Friday, November 28, 2008

Anyone else who has an ayi who's collecting wine corks?

I normally get along well with our ayi, so what happened last Wednesday comes as a bit of a shock to me.

We'd left our heart-shaped wine stopper on the table, and don't ask me why, but for some reason she must have thought she cork was garbage that has been stuck to a wooden heart-shaped piece... because this is what she left us with:

(She must have used some serious powers to remove that cork. Leaves me kind of heartbroken -both for her and for our precious wine stopper)

The question she left us with....: WHY?
As usual, I have my own theories:

1. She collects wine corks.
2. She hates wine corks (as a result of seeing too many of them since she is mainly cleaning expat's flats) and at the sight of one she wants to throw it away.
3. She is still upset about me yelling out cleaning orders to her 2 weeks ago.

Lesson learned: avoid cork wine stoppers in China. Or, hide them from you ayi.

Since we are on the ayi subject... the other wknd I had dinner with a big group of Scandos in Shanghai, and I was kind of surprised to hear that their ayis are making more than my young Chinese friends working for state-owned companies.... At least considering how much those people are paying their ayis: some paid 4000/month for full-time, live-in-ayi (who has not rent and no food costs. This must be the ideal ayi deal!), some pay 1000kuai/month for an ayi that comes and cleans their flat 3 times a week (for 3-4 hours at time). As the conversation went on I started to feel like a really cheap bastard and sank down in my chair, desperately hoping that no one would ask me how much we pay our ayi.... seeing that we only pay her 400 kuai/month and she comes 3 times/week a la 2hours/time.

Then, I spoke to my Taiwanese friend who has an Ayi 5days/week for 2 hours/day. She cleans, shops and makes him food for 250 kuai/month..

....and then I felt a tiny weeny bit better.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Who wears the pants?

Kind of a strange story that I have to share with you....

One of my Chinese friends got a job for a German company about 2 years ago. When she started the management was a bunch of German men (and one lonely woman), most of them in their late 40ies or 50ies, with a family tucked into a safe, typical lao wai complex in Hongqiao, or, back in Germany. The CEO was around 58. He didn't have his family with him in China, and apparently he must have gotten a bit lonely, because it didn't take long before my friend discovered that the young, Chinese woman that her boss used to bring along at company parties and events, weren't only a 'keeping-the-boss-company-lady', but in fact his mistress.

So the story goes... and it didn't take long before the mistress started showing up more and more often. Unexpected visits to the office. Long lunches. The boss seemed to enjoy it so my friend kept her mouth shut, silently thinking of the little wifey back in Germany.

Then... the mistress' belly started growing... and whoopsydaisy. Suddenly there was a situation. Old German guy was set to be a daddy again. He decided that one wife was enough and divorced his old wife in Germany, to focus on setting up a new life with his 20-something-mistress in Shanghai. The new wife was over the moon.

The couple got married and had a baby. Everything seemed sugar sweet and my friend was actually happy that the sneaky mistress business had ended and that they now were an official couple... until... the new wife started paying the office frequent visits.

First, she came to check in on her beloved husband after work. Since my friend often worked overtime she often met the girl, who would question her presence in the office.

-Aren't you skilled enough to finish your work during your normal working hours? She would say.

My friend started to dislike the girl, who only was 2-3 years older than her and whose new 'guts' obviously came from her being married to the big boss.

The comments continued, and suddenly the visits started to become a daily thing. All in front of the boss/husband, who was happy to let his wife enter the company's office, and boss around his staff. My friend (and her workmates) couldn't do anything about it. They had to be nice to the girl as she was the wife of their boss. Eventually, they also had to take orders from her.

When my friend told me this story I sat with my mouth wide open. What boss lets his WIFE walk around and yell out orders to his staff?! And why would you even want to do that? It makes so little sense to me. Is he really that whipped?! Talk about having lost your pants and put on the longest skirt in the family... and talk about disrespecting your staff?!

My friend hates the situation so much she is considering finding a new job, although with the credit crunch and everything, the timing sort of sucks. Still, I am so amazed that this German boss is letting it all happen in front of his eyes. I don't think a similar situation would ever be able to take place if they were working in Germany, because I don't think he would allow his German wife to do the same thing.

But the situation is making me wonder: is this happening because: 1.They are in China and things that would never happen in Europe often happen here, and therefore he is turning a blind eye to it. 2. Chinese wives are much more powerful than their husband over here. 3. He is simply and sadly, mega whipped.
Or, is it a combination of all of them?

Obviously my friend doesn't dare to tell her boss how bad she feels every time the wife is giving her narky comments, as she's scared she'll lose her job.

20 days to go...

