Thursday, April 30, 2009

Motivation gone missing

My mind is everywhere but where it should be

We are having mid-term exams this week at Suzhou uni. Although to me it only means 2 exams (in listening and writing) because in our other courses we have exams after every 3/5 chapters (I prefer that one! Even though it means that we are always having some sort of exam).

This semester has probably been the most boring one I’ve done this far, and the one to blame for that is no one but myself. I’ve lost most of my ‘studying Chinese motivation’ –don’t ask me why, I just have, and that makes going to class quite dull. For the last few months I feel as if I haven’t learned anything new. Of course I have, although it really feels as if my learning curve has slowed down/stopped and even gone downwards a bit. I guess it’s always like this when learning a new language though… first you feel like you are learning a lot, then you are not getting anywhere for a while until it kick-starts again. So it's all normal. Still, I would lie if I said it doesn't bothers me.

My radio is working like a champ although it feels as if it’s impossible to find a radio channel that actually plays music here in China. It’s just "blab la blab la blab la bla…." Talk, talk, talk. Constantly, non-stop. Well, actually, it’s good, because that’s what I need to practice on listening to, but in the long run it would be nice with some music breaks to make the listening experience a little bit more enjoyable. What I do now is turn the radio off every 10 minutes to give my bleeding ears a break.

Yesterday we had a test-HSK-listening exam and I was surprised of how well I did! It’s funny at these tests. You are sitting there, listening, filling in the answers, thinking to yourself that ‘bloody hell, I know nothing!’ and then when you go through the answers with the teacher you realize that you have scored something like 80% (which is more than enough for me to be happy about!). So basically you DO know most of the stuff, although you think you don’t? Ah… well, at least better than not knowing at all!

I was surprised of how rude one of the Ou-Mei (western) student in my HSK class was yesterday. After our listening test, which we all did OK at, the teacher said that she felt very happy that we all had improved our listening skills. Then the one guy goes:

-Well, the fact that we have improved our skills have got nothing to do with you!

And the teacher was just like….:

-Ehhh, no… well.. I just said I feel happy for you guys. Seeing that I am your listening teacher and care about your listening progress.

(I guess he’s one of those who might not have improved seeing he seems so sour about it).

The next HSK test is on June 21 and this time I am not going to forget about signing up. But motivation, oh, where art thou!?! I wouldn’t mind feeling a little bit more happy about learning Chinese at the moment, and not as if it was ‘something I have to get over with.’

Now, off to an essay writing exam. My favorite. Not. Whoever invented electronic dictionaries is a genius. 

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Where everybody knows your name

Sometimes it's quite nice to be an alien...

When I like places (restaurants, hairdressers, spas, cafes, bike shops, pubs…) I always go back. Over the years I’ve been a regular at quite a few places in London, Finland, Australia and China but I’ve never been recognized as often as here in China. Just the other day when I went to my favorite Sichuan restaurant with one of my Chinese friends. The hostesses greeted me with big smiles, and told my Chinese friend that: “that xiaojie you are with comes here very often!” Once we sat down to order the waiter came over and asked me if I wanted to have the mapu tofu, ‘just like last time.’ Big smile here too. My friend was impressed.

-You come here every day Jonna?!

-Eh… no, maybe every second week or so?

-Doesn’t look like it.

Well, I guess there are some cons with being the blonde alien in a Chinese town after all.

The funniest experience, however, I’ve had at the gym. I’ve been going there for more than one year now, and although I’ve become good friends with a lot of the male personal trainers, there has always been a chillier atmosphere between me and the reception girls.

Until one recent visit. I took the elevator up and was greeted by three smiling girls behind the counter. When one of them saw me she said:

-Oh! It’s You Na!!!

Everyone’s smiles became even larger.

-Ehhh, hello! I replied, feeling a bit awkward.

The next day two girls said:

-You Na!! Hello! When I came in, smiling as if there was no tomorrow.

Since then it has snowballed into a line of reception girls, chanting ‘You Na! You Na!’ every time I make an appearance.

Yesterday I realized that my lock was broken and had to buy a new one. I asked in the reception, and was sent over to another counter.

-Hey, You Na is coming she wants to buy a lock!!! The girl yelled to the girls at the other counter... that of course greeted me with a big smile and a:

-Hi You Na!! What kind of lock do you want?!

I was kind of overwhelmed and picked the first lock she showed me, before I asked:

-Just tell me.. why do you all suddenly know my name?

The girl giggled.

-Oh we think your name is so beautiful!!

-Oh… eh, thanks! It’s a Chinese guy who picked it for me. It’s similar to my Swedish name.

-It’s a beautiful name!

(first time I’ve been told that! I always thought my name was a kind of simple -sounds-like-Jonna-option that my previous Chinese boss settled for)

-OK, thanks!

-And also.. we are all very curious about you!!!

-Curious? About what?

-About you!

-Eh.. OK! Eh… well, OK thanks then! 
I really didn’t know what else to say, grabbed my lock, smiled and walked away.

When I later left that day the line of girls sang: ‘Bye Bye You Na!!!’ even doing the old hand-wave, making me leave with a big smile on my face.

What a contrast to the crappy customer service I got at Carrefour the other day! This beats all previous ‘regular’ treatment I’ve ever gotten before!

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Chinese compromising

A cheap home-gym according to Wang

I thought I’d start this sunny day by sharing a story about my Chinese friends and that time when they were going to start exercising. To make the writing a bit smoother we can call the girl Yang and the guy Wang. Yang is a lovely girl in her mid-twenties from Yunnan, and Wang is a nice guy in his mid-twenties from Harbin.

It started somewhere during the early spring. Wang kept telling Yang that she should lose some weight. I personally don’t understand why, because she’s already very, very thin, but obviously there ain’t no such thing as ‘being too thin’ here in China. Rather, the more visible ribs the better.

Wang kept mocking Yang who kept complaining to me, telling me about obscure diets and days where she would only eat apples.

-Stop that stuff and come and visit the gym instead, I suggested.

-Ehh… I don’t like training. I don’t want muscles, Yang responded.

