful, he said and handed it to me.
-Sure... I said. (Not sure if money can be beautiful... but sure).
-What does the money look like in Sweden? He asked. Is it as beautiful as this?
-Ehum.. well... the Swedish money... hm... it has sort of blue-green notes and some golden and silver coins?
-Golen coins! Wow. China doesn't have golden coins. You guys are so lucky!
-Ehum.. I guess so!

After some more detailed questions about what kind of notes and coins we have in Sweden, I sensed Rock was fishing for something.
-Rock, do you want me to bring you a note from Sweden when I come back?
-Could you?! That would be great! I collect money from different countries.
-Sure, no probs. Actually, I might have some foreign money in my flat. I'll have a look for you.
-Okey, but just the smallest value okay, I just collect it for its looks.

I thought is was kind of cute -Rock -the money collector- so the next time I saw him I brought what I had found from our flat: a 1000 Korean won note, and a 2 euro coin. Rock was shining when I handed them over to him at the gym, and a minor crowd of personal trainers gathered around us, doing the 'ooooohs' and 'aaaahhhs'.

Later, a small guy approached me together with Rock. He handed me a colourful note.
-Do you know where this is from?
I had a quick look. A 500 (or 5000? I don't remember?) note. It said Peru.
-Ah... okay. How much is it worth?
-Eh... I don't know? Peru is in South America. I don't know their currency by heart.
(disappointed sigh).
-So you are not from America? the little guy went on.
-No she is from Denmark! Rock corrected.
-Sweden. I corrected (yeeez, is Scandinavia so insignificant that EVERYONE mixes up the countries? Apparently so!)
-So what does Swedish money look like? the small guy said.
-Ehum... it is sort of blue... green... ehum... I started.
-Do you have any?! The small guy said.
-Not right now, but I can bring some...
-You can? Oh, that would be great!

Oh my lord, what have I gotten myself into? Now EVERYONE wants Swedish money. And no, it's not big money they are after (a 1 'krona' coin is enough, which has the same value as a 1 kuai coin), they just want foreign money. I never realised the interest for foreign money was so big in China. But I realised when I third trainer came up to me that same day and started asking me about what Swedish money look like.

So later, I asked Rock.
-So what is the deal with foreign money? Are you all collecting it?
-Pretty much, yeah!
-Well, because it is cool to be able to open your wallet and show money from different countries to your friends. It shows that you have many foreign friends from all over the world!
-Oh, I see.....

Oh, and FYI, Rock is currently in the lead of 'having most foreign friends' with his Korean note and European euro coin, and soon he'll be getting a Swedish note too. But then again, the other ones are doing quite well, many of them have got American dollars and the guy with the note from Peru is obviously also a threat.... To be continued! Stay tuned!

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Cutting in line

I know this is a over discussed topic, but still.. what is the deal with older Chinese people CONSTANTLY trying to cut in line?! In the beginning I was mostly stunned. Coming from a country where cutting in line is close to taboo (I mean, in Sweden we even give other people space in the line.. especially if you line up to to use the ATM) I was amazed of how non existent the whole 'standing in a line' system is in China. I mean, we shouldn't even talk about what it is sometimes like to try and get on/off the metro?! Bit of a wrestling game at times!

But in this case of cutting in lines, I mean the actually existing lines. Like when u go into a shop and want to pay something and there is a line, which signifies that you should line up behind the person standing last in the line... I mean, this is not rocket science -everybody should be able to get that? Right?

So, why is it then still that when I get last in line, some older Chinese man or woman often comes and stands right in front of me, or, sometimes they even pushes me back?! Since the novelty of this case is long gone, I now respond rather aggressively, either telling them to get behind me, or violently pushing myself in between them and the person in front of them. It always works, but I get looks from them that are everything but friendly. And still, THEY were the ones cutting in front of me?!

Young Chinese rarely cut lines. It has happened to me a few times but normally it is because they simply don't realise there is a line, and when u tell them they apologize and get in the line. But older people. Grrrrrrrrr... I get furious. And I guess the fact that I am personally not patient by nature, doesn't help.

One funny thing that once happened to my bf in the convenience store. He was in going towards the counter to line up and managed to bump into a another guy who was in the line on his way. The guy turned to him and said:

-What is your problem?! You hit me, don't you normally say 'sorry' in your home country?!