Last Xmas

I've been a bit unfocused this week, due to various reasons, but one of them is the fact that Xmas is approaching... with speed!! I don't think I have ever been this excited about Xmas? I feel like one of those five year old that know she's going to get a My Little Pony Stable from Santa, times TEN! (And My Little Pony-loving-five-year-old are already quite fierce!?). The reason why I am so excited is, of course, because this year I am actually going to celebrate Xmas in Sweden. The last 2 Xmases (2007 and 2006) took place in Shanghai, and although we really tried to create some cosy Xmas atmosphere it simply didn't happen... well, mainly because Xmas isn't something that is celebrated in China. Sure, Starbucks, along with some shopping malls, are playing Xmas carols and serving cinnamon/toffee nut lattes, and sure, there are some Xmas lights here and there on the street, but overall I would say that there is absolutely no, none, zero, niente Xmas atmosphere in Shanghai during December. It just feels like the same, commercial city as always. Thank LORD I am going home this year!

I guess I should point out that I wasn't that much of a 'Xmas person' before I moved to China. I used to regard Xmas as an evil sort of spending-money-frenzy and I wasn't that much of a Xmas food fan. But take 2 Xmases in China, where there is no atmosphere at all, and you'll feel like you're born again, only this time, you love everything that has with Xmas to do, including all the gingerbread cookies, the mulled wine, the snow on the ground (although the snow on the ground u quickly start hating once u have to go outside and walk in it), the meatballs, the unlimited amount of chocolate (a standard in my chocolate-loving-family), and the Xmas tree. I feel like a walking cliche for even admitting to like all this but I cannot help it. This is what Xmas in Shanghai can do to you. I'm not sure if I should be grateful or not?

I'm heading to Scandoland on Dec 18 (back in China again on Dec 28 -although Xmas sort of sucks in Shanghai I wouldn't miss New Years in Shanghai for the world!! It rocks!), and I really have to control myself not to start crossing over the days in my calenders.
Ps. For all of those who wants to escape Xmas, Xmas shopping and stuff, I would say China is a pretty good destination!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Hard to say 'thank you'

"You're welcome"

Before I did my very first trip (for work purposes) to China, my at-that-time-editor sat me down for a quick survival briefing. She'd travelled to China frequently during the last few years and that was enough for me to swallow her words hook, line and sinker.

When I think of some of the advices she gave me today, I kind of sniggle, as a lot of the things she said were way too dramatic. Although obviously, she also had some good points:

1. Always carry toilet paper/napkins with you (check!). Public toilets are rarely equipped.

2. Stomach pills are your best friend (hm.. this made sense during my first 1.5 years here although for the last 6 months I haven't gotten stomach sick once -knock on wood!- Also, I don't think stomach pills can prevent this so much... it's more like, avoiding street food/restos that don't look clean?)

But then, there was one thing that I deeply regret ever having listened to:

3. When someone pays you a compliment, politely decline it.

When I heard the 'compliment' behavior at first I felt a bit confused.

-What, so if someone tells me my bag looks nice I should say: 'oh no... it's not nice at all?!' I asked.
-Well no.. maybe u can say something like 'oh, this old thing? It is nothing special!'. You should be very modest in China. If you just say 'thank you' that might be regarded as rude.
-Oh?! Got it.

So.... I journeyed to China and back again. Didn't receive many compliments at all that first time (I guess my bag and clothes weren't hip enough, hmpppf). Then, I made the big 'China move' and arrived in China to study, work, and get lost in translation.

And then, my editor's words started ringing in my ears again especially since one of the first things I learned when I started taking Chinese lessons was: how to respond to a compliment:

-A polite way to respond to a compliment is to say: Nali nali/ Mei you/ Na you (all of those are basically polite ways of saying 'no no').

In the beginning it was kind of fun, especially since it really made sense to say 'oh no no' when someone complimented my Chinese skills (because let's face it -I sucked!). Taxi drivers loved it. Shopping assistants too. Old women found it hilarious.

But that was then and now is now. And you know what? I still say 'nali nali' whenever I get a compliment. Like, yesterday when I met with an old friend that I haven't seen for more than 6 months, and we had our conversation entirely in Chinese and she said: 'wow, you have really improved Jonna!' I was all like: 'oh no... my Chinese is still terrible, bla bla bla'... Gosh, I don't even like caning myself, but it seems that I cannot stop doing it?

My bf also commented on it some other day.... when he paid me a compliment that I brushed off, and he was like:
-What's wrong with you? Can't you just say 'thanks'?

I started thinking about what he said and then it occurred to me: a simple 'thank you' doesn't exist in my mind anymore. A few examples from last week:

(Just came out from the hairdresser and met a friend)
-Wow your hair looks great!
-ah... well, it is so-so!

(dinner with a big group of noggys)
-What a lovely dress Jonna!
-Oh, this old thing? No.. it's nothing special?

Yesterday with a group of Chinese people:
-Wow, your Chinese is really good. You understand everything we are saying?! Awesome!
-Oh, no no no.. my Chinese is still quite terrible.

Holy Sh**** this HAS to stop?!!! I do not like the person I have turned into who cannot simply say 'thanks.' (I used to be that person, and I want that person back!!!)

