Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Happy New Year!

Seeing that today is the last day of 2008, I guess I should take this opportunity to wish you all a happy new year! I don't know what you are all planning to do tonight, but I hope it involves a lot of fun. I can (hopefully...) be found in my highest heels, my best dress and my biggest smile at some bar along Shanghai's Bund, celebrating with a bunch of friends. As for new year's resolutions, I think this year I will try to be smart enough to avoid them completely, as they normally only leads to disappointment when I realize I have forgotten them only two days into the new year. But all of you out there, planning on promising yourself to get in shape/ stop eating candy/ quite smoking /give up carrots (?) -good luck! With the right willpower, almost anything is possible. Oh, and some good memory helps too.


See you all in 2009!

Walking backwards

Hey lady, you should walk backwards!

Yesterday evening we decided to take a walk. As we weren't paying attention while walking, we almost had a collision-accident as we didn't really notice the woman walking -backwards- towards us. I am not quite sure why our jet-lagged brains didn't register her, but I am guessing it might have something to do with the fact that we couldn't see her face. (Normally, people walking towards you walk with their face to the front, not backwards). Our little collision couldn't help but leave me wonder why so many people in China walk backwards? I understand that it is supposed to be some sort of exercise, but I am not quite sure if I would label it as 'doable' on the busy streets of Suzhou?! Also, considering how much road work there is everywhere around here, the risks of hitting a hole/a working area since you don't really notice it when you have your back against it, are quite high! So, why do people engage in this, highly questionable exercise method? Has some doctor gone on national TV telling people it is good? Or, does walking backwards have some hidden benefits that people like me (read: ignorant laowai) fail to see?

The backwards-walking-woman that we bumped into yesterday was quite young. Otherwise I would say the majority of backwards-walkers are seniors. Except for backwards-evening-walkers on the streets of Suzhou, I have also seen plenty of backwards-walkers on the treadmills at my gym, and in parks. Every time I see them taking on an incline of 1,5 at the speed of 4 on the treadmill, I cannot help but feel a tad worried that they are going to fall and hurt themselves badly. Far from all of them look stable. But maybe it is worth the risk if backwards-walking has rewarding benefits? I read somewhere that it was good for your back, and another page stated that it helps boost metabolism (bloody h***, every little kind of movement does soon). But does it, really? 

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Ayi = marriage saver

Clean all this myself? No thanks...

One thing I came to appreciate when I was home is our ayi. Even though housekeeping services has become more popular lately in Sweden (mainly because it is a tax-deductible expense for Swedish households since a few years back), most people still do their housework themselves. One day, I was having coffee with a friend of mine who had obviously had enough of washing her boyfriend's dirty underwear. In fact, she was so sick of doing most of the house cores, that she was considering leaving him.

-How do you get your boyfriend to do the dishes?! She asked, in between explaining how much she loathed to clean the toilet and doing the laundry. I have tried and tried but it is as if he doesn't hear me?!

-Ehum... well. I don't have to tell him. Our ayi does them... I said, feeling 100% bad.

-Your what? What's an ayi?

-Ehhh... cleaning lady.

-You have a cleaning lady?! There was an accusing tone in her voice.

-Yeah, ehum, sort of. Although she doesn't do much, I lied. Or, well. She does. But, it's like... we still clean at times ourselves too! (Another lie. I have to stop).

My friend looked something between jealous and disgusted.

-Well, you should bring that ayi of yours with you whenever you decide move home. She might be able to save a marriage or two over here.

And actually... I am quite sure she would. Just the thought of fighting over whose turn it is to do the dishes makes me tired. Gosh, we are spoiled over here.

Monday, December 29, 2008

"Honey, I'm home!"

You know you are back in China (or at least on your way) when:

* Someone smokes at the lavatory on the airplane and fellow passengers barely react.

* Everybody get up to take their luggage as soon as the plan hit the landing ground. Angry stewardess come running, yelling for the passengers to sit down and fasten their seat belt until the seat belt light is switched off.

* You step off the plane and are met by the views of a gray, foggy looking sky and a kind of odd smell.

* While waiting for your luggage, people try to push their way into your spot even though there isn't room for anyone else where you are standing.

* Someone takes your bag but puts it back again. You don't even bother to tell them off.

* A lot of people around you are squatting.

* There's at least two men mopping everywhere you want to walk.

* Lines to public bathrooms stop existing.

* Suddenly you find yourself surrounded by fashionable looking girls in short skirts, high heels and sunglasses... despite being inside an airport terminal.

* You're one of the tallest people in the building.

....ahhhh! It's good to be back!!!

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Christmas = one long dinner party

The last week in pictures kind of looks like this. My waistline is probably happy that it's only Christmas once a year.

Christmas food

Mom and I, ready to dig in

Here we go again: Christmas day = family turkey dinner

...and a lot of drinks.

So long, comfort food

From Monday Dec 29 onwards I will stop neglecting my duties and go back to being an active blogger again. It has just been a bit mad during those last few days... too many people to see, clothes (on sale -and what a sale then?! wow!) to buy, chocolate boxes to empty, meals to eat, glasses of wines to drink... well, I am sure you all get it. Also, for the last week or so I haven't really thought that much about China (I've simply been too busy enjoying myself) so I haven't really had that much to share with you. It's been a short, but intensive ten day stay in Sweden and although it has been totally amazing/lovely/great to be able to go into a shop and find hundreds of shoes in my size (like, seriously?! It's outstanding!) or to reminisce with old friends while having too many glasses of wine, I am (like always) ready to return to China! I have a lot of Chinese chapters to study (brining my books to Sweden didn't really work this time either... I should have listened to what everyone told me and left them in China) as my exams are coming up in the beginning of January, and then there's the CNY approaching, and seeing how much chocolate I have been eating lately I probably should do some serious work outs once I am back too.... So yeah, it is going to be nice to get back to my every-day China life. Also, once I am back I am going to do some serious photographing, since 'more photos' was one of the most popular requests when I asked what you all wanted to see in this blog in 2009.  

See you Monday!  Now I am going to stuff myself for the last time (this year) with Swedish comfort food.  

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Merry Christmas!

In Sweden, we celebrate Christmas on December 24. If I don't remember things wrongly so is the case in Germany, France and a lot of other European countries (although not in the UK). During my first Christmas in Shanghai I was working at a magazine and since Christmas isn't celebrated widely in China, we were told to work on the 25th of December, which was a Monday. Since the 24th was a Sunday it suited me fine, until my work mates and bosses (who were from the UK and from the US) came up with the brilliant idea that we would work on the 24th, and take the 25th off.

Loud protests and Swedish cursing didn't help. I ended up having to work on the 24th and have the 25th off. Not my best Christmas in life. 

Being home this year is a true bliss. We have been cooking all morning, and soon my sisters will make their way out here and the Christmas frenzy of eating, drinking and unpacking presents will begin. 

I'd like to take this opportunity to wish you all a Merry Christmas (although I bet most of you don't celebrate until tomorrow and some of you don't celebrate at all). Have a great day and don't eat too much. I know I will! 

Monday, December 22, 2008

My fluffy holiday

Even our cat is all fluffy and cuddly around Christmas time...

I have to say that being home around this time of the year is a big hit. I cannot believe I haven't thought of that earlier, because Christmas in Sweden rocks! Any why you might wonder?! Well, the activities you can do over here?! Just the other day, me, mom, dad and my little brother (who is tall as a house and people take as my boyfriend. Kind of weird!) went to the forest to cut our very own Christmas tree?! Just like that! I was probably more excited than the 10-year old kids that were their with their parents. It has to have something to do with the fact that I have only been home twice during Christmas for the last 7 years, because I act as if I have never celebrated it before. Everything feels so foreign, but in a nice way. You drop by a friend's place and candles light up the whole flat. You take a seat and she offers you a steaming hot cup of 'glögg' (the Swedish glue-wine) and freshly made lucy buns/ ginger bread cookies. It is so idyllic and cute that it almost seems unreal to me. Do people actually live like this over here?! Did I used to live like this? Well, yes, apparently so. It's awesome and almost makes me question why I went away at the first place (although I guess I should point out that once Christmas is over and January sets in, with its cold winds and anti-Christmas flavour, empty wallets and gray sky... it is highly depressing to be here... No matter how many candles you light or cookies you eat -in fact, the cookies only makes you feel worse. Then there's the daylight issue: the sun comes up around 9am in the morning and goes down at 4pm. The limited amount of daylight can make the strongest creature crumble.) 