-Well trust me, you are not going to get loads of muscles if you just go once or twice a week. It’s healthier than starving yourself anyways, come on, give it a try!

Yang decided to take my advice and joined her local gym. After some weeks of hesitation she’d worked up enough guts to ask the personal trainers to make her a program, and before you knew it she was working out 3 times a week –and loving it.

In fact, she loved it so much that she asked her boyfriend Wang to join her.

Now, some notes about Wang. He’s a very traditional Chinese man. He’s that kind of guy who believes that house chores are stuff that women should take care off, meanwhile he’s playing his computer games. When Yang suggested he’d come with her to the gym, he frowned and said no.

But Yang nagged and nagged (apparently she’d seen many other guys working out and was keen to get her own man to abandon the couch and maybe get a bit fitter at the same time) and in the end, Wang finally gave in and promised to join her at the gym for two weeks.

For two weeks straight they were sweating and panting, running on the treadmills and lifting free weights. Yang was over the moon.

After two weeks Wang threw in his towel. Said he’d now given the gym an honest try and that he thought it was ridiculous and stupid and that he was never to return again. He also thought it was a waste of money.

Yang wasn’t happy with her man’s decision but it didn’t matter what she said –Wang could think of millions of reasons why he wasn’t to return to the gym.

One day when Yang came home she found her lovely Wang in the kitchen, lifting a table up and down.

-What are you doing? She asked.

-Working out! He said. I figured that if I have to burn my energy I want to burn it on something that’s worthwhile. See, I can lift this one too! (He lifted a chair), and this one! (picked up a pile of books). And look what I made you!

He showed her a box that he had filled up with heavy stuff.

-This one you can carry with your left hand while you are standing at the stove making dinner. When you get tired you simply swap hands! Then you get your work out at the same time as you are doing something useful!

Yang was speechless. She couldn’t deny the fact that her boyfriend had a point, but she would have still preferred him joining him to the gym once or twice a week.

-What about you then? She said and pointed at his belly. How are you going to get fit?

Wang’s lacking fitness was a lingering question for a while, until one day when he turned up outside the gym with his bike. Yang was just leaving (catching a bus) and was surprised to see her boyfriend there.

-Are you here to exercise? She said, with hope in her voice.

-No, I am here to pick you up. In that way, we save on the bus fare, I know you get home safely AND I get some exercise at the same time.

Yang couldn’t protest. And from that day onwards, Wang always picks her up from the gym with his bike.

As for the cooking/weight lifting…. It didn’t really happen as I believe Yang more or less refused. Although according to Yang, Wang is still trying to think of house chores for her that are more physically challenging. 

-In order to use the energy you want to burn for something good! he says.

I say nothing.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Customer no-no: standing in silence and waiting to be served

Grab and pay. Don't wait in silence.

Yesterday I went to Carrefour to get myself a radio (something I have been supposed to do for 2 months now). I wasn’t after something fancy, but simply a radio, so when I saw an old-looking, dusty black thing in one of the display window’s at the cashier’s counter I decided to settle for that (decent price as well, 88 kuai). I went to line up, but as usual I was the only one lining and everyone else were just pushing, elbowing and screaming to get ahead. I wasn’t in the mood to engage in that sort of game, so I simply stood and waited until the cashier woman wasn’t busy anymore, and asked her for the black old radio.

My attempted purchase was met with laughter.

-Oh my, that laowai wants to buy that crappy old radio! Said the girl to a workmate and they both giggled. I couldn’t bother to say anything.

But then came a problem. The radio didn’t have a price tag with a bar code, but simply a price tag. The woman had nothing to scan.

-Eh… wait a moment, she told me. By that time, 8964398634 new people had gathered around the counter, wanting to pay for their purchases, and I was pushed to the side.

I watched to cashier woman helping 5 customers, ignoring me completely, until I got annoyed.

-Can I pay for my radio? I said and reached out a 100 kuai bill.

-Eh.. yes. Just wait a moment.

-For what?

-We have to find a price tag for you?

-Yeah, but you are not looking, you are helping other customers. Who’s going to find the price tag?

She gave me an annoyed look and then yelled for a workmate. Another 5 minutes passed by and another 3 customers were served before a guy turned up. The cashier girl told him to look for an 88 kuai price tag. He gave her a tired look and turned around and was immediately pulled in by a potential customer, wanting to see a mobile phone. I watched him show the customer a phone. Then I watched him show someone else a camera. Then I saw him chit-chatting with someone else.

-CAN I PAY FOR MY RADIO!!! I almost yelled. I had been waiting for 20 minutes, I saw everything that was going on and I knew that no one was looking for a price tag but simply helping other.

-Wait a moment, miss! Said the cashier girl. We are looking for a price tag for your radio. You will be able to pay immediately (she used the word ‘ma shang’ –immediately. I hate this word in China because it has absolutely no meaning. ‘Ma shang’ can mean everything from in 1 minute to in 20 minutes).

-No you are not! I said. You are just serving others.

An amused laughter was heard from the throng of people I was standing in. Some giggling and pointing followed the laughter (I swear I heard someone say ‘lao wai hen sheng qi’ –the lao wai is angry!) and I felt close to my bursting point.

-Can I just please pay!! I said and reached out my 100 kuai bill.

The cashier girl looked extremely annoyed, turned around to her work mate who was busy showing someone else a camera, and asked him for a 88 kuai price tag.

-Huh? I don’t have any? He said.

Big sigh from the girl. She then had to bend down, grab a book full of bar codes, and find the bar code for my radio. It took a total of 35 seconds. Then I could pay, and was handed the radio over the counter.

-Eh.. do you have a box for it? I said.

The girl looked around quickly.

-Eh no, sorry. No box for this.

(Gosh, if she would have at least bothered to open a drawer before she said that!? Then it might have sounded a little bit trust-worthy.)