But I've noticed that since I set the ball rolling it is kind of hard to stop it.. Has anyone else experienced this over here? Suddenly you find yourself not being able to take a compliment because you want to be so polite? Gosh, sounds ridiculous doesn't it?! My friends will k*** me if I come home over Xmas and go on brushing off everything nice they say to me, because not being able to accept a compliment is the exact opposite how you are expected to behave in Sweden. There, u should simply say: 'thanks!' And that actually makes much more sense than this whole 'oh no no no no' -thing...

In fact, some of my young Chinese friends have even told me that the 'nali nali' isn't really used that much anymore by young Chinese people, and that it is now OK just to say 'thank you,' but I still cannot get it in my head.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The perfect rub

Getting a Chinese massage over here is like a weekly must-do, as it (most of the time) is quite good, and also, cheap! A few interesting side notes I have noticed about Chinese massages however are:

1. Why to girls always get a male massurs and guys always get a girl?

2. How the cheap '68 kuai/hour' easily snowballs into 108 if you want to buy all those extra things that they offer you. Just the other week in Dalian our 1.5 hour massage cost 88 kuai, although during the massage, we were offered some additional:

-massage clothes (looked like a white PJ), 10 kuai.
-Some special back rub 20 kuai
-bath salt in our foot bath water, 10 kuai.

We turned everything down and were looked at as we were cheap bastards. Sure, maybe we were but come on. 10 kuai for some white, paper PJ? I don't think so!

3. Why are massage benches always too short for me? (the last 3 times my feet have been sticking out, to every one's amusement)

4. Why do guys always want to massage your belly?! During my last massage I tried to act all grown up and held my breath for what felt like eternity, until I simply couldn't take it anymore and exploded in a laugh-attack (which turned out to be contagious -soon my masseur was laughing as much too). Come on!! It's the most ticklish spot, no matter how much u try and 'relax'.

5. Why do so many Chinese people that go to a massage spend the whole 1.5 hour on their cellphone? Why, or why, why why?!?!??!? I wish cellphones were BANNED at massage places/spas. I was so annoyed last time and when I listened in on the conversation, I wasn't one bit impressed. A guy, one the phone with what must have been his girlfriend:

"Oh, is it boring to watch TV... well why don't you watch a DVD. Come on, there are many good DVDs... yes there are. Or TV programs. Well OK... just turn the TV off then. and what did you eat today... oh... only that.... oh... how boring. Oh.... oh.... oh..................."

And so it went on for 1 + hour.... Bloody hell!?

Except for those little 'details' I think massages over here are greeeeeeeat! Although stick to those cheap ones. More expensive doesn't mean 'better' at least not in my opinion.

Monday, November 24, 2008

CNY reminiscing

I continued thinking about the CNY during the rest of last night. I even indulged in some CNY reminiscing with my bf, as we talked about our first, very special CNY in China in 2007.

At this time, we were invited to dinner by a Chinese couple that we barely knew. The reasons why we 'barely knew' each other were mix of: 1. them not being able to speak much English and our Chinese being at a very primary level, and 2. None of us had actually chosen to meet each other. We had simply been 'set up' by my Chinese translator/friend from Beijing, who, when she heard that I was moving to Shanghai decided to take me under her wing and arranged for me to meet with her Shanghai friend Zhizi and her boyfriend Wang. Since communication was so-so, I think all four of us felt that it wasn't be biggest 'click' of all time, but we were still doing our outmost when it came to being polite and nice: asking each other out for dinner, meeting to go shopping, and so on. So, when we were invited to Zhizi's family home for CNY dinner, we accepted with joy. And, to be honest, we were kind of excited, despite the language barrier, that we were going to get a chance to experience a 'real' CNY dinner at a friend's house.

We arrived around 4pm on the big day and was greeted by Zhizi's mom, dad, grandpa, grandma, and a lot of other old people walking around in underpants and big sweaters. They were all really sweet even though they didn't speak a lick of English. Actually, Zhizi's grandpa was probably the champ, as he had been in the US sometime during his younger days, and could say some polite phrases.

The first thing we were told was to change our socks into new socks that the mom had bought for us. I struggled for a bit to get my 39-40 sized big feet to fit into a pair of petite 37 sized socks, but nothing is impossible if you want it badly enough. Dressed in our new socks (a ritual for luck, apparently?) we went into the kitchen and asked if we could be to any help.

While me and Zhizi started off by helping Zhizi's mom to make dumplings, my bf was comfortably seated at the couch with Wang, Zhizi's dad, and the rest of the men of the house. The dad proudly offered him a selection of foreign beer, wine, local beer, wine and Chivas regal. He was also handed a cigarette. Since he sort of despises smoking, he declined the smoke but accepted a beer. Big mistake. Although the men had been excited to see him at first ("such a tall and handsome man!" -that much I could understand) he sort of sank in their eyes when he didn't want to share a smoke with them.

