Friday, October 31, 2008

Pep talk

Interesting conversation with my bf last night:

I: so I was given permission to run the 3000m race tomorrow?
He: What race?
I: (sigh). You know, the race I've been talking about for the last two weeks?
He: Oh, I don't remember you talking about a race?

(hm... why does this sounds so familiar....)

I: Anyways, I am going to run 3000m tomorrow.
He: Cool! Good luck!
I: Thanks! I am aiming for finishing around 15 min.
He: What? 15 min?! 3000m?! That's way too slow?!!!
I: Well I am not a fast runner.
He: But you can run for 2 hours straight?
I: That's not the same as running 3km in a fast pace?!!! Distance and speed are 2 completely different things! I'm good at distance but I suck at speed!
He: Sure, but 15 min is really slow. You should aim for something like 12 min.
I: Are you crazy? Since when did I become super woman?
He: It's not that hard you know... when I did my military service I ran 2,800 m in boots within 12 minutes!
I: Well I am not in the military.
He: No, but you should really run a bit faster than 15 min.
I: Well, I am aiming for 15 min, anything under that will be a bonus.
He: That's a bad strategy, you should do like this....

(Gets out of bed and starts calculating what lap time I need to do in order to hit 12 min. Writes everything down on a piece of paper and even adds little comments next to the different lap times, like: 1:30/lap = 3,200 m within 12 min = very hard but very good. 1:40/Lap = 2,900m within 12 min = Hard/medium hard and quite good,, etc etc etc)

He: You should be able to do it within 13 min.
I: I don't think so but...
He: Come on, it's really not that hard.
I: well... I'll do my best and we will see....
He: go for 12 min!
I: Never.

Holy crap. Pressure from my own allied?! This is going to be a mess. All fingers crossed for me today at 3pm when I take on a distance at a race I have never done before.

Oh, and FYI: it's about 15 degrees and pouring down outside my window and the streets looks like pools of water.... But it looks like there is no wind. Always something!

Guess the crowd

When I was walking back from Yang Yang restaurant (located on Suzhou's infamous bar street 'Shiquan Jie') the other day, I was met by and interesting, crowded sight. Sure, this is China: big crowds are part of the every day life, but this crowd seemed so hyped, it made me think something really exciting was going on?!

Bored with the afternoon, I started guessing what could be the occasion:

1. Someone was handing out free samples of rice cookers/chopsticks/bowls

2. A big discount food fair.

3. An early release of train tickets for the upcoming CNY.....?

But of course I was wrong... It was simply the end of an ordinary school day for kids. And mom/dad/ayi/grandpa/grandma were there to pick up their little emperor/princess.

But seriously -what's with the signs? Kids don't recognize their loved ones without them?

Thursday, October 30, 2008

The Lonely Planet Love

Meanwhile relying on a Lonely Planet while travelling is a comfortable and popular choice, owning an enterprise that has been listed in the Lonely Planet is like hitting the jackpot.

I am not a Lonely Planet girl, so I don't use one. But I have managed to visit 2 Lonely-Planet-listed restaurants in China (one in Shanghai and one in Suzhou) and I find it somewhere hilarious that during my visit to those restos, I've been surrounded by foreigners who's been holding on tight to their travelling guide (or, as some people prefer to be discrete, they simply let is stay in their bag but u can see them secretly flicking the pages when it's time to order food...).

The Lonely Planet listed Shanghai resto is called Di Shui Dong. I bet some of your are nodding your heads at this name, as I wonder if there are any foreigner who are living/have visited Shanghai who have NOT been to this place?! This Hunan restaurant is packed every single night of the week, and seeing that they have so many Lonely-Planet-travellers dropping in throughout the days, they don't even close between lunch and dinner, like most other Chinese restaurants in Shanghai. The first time I visited this place, in 2007, their menu was old and the food was quite cheap. Now, however, they have a bright and colourful 'picture-of-all-the-different-dishes-menu' (so that you simply can point your way to a good meal, no need to even open your mouth and speak), as well as higher prices. Oh, and they have also become one of the restaurants that Sherpa (Shanghai's dearest food delivery company) delivers from, adding to their popularity. I haven't been there for a while now, but last time I went (maybe 6 months ago?) it seemed that people at every second table were munching on the restaurant's famous pork ribs.

In my own, humble opinion; I think the food there is OK, but far from outstanding. Some stuff is delisiously spicy, but in terms of Hunan dishes, Di Shui Dong doesn't stand a chance compared to my fave Hunanese restaurant: Hunan Xiangcun Fengwei (168 Wulumuqi Zhong Lu, near Wuyuan Lu 乌鲁木齐中路168号, 近五原路). I also think that the bigger the hype, the worse the food/service... There are apparently a few Di Shui Dong restaurants in Shanghai, the most frequently visited one being at the Maoming Lu/Changle Lu crossing (I think this is the one listed in the LP too.. although I might be wrong so feel free to correct me). I once went to another, much smaller one, somewhere in the French concession (I think it was close to Fuxing Lu) and that was a much nicer experience. The staff was friendlier and the ribs were juicer.

Yesterday, I stumbled across yet another restaurant who've become the lucky victim of the tastebud love of some Lonely Planet writer: "Yang Yang" restaurant in Suzhou. Unlike Di Shui Dong, this restaurant has embraced its Lonely Planet Love with gusto: both the glass doors and the napkins have the famous 'Lonely Planet' logo plastered all over. As for the food, it was quite good: the dumplings were yummy, the chicken was boneless and not so oily, but the spicy beef wasn't one bit spicy. I might be wrong but I got the feeling that they have adapted their taste a little bit so that it can be more suitable to tourists... It felt a tad bit....weak in taste at time (or 'dan' 淡 as you would say in Chinese).

Again, the menu was the colourful 'point and choose' -picture version, and the visitors were... hm... maybe 80% foreigners. Amazing. Since I have never been a Lonely Planet user myself I find it quite fascinating that so many people read and follow the book's recommendations. Oh, hang on, now I am lying. When I was in Seoul my friend had a Lonely Planet that we used at times. Very helpful in terms of finding your way, but when it came to restaurants we preferred to be spontaneous and pick something along the way. Once, my friend convinced me to go to a cafe that was described by the LP as 'rustic' and who apparently served 'traditional Korean tea'. She was over the moon when we got there (although we both questioned the description 'rustic' as we found the interior way too new and shiny to earn this adjective). When it was time to order, she asked the waiter to recommend her something 'local', but he just starred at her with a blank face. Not until she fished up the Lonely Planet from her bag did a smile spread across his face.

-Oh, this (pointing at the Lonely planet book) and this (pointing at the table/menu) is not the same anymore! New owner. New place!

My friend looked very disappointed and I couldn't help but snigger. I wonder how many customers like us they've served? Of course we didn't leave, but stayed for some nice (although not traditional) cups of tea.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Anticlimax de luxe

Now hear this out, this is a real anticlimax!
After the compulsory health check with the Uni doctors, I have been told NOT to run the 3000m race on Friday?!
Why? Because my blood pressure is so low: 110/70.
I'm deeply shocked: I've actually always sported a good health (OK maybe not when I broke my foot but who manages that?!) and normally my blood pressure is 120/80. I thought that since I'm fairly young, and train several times/week, a blood pressure of 110/70 is OK? But nope. Doctor said no. They also did some EKG thing that supported the 'no'.

Hm... when I walked out of the Dr's office I did the whole 'how am I feeling, like, REALLY feeling' -scan of myself. Swallowing hard to see if my throat was soar (nope), shaking my head to see if I had a headache (nope), trying to blow my nose (quite dry), and pulling my jacket closer in case I felt cold (not really...). Sure, it hasn't been that easy to train during the last 2 weeks since I've been recovering from that nasty flu, and only last week did I feel that my legs and head were heavier than usual. But it's not that big of a deal, is it?

So much anticipation... and now I cannot compete. Darn.

Oh, btw.. while I was waiting at the Dr's office, I met all my competitors: the Chinese students. And my suspicions proved to be correct: they are all students who are majoring in sports/physical health, and the girls in general run 3000m within 14 min. (they all promised to give me a good competition, something I don't doubt for one bit!). While some of the boys looked a bit lanky the girls I saw were highly impressive, sporting muscly legs and flat bellys. Maybe I should be grateful that I'm not allowed to compete?

Although since I now been told that I can't... of course I really want to. Isn't that how it always goes....

UPDATE: I am going to run tomorrow!!! I don't know if it was my nagging and/or my puppy eyes that eventually made the teachers take pity on me... :) Anyhoo, this will be my first 3000m race and I have no idea how it's gonna go, but I am not aiming too high, seeing that I've never done this sort of short-distance-fast running before. If I can get a time around 15min, I'll be more than happy. Wish me luck!!!

All, or nothing.

These lads are def going 'all in...'

Mind me for nagging about sports, but I find that there's such a strange/different approach to being athletic in China compared to back home. It's almost like: all or nothing. Those few people who are into sports really go all in, meanwhile those who aren't interested, REALLY aren't interested. My fave place to observe this is, of course, the gym. Ah... I love the gym! Not only is it a place where u can burn, sweat, hit and run, but it's also a place where people with an interest in fitness come together. Oh, and in China, it's also a place for great fun.

