Thursday, April 28, 2011

Self check-in/bag drops -not really up to date just yet...

Things can move slow at airports in China..

Last week when we were flying to Xi’an, I was pleased when we arrived at Pudong airport and saw that China Eastern had self check-in stations (as usual in China, the lines to the check-in counters were pretty long). Although the stations were only in Chinese it was pretty straightforward and we quickly managed to put our information, pick our seats and print our boarding cards (but not bag tags, those you weren’t able to print).

Mom and dad had a bag they needed to check in, so we located a counter that said “bag drop” and lined up. There was a huge line to this counter, and first I thought it was some kind of misunderstanding. Were all of these people really lining up just to drop off their bags?

They sure were. All of us in the looooong line were holding on to our boarding cards, impatiently glancing at our watches and staring at the actual bag drop counter where action seemed to be very sloooooow.

Actually, I don't understand how it could take so long for people to “drop” their bag. We ended up standing in the line for 45 minutes! I even realized that the people that were lining up at the normal “check in” line –got served much faster than us! When it was finally our turn we were a bit stressed (we had planned to grab a quick dinner at the airport before take-off) and I even asked the girl at the counter what was taking so long. She didn’t answer (I wasn’t expecting her to either) but the security scan of that one suitcase of ours took ages. We ended up at our gate 15 minutes before boarding (which is pretty weird, we had arrived at the airport well in time for everything –just flying domestic) and had to speed-eat some noodles at a small snack corner.

When we were flying back from Xi’an the situation were even more obscure. They had plenty of self check-in stations, but not a single bag drop counter. I went around and asked several pretty “China Eastern” female staff but they all looked at me as if I was talking about aliens when I asked where we could drop our bags. So we had to line up at the normal check-in counter even though we had already checked in. Turns out it went much faster than lining up for a bag drop counter anyway.

I guess self check-in counters in China mainly targets those that travel with only a hand luggage (and man, is that a popular thing to do in China?! There seem to be no restrictions in terms of how big your hand luggage can actually be, because people drag suit like sized bags on the plane and then complain when they cannot fit it into the overhead locker) and not those who actually have a bag to check in. Good to know until next time.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The bet

No more

After a week with parents in town I feel relaxed and happy, but a bit like a chubby Easter bunny. It’s simply impossible to turn down temptation when your parents:

-Travel here with a suitcase full of Easter eggs and Swedish chocolate for their beloved daughter.

-Enjoy sitting down for a coffee and sandwich (mom) or a cake and beer (dad) every day of their holiday week (What are you supposed to do? Not join them?!).


-Encourage you to share a bottle of wine with them for dinner. Pretty much every day.


-Hides chocolate in your apartment (yes, for real) before departure so that won’t miss them too much.

Now when they have left, however (and all the hidden candy in my flat has been located and eaten), I am keen to do something about my sugar addiction. So, on Sunday night, in the heat of the moment (read: after 2 snickers bars and some large, sugary milk chocolate pieces that made me feel more like a pig than a bunny) I entered a bet with my significant other (in front of my folks –got to have witnesses when entering a bet), saying I will give up sugar for 2,5 months (yes! Months, not weeks!).

Why 2,5 months?

Well, because it’s 2,5 months until my holiday (no, not that I’m counting or anything, I just happen to know).

This bold statement of mine (anyone who knows me, knows that me saying things like “I’m not going to eat chocolate for a while” is quite bold –I’ve got a bit of a thing for cocoa –meaning I eat a lot of it. Every week) resulted in bemused smiles from my folks, and a long “no way, you’re never going to make it”-look by my bf.

Being a sucker for challenges I’ve taken the bet to my heart, only though…. It’s kind of hard not to eat sugar, or so I’ve realized when I, on Monday, entered my new, sugar-free life and was faced with the following situations:

1. On Monday (which was a holiday for me) I had a mini “picnic” in the park with a girlfriend (I call it “picnic” because she brought a ready-made sandwich from the shop and I brought sushi) and she brought along a package of chocolate chip cookies. I looooove chocolate chip cookies. But this time I had to turn it down.


