Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Photo special: bike ride in Dali

Anyone planning to visit Dali in Yunnan should not miss out on a bike ride in the surrounding area. Rent bikes for 10 rmb/day and ride down to Er Hai lake. Pass through small villages, chat to locals, and enjoy the beautiful scenery. 

Tips: get bigger bikes than we did. We were way too tall for our bikes!
洱海 -Er Hai Lake 

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Off to Malaysia

From this.... this!

With a Malaysia trip around the corner it is kind of hard to focus on writing Chinese characters, even though I know I should. I will commit the usual travelling mistake and pack some of my Chinese book in the hopes of me opening them in between the beach and the cocktail hour. I know I know, I’m yet to learn (I think that for me it will be a never-ending, sort of life-long learning process), but for some reason it feels better to pack them and drag them around than to leave them at home where they will only collect dust.

I’m a bit sad to leave my new uni as I enjoy my course so much. Most of my teachers are real great, and I’m so happy about my “class.” Last week a young, Chinese girl started talking to me and we agreed to meet later that afternoon for some language exchange. As we sat down at a café, it took about 10 minutes before a young, Chinese boy suddenly turned up:

“May I join you?”

I am 99,9% sure that the next time I meet with this young girl, we are going to be an even larger group of people. There are not so many foreign students at this uni and most of the Chinese students are keen to practice their English. Which is totally fine with me, as long as they agree to share the time and let me practice my Chinese when they are done.

Anyhow, now I better get ready for catching that car to the airport. Some photo posts will appear while I’m gone unless I locate a computer to blog from at Langkawi Island. As usual I’m travelling computer-free.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Unnecessary lying

Don't lie about lunch plans

One of my teachers at the new uni is a lovely, young, Chinese woman. We’ve gotten well on from the start, only though recently I’ve noticed that she squeezes in unnecessary lies every now and then. Like one Friday after class, when she insisted on showing me her office.

There I was, ooohing and aaahing to her neat desk and bookshelves (didn't really know what else to do), when she suddenly asked me what I was doing for lunch.

-I don’t know, I said. Maybe I’ll just grab something from the food station downstairs.

-Why don’t you go to the big square across the road? There are tonnes of restaurants!

-Yeah I know,
I said. But I don’t really know any people here yet, and it is a bit boring to go alone. So the food station will do for now!

-Oh, OK, well what a shame. Today I brought my own lunch, but how about next Friday we go together?

-Eh… sure! I
said. This was not what I had been fishing for, but why not?

Ten minutes later I was sitting at the café at the first floor when I met one Chinese student that I talked to during registration. She joined my table and we chatted for a bit, until she suddenly said:

-Oh, and there’s one of your teachers, she's also getting lunch!

-Who? Where?

I turned around, only to see my very teacher, lining up at the same food station where I had lined up only 5 minutes ago, obviously getting her lunch. She pretended she didn’t see me.

I felt kind of… confused. I don’t blame her for not wanting to have lunch with me, I never intended for that to happen anyways, it was she who brought it up! But lying about brining your own lunch and then 10 minutes go downstairs to get some? What’s the point of that? It felt like such an unnecessary lie. She might as well have told me she had lunch plans or said nothing or whatever. But what's the point of pretending to be polite and friendly when what you really are doing is lying? Things like that don't really go down well with me. 

Sure, most of us lie (white lies or big lies) at times. But rule number one: don’t lie when you know you’re going to get caught.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Getting ready for a China escape...

Been busy with packing and planning this weekend. The October national holiday is coming up in China and this year it's an extra big one. While the country is gearing up to celebrate its 60th anniversary of the People's Republic, me and my boyfriend are getting ready for a holiday escape to Malaysia. Even though it might not be the best season to visit Malaysia it’s going to be awesome to get away for a week and neither see nor hear a single firecracker. We’ll be spending a few days in Kuala Lumpur before heading off to Langkawi island. I’m quite excited, as I’ve never been to Malaysia before. Is there anything we shouldn’t miss out on in Kuala Lumpur? Seeing that I'm a bit of a food junkie, also let me know if there are any must-eat dishes. I've heard that Malaysian food is quite spicy but sweet... Anyways, feel free to share your recommendations.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Surprise, surprise...

Life in China is full of surprises. Like when I got home from the gym on Wed night, sweaty like a wet sock and very ready to hit the shower. And there I was, standing in the shower, holding my hand out and waiting for the ice-cold water to turn hot… only though, it didn’t.