Still, these days before Christmas are all nice and fluffy. Some friends and I are planning to go ice-skating in the next few days. To be honest with you, I am fonder of the thought of ice-skating (all romantic, dressed in something white and big, fat gloves) than the actual doing of it. Even though I grew up next to loads of ice-covered lakes (at winter times... almost at summer times too during the cold Scandinavian summers) I  never really learned how to master the art of ice-skating completely. Today, twenty years and a whole lot stiffer later, I am as ungraceful as Bambi on ice, and there's a big chance that I will injure myself seriously if I fall while ice-skating. Oh well. All part of the fluffy winter time, I suppose?! I would never do it if I was in China.


So far, I don’t really miss our cold flat back in Suzhou. But I am looking forward to spending NY at a Bund bar in Shanghai on Dec 31!


One funny little thing is how everybody over here complains about ‘the amount of people on the street’ at the moment. (all because of the Christmas shopping frenzy). Mom and dad are great fun to listen to: they get all stressed if there are a bit of a line to a parking lot, or, if there are more than 20 people at the same time in a store. I try to remind them about their holidays in Shanghai, but as mom put it the other day:


-Yes, but you know, it is not the same. In Scandinavia you require your private space in a whole different way that you did in China!

-So why can’t you just pretend that we are in China?

-Oh no that is impossible. It is way too quiet over here.


Also, I would lie if I said I didn’t enjoy the fact that over here, I am neither ‘tall’ nor ‘fat’ but rather ‘average’ (and even small…) in terms of height and width! And all sweater sleeves fit me, instead of being too short. Awesome.



Sunday, December 21, 2008

SHE in China in 2009 -how would u like it?

This blog is approaching its 1 year-birthday... crazy huh!? I cannot believe I have already blogged for one year. At the same time, nowadays I don't understand why I didn't start blogging earlier. It's kind of fun to share my experiences, and on top of that I loooooove writing, every day at any time. And at most of the time I feel that I have something to say. Blogging is like made for me!? 

Obviously I tend to hit dry spells, like every other blogger. And, all posts that I write are obviously not high quality posts. (or, as some reader put it in an email: 'some of your posts are quite trivial..' Cheers dude) But, it's hard to always be 'spot on' or write about a topic that a lot of people find interesting. 

Anyways, since I am planning to continue to blog, I was hoping that all of you, that are readers of this blog, would be kind enough to tell me what u like/dislike to read about. In that way, I can get an idea of what I can do more of, and what I might want to tone down on... (not saying that it will happen for sure, I tend to write about whatever I like to write about... but still). 

So, feel free to share... what do u like to read about? Seen, heard, experienced, studying Chinese, training/running, travelling, love/dating culture, personal stuff, not personal stuff.... anything else?! (Also, is there something that u don't like?) 

One thing I probably won't write about, is news related topics. There are already thousands of blogs doing that out there. So plenty to choose from already. 

Anyhoo, have your say, your wish, a rant, or whatever, and let me know what u would like to read about in 2009! (if u don't want to leave a comment u can email me.. there's an email link at my profile page) 

Saturday, December 20, 2008


So what have I been up to for the last 8 years... well, a little bit of this and that I suppose. Some things more useful than others...

We had a class reunion last night and I saw friends I haven't seen since we threw our high school graduation hats in the air back in 2001... I was expecting to hear tales of world travels, volunteer working and giving birth to babies, so I was a bit surprised when I realised that I the night's main attraction. Everybody wanted to hear about China and I was actually surprised how little people knew.... Funny to realize that China is still this far-away, exotic place to most people over here. (Someone even asked if I go to the beach often?! Hahaha... 'Isn't Shanghai a coastal city?' Ehhhh....) Also funny to hear what people think u have been doing over there (u know how the talk goes.... somebody hears you are in China from someone else and since nobody really knows what u r doing, a lot of things are sort of... 'made up') These were some of the more different questions I was asked throughout the night:

-Jonna! I heard that u have been travelling through Asia for the last 10 years!! (dude, we graduated in 2001?! Where did the last 10 years come from?! Although I like the Asia part! :)) 

-Jonna, is it true that u have lived in Russia for some time?!
-No. But I've lived in Finland for one year. 
-Wow. So it is true! 
-Finland! Not Russia?! 
-What's the difference. 
-Hm... good point. 

-Jonna, is it true that u can speak Chinese fluently? My dad's company is doing business in China and they are looking for a translator. Interested?
-Ehum. I wouldn't really call myself fluent... 

Geez. Where do people get everything from? Anyways, it's so much fun to see people u haven't seen for ages and hear what everybody are up to nowadays. Seems that most people have stayed in Sweden although some have studied abroad. The next date for a reunion has already been set: Next December in my flat in China. As it turned out, everybody are really keen to visit. 

Being at home, but feeling like a stranger

One of the things that I don't like about coming home is that I always feel a bit lost, and stranger-like to the 'Scandinavian way.' Also, things always tend to change over here and I have a problem keeping up. For some reason Sweden now has two different postal services, meaning that there are two different mail men coming around the same time every day to deliver your mail. Odd. 

Then, there's the fact that everything over here is about self-service. When u pay with your credit card u always have to swipe it yourself, or, like yesterday, when I bought my train ticket from Copenhagen to Malmö, put the card (if it has a chip) in the machine, select currency, then press your PIN code, wait for your purchase to be approved, remember to take your card, and so on... I know that many countries have this kind of system by now, but to me, it is still kind of foreign. (Because where I have been living for the last 8 years it has always been the person behind the counter who swipes my card...and in China all u have to do is push your PIN code).  I tend to feel a bit lost when this sort of situation occurs, and that always result in me being embarrassed. Because over here I am supposed to know how things work! I am a native, for Christ's sake! if I don't know how things work in China/Finland/Australia, I just play the 'tourist' or 'foreigner' card... but in Sweden I feel like a complete fool every time I stand there, starring at the machine, wondering what I am supposed to do with my card (swipe it, hand it over or put it in, chip first?) and hear the annoyed voice from the counter telling me that ’and then you swipe your card yourself, you know?!’  


Then, there's the whole ID situation. U need an ID for everything over here. Well OK, no, that was sort of a lie. But for everything booze-related. You cannot buy your alcohol from the grocery store, instead you have to head for the only shop that has a licence to sell alcohol in Sweden: Systembolaget. Over there, u have to line up for ages (It’s the only place that sells booze, so just imagine how packed it gets on Fridays and Saturdays), and always show your ID. And don't even think about going to the pub without an ID. I normally don't carry an ID with me, so it has happened numerous times that I have been refused entrance to clubs where the age limit is 18 just because I didn't bring my ID card!!! (I guess I should take it as a compliment that people think I look young, but those times when it has happened, I have felt like a complete idiot). 


Also, the lack of small talk in the every day life is sometimes painful. I normally don't chat to strangers in China but a little comment here and there about the weather tends to happen when I am in shops/ at the Starbuck's counter waiting for my latte. In Sweden, that sort of talk is not really OK. I remember I tried it once when I was home from Australia. I was standing in a bar, waiting for the bartender to take my order (bars in Sweden are always understaffed) and next to me was a girl in my age, engaging in the same sport. 