End of story. Well, I guess I shouldn’t complain too much. I finally got my radio and it works like a champ! (and looks all retro and cool). But seriously. Customers service here in China… a nightmare. No wonder that people don’t bother with polite behavior such as lining up and obediently waiting for their turn. I bet if I would have continued standing there in silence I would still be standing there now.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Photo special: kids

I don’t know what I have been doing wrong lately but bad karma is continuing to rain down on me. Yesterday evening I slipped outside Suzhou’s train station (it had been raining all day and there I came striding….). And not as in ‘whooops, I slipped’ but as in, I slipped, and fell, managed to place one leg under my body with the knee facing the ground (quite strange position seeing that I am not the flexible kind). The result of this gracious movement: I almost ruined my jeans and my left foot is not feeling so well: swollen and unhappy. Great way to start your weekend, huh?! Today I am going to Shanghai (catching the 7am train, nice!) again, and once I get home again I am going to escape the world by visiting a massage place and have a back, shoulder, face and you name it massage, and forget about this whole week. Gosh, some weeks you should just lock yourself inside your flat, right?

Anyways, I am hoping for a super fast foot recovery and then (unless I get hit by a car or something) a relaxed Sunday with the only ‘must dos’ being a phone call to Sweden, as well as a long run. Today’s picture special (cute Chinese kids!) is completely egoistic: simply to put a smile on my face. I love taking photos of kids and old people –you don’t have to do anything to get a good shot, they do the whole job for you!

Runner up baby: My sister's (not the one who's getting married -I have 2) baby boy Sam, the latest addition to the Wibelius clan. Gorgeous, huh? I am still to meet him live.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Time to see some results

I'm supposed to go and pick up my sister's and her boyfriend's wedding album today, but I'm not going to make it as I have to go to Shanghai. Since I have managed to lose the phone number to the wedding agency (don't ask) I am expecting a day of phone calls from the agency asking me where I am and when I am coming. Ah, I hate not being able to cancel properly, but this Shanghai thing came a bit sudden. I have to go to the agency tomorrow or on Sunday instead. I really cannot wait to see the result of this shoot. Especially since I haven't even seen half of the pictures (I wasn't allowed to be in the room when they shot the different costumes in the studio). Let's just hope now that they haven't added any cheesy, weird lines about love in the album.

If I have time next week I am planning a visit to the 'wedding dress street' near Tiger Hill in Suzhou (some people have emailed me and asked me about the address, but the name cards I grabbed just say "Huqiu home 201" (Chinese address is: 苏州虎丘居家). I guess if you add a line about weddings clothes (婚礼的衣服-hun li de yifu) you cannot go wrong. I am going to get my bride's maid dress done, which is going to be a not-so-traditional blue, fairly short, quite crazy little thing (my sister approved -I don't look good in long dresses). Anyways, now off to Shanghai. Have a good Friday everyone!

The ladies looooved Michael!
We loved the pimped car!

The clothes fitted OK, although the pants were a bit short...

Read more about the wedding shoot experience, here. 

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Looking for something to complain about

I’m one of those people who rarely complain at restaurants or cafes, unless something is really, REALLY bad. I know this is my own bad, sometimes I stick with something I don’t like simply because I don’t want to complain, but what can I say? That’s just me!

I guess my anti-complaining behavior comes from having worked in hospitality both during my 3 years of high school and my 3 years as a university student. I’ve been yelled at and abused for completely absurd reasons (when I was 16 and worked at Mc Donalds a fat businessman spent 15 minutes calling me everything from brat to ‘spoiled’ because he didn’t like the taste of his hamburger. The verbal abuse was a result of me –who had simply brought him the burger- said that I wasn’t personally responsible for how Mc Donald’s hamburger tasted like… and on it went!), and I guess I feel that I don’t want to complain about small things unless there is a real need for it. Also, people working in hospitality never (at least not the ones I have worked with) intentionally screw up.

Anyhoo, some days ago I went to buy a bubble tea from a small ‘fast food stall.’ There was a Chinese businessman next to me buying a large-sized deep fried chicken nugget. He was kind of rude to the young boy selling the food, telling him to hurry up and then he got angry when the boy asked if he had any smaller change (the nugget cost something like 4 or 5 kuai and the businessman paid with a 100 kuai bill). Anyways, once he got the nugget (wrapped in grease paper) in his hand, he said:

-This is cold. Give me a new one.

-It’s not cold,
said the boy. It’s a warm nugget. I just picked it up.

-No it is cold I can feel it.

-It is not cold!

The businessman then put his tongue on top of the nugget. He made a grunting noise. I guess he realized that the nugget in fact wasn’t cold at all… although that wasn’t enough. He still looked at the boy as if he was saying ‘give me a new one.’

-See, it is not cold, said the boy.

The man gave him a not-so-friendly look then stuffed the whole nugget into his mouth at once. While he was chewing he said:

-OK, not cold. But not warm either. And walked away.

I was watching everything, trying not to laugh. If he was so sure that it was cold, why not then first take a small bite and see? Stuffing the whole thing in your mouth when you believe it is cold doesn’t really ring through as ‘smart’ to me?

Sometimes I feel these sorts of people just complain because they want something to complain about? Or they want to showcase the fact that they have some sort of power? Him: ‘important’ businessman in suit. Complaining about: a cold, 4 kuai chicken nugget sold by a young, Chinese boy.

Actually, when I worked at Mc Donalds I once watched out shift leader doing something quite cool.

A young man came in munching on a cheeseburger, walked up to the counter and threw what was left of the burger (about one sixth) on the counter.

-This is cold! I want a new one!

The shift leader who was handling the till looked at the tiny piece on the counter.

-Oh, I am so sorry about that sir, she said. Of course I’ll get you a new one!

She took the small piece in her hand, grabbed a new cheeseburger, put the small piece on top of it and cut out the exact same sized piece from the new burger. With two hands she handed it over to the young man.

-Here you go. Here’s a new, warm piece of burger.

-But… what, what… but….!

Oh, the look on his face!! Priceless!

I don’t think one hospitality worker could get away with the same cheekiness here in China. Just thinking about what I witnessed the other day.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Day of Dramas

What a day I had yesterday. And not in a good way. I had promised to go to Shanghai to help out at a German clothing company who needed a girl of size 38 to try some clothes on. I have done this sort of work before and it is fairly easy, so when a friend called me and asked if I was interested in the beginning of last month (she knows I am a size 38 –I always have been, or OK, I wasn't born like this.. but almost!) I said yes.

