Monday, November 30, 2009

Surprise party

Forgive my absence. I was quite busy last week trying to get everything together for Friday night… which was the night we had a surprise birthday party for my significant other. I’ve planned this party for weeks and I had decided to have it in our flat to keep it personal and in order to really surprise him.

I had invited around 20 people (80% men) and I had decided to be a real host and offer all guests food, snacks, cake and drinks. This all sounded great when I sent out emails, informing everybody about “the big party,” however, when I realized how much work it is to cook and bake (not to mention to buy all the booze and beer) for 20 people, I was kind of overwhelmed. It took numerous trips to Carrefour/Auchan/other supermarkets to find everything I needed. Since I also skipped ordering one of those tasteless creamy cakes that all the bakeries down here have (out of personal, selfish reasons… I simply cannot stand the taste of cream… yuk!) that gave me some extra baking work. However, I made 3 super moist chocolate cakes (or more like mud cakes because they were so soft and yummy) and everybody loved them, so in the end I believe I made the right choice (although I wasn’t so sure of that when I was panicking in my kitchen earlier that day: two cakes in the making and another one in the oven).

I also ended up making enough food to feed an army, seriously, I don’t know what I was thinking?! I guess this was the first time I arranged something like this, and since I was so scared of running out I went completely overboard. We now have enough food to eat 3 big meals each day until Christmas. Oh well. At least no one had to leave hungry…

I had prepared some things in advance (like buying some decorations: balloons, glitter and you name it + disposable plates/mugs, some snacks etc) that I had hidden at various places in out flat. When Friday came I had to spend 1 hour looking for everything… Geez, talk about outsmarting yourself?!

The plan was this: I had told my boyfriend I had to go to Shanghai for fitting work both Fri and Sat, and that I would therefore spend the night in the city. Then, his gym buddy (who was one of my most important partners in crime when it came to this party) asked him if he wanted to have a Finnish action movie night (!) after their Friday night gym session. My boyfriend agreed, and when the gym buddy said his DVD system was broken, my bf said: “well, Jonna is off to Shanghai, so we can be at my place!”

Meanwhile they were at the gym (my bf always goes straight from work to the gym) all the guests arrived (although I had literally go outside and get them, because everybody got lost in our little “garden”). We then “waited” (= all the girls helped me decorate and all the men drank beers) for about 20 min until we got a signal, turned off all the lights, hid around the flat and when my bf opened the door we did the big: “SURPRISE!” thing, followed by “Happy Birthday!” in various languages.

It was great. I have always wanted a surprise party myself, so doing one for someone else was a lot of fun… although not so much fun that I would do it again. Man, the nerves! I was so nervous that whole day (that my bf was going to somehow find out/that the guests were going to arrive late/ that the food wouldn’t be enough/ that I wasn’t going to finish in time… etc etc) that I couldn’t get any food into my stomach. When I eventually ate something later that night the stomach reacted with an angry, terrible cramp that stayed with me until last night. To top things off I still had the flu (and I still do), so it wasn’t my best moment. Everybody else (and especially my bf) had a great time however and that’s all that matters!

It was quite funny at Auchan (Chinese shopping mall) earlier that day. One of the female guests helped me out buying all the beers… and man, did we buy some beers? How about five cases of Qingdao for starters? Top that off with 5 bottles of wine and 3 bottles of Gin and you get an idea. There we stood loading all the cases into our little trolley, a minor (wide-eyed) crowd gathered around us. I played with the thought of saying something like:

“Oh guys, it’s not only for the two of us! Two other girls are coming too!”

….but eventually I didn’t. We also had a big laughing moment when I asked one shop assistant for some help, all in Chinese, and he responded to me in English.

My female helper just stared at him, then stared at me, and started laughing.

-What? I said.

-Well you know, I come here every single week, I’ve been doing that for the last 2 years. I don’t speak Chinese and every time I try to ask something in English nobody can help me, because nobody can speak English.

-Really, no one here speaks English?
(I don’t often do grocery shopping over here, or if I do, I never ask for assitance).

-Nope, not a single one… until you come here. Fluent in Chinese. Asking something in Chinese… and then. THEN they reply in English.

Yup. That’s some serious irony.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Christmas Chocolate Calendar, anyone?

I did my first (and maybe also last?) Christmas deed last night when I went to visit the 2 Korean families whose kids I tutor. I had sent after 3 chocolate calendars from Sweden, which I now all Santa-like handed over.

The oldest kid (10 year old girl) was very grateful:

-Wow, thank you miss Jonna! (I love how everybody here calls me “Miss Jonna”) Although… I better hide it… otherwise my little sister might steal it…

-Don’t worry I brought one for her too.

-Oh, but she’s still going to steal mine. She loves chocolate.

-Well maybe you can let your mom hide it for you?

-My mom? Oh no. My mom loves food too. I’m sure she’ll eat all the chocolate if I
give it to her.

-Eh…. Right. You better hide it yourself then.

Her little sister (5 years old) was as expected, overjoyed.

-Thank you thank you thank you! She yelled (it’s about all she can say in English) before she sat down on the floor, ripped off the plastic, opened it and started munching on the chocolate.

-YUUUUUUM! Came from the floor.

-Eh… she’s not supposed to eat it all now? I tried. It's not even December yet....!

Too late. The girl had already eaten three days of chocolate. Imagine my surprise when I realized that her mom, sitting next to the little girl, also opened one box and ate some.

-Guys, it’s a calendar?! It’s supposed to be a countdown to Christmas? You eat one piece every day?

Useless. Oh well. At least they looked happy and thanked me about one million times.