I've already written a few gym posts about what u might see at a gym in China (girls working out in pumps is nothing out of the ordinary... I am personally deeply impressed. I can barely walk in my pumps) but the great things about the gyms here is that they keep surprising you, which makes you want to come back for more.

Just the other day in the changing room I watched a girl wrap her body in plastic foil (!) before putting on her gym clothes. I'm thinking that she's either very keen not to sweat down her gym clothes, or... or, what?! Seriously, plastic foil? Is there something I should know about. I've never seen this before?

Speaking of changing rooms, lately at my gym, they've placed a poor Pantene Pro-V marketing person at the door of the ladie's changing rooms, handing out free samples of shampoo and conditioner to all girls. "Great!" I thought and grabbed myself a free tube for five days straight, until I was suddenly asked to write my name, phone number and email address on some paper... "Ehum, no thanks!" I replied. The girl looked as if she wanted to kill me. I guess no more free samples for me.

Anyways, what I find the most interesting at the gym is to compare those 'all in' people with those who really don't want to be there. I'd say that 80% of the men working out at the gym aren't that beefy (western or Chinese) but then there are a few Chinese guys who have managed to build themselves one exploding looking upper body, and gosh, do they love to show that? (this goes for both western guys and Chinese, obviously) Imagine a guy wearing a singlet, which reminds you of a g-string (shape wise -honestly, u can see his nipples.. not that I've been looking but.. or OK, I have been looking!) on top of his sausage-tight tights. He's always there, and always in this outfit. The equivalents to him amongst the ladies don't really go that far. Sure, there is the whole 'show your belly' tops going on (but I guess there's nothing wrong with that if you feel confident and happy about your tummy?) but what's more fun are those who go all in: with shoes, pants, singlets, moves and SOUNDS. Just the other day, one of those girls where in the small stretching room, where she sat on a Pilate's ball lifting some small weights (maybe... 1 kg or 1,5 kg?) with her hands, meanwhile moaning like there was no tomorrow. Seriously, it was so loud that at least 2 guys stuck their heads into the room, obviously curious about where these sounds came from. I was listening to music and I could still hear her! Respect! (This was a little lady!)

Next to the moaning girl was the exact opposite of an 'all in' person. A young boy, a bit overweight, seated at a rug looking completely lost. This boy belongs to a group that is currently increasing at the gyms: the ones that have no, or little history of working out, and have been forced to go by their parents/partner. You especially see them on the weekends when they (young, slightly overweight, boys and girls) come to the gym together with their parents to be shown around. The parents are much more interested than the kid, who is later teamed up with a personal trainer and pushed to sweat his/her guts out. I have to say that I admire their willingness to do push ups and sit ups, seeing that they probably haven't worked out before. The pain in their face is so honest it is almost touching.

Then there are the (what I assume to be) tai tais and/or a more 'mature group of ladies' who spend most of their (expensive) PT-session by chatting to their trainer. I once listened to one woman who spent at least 15 minutes on telling her trainer about that she didn't feel comfortable doing push ups, that she didn't like using her arms for strength exercises although she'd like to get rid of the 'meat' on her arms, and that she couldn't understand why 'lao wais' seemed to be better than Chinese at sports, but she assumed it had something to do with lao wais having bigger bones than Chinese (It's so much fun to listen in on other people's conversations. I know I know -bad habit, but it's harmless, right?). The trainers response:

-Lao wais take their training reaaaaaaaaaally seriously!!!

We do?! I thought we did, until I came to China and saw people work out.

At my uni, the Chinese students are currently preparing for Friday's big sporting event: The Su Da Sport's Day! I regret signing up to this event so much. I wish I could pull out. How could I be so stupid, thinking it would be just a 'fun, laid-back event'.... The Chinese students have been competing in qualifications heats in the different sports all week!!! Meaning: only the best ones (plus us, international students) will compete together on Friday. Three out of my four teachers have already expressed their deep admiration for me, since I have signed up for the 3000m race (I thought it would be, like... a fun race?! But instead it's going to be really competitive). My speaking teacher even said yesterday: 'It's so cool that one of my students is a real runner!', giving me a huuuuuge smile, adding that she could hold my water bottle if I needed any help? (I assume she was sort of hinting that she could be my coach... but I wasn't sure so I said nothing...). I am completely freaked out about the race. I even got that nervous stomach-pain that I normally get before job interviews yesterdays when I watched some of the qualification heats. Where did all those kids with muscle legs come from?!?!?!

I went to do the compulsory 'health check' yesterday and left as soon as I saw the line of 50, sporty looking kids, lined up outside the Dr's office. (I have to go today again). Note to self: uni sport events are normally for the 'all in' students. Remember: you are not the 'all in kind of sport's person', but simply a 'just for fun' sport's person. That category doesn't exist over here.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

About the ongoing (?) translation frenzy....

Wow, this is something between weird and ... weird?!
Emails and comments have been dropping in from all over the place: people have told me that a lot of Chinese online newspaper/pages, including Sina, have translated my post 'Chinese man + western girl,' into Chinese and posted it on their page.

First, to answer the most common question asked by people:

No, I didn't know about this and no, no one asked for my permission.

I actually don't know if there is any 'rule' applying to blogs? Can people just translate blog posts freely and post on their paper? Well at least in China it seems so!

I am not angry/upset in any way that they have re-posted my translated post (although I hope the translator did a good job! haha!), but more like, startled. (as one person who emailed pointed out: 'you should be flattered that they found your post worth while to translate....') Although of course it would have been really nice if they would have emailed/called and told me, or/and if they would have published a link to my blog. But they got my name right, and cheers for that, I don't have the most common surname (or first) name in the world... in fact, it's almost a 'one of a kind'-name, and I think I can confidently say that I am the only person carrying the combination of my first name and my surname in the world... (oh man, does that sound cool or smug?!)

Apparently, however, this 'translation of my blog post' has been going on for a while. I have been getting emails from different people for a while now, who have found my translated post on different Chinese pages/online papers. Just the other day I bought myself a 3-kuai copy of 意林 magazine, who has accompanied one translation of my posts (this one) with a cute little illustration. Kind of weird (but fun!) to find your post in a Chinese magazine?! I just wish my Chinese was good enough for me to do the translation myself (but yeah, as we all know, that ain't gonna happen anytime soon! But nothing wrong with dreaming right?! Besides, you should set high goals for yourself, isn't that what they say?!)

I should also mention that there are other (English) publications/web pages who have re- my blog posts AFTER asking for permission. So it's a combination of good and bad I guess. Anyways, any translator reading this, thinking about translating it and sending it to some Chinese page: please let me know!!!!!!!!!!! I mean, wouldn't you want to know yourself if someone translated your stuff??

For all of those (translators, readers and others) who have notified me about my translated posts, via emails or blog comments: thank you!

Oh, and btw... hihi... I showed my '意林' article for my Chinese friend Rocky yesterday, feeling a tad bit happy that he could finally read something I have written. I was expecting him to be over the moon, but when I asked him what he thought he said:
"Well, it was OK I suppose, but I think it is written for western people, not Chinese. I don't think many Chinese people would share your views."
Aoooch, so much for being confident?! Haha! Well, actually, I loved the fact that he was so honest. He also mentioned that my writing style (translated, but still) apparently broke all the rules for Chinese writing... hm... maybe that '写作' class I am currently doing will do me some good?

Oh, and another btw... a 'normal' blog post will come this afternoon. This translation stuff just got me a bit side tracked this morning.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Spending thoughts

3 dishes at my fave Sichuan resto = 60 kuai (and enough for 2 people).

One tub of ice cream = 55 kuai (and barely enough for one person!)

This has not been the most exciting wknd I have spent over here... early mornings + work + early nights. I think the two highlights of the wknd must have been my work outs (who still don't feel 100%... I ran for 40 min yesterday -after 30 min of cross trainer- and my legs and head felt heavy. Not good) as well as my Sat night splurge on a tub of ice cream. I call it a splurge because bloody hell, they sure know how to charge for western ice cream over here! Actually, when I sat in front of the TV and stuffing myself a bit later I came to think of how you can really blow your money in Shanghai/Suzhou when you shop for the 'wrong things'. After thinking about this for a while I made a promise to myself never to buy expensive ice-cream again. It just doesn't feel worth it when u think of what u can get for 60 kuai in Shangahi/Suzhou....

Oh, and since we are doing this, here's another thought:

Tights from H&M = 69 kuai.

Cute summer dress = 60 kuai.

No more H&M for me while living in China!!!

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Working on wknds

Friday night for some people

Friday night for some other people.