When he, a bit later, proceeded to behave weirdly by asking if he could help the women to make dumplings, he got the 'odd' mark written all over his forehead. While Zhizi's mom gushed with excitement of having a man helping her out, the men rolled their eyes, turned us their backs, and smoked another cigarette.

What felt like one million dumplings later, we were told to sit and wait at the couch while the rest of the food was being prepared. My boyfriend won back the men's respect by accepting another beer, and everyone was happy. The men continued to 'gan bei' (= bottom up) with my bf, meanwhile I watched the action with a cup of tea.

Once the food was ready and some other people had arrived we were seated at the table and dug into the food. The food, I have to say, was kind of amazing. First of all, I have never seen so much of it at the same time (there wasn't even enough space for everything, the the dishes were on top of each other), and secondly... there were so many odd dishes?! In 2007 we were celebrating the beginning of the 'year of the pig' so there were a lot of pig parts on the table, including: pig's feet, pig's ear, and u name it... Me, not being a pork lover at all, had some minor problems at first, but then decided to forget all about what it was and just eat, smile and be happy. It worked so-so.

In the middle of dinner a late couple suddenly arrived.

-They come from Australia! Wang informed us.
-Ohhhhh! we gushed, delighted by the fact that someone who could speak English was arriving. Now we could communicate better with our hosts.

Therefore, we were sort of disappointed when the 'Australia couple' (a cousin and his wife, if I remember things correctly) turned out not to be able to speak any English... at all. Well, or at least nothing beyond 'hello how are you?' and some other basic phrases.

-Did you just move to Australia, I asked the woman later.
-Oh no, we have lived there for 6 years! She answered.

Oh dear.

Throughout the dinner the 'gan-bei-ing' continued, and the older people kept telling me and my bf what an honour it was for them to have a 'lao wai' in their house. We kept telling them how grateful we were to be there, and that's about how the conversation went on for the next 2 hours. We drank (or OK, the men drank, the women watched), we smiled, and we thanked each other, and then we ate some more. Although it may not sound like the most exciting dinner, it was kind of great.

At around 8pm we had finished eating and although we had initially decided to leave after dinner, this was met by big protests from our hosts.

-Stay for some midnight dumplings, that means good luck!!! they all urged.

And how could we turn down lucky dumplings (that I had been a part of making?)?

The following 4 hours were kind of slow. While the family continued to nibble for some hours, me, my bf, Wang and Zhizi were seated at the couch and watched a special CNY program full of colourful performances, dancing, singing and speaches. It was interesting for about 30 min... then it sort of all became the same to me, and the fact that I couldn't understand anything of what anyone was saying didn't make it any more interesting.

We were very attentivly looked after, constantly being offered tea, coffee, fruit, candy, Chivas, beer, and wine... But four hours of watching TV u don't understand is four looooong hours. At around 11.50pm we were called to the table and served midnight dumplings, in a hasty speed. Less than 10 minutes later the fireworks started outside the window and we were told to hurry outside. We thought this was going to be the night's big highlight; watching the fireworks with the family and wishing each other happy new year, so imagine our surprise when we entered the yard (with Wang and Zhizi) and were ushered into an waiting taxi.

-OK, bye bye!!!!!!!!!!!!! they called, and closed the door behind us.
-Eh... byyyye!? Thank you!! we yelled back, but they were already gone.

We watched the fireworks from our taxi window during our ride home. It was kind of spectacular.

Planning a CNY escape -not my cup of tea

Although Christmas is approaching I am already thinking about the Chinese New Year, which will take place around Jan 26 next year, in case google isn’t lying.

My bf and I always have great plans for the national Chinese holidays; we plan trips to Australia, Thailand, Vietnam and Malaysia (travelling within China is out of the question during this time). In the end, however, it never happens. ‘Too expensive/ too late/ already fully booked’ are the most usual excuses, but there has also been other lame ones, like ‘well maybe it will actually be nice to stay in Shanghai during this year’s holiday?!’ FYI: staying in Shanghai (or travelling to Shanghai) during the CNY is an utterly big mistake. I love Shanghai, I really do, but during the Chinese national holidays, like CNY in Jan/Fab or the October National Holiday (during the first week of October every year), Shanghai turns into an over-crowded, crammed, impossible-to-get-a-taxi, and don’t-even-think-about-taking-a-walk-on-Nanjing-Lu’-city, which is actually not too pleasant to be in. As if the fact that there are people everywhere wasn’t enough, the constant fire crackers also tends to get to me at the fifth day straight of waking up to the sound of someone trying to blow up your backyard. No, I am not a fan of China during those national holidays.