Up next was Korean family number two where I tutor a 7-year old Korean boy called Ricky. He’s adorable but very mischievous. I was expecting a bit of a fight with him in order to not get him to open the calendar on the spot.

To my big surprise, however, he was unusually calm. I gave him the calendar and told him it contained small chocolate pieces, and that he was supposed to open one “box” every day, number 1 on December 1 and so forth. He listen carefully before he took the calendar and handed it back to me.

-Sorry, I cannot take it. Mom will be angry if I eat chocolate every day.

-But it is just a tiny little piece!
I tried.

-No, mom will be too angry.

(It took some chatting with his mom before he reluctantly accepted it)

Wow, kids?! I have to admit; I didn’t have much experience when it came to small children before I started seeing these 2 families here in China. I’ve never really been into kids, I never played with dolls when I was a kid myself, and I kind of always preferred puppies to babies… However, after 2 years with these Korean kids, I have to say I am starting to kind of like the idea of them more and more. Most of all, they are hilarious because they are so unpredictable. They never react the way you think they would.

Anyways, I have one spare chocolate calendar at home. Anybody who lives in China who wants it? Come up with one good reason and email me your address (jonnawib at –remember, you have to live in China) and I’ll send it to you by mail this wknd.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

I don't have time for this!

Noooooooo! I don't have time for this! My throat is clogged and I have a very, ehum... deep kind of whiskey voice (nope, not the sexy kind). I HAVE to be well for this wknd. And why? Well that I'll tell you on Saturday (it's a bit of a "big bomb!") I need all your best home cures to make the recovery go faster. Anything I can eat or drink that does flu/throat miracles? (I still don't have any fever and the nose is not runny... it's just the throat that is completely clogged). I know this is a long shot, but who knows, someone might still know something?

As for staying home to rest -yeah, absolutely no time for that either this week.  

All help appreciated!! 

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Home delivery? Only when buying expensive brands!

"Sure, we do deliver... when we see a possible profit." I wonder if Dali beer would have been OK?

Since we are on the topic of money I might as well share another story. A friend of mine went to Carrefour the other day. He wanted to buy a lot of beers as he was planning to have a party. Since he couldn’t carry everything himself he asked some shop assistants if Carrefour could deliver the beers to his home.

-How many do you want? The girls first asked.

-Many, many! The guy replied.

-Like… 50?


Both girls smiled. Then one of them remembered:

-Hey, what kind?!


. Both girls suddenly didn’t smile anymore. Sorry, that is not OK.

-Why not?

-Ehhh….. it’s not. How about… this one?! Budweiser?

The three of them went over to the beer section. A Qingdao was 3,5 kuai and a Budweiser was more than twice the price. My friend slowly started to realized what this was all about.

-Sorry, I don’t like Budweiser beer. Is it not OK with Qingdao?

-This Qingdao?
The girls pointed at a smaller, more expensive bottle version of Qingdao.

-No, that’s not the one I meant. How about the cheapest one?

-Sorry, not OK.


So there we go. Carrefour only bothers to deliver when you buy expensive beers.

The funny part about the story? My friend actually doesn’t really care so much about the price, but her really prefers the cheapest version of Qingdao for its taste. Bummer.

Stingy? Who, me?

The other day when we arrived at Suzhou train station and lined up to get a taxi we had to pass the usual line of beggars. By now I have been standing in that line so many times that I recognize those ones that always stand there: one old man with the beard and one old, hunch-back woman. I almost always give the woman some money, she never says anything but her face tells a story itself.

This time, however, the “crowd” had gotten a new “member” namely a small, cute, quite well-dressed Chinese girl that cannot have been older than 8. She targeted us straight away and followed us along the line.

First she asked for money in English:

-Please, please… I can speak English, so give me some money.

Then, when she realized that didn’t work she turned to Chinese:

-Give me one kuai, give me one kuai! 给我一块钱,给我一块钱!

However, when she realized we weren’t going to give her anything her whole face turned into a furious expression:

-You stingy people! I just asked for one kuai! You foreigners are too stingy! 怎么小气! 怎么小气!只是一块钱, 你们老外太小气了!

Right. The well dressed “beggar girl” loses it and calls us stingy… hm… not really the best method to get cash. Sure, I get it. I too understand that she would not be there unless she had to, but sometimes I question the credibility of those beggars. Especially little children who only targets laowais and calls you stingy when you refuse to give them money. The one to blame is obviously the people taking care of them who have taught them to do so. 

Monday, November 23, 2009

Men's jacket

If you ever feel unsure about if your jacket is manly enough... you might as well get yourself this baby. To erase all possible doubts. 

Yet another great Shanghai wknd

Marry Xmas to me!

I just had yet another lovely weekend in Shanghai! This time we went together with another couple from Suzhou who don’t know Shanghai that well (every time they have gone there they feel kind of lost and end up visiting those not-so-nice but obvious places, like Nanjing Lu, People’s Square and the Bund. Nothing wrong with those places but I personally prefer the French Concession area: the cute little shops, the cafés and the cheap restaurants and the cocktail/wine bars). It was therefore great to go there together and get a chance to show them around (and after this weekend both of them are like: “Man, we want to live in Shanghai!” Yup. I hear ya!)