My boyfriend just stared at him. For real?!!!

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Today's wish: small feet

Gosh, just THINK of all the shoes I could buy if I could get my big feet into the small Chinese shoe sizes…!???

(Hm…. To think of it. Maybe it is a good thing that I don’t?!)

But still… just look at these. Sex and the City meets China chic. I am in love.

(So was the Korean girl whose feet I demanded a photo of)

A holiday around the corner...

I was supposed to wake up at 6am today and go for a morning walk before breakfast (I cannot run for the moment coz I’ve got a sore throat. Something of a monthly thing lately… *sigh*) but when I woke up and walked out on our balcony I changed my mind. Geeeez, it is just so hot out there?! Going for a walk feels like a punishment rather than a nice thing to do. Maybe I have to settle for an evening walk instead? (a LATE evening walk).

Yeah, the heat wave has just hit Suzhou and still, I am already feeling as if I’ve ‘had enough.’ I just don’t like that u cannot go running outside in this heat. Or well, of course u can go running, but it is very uncomfortable. But enough of the whining. At least it is not raining.

Today I am actually going to indulge in some female pampering… something I haven’t done for I don’t know how long!? I’ve had this facial gift voucher lying in my drawer since Xmas (yup, it was a gift) and I haven’t gotten around to use it yet, so today’s the day. Let’s see if it is any good. I am not much of a ‘getting your face/nails’ done person in general, I prefer getting a massage (a post work out massage!) but there’s nothing wrong with being spoiled once in a while.

I’ve got this bubbling feeling of excitement in my stomach a.t.m. I cannot help it, but I always get like this during summer (kinda like a kid the night before Xmas eve). Since I have lived abroad for the last 7 years, summer has become a bit holy for me. It is the only time during the year when I go home to visit friends/family. It has been a whole year since I last saw most of my siblings, plus dad and all of my friends (mom and my brother came here in March so the memory of them is still fresh!), and obviously it’s going to be great to catch up with them all! Summer is definitely Xmas/Bday/ the best days of the years all together for me! Nothing beats seeing your friends and family. And all that fresh air… mmmmmmmm!

Yes, as u might have figured out: soon I will go to Scandinavia for a holiday, so now I wonder if anyone has any tips/ideas of what I can blog about when I am over there? (Correct me if I am wrong but I don’t think you guys are very interested to find out about what a summer in Scandinavia is like… ) Well, I’ll be visiting my old work, which is a Chinese company, so I’ll definitely still be in touch with Chinese (my former boss is a powerful Beijing man, who LOVES commenting on my weight. It’s going to be interesting to see what he has to say this time. Have I gotten fat/skinny? If he doesn’t speak it is a good thing). And then in August I am going to the Beijing Olympics. Yey! Can’t wait!!!

Anyhow, if anyone’s got some ideas/suggestions of what they want to read about (tips for living in China, food recommendations, travelling suggestions –anything? Basically that sort of stuff I can write about no matter where on earth I am!) please leave a comment or email me at jonnawib(at) I don’t want you to get bored!!!

This is where I'll be spending the following weeks... Sure, Scandinavia =beautiful, but maybe not so interesting....

Monday, July 7, 2008

That's Suzhou (there's a new magazine in town!)

Finally, I am done!

The exam was quite hard, but I think I made it OK. I must have. I knew most of the stuff, and normally I am quite lucky when I guess… So let’s see. On Friday there’s apparently some ceremony for us students so I’ll then go and pick up my grades and HOPEFULLY I’ll be able to buy the books for level 4 already. Oh yes, of course I am going to do the whole ‘prepare for level 4 in advance’ thing… I am going to drag all those books back to Sweden and probably not open them once during my holiday, and then have to drag them all back to China again in August… but that’s just me. I always do it. And traditions are meant to be kept.

This Friday there is a launch party for a new Suzhou magazine called ‘That’s Suzhou.’ It is apparently made by the same people that make the more famous ‘That’s Shanghai’ (then there is also ’That’s Beijing’). I picked up their July copy (funny that the July issue is out although the release party is this Friday) and it looks quite thin, but still good. I’ll definitely try to score an invite to Friday’s party and then convince my bf that it is important for us to go. I also notice (when I flicked through the magazine) that the editorial assistant is no one less but my old private Chinese tutor. Well that explains why she suddenly became impossible to get in touch with and stopped coming to teach me.