Last year around the CNY time (actually almost a week before the holiday, but the frenzy starts early) I did a brave attempt to escape the city and visit Seoul. Unfortunately, my adventurous journey was timed with the biggest snowfall in Shanghai since, I don’t know when, and I don’t even want to guess (but a pretty long time ago, I am sure? 50 years or so maybe? Fill free to fill in the gaps), leaving me first stranded outside Suzhou train station, and then violently pushed into the actual station, by a man that I now officially refer to as ‘the man who saved me during that snowy day.’ Although it made a decent blog entry, the actual experience wasn’t that much fun that I would like to do it all over again.

This year, like the last two years, have been full with hope, excitement and planning. We started looking into travelling destinations already in August. The problem with me and my bf however, is that we are great at looking into things, but bad at actually booking something. As a result we are now, a mere 3 months prior to the CNY, trip-less and frustrated, and on each other’s backs, trying to get the other one to magically pull a rabbit out of a hat and find us a cheap, lovely escape to a destination that isn’t too crowded, or too expensive, during this peak holiday time.

I know. We suck.

Has any of you guys booked any nice, CNY escape? Feel free to share. Maybe if I feel jealous enough about your planned get-away I will be motivated to also book something too-expensive-but-totally-worth-it-because-it-actually-means-a-get-away-at-a-time-when-u-really-need-it. I could really do with some inspiration.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Dalian in pictures

Willing finally gave me her Dalian photos on a CD yesterday, so here are some more for u to enjoy. (Ahhh.. just looking at them makes me wanna go back!!)

Victory Square

Our brekkie place at Victory Square

Gold Stone/Pebble Beach (don't ask me why we are hunching our's not like we had problems to fit into this shot...)

Mirror shot

Close up

Bin Hai Lu

Fishing beach

Russian street by day

People's square

Dalian's well preserved tram.

Inside the tram

Willing on the tram

Simple, cheap and good!!

Friday, November 21, 2008

Empty promises?

Yesterday I met with one of my Chinese friends for language exchange (and in case someone wonders, it went straight downhill for me.. I don't know what it is with learning Chinese?! Some days I feel like a master: I understand others, I speak fluently... I even get the tones right?!?! But then some other days the words coming out of my mouth sounds like absolute gibberish... My pronunciation is terrible, the tones go wrong, and I mix up grammar, words and sentences... Yesterday was one of those days. WHORAW!!) and she told me about the international credit crunch hitting her company.

-Half of our staff (a total of 150, so 75) will lose their jobs, starting from next week.
-What?! But two weeks ago u told me that your boss had had a meeting with you all and promised you that no one was going to lose their jobs despite the situation?
-Well, he changed his mind. So things are quite sour now at work.
-I can imagine... what about you? Are you safe?
-Yes... but I sort of wish I wasn't. It's such a bad atmosphere at work at the moment.
-Yeah that is understandable.
-And my salary will be lower from next week onwards.
-Yeah, all the 75 staff that he keeps will have to work for less money he said.

My friend went on by telling me that the 75 staff that had been cut will only get one month's salary as compensation, although it should have been two.

-But that is against the new labour law? I tried.
-I know... but the boss said that when better times come everyone who wants to can get their jobs back.
-So no one is going to take him to court for breaking the law?
-No... everybody is hoping to get their jobs back after the CNY instead. He said that maybe in March some people can come back.
-But March is 3 months away? What are people going to live on?
-Dunno. Most of the staff are young people who haven't saved any of their salary. Although the boss said that if they come back to work in March, he will give them 200 kuai for each month they have been out of work. As a late compensation.

I continued by asking if the boss had reported his planned 50 percent employment cut to the government (as the new labour law requires) but my friend shook her head.

-No, he thinks that can be damaging to the company's reputation.
-And nobody is going to report it?
-No... nobody wants to get in trouble. Everybody wants to get their jobs back. And he promised they will.
-But two weeks ago he promised that no one would lose their jobs and now he is letting 75 people go?!
-Yeah.... well... I don't know. I suppose people are hoping for the tide to turn.

Oh dear. So am I. It is kind of sad to see that in a situation of crisis, when a law protecting the employee's rights is the most needed, it doesn't work.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Shopping in Dalian

On request -here are some of the clothes/shoes/accessories that I bought from Dalian.. I also bought some bags and a loooooot of Xmas pressies, but I am too lazy to show everything.

And for all of u rolling your eyes to the sound of 'shopping,' don't worry.. this ain't a 'shop and showcase' blog... so this post is a one off.

Jacket, 240 kuai

Jacket again

Korean t-shirts, 25 kuai/each

My new, fave t-shirt, 25 kuai.

Top, 30 kuai

Cardigan 30 kuai

Oversize shirt

Boots 130 kuai

Ugg boots 100 kuai

Star necklace 10 kuai

My new fave sweater, 40 kuai.

How I went from 'athlete' to 'bad girl' (in my teacher's eyes)

Good girl gone bad

Yesterday we had one of those interesting and deep (.....) discussions in our speaking class. The teacher wanted to know what we liked to do on our spare time, and her first question was:

-Have you EVER been to a bar?! (A bar, as in a bar where they serve alcohol)

You could tell that it was a big question for our teacher, a young Chinese girl in her mid twenties (or early? or late? actually impossible to guess the age of Chinese people. Most of them look very young -lucky bastards!). She started off my eying up some of my Korean male class mates, who are in their late twenties and definitely must have visited plenty of bars, if I have gotten the Korean culture correct?