If I would have known how stressful this week was to be, however, I probably wouldn’t have gone, but how could I have known, almost 2 months ahead? Anyways, I had lessons in the morning then caught the train (didn’t have time to eat lunch but thought to myself that I would order something at the company), arrived to Shanghai, caught the metro to where the company is located, went in, met my ‘fitting lady’ and started fitting clothes. It went quite well until the lady asked me about my measurements.

-You seem a bit tall to be a size 38?

-Sure, I am taller than your average size 38 (which is around 168cm to this company’s standard, not 175 like me).
-What about your measurements? Hip, chest, waist?

-Eh… I don’t know. Last time I was measured I was a spot on size 38.

-OK, do you mind if I measure you?

-No, sure, go ahead.

I stripped down and was measured and everything seemed fine until we came to my hip. I could tell by the look she gave me.

-Something wrong? I asked.

-Your hip is a bit bigger than our standard. 2 cm bigger.

-Oh…. (face going red). I am… ehum.. sorry?

-It’s OK. Just good to know.

It didn’t sounds as if it was OK. And I felt deeply ashamed. My hip has NEVER been referred to as ‘big’ before.

I put some new clothes on and at the same time another lady from the company arrived.

-Jonna, did you want to order some lunch? How about a sandwich?

Me and the fitting lady looked at each other.

-Eh… no… actually, I grabbed something on my way here! I am not so hungry!

-But… before you said….?

-Eh, no! It’s fine! No lunch for me!

I couldn’t believe what I was saying but at the same time I couldn’t see myself eating anything in front of a lady who already had called me ‘too big.’

We finished all the clothes, and despite my big hip we didn’t have any big problems. Once we were done I said to the lady:

-I am sorry, I really didn’t know that my hip was bigger than your standard. It didn’t used to be. I guess I have been sloppy with my eating habits lately.

-Oh it’s OK. Sometimes we have plus-sized fitting girls.

Plus sized. Plus sized. Plus sized?!?!??!?!

Oh my god. This is the end of my relationship with chocolate for good. Someone just called me plus sized.

I said my goodbyes and walked out. It was 5pm and I was starving (hadn’t eaten anything since 7am –very stupid, I know, and trust me, I am not the kind of girl who skips meals). I headed to the first café I saw, Costa Café to grab a sandwich.

Although they only had cakes. Big no-no.

So I went to the convenience store next door and picked up a ‘sushi set platter’ for 7 kuai. By now I was so hungry I could have eaten the plastic cover.

It was a bit chilly outside (and I had only brought a small cardigan –yeah I know, stupid me) so I went back to the Costa Café (which was completely empty) and asked if I could buy a drink and sit in one of their hidden corners for 5 min and eat my sushi.

-Eh, absolutely not!! Said the girl, with such attitude that it made me annoyed on the spot. Relax lady, I only asked!!!

So, I skipped the drink and went outside and sat on some miniature park bench and ate my sushi pieces, feeling kind of low. It was around 5.30pm and my train wasn’t until 7.10pm. Although… maybe I could catch an earlier train? Wasn’t there a train to Suzhou leaving already at 6.30pm? For some reason, my nut-sized brain started to believe this and I got up and headed to the train station to try and swap my 7.10-ticket for an earlier one from the ‘train ticket black market’ which is taking place around Shanghai Railway station’s metro exit one.

Although my brain had been wrong. There wasn’t any train at 6.30pm. But there was one at 6.20pm.

-You can still make it if you run! Said the woman trying to sell me the ticket. It was 6.13pm.

OK, what the heck I thought, gave her my 7.10pm-train ticket, took hers and RAN.

Oh my how I ran. I almost killed a baby on the way (I feel deeply ashamed about this It is not in my normal behavior but for some reason I really wanted to catch this train and get home). I skipped all security checks and stuff and headed straight into the packed ‘train-waiting lounge’ and ran to my gate. Although… the gate was closed. And there were no train people around to open it.

-Open the gate, open the gate! I yelled in Chinese. The people that were sitting close by were staring at me, wide-eyed.

-Climb over it! One suddenly said.

I did.

Then I hit the thick, closed glass doors. All locked. I didn’t get it. It was still 6.17pm. I could still make that train! I started banging on the doors. By this time I believe everybody in the waiting lounge were following my little ‘adventure’ and an old lady got up and told me to ‘try this door! Try that one! And that!!’ –dircting me around with a pointing finger. I ran where she pointed and tried them all but they were locked. Then I saw the big, yellow sign on the one door, saying ‘all doors close 5 minutes prior to the train leaving.’ It was still 6.18pm. But I couldn’t get to the platform.

I had to climb back to the waiting lounge and sit down and endure 498623498639 people staring at me, giggling, and laughing (I can totally understand why, what and idiot I had behaved like… so this time I didn’t mind it). When I sat down I also realized I was dripping wet from my little ‘run’ and ‘climbing adventure’ and the fact that I had missed the train and now didn’t even have any valid ticket made me want to cry. Some people came up to me and offered to help me to get onto another train… yeah, in fact, people were very friendly and helpful. But I still felt like ‘The Biggest (yeah, biggest!) Loser.'

In the end, however, there weren’t any ‘earlier trains to Suzhou’ so I ended up catching the 7.10pm train to Suzhou. I went on my expired ticket. Nobody said anything. I guess that can be considered to be my first luck of the day.

Today I have an exam (which is one of the reasons why I wanted to get home earlier last night) and I don't even dare to think about how it's going to go. But let's hope I have a better luck than I did yesterday. 

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Locals that are too international for other locals

Too local?

One of my Chinese female friends is dating a western guy, and yesterday she spent a good hour complaining about him always going out with his friends/drinking too much (he’s out 2-3 times/week –every week). I asked her if she’d talked to him about it and yes, she had, although he had said that if she had a problem with his habits, that was her problem (nice one!).

Anyways, since he seems to refuse to change I told her that she had 2 choices: stick with it or leave him. She nodded. Then she said something about western men all loving to go out and being scared of commitments (she’s also tried to get him to live with her without success, he claims he ‘still needs his space’).