I went to the kitchen to check if we still had gas. Nope. Must be out of money on that gas card then I thought, but wrong again. The card still had money left. But for some unknown reason, we neither had gas nor hot water. And I desperately needed that shower. Great.

After a slightly improvised shower in our bathtub aka the sink (our second bathroom is equipped with a pretty, but useless, bathtub that has a separate water heater. “Awesome!” we thought when we moved in, until that day when we tried it. There I was sitting in the half-full tub when the hot water suddenly ran out. Turns out, the external heater doesn’t have enough hot water capacity to fill up even half a bath tub!), I didn’t feel clean but at least a little bit fresher, and the next day we reported our problem to our landlords. Seeing that I don’t really love our landlords (especially not the woman, she always complains about how dirty our flat is, about us drying our clothes inside and not on the humid, dirty balcony, about us not wanting to open our windows to let some "fresh air in" and so on) I let my boyfriend report it to someone at work who passed on the message. We were told that someone would come to fix it at 8pm that night.

At 7pm (…) there was a knock at the door. We opened and were surprised to see a young Chinese couple standing outside the door. “Oh, might be a translator or something, or some new people from the real estate agency?” I thought. It has happened before that we have called for our landlords and a young translator has showed up with a dictionary but no toolbox, only to leave 5 minutes later when she realizes that we can communicate in Chinese. Anyways, I was quite happy not to see our landlord lady so I let the young couple in.

The man was rather hysterical. Sweat was pouring from his forehead and he seemed stressed and in a rush, pretty much running into our kitchen and throwing himself at the gas meter. The young girl definitely wasn’t a translator, but seemed like a nice “tag along” until she said:

-We live just across the road so we were looking into your flat and when we saw you turn on the lights we decided to come over.

(Uhhhhh!!! "Spies" on the other side of the road!? Note to self: never walk around the flat wearing only underwear again.)

The hysterical man seemed clueless to our problem, he thought it was the card that was out of money (even though we had already told him it wasn’t, but of course they cannot trust us, “stupid laowais”) and when he realized we were right he just sat there at the floor, looking at the gas meter. He then started calling people. It was around 7.30 pm but apparently some repair place still had people working and they promised to send someone over immediately. Got to love that about China. It’s never too late to call for assistance. 

While we were waiting the man suddenly discovered a box attached to the gas meter that had 4 batteries. Maybe it was those that needed to be changed? We didn’t have any batteries at home so he rushed out to buy some. In the meantime, me and the young girl sat down and had a chat.

-So you’re new at the real estate agency? I asked her.

-Oh, no. I am the new house owner. I took over this flat some months ago.

-Eh… what? You own this flat?

-Yeah, your old landlord wanted to find a flat in another area so I bought this one. So yes, I am your new landlord, you can call me “mei mei”
(not as in little sister, but as in “beautiful”).

-Righty… but like… when did you buy it?

-Just this summer. Maybe your boyfriend remembers, I was here one night and looked at the flat.

-Oh yeah that’s right,
my boyfriend said. You came in for like 5 minutes around 8pm one night and looked around.

-Yeah that’s right!
The girl said. Then I bought the flat.


-So if you have any problems you can contact me!

Me and my boyfriend just looked at each other. Here was a young girl who’d bought the flat where we are living, without even having people doing a mould check? We know for a fact that this flat might look quite nice but that it has a lot of problems (like moist and leakages) that should be solved. How can someone just buy a flat after having looked at it for 5 minutes?

Unfortunately we didn’t have time to ask. There was a knock at the door and in came the hysterical man equipped with batteries, plus a new repair guy (that was fast!), PLUS one of the gate guards working at our complex?! We were all quite surprised to see him. 

-Hello hello! He said, carrying a flashlight and looking important.

-Eh, hello… ehh… come in? We replied. Got to love the fact that people just turn up at your door when it’s repair time.

Turns out it was the 4 batteries that needed to be changed. The repair guy and the flashlight guard had come in vain, but they seemed happy still.

-Oh, so you guys have not had any hot water for a whole day? The hysterical guy said. Yuuuuuk, so you haven’t been able to shower?

-Well we used the second bathroom with the external heater, I said. It’s not great but it worked for cleaning up.

-Oh, the second bathroom has an external heater? The boy and the girl said. Wow, we didn’t know that.

-Eh…. Well yes, it does.

-Well that’s great then! OK, if you have any other problems just call us!