But really, now when I am flicking through That’s Suzhou I have to say that I am actually really happy that there’s finally a decent English language magazine in the city (the other expat magazines I’ve come across over here have been a bit… dull). I am looking forward to how ‘That’s’ is going to cover all of Suzhou’s dingy nightclubs in their nightlife section…

Today: one, last effort (for a while)

Today (in about 1 hour and 20 min) I have my final exam (grammar) and I am a tiiiiiny bit freaked out about it. Who said Chinese language was easy to learn because there was so little grammar? Ehhhhh.... This class is all about grammar, and like always with me, I have a hard time remembering all those rules. It is the same with every language I learn... I just go after feeling, rather than trying to remember the rules, and in the end I end up.... confused.

Anyways, I have to go and review some characters now (a lot of writing is involved in this exam... hence why my spirit is low) and then I'll blog about something more fun/interesting in the afternoon. It looks quite tempting out there.. about 33 degrees and humid as h***. Not a day for a long run, that's for sure. The air con better work today at uni. Last Friday it didn't, so we had our spoken exams looking like sweaty football players who's been running for too long. Or OK, I did. The Koreans and Japanese looked as fresh as ever in their jeans and shirts. Me, on the other hand, wearing the tiniest shorts and a singlet, looked as if I'd come straight out of the shower. Well, that's my 'glow,' right?!

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Boy toys

My bf's work mate Timmo's latest toy. A mini motor bike.

In most of the world, a man’s status can be boosted with a fancy car. In China, it is all about bikes. At least amongst expats who doesn't have any Chinese driver's license.

My boyfriend's latest toy from Silver Storm Bikes in Suzhou, a place where they 'tailor make' the bikes for their customers.

His toy before that. A bike with a motor, that he, finally has admitted was the most stupid buy he'd ever done. (this bike is now being shipped to Finland where someone hopefully will buy it!)

The wknd in Shanghai

Friday started off with a spoken exam (that, for ONCE, went really well. I babbled away about everything and anything and left the room feeling confident. I got the feeling that my teacher sincerely understood what I told her, hehe). The exam was followed by a visit to the gym where I, despite a sore foot (post broken pain? Not sure, but hurts like hell) spent one hour running on the treadmill. They have FINALLY turned the air con on at the gym (before it has just been ‘cooled down’ by a modest amount of fans), and wow, what a difference it made?! For once I didn’t feel as if my head was a heated bomb, ready to explode when I was running on the treadmill. Nice.

I caught the 4.20pm train to Shanghai. The train station was, as usual, mega crowded and my train was delayed, making it even more hot and sweaty on the over crowded station and then on the train. Nothing out of the ordinary happened. Some young Chinese girls came up to me and told me I could have their seat while I was waiting for the train. Sweet!

In Shanghai it was as steaming hot as in Suzhou, if not worse, and I ran some errands, including buying a mobile recharge card, before I went to my friend Anna’s place.

Funny thing, when I walked into the convenience store, there were a bunch of older women having some sort of meeting at the counter, and when they saw me, one started screaming:

-老外来了,老外来了!!! =Lao wai lai le = foreigner is coming.
(When is the novelty going to wear off? I wonder if it then will feel weird to live here)

And then every one made way for me and carefully studied what I did, what I bought and what I said. Some satisfied/amused grunts followed my short conversation I had with the sales woman about the mobile recharge card. The older generation here really seems to appreciate when u can (or OK, when you TRY to) speak Mandarin.

At Anna’s place we got comfortable with wine, sushi and snacks and then followed a night out at Bar Rouge. I’ve never actually been to Bar Rouge before, because I have had this idea that it is a snobby and pretentious place (meaning: a place I would like to avoid!), but I have to say I was pleasantly surprised! The people weren’t that snobby, the bartenders were friendly (much friendlier than at some other Bund bars!) and the music was okay. Only thing was that every single guy we talked to was a bit short, making me feel like a giant!? Like, their head reaching up to my chest sort of thing? Or maybe I was pushing my luck, wearing 6cm heels and basically turning into a walking tower (181cm)

Nothing special happened, or yes, well, I got a bit insulted when I was standing at the bar around 4am, drinking some water and a guy (who said he was from Italy, although he sure did not look Italian?) came up to talk to me. When he saw the water bottle in my hand he said:

-Oh my, you are so drunk you have to drink water! Well, no point talking to you then!?
Ehum?! Excuse me?