I have been up since 5am today (!) in order to be able to catch an early train to Shanghai, and still not neglect my morning routine (I looooove big breakfasts and reading newspapers online.. I devote maybe 1 hour/morning only for that? I know, most people just shake their heads when they hear how early I sometimes get up to be able to do this). Although it's Sat I have to do some work today, and I guess that's nothing unusual seeing that we are in Shanghai. Amazing how many people here who are working on Saturdays. My friend from Yunnan works a half day every Sat. It wasn't included in her contract, but then it suddenly became a 'must-do' and everyone who refused to got the boot! And what do people get paid here to work on the wknds? Well, barely nothing. I have another Chinese friend in Shanghai who works for a German company. When they hired her they told her she might have to work some Saturdays, although she would be compensated for it with overtime pay. She agreed, until she heard what the overtime pay was: 12 kuai/hour?! From an international company? I mean, try that thing in Germany and you'll get the union chasing you down... But in China you can get away with offering this sort of pay. My friend refused to settle for 12 kuai/hour, however, so they later raised it to 15kuai/hour. But still...

During my first year in Shanghai I was also often ordered to work overtime (especially Friday nights and sometimes Saturdays). Unpaid. Although my monthly salary was obviously higher (although not much.. I wasn't getting rich) so it can't be compared with the 12 kuai/hour deal... I think many foreigners come to cities like Shanghai expecting the work opportunities to be golden and the salary to be good, but one thing not to be forgotten is the overtime. Most people over here have to work late night and/or wknds, for as little as NO compensation at all. Just something to keep in mind (especially for all of you foreigners who are thinking about moving to a place like Shanghai and find work). Also, refusing the overtime isn't really an option as it normally just leads to you getting fired, and/or sour work mates.

I used to complain loudly about our late Fri nights and my foreign work mates (two lovely guys from the US and the UK) used to laugh at me and call me the 'union girl.' In the end they always sent me home a little bit earlier (if 11 pm can be considered early?!?!) meanwhile they were working well into the night. I guess they got sick of me whining, but seriously, you can only be creative for that many hours/day.

What about you guys -got any horror working-over-time-stories to share? From China or abroad?

US-China Today...

....has done an article about about China blogs/foreign bloggers in China, and my blog has been featured (including a small interview with me). Not 'news breaking' interesting, but if u wanna check it go ahead. It also features some other bloggers.

Check it here

Friday, October 24, 2008

汪汪 -wang wang (Warning: usless information)

I love when our chapters include 65 new words and 20 of them are names of dishes! because Chinese dishes we are actually excused from learning.
What we do need to learn, however, are characters for 'sounds'... such as... 'what does the dog say'. Do you know, that in China, a dog says: 汪汪 'wang wang'

(Interesting. In Sweden, our dogs says 'vov, vov' or 'voff''. How does it sound where you are from?)

As for more, completely useless characters, that I now know, and figured I should share with you (I mean, it is, after all, FRIDAY!!), here you go:

喵喵 miao miao (cat)

咴咴 hui hui (horse)

哞哞 mou mou (cow)

I think this qualifies as one of the less important Chinese lessons of my life. On the contrary, however, we got to listen to our teacher (who is around 35 and the serious kind) doing animal noises. Quite entertaining. Especially when a girl asked him what the frogs in China says....

Anyways, I hope these 'animal sounds' aren't part of our upcoming exams....

It's not the Olympics is it?!!!

Yesterday our teacher came to class looking a bit serious.

-I have two announcements to make, he said.

We were all ears.

-Your midterms will take place on Nov 3 and 4... bla bla bla... (holy crap.. I don't feel ready for this!)

-The second announcement is for You Na (that's me). All eyes fell on me and I instantly turned into a tomato, thinking I was about to be downgraded to Mandarin level 3 because of me neglecting homework lately.

-I have seen that you signed up for one of the hardest events for Suzhou University's sport's day next week. Well, we take this kind of serious so in order to compete you will have to take a health test to see that your health is good enough.

-Eh... sure... I didn't realise it was that serious.

-Well, for longer distances, like the one you signed up for, we don't want to take any risks. Next Tue at 2 pm you have to go to this doctor. The teacher then handed me a personal written note, which described the situation.

Oh, and FYI: I signed up for a 3000 m race! (A 3000 M RACE?!)

Thursday, October 23, 2008


I’d say about 99% of my Chinese friends have the same idea/goal of life:

Get married
Buy a house
Buy a car
Have a baby.

(Sometimes people buy the house and the car before marriage.)

Only ONE of my friends feels that this ‘house-car-marriage-baby’ life isn’t for her. She says she wants to travel the world before buying property and settling down (sounds familiar? I could have said that myself!) as she feels those things are quite serious, and that you shouldn’t rush into them. Sadly, I think that although her mind tells her one thing, she will end up doing like everyone else. Being pushed to settle down by her parents is only one of the reasons. Not finding a guy who wants to live her dream is another.

Yesterday I had dinner with a friend who is half-way though her ‘settling down process.’ She has the guy, the wedding date is set, and the house is bought. She wants to wait for a bit with getting pregnant and none of them feels that they need a car, but except for that, she’s following the trend.

I happen to know that her salary is something like 2500-3000 kuai/month, and that her boyfriend is still at the university doing a Master’s program, so I couldn’t help but wonder:

-How can you afford a house?!
-My parents and his parents bought it for us.

Ahhhhh… of course. I had forgotten. (Well actually, the parents and in-laws didn’t pay for the whole house, but just the deposit. The rest was a loan from the bank). I’m something in between amazed and fascinated about the fact that the parents spend all their lives saving money for their kid, so that they eventually can get them a house. My thought goes out to my Hunan friend Rocky… whose parents are farmers. He has the same idea (house-baby-car) but how is he going to do it? I have to remember to ask him.

Yesterday in class we were discussing this ‘mindset’ of young Chinese. We talked about what we found important in our partners and in life, and were asked to tell about what kind of guy/girl we were looking to settle down with. When everybody had shared their deep thoughts of what they were looking for (young guys: “I want something hot and steamy”, older guys: “I don’t care how she looks it’s all about how we get along” young girls: “He must make a lot of money” older girls: “Money isn’t that important, the main thing is that we have fun together and that he is a stable person”, ‘tai tais’ (housewives, in my class only South Koreans): “I rarely see my husbands these days, he’s always working, travelling or having business dinners. But I am happy he can support our family”), our teacher introduced us to a fairly new, but highly popular concept amongst young Chinese girls. They want to find a guy with:

-A big house/flat
-An expensive, preferably luxury brand, car
-A high position at work so that he makes a fat salary, and:
-dead parents.

-Dead parents?! We all cried.
-Yeah, said our teacher. Many young girls think it’s a hassle to support their in-laws and think it is easier to have a nice life with the guy if they are already dead. Also, then they have probably left him some money.

Appalled, I decided to ask my Chinese friend (who’s from Yunnan) if this is true.
-Sure, she said. But this is a very specific type of girl looking for this situation (she actually said it’s typical for ‘Shanghai girls’ –is this true?). I’d never say something like this, and neither would my friends.
-Good… because it’s kind of… awful!
-I know. But you know. To many young Chinese people, money is the most important thing.

Weird to think that only 10-15 or so years ago, people who had a lot of money in China tried to hide it to others, by replacing ‘Armani’ buttons on their suits with normal buttons, removing high-end labels from their clothes and driving low-key cars… The young generation is so completely different!

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Thank you, 'Flood'

Interesting end of a very stressful Tuesday that I mostly spent in Shanghai (I stayed at a friend’s place Mon-Tue, and thought it would do wonders for my sleeping problem, you know, change of environment, bed, pillow and that sort of stuff. Unfortunately it worked the other way around… and I ended up sleeping something like 4 hours, looking more or less like a monster the next morning, but anyways, u never know before you try, right?!). I came back to Suzhou yesterday afternoon and threw myself into everything that had been neglected (eating, emails, blog and Chinese characters just to mention some) before I hurried out as I had decided to meet a Chinese friend for a Tue night, discounted visit to the cinema.

We had planned this visit for a week, so I am quite surprised how wrong everything still went. Well, for starters we had been talking about different cinema complexes (she talked about a cinema located in a student’s complex… a cheap place, but way off. I had been talking about Suzhou’s fairly new culture addition, namely Suzhou Science and Cultural Art Centre -SSCAC-, located on a bike-ride distance from my flat). Funny that we didn’t even figure it out when she said that the movie started at 7pm and I said 7.15pm… (we were looking at different schedules). I am grateful that just when I was about to jump on my bike and ride to the SSCAC it started raining, leaving me with no other choice but to grab a cab. Once I was on my way in the car my friend called and told me that the movie had already started and wondered where I’d gone.

It took some time for us to figure out that we were heading to different cinemas as her English is actually worse than my Chinese (yeah I know, imagine that?!) so all communication is quite… ehum… slow?! But eventually we got it and I re-directed my cabby to take me to the far-off-cinema where my friend was already at. ‘Her’ place was in fact a large student complex with loads of facilities: 2 cinemas, a large bowling alley, gym, swimming pool… Brad new and quite nice looking, but really, in the middle of nowhere. We are talking a 30 min cab-ride to a place where there are no houses or cars?