2. Later the same day, I did something I rarely do, namely ordered in food, and imagine my surprise when I was given a gift muffin (!) just because it was Monday! So there it was: a large piece of temptation standing on my kitchen table. Not to be enjoyed by me, that’s for sure.


3. Then, Tuesday in the office. Coffee and cake. Cake and coffee. Snacks in the kitchen. Swedish chocolate. I had to make a real effort not to fall for temptation, especially since it was one of those busy days when you barely have time for lunch and your blood sugar drops in the afternoon and you feel kind of weak and dizzy but you’ve decided to go to the gym so you end up thinking: “hm…maybe I could just have a cookie or two, and I’ll feel much better on the treadmill.” But no, oh no, not me. I have a bet to win.

So, three days into the bet and so far so good. I’ve also been at the gym every day, and today I’m going to yoga (Maybe some serious Namaste-ing can help my mind to think of other things than chocolate brownies?).

However, I know that when the weekend comes is when the real challenge appears. Because this weekend, a good friend of mine is coming to Shanghai for a visit, and I just happen to know that she’ll see me and say:

-Hey, let’s go to
Whisk! Just for old times sake!

And how on earth am I going to be able to hit Shanghai’s best chocolate café and NOT have chocolate?

To be continued.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Xi'an 西安, day 2 -Terracotta Army 兵马俑


Day 2 in Xi’an was all about the Terracotta Army 兵马俑. Since we were flying back to Shanghai that night we decided to get a driver for the whole day, so that we could keep our luggage in his car, and, so that he could take us to the airport after we had visited the sight (the terracotta army is located quite far away from Xi’an so going back and fourth to the hotel did not feel like an option). I chatted to the bell boys at our hotel for about 30 minutes until we came up with a good deal and were assigned Mr Guo, a black car driver, to take us around for the whole day and then drop us off at the airport.

Mr Guo turned out not only to be a good driver, but he was also a great guide who, once he realized that I could speak Chinese, told me everything I wanted to know about Xi’an (I could then translate for mom and dad). We started off with a visit to the Banpo Village Ruins museum, followed by the Terracotta Army, and then dinner at a local joint at the mountain area. The Terracotta Army was quite spectacular, way above my expectations. This might have something to do with the fact that we actually rented ourselves a guide who took us through the history of everything. Although the area was crammed with tourists (“and this is nothing yet, just wait until the high season!” Mr Guo told me when I made a comment about it) it was still a really good and interesting visit. I would recommend anyone to go and see the terracotta army, but make sure you go before the peak season, and get a guide unless you’re an expert on Chinese history.

We had a little incident later at the mountain restaurant (which, although the food was lovely, obviously was a tourist trap) when we were given a picture menu with prices that made go “whoooot?!” How about 98 rmb for some cabbage, 150 rmb for spareribs etc… Nah, I don’t think so.

-Can I see the Chinese menu please, I said, and although the waiter claimed I wouldn’t understand anything of it, I did, and we managed to order some good food at a more reasonable price (because, obviously, the dishes on the Chinese menu were priced according to Chinese standards).

A large group of waitresses stood, sniggering at our table when I read the Chinese menu and ordered in Chinese. Still, when we got the final bill I saw that they had charged us 20 rmb for napkins etc (my own bad, I should have known better and asked how much they were before we used them)… so yeah, always have to be careful when visiting tourist attractions in China –even though this restaurant wasn’t even located within the actual Terracotta Army area. All in all it was a good visit, a nice little getaway, and I believe mom and dad also found it interesting and fun.





Monday, April 25, 2011

Xi'an 西安, day 1


I had some lovely days in Xi’an with my parents. It was much warmer than in Shanghai and we made sure to make the most of each day:

Thursday (dad’s birthday) started off with a hike to the city wall 城墙 (which was conveniently located next to our hotel, however, where to get up on the wall wasn’t as obvious as we first thought. We had to look for a while until we managed to locate the south gate). Once we got there we rented bikes and rode around the wall. It was a bumpy, noisy ride, but due to the fact that the peak season hadn’t yet started it wasn’t too crowded and we enjoyed ourselves... until mom realized that she had dropped her jacket and we had to go all the way back on the wall (and no, we still didn’t find the jacket).