Later, that same guy came back and asked for my phone number. I just starred at him.
-You really want my number? I asked.
-Yes! He said.
-No point! I said and walked away.

(Ahhhh.. I am happy I am not single in this town!)

On Sunday morning Shanghai was baking in the heat and my head was pounding from an evil hangover. I had some errands to run, but everything got a bit delayed, and most of the day was actually spend in restaurants (Starbucks –Mc Donalds –Hunan restaurant –the latter was the best!) trying to satisfy my hangover cravings as the same time as trying to escape the heat. I caught a late train back to Suzhou, and I have to say it was nice to wake up my own bed (and without a headache) this morning.

Today I have to study as I have my last exam tomorrow, and I should also go to the gym… so quite a boring day lies ahead, but well. After tomorrow’s exam I am more or less FREE and a holiday is awaiting so I am definitely not complaining. It’s pretty hot a.t.m, around 34 degrees and humid, so it sort of feels like the right time to make a move.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Chafing and birthmarks

This is not related to China, but maybe some of you have experience from the following:

One of my birth marks sort of ‘fell off.’

After starting to run several times a week I have noticed that my sport bra has resulted in chafing around my chest. One of my birth marks are located just where the sport’s bra ends and last week, after my long run, it started to change colour, going red and all weird. So I booked an appointment to remove it (although it is tiny! Just like a little dot!). After yesterday’s work out, however, I noticed the birth mark had been removed.. by itself. Only a small edge of it is left? And the redness around it has started to go away… Hm… so what now? Do I still go to the doctor and ask him to look at the edge of a previous existing birth mark?


Yesterday at the gym I started talking to Rock(y), alias ’the Hunan boy’ and we kept talking all the way through my work out?! One hour on the treadmill have never passed any faster! I was so focussed on my Chinese that I completely forgot I was working out at the same time (not at a mega fast pace, but still). Nice!

Anyways, things got a bit clearer now between me and Rocky, and those of you who thinks that HE thinks I fancy him, can now relax, coz yesterday we talked about that and he pointed out that he ‘understands that I am not into him and that he is not into me but just want us to be friends.’ Excellent! So friends it is.

I expressed my concerned for the fact that it is kind of hard to make Chinese male friends here because if I talk to a guy that I find interesting, and then suggests us to meet for a coffee some day, he thinks I am into him and might be a bit scared (giant, blonde woman… -who wouldn’t be scared?!). Rocky said he understood and promised that he won’t take it the wrong way if we meet for a coffee and a chat. Even more excellent!

He also pointed out that I really need to practice speaking more with Chinese people because my level of Chinese right now is equivalent to a Chinese kid’s language level. He said this with a smirk, and although I rolled my eyes back to him I couldn’t help but feeling a sting of happiness. I mean, I can speak like a Chinese kid!!! Now that was something I couldn’t do 5 months ago. Now I just have to ‘grow up’ fast and things will be great.

(Note to self: Hm… maybe I should hang out more at the playground with kids that are on the same language level as me. Just to... you know, boost the confidence for a bit?)

One thing I noticed when we talked yesterday is that after the first, hesitant 15 minutes of painfully broken conversation, it got easier. Both to understand what he says and to reply/express things. So that’s good. There is hope.

After chatting for a while Rocky switched to his local, Hunan dialect (I am not sure what this one is called, but I am pretty sure it isn’t ‘Hunan hua’ so I am not even going to guess!) and I understood about 50% less than before. Still, however, I have to say that his local dialect was easier to understand than the Suzhou/Shanghai hua… It’s interesting this thing with Chinese dialects. Meanwhile people from Beijing (speaking the national ‘pu tong hua’) are the ones I understand the best (unless they speak in 120km/h), the Shanghai/Suzhou hua is the one I barely understand at all. Does anyone have any different experience with dialects? Which one do you find the easiest/hardest to understand?

Ps. Since Rocky is so kind helping me with my Chinese I am going to start teaching him English, starting from September. He knows a little bit, self taught, but he says he lacks vocabulary to make sentences. So yesterday I started off my teaching him that ‘country’ and ‘province’ are not the same. So now, instead of saying ‘My country is Hunan’ he says ‘I come from Hunan province.’ Great start!