Since I have already finished my Christmas shopping I ended up getting myself some “gifts.” I simply couldn’t resist these adorable cups: I bought a set of six (including plates) for 100 rmb from one of those street vendors (no, not the “bags, bags, watch, watch”-kind, this guy had his own trolley that he sold from and he wasn’t pushy at all. Didn’t try to get us to buy anything, didn’t engage in a big price discussion and so on). I can really tell I am getting older, 2 years ago I wouldn’t even have looked twice at some cute coffee cups. Now I kind of enjoy buying stuff for our flat, even though it’s not even ours. But just thinking about what this kind of set would have cost me in Sweden made me want to buy them. Now let’s hope the quality isn’t crap and that they can handle some hot coffee without losing colour/breaking.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Seen, Heard and Experienced, week 47

Compete with me and I beat ya'll

Heard: 10-year old going businesswoman

Once a week a visit a Korean family’s house to tutor their uber-smart 10-year old daughter. I’ve been doing this for 2 years now. When I started, the girl was really shy and she had no confidence when it came to speaking English, hence why her pronunciation was bad. After a few weeks with me (and no book, only games) I managed to break the ice and get her to talk. Now she’s in the most advanced class in her school and her parents love me. Why they still have me to tutor her is a mystery to me, however, we’ve kind of become good friends now so I don’t mind.

Yesterday she told me about what she’d been doing last weekend:

-I was working on a school assignment in my room pretty much all day. Well, until dad came in for our lesson.

-Lesson? Your dad gives you lessons? In what? Korean?

-Oh no. It’s a 2 hours business lesson. He teaches me about starting a company, about what to invest in and such.

-ehhh right.

I’m simply blinded by this girl. She’s 10 and she knows more about business than I did when I was 18. I wonder how much fun she has though? But that’s right. Over here, children’s lives are not about having fun.

Seen: Got no rackets? Throw it around!

You see the funniest things at my gym. Like two grown up Chinese men throwing a badminton ball at each other. No rackets involved. And no hitting of the ball. Throw-and-catch. Next to the free weights at the gym.

Experienced: Treadmill competition

I love this. It’s me on the treadmill, running in a comfortable 10 km/hour pace with a 1,5 incline. It’s not fast, but it’s the pace I like to keep if I am aiming for running 10 km. It’s all peaceful and nice until some Chinese man sees me, and after studying my leg movement for a while decides to have a competition.

He spends a good time stretching. On the treadmill. Next to the treadmill. Behind the treadmill. Legs are bended and flexed and I see things I don’t want to see. But it’s all part of “scaring” me I guess.

Then it’s game time. Up on the treadmill he goes. (although not before he has turned on the TV and pumped up the volume so that even I, who’s running with headphones, can hear the Chinese opera singing show). He increases the speed. Never the incline. And BAM! The race is on!

He goes out strongly. Too strong. Does he seriously believe that he’s going to be able to run at a 12 km/hour speed just like that? Apparently so. However, after 1-2 minutes reality kicks in and he has to lower the speed to 10…. 9…. 8. Maybe he stays on 8 for a while, panting loudly and obviously having problems continuing. Annoyed. Reluctant to look at me. And then, another 5 minutes (and looking at my speed and legs with a frown) goes by before he gets bored and jumps off.

Oh well, better luck next time.

Although I have to say that I don’t mind this game because I always win!

(Best one of the week) Heard: The western man with the big biceps

One of our western male friends in Suzhou likes to go to the gym. He does weight maybe 3-4 times/week and also plays ice hockey once/week. I would say he’s quite fit, and since he’s also quite tall, he looks kind of big (especially over here).

Last week he went to a café down at Jinji Lake in Suzhou, enjoying a cup of coffee and reading the newspaper. Suddenly a Chinese man came up to him:

-Excuse me, can I feel your biceps?

-Eh…. Sure?

The Chinese man felt his biceps, ohhing and ahhing over the size and seeming genuinely impressed, before he left our friend alone.

However, 20 minutes later he came back with a bunch of Chinese friends:

-Would you like to arm-wrestle with us?

-Eh…. OK?!

Got to love this about China: What you THINK is going to be an ordinary Sunday with coffee and newspaper suddenly turns into a local arm-wrestle tournament!

How it went?

Well, our friend beat everyone so in the end they came up with a new rule: letting the Chinese wrestlers use two hands meanwhile my friend could use only his left hand. He still won though.

-You are very strong, VERY strong! They all told him when he left a few hours later.

Experienced: “Expired” gym card follow-up

So, the big question this week was of course, were the reception girls at the gym going to tell me, once again, that my card had expired? The day after my little “outburst” I went again, and there was only one girl behind the reception.

She gave me a tired, half hearted greeting and I handed her my card. She scanned it without paying much attention until her eyes suddenly got fixated on the computer screen. Her mouth opened as if she was going to say something, and I smiled to myself. Then she looked at me, and I could see that she was hesitating for a moment, probably recognizing me.

-OK you can go in! She eventually said, and handed me my card.

There we go. One out of one. Let’s see how long this lasts though.

Heard: Undeserved compliments

I arrived with five minutes to spare to my Wednesday afternoon lesson. When I walked into the classroom there was a Chinese boy sitting there, probably studying.

-Are you a teacher? He asked (in English) when he saw me.

-No, I’m a student, I replied in English. 

-What are you studying?


-Ahhh, so you will have a lesson in this classroom?

-Yes, in five minutes.

-Oh, OK, then I will leave, he said and gathered his things.

Before he went out the door he suddenly said (in Chinese now, although our whole conversation had been in English):

-Your Chinese is very good!


-Bye bye!


Right. That's it. From now on I'll never take anyone complimenting my Chinese seriously. 

Thursday, November 19, 2009

"Fight" for your right to be polite

Bill time = "fight" time

In China you have to “fight” for many things. When at a restaurant with some Chinese friends at pay time, for instance, you have to fight for the bill. You have to play this polite “bill game”:

-I will pay!