After the wall we set out to be tourists de luxe and did something I never do when travelling: visited sights and towers! We went to both the Bell Tower 钟楼 and the Drum Tower 鼓楼 (!). None of them impressed me that much, but there was a group performance (= bored looking youngsters hitting their drums with perfection. They were really, really good, but one could tell that it wasn’t the first time they performed. Some of them looked bored to death) at the Drum Tower just when we entered so that was quite interesting (although painful to the ears) to watch.

After that we went to explore the Muslim street 回民街, and this was the day’s highlight. I just loooove walking on busy, messy food streets, sampling street snacks and talking to vendors. We spent hours there, I went camera and snack crazy and for a while everything was wonderful.

Then we decided to do a short walk to a hotel bar that we’d heard of for a relaxing drink. Sound good, right? Yeah, if only it would have been a “short walk” –we ended up walking around for 1 hour until we finally found it. However, wine has never tasted better.

The bar staff gave us a bowl of snacks that we literally emptied like beasts, realizing that we were probably quite hungry. We decided to go for a restaurant that I located via dianping.com (love that site for restaurants) but apparently the list was out of date because when the taxi driver dropped us off there was a clothes shop rather than a restaurant at the address given. On top of that, the taxi driver tried to fool us (he didn’t turn on the taximeter –I was too hungry to notice- and once we got ready to get out he asked for 20 kuai, something that made me see red. After some yelling we gave him 10 kuai and walked off). Then followed some aimless, lost walking around in a hunger daze (it was impossible to get a taxi at that time) until we located something that looked quite decent and settled for that. Turned out to be a spicy, Hunan joint. Good food, but I was slightly disappointed that we never made it to any authentic Xi’an restaurant that day.

The next day was all about the Terracotta Army, but more about that tomorrow. For now, I’ll give you a picture bomb from day one.

Riding on the city wall



View from the Bell Tower
Drums at the Drum Tower
Muslim Street -food street, yum!









Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Off to 西安 (Xi'an)

Woho, finally time to do some travelling in China again, it's been a while! This time, I'm taking my folks to Xi'an to check out the city wall, the great mosque and, of course, the Terracotta army. We'll also make sure to celebrate dad's birthday tomorrow -probably a quite original birthday for him! I'll make sure to share some photos and stories when I get back -until then: Happy Easter!

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

It's a family affair

"Royal" visitors out of their comfort zone

Forgive my absence, but I’m hosting a delegation, much more important than all those royalties and ministers I met last year, and it’s taking up pretty much all of my free time: yes, of course, my parents are in town!

The world’s cutest (in my eyes!) mom and dad landed a few days ago and are keeping me busy with all kinds of funny questions and comments about everything. Yesterday when I had to go to work they called me when I was in the middle of a meeting:

-Hey, we are standing in a crossing and we don’t know where we are.

-Eh… right. Now, do you see any names of streets or anything around you?

-Naaah, it’s kind of confusing to tell you the truth.

-I see…

Not to mention the fact that my mom constantly seems to be forgetting that I don’t actually live here as a tourist:

-So does the hotel breakfast have any yoghurt?

-I don’t know mom, I’ve never eaten it.

-Yeah, but what about normally over here?

-I don’t normally stay at hotels in China…

Dad, on the other hand, is more of a silent observer, although every now and then he springs to life with one of his genius comments:

-Look! They are all riding electric bikes! And then they recharge the bikes! And if they want to speed up they pedal… This is fantastic! Why don’t we have these kind of electric bikes back home? How come you’ve never brought one home with you?

-Eh… dad, they are kind of heavy and big…

-Yeah but they are fantastic! You HAVE to bring one of those to Sweden at some point. Actually, my birthday is coming up….!

-Riiiiiight…


The other day they told me they wanted to see an acrobatic show that my sister and her hubby raved about after their last China visit:

-Sure, but we’ve already seen it. Do you mind going by yourself? I'll help you get the tickets and everything...

Long, pregnant silence and hurtful, accusing eyes.

-What am I saying?! OF COURSE we should go together!!! I don’t mind watching it again!!!

-Excellent!

On Wednesday night we will depart Shanghai to visit a new place for all of us. I seriously cannot wait, as it’s getting hard to come up with new things to do in Shanghai (this is mom’s fourth China visit and dad’s second). However, mom and dad are, of course, slightly worried:

-We saw on the news that there are storms in southern China!