Oh, and I am SO going to visit Hunan this fall! The more I hear about it, the more I want to go!

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Stomach flu prevention?


....and rub!

It is interesting to take note of what friend and family that come to visit me in China do in order to prevent getting stomach sick here.

Some prepare by eating stomach bacteria two weeks prior to arriving.
Some refuse to eat Chinese food while they are here.
Some refuse to eat at all (? –your loss!).
Some vaccinate themselves prior to coming here.
Some overdose on instant-stop-the-flu-pill.
Some wash their hands every hour.
Some suffer in silence meanwhile comforting themselves with the fact that they are losing a lot of weight.

And some, take it a bit further and bring a hand disinfection spray, which is normally used at dental clinics or hospitals by doctors and dentists who don’t want to wash their hands every five minutes. Yes, of course I am talking about my mom.

Last time she and my brother were here they carried around this spray everywhere and to tell you the truth: they sprayed everywhere and everyone. Even me although I obliged. Waiters at restaurants thought this was quite amusing until mom also tried to spray them.

Oh, and the result of the spray?

Well of course she got sick. Very sick. And my brother too.

But afterwards they went to Burger King and had a feast and to be frank: I don't think my mom has ever eaten at Burger King before. So at least it opened some new doors to her. Thanks, disinfection spray!

Moment of truth: my Chinese = 还可以 (the truth hurts)

Finally I am well enough to leave the house. Yesterday I had an interesting conversation with our ayi. I was telling her that we are going to a holiday and that she doesn’t have to come for five weeks. She looked at me suspiciously, so I decided I’d write it down for her on a piece of paper.

I did (without using a dictionary –haha!!!) and passed it over. She looked at it with an amused smile and I asked her if she could read my children-like-hanzi.

-Hihi… yes… I understand.
-I’m glad to hear, I know I write like a child.
-Hehe… your Chinese is okay!

Okay. Hm…. Well. That definitely means: it sucks! U know why? Well, she used the very polite phrase:

你的中文还可以 = ni de zhong wen hai ke yi = your Chinese is okay/so-so.

When something is 还可以 (hai ke yi= ok) in China, that is a polite way to say: it’s not so good! Chinese people rarely tell you that your Chinese sucks. Instead they use the word okay. But I know what she means. My Chinese is poor. God dammit! Why is this language so frigging hard to learn?!

Speaking of learning the language, today I have a new exam: 听视 (ting shi = listening/ television) You watch movies and answer questions. Shouldn’t be too hard, but then again, for someone who’s Chinese is simply 还可以 it might prove to be harder than expected (ok, ok, I'll stop sulking).

Oh well, enough with the whining. It’s going to be nice to get out of the door. Due to my stomach flue I’ve been sort of stranded in our flat. After the exam I am going to the gym (ahhhhh finally! 2 days of no movement except for the usual: toilet-bedroom-kitchen-TV… and my whole body is itching!) and then I have to prepare for tomorrow’s exam: spoken Chinese and presentations.

Hm… sounds like so much fun, doesn’t it? Don’t worry. After the exam on Friday I’ll squeeze in a quick run before I jump on the train to Shanghai to cork up some wine bottles with my girlfriends. Well needed. Hopefully also well-deserved!?

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Sorting out your visa

Yesterday I went to get the extension of my visa sorted out. I hate going to the visa office because they always ask you for papers that no one told you you need to bring, and then you have to go back home, get those papers, and then in the end they might not even need them anymore? (Oh, and the visa office is in the other side of the city in case someone wonders)

Anyways, this time I was prepared. I had all my papers ready. I had copied of everything. EVERYTHING. Even copies of my current passport, visa page, latest entry stamp, you name it… I felt prepared but one thing I had completely forgotten about is that at a place like the immigration bury, you have to waaaaiiiiiittttt….

Yes. Waiting. It is the thing you do here in China. A lot! You wait for tables at restaurant (totally worth it if the food is good f course). You wait at the check out counters in supermarket. You wait for a less crammed metro at the Shanghai metro station, and then you wait, for a looooong time, at police stations and visa offices.