-Why don’t you date a Chinese guy instead of a foreigner? I tried. Must be easier when there isn’t any big culture difference.

-I don’t know… she said. I find it hard to find a Chinese guy that is as ‘English’ as I am. I mean, I have many foreign friends and I hang at places where foreigners hang, so if I dated a Chinese guy he would have to be able to speak English very well.

She then went on to tell me about one of her boyfriend’s friends dating a Chinese girl that only spoke very primary English.

-I cannot stand this girl. I don’t talk to her when we are out.

-But you are both Chinese? Can’t you speak Chinese?

-But our boyfriends are foreigners!

-But we are in China? Shouldn’t they try to learn some Chinese then?

-Eh… no, English is fine.

Interesting argument. Basically what she’s saying is that if you don’t speak any English –don’t try to hang with her. Although she’s Chinese. And we are in China.

It reminds me of another conversation I had with a Shanghainese girlfriend some year ago. She was complaining about another ‘lousy western boyfriend’ who ‘only called her when drunk’ and ‘never said he loved her.’

-Dump him!!!! I said.

-Yeah I know. I have to find someone better.

-Date someone local for a change,
I tried (this girl too, always dates western men).

-Oh no that’s impossible. I have tried. But I am too international for all the local boys I meet.

-But you’ve lived in China all of your life? You’ve never even traveled to Europe?

-Yeah but I have so many foreign friends and I speak good English. I cannot date a local. They don’t understand these things.

Whoa whoa whoa… both of these 2 girls are great, friendly, lovely and absolutely fantastic friends to me. Although I cannot help but wonder –is it only because I am a laowai and can speak English? Because if I was a local –I wouldn’t understand?

Monday, April 20, 2009

"Useless women"

C'on... we all know it, women rock!

Last week I was having dinner with some Chinese friends at a restaurant. Next to our table was a group of four middle-aged Chinese people: 3 men and 1 woman, eating, drinking beers (only the men), laughing and having a good time. The atmosphere was friendly and good and everyone seemed happy. Until it was pay time. The man asked for the bill and handed over his credit card to the waiter.

-Oh sorry we don't accept this card! The waiter said.

-What? Of course you do. I have paid with it before! It shouldn't be any problems!

-Well, I am sorry. I know we don't take this card.

-I don't believe that. Let me talk to the manager.

The waiter went to get the manager and while she was gone the man started abusing her (and the restaurant) to his friends. Then the manager arrived. It was a woman.

-I want to pay with my card. Why is that a problem? Asked the man.

-I am sorry sir, we only take cash.

-But I have been at this restaurant many times!

-Yes, but we still only take cash. I am so sorry if this is an inconvenience to you.

-Yes it really is. I want to pay with my card. If I cannot pay with my card I want a discount.

Then the conversation went onto something that I didn't understand. I believe they were discussing a possible discount and the manager kept apologizing to the man over and over again.

Finally, the man handed over some bills with an unhappy, loud grunt.

The manager took the cash and disappeared. As soon as she was gone the man went back to calling the restaurant 'a terrible place.' His friends listened carefully, and I had to bite my tongue when I heard him say:

-But then again, of course it is terrible. It is a woman who runs this place. And what can you expect from a place that has a female boss? Of course it will be terrible. Women can't run things.

Two of his friends agreed. Only the woman at the table sat silent.

One can only hope that these men have higher thoughts about their wives than of women in general.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

The spitting boss

Since I moved to China I have gotten used to get used to a lot of things that I would find hard to accept 'back home' -such as the endless spitting on the streets. I have seen -and heard- it so many times now that I have stopped caring, even though I don't really approve of it, but I have realized it is just a thing that a lot of people do over here (some things that I still cannot stand however are nail clipping in public as well as people sneezing without covering their mouths -aaaarrrghhhh!), however, some days ago I hit my boiling point.

Like I've told you guys before, I am currently doing some project work for a new company, an entirely Chinese company, and it has proven to be both a bit of fun and a bit of a challenge. Since no one in the office speaks a lick of English (not even the most simple stuff) I have to rely entirely on my Chinese, which is great, although sometimes frustrating (I am -as you all know- not as good as I would want to be after almost 2 years of Chinese studies). Still, communication isn't the biggest issue here. My "boss'" constant spitting is.

He's one of those 'noisy guys.' When eating lunch the whole restaurant hears him, as he does a lot of additional, extra eating noise while stuffing himself. Fine. No problems. We are all different. Also, when in the office and working in front of his computer he's also very noisy... but not as in talking-a-lot-noisy, but more like: Heavy breathing, and then a lot of loud nostral inhaling (you know that thing you do with your nose sometimes when you feel it is itching? I don't mind this, although this guy does it every second minute, which I find a bit... strange. Although, all in all, it is still fine). But then, there's the clearing of his throat. The deep, loud clearing of his throat. That he does every five minutes or so, and that is followed by a loud moment of him spitting in a bin next to his desk (which is next to where I am sitting).

Every time he does it I feel like screaming out loud. I find it so out of place. We all have our 'habits' and 'things' but some stuff I feel you should keep to when you are alone, or at least outside. Spitting in a bin in an office is just... yuk. Of course I can't say anything about this. Instead, I just sit there, next to him, all quiet and try to continue typing on my computer, pretending that I didn't hear (or see) what he just did. No one else says anything. I bet the others are so used to it.

Although I wonder for how long I will be able to shut up. I'm scared that on one of my 'bad days', I might just explode. Which might also be the last day of me helping out at this company.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Rumors have it

Only one 'soon-to-be-a-bride' in this photo! I think we can all guess who?!

I haven’t been to the gym for ages, and ages… the reasons are many: visit from my sister, knee pain (although that’s a lame one!), sore throat (really!) and then this week has been all about morning runs and working late, but yesterday I decided to make it out there.

My favorite trainer friends greeted me, all eying me up and down, asking me what I’ve been up to (although no one said I looked ‘fat’ –which is an improvement! Normally when I make a gym-comeback the trainers take turn in telling me that I look all chubby and round. The only thing I was asked this time was if I had grown taller? “Ehhh, not what I know of, although I don’t really measure myself nowadays?!”), before one of them said:

-So you are getting married?