-Eh... once, in Beijing, a tall, Korean guy (probably in his 30ies) lied.
-Oh, tell us about it, did you drink a lot of alcohol? What did you drink? Did you get drunk? Our teacher was on fire.
The guy continued lying and said he had only had one beer. (Bulls*t!!!)

Then the question went to the Japanese girls who were all way too well-behaved to even take the world ‘alcohol’ in their mouth. The teacher smiled approvingly, especially when one girl said ‘I prefer to study on my free time.’ Then, the question was passed over to us, the Europeans/Americans, namely: me, an American boy called Clar-KE (I loved how the teachers pronounce his name!) and a new girl from Serbia; The 'Ou-Mei ren'. The (assumed) drinkers. The 'bad kids.'

-I assume that u often go to bars and drink? the teacher fired at the Serbian girl, who looked kind of startled.
-Eh, no, in fact I don't drink, the girl fired back.
-Oh? You look like you do?!


Moving on to Clar-KE:

-You MUST drink often, Clar-KE?
-Eh.... not that often.. like sometimes?
-So how much do you drink then? Do you get really drunk?
-Eh.. not always, like.. it is not such a big deal...
Clar-KE's limited Chinese skills kept him from being able to explain that he was more of a 'casual/social' drinker than a big drinker, mainly having a beer with a friend as a social thing rather than to get shit-faced. But the message didn't came across to anyone else but me and the Serbian girl. I could tell that my teacher thought she had hit bad-kid-Jackpot.

Finally, it was my turn:

-You Na! You must be a drinker! (Note: this comes from a teacher who saw me compete in the 3000m race during Suzhou Daxue sport’s day, and then told me that I was a 'real athlete')
-Not really. I prefer running to drinking actually.
-But you often go to bars too, don't you?
-In Suzhou?! Never! In Shanghai, yes, at times!
-Oh, I thought you were a real disco girl!
-Why is that?
-Because you are young... and tall, and blonde.... and... hihihihihii...
The whole class joined in on the laugh.
(Geez, those are the strangest reason I have ever heard for calling someone a big drinker?! I've heard that 'blondes have more fun,' but never that 'blondes drink more.' Although maybe they are related?)

-So what do you drink in bars? Do you get really drunk?
-Eh… no… like.. going to a bar isn’t such a big deal. Sometimes I go just to have a glass of wine with a friend. It is like going for a coffee. You don’t have to drink yourself drunk every time
, I tried, but my teacher looked completely blank to this answer. It was obviously that to her, drinking is an ‘all or nothing’ thing. I think I might have gone from a ‘real athlete’ to a ‘real drinker’ in her eyes (will this affect my overall grades you reckon?? Why didn't I just lie like my Korean classmate?!)

-So what about you, teacher? A curious Korean boy, who had admitted –to everyone else’s delight-, that he was a ‘bit of a drinker.’

-I have been to a bar twice in my life, the teacher said. And I am never going back. I think bars are stupid and bad. And people that drink in bars are really, really bad.

Me, Clar-KE and the Serbian I-look-like-a-drinker-girl exchanged looks. I think we all were thinking the same thing:

“We are regarded as really BAD people over here?!”

And I thought Chinese people weren’t judgemental?

I especially feel for the Serbian I-look-like-a-drinker-girl, who doesn’t even drink, but who still has ended up in this category just because of her looks.

This also makes me wonder if my Chinese teacher (who is from southern China) has any idea of the drinking culture in China’s dongbei area… or if she just regards that whole area as ‘too bad’ to even think about visiting?

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Being on time.... one of those things that seems to be impossible for a lot of people here in China. I don't know how many hours I have spent waiting since I moved here in 2006, but if you add it all up, I bet it will be equivalent to a couple of weeks. You wait for people, you wait for your table at a restaurant, you wait for your business meetings to take place, you wait in lines to sign up, (and then in another line to pay), for airplanes to take off, in throngs of people at starting lines to run races.. hardly ever does anything here happen on time (except for train departures).

Yesterday, I spent a good hour waiting for our landlord to come and fix our leak in the bathroom. He had been all anal about it for at least 3 days, sending me tonnes of text messages, first to set up a time that worked for both of us, and then, during the 'fixing day,' at least 2 more messages just to 'confirm' that I would be home at the decided hour (1pm) so that he and the repair guy could come. Fine, I thought, and stressed like an idiot in order to squeeze in a mega quick work out at the gym (I had to.. Not working out for 4 days had left me in a climbing-the-walls-state-of-mind: I had to sweat and burn in order to be able to function normally again) and then broke all possible traffic rules when I rushed home on my bike, almost hitting one lady and her little child (I am so ashamed!). So, there I was: sweaty, hungry, exhausted, but... ON TIME! Sure, I looked kind of ragged, but I figured my landlord and the repair guy would be more interested in the bathroom than me, so I didn't care. Besides, as a result of me screaming out cleaning orders to our sweet ayi last week, our flat was shining this time, and I was expecting our landlord to come and go without one single cleaning remark.