-No I will pay!

-No, I will!

-No, this time it’s on me!

-I insist!

-I insist too!

….until that one person who’s supposed to get a treat eventually (but reluctantly) gives in. It’s all already made up, but you still have to put on this show in order to show good character.

Then there’s the whole “哪里哪里,nail nail” “不敢当 bu gandang” (= polite ways to brush off a compliment), “oh no no no!” thing going on, that you should engage in (in order to be polite) every time someone gives you a compliment:

-Your Chinese is really good!

-Nali nail! Not at all!

-And that’s a wonderful dress you are wearing?

-Ah, this old thing? Oh no no….

….And so on.

We all know this, and it’s cool. I don’t necessarily like it, but I’ve gotten used to it (I actually do it in Sweden too, which is driving my friends insane: “Geez Jonna, can’t you just say ‘thanks!’ when I tell you that your jacket is nice? You don’t need to tell me it is old and that it was real cheap and whatever. Just say thanks for crying out loud!”).

One that should not be forgotten is when you visit a Chinese friend’s house and s/he asks you what you’d like to drink. The answer is given:

-Oh, nothing! Don’t bother! I don’t need anything! (随便吧, 别麻烦, 不要了)

(Although in real life you are dying for a coke).

S/he’ll still present you with a drink and you’ll reluctantly accept it.

OK, so so far so good. I can do all this. In fact, I not only can, but I DO all this. Every day, more or less (especially the bill-war and the “nail nail!” I don’t visit Chinese people’s houses too often but when it happens I politely behave accordingly) 

What occurred to me yesterday when I was on the bus, however, made me realize that the bus is yet another place where you have to push a little bit extra in order to see your polite behaviour pay off.

There I was, sitting comfortably at my seat when an old lady walked on the bus. There were no seats left so she had to stand. My heart melted when I saw her and I got up, tapped her on her shoulder and told her to take my seat.

-Oh no no no! She replied (although her old face broke into a huge smile. I don’t know if it was my offer or the fact that I was a laowai that she liked the best).

-Please, take my seat! I tried again.

-No no no! I am getting off real soon! Actually I am getting almost straight away! I don’t need to sit, but thank you, thank you!! She said, and waved me away.

For some (stupid) reason I decided to believe her and sat down again, feeling the eyes of every single passenger of that bus being on me. Not quite sure what I did to deserve that kind of attention, after all, it is quite normal to offer old people your seat.

However, soon I realized that maybe I should have been a little bit more persistent with the old lady, and not only settled for her: “oh no no no! I can stand” –reply. Because, this lady did not get off the bus “immediately” like she’d told me she would. Instead, she stood clinging on to a pole for the whole ride, and got off only a few stops before me. I felt so bad when I saw her almost losing her balance every time the bus turned (those buses are real crazy over here. Do buses don’t have to follow speed limits in China?).

Then when I got off I realized that maybe you have to engage in the same sort of “nagging” conversation in order to get an old person to take your seat? Maybe I should have simply gotten up, told her over and over again, and eventually gone to stand somewhere else, leaving my seat free for her? Well, I guess next time I have to try that. I have managed to give my seat to old people before, but at first they always try to tell me they don’t want it, and then they laugh and smile (probably because I speak Chinese) but I still feel like a winner when I see them sitting down. Anyways, I guess the bus is yet a new place where you have to engage in over-politeness in order to get through. Because even though they are telling you “no no no!” what they really are telling is is “sure, OK, if you just nag a little bit I’ll take it”… right?!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Almost there but not quite yet

Some of our Chinese friends invited us to their house for dinner the other day. I love going to someone’s house for dinner, there’s simply something about homemade food that restaurant food cannot measure up with. And this time was no exception. My friend made us quite a bit of dishes, including some dong-bei food, plus our all-time-favourite, “fan qie chao ji dan” (番茄炒鸡蛋 egg and tomato stir-fry). It’s a real simple dish, and still I cannot get it right when I attempt it in my own kitchen. Eating it at restaurants is OK, but having my friend’s homemade version was simply outstanding. I also watched her every move while she made it, so who knows, maybe next time I try I end up making an edible version too?

This couple is a real funny one. The guy is from Harbin and the girl is from south China. They are quite “rebellious” compared to some of my other Chinese friends: They live together even though they are not married and have done for a long time. They don’t want to rush into marriage and baby making even though they are in their mid-twenties, and they are both (although especially the girl) super keen on going abroad travelling. Not your average Chinese couple I would say. Also, the guy won some extra laughing points from us when he told us about his minority-religion-dilemma:

-So I belong to the hui minority and apparently we are not supposed to eat pork. It’s like being Muslim.

-Oh! But…. Why are we eating pork then?
(the table was full of it)

-Well because it tastes good, hehe.

-Haha, so you’ve always been eating pork?

-Oh no! My parents are strict Muslims. Every time they come to visit we have to empty and clean the fridge to make sure it is 100% pork-free.

-Sounds troublesome.

-Nah, it’s not too bad. Harbin’s quite far away you know. They don’t come so often.

We were laughing at the guy’s interpretation until he soon reminded us that although he was rebellious in some cases, he was still insanely traditional when it came to other things:

-On the other hand, it’s great when my mom comes to visit. Then she cooks, cleans and takes care of me just like back home.

-Isn’t that weird? Being in your mid twenties and having your mom taking care of you?

-Well if it isn’t her it is my girlfriend.