-Bit of a long wait, isn't it? I tried. 

She looked at me, wide-eyed, before turning me her back. 

Whoops. She must have thought I was trying to pick her up! 

Well, obviously it takes some time every time I get here to adjust to everything. But except for those little cons, the pros of being here add up. I mean, just taking a walk in the forest, not being surrounded by hundreds of people and breathing the clean, fresh air feels like a minor reward. Indulging in Swedish comfort food is another treat. And seeing friends and family is obviously so nice that it doesn’t need any further explanation. 

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Finally on my way

Xmas in Sweden back in 2005 (our garden)

When u r reading this I am (hopefully) safely tucked in, on an airplane on my way to Scandinavia. I have really been looking forward to this trip so I hope there won't be any delays (or overweight dramas) spoiling my ten, precious day in Sweden. I'll blog as usual even though I'm not in China, there might be read-worthy things taking place in Sweden too, who knows? According to the weather forecast it's about 3 degrees in Malmö (my hood) at the moment, and let's hope it doesn't get any colder. Last time I was home during X-mas (2005) my left foot was in a cast and there were massive amounts of snow outside our door, making life on crutches even harder than it already was. Let's hope that kind of snowfall doesn't repeat itself this time (and most of all -let's hope I don't ever have to be on crutches again, it was kind of dull).

I was talking to my Hunan friends at the gym yesterday and they asked me what X-mas is all about.

-What is CNY all about? I asked them.
-Eating... family... they said.
-X-mas is pretty much the same.

Then Rocky told me he was scared he was going to put on weight (this topic again?!) this CNY, because, really... it is all about eating.

-Sure, u might do, but u can lose it fast, I said, comforting.
-Do u think u will? he asked.
-Yeah.. maybe I will too. If I can lose it.
-Sure u can.
(besides... it's not like anyone is going to notice..he's kind of lanky) Don't worry about it.
-No, you're right. It is all about eating.
-And family.
-And X-mas is the same?
-Pretty much the same. With gifts instead of Hong Baos.
-X-mas sounds great.
-It is!
It is!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

HSK result

X-mas came early this year... with the results from that awful HSK exam that I took the other week...

I was so certain I was going to end up with a result putting me on level 1 or 2, seeing that the test went so d**** bad (like, really), so therefore I was quite relieved when I got the result and saw that my result was a score 4, which is nothing close to fantastic but at least it is better than I expected. Also, the result kind of makes me happy, as the HSK exam only tests your writing, reading and listening skills, rather than your speaking skills (and speaking is sort of my thing... where as writing/reading is not) and I did not do well on this test. Actually, I did OK at the listening part, but the reading and writing (or fill in the blanks as it was...)... ha! A pure joke!

I know that many of you probably think that score 4 on an HSK test isn't that great, but for me it's definitely an OK result seeing that this is the first HSK test I have ever taken. Also, I haven't done any HSK courses or any preparation, so I definitely think there is room for improvement. Also, if u score 5 you can enroll in a degree at a Chinese university and study together with Chinese people. And I am almost there! That feels kind of cool, even if I am not planning to take an additional degree while I am in China, but still... Most importantly, it is quite a relief to know that even though it doesn't feel like it, all the hard work (and hours of character writing) that I have put in is starting to pay off!

Some of my Japanese classmates scored 7, and others scored 6 and 5.... Still, I really feel that the score is confusing, as some of these people's speaking level is sort of... well, not so great. Anyways. That's just how it is I guess. After all, it is just a test and just an idea to find out your (reading and comprehension) level. And although my character progress is one of the slower kinds, it is still happening. Slooooowly, sloooooowly....

For the love of Starbucks

Open or leave!

Suzhou has a fairly new, fancy center called the Suzhou Science & Cultural Arts Centre (SSCAC) 苏州科技文化艺术中心. From far, it looks a bit like the bird's nest, and from inside, it's kind of nice too, although a bit empty in terms of visitors. Even though it has a cinema, a theater, a dinner theater, restaurants, and an IMAX theater (and some art center I believe although I haven't seen this myself) Suzhou residents haven't yet found their way to the area where the center is located.

Yeah, because that's the thing. The SSCAC is located in the upcoming area of SIP (Suzhou Industrial Park) and is still to be surrounded by offices and living complexes. Right now, it is sort of a lonely center with the views of Suzhou's Jinji Hu lake. There are loads and loads of building projects taking place in this area, however, so I don't think we have to wait many years before the area becomes more buzzling. But at the moment, it's kind of quiet and ghost-town-like.

A friend of mine was curious about the SSCAC and payed it a visit some months ago. She was surprised when she found a Starbucks within the area of the center, and decided to kill some time over a frappucino. The Starbucks was one of the bigger ones, with a great lake view and loads of free seats. In fact, all seats except for the one she occupied were free! There weren't any visitors, despite the fact that it was lunch time.

A bored Starbuck's worker took her order and offered her a cake from the fully stocked (and untouched) cake selection. Once she sat down with her treat it didn't take long before he came over to chat with her, excusing himself for behaving like a stalker, but explaining that he was so bored working alone at the Starbucks every day and that they never had any visitors.

-So why are you working here then? My friend asked.
-I have to. He replied. I am the manager.
-But this area is so empty,
my friend went on. Why did you even open here at this time?
-Actually... Rumours have it that Starbucks didn't want to open here just because of the reason you just mentioned. It is an empty area with no business at the moment. But when they had finished building the SSCAC the local Government wanted a Starbucks next to the center. So they told Starbucks. And when Starbucks declined the offer, the Government pointed out that if this area wasn't good enough, then maybe Starbucks could pack up their business and leave China. And so we opened.

My friend told me this the next day and I listened, mouth open. True or not? Who knows? Maybe this manager was so bored that he has started to make up stories? Or maybe he is telling the truth? I haven't personally visited this Starbucks yet, but I will once I come back to China after X-mas. Not only do I want to check out the great lake view and be able to select a cake from a fully stocked fridge (!), but I also want to have a chat with this 'bored' manager to see how much truth there is in his statement.


Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Tribute to a country I barely knew two years ago...

Before I move to China, I knew the name of the country South Korea, but that was about it. South Korea has always been this 'small country' that seems kind of far away and has a complicated history/political system (thinking of its strained relations with North Korea), as well as a place that I would associate with dog eating... not a place on top of my 'visit wish list' in other words.

Then, I came to China and suddenly I was surrounded by Korean restaurants, Korean shops and Korean people.

Discovery number one: Korean clothes are some of the coolest clothes I have ever seen (and, plus points to them for having bigger-sized girls, because that means even I can wear their clothes.. yey!).
Discovery number two: Korean food is not only healthy, but also super yummy.
Discovery number three: Korean people are polite, friendly and great fun.
Discovery number four: Seoul is (after my first visit in Jan earlier this year) one of my fave cities where I would be happy to live for some years later in life.
Discovery number five (while in Seoul, this one): Korean guys are kind of... hot!?

Wow... South Korea, what can I say? How can I have not realised how great of a country it is? The Korean family who 'picked me up' at Starbucks once and asked me to be their private English tutor for their 10-year-old daughter, are now some of my closest friends in Suzhou. We go for dinners, I come to their place for dinner (and what dinners then?! I almost roll back every time), I teach the daughter English, I play with the daughter's little sister (something that is kind of odd to me, seeing that kids normally start crying when I approach -I don't know what it is... but they just don't like me), and we even exchange Xmas gifts. It doesn't even matter that the mom doesn't speak any English and barely no Chinese. In some odd way we still manage to communicate (a lot via the daughter who speaks good English and Chinese -her Chinese is so much better than mine.. grrrr!) and it's not even strained or uncomfortable (like it easily gets when u don't speak the same language) but more like easy-going, fun and interesting.