Since we had missed the 7pm movie we decided to settle for the only other English movie: ‘Flood.’ (hehe.. just by looking at the movie poster and hearing the name I knew it was going to be a cheesy flick, but, well… It wasn’t like we had any choice). At least it was cheap! Discounted Tuesday night movie tickets at this student complex: 15 kuai! Now that’s what I call a bargain! (Full price at the same cinema complex is… 25 kuai!!! Haha! If it wasn’t for the fact that the place is so far away I could have become a regular).

We bought our supper from a near-by convenience store: dirt-cheap, boiled tea eggs and cans of milk tea before we went into the cinema hall. A HUGE hall! And barley no people (I didn’t think it was possible for a cinema NOT to be crowded at a Tue?! Not when it costs 15 kuai to see a movie?) so we could sit wherever we pleased (funny how all the 25 visitors crowded together still) and then the movie started…

Well, what is about to come is quite obvious: of course the movie had been dubbed in Chinese. My friend was ‘sooooooooo sorry’ as she had been ‘suuuure it was in English!’ Well, not sure enough because this was dubbed with no subtitles. And the movie was called ‘Flood’?! I mean, can it get any better?!

It did. Although my friend offered to leave with me I said we could stay and I got a chance to test my Chinese listening skills. Seeing that ‘Flood’ wasn’t the most political flick, I could actually understand a good 40% of the dialogue and then 95% of the movie just by looking at the screen. But the best thing about it all: I FELL ALSEEP!!!! After about one hour! Ahhhh… what a feeling! Now, just to make one thing clear here: I am not a public sleeper. In fact, I never fall asleep on public spots. Put me on an airplane, sleeping coach of a train or a car and I will stay awake during the whole ride, as I find it so hard to fall asleep anywhere else than in my bed. So, falling asleep at a loud Chinese cinema screening, at a small chair with not enough leg-space, is kind of impressing to me. But what a sleep I had!? Outstanding. Of course I felt a little bit rude when my friend woke me up at the end of the movie, but luckily she took it the right way and just laughed about it (she knows about my sleeping problem).

One crazy bus ride later (you think the taxis are bad in China? Try a bus at night time and you’ll reconsider) I was home and could continue my sleep. Ahhhh.. although I am dead tired today (I have some sleep-catching up to do) I feel that I might have hit the needle this time. If I can’t sleep tonight I’ll just turn on a Chinese movie and ease back….

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Pool party?

Clean and blue? It's just an illusion!

A friend of a friend went to the ‘International Gymnastic Center Swimming pool’ in Zhongshan park in Shanghai the other day to enjoy a swim. This is a kind of fancy pool. I have been there myself once, so I know the drill:

You pay quite a bit of money (if I remember it correctly it was more than 100 kuai) and get 1,5 hour pool time. This means that within 1.5 hours you have be out of the water, or…. ? Actually, what happens if you are still in the water when your ‘time limit’ has expired is yet unknown as I wasn’t rebellious enough to stay in the water on ‘over time’ when I was there. But I can only assume the girls in the reception get a bit angry. Maybe u have to pay an ‘over due’ fee, like you do when you return your library books too late? (Although don’t ask me how they monitor people? Sure, there were shit loads of Baywatch wannabes but not one for every visitor… or was there?!) I can only assume that they have this rule in order to prevent the pool from getting too crowded, and to make more money.

Anyhoo… when this friend of my friend was there (a young, Chinese guy) he was appalled to notice that a lot of people were spitting in the water (no, not the small ‘I-have-water-in-my-mouth-spit’ but the full-on, ‘I’m-going-to-clear-my-throat’ -spit). He felt a bit disgusted about swimming around in spit and turned to one of the older ladies when she spitted and asked her not to do that. The lady’s reply:

-Are you from another planet?! (你从别的星球来的吗?)

The lady then went on to tell the boy that she had paid this and this much in order to have a 1.5 hour swim in the pool. If she would get up from the pool, walk to the ladies changing room and spit every time she needed to clear her throat, that would take her around 2 minutes. Seeing that she needed to spit at least 5 times/hour that would mean… well, you guys do the math. (For those of you who are lazy: the lady would have lost 15 minutes of pool time beacsue of her getting up to spit during her pool visit!) Unacceptable, according to her.

Once she had finished telling the boy he looked around at all the people spitting and decided to get up. He figured that if all of those people, or at least some of them, were thinking in line with the lady who thought he was from another planet, they sure wouldn’t waste any time on getting out of the pool to go to the bathroom either.

No more pool party for this boy. As for me –I stopped visiting pools that give their visitors time restrictions a long time ago.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Sleepless in Suzhou

Warning: this is a post full of whining so if you’re not into that sort of thing you should stop reading now!

Two things that have bothered me lately:

1. I cannot sleep

2. I am utterly out of shape.

OK, so starting with the sleeping problem. I actually have no good explanation to why? I just haven’t slept well for the last month. First I figured it was because of my flu and all that coughing but now my health is back to normal and I still sleep very badly. Waking up all the time, not being able to fall asleep/fall back to sleep. My face is just getting more and more swollen by the day, not to mention the sexy dark circles under my eyes… but then during the days I don’t feel tired at all (so I can't take a nap), I just look as if I have been up partying straight for 4 nights… Any sleeping tips, beyond the obvious (such as go for a walk/run during the day, drink hot milk before u go to bed –the latter has never worked for me because 1. Then I just wake up because I have to go to the loo and 2. Hot milk? Yuk!) ? I am not into pills and that sort of stuff… I just wanna get a good night’s sleep (and not look like a zombie)

The Hangzhou marathon is in less than 20 days. I am so nervous/stressed/depressed about this that I don’t know where to start. I was doing SOOOO WELL… I had a great fitness going on, ran for 2 hours without feeling tired but then came the flu (times 2) and now I am back on a very primary and boring level of running.

Since it was too humid for running outside yesterday I took my running shoes to the gym and decided to have an easy 10 km treadmill run… or so I though. As a matter of fact, it was the most boring and hard run I've done in a long time (first one since being recovered from the flu). Five km was OK, then I started to feel kind of heavy, not to mention bored… (It didn’t help either that the gym had turned off the air con… it being October and everything. The only ‘cooling devices’ I had was a lame spinning fan and an open window –which I believe worked against me- ) After 7.5 km I felt as if my head was about to explode so I jumped off the treadmill and went to the bathroom to curse and wash my face. Then back to the treadmill, like a stubborn kid, forcing myself to run another 1.5 km… oh man, how can it be so HARD?! Ten km is normally a leisure jog for me, but now I can’t even do it anymore.

So… this fact leads me on to wondering… Hangzhou half marathon on Nov 8 (or 9?)… Is that maybe a little bit… too much?! There’s also a ‘health race’ that’s something like 13 km and since I still haven’t signed up I guess I could always choose that.. although it feels like a bit of a failure to run a ‘health race’ instead of a half marathon I have to say. And if feels like a bit of a waste to go all the way to Hangzhou to do it (although I am going, regardless of what race I run.. I have booked a hotel since long back so it is too late to cancel completely).

Like I said in the beginning of this post: this is more of a selfish/pathetic rant if anything else. But sometimes I have to post those too. This tired/lame legged blogger needs some sleep!

I’m going to Dalian!!!

Summer in Dalian... I can't deny that I am thrilled to miss out.

Yeah, I figured it was about time for me to get out of Suzhou and find some inspiration in the northern part of China… so I will visit Dalian over 4 days in November! Really excited! Since it will be a combination of work/leisure I will have something like 2-3 days of free time so I am planning to be a bit of a tourist and go to Bingyu Valley in Zhuanghe (If I have time, apparently it’s a bit of a ride to get there), some parks/squares, a beach (although it is not swimming season I figured it can still be nice) and Russian Street… Is there something else I shouldn’t miss? (all of you that have been to/are from Dalian?). One of my Chinese friends often travels to Dalian and he told me that the food there is ‘nothing special’, kind of mild in its taste… This was kind of a surprise?! Normally he raves about food, but not when it comes to Dalian? I really have to check for myself. (I was expecting some nice dong-bei stuff and that’s well worth raving about).

I don’t actually mind that it’s going to be quite cold when I go there…Suzhou is sooo humid a.t.m it’s not even funny.. Like, what happened? First it was getting all nice and cool and then Sat: 27 degrees outside, not to mention yesterday. My plan to go for an outside run had to be postponed. Anyways, enough bitching about something u cannot do anything about.

Dalian travel advices, anyone? I actually don’t own (and I am not planning to become an owner of one either) a ‘Lonely Planet.’ I have understood they can be quite handy but I have never been big on the whole “travelling with a guide book.” I once bought one (for Indonesia I think it was?) and it stayed in my bag the whole trip, mainly because I forgot I had it.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Speaking about others (careful, people!)