Yeah, that’s right. Dong-bei men don’t do housework. I almost forgot. And we are back in the Stone Age again.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Treating the symptom, not the problem

Yeah, not exactly where you are supposed to park your car but it works for now so why not?

Some weeks ago my gym membership was up for renewal. After a long discussion including some inappropriate talk about my boyfriend, I finally bought a new card.

However, when I some days later went for a work out and handed over my card to the reception girl who scanned it, she looked at me and said:

-Sorry, your card has expired.

-Must be some mistake?
I said. I just bought a new one!

-Ah, OK! The girl said and handed the card back to me with one hand, meanwhile waving me through with her other hand.

“Ah, it probably hasn’t gone through yet!” I thought, and went in.

However, the next time I arrive the same story repeated itself.

-Your card has expired!

-That’s impossible, I just bought a new one!

-Ah, OK, well then you can go through!

When this had happened 4 times I realized that it wasn’t going to change until I decided to do something about it. The reception girls seemed happy with first telling me off, and then waving me through as soon as I provided them with an explanation. I didn’t feel like having to explain myself every time I went for a workout though, and also, I’d just bought a new membership card. This really shouldn’t be happening.

So yesterday I brought my membership receipt.

I arrived just before peek hour was about to kick in, so all the reception girls (a total of 10) were at the counter, greeting me with a “Welcome!” as soon as I stepped out of the elevator.

“Excellent, they are all here!” I thought.

I handed over my card and one girl scanned it.

-Sorry, your card has expired, she said.

-Yeah, but there must be some sort of mistake, I said, and handed over the receipt. I just renewed my membership card so it cannot have expired.

The girl looked at the receipt then handed me my card back.

-OK, you can go in!

-Yeah but… like… don’t you want to… do something about this?

-No, it’s OK, you can go in!

-But… every time I get here you guys tell me my card has expired!

-It is OK! We know now it hasn’t.

-Yes, but your computer doesn’t know! Every time I get here this situation repeats itself!

-But now we know!

-Yeah but I don’t want to have to tell you every time that I just renewed my membership!

-But now we all know!

At this point I was really annoyed.

-Can’t you just change it in your computer? Something has obviously gone wrong when I renewed my membership!

-I promise you! We will all remember!

I was furious when I eventually went to the changing room. As if they are all going to remember. I bet you 1000 rmb that the next time someone scans my card she is going to tell me it has expired.

Maybe it was so that their computer was broken, or that they for some reason were too busy to fix it at the spot (although seriously… 10 girls behind the counter. One of them held my card. The other 9 watched. And I can swear that I heard 7 of them giggling) but then, then why didn’t they just tell me?! They could have done it in so many way. They could have told me that they were going to solve it some other day even. Anything. Just anything but ignoring it. Their whole attitude: “OK, fine for now!” is just not doing it for me. Why do I feel that over here, people often treat the symptom and not the problem? They solve things temporarily, although the real big problem is just swept under the carpet.

It’s like at a friends company where the product they produce is painted by a machine. Suddenly someone discovered that a little part of the product didn’t get painted. How did they solve things? Well, by hiring someone who could paint that little part of every product of course. How about changing the machine? Naaaah, too much trouble. Let’s fix it the quick way instead.

Monday, November 16, 2009

New discovery at the fabric market

Mmmmm... Hunan delight!

What a lovely weekend I had! Spent Saturday in Shanghai, ate at my favourite Hunan restaurant, engaged in some window shopping and made myself a warmer winter jacket at the fabric market. Sunday was spent Xmas shopping in Suzhou, and I am proud to say that I have now bought all my gifts for this year, and it’s not even December.

Oh, and the best thing about it all? Came across a shop (at the fabric market) that reached out for the not-so-bony-ones.

Marketing itself as the "Fat Girl" shop. No frills, no fuss. No need to sugar coat anything. 

Friday, November 13, 2009

The week that went by…

I’ve run out of photos so my weekly “photo essay” theme has obviously been cancelled. Thought I’d come up with something new, and what could be better than a weekly “summary” of “interesting” (or not interesting) things that happened but that weren’t big enough to make it into a whole blog post?

Here we go:

I’ve turned into a cheap bastard

Or how else can I explain my reaction when I tried a new canteen at uni the other day? I normally eat lunch for between 4-6 kuai at my school. Yesterday I came a bit late, and all the good stuff was gone, so I decided to try another –a little bit more fancy- canteen across the hallway (OK, it’s actually not more fancy at all. It just has more choices). I picked four dishes: 3 veggies and 1 big tofu patty with rice. I went to the counter to pay and was shocked when I was told my lunch was 9 kuai!

-NINE KUAI?! That’s kind of expensive?! I almost yelled.

Fortunately I managed to stop myself, pinch myself in the arm and remind myself that I recently had dinner at a new Spanish tapas restaurant at Times Square in Suzhou, and that that cost 200 kuai for 2 people. Scary how easily you forget.

Lunch area turned into a hospital

Since we are on the lunch topic, I might as well also share a funny view I saw when I came downstairs to have lunch the other day. On one side of the room were students eating. On the other side, a white-coat-medical team were performing health checks on students for free. Only in China!

Right side: eating
Left side: health check

Elevator turned into a toilet

So there I came, last night. Finally arrived home after a long day of uni and work and then trying to get a taxi in the rainy storm weather (I managed to forget my umbrella at a restaurant throughout the day). I was wet, cold, tired and not in the mood when I pushed the elevator button. So, when the elevator door opened and I was greeted by a big, brown dump (!) on the floor, spreading a not-so-lovely smell, I kind of felt like screaming out loud. Let’s hope it was a dog. Like the British man (who were taking the elevator with me) said:

-It surely must be too cold for little children to wear those split pants now?