One simply way to escape the waiting time is to act completely oblivious to the system. Like I did the first time I went to the visa office in Suzhou. It wasn’t my intention, but I was so lost when the taxi dropped me off at the address I had given him (which I had been given by someone else) that I walked straight into the first big bureaucratic looking building I saw. As it turned out, I walked into some sort of police office and started going from counter to counter with my passport asking people (in broken Chinese) who could help me. The local police officers must have thought I was a lunatic, because one of them ran away and came back (still running) together with a pretty Chinese lady in heels and a skirt.

-You have a problem? The woman asked me in English.
-Not really? I just don’t know which counter I should line up at? I said and nodded at my passport and visa papers.
-Oh, I see
. She said. Come with me.

The pretty lady then took me down the stairs and out of the building and led me to a completely different building a few blocks away. Once we walked in I realised that this looked more like a visa office than the other place. Whooops. Oh well. First timer. I’m allowed to make mistakes.

I thought the lady was going to leave me there, but oh no, this lady weren’t letting me off so easy. She walked passed the big lines of people with passport, asked around and eventually took me to a counter, discussed for some minutes with the woman behind the counter (who was already busy with another client but who cares?) and then turned to me with a smile:

-Okey, this woman will help you now!
-Eh.. okay! Thank you?!

And off she went. And the woman behind the counter dropped everything in her hands and gave me her full attention. Ten minutes later my application had been filed, I had paid and gotten my receipt and were sent home and told to come back next week to pick up my passport. The whole thing took me less than 30 minutes (including running around in the wrong building) and I felt light-hearted when I took a taxi back.

That kind of experience, however, did not repeat itself yesterday. And after 1.5 hours of waiting I was considering walking into the police building again. A tips to anyone going to get their visa papers done: be there at opening time, or, if possible, before opening time to get first in line and avoid the waiting.

Or, simply walk into the wrong building. Act lost and confused. And you might end up getting special treatment.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Sick from fruits?!

Delicious but deceiving?

Yesterday I ate some home made lasagne (same as I have been eating for the last 2 days) and a bunch of fruits… When night time came I got terrible stomach cramps and today I am sick as a dog!? Can u get stomach flues from… fruits?! Or what is going on here??

When a man hurts himself...

This weekend me and my bf went to Chamate, a popular tea/dim sum chain to have some refreshing drinks. The café in Suzhou was, as usual, very busy, but the waiter managed to squeeze us in and found us a table in the middle of the restaurant. Only problem: the table was that kind of table where u sit in a little ‘box’ with a low table and an even lower space for your legs. I had severe problems getting in with my legs, which my bf, as always, found hilarious. Anyways, once we had sat down, ordered, and finished our drinks I was going to go to the toilet, and since I barely got out from my seat I ended up entertaining my bf even more. When I came back we decided to leave, and guess what happened then? My bf got stuck with his left feet and ended up falling all over the floor!

I couldn’t help it, I just laughed, like an evil, unsupportive girlfriend. Oh well. Getting stuck with your feet under a low table and falling on a restaurant floor is definitely MY thing to do, rather than his, so I figured I should treasure this rare moment of him being the clumsy one.

The best bit, however, was later that night when we were home watching TV and he started to complain about pain in his foot. Him complaining about pain is a very rare matter itself, seeing that he is a typical male who doesn’t like to talk about how he feels (and, on top of that he is Finnish, and most Finns don’t like to talk at all)

-It really hurts!
-Is it swollen?
-Well then you probably don’t have to worry. You probably just twisted it.
-Maybe it is broken.
-Maybe it is broken. Sometimes you can break your foot without it swelling.
-Eh…. No, I don’t think it is broken.
-Maybe it is…

Geeez. I have twisted and sprained many ankles during my life, and on top of that, I even broke my left foot in Dec 2005. Reminding him of that, however, made no difference. As the night went on, he kept telling himself (and me) that it was probably broken. Yesterday he went out and bough himself bandage and it wouldn’t surprise me if he sneaks out to visit the doctor at his lunch today.

A side note: some weeks ago at the gym I was jumping double jumps with my skipping rope together with one of the trainers (no, we weren’t jumping together, he was cheering on me and I was jumping). Obviously, double jumps are not my thing, because I landed wrong and hurt my post-broken foot. It hurt like hell and for the next week or so it was a swollen story, and I could barely ride my bike. When I complained about pain to my bf, his response was:

-Ah, just rest it for a bit. It’ll go away.

So I did. And it did.

Now, why can’t he take the same advice from me?!
Is it always so serious when a man hurts himself?