-Yeah, so then it’s good that we are not going to the south…

-But up north there are sandstorms!!!

-Not where we are going, I’m sure.

-How can you be sure?! I’m sure that there will be sandstorms. We should pack umbrellas. Do you have a spare one that we can borrow?

-If it makes you feel any better…

-Excellent!

(Wanna make a bet with me about those sandstorms? Yeah, I didn’t think so either. And no, we are not going to Inner Mongolia!).

Before we leave, however, mom and dad will come and visit me at work, something that they have prepared for and been excited about, for a very long time. They have even packed special outfits that they are going to wear when walking into my office. I got all touched and teary eyed when they told me.

-Well of course, mom said, as if it was the most obvious thing ever. When coming from so far away we are ought to make a good impression!

Awwww! Can you love two people more?!

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Noir&Blanc at Shanghai Fashion Week 2011

I had the most amazing day yesterday! One week of hard work finally saw its results when Swedish Noir&Blanc showed at Shanghai Fashion Week, followed by a high heel after party at Göte Göta store.

The Noir&Blanc fashion show was fantastic. The designers teamed up with dance club Jazz du Funk and did a pretty exquisite cross over show that opened and closed with a dance sequence called “Black Sun” (see the video at the end of this post for the short closing performance, mind the shaky video, as I was applauding while filming –multi tasking, you know!). The dance worked super well with the actual collection: Ethnic Euphoria, which is about tradition and ethnic symbols, pattern-mania, knitted influences and draped fabrics.

The after party saw Kosta Boda Crystal Catwalk collection, live wei-boing (twittering) from 163.com (I did an interpretation stunt: Eng-Chi for one of the interviews), as well as high heel painting by Chinese as well as Swedish artists (see the second video of how Göran Kling is painting his pair). The shoes were then auctioned off and the money went to charity. All in all –a super night spent with some super people. I’m still high of happiness.

After party at Göte Göta store: good times with an awesome group of people!

Freshly pained shoes by Göran Kling

Petra and Linnea (of Noir&Blanc) and Göran Kling -who did the jewelry for the show.

video
video

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Dating jungle

Not easy to find Mr or Mrs right

A friend of ours is visiting from Europe, partly for work and partly to see his Chinese girlfriend. Neither him, nor we thought that it was going to work out between them when he left China some 1 year ago –but, believe it or not, the 2 of them are more in love than ever! It’s absolutely lovely to see –and she’s planning to move to Europe eventually to be with him.

I have to say that it is especially nice to see the two of them together and in love, especially considering how many “questionable” Suzhou ladies this guy dated before he met his current girlfriend.

He was going out with one, super pretty, local girl that after some dates invited him back to her apartment. He stepped inside and was amazed when he realized that the girl had used photos of herself as wallpaper in the whole flat (well OK, not entirely, but almost). There were several enlarged portrait photos of the girl on every single wall, and the girl was so proud of them:

-What do you think?! Am I not pretty?!

-Eh… very!

That one did not work out.

Another, questionable lady, was the one who had no job, no education, no intention of getting either or, and a rich daddy that paid for everything. She was looking for a Mr right with a fat wallet, who could continue her financial life support.

During one date, they were sitting at a café, flicking through a magazine together. They hit a page with an advertisement for a Mercedes-Benz, and the girl eyed up the car, asking our friend:

-What do you think of this car?

-It’s awesome.

-Do you have a car like that?

-Eh, no…

-Why not?

-Do you know how much a car like this costs? I could never afford it right now!

-I thought you had a good salary.

-I do.. but not good enough to splurge on cars like this.

The girl looked at him for a long time, before she said:

-I think it’s important to set yourself sufficient ambitions in life. I think you should have some attainable goals. Like this car for instance. You should aim to be able to buy it within a year or so!

Our friend just stared at the girl. There she was: on rich family support: not working, not studying, and not planning to. Telling HIM that he should have attainable goals in his life?!

They never dated again.

And that turned out to be a smart decision, because soon he met his current girlfriend, who is down to earth and who makes him so happy. Or, as he once described it to me:

-The Chinese dating jungle is pretty crazy. At first it’s quite interesting and almost entertaining, but after a while you get sick of it.