-Ehhh no!

-Well I saw you last week with the bride in that bride’s shop. And then you guys were walking on the street…

-Ehhh yeah, we were doing a photo shoot.

-Yeah, so you are getting married!

-Eh, no no. My sister –the girl who was in the dress!!!- is getting married. Not me.

-Oh, so no shoot for you?

-No shoot for me.

We were quiet for a moment (And was it only me or did everyone look kind of disappointed at the fact that I wasn’t getting married?!) before I said:

-But like… when you saw me, wasn’t I then in my normal clothes?!


-So why would I get married? Just because I was standing next to a girl in a bride’s dress?

-I don’t know. But we all thought so…

(Simultaneous nodding and 'mmmmm' mumbling from the group).

Geez, OK lads. Hold your horses. Glad I made it back to the gym sooner rather than later to sort out this untrue Jonna-is-getting-married-rumor.

Also, an important lesson to be learned from this experience: Better make sure never to gym with a bloated stomach. If them seeing me next to a ‘bride’ make them believe that I am about to get hitched then seeing me with a bit of a belly must send instant ‘Jonna-is-preggers’-ideas to their heads. So note to self here: never gym with bloated belly. Never, never, never.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Wedding invitation

You would think that one 'the most important day of your life' that people would be a bit cautious about details... but nah, why bother? Fancy wedding invitation? Check! Gold, red, and some hearts? Check! Cheesy lines about love? Check! Weird sentence about love? Eh... Check?! 

"Something the words are hard to find. But the love is alway there."

Unfortunately we were unable to attend the wedding, but I heard it was a good one. Let's hope the love is alway there. 

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

School situation update

Better learning environment than the university...I should travel more!

It’s been an interesting, although somewhat boring semester at the university so far. My classmates are still all super-ambitious, and every time we are supposed to discuss something a minor war breaks out as everybody wants to TALK LOUDER AND MORE than the rest… I am still keeping my background position as I am not as aggressive as them by nature. Although I guess that's fine.

What are not so fine, however, are our teachers. The old woman who teaches us in grammar class probably has a good intention, but her constant nagging about us needing to use finer and better words in our essays is getting a bit tiring. Also, she keeps talking about ‘gao ji ban’ (high level Chinese class) as if it is some sort of unreachable, distant planet that not all of us might be able to get to. I don’t get her attitude at all? Shouldn’t she be supportive rather than trying to push us down? Then there’s the fact that she rarely lets anyone but her favorite students (A-student girl, of course) speak, which also wins few popular-points from me. We had her first exam the other week and 3 weeks prior to the test she started talking about how hard it was going to be, telling us that we all probably wouldn’t pass it. And sure, it was hard. But I have seen worse. Also, I don’t get the whole point of first ‘scaring’ the students saying ‘this exam is going to be so hard so hard for you!’ and then the day before the exam telling us ‘not to worry or take too much pressure from the exam. It’s just a test after all!’

Well hello, Miss Contradiction?! Also, isn’t she a little bit too old to go on like this?

Still, our grammar teacher is miles better than our spoken Chinese teacher. He’s still in love with his own voice. I think some of my classmates actually went and complained about him to the head office, because about one month ago another teacher came in to sit in and ‘observe the class.’ And what happened then? Well, of course we were asked to make sentences, read texts and be all involved in our teacher’s (normally one-way) discussion. Also, during the last 30 minutes of the class we got a chance to sit in groups and discuss certain topics! It as a total novelty. That lesson was probably the best (of his’) lesson I have had so far, but since that time it hasn’t happened again. And no other teacher has come to ‘sit in and observe.’

I would like to continue studying next semester, but I would love to change institution or maybe get a private tutor or go to a smaller private school (although most of those ones are insanely expensive!). Problem to go through with this plan, however, reads: visa. So as it looks now I will go on at the university next semester too. Fortunately I am still doing a lot of language exchange etc, so I still get to practice what I learn. I just wish all those hours I spend at the university all day would be a bit more... useful. And less lecture-like. 

(Moving on to something different: today's morning run: 3 out of 21 days are done. Still not loving the actual running experience. Not sure if I am going to make this, but it would be a shame to give up already, although it was quite close that I stayed in bed this morning when my alarm rang. Anyways, I went out there, on an empty stomach, and the beginning felt a bit easier than yesterday... although again, the last 10 minutes were awful. Strange). 

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Suzhou at its best

Our visitors might have gone home but I am still far behind with work/school and feel stressed 24-7. Normally when I have a lot of things to do I cut down on all the things that I like, but don’t need as much as catching up with my duties, such as social obligations and exercise. Then I had a conversation with a friend who asked how my running was going, and heard myself say: “Well, right now I don’t really have time to exercise” and as soon as those words had left my mouth I realized how stupid it sounded.

Excuses, excuses, of course I have time! It’s just about priorities. So, guess who’s been setting her alarm at 5.30am these last 2 morning and been out running at 5.40-6.15am?! Yeah, moi!

Being out that early in the morning in Suzhou has been wonderful! There are just a few cars. No honking! A limited amount of electric bikes/bikes, and you can even hear birds singing. I absolutely love it!

The best part, however, is the people. You would think that there would only be a few of them too, that early in the morning, but nope… instead, I bump into fellow morning joggers (we greet each other with a smile as from today), as well as seniors out walking/doing their tai qi. But the atmosphere amongst these early birds is the best: there is no starring, no pointing, no laughing, no cars following me around and no…. ‘monkey feeling.’ Nobody gives a s*** about me running about. I am just as ordinary as them, and oh lord, is that a nice change or what?!

Also, I discover things I had little clue about up until yesterday. Such as a HUGE breakfast market for construction workers next to Suzhou’s JinJi Hu (the big lake that I live next to). They are all sitting on the ground eating and chatting, while the market is in its full spin. Gosh, and I thought I was an early riser?! I am wondering at what time in the morning they actually get there?!

This morning I also met what I assume must be Suzhou’s roller skating association: a bunch of seniors on roller skates (wearing helmets –thumbs up!) that were having the time of their lives by going back and forth on the flat ground next to the lake. Except for one woman who almost crashed into me it was all smiles and happy faces.