But.... I could have as well stayed for that 12.45pm yoga class at the gym. Because not until 2pm did our landlord care to show up. With an apologetic smile, of course, but that doesn't that help me, does it? I was close to furious. It always happen over here! Actually, when I learned the word 'ma shang' 马上 (meaning: immediately) in class and our teacher explained the meaning of the word, one of the male students (who had been in China for a good 3 years) raised his hand and asked:

-In China, when somebody says that they will attend you 'ma shang'... how long of a while does that then mean?
The teachers giggling said it all. It means it can take anything from 5 minutes to two hours...

Yup, because rarely, things happens 'ma shang' over here. I just have to learn how to be late myself in order to fit in better.

Motel 168

I forgot to mention accommodation in my previous post, so I thought I'd drop a line about it now. Since the hotel that we initially booked when we booked our Dalian trip suddenly became unavailable (due to renovation) 2 days prior to our departure (is it only me, or is that just 'so China?!') we had to find a new place to stay. We suggested a few hotels to our travel agency but were told that those were 'only for Chinese people' (I didn't know that rule still existed here). So, in the end we decided to settle for Motel 168. I don't know why, but I was a little bit against staying there at first, I thought it was going to be small, old and dirty, so imagine my surprise when we walked into our room and found it to be both newer and cleaner than any of the 500 kuai + hotels where I have stayed before in Shanghai (although of course u cannot compare hotel prices in Dalian with hotel prices in Shanghai..). Motel 168 was perfect! Located on Youhao Lu, (central Dalian) with walking distance to the Victory Square, train station and with a bus stop just across the street. My only complaint would be that they didn't have any hairdryer and that sort of sucked, especially during our last day when it was minus degrees and ice on the streets... Fortunately I had 5 different hats to hide under :)

But really, Motel 168 -great place to stay, at least in Dalian. I don't know if it is the same in other Chinese cities? If anyone knows feel free to share. Our room was 188 kuai/night (simply because we wanted a room with a window) and that included one breakfast. The breakfast, however, was too Chinese for our taste buds (I love noodles, rice and egg-tomato stir fry too, but not at 8am in the morning...Oh, there were also loads of cookies to choose from. And sugar sweet, white/yellow toast) but since it was so cheap to get brekkie from the street it wasn't any problem.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Lovely Dalian

Dalian –wow, where do I start?! It was soooooo incredibly nice to get away from Suzhou (no offence, but…) and get a change of scene!! I loved every bit of Dalian: the shopping, the cheap food, the fact that they have a lot of beautiful beaches and some nature, the fact that the city isn’t just flat like a pancake, the old Russian buildings, and, most importantly: the friendly people! Like I said in my previous post, it was also an excellent opportunity to practice my Chinese skills as no one (expect for some shop assistants and the Starbuck’s staff) seemed to be able to speak English. Ahhhh.. HEAVEN!

We had about 3 days to explore the city and its surrounding and I think we managed to use our time quite well: doing a little bit of ‘sightseeing’ (I am normally not a fan of looking at old famous ‘must-be-seen-things’), a fair deal of shopping, a great deal of eating, and an even greater deal of just walking around, looking, taking photos of the every day life and talking to people that we met. A great combination (in the ‘Jonna world of travelling’), in other words.

I travelled with my classmate Willing, who’s from Indonesia and who looks quite Chinese. Therefore, everyone thought she was my guide/translator and more than once did I have to listen to them saying things like:

-Oh, so you are stuck with a lao wai are you?! Haha, well, can you translate when I try to sell her some stuff?!

At my first:

-Hey, I can understand what you are saying! They just laughed and patted me supportively on my shoulder, saying something sarcastic like: ‘Oh… you’re Chinese is soooo good!!’ But when I followed up with a:

-And you know what, she is not my guide or my translator, she’s from Indonesian and she speaks as much Chinese as I do.

…they got kind of long-faced and started. We had some great laughs because of the whole guide/translator situation however, and I also believe we got a better price in many stores, simply because Willing played along that she was Chinese, keeping her mouth fairly shut and just nodding, laughing and adding some minor comments here and there in during the price negotiation part.

As for shopping, I have to say that Dalian was pretty fantastic. I fell in love with the Victory Square underground market (next to the Victory square 胜利广场) and we spent all Sunday afternoon there, getting insanely cheap stuff. I might have to bore some of the male readers by actually showing u some of my shopping treasures in a later post, because it is simply too good not to be mentioned/showed (any shopping loving girl should go there to shop!).