One thing you have to give these (unsuccessful when it comes to dating our friend) ladies though: at least they were honest! They knew what they wanted and they were not afraid to say it. Got to have some respect for that.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

First get your license. Then learn how to drive

Now it all makes sense...

Last night (after a gym work-out, I re-started my “new, healthy life” for the 2984698264th time yesterday –I know, I know, such a cliché!) I caught up with my old language partner from Suzhou who was in Shanghai for Qing Ming Jie. If you have followed this blog for a while you probably remember her: she’s the one who learned English with Desperate Housewives, only ate apples in order to lose weight, and had a boyfriend who made her a “home gym” when she said she wanted to start exercising. Gosh, I’ve missed her!

Since I left Suzhou she has gotten married and she and her hubby has bought a car.

-Great, is it a new car? I asked.

-Of course. In China, no one would buy an old car.

-Right
(I always forget!). So do you drive every day to work now?

-No… my husband drives. I have a license but I cannot drive.

-Huh?

-Yeah, I bought my license some years ago but I don’t know how to drive.

-You BOUGHT your license?

-Yes! What… you cannot buy a license in Sweden?

-Eh… hell no you cannot!! You have to pass several tests… driving tests as well as written tests about rules, signs, etc.

-Oh… OK. Well, I am learning now. My husband is teaching me.

-Did he also buy his license?!

-Yes. But he knows how to drive now. He has learned.

Holy cow! Now, I knew this kind of market existed, but I didn’t think it was so common. People here buy their license, buy their cars and THEN learn how to drive? No wonder that there are so many car accidents in China!

-You know, once I know how to drive maybe we can go on a road trip!

-Ehhh… let’s see about that.

Yeah, I don’t think so. Oh, and I will metro everywhere this week.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Kids with a heavy load


On Saturday, since our office does not follow the Qing Ming Jie holiday schedule, I was enjoying a day off and popped into All Days (convenience store) to get some ice creams for the pancakes that I was planning to make later (yeah, really made the “most” of my Saturday as you can hear. FYI: now on a no-pancake diet for the next 2 months –it went a bit overboard). As I was lining up to pay, I noticed the cute, Chinese kids that were milling about –some with huge backpacks and some dragging around mini suitcases with Mickey Mouse prints. Were they going on some kind of school trip?

Oh no they were not, I realized, when I 5 minutes later stepped out of the store and saw one of them being picked up by his grandpa on a scooter. They were just heading home after a normal day at school. Carrying such a load of heavy books, that they drag them around in mini suitcases rather than carrying them in backpacks. Just like me when I was a kid. Not.

These kids sure are carrying a heavy load around, not only mentally, but also physically.


Friday, April 1, 2011

清明节 -Qingming Jie -Tomb Sweeping Festival

Sometime between this wknd and Monday and Tuesday it’s Qingming Jie –Tomb Sweeping Day, a day to honour those that have passed by visiting grave sites and/or burning everything from paper money to paper cars on their graves (or, on the street if you don’t make it to the graveyard). Unfortunately, I don’t get this holiday off, so while the rest of China are burning paper money/going shopping, I’ll be in the office, working away. I really dislike these kinds of holidays, because there are different rules for everyone, making it kind of hard to get something done: some have to work this wknd in order to get Monday and Tuesday off. Some don’t work this wknd but still get Monday and Tuesday off. I don’t have to work this wknd (who wants to work on the wknd anyway? What a silly rule?!) and I don’t get Monday and Tuesdays off. And then some seem to be working on Monday, only to have Tuesday and Wednesday off?!

Ah, trying to get my head around this system is pointless. On top of that there are so many things to keep in mind, like:

-Special opening hours for the gym
-Special opening hours for the yoga club
-No lunch specials in restaurants on Monday and Tuseday (and Wednesday? Not sure!)
-Some places might be closed
-Loads of people in the shops (typical, as I really need to do some shopping)
…and so on.

This is also a time when buying things like train tickets/flight tickets gets really hard, so don’t even try to go there.

Oh, and don’t forget to honour those who passed away! That’s what this circus is all about.