As for the run itself –unfortunately it is not quite as wonderful as all the rest. My unfit body is not liking getting up so early, and it definitely doesn’t like being forced to run for 30-35 minutes on an empty stomach (I’ve never been able to do this, although I have tried many times. This is yet another attempt). The legs are heavy and slow-started. The movements are a bit odd, and the last 10 minutes of each run has been awful! But, I refuse to give up straight awau. I am going to give it 2 weeks. Two weeks of early morning runs and if I cannot get used to it by then I will give up. Because the best thing about this whole thing is the fact that by getting your run done early in the morning is that you don’t have to feel so guilty if you don’t make it to the gym later that day. And it is quite nice to be able to run outdoors without stumbling over people. Maybe some day I will bring my camera (just the small one) and shoot a beautiful, quiet Suzhou, that’s only available at that time of the day.

Monday, April 13, 2009

They doubt us... just like we doubt them

How could I NOT love this spicy baby?!!

Last week I squeezed in a lunch with a hotel PR, and had a rather interesting conversation:

She: Can we speak Chinese? (in Chinese)
Me: Sure!

We talked for a good, 10 minutes, before she said:

-Oh my god! Your Chinese is so good! I have never met a foreigner that can understand as much as you! How long have you been here for?

-2,5, soon 3 years.

-I know a foreign man who has been here for 6 years and he doesn’t understand anything!

-Well, I have studied for some time.

-Oh….. (excited/impressed facial expression changed into disappointed. Not quite sure why? Did she seriously think I had picked all that up from the street?)

Topic changed into food:

She: So, shall we order?

Me: Sure, how about some Chinese food?

-You LIKE Chinese food?!

-I LOVE Chinese food.

-Oh, most foreigners that I know don’t like it…

We went on like that for a while. Basically, I was the exact opposite to all foreigners that she knew over here. I liked Chinese food. I loved spicy food. I wasn’t scared of trying something that most foreigner don't like, but that Chinese people normally love, like ‘duck’s tongue’ (“No foreigner likes that!!” “Sure, but we can still try it, right?!” –I had to nag for 20 minutes before she agreed to order it).

Once the food was ordered she relaxed for a bit, until the dishes started to arrive. Then, she picked up her chopsticks and gave me a big smile:

-Now, I know that chopsticks can be a bit hard for foreigners… do you want me to ask for a fork and knife for you?

-Eh…. I can handle chopsticks, thanks. Like I said, I’ve been here for almost 3 years and I often eat Chinese food.

-Eh… yeah, sure…

I don’t know what it was that gave her away…. The superficial smile on her face? The face expression? The rolling of her eyes? Regardless of what, it was just so obvious that she didn’t believe a word that I was saying! I have no idea why, but she really didn’t believe that I 1. Could eat with chopsticks. 2. Really enjoyed Chinese food. 3. Especially enjoyed spicy food.

Even though I proved her wrong during the meal, the experience still stayed with me the whole day. I tried to imagine me meeting a Chinese girl who’s been living in Sweden for almost 3 years and who could speak Swedish. I then asked myself if I would ask the girl: ‘So, have you tried Swedish meatballs yet? And oh, can you handle a knife and fork?!’

Nope. I sure would not.

Well, I guess we are all different.

Then I was reminded by an interview I once did with a western company CEO. They had just expanded their factory and he told me that they had bumped into some major problems during the expansion because they had used a western company to re-build their factory, rather than a Chinese one. Local authorities were constantly on their backs and it took twice as long as usual to get approvals/permissions. Finally the CEO had understood that the main reason why the authorities were so suspicious was because they were using a foreign company, rather than a Chinese.

-We used a western company because we wanted things to be done well and we didn’t trust a Chinese one to be able to do the job. But what we didn’t realize was that just like we doubt them, they doubt us.

And then it all became crystal clear. Of course they doubt us…. Just like we doubt them. Just like when I went to do the wedding photo shoot with my sister and Michael, and my Chinese friend (who had helped me book it) was calling me every 30 minutes, asking if I was OK (she first suggested I’d do the shoot during the wknd so that she could come and ‘help out’ -as no one at the agency spoke any English- although I had said no, claiming that I would be ‘fine on my own.’) and if I needed any translation help (I didn’t).

Just like she doubted my Chinese language skills (that she also so often praises), this hotel PR doubted my whole ‘I love China and Chinese food’ –attitude. Quite funny if you think about it. I wonder what you’re supposed to say/do in order to avoid a Chinese person them doubting your words/ability… Proving them wrong is obviously not enough. 

Friday, April 10, 2009

Happy Easter with KTV

Easter is here, although here in China it’s just like any other day. I’m getting ready to catch an early train to Shanghai and spend the wknd there with my sister and her boyfriend. We are not very likely to get up to any Easter activities: but more like, Teppanyaki (a must do for visitors, although personally I am quite over the whole thing), followed by some bar-hopping and karaoke. The latter is going to be fun! Although I hate to admit it –I always enjoy myself when I go to sing karaoke here in China. It might have something to do with the fact that during my (soon to be) three years in China, I have only gone to a KTV place maybe… 6 times. So, unlike some of my Chinese girlfriends, who go and sing karaoke as often as I go to the gym (almost!) it’s still all fresh and new to me. And I’m a terrible singer –which makes it all even better (I refuse to go singing with people who takes the whole thing seriously… that’s my only KTV rule).

It’s funny when I tell my friends back home that sometimes we go to karaoke bars during the wknds. They all frown and go: ‘ehhhh, really?!’ although I guess their idea of a karaoke bar is completely different to what it is like here. In Sweden, bars with karaoke are the tacky kinds… with the drunkest of the drunken people getting up on a small stage in front of others and often sing some cheesy tune form the 80ies. Well, sure, in China it is just as tasteless: the singer is often intoxicated (at least if s/he’s in my crowd) and the tune is often cheesy… however, it all takes place in a small, private room, available only for you and your guest, which instantly makes it more fun times 10 (I mean, you don’t have to listen to strangers singing… and strangers don’t have to watch you making a fool of yourself!).