Underground mall

Girl's heaven

When we didn’t shop we enjoyed the fact that Dalian is close to the ocean: talking long walks along the fishing/swim beaches. It was so nice to be in a city where u can just jump on a bus and get to the beach. Overall, the bus system is great in Dalian, much easier/clearer than Suzhou’s bus system. Some bus time tables even have pinyin?! Yeah, imagine that?! For one kuai u can travel pretty much everywhere, and the buses are clean and fairly new. I loved it.

Fishing beach

Walking along the beach

The first beach we visited wasn’t a swimming beach (but a fishing beach, so not so clean) but it was still nice to be so close to the water. When we were walking on this beach a fisherman came up to us and wanted to know where we were from, what we were doing in Dalian, and so on. He spoke with the most local dialect, there was so much ‘rrrrr’ going on that we could barely understand him, but he was so… cute! I don’t think he had ever heard of neither Sweden nor Indonesia, and when he saw my Nikon digital camera he wanted to know if I could still get my photos printed with ‘that kind of thing.’ We spent a good half an hour chatting to him, and he told us a lot of things that we couldn’t understand, and some things we could, about his life as a fisherman in Dalian. When we later took his picture he looked really happy and shone like a sun when we later waved goodbye and walked on.

Local fish market

Our new fisherman friend

One of the nicer beaches that we visited was called Golden Stone Beach (金石滩), and it was on Binhai Xi Lu (滨海西路), which was like a park along the water which had a beautiful road that sort of weaved though the surrounding hillside. We walked along this road for a while, and it was quite tiring, as it’s so hilly. A pure paradise for the sporty type, however, and we saw plenty of joggers/power walkers who tackled those hills. Looked hard but fun, and I missed my jogging shoes. I’d love to live at a place like that, and kept fantasizing about what a Sunday long-run could be like in Dalian.

Golden Stone Beach

How do u guys like my new hat? (It was love at first sight for me)

As for the Golden Stone Beach, it was kind of empty and deserted due to the season (only us and a few fishermen) but I think it would be really nice to visit during the summer. The sand was clean and the water was clear. I just wonder how packed it gets during the high-season…

We also passed by Fujia Zhuang (another beach), Xinghai Gong Yuan (a beach/park that also has a bungee), and the Dalian forrest ZOO, although we didn’t enter since I’m not a fan of animals in cages.

When it came to city sights we spent some time on the Russian street, which was a bit of a disappointment. I had imagined old buildings, small shops and cosy little cafés, but it was in fact just a long street packed with street vendors, selling everything from fake fur to Russian chocolate, cigarettes and dolls. I bought myself about 5 different kinds of hats there (for 15-20 kuai each), so I think I have enough for the next three winter seasons now.

Russian street by night

Willing wearing a fake fur hat (that didn't fit my large Scandinavian head... boooh!)

Russian street by day


As for Russian architecture I think the end of the street had some nice, old buildings, but the actual Russian street was just a renovated re-make of what I believe once was a Russian street. Things were too new and shiny to look real. What was funny, however, was that when we walked on this street during the night a lot of older Chinese people (men who were out walking dogs, not vendors) started speaking Russian to me. Although I don’t know how I should take that… I look Russian?! Hm…

Dalian also had a lot of squares that we checked out: People’s Square (nothing like the Shanghai one), Victory Square (my favourite: a lot of shops, and night markets at night!), and Olympic Square (surrounded by a lot of sport shop outlets, as well as an electronic market) just to mention some. Nothing too impressive, but still worth a visit.

Evening food market around Victory Square

When it came to food, Dalian food was like people had told me, quite ‘dan’ (淡) when it came to taste (we asked for at least one spicy dish at every restaurant we visited but what they considered to be spicy in Dalian we regarded was a lame attempt). The local culinary delicacies are of course seafood dishes. A lot of restaurant still had large crayfishes, even though it’s November. YUM! The best restaurant we visited during our stay was on You Hao Lu (友好路) and its name was “Lai Lai Wang Wang.” Overall I have to say that the food was so cheap it was almost too good to be true. Not once did we eat for more than 30 kuai each! Even our breakfast, (which we had at a western-like café), that consisted of scrambled eggs, bacon, two toast and a coffee was a mere 18 kuai!! Insane! U cannot even get a coffee for 18 kuai in Suzhou. I loved the low prices. Korean bibimbap that we had for lunch one day was 20 kuai… Bring it on! And even though the food was so cheap the servings were really huge. We couldn’t finish even one whole dish at any of the restaurants we went to. The waiters were also really friendly and more than delighted to chit-chat and recommend dishes. Me like.

Convenient with the menu on the wall

Ma la tofu pot -18 kuai and huge!

Hm.. this post is becoming too long and I haven’t even told you everything yet. I better stop writing now… I’ll have to write a second post later today and tell u more. I am also waiting for some more photos as I’ll get all the photos Willing took (which includes some photos of me… wiiiii!!!) tomorrow.