Yeah. Sure hope so. However, just to make sure I’ll always take the stair from now on.

Freezing flat

Winter has finally arrived in Suzhou. You can tell from how the flat is suddenly freezing cold. It’s quite funny actually, one week you are using the air con because it’s still so moist and humid out there, then you turn it off for 1 week or so, and then you have to turn it on again, although this time to heat up a freezing cold flat? The walls over here are paper-thin. When the wind blows outside you can see the curtains moving inside.

Musical neighbours

I had no problem with the cute little girl on the 11th floor playing the piano. She’s actually quite good, and we share a favourite melody: “Fur Elise” that she plays at least twice/day.

But when the neighbour boy started playing trumpet things went a bit sour. There I was, enjoying the little girl’s “Fur Elise” until it was suddenly interrupted by some trumpet noise. It took a while for me to figure it out, but now I know: he is trying to play “Twinkle twinkle little star” without making any mistakes. Every night. Five times. (And he hasn’t made it so far.)

The staring game on the bus

I really enjoy using public transport, so therefore, I’ve embraced my bus rides to school with joy. However, the one thing I still cannot get used to is getting on the bus and having everybody staring at me. Since I don’t catch the same bus every morning (buses in China don’t really follow a schedule… they just come when they please) it’s the same kind of story every day: I get on the bus, people’s chins drop to the floor and for the first 2 minutes on the bus I become everybody’s staring-object. I normally just try to ignore it, people tend to get bored after a while, although some days I get real fed up. Like with this old man the other day: he just wouldn’t stop staring at me, and he wasn’t even trying to be discreet. So, I decided to stare back. Like really stare. That worked. When I looked back at him he must have felt ashamed because he turned his head away… only to, 3 minutes later, look back at me again. I had to engage in the staring contest 5 times until he finally gave up.

I still don’t know why it is considered so strange to see a laowai take a bus in Suzhou? Every morning when I am waiting at the bus stop at least 4 different taxi drivers stop by, waving for me to get into their car.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Loveless because of an "unlucky" address?

"Honey, let's never move into flat number 11 on the 11th floor, OK?"

Apparently today's some sort of single's people's festival? 11th of the 11th month= 1111. All single. According to my teacher this "festival" was made up sometime during the early 1990s, when college students in Nanjing thought November 11 should be the festival for single people as it contained four number "1". Since festivals are often embraced over here, my teacher also clamed that “singles day is now a special day for all fashionable young people.” It’s a perfect day to go on a blind date or go out and have fun. There you go. All singles out there: out and hunt!  

Anyways, I read the most hilarious news story today on in our news reading class: a mom, unhappy with her 30 year old son because he hasn't found himself a girlfriend yet. The son, however, blames it all on the mother, because she bought him a flat that just happen to have number 11 and be on the 11th floor. He claims his misfortune in love is due to his unlucky address: 11-11. Apparently, he had also gone to see a fortune teller who had pointed out that his address might be causing him a dry love life.

(Geez, to think that people actually gets paid for coming up with such crap?). 

Is that superstition pushed to the limit or what? 

I wonder why the mom doesn't tell her unhappy son to buy himself a new flat to see if he's any luckier in that one. 

A good read for sleepless souls

Book cover picture from Ming's hompage

I just finished reading the book “Rött Land, Röd Jord” by Ming Wang-Sonnerup. The English title of the book is “Red Land, Red Soil” (although I am not sure if the English translation of the book is out yet? I cannot find it on a lot of book sites?)

The book was published in 2008 by publisher Bra böcker förlag in Sweden, and is a biography of Ming's own and her family's experiences since the Communists took over the central power in mainland China. I’m one of those who struggled my way through “Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China” by Jung Chang, and I found Wang-Sonnerup’s book to be much better.

Anyways, I doubt this book will ever be available in China, but for those of you not living here it might be an interesting read. If it eventually gets translated that is (just checked Amazon and they don’t have it). Until then it will be a privilege for Swedish speakers only.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Always look your best

The concept of always looking smashing is also taken literally in Korea. Bare legged even though it's minus degrees? Of course!

Yesterday I saw a Chinese girl wearing the coolest jumpsuit ever. It was ebony white (brave colour indeed, I’m not big on white but on this girl it really worked) and tight at the right places. She matched it with a pair of funky looking, flat black loafers. Might not sound so good, but man, she looked rocking.

That was, until she climbed up on the exercise bike at the gym and started working out.

(and made me, in my baggy gym pants and not-so-skin-tight adidas singlet, look out of place)

All I could think about is what a waste to work out in such a cool outfit. Then again, the concept of “always looking top notch” sure is taken literally over here in China.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Must do at a restaurant -make up your mind quickly

Last night we went to a Korean restaurant with some friends. Since our original choice had a line longer than we could handle (not sure what has happened to us, but nowadays we often eat at those places that always have a line) we had to skip to another one, not as good, but still OK. Only though…. Our friends hadn’t really eaten Korean food before, so when it was time to order food they were a bit clueless. All four of us were studying the menu closely, trying to determine what to settle for. Once we looked up 3 waitresses had gathered and started suggesting dishes for us. Only though… they simply threw out dish names. I tried to say that we wanted some more time, but it was useless. Soon the big boss joined the “fun”, yelling out names and pointing at 5 dishes at the same time him too, making us rather stressed and more or less forcing us to make up our minds quickly.

I know that when Chinese groups decide to go for dinner there is only one person (normally the man) who’s responsible for ordering food. This kind of makes the “making up your mind” easier.