Except for this family, I also study together with a bunch of Koreans (have been since level 2 basically, and I can imagine level 5 that I will take on next semester to be no different) and they are great fun, although the young guys can be a bit... shallow at times. (But I guess that has to do with the fact that a lot of them are very young) Anyways.

One of my fave restos in Suzhou is a small Korean joint. We accidentally discovered it one day: we used to go to the Korean restaurant next door (because it was run by one of my Korean classmate's dad) but then one day that place was closed, so we headed for the next-door option. The next-door-option's big boss (always a senior man sitting by the till next to the door. It was the same at those restaurants that I visited in Seoul) greeted us with big smiles, the staff was friendly and the food was divine. We came back for more only some days later. The big boss' smile was even bigger that time, and that's also how the whole 'free food frenzy' began...

Yeah, because that time we got an additional pancake on top of our bibimbaps. For free. And the next time we got a plate of Korean sushi. And the next time another kind of pancake... and then some free beers... and then, well, I am sure u get the point.

The additional free food just continues to pile on. We never ask specifically for it, we have also tried to pay for it at numerous times, but the boss just laughs and says no. "It's on the house," he states, leaving us more or less rolling back from the restaurant every time, since we always over eat while we are there (fortunately the food is kind of light.. I always go for bibimbap, tofu stew or kimchi stew rather than the BBQ.. although he BBQ is sooooo good too...).

Some weeks ago we found out that the big boss had decided to go back to South Korea and the place had been taken over by a young, Korean guy. To say that we were a bit crushed would be an understatement. I almost cried, especially since I never got a chance to really thank this man for his hospitality. The staff at the restaurant was still the same, however, and so was the food, so we continued to pay our weekly visits. And, only after 2 visits, the young guy came up to our table with some beer bottles, two glasses, and a big smile:

-Something to drink? It's on me!

.....And it's on again.

What can I say? I'm so happy I discovered this country?!

Monday, December 15, 2008

Falling in traffic (not to be recommended)

Just like a seven-year-old...

On Saturday I managed to fall for the second time in Shanghai since I came to China in 2006. When I say fall, I don't mean 'stumble' but I mean FALL on the ground and landing on all four. It had just been raining and the road was slippery. I was wearing shoes that can be taken for ice-skates when roads are wet, and the rest I bet u can figure out on your own. Fortunately I fell next to a car this time, and except for some bemused onlookers (that I completely ignored) I managed to get up and walk away before a circle around me could form. FYI, however, the streets of Shanghai are one place of filth!!! Not only did I ruin my tights, but I my hands, as well as my bag and most part of my legs were completely black when I got up, looking as if I had been rolling around in dirt for some hours. Niiiiiice! Anyways, I still think I got away pretty well compared to last time when I fell in the city.

At that time, I was riding my bike. Being new to the bike-riding-life-of-Shanghai, as well as being a complete stranger to maps, I got lost when I tried to navigate myself around the small lane roads near Wukang Lu in the French concession. Again, the road was slippery from an earlier rain. When I realised I had gone wrong I decided to turn back. I looked around for cars and saw a black one approaching with speed, so I decided to let that one pass before I crossed the road. I pushed the break and put my foot down, only to realise that my plastic shoe sole was giving in completely, making me slide as a Bambi on ice and land (with my bike on top of me) in the middle of the road, where the black car was approaching in full throttle. There was no chance I was going to get up in time, but luckily the driver had seen me and did a dramatic stop right in front of me. I was still a bit shocked from the fact that I was lying on the middle of a road with my bike on top of me, and tried to get up. doing some lame wave to the car as a thank you for not killing me. His response: an angry, long, HONK! Geeez dude. That's helpful.

Anyways, I guess with this little post I'd like to say something like: 'avoid shoes with plastic soles in Shanghai' as well as 'be damn careful in traffic' because there's a greater chance that people just stare and point (or, as in my case, honk), than for someone to actually help u up. Or, maybe I have just been a bit unlucky, who knows? But there's a bit of a strange attitude to traffic safety over here. When we had a car accident in Yunnan back in 2006 and the rescue team came to pull the car back on the road, one guy laughed and told us that they had been at the very same spot every day for the last three days, pulling up cars.

-Why don't u put up a warning sign?! My translator asked.

The rescue guy shrugged his shoulders and smirked.

-Good for business I guess, said our driver.

He didn't object.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Long run Sunday

Wow -what a day it is today in Suzhou?! Blue sky, sunshine, chilly winds, about 8 degrees... perfect day for a long run or what? Yesterday was a long and kind of stressful day, where I not only manage to slip and fall (on all 4...) on Huaihai Lu in Shanghai (more about that some other time) but also fell asleep at 10pm in front of the TV... ha -I can't remember the last time I was that tired?!

Anyways, when I woke up this morning I felt much better and since it was such a nice day me and my bf decided to go for a run (since I beat my bf during the Hangzhou mini marathon he doesn't let me go for runs alone anymore, but he always wants to tag along and try and beat me -competitive bastard!). We ended up running around Suzhou's Jinji Hu, a lap that is about 15km, and then some extra kms to and from our flat... so in total I think we ran something like 16-17km? Nice. I haven't gone on a long run like that for a while! Funny thing that it didn't even feel that hard (although we ran at a very slow and comfortable pace, finished around 1 hour 35 min). Legs cooperated well, no stitch, no strange foot pains... except for running for 30 minutes with the wind against us it was a perfect run! (I have to start doing those more often)

Since we are on the running topic I guess I should take the opportunity to tell fellow runners about a great page connecting runners in China:

Now I am gonna make myself a pizza and spend the rest of the day being Sunday-lazy. Hope everyone's having a great day.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Reluctant native speakers

Here I come?! Please don't speak to me in English.... :)

Yesterday I went to my bf's company Xmas dinner (which was held at a very Chinese restaurant, although they played Mariah Careys 'All I want for Xmas' non-stop, so we were all feeling the Xmas vibe anyways... ehum). Half of the people at the party were Chinese and the other half Scandinavians. When it was time to eat everybody mixed, rather than just having one Scandinavian and one Chinese table. Nice! The ordering of food was taken cared of by a Chinese woman, and I came with some inputs, suggesting some dishes in Chinese. Although I knew she understood me, she still replied in English all the time. Then, one of the Scandinavians heard us and told the woman:

-I think u can reply to Jonna in Chinese, she speaks it quite well, no?! (although quite well is a bit of an overstatement, I can see his point. Compared to him, who barely can say 'Yi ping pijiu -one beer, please' I speak Chinese quite well!)
-Ah yes, of course!! The woman said politely, and exchanged some phrases in Chinese with me.

Throughout the dinner, I tried to speak more to her, but it was useless. It became this one-person show when one is asking questions (where u from? What have u done before this? do you have a family? What's your job like?) and the other one is answering, and not asking anything back, or even making an effort to maintain the conversation. I strongly dislike these sort of conversations, so I quickly gave up and decided to try another guy (who was new to the company). He was a bit easier, and we chatted until he asked me something in Chinese that I didn't quite get (We were talking about Chinese traffic and riding a bike here and he joked and said something like: 'so I bet you ride your bike with your hands in your pockets?' -but I wasn't sure what he meant as first so I said: 'what?'), and, just like that, he switched to English in order to explain what he meant. And after that, it was impossible to get him to speak Chinese to me again. (And no, it wasn't as if he thought it would be rude to speak to me in Chinese since there were lao wais at the table. The Chinese spoke to each other in Chinese, while the lao wais spoke a great mix of Finnish, Swedish and English)

It's funny here when it comes to talking Chinese to a Chinese person who also knows English. Unless u get what they say straight away, they will immediately switch to English. Same with my language partners, something that annoys me. I don't have the best kind of hearing in this world (it is OK, but quite often I ask people to repeat themselves, regardless what language they are speaking), and just because u ask them 'what' doesn't mean that u are completely clueless and that they have to change their language. Although I have tried to explain this plenty of times to my them, they still do it, leaving me frustrated. Obviously a conversation in your third language cannot be smooth sailing all the time... you have to hit bumps and get over them, but if you take the easy way out every time there will be no improvement.