The better my Chinese gets, the more I have started to make comments to Chinese people that I hear speak about me (and gosh, that happens quite often I have noticed?). A classic example is when I go shopping in small clothes shops in Shanghai or Suzhou. I'm often to lazy to go to the changing rooms (especially if I am trying a jacket or a sweater) so I just try it in front of the mirror in the store. Every time I do, I get curious glances (of course everybody wants to see if the blond giant can get into Chinese clothes -which I can, although the arms are unfortunately often too short- and, more importantly, how much this piece of clothing costs). Before I always thought that people were making comments about the clothes not fitting me, but lately I have realised that most people are quite... nice! They comment on my legs, about my height, about my shape, about me not being a 'very fat foreigner,' and so on. Of course, sometimes I cannot help myself and say something back to them in Chinese... and then they get the longest face before they start laughing, followed by encouraging me to by the garment.

Last Friday I went to a shop in Suzhou with a girl from my class. She goes there often and knows the shop owner (who was thrilled that she brought another lao wai) and we all started talking. More people came into the shop and heard us talking and started commenting on our Chinese (all positive). I was holding a t-shirt in my hand when one girl said: 'do you really think she can get into that?' to the owner. I felt a bit like... 'what the hell, of course I can'... so I replied: 'No problem. I am tall, not fat!' and the girl got the longest face. Then, they all switched to Suzhou dialect and gone was my moment. Very obvious what and who they were talking about, though.

Although I shouldn't say anything.. I don't know how many times I have been grateful that I can speak a language only spoken by some 9 million people, that barely any outstanders (unless they come from Scando) can understand. But you still have to be a bit careful with how your speak, because the tone of your voice can reveal quite a lot about what you are speaking about, unless you keep it very natural. I mean, even though I don't understand Suzhou-hua, the switch was very obvious and I know that they weren't talking about the weather.

I know this woman who lives in Finland, she's around... 45-50 maybe (?) and married to a Chinese man, so her Chinese is perfect. Once she was on a train and next to her sat two Chinese business men who were talking and commenting on how big-nosed all Europeans on the train were. Before she got off the train she turned to them and said:

-Haven't you considered that in Europe, people might actually make fun of how small noses you have?

Oh, I wish I could have been there to see their faces.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Tomato head

My new look

A new, and kind of vain, problem this Friday morning...

The better my Chinese gets, the more self-conscious do I get about it. It's kind of weird.. I have never been like this?! I have always had confidence when it comes to foreign languages. I studied Spanish for 3 years in school and took every opportunity I could get to speak to Spanish people that I later met abroad (something I wish I would have kept up... nowadays my Spanish is merely a vague memory of something I 'used to be able to speak'). I went to Australia and took on a journalism degree in English, and although my English at that time was only so-so, I never felt shy or conscious when I spoke. When I first came to China and started studying some Chinese I was happy to use every single little phrase I learned is school (even the cheesy ones... I remember always saying 'Zhen de ma?' in a highly pitched voice every time a vendor told me the price of something he was selling...) But now?! Now when I actually know some stuff, I feel soooooo conscious when I use it. And, this has resulted in a highly annoying problem: I have started to blush! Like, all the time.

I blush in class when my teacher asks me something, I blush at the gym when one of the trainers starts talking to me, and I blush at restaurants when I order food. Several people have pointed it out to me:

-Hey, now your face is all red again! It happens all the time!!! said one of my Korean classmates last week.

Grande. Awesome. Thanks.

Today I am supposed to give a presentation to my class, (I am going to talk about the stingy founder of IKEA, Ingvar Kamprad, and tell the success story of his life) and I can only imagine what I am going to look like...: a talking tomato. *sigh* Any ideas of how to stop blushing?! ANYONE?!!!

I guess I should mention that despite me being self-conscious about my Chinese pronunciation and sentence structure, I still take any given opportunity to chat... I know that I can only get better if I practice more. So lately I have been super active. Every single shop assistant that I have met for the last week has had to chat with me for at least 5 minutes. The poor (?) trainers at the gym have had to listen to my presentation (practicing, OK?!!!) and then yesterday a Chinese guy came up to me at the gym when I was running on the treadmill: you study at Su Da? (in Chinese)
-Yes... do you?
-Not anymore, I have already graduated.. But I was there last semester. I recognize you.
-Oh?! I don't think we have met? I mean.. you didn't study at the international school?
-No, but I remember seeing you. It was in March!!
-In March?!?!??!!
-Yeah!!! That's why I thought you look so familiar when I saw you here today!

In MARCH?! Holy camoly. Well at least that tells you something: not that many giant-looking, blond girls at Su Da?!?! (I could be a university trademark?! KIDDING!)

Anyways, since he voluntarily came up he became my victim of speaking for of the day. He looked kind of shocked as I rambled on, but well, that's what u get when u come up to a person who is trying to learn the language. I could feel that my face was burning hot while we talked, but since I had been running I figured it could always blame it on that.

Anyways. I should prepare my presentation. Maybe I should wear something red to match my tomato-head? Well let's see.

Speaking of blushing -I have never seen an Asian person blush?! I've heard that many Asians flush/glow when drinking, (but come on, who doesn't? Especially after one too many...) but what about when they get embarrassed?

Thursday, October 16, 2008

What's read and has money inside?

....if not a Hong Bao. A red envelope that Chinese give to their employees/children/families during big occasions such as weddings and CNY.... Sounds all sweet and nice, doesn't it? if only it would end here. Unfortunately, it doesn't. Instead, hong baos are handed out to quite a bunch of people, if you want a favour done.

I personally received quite a few when I was working at a Shanghai magazine. What surprised me is that people weren't that sneaky about them as you would have imagined them to be: after all, it is a kind of 'bribe': I turn up for a big hotel opening, and the manager is standing there, greeting me with a smile and slipping me a red envelope, asking me in silence to write something real good about their hotel. Then, I am hushed away and the next media person comes over, is greeted, handed her envelope, and goes away. It all happened at the middle of the hotel, in front of everyone? (At one event I heard that some people from outside came in, pretended they worked for Shanghai Daily, and tried to get an envelope?! If that's true or not I don't know)

It's definitely not restricted to Chinese companies or Chinese people. A European manager once called me and asked if I wanted to come to his company's product launch party. I wasn't in the mood (and it was in Pudong... ) and I guess that came across, so he went: 'of course we have a red envelope waiting for you?!'

Obviously, I never went.

I personally hate those envelopes!
'Don't be silly, make a buck!' I guess some of you are thinking now. But no, sorry, I can't accept money from companies to write about them? That would go against too many of my morals and believes. Those times when I got a Hong Bao I always gave it to some homeless person, or, I put it in some charity box. Not that I know that it ended up in right hands, but at least I didn't want to use the cash (which at most times, was quite a bit... once I asked about it, and a hotel manager replied: 'well this is to cover your taxi fares!' Since when did a taxi in Shanghai cost you 400 kuai? I wasn't going from Puxi to the Pudong airport and back again?).

Obviously, handing over red envelopes is not restricted to media events. Yesterday I met with a Chinese friend who told me that her mom had found a lump in her breast about 2 years ago, and had to have her breast removed. In order to make sure that the surgeon treated the mom well, the dad gave him a hong bao with about 1000 kuai.

-You always do this? I asked.
-Of course. Otherwise he might not do his job properly! We have to give him some extra money. The hospital doesn't know.
-But what if something still would go wrong with your mom?

My friend was quiet for a short moment.

-I guess then he'd have to give the money back.

My friend agreed that this was a bad, corrupt method, but also said:
-You may think it sounds really bad, but you know, it used to be much worse in China. And also, who wouldn't pay some extra to make sure your family is safe?

Obviously I cannot argue against that... Family always comes first. Although I really wonder how a Swe doctor would have reacted if I gave him some cash in an envelope before he performed surgery? (Maybe he would have been thrilled, who knows?). Some people like to give their doctors/dentists a flower/ box of chocolate AFTER that have successfully performed some kind of difficult operation. But before? Naaaah... doesn't really make sense?

I only know of those two occasions (+ passing your driving test) of handing over red envelopes... are there any others? And what do you guys think about it?

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

"When in Rome...."

Some of my bf's Chinese work mates are going on a business trip to Europe, which includes a stopover in Helsinki, the capital of Finland. The first thing they did when they found out was to run over to my bf's desk and ask him:

-Are there any Chinese restaurants in Helsinki?!

Interesting how the mind works. While as I would probably first think: 'oh, how cool! I want to see this and this!' they instantly start to worry about what they are going to be fed.

Not that there's anything wrong with that. I know many Swedes that travel to Thailand or Spain (popular beach destinations for Swedes) and head to 'Svenske Viking' ('Swedish viking') to eat meatballs and potatoes every day. Not everyone like to try something new, food-wise. But I sometimes feel it can be a little bit exaggerated by Chinese. Some guys that travelled to Finland before packed their suitcases full of 2-minute noodles, dried snacks and crackers. The were seriously worried that they wouldn't be able to find anything to eat in Finland. Is European food really considered THAT bad in the eye of a Chinese?! I mean, nowadays they eat stuff like bread, rolls, pasta and pizza in Chinese cities too.. All of that u can also get in a country as Finland, and it is not THAT different!? Or is it?! Is it really that bad?!