Doing it the western way, namely by letting every person chose something s/he likes, isn’t as smooth. And apparently not considered OK at some places either.

In the end our friends got so stressed by the “hitting them with dish suggestions war” that they simply pointed at something.

We ended up with a rather interesting mix, where the most interesting dish must have been a soup that, when it arrived at our table, only consisted of hot, tasteless water and a little bit of thin slices of meat. The came salt, pepper, onion and rice, all for us to add ourselves to the soup (while being cheered on by the boss and his waiters who all stood over us, making sure we did things right). I thought it was rather disgusting, but our friends named this their favourite dish. There you go, I guess making up your mind in a haste has some pros. At least you end up with food you'd never try otherwise. 

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Best restaurant ever

Last night we went to my favourite restaurant in Suzhou: a fairly cheap, and simple Sichuan restaurant that is loved amongst locals as well as westerners. There is always a line at this restaurant, but the food is well worth waiting for. Since I have been there numerous times, the two gorgeous host girls recognize me as the “laowai that can speak Chinese” and they always greet me warmly, smiling and joking. Yesterday we arrived quite late, and only had to line up 10 minutes or so to get a table.

Once seated we ordered, ate and enjoyed.

When it was time to pay a waitress came over with the bill and said we owed 100 kuai. She then asked if we’d had to line up to get our table.

-Yes, I said, and gave her the little note with the line number that I had been given by the two host girls at arrival.

-OK, wait a moment, you’ll get some money back, the girl said and disappeared.

Five minutes later the restaurant manager (I know him too, man, I really go here too much!) came over, smiling at us. He handed over a VIP card and 30 yuan.

Apparently our new “VIP membership” gave us a 10% discount.

….and waiting in the line for 10 minutes knocked off another 20 yuan?

Well not sure what was the case but I now, if possible, love this restaurant even more. Every single night all their tables are full, and still they give customers who have to wait a discount.  

Moreover, their food is always up to standards and an order never go wrong.

Chinese restaurant success story.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Mixed reactions

What a week it's been. To say I struggled through my classes this week is an understatement. In order not to come across as a total weirdo, I decided to explain my lack of focus to my teachers by telling about my recent skin eczema/ medicine/ lack of sleep.

One of them was most interested in my skin problem.

-so is your skin OK now? She kept asking.

-Yes, I said. But I still have difficulties sleeping.

-Well as long as your skin is OK!

From another one I got no sympathy:

-You don't look tired, she said suspiciously.

-Well I am.

-I can't tell.

-Make-up can do wonderful things.

-Yeah. You really don't look tired.

The fourth one was super understanding:

-Ah that's terrible! Don't worry about it. This chapter is quite easy, it doesn’t matter if you haven’t prepared well. We will take things slow.

-Great, thanks!

30 minutes later however:

-Jonna, we have to study a bit faster. And how can you get this question wrong? It is so simple!

-Yeah, sorry, I just don't get it for some reason. My brain is quite slow today.

-Well then you have to go home and study more.

-You're not going to explain it to me?


Anyways, today I’m off to Wuxi to do some translation work and when I get home tonight I am going to embrace the weekend! We were supposed to go to Hangzhou and run the half marathon this Sunday but because of how little sleep I’ve been getting lately I decided to cancel. There will be more races in the future.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

As "easy" for foreigners to learn Chinese as it is for Chinese people to learn English?

Some of my German classmates + spoken teacher from "back in the days" at Shanghai University 2006. (I know what the Germans would answer to my question...)

My friend C is currently studying Mandarin level 1 at Suzhou University. She just finished her first midterms a la the Chinese way (meaning: all written test with a short, 2 minute speaking test in order to grade your “spoken Chinese”) and described it as a rather “interesting” experience. Although one thing surprised her:

-Once we got our results the teachers started telling who did the best and who did the worse in front of everyone! In some classes they even wrote everyone’s name and score on the black board! Do they always do that? Why?

Yeah, if only I knew?

I guess it has something to do with the fact that the “best” student should inspire the “not so good ones,” although I wonder if it really happens in reality?

In another class the teacher had chosen to focus on everyone’s mistakes rather than success. There was one question in the written exam that 90% of the students had gotten wrong:

-Why did you all get this wrong? The teacher kept asking. Why, why? It is so easy! So easy!

-Well we got most of the other questions right!
One student said.

-Yeah but that doesn’t matter when you got this one wrong! And I don’t understand why!

-Well because we think Chinese is a hard language to learn!
One student (who apparently felt he’d had enough of the scolding) said.

-Chinese is not hard! Chinese is easy!

The whole class protested (they have been learning for 2 months and a lot of them find everything rather overwhelming).

-Come on, it is easy! If Chinese people can learn English quite easily, it should be just as easy for you foreigners to learn Chinese.

-It’s not easy!
The students chanted.

-It is, it is! It is easy! It is easy for us to learn English, it should be easy for you to learn Chinese. Right?

Now, I think he posed a rather interesting statement. What do you guys reckon? Since Swedish is my first language and I have learned both English and Chinese I can speak for myself about what I found the easiest. But can those two languages even be compared? (In my case, I don’t think so, let's not focus on my personal experience). But generally speaking, can learning an alphabet consisting of 26 letters be compared to learning how to write the "most common" 6000 Chinese characters? 

But what about all you Chinese who’ve learned English/ foreigner who’ve learned Chinese, what do you guys reckon? Is it as “easy” (?) for westerner to learn Chinese as it is for a Chinese to learn English? Why? Why not?