Actually, frustrated is the right word for me lately. It seems that every single Chinese person that I have spoken to lately wants to practice their English. I understand them, I fully do, because I am the same. But even though I am nice and say 'sure, we can speak some English first and then Chinese, OK?' and they say 'fine' they are still very reluctant to speak Chinese in the end. Or, they speak veeeeeeery fast Chinese, and when I don't get it, the quickly switch, making me feel as a dumb-ass.

It sort of makes me miss Dalian where no one tried to talk to me in English. And it sort of makes me think about something that I know my bf (and mom I bet) wouldn't be too happy about: going travelling alone in China. Packing a bag and heading for a place like Yunnan (I love Yunnan, so beautiful), visit small villages and chat to locals. I know that travelling alone would be ideal, as it would force me to just speak Chinese to locals rather than just enjoying the company of my travel companion. It shouldn't be too hard to get on by now if I do some reading about the place I will visit beforehand and have some sort of clue where I want to go. But is it safe to travel alone as a girl in China? I sort of think that it should be, seeing that China is so safe in general (and I am not going to visit Guangzhou or anything like that). Any girl reading this who has some experiences to share? I have read many newspaper articles about guys that rode their bike/motorbike/walked through China alone, but that's about it. It's always a guy. Obviously, I am not talking about doing anything as dramatic as that, I was more thinking about going away for a week or two.

Friday, December 12, 2008

So complex, yet so interesting

Right now in my grammar class we are studying a piece of text that is from the 'old' China, meaning that a lot of characters and words from the text are not used today anymore. It is both frustrating and fascinating I have to say, especially since a lot of words are not used anymore, and also, some characters have been replaced by others. Just like the character 'dao' 道. I had no idea that 道 used to mean 'speak'...(actually, it still does, of course. But today u don't use the word by itself when u talk about 'speaking) then it became 说道 'shuo dao', and then it changed and became 说 'shuo'... When our teacher started talking about the language's development yesterday I felt that there are so many things to learn when it comes to Chinese, that studying it on a part time really isn't enough. Next year I am hoping to find time to take some history course of Chinese language. Maybe that would help increase my understanding. And raise my level.

One of my friends studied Chinese in Taiwan some years ago, and he learned the traditional characters (as well as the simplified). Although the traditional characters look like a pain in the a** to write it would still be nice to know a few. Or, what do u guys think -is it a waste of time? I am not planning to go and live in Taiwan for the future (where the traditional characters are still used), I just thought it might be able to help when it comes to understanding the language?

Getting back on track (part of the new year approaching)

Train as hard as these kids next year? Naaaah...

I've been feeling a bit drained lately... nothing unique I believe, it feels like everybody are more or less struggling at this time of the year. For me, it is a combination of constantly feeling tired and hungry, feeling stressed although I don't have that much to stress about, and, finally, feeling a huge lack of motivation when it comes to going to the gym and working out. Once I am there it's fine. But the getting there?! Gosh. Don't even get me started. Packing a bag feels like lifting 100 kg in the bench press. Riding the bike there is like running a marathon while you have the wind against you... yeah well, I am sure u get what I mean. I don't think I am the only one feeling like this at this time of the year, especially since I have noticed that the gym has gotten a bit emptier lately (or, has it always been -maybe this is just an excuse I am making up for myself so that I don't have to feel so guilty about not going so often anymore?) and I have definitely spotted more tired looking efforts than usual. It has to be the season. Or, something in Suzhou's not-so-clean-air.

With the new year approaching people all around me are talking about new year's resolutions, giving themselves empty promises that we all know ain't going to happen ('running a marathon' is on of the most usual ones. I know because I have said it to myself plenty of times). I gave up NY resolutions somewhere around the age of 17. It was that year when I had promised friends and family that new year was going to be a healthy year for me. No more candy, cakes or ice cream. Then, on Jan 1st, I entered the kitchen feeling tired, hangover and ravenously hungry, just to find the leftovers from mom's and dad's NY party in the fridge. "Awesome" I thought and grabbed the best thing I saw, (the chocolate mud cake), took out a tub of ice cream from the freezer and dug in. Ten minutes (and too much cake) later, my little brother joined me in the kitchen, and looked at me pigging out.

-Weren't you going to give up cakes? He said.
-Shit, I forgot. I said. I sort of had. Or, I sort of had made myself at the sight of the cake.
-Well you can always start your resolution next year. Or tomorrow, he said. Or, you can keep the resolution u made, and just make an exception for chocolate cakes.... and ice cream! He quickly added, looking at the giant tub that I had half-emptied.
-Yeah, good point, I said. Maybe I'll do that. Although both him and I knew that it would never happen.

After that I stopped giving myself empty promises and started with goals instead.

* This year I am going to run a marathon
* This year I am going to run a marathon
* This year I AM going to at least TRY to run a marathon
* This year I am going to REGISTER for a marathon
* This year I am going to train for a marathon.

And then, since I moved to China:

*This year I am going to improve my Chinese miraculously.
* This year I am going to take that HSK exam and do well
* This year I am only going to hang out with Chinese people and really immerse myself in the language.
* This year I am going to find a Chinese running club
* This year I am going to train for a marathon.

As you can tell... I have a bit of a problem both when it comes to resolutions and goals. Maybe I am doing it the wrong way. If anyone has a tip when it comes to fulfilling your dreams/goals/resolutions... feel free to share. At this tired time of the year, I could need some serious kicks in the a** to get me going again.

So far, I actually haven't made any big goals, plans or resolutions for next year. But I would sort of like to change both my training (into something more fun and something less 'have-to' -a friend of mine suggested I would try the 'Body for Life' program, but after googling the book I feel more scared than ever at the thought of following a program like that, besides, I could never follow a diet. It's not my thing), AND my Chinese. Although guess what?! I have already decided next year to take the HSK course!! Not bad huh? Well, always it's a start anyways.

What about u guys, is anyone thinking about NY resolutions? Do Chinese people give NY resolutions? I assume they don't. Seeing that some of my Chinese friends have adopted the Xmas culture and give each other presents during the month of December, I can imagine that some Chinese also will celebrate the western NY like we do in the west.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

How important is it for a foreigner to be able to speak/understand Chinese when doing business in China?

The other day I sat in on a meeting between a European buyer (German, in fact) and a Chinese supplier. My role in the meeting was minimal, so I won't go into that. Rather, I'd like to touch on another subject that I couldn't help but wondering about while I sat and listened at this meeting: how important is it for foreign companies to have foreign staff that speak Chinese?

In this meeting, there were none. The German buyers were new to China and had no understanding for Chinese language, and little understanding for Chinese culture. I was positively surprised that unless the supplier spoke with Shanghai dialect, I could understand pretty much everything they said in Chinese. I could also understand a lot of what the Germans said to each other, as German language is quite similar to Swedish (well, not quite similar, but it is still quite understandable, many words are alike, and so on). To make the negotiation possible there were two young Chinese women who knew the product, the suppliers and the buyers, acting translators.

So there was a total of 6 people and I cannot say that the negotiation went smoothly. Rather, it was kind of painful to listen to at times. Mainly, because they couldn't speak to each other in their native language, and none of them had perfect English, so a lot of information was lost on the way. Also, a lot of times this sort of discussion happened:

Buyer: I think it is too expensive, can we lower the price with 20 cents? Because this and this has been changed so the price should drop a bit...

Translator: I will ask the supplier. (Translates to the supplier and briefly goes over all the changes that has been made, some being clear and some not so clear)

Supplier: It is not possible. The price is already low, ra ra ra.... (the translator and the supplier argues for a good 10 minutes).