When u come as a foreigner to China (especially for business) you are more or less expected to be willing to try all kinds of Chinese foods. The Chinese are so proud of their food and want us to like it. Before when I travelled here for business it was never a question of 'what and where would you like to eat tonight?' but more like: 'we are going to take you to an authentic Beijing restaurant and have you try this and this....' And of course I was happy to go! I think it would be kind of insulting if I would have gone: 'Ehum, do you mind if we just eat at Starbucks instead?!'

Being fed Chinese food during my first trips to China, however, wasn't any problem for me because 1. I like trying new things, and 2. I actually enjoyed Chinese food from the start. But I find it a bit funny that Chinese people are so eager to have us trying their meals and then they run straight to a Chinese restaurant as soon as they travel overseas. I am not saying that there is anything wrong with liking the food where u are from and being a bit suspicious towards new tastes and food (one of my Swe friends went to Hong Kong and ate at Pizza Hut every night!) but sometimes I think they are making it too much of a big deal... They are just going to be in Finland for 2 days or so.

Another, funny example of this occurred in 2005 when I was working for a Chinese company in the town Tampere, in Finland. Since the owner of our company was Chinese our office was often visited by Chinese delegations that the owner had invited in order to show his 'international team of workers' and 'his new country of residency.' (Believe it or not, but Finland is quite beautiful). One time, a delegation arrived when he was busy and he assigned the task of 'showing them around and introducing them to the best of Finland' to our secretary, who took the task at heart and did her outmost to plan a nice and interesting, 3-day program, including visits to traditional Finnish restaurants, sauna (a MUST-DO in Finland!), visits to cultural spots, trips to lakes and so on...

After half a day and one visit to a Finnish restaurant the head of the delegation told her that they wanted to eat at a Chinese restaurant and see Santa Claus.

The Chinese restaurant was an easy fix (when the men got their food they gushed over it as if they hadn't been fed properly for 10 days... grown up men! Imagine that!) but a visit to the Sanka Claus village in northern Finland?! Well that was more like, a flight away.

Our secretary called our company owner and expressed the wish from the delegation. He replied:

-If they want to see Santa Claus let them see Santa Claus. Book them tickets to the next flight to Rovaniemi and go with them.

(In case someone is shaking their heads at the word 'Santa Claus' I guess I should mention that it is 'true.' There is a Santa Claus village at the Arctic Circle Rovaniemi in Lapland in Finland. Very famous apparently)

So they all went. And that was their visit to Finland.

After that, planning the program for Chinese delegations was easy: a visit to the Santa Claus village and some Chinese restaurants. They were always very pleased.

Santa Village (pictures from:

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Chinese man + western girl

.....isn't a combination u see much of in China. While western men often date Chinese girls, it's quite rare to see western women with Chinese men. Why? Well, I actually don't know (who does?!) for sure, but I can only guess that it has something to do with one, or many, of the following reasons:

1. Western girls are taller/ have got 'bigger bones' than most Chinese men, and often look/are bigger than Chi men. A girl doesn't want to feel 'bigger' than her men and a man doesn't want to feel smaller than his woman...

2. Culture differences: many western women are quite independent and used to sharing the house chores with their men. In many Chinese cities, the woman is expected (regardless if she has a full time job or not) to take care of the household, make dinner, and so on, with no additional help from the man (except for if she lives in Shanghai! The Shanghai men are apparently real house helpers). I find it hard to imagine a western woman settling for this when she's been brought up in a completely different society. At least I know I wouldn't.

3. Language barrier (needs no further explanation)

4. Lack of mutual attraction?!

When I first moved to China I caught myself thinking that 'I will never find an Asian man attractive... they are just not my style....' But then, something happened?! I don't know if my eyes needed time to adjust to the different scene or what... but suddenly I started to see attractive Asian men on the streets (Chi, Korean, Japanese...)

I think it might have something to do with the fact that you first come, and think that everyone looks the same (this goes both ways: many Chinese have told me that they think all western people look the same) and then it takes a while for your eyes to adjust and actually distinct people? Anyways, that's how I felt it was. After something like 8months-1 year I started seeing a lot of attractive Asian men, and the funny thing is, that when I pointed them out to western friends who had just come here/who was here for a visit, they just looked at me and frowned.

Maybe the eye needs some time to get used to things? I don't know what other way to explain it... Nowadays I can think that many Asian men are attractive. When me and one of my girlfriends travelled to Seoul in Jan this year we were both quite amazed how good the guys looked, how well they dressed, and so on. (Although, to me, simlpy being attracted isn't enough to start dating. There obviously needs to be a personality click as well)

In general, I think Chinese men are more feminine than Western men. A classic example is the 'man bag' that became trendy some years ago... In China a man bag seem to be able to look like a woman's handbag and still be OK for a man to carry around??! (and then there are of course Chinese men carrying around their woman's hand bags... so those shouldn't be mixed up!). Try getting a western man to do that = instant failure.

Also, Chinese men can go and have a manicure, something that I think I'd have to violently force on my western bf, if I wanted him to get one (I don't, however!). I also think that Chinese men in general wear tighter clothes and more bright colours than western men .. I don't know, many of them just feel 'more in touch with their feminine side' than western men (I guess I should mention that I moved from Finland to China, and Finland being the most masculine country I have ever lived in -not in a good way!!!) I also get this feeling that Chinese men are a bit more sensitive than western men. I mean, have u ever heard a western man humming along (loudly) to 'My heart will go on' on the streets!?

So, could I date a Chinese man (IF I was single)?! I don't know. I think my main concern would be the culture differences. I think that a Chinese man would find me very bold, opinionated and obstinate, and I am not sure how he would deal with that? (gosh, I like to put myself in a bright light, don't I?! But I have strong opinions! I could never hide them). Also, I love doing sports?! Meaning: I love sweating. Not considered very feminine in China?

Actually, I don't see myself as being as 'girly girly' as Chinese girls. I like to wear pretty dresses and high heels, but I don't expect present from my bf if he goes travelling, I don't expect my bf to pay for everything (I like to be able to pay for myself!) when we go out, and I would never act like a spoilt child (I think this is called 'sa jiao' in Chinese?! I don't remember the characters for it...) to get what I want. Would this be considered strange to a Chi man, or would he actually appreciate it?

I would looooove to hear from a western girl who has personal experience from dating a Chinese guy... Or, a Chinese guy who's been dating a western woman. Maybe all the above reasons I have written down are wrong? Maybe some makes sense? Maybe there are plenty if other reasons that I have forgotten? What do you guys think? Please share!!!

Monday, October 13, 2008


Last week I met my friend Zhang from Taiwan for some language exchange. He told me the latest goss on his dating success (not so successful) and stated, with a sigh, that he now wanted to give up on 'gold diggers from the mainland and date a western girl.'

As he has no previous experience from dating western girls he wanted to ask me (being a western girl, obviously) some questions first:

-OK, so first of all Jonna.. do you think I am fat?
-Eh? No!
(he's TINY! If he is 'fat' then I am obese! Christ!)
-Why do you even ask that?
-Well two of my friends have made remarks about it lately, so I want your honest opinion.

(Quite strange to have that conversation with a guy actually....I thought that topic belonged to teenage girls' circles?)

We sat quiet for a while. Then I asked:

-So, if you thought I put on weight.. would u then tell me?
-Of course.
-Do you think I would have been happy to hear it from you?
-Maybe not very happy... but grateful that I told you.
-so... if I put on weight.. don't u think I would have noticed it myself then? All my clothes would have been tighter!
-Oh... well, yeah, that is true.
-Zhang, do NOT tell me if I put on weight, ok?!
-And do never tell a western girl that either. Not if you are planning on dating her for a while at least....
-hm.... okay...

Since we were being so honest and straight, Zhang went on by asking:

-So, do you think I have a chance with a western girl?
-Eh... Sure?! Well, it depends on the girl of course!
-Yeah, but I mean, do you think western girls will find me attractive?
-Eh... like I said, it depends on the girl.
-Do you think I look good?
-Eh... sure?!

Gosh! I am not used to this!!! Straight on questions: 'do you think I am fat/ do you think I look good'?! Those are the 2 questions u never ask and therefore never have to answer.

Finally, Zhang wanted to know:

-So do you have any western girlfriends that you can introduce me to?
-Hm.. I am afraid that they are all bigger than you
(like really, he's tiny), but I'll keep my eyes open and if I bump into a smaller girl, I'll let u know.

Oh dear.

Strange, but cool!

Lounge 18

Something really cool, but strange, happened on Sat night in Shanghai. I was in town to hang out with a friend from Sweden who was in SH for the wknd only. We were having cocktails at Lounge 18 when a girl suddenly came up to me and asked if I was Jonna.

-Sure am! I said.
-Cool! I read your blog every day!

Wow! That was pretty cool and a anything similar has never happened before in my life! I am really happy that she came up to me and said so many nice things about my blog! (thank you deeply, pretty girl!!!)