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Trophy boyfriend and deep discussions

Last week I decided that maybe I needed a good ol’ run in order to cure my inability to fall asleep. Since my gym membership had expired while I was in Sweden I called one of the sales girls and set up a meeting.

I entered the gym and got a bit annoyed straight away when the sales girl almost refused to even talk to me about a 6-month membership.

-One year is much better, much cheaper! She kept saying, over and over again.

-Yeah sure, but you see, my future is a bit unclear so maybe I don’t even need a yearly membership?

-But you can freeze it if you leave!

-Still doesn’t help me if I am not planning to come back.

We went on like that for a while and I tried to look into different options and so on. Then, suddenly, in the middle of our heated discussion, another sales girl came over, and interrupted us by whispering something to the sales girl I was talking to. They both giggled, making me annoyed at the spot. First of all I hate when people just come and interrupt what was supposed to be a meeting, and second of all, whispering?! Get over yourself.

Soon the “whispering details” was revealed however.

-So about the monthly card, I started…

-Oh, my colleague just told me that you are the girl with the handsome boyfriend, the sales girls interrupted. Both she and the other girl started giggling hysterically, making my chin drop to the floor.

-My colleague and her friends all think he is so handsome!!! Is he? She went on.

For a moment I was lost for speech. Now, if this would have happened during some other day I might as well have laughed and shrugged my shoulders, but I was clearly not in the mood this day, and also, bringing my “handsome boyfriend” into a conversation about my membership card isn’t really appropriate in my opinion.

-So is he, is he?! The girl urged.

-You know what, why don’t you take a look at him yourself, was all that I could eventually master.

Both of the girls looked kind of disappointed about my answer. I don’t know what the correct one would have been?

"Yes, he’s super hot! I loooooove him!!"

"I will tell him you said that!!"


"Yeah he’s actually looking for a new girlfriend, we recently broke up. Want me to introduce him?" 

All I know is that those two girls had made me kind of annoyed and that I now was in no mood to continue the discussion.

I went and paid for my new card (receiving even more giggles from the girls behind the reception desk. Not sure what it is that is so funny about me, but I’m clearly someone that makes Chinese girls very giggly).

Running proved to be a bad idea, and not a cure for my lost beauty sleep. I had to step off the treadmill after only 6 km when I had almost fallen twice. (And I did not sleep any better that night).

Two tired days later I asked my Chinese friend about it all:

Me: would you be happy if a total stranger told you that your boyfriend is handsome?

She: yes, totally!

Me: why?

She: In China we like to have something that other people like.

Me: oh. Right. 

She: why, wouldn’t you?

Me: I don’t think that way (I obviously don’t. Never want to either).

A moment of silence followed.

She: Jonna, do you have any friends like Enid?

Me: like who?

She: like Enid, in Desperate Housewives!

Me: Ehh.... hm.... ehhh... no?! I don't have any friends like Enid! huh? Why are you asking?

She: Well, I have heard that in Europe and in America people are more open-minded. And Enid clearly is (note to people that don’t watch the show: Enid is a slutty blonde who enjoys sleeping around in Desperate Housewives. She’s definitely more than “open-minded”). So I was wondering if you know someone like her?

Me: Eh… Enid is a made-up character in a made-up soap opera.

She: That reflects the real life in America?

Me: ehhh… Now, I've never been to America... but I’m not sure I would refer to Desperate Housewives the TV series as “the real life in America.”

New moment of silence.

She: I would like to get to know someone like Enid.

Me: sorry, cannot help you with that one.

I can tell that we are moving into a deeper level of friendship. 

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

China must do: move fast

Better move fast or someone else will take your spot

I was supposed to go to a job interview this Friday. I was called (via an email) during my ”wedding week” in Sweden and felt kind of excited.

Then, four days later I suddenly received the exact same email as I had already gotten, only though the date had been changed. To the upcoming Saturday.

So, from Nov 6 to October 24. And it was October 21.

I immediately replied saying I couldn’t make the 24 since I wasn’t in China, asking why the sudden change.

Reply: “We would be excited if you could make it to China for the interview.”

I again stated it was impossible asking if I could come any other day.

And of course, I got no reply.

Once back in China I did some phone call attempts but I kind of already knew it wasn’t going to change anything. In fact, all the promised “we’ll call you back!” was never put into practice.

In China, you better be ready to move fast or you lose out on opportunities.

And when confronting/forwarding a slight complaint about it all, don’t expect any response.

Ah, China!

Monday, November 2, 2009

Sleepless in Suzhou (again)

Might as well apologize now already in case you guys experience a little downhill when it comes to blogging this week. Like I mentioned in a previous post, I got a skin rash when I was in Sweden. When I came back to China it spread and got worse, causing me a week of sleepless, itchy night. On Sat morning I was at the bursting point and decided to see a dermatologist. Which was a great move. She explained it as an allergic reaction (not sure to what though) and prescribed me a lot of different pills to take throughout the day. I was especially happy that my “evening medicine” could have a side effect of making me “drowsy” seeing how badly I had slept during the week.

Unfortunately that side effect is just for the lucky ones and after spending the night between Sat and Sunday without being able to get as much as one hour of sleep, I was feeling rather off on Sunday. However, the same story repeated itself this night, so you guys can just imagine what a ghost I look like now. Worse thing: I still cannot sleep! I don’t even feel tired. I just feel kind of weak and whiny, and it is hard to focus on things like reading or writing. I googled the medicine again (it’s basically a strong dose of cortisone) and for some people, the side effect might be temporary insomnia. So there we go. What a way to start the week.