Finally, the supplier agrees on lowering the price with 10 cents. The translator turns to the buyer:

Translator: OK, so you can get 10 cents cheaper, is that OK.

Buyer: 10 cents? But I asked for 20? Why only 10?

Translator: (looking tired) She said so. 20 cents is impossible. But it is OK. I will ask again.

The buyers start discussing in German.

Five minutes later, they suggest another change in the product in order to lower the price further. The change is kind of complicated and I can see on the translator that she doesn't fully understand. Still, she says 'OK' and starts to explain to the supplier, I can already tell that the suggested change isn't coming through in her speech, and that the supplier isn't going to bulge. Another 10 minutes discussion takes place. In the end, the Germans get a price drop of 12 cents and no one follows up on the changes that were suggested. Nobody seem really happy and the translator and supplier continues to argue in local dialect for some time.

This whole discussion, over just one product took them more than 30 minutes and that was actually a quite fast example. Other discussions would take up to one hour, mainly because explanations were lost in translation, the supplier didn't understand what the buyer wanted, the buyer didn't understand the suppliers way to think, and so on... I just sat there and wondered to myself if I would have been able to get a better price while negotiating (I wasn't in a position to speak however, so I shut up) since I could have presented my points straight to the supplier. Even though I didn't know all the technical aspects of the product, I still think I could have made my point a bit clearer.

This meeting made me wonder how many meetings are like that here in China. Probably loads. Even though the number of foreigners that can speak Chinese is rising, I still don't think it is that common that meetings/negotiations can take place completely in Chinese at foreign enterprises. It takes a long time to master Chinese, and besides, even though a foreigner could speak Chinese, s/he might not be up for negotiating with a local that prefers negotiating with another local... Also, it is obviously not enough to know Chinese, u have to understand the Chinese culture too (although if you have studied Chinese in China for some years you probably will have a quite good idea of the 'Chinese way')

Obviously, since many Chinese people nowadays speak English, it is more common that the meeting is held in English. But I believe many details can be misunderstood when a meeting is held in a non-native language, especially if the other part is German/ Swedish/ Italian/ from whatever country where English isn't the population's first language. Also, I sometimes feel that Chinese people, even though they don't understand your point, will say 'OK' just because they don't want to seem stupid/lose face by asking you one more time. I think the culture gap between a European country like Germany and China makes the negotiation a bit harder than usual, for both parts. I wonder how much smoother it could have gone if the German company actually had someone German who could negotiate/explain her points in Chinese.

What do you guys think? How important do you think it is for a foreigner to speak Chinese when doing business in China? How many misunderstandings can be avoided? Or, is English enough?

Wednesday, December 10, 2008


If there is something that impresses me, it is Chinese people's ability to fall asleep anywhere at any time. I am that type of sleeping person who struggles if I just spend the night away from my safe and comforting bed, and stuff like 'sleeping on airplanes/buses/trains' are completely out of my league. For the last few days I have caught the morning train to Shanghai and it is always a kind of interesting train ride that u can divide in three parts:

1. Get on the train: people are pushing and elbowing their way forward to get to their seat first. All of those allocated in the wrong seats are ushered away. A bit of confusion normally occurs. Someone tries to push a huge suitcase into the luggage space on top of the seats (never works) and tea bottles are filled with hot water. It’s a cheerful and happy atmosphere, with loud-spoken women, laughing men, and screaming babies.

2. (Five minutes later and the train is rolling): Dead quiet. Loud snoring is soon heard.

3. (2 minutes before reaching Shanghai): Just as if someone set off a giant alarm bell, everybody suddenly wakes up and are instantly in a hurry again. They hurry to collect their stuff, put on their jackets and line up for the exit while the train rolls into Shanghai's station.

Nowadays I am so used to this scene that I barely react, although I remember the first time I went to a big event and was surrounded by (what seemed like deep-) sleeping Chinese people who still managed to wake up just like that?! was back in the days when I was living in Finland, working for a company with a Chinese owner. I had only been with the company for less than a week when I was invited to join the big boss on the Association of Overseas Chinese in Europe Convenes Annual Meeting, which that year took place on a giant ferry cruising from Finland to Sweden for 2 days. I was one out of three Europeans on the trip, and I can understand why the number wasn't higher... everything was said, and done, in Chinese. For me, who at that time barely understood 'Ni hao ma?' and had very little understanding of Chinese culture, not much made sense. So, when I went to one of the meetings, which was basically 2 hours of speeches, all in Chinese, and watched the hundreds of important Chinese business people around my fall asleep in their chairs, I was kind of astonished.

The meeting also included some sort of award ceremony. You can just imagine my surprise when I watched the speaker call out a name and saw a Chinese man, who 2 seconds ago looked as if he had been sleeping deeply, instantly get up and happily stroll up to the scene to accept his award, smile, shake hands with the speaker and pose for the camera. He didn't even look sleepy, but rather fresh and alert as a day.

The same thing happened at the end of the meeting. The speaker said thank you and goodbye (or something like that), and everyone sat up at once and started applauding, smiling and cheering.

"How do they do it?!" I thought to myself, thinking of how I normally feel when someone wakes me up from a nap (those rare occasions when I have managed to nap, less than 10 times in my life I believe?). I am normally a mess at those times: feeling completely lost, wondering where I am, what time it is, and who I should hit for waking me up. The Chinese smooth way of waking up impressed me... and it still does.

I know that they are not sleeping very deeply, a number of Chinese people have explained to me that it is called a 午睡 (wu shui = take a nap after lunch) and that it's not the same as sleeping, but more like a quick rest. Still, they manage to snore and look as if they are far off in la-la-land? Any advices of how to do it, please feel free to share!

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Look after yourself -in public places

Look what I snapped in Shanghai's metro the other day: a woman clipping here nails (mind the blurry picture -mobile shot).

Now, it isn't so much the fact that nails are flying around in the metro, hitting other people as well as the floor, that disgusts me (although that part is sort of creepy too). But I am more or less amazed of the fact that so many people take their nail-clipping to a public place over here? It amazes, yet confuses me, that they carry around their own nail clipper every day, and then at the most crowded place of the day, like the Shanghai metro, they decide to take it out and give their nails a good trim. Why, oh dear god, WHY?! Why not do it in the bathroom, or outside, or when you are alone, or at least when you are WAITING for the metro?

I have watched both men and women clipping their nails in the metro and I have to say that this is something that I find less acceptable than the constant spitting that is taking place everywhere here, including public pools. From judging at what I saw yesterday, it didn't seem to bother anyone else but me in the metro. I guess people are used to it.

Even though I have seen it for the last 2,5 years, I don't think I ever will adapt to this particular habit... and if a stranger's clipped nail would suddenly hit me in the metro, I think I would get kind of aggressive.

You win some, u lose some

Shanghai's finest (hm...) at Muse, Shanghai.

Some months ago I shared my excitement in this blog over the fact that Suzhou's now had its own high-quality expat magazine: That's Suzhou.

The story got even better when I bumped into their sales director who turned out to be someone I have worked with in media before, and he suggested that him, I and the editor of 'That's' would head out for lunch some day and talk about possible freelance possibilities.

"Awesome" I thought, until a little birdy told me that the magazine has been pulled back due to the credit crunch. Boooooh!!!!

Not only does this mean no freelancing but it also means that Suzhou doesn't have any good expat magazine anymore... shame shame shame.

What Suzhou has, on the other hand, is a new nightclub. Just the other week at uni, one of my Japanese former classmates came running towards me.

-Jonna, Jonna, do you know that Mouse nightclub will open in Suzhou?

-Mouse nightclub?!
I repeated. How could it sound so familiar but still not?

-Yeah isn't it cool, they have the same club in Shanghai, it's apparently really good! She continued.

-Hang on a minute...I said. Do you mean MUSE nightclub!?

-Yes! Muse -Mouse?! Well, yes! that's the one.

Ah, cool.