Also, the whole event left my Swedish friend wide-eyed. She doesn't even know that I am writing a blog (or maybe she does but she doesn't read it anyways) and later asked, casually:

-Does that happen often?! Are you, like, famous over here?

Ah... hilarious. Funny that people that I don't know read my blog while my friends back home have little or no idea of what it's even about... Or OK, now one of them has!

Saturday, October 11, 2008

You are what you eat

I am now on my fourth semester of studying Chinese and in every single Chinese book that I have had so far, there is at least one chapter about food. On the more elementary levels it was all about how to order food, and some basic things to ask for... then came the whole 'what to eat and when' (eg: dumplings on CNY) and then we started exploring the five (six) different tastes....

Now we have moved on to more 'advanced food knowledge' (?), such as names of famous dishes (some names are just so weird when you translate them to English, I mean, how about some 'pockmarked grandma's bean curd?!' -I prefer to call it 'mapu dofu'). No kidding that the Chinese take their eating seriously?! Don't get me wrong. Eating is one of my hobbies, together with writing and sports, but over here it's almost like an art. Coming from a quite lame food culture (Swedish meatballs, anyone?!) I have never spent that much time THINKING about what I eat, but more like.... just enjoyed it. Here, however, u should know your stuff.

The five (six) Chinese tastes: 辣spicy, 苦bitter, 甜sweet, 咸salty and 酸sour (and '淡dan' -tasteless) are quite distinct depending on where in the country you are. I am quite a fan of every type of food except for the sweet stuff, so bummer me for ending up in the sweet food area of China (Suzhou-Shanghai-Wuxi-Nanjing are all known for their weakness of sweet food) but fortunately u can also get other kind of food here (actually, I never go to authentic Shanghainese or Suzhou restaurants) so it's not a problem.

I'm a huge fan of spicy food, especially Hunan, and Sichuan dishes. Although Hunan and Sichuan food are both spicy they are not spicy in the same way... Our teacher explained this to us yesterday. Gosh, so many rules/exceptions that I can barely remember, but I think he said that Sichuan food is both spicy (辣la) and known for giving a 'num feeling in the mouth' (麻ma) while as Hunan food is just spicy....? However, don't quote me on this, I might be wrong! (anyone who knows the difference feel free to explain)

An interesting thing I found out is that people from Shanxi that love sour food are especially big on vinegar. Some love it so much that they start every meal with a small cup of vinegar that they drink straight! There u go!!! Apparently there used to be a teacher from Shanxi working at Suzhou Uni.. every time they went for lunch together at a local little restaurant, he used so much of the complementary vinegar on the tables that the restaurant eventually took them away. When he asked for vinegar they told him that he consumed too much and that he from now on had to pay for it! Hihi!

Our teacher (obviously being very interested in the food culture of China) went on to tell us that food preference in China also reflects on personality... Meaning that girls from Sichuan and Hunan are often referred to as 'la mei zi' 辣妹子 meaning they have a fiery temperament and a talkative nature, meanwhile 'tian mei zi' 甜妹子, such as girls from Shanghai and Suzhou have a more sweet way, and also were more calm and laid-back... (hm.... really?! My Suzhou neighbour is everything but calm?! She's a ball of fire!!! Maybe she's got relatives from Sichuan?) He then went on to ask us what we taste was preferred in our country, and said that the Swedish taste (淡dan=tasteless/not salty) seemed to reflect my personality... (meaning: I am.... a tasteless person?! Nah, he more said I seemed very calm and humble -gosh, I sound like the most dull person in the world, no?!) meanwhile my south Korean classmates (known for loving their spicy kimchi) were described as fiery and straight-forward.

Obviously this is not to be taken too seriously but I guess in some cases it makes sense. At least it seems that spice-loving people are a little bit more fiery... But Shanghainese girls, sweet and calm?! Ehum... I don't think so!!! What do you think?

Friday, October 10, 2008

Follow up (gossip) time

I am curious but clueless when it comes to knowing how many people are reading/following this blog. Some days I feel like there might actually be quite a few people reading my posts, while I other days wonder where everybody went. Anyways, since I often write about plans/ideas that I have, I thought that it might be time for a small update of how some things are going, or went.

Remember Little muschle guy ? Well, some weeks ago I actually bumped into him at Starbucks (He seems to live there) and he was very keen to chat. I kept talking about being 'sooooo busy' to that he would take a hike, but he didn't seem to get it. And then, he suddenly decided it was about time to ask me out. And I had to say: 'no, I have a boyfriend, just like I told you!' just so that he could go 'you do?!??! You've never told me that!??'

Well actually, that just proves that I was right about this thing. Not only does he has too much muscles for his own good, but he also doesn't listen... I have told him at least 4 times that I came here with my boyfriend, that we live there and there... yadi yadi... well I guess some people only hear what they want to hear. But any-hoo.... now when this is out of the way little muscle guy looks at me with hurt eyes. He never talks to me anymore, and barely says hello those times when we meet at the gym. It suits me just fine... I am just thinking that gosh, why is that guy so weird?! If he would have just listened to me/or my signs in the first place none of this would have happened?! But I have to say that it's quite nice to be able to go to Starbucks without being worried about bumping into him.

Something that hasn't gone so well as the above situation is my Half marathon training... I was actually doing surprisingly well until my health started to crumble this fall. Well first it was that d*** birthmark that needed to be removed (meaning: no serious running for 10 days, although I cheated and went to a Hash House run!), then, once the stitches were off I came down with a 2-week-flu... that I just got rid of... just to catch a new cold, something that happened as recent as yesterday. Since the Hangzhou marathon is already on Nov 9 I guess I am trying out a new tactic for this race, called 'rest yourself into shape.' Yup that's right folks. Resting it is. (I think we all know that I am not going to make my challenge anyways...)

As for Rocky, alias the Hunan boy, he still calls me You La and we are still good friends. He's probably taught me more Chinese than I've learned at the university altogether. His brother is also a really nice guy, which has made me think that people from Hunan in general are really cool. (seeing that I base this statement on the 2 Hunan people I know, you might not want to take it too seriously....) One thing is for sure, thought, and that is that they have the cutest dialect -often pronouncing 'N' as 'L' when they speak. ("How about some 'nui lai' -milk- with that coffee?")

Oh, and finally.... the nasty bully grammar teacher that I eventually escaped from by swapping class, is now my essay writing teacher. She still really dislikes me, anyone can tell, but I only have to deal with it once/week rather than 4/week so it's OK. Yesterday she made a remark about 'Ou Mei ren' (= people from Europe and USA) are 'sooooo tall' so maybe that's the problem. She's jealous of my height? (although she's pretty tall herself I have to say). Anyways, I really don't know what her problem is, and I am not too keen to find out, unless I unexpectedly fail my essay writing class this semester. I have to say I am so happy about swapping class though. My new class is a pure treat compared to the old one, student and teacher wise.

Hm... anything else? I can't think of anything now, but let me know if there's something more I've written about that I should follow up... I have to go and drink some more tea (to cure this cold.. grrrr) and then head off to school. I love the fact that it's Friday today. Makes a heavy head feel a bit lighter.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Signiciant people get significant treatment

Last night I accompanied my bf to a company dinner at the Shangri-La Suzhou. I've never been there before, although since I had heard great things about the food at the Shangri-La in Shanghai, I had high expectations. And, I wasn't disappointed. The food WAS indeed good! What wasn't so good, however, was the fact that our table was located beneath some violent sort of air con, who constantly pumped out cold air on us (despite the fact that the temperature outside wasn't very high). So much for putting on a fancy dress and making an effort. We all ate wearing our jackets on! I was very disappointed at the staff at the hotel. We told them about 15 times about the air con, and no one did anything about it. They just stood there, about 10 of them, musing at us in our jackets, asking if we wanted some more wine (like, when are staff that are working at five star hotels in China going to learn what is important?!) So as a result of sitting under cold air for 2.5 hours, I now have a runny nose and a stiff neck. Do I need to mention that I am furious?! I have just gotten well after a 2 weeks of the most lingering flu, and now my nose is back to running... ahhhhh it is just so frustrating?! There goes my training for the half-marathon and preparing for the university 3000m race. Good food or bad food, that was the last time I visited the Shangri-La hotel.

Anyways, a funny thing I noticed on this company dinner (which included all the highest people of the company, a lot of them coming from overseas) was how I was greeted at the Chinese staff from the local office when I walked in: they saw that I was simply a girlfriend to their work mate, and therefore no one bothered to even shake hands with me (they just glanced at my dress for a bit). After me came the daughter of the CEO, who everybody swarmed around. Ah.... isn't it just so... hilarious?!!! Chinese people must be the least discrete people that I know, they are so obvious about their actions! Insignificant person walks in: don't bother. Significant person walks in: shake hands, be nice, make small talk. I don't think I'd ever have the guts to even act like that. To me it is just common courtesy to shake hands with everybody at a dinner table.

I have had this treatment in China so many times though, that I definitely don't take offense. Especially when I worked at a local magazine in Shanghai and often went to openings, events, and you name it, this was a standard. The Chinese people at the events would ignore me, and simply focus on my editor or our magazine owner. Not until any of those two introduced me, or mentioned my responsibilities, would I get some polite attention. Chinese hierarchy. Very obvious. Very 'in your face.'