If I Chinese person would explain the concept of KTV here in China it would probably sound completely different though. Not many of my Chinese friends would even dream of having a drink before going to sing, and also, I believe to them, it is more of a serious business than a ‘make a fool of yourself’ thing… A few times I have ‘crashed’ a Chinese-only KTV party and I have felt like a complete misfit. There they are, singing along perfectly to buttery love songs and there I am in the corner, working on my outrageous dance performance to Queen’s ‘Under Pressure’ (Oh yeah, because you have to dance to your song too, of course, that’s a must!).

Anyways, no matter what you make of it –it’s still fun! Have a great wknd everyone, and Happy Easter!

Thursday, April 9, 2009

McDonald's Inn

I love love love having visitors here although it really turns your whole every-day life upside down. Farewell school, character writing, eating healthy (it's been 7 days of eating out straight now... ahhhhghhh!), and exercising. Obviously it is all worth it in the end, even though today's exam (in grammar) is going to go completely downhill...

Also, having visitors around meanwhile trying to juggle your normal duties results in being tired 24-7 due to an evident lack of sleep. Lack of sleep because you are out drinking, lack of sleep because you ate too much before going to bed, lack of sleep because you are up late trying to squeeze in some extra character writing time before you turn off your bed light, lack of sleep due to being stressed about everything you have to do next week and therefore aren't able to fall asleep, and so on...

However.... however tired I get I take my sleep-needs to my bed, and not like these guys:

This photo is taken at 4am at McDonald's when we came in for an... ehum, 'early breakfast' after a night on town.

It is normally hard to find a table at a busy place like McDonald's in China, and this night it was extremely hard, because most tables were occupied by sleeping young people.

As usual, I cannot help but wondering WHY they are spending their night at Maccas rather than in their bed? They were all kind of well-dressed and stuff, so instead of thinking that they were homeless and actually didn't have any other place to go, we came up with different theories:

-Big night out, like us (although no one was in their party stash.... hmmmm)
-Early morning shift, probably taking place at some company close to McDonald’s, and to be able to sleep in they decided to crash somewhere close-by?
-It's trendy to sleep at McDonald's? (JUST a theory!)
-They wanted to be first in line at McDonald's the next morning?
-Kicked out from home?

Yeah, like I said, this is a tricky one. Feel free to present your own theory of the sleepers at McDonald's in the comment's field!

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Chinese wedding album shoot

This blog is turning into a wedding blog, sorry, but I just have to tell you about yesterday’s experience as well and then I will lay low on the wedding stuff for a bit (hard not to be influenced when you have a sister who is soon to get married –and super excited about the fact- staying in your house).

My bf and I decided to give my sister and Michael (her hubby-to-be) a quite original wedding gift (compared to what you normally give at a wedding in Sweden), namely a all-Chinese-styled wedding shoot!

I am sure that anyone who lives/have lived in China knows what I am talking about: most Chinese cities are full of wedding photo agencies, that specialize in shooting wedding couples (in different outfits, except for the traditional wedding dress there are also several other outfits to chose from –you can dress up as a Japanese Geisha, a French knight or a fairytale princess –the cheesier the better seems to be the mantra) and then printing the best shots in a ‘wedding album.’

Since you cannot do anything like this in Sweden (at least not unless you are willing to spend a minor fortune) we figured it would be a different and fun experience for my sister and Michael, as well as a memory of a lifetime. So, we booked them a one-day wedding shoot with an agency called ‘Paris Love Photo’ (!). They sell specialized wedding-photo packages from 1,500 yuan to 6000 yuan… we chose one of the less extravagant ones, and negotiated the package a bit (for instance, we weren’t interested in any photo enlargements, so instead of that we asked for more photos on the additional CD that you get with your album, as well as one extra outfit for them during the shoot).

We didn’t tell my sister or Michael anything until they entered the shop, and their jaws dropped when they realized what they were up for. Then followed a fun day of choosing outfits, doing fittings, and make-up and hair fixing… My sister (whose name is Eleonor by the way) got her hair and make-up done 4 times, claiming that she felt like a total princess (because there were at least 3 girls fussing around her at the same time).

The first shoot (when they wore traditional wedding clothes –or, OK, not really traditional as in the west. Eleonor wore a white, over-the-top wedding gown and Michael was in a white, creamy suit) took place outside so we went with a mini van (together with 3 different couples) to Suzhou’s Amusement Park in Suzhou New District (SND). There we shot photos at 5 different locations. A large number of staff followed us around everywhere, making sure my sister’s make up was OK, and that Michael’s suit looked good. They also had a special ‘pose guy’ who simply worked with helping the couple nailing the right poses. This guy was hilarious: all tiny and flexible (bit like a jelly man), firing off cheesy pose after cheesy pose (it was the whole ‘finger on your chin and look aloof’ style going on most of the time). The young boys took a great liking to Michael and especially one of them (with this big, fluffy hair) wanted to follow Michael around everywhere and help him. Hilarious to watch. It looked like my sister and her boyfriend had a blast.

The outdoor shoot took ages… (5 different locations in one park). We left at around 12pm and came back around 4pm… then followed the indoor shoot… different outfits (they choose Geisha, traditional Chinese outfit, as well as some other, too-weird-to-describe-stuff). Another 2 hours of shooting followed until we finally were done.

All in all –an interesting day. And a fun wedding gift. And I have to say that oh my G…. how much better it is to live in China now and do stuff like this when I can actually speak some Chinese. No one at the agency spoke English so I was translating all the time, and it worked quite well. When we left all the girls stood in the door and waved farewell (throughout the day we were treated as minor royalties seeing that Eleonor and Michael were the first laowai-laowai couple to have a shoot done at this agency… Michael’s height –some 190cm- also helped adding to the novelty) and I was asked to come back soon and ‘have my own photo shoot.’

-Not possible, I said. My boyfriend doesn’t want to get married.

-Well don’t worry about him. Come and do your own shoot! Your own photo album with shots only of you!!!
They all gushed.

-Eh… sure, I’ll think about it.

Hm… an ego photo album of only me-me-me? Yeah, not sure if I am there quite yet!!