So no That's but a new Muse. I wonder if Suzhou's Muse will drag the same kind of party crew as Shanghai's Muse does... Although I strongly doubt it I guess I will have to check out for myself some day in the future. Speaking from my previous experiences of nighclubbing in Suzhou, however, my expectations will be low!

Monday, December 8, 2008

I've cracked the nut

Same size as always (mind the hideous clothes, I was going on a treck)

Due to another cold, visitors in town, and a kind of hectic schedule, I suppose you can say that I have been neglecting my training lately. It hasn't been on purpose, oh no, really, it hasn't. I love working out and for every day I haven't gone to the gym I have felt a bit bad. But sometimes your days are just too full of 'committments' and also, I think it is kind of rude to sneak off to a spinning class and let my visitors get lost in Suzhou on their own... Anyhoo, now the visitors have left, the cold have subsided (yey!) and although my schedule is still kind of hectic (the result of me going home over Xmas and having to do a whole lot of Xmas shopping), last week I decided to make a gym-comeback.

Since I haven't been going regularly for the last month, a lot of my muscles (especially on my upper body) have vanished and left me feeling... kind of soft... Yuuuk. So, when I arrived to the gym last Thursday I decided it was time for a full-on, full-body weight training session. While I was sitting on a bench in the free weight section training my non-existent-biceps, one of the Hunan boys came up to me.

-You Na! Wow, Long time no seen! Where have u been?
-Busy... Sick... well you know.
-I haven't seen you for ages!
-Yeah I know. I think it's been about 2 weeks since I was here last... yeah OK, I know. I have been bad. But now I will try to come more often. I have lost all my muscles,
I said and pointed at my sad looking arm.
Then came something I hadn't been expecting to hear:
-Yes you have! Lost your muscles and become a bit fat! So u better exercise now! I leave you to it.
-Eh... OK... thanks?!

Hm... OK. That was not what I was hoping to hear from my trainer friend during my first day of the great 'gym come back?' Oh well. Maybe he just tried to push me for a bit? Inspired by the thought of getting fit again I went back the following day for a cardio session.

-You Na! Long time no seen! This time it was the other Hunan by (alias Rocky) who greeted me. -Yeah I know. I have missed training... I started.
-I can tell! Your face is so round!
-It is?!?!??!
-Yeah, u must have put on some weight.
-I have?!

Holy s****, two comments on my weight during the period of only two days?! This HAD to mean something? I decided that I had to get to the bottom of this. Had I really, gained so much weight without noticing myself, meanwhile everyone else saw it?! I knew that I had lost some of my muscles and that my arms felt a lot softer than usual, but rounder face and visable excess weight?! Where had all of that come from? In only 2 weeks?

So I asked my bf:

-Am I fat?
, he said without looking at me.

Bad call. He would never say 'yes' even though he thought so.

-But come on, have I put on weight? I tried. You can be honest, I won't be angry and it is not a trick question!

He looked up from his book and gave me a suspicious glance.

-No, you haven't gained weight.

Hm... OK, but boyfriends are biased. If they tell you you've put on they know they might be in trouble so u cannot shallow his words hook line and sinker.

I decided my second option: the scale. The scale and I have a very simple relationship simply because I've been the same weight more or less since I was 15... or OK, maybe not really, but it feels like that. And this day came with no world-turning numbers. My weight was about the same as always, even 2 kg lighter. But then again, who cares about what scales says... Muscles weighs more than fat and ra ra ra... So.... I went to the third option, namely a measurement tape.

Now this might sound a bit obsessed to you. I bet most people DON'T know their hip/waist width. But I have a fully acceptable reason for knowing. Over the years I have been doing some odd jobs, and one of them has been working as a 'fitting model' for different clothing companies. NOTE: THIS HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH THE REAL ART OF MODELLING. A fitting model simply tries on a pair of pants/ a jumper to see that the size is correct before the company purchases it (in a mass quantity) from the buyer. There are not photos or posing involved with the job... U just try on clothes and tell the company what they feel like. I am a size 38 (on the tall side but still) and therefore I happen to know my hip and waist measurements. So, there u go. Please don't call me obsessed now.

The measurement tape said what it always said. I hadn't gained, and I hadn't lost. I was still a size 38.

So, I decided to go for the fourth and final option, who I know wouldn't be able to lie to me: my skinniest jeans. Jeans, so skinny, that on a 'fat day' (girls know what I am talking about) I cannot always get into them. In fact, I rarely wear them because they are so damn tight, but I still like to keep them as they are the best way to keep track on sudden weight gains.

And to my big surprise: I had no problem what-so-ever to slip into these jeans.

So... with these four factors (bf, scale, measurement tape, and skinny jeans) I think I can say that I really haven't gained any weight! And, if my face is rounder, it has to be temporary swollen or something? Anyways, it can't be because have gained weight... then I would have noticed.

This leaves me with a big question though: 'long time no seen! Oh You Na, you have gained so much weight!" -what is that all about?
As usual, I will present you with four theories:

1. Is that just something you SAY when u see someone u haven't seen for a while? (if so, it's a kind of stupid thing to say)
2. Or, do u say it to make the other one feel guilty for not being to the gym lately (in that case the comment is successful)
3. Or... is it a friendly gesture meaning that we have known each other long enough to joke about each others weight?
4. ...or have these 2 boys thought I was 'fat' all along?!

Please fill me in on this one because I am starting to feel seriously confused about this whole 'you look so fat' thing in China?' Not only do I find it strange that my acquaintances are telling me this, but I also sort of strongly dislike it. And judging from these last 2 comments, it just a load of bullshit?! Why bother?! (and don't blame me for bothering to care. I don't know any girl who wouldn't after two guys told her she looked 'fat')

Saturday, December 6, 2008

HSK disaster and rude girl

There seem to be a minor HSK obsession amongst our teachers at uni, so yesterday we were offered to take a test for free (!) just to get an idea of our level. Although it wasn't compulsory it sort of still was, so even though I really didn't want to take it (I knew I would score terribly. Speaking is my thing meanwhile writing/reading isn't... and the test doesn't test your speaking skills) I did, only to experience it to be way too hard for me.

It's actually quite an awful feeling when u r sitting there with a test in front of you and realise that you don't even know the answers to half of the questions. The first and second part (listening and grammar) was OK, but the second and third (reading comprehension and fill in the blanks... -as in fill in characters!) went so badly that I felt like writing someone else's name on top of the test paper when we had to hand it in. And I thought I was doing OK with my Chinese studies?! Gosh -this test is going to put me on some loser level that might be equivalent to level 1 or 2!?! Although I already consider myself to study quite hard I obviously have to study harder. At least if I ever want to be able to do an HSK test and feel comfortable.

Some other little side notes about the test... although it wasn't a 'real' test, but just a test to find out our levels, the teachers 'guarding' us still took it extremely serious. I had expected there to be an interval of some kind between the 4 different parts, but no... so, when I after part 3 got up to run to the bathroom I was met with suspicious looks and the teacher even stopped me before I went out.

-There is already a girl at the bathrooms You Na, so you simply have to wait!

More serious than our mid term exams?!! What's going on.

The fact that one of the old men 'guarding us' refused to turn off his mobile phone was also quite interesting. There we all sat, reading away, being carefully observed and not allowed to go to the toilet unless it was empty, and this man's phone just kept ringing?!! And it wasn't any discreet ring signal either. I am talking a Chinese version of 'I want it that way' on volume 4... And just to rub it in: the man's "WEI!" when he picked up (because he did, every time) was the high-pitched kind, clearly showing that he didn't give a shit if he disturbed us.

None of this would have probably bothered me if it wasn't for the fact that I was doing so badly on my test. I am terrible in that way. I hate losing/ performing badly and as a result I get annoyed, angry, disappointed and frustrated.