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Do talk to strangers

Not so shy

Yesterday I was talking to two students from America, one guy and one girl, who enlightened something quite new to me: young Chinese people doing their outermost to practice English. The girl told me that during a recent shopping trip to the local supermarket, two young Chinese guys had come up to her and asked if they could practice speaking English to her while she was shopping. While my mouth dropped she was like: 'yeah, happens all the time'.

Does it?! Where? When? Why hasn't it happened to me? I am often shopping alone although no one has come up to me, not even once, during my 2 years in China. Maybe I don't look friendly enough. (Note to self: smile more when out in public). Maybe my height is intimidating? Hm... strange. According to these 2 American students it apparently happens everywhere to everyone?

The guy told me about him and his friends, being out and about in Beijing. One of the guys managed to hit his head quite badly and they had to go to the hospital to sew him up. While they were sitting in the waiting lounge waiting for their friend who was being looked after by the doctors, a young Chinese guy that had seen them coming in came up to them.

-I saw your friend isn't doing so well... he hurt his head badly. Is he going to be OK? He said.
-Yeah... we hope so! The guys said.
-So... while you are waiting for him... can I practice English with you?

Wow... there's a time and a place for everything, huh?!

All of these stories are completely new to me. But quite funny, hence why I wanted to share them.

I have to say that I am impressed by these young Chinese people's guts. I am a complete wimp when it comes to practicing my Chinese with strangers. I never start talking to someone in a shop (in Chinese) unless they talk to me first. I'm always so worried I am going to bother someone... Scandinavian upbringing I suppose ("don't intrude on your friend's personal sphere and DEFINITELY don't intrude on strangers personal sphere") Sometimes I wish I was more aggressive when it comes to these things though. The only 'strangers' I feel I can talk to as much as I want are taxi drivers. I feel that since we are both in the same car I might as well break the ice and ramble away... normally they are quite happy to chat, although the conversations are pretty much always the same.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Mongolian horseback riders -talented or crazy?

Although we just had a holiday I cannot stop thinking about trips that I want to do in China. Some of our friends just got back from a fishing trip in Inner Mongolia. I would never go on a fishing trip, but I'd love to go to Inner Mongolia, especially on a horseback riding trip. Apparently the Inner Mongolia is the place to go when it comes to horseback riding in China (there or Hong Kong -or so I've heard) although I have to say, that if their riders are as 'mad' as the Mongolian horseback riders that I've met here in Suzhou I am not quite sure if I would feel safe heading out on a venture with them.

There' a horseback riding club in Suzhou that I've visited a few times. It's a not the most serious club. U turn up, they look at you (giggle) and match you up with a horse. Twice I have been given a black, wild-looking thing that I've exchanged for a fat, lazy white horse that barely moves but it's very friendly so we still get on well.

Once u have your horse (and your helmet and, hear this out -chaps! Even Lucky Luke would have been impressed!) you set off riding in the sunset.. Nah, it's far from that romantic. Suzhou isn't really the 'outback' so u have to ride on car lanes and what do you think big trucks do when they see a blond girl on a fat, white horse? Yup. They honk! (Fortunately for me, my white 'fatty' horse barely reacts).

Anyways, what I was getting at is that those Mongolian riders, at least from what I can tell, are a tad bit... mad. Sometimes we've ridden on a field and there they yell the Chinese version of 'talli-hooooo!' before they sett of galloping. Since I was a horse-loving child I know the basics of horseback riding, but galloping off with a bunch of Mongolians that seems to love the word 'faster!' (it is one of the few words they know in English) when there's a big car lane next to you and the grass is wet and slippery, is actually a little bit scary... despite wearing a helmet and chaps...

So... I am just thinking... is that the Chinese version of horseback riding, or have I just been hanging out in the wrong stable? Anyone been to a horseback riding trip in Inner Mongolia? Please feel free to share your experiences.

No comments, please.

One thing I that sometimes leaves me confused is that every time I meet with a Chinese friend they comment on how I look. It stretches beyond the whole 'u look so fat' thing into comments about my face, about my clothes, and about my voice?! One given examples is my language partner. We meet once a week and every time he sees me he tells me:

-You look so tired!
-You look really happy today!
-You look like you've been sick.
-Your hair is different.
-I can tell from your voice that something has happened.
-You don't look too well.

Although this annoyed me a bit at first, I have now adapted to the method. I have caught myself always commenting how my friends look when I see them. (However, I try to leave out the not so flattering comments like 'you look terrible/like you've put on weight' etc). I guess my main confusion is, why is it so important to tell someone that they don't look good? Normally the person already knows him/herself. Paying a compliment is one thing going on about how 'tired' or 'worn out' the other person looks (at times it has been funny as well because there I have arrived, all happy and perky just to be told that my face looks really tired... aooch!)? Hm... I don't know. Sometimes the Chinese 'honesty' can be too much.

The driver at my bf's company is a classic example of when not to speak your thoughts.

The first time he met me he said:

-Oh Jonna, great to finally meet you! I have seen photos of you before although then I thought that you didn't look very good. Now when I meet you in person you look better.

-Oh... great to meet you too?!!

I know that there isn't supposed to be any direct harm in these words... but I don't know. I still find comments like this a bit odd. And I definitely don't understand what purpose they serve?

Monday, October 6, 2008

The 'monkeys' are in town

"Hey look this way, oh pretty please just one more..."

There's quite some difference between walking the streets of Shanghai and the streets of Suzhou. When me or my bf (or worse, both of us) take a walk in Suzhou we always bump into curious stares, distant 'hello!!!'s, giggles and finger pointing. None of us have any problems with it. We have realised that since we are both tall (him being 185 and me 175 cm -qualifying is as minor 'giants' in China) and blond, we really DO look like monkeys that escaped from the ZOO. So that one's on us.

Once we head to Shanghai, however, it's like... all the novelty wears off. No one cares anymore (or OK, maybe some but we get far from the 'fame factor' looks that we get from locals in Suzhou), and no one thinks we are special. It's almost a bit weird, because Suzhou and Shanghai are so close, yet so far apart. In Shanghai we are just 'another 2 lao wais' together with thousands of others (anyone got any idea of how many lao wais there are in Shanghai? I haven't got a clue but I am guessing quite a lot!) Suzhou also has a fair deal of expats, but not far as many as Shanghai.

Both me and my bf really enjoy walking around in Shanghai and not being followed by curious looks. What we had totally forgotten about until just the other day, however, is that this is the norm until u do something out of the ordinary, like decide to shop from a street vendor.

Yeah last week we were walking on one of my fave streets of Shanghai, Fuzhou Lu (simply my fave street for the fact that it has a huge foreign books shop... ahhhhh!) next to People's Square. Fuzhou Lu is one of those streets that always tends to be jam-packed with people, no matter what time of the day you go there. Being there during the National Holiday obviously added some extra hundreds of people, so yeah, it was a pretty jammed street that we were walking on. And you guys know the deal: if there are a lot of people walking around, there are also a lot of people selling stuff...

We walked by a bunch of street vendors selling everything from squishy toys (WHY?!?!?!) to key rings, when I spotted a man and a woman selling advertisement posters/vintage Chinese propaganda posters. A lot of them were really cheesy, and there was also a lot of Mao posters, but some were really cool, from what I could see. We decided to take a closer look and approach the man and the woman who were sitting on the street with their posters, no one paying attention to them.

I wonder how long it might have taken... maybe... 20 seconds? Well, OK, let's say 30. We started talking to the couple about the posters and about how much they were and so on, and, no kidding, but within 30 seconds, a HUGE crowd had gathered around us. I was so busy haggling that it was my bf who noticed, telling me:

-Have you seen the amount of people around us?!

And then I saw. People had formed a minor circle around us, extremely curious to find out what we were buying, and (more importantly) HOW MUCH WE WERE PAYING... I could hear chuckles and comments when I did my best to get an as low price as possible. Except for those who wanted to know how much we were paying, some young couples also started flicking through the old looking posters, acting genuinely interested to buy some for themselves. One of the vendor realised his luck and became extremely friendly, giving us some extra freebies (stickers, key rings, and you name it) and a fairly low price for the posters (around 20 kuai? I thought that was OK, although I bet the Chinese wouldn't pay more than 5 kuai!) as he now was keen to take care of all the new customers. We left the street with 4 posters and 20 key rings (or something like that), leaving a large crowd of Chinese people behind us, some buying posters, some just looking.

In a way, you just want to laugh about it -why is it so interesting to know what lao wais buy?! On the other side, I bet it is quite fun for native Chinese to listen to lao wais talking Chinese and trying to push for a cheaper price, knowing that we can never do it as well as they can. I am always happy to 'entertain' (I think u have to be in China otherwise you'd be offended every time someone laughed at you -and gosh, that happens on a daily basis!) but sometimes I really do feel like an odd animal who escaped from my cage at the ZOO.