So, when the (disaster) test was finally over, it was with heavy legs I rode my bike to the closest post office to send a Xmas package to a friend in Australia. When I came into the post office I immediately got even more annoyed because everybody was starring and someone even pointed, something that I normally don't care about, but this day it made me sort of angry. The man who wrapped up my package was so nonchalant, making me even more annoyed, so when I finally got to the clerk who was giving me the address slips and he gave me one in French, I sort of erupted.

-This is in French! I can't read French, don't you have anything in English?
-It is not French?
He said, looking like a question mark.

Unfortunately, once the volcano had erupted, ill-behaved magma continued to flow out of me.
I was so rude I am ashamed of myself! I yelled at this boy as if it was all his fault.. gosh, if someone would have heard me I would have probably qualified as 'lao wai jerk of the year'... I mean, I used to work in Mc Donald's during high school so I know what it is like when people who has had a bad day take it out on you and the cheeseburger you just gave them, and at that time I promised myself I would never turn into that person... still, there I was yelling away, like another bad-day-loser.

Fortunately, the boy didn't seem to take it too personal. He remained calm and kind of oblivious, which just made me more angry. Then, an older man appeared behind him and said something like:
-hehehehe.. Lao wai... hehehee.
And I blurted:
-Yeah, lao wai what?! You've never seen a lao wait before or what?!
This made both the man and the boy laugh and once the man left the boy smiled to me and said:

-You're Chinese is quite good!!

I felt like crying.

I mumbled some lame apologize, and added something with 'bad day' before I paid up and left.
When I was outside, unlocking my bike, another clerk came running after me:

-Miss, miss! Your pen! You forgot your pen!

I felt like crying moment number two.

I am never going to be rude to people here again. Never.

Friday, December 5, 2008

How to: make people leave at closing hour

Hot Pot (not from the restaurant where we went last week though)

Last week we decided to take our visitors to a Hot Pot restaurant. It was a freezing night and our timing couldn't have been worse: we arrived around 7.30pm, namely PRIME DINNER TIME for Chinese people, and the restaurant was packed. There was a waiting line that seemed kind of long, but still went incredibly fast? I don't know if it was for the fact that we were four blonds (me, my bf + our 2 blond visitors) or just because we were four people and most of the other people that were only 2 and waited for a small tables. Anyhoo. Once we were seated we started ordering... loads and loads of stuff... Every time I asked the waiter if he thought we had enough for 4 people he just shook his head and said 'oh no no no.. more, more, more'. (He must have thoughts that we were ate twice as much as usual customers because when all the food arrived later it was way too much -surprise surprise!)

It turned out to be a nice dinner for all of us, even though our guests (who at that time had just arrived to China) were struggling with their chopsticks, until we about 1 hour after ordering, suddenly all felt a chill fill the restaurant, and noticed that a lot of people around us started to leave.

-Oh, someone must have accidentally left the door open... me and my bf explained to our visitors.

Turns out, it wasn't that 'accidently' after all. Ten minutes later the place was half empty, and we were eating with our jackets on when a waiter came up to us:

-Excuse me! It is time to pay! She said and handed my bf the bill.

-You're closing?! We all said. It was barely 9pm.

-Eh... yes! the waiter said, with the usual, nervous laughter.

It was way too cold to stay anyways, so we paid up and left. Still, I cannot stop thinking that they have a funny way to do things over here. Why can't they just tell u when u order that 'we are closing in one hours just so u know' or at least come and take your last order 30 min prior to opening the doors and as a sign for people that it is time to leave. (not that we needed to order any more food, but u know what I mean).

This brings back memories from when I used to work at a pub in London when I was 19... Pubs in England have to close at 11pm (the best rule ever for people working there!) and it was always a hassle to actually get people out of the place. Now I think to myself, 'how stupid we were! We should have just opened the doors and let the cold air fill up the pub. That would have triggered everyone to leave.'

Well, you learn something new every day!

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Money, money, money

This has been driving me crazy for the last 2 weeks now so I have to say something. Warning to sensitive readers: it may come across as a rant.

During the last 2 weeks we have been discussing the most-popular-and-loved-to-talk-about-topic in class, namely: boyfriend/girlfriend/husband/wife qualities. I have taken a total of 3 full semesters at Chinese universities, and this is a topic that keeps coming back, no matter where u study, no matter who your teacher is, and no matter how unwilling u are to discuss it. My current speaking teacher seems to have a minor 'thing' for the whole 'love' topic, as she has brought it up numerous times, asking us students if we are dating/single/married, and, more importantly, what our partner is like (or how we wish him/her to be like). This could have been a quite interesting discussion if we could have kept to the basics, or, to cultural related things in different countries, focusing on different traditions and so on... but noooooooooooooooo that is the one thing we don't do. What we do talk about, however, is the one thing that seem to be on top of the list of a lot people's wish list: MONEY.

-How much does s/he has?
-How much does his/her family have?
-If it is a guy, can he afford to buy you a house/ jewellery
(apparently the man should buy the girl a necklace, a ring and a bracelet, and/or earrings when they get married in China?)? As for the house, it is becoming more and more common that the boy and the girl's family share the cost of the house, although before it used to be the man's family's job to pay for the property.
And then finally:
-how IMPORTANT is money?

Our teacher asked us all to tell her what we found to be the most important in our partner. She started with us girls.

-Personality, stable, trust, values, education, common interest.... was some of the things people mentioned.

She combined a list of all the qualities, leaving the number 1 open.

She went on to the guys:

-Looks, body, sexy (we have a lot of young guys in my class), interesting, funny...

Again, she left the number 1 spot open.

And then, she turned to us and said, with a grave expression on her face:

-I think you have forgotten the most important thing here. If your partner, and mainly your man, doesn't have any money, how are you going to support yourselves?

-Well, how about working yourself?
I said. I couldn't believe what I was hearing?! People live their lives before they get married, supporting themselves. Why on earth would u stop once u get married?

-But the man has to have money, she insisted. Otherwise you'll be unhappy.

-Why, can't you work for yourself?

-What if you don't have a job?

-Well then you have a real problem that u should solve before u get married. Should u just marry someone so that he can support you?

A giggle revealed that that was the end of that discussion. (which leads me into another thing that annoys me over here: why does so many discussions end with a giggle/nervous laughter?)

OK OK... I am not that naive that I am going to write something like 'money doesn't matter, personality is everything' because I know that money matters. U need money to live, obviously... but would I put money on the top of my list when it comes to finding a partner... no way! And, even if I was so damn money-hungry, would I be so open about it? I don't think so?! I understand that you cannot compare life in the west to life in China, but sometimes I feel that the way some girls over here speak about money is just somehow sickening. There is no 'we can do it together' attitude, it is more like:

1. Does he (because let's face it. It is often a he) have money?
2. Can he buy a house, a car, jewellery, new furniture, and so on?
3. Can he support me and my baby?
4. Can he do it NOW?

Actually... it more and more makes sense why many girls here marry a much older man... how easy is it for a young guy (who doesn't come from a rich family) to be loaded? Saving up money takes time! It takes years of hard work, of (hopefully) being promoted, of working together and saving up... I don't know anyone (who isn't rich) who has just gotten married, bought a brad new house and filled it with new furniture, and then a BMW for the parking lot to top things off? Like, really.. it doesn't happen like that. U buy things gradually... at that is part of the fun. That you can finally get yourself something that u have been saving up for for a long time.

Or, am I the most naive thing to even think like this? I feel that I sort of backlash when I get into discussions like this and people nag about money as it was the only thing to live for.

Sure, money is important.

But is it, really, the most important thing when it comes to finding yourself a partner to spend the rest of your life with?

(And no, I am not talking about someone who has NOTHING. I am talking about an average girl -or boy-, just like my teacher. Who has studied at the university, who has a job, who wears pretty clothes, who eats good meals every day, who has a gym membership, who smiles and laughs a lot and who seems quite happy in general.)