You have to LOVE this. Here they are, our new owners. Living across the road so that they can conveniently look into our flat. However, they don’t even know that one of our bathroom has an external water heater? Well, like I said, life in China is full of surprises, and those two are definitely in for some.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Road rage

Taking the bus every morning to uni opens up for a whole range of new experiences. Stepping on the bus in an adventure itself. You never know if the bus driver is going to charge you 2 or 3 yuan (depends if the bus has an air con or not) so you have to be ready with your coins. Once I only put two and then I got yelled at and had to dig out my purse from the bottom of my handbag meanwhile the bus was driving/turning at the speed of 120km/h (or no, it wasn’t but really, it felt like that). I was flying from side to side, almost falling over several times, and I believe I was a pretty amusing sight to the passengers sitting down just where I was standing, at least they were starring at me as if I was some creature from out of space. Anyways, since that day I always prepare 3 yuan, just in case.

One morning I was dozing off at the back of the bus when the bus suddenly stopped at a bus stop. Not as in a stop-to-pick-up-passengers-stop, but as in really stopped. Me and 20 other sleepy passengers were obviously wondering what was going on, but we didn’t have to wonder for long, as we suddenly saw 2 men coming out a minivan parked next to the bus. They were looking everything but happy and one of them was carrying a long, baseball-bat-like baton! Me and the other passengers glanced at each other. What was going on?

We were soon to find out. Some serious road rage event had apparently occurred meanwhile we had been lost in out iPods and mp3-players. The bus driver might have done one overtake too many, or, he’d given the finger or god knows what, but the two men from the minivan were so angry they started hitting the bus with the baton, screaming abuses to the driver. I thought our driver would just start the bus and wave them away, but he was in no such a mood. Instead, he got up from his seat and stepped out of the bus.

By now, all passengers had realized what was about to happen and most of us (not me, I promise, although I had to really hold myself back not to) stuck their heads out the window to witness our bus driver and the two angry minivan men pushing and screaming at each other. We were all more or less waiting for the big “bam!” but it never came. Instead, the angry men got back into their van, and now it was our bus driver’s turn to yell and hit their car. They eventually drove off and the driver came back to the bus and hit the road again. However, he was apparently quite upset, because the speed he set off in? Oh my oh my. Anyone who’s ridden a bus in China knows that they aren’t really snails on the road. When someone speeds up as the result of being upset, it can get kind of dangerous.

I seemed to be the only one concerned about the fact that we might have a car crash so I was holding on tightly to my seat. That turned out to be a good idea. Some mad turns later we came in an immaculate speed towards a traffic light shifting from green to red, and the car in front of us stopped. The bus driver had to do a quite dramatic stop in order not to hit the car. And the result of this little stop? Well, a man who was standing up flew like a little insect to the other side of the bus, hitting the windows before he fell to the floor. Handbags and shopping bags flew all over the bus, spreading their content on the dirty bus floor. Everybody seemed rather shocked, except for the driver who didn’t show any sign of regret. When the light turned green he went back to his crazy speed-driving, meanwhile I was helping an old lady to pick up her groceries from the floor.

I was rather happy when I eventually got off that bus, and I can’t say I’m loving these kind of rides. Then again, getting to school has proven to be a quite adventurous experience, spicing up my mornings and giving me that extra kick that my morning cup of coffee sometimes fails to deliver.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

No drum rolls or firecrackers

To have or not to have -turns out, doesn't really matter anyways.

I’ve now been back in China for more than 3 weeks (ahhhh!) and although I’ve been busy with travelling around with mom/ having the flue/ starting my new uni course, I’ve still had time to catch up with most of my Chinese friends. I’m not going to lie now, because I was feeling slightly nervous about seeing them all. I’ve had rather mixed reactions from people when I’ve gotten back from holidays overseas, everything from “oh you look so fat” to “you look a bit dirty” (this was when I had a tan) to “oh, your skin is glowing!” (nice one, I got this when I came back from my Christmas holiday in Sweden last year).

Some people were apparently keener to see me than others. The day after I had landed my trainer buddy Rocky called me, asking when I was coming to the gym.

-I’m so curious you know, he said. I want to know what changes you’ve had!


-Yeah, like if your skin has gone darker, if your hair is longer, if you are thinner/fatter than before….

-Eh, I’m pretty sure I look the same as always! I said. Only change I can think of is that my Chinese is a bit worse than before. I don’t really go and change that much over 2 months.

-Well let’s see.

And very well. Some days later I made it to the gym and was greeted by a happy Rocky. Although he had promised he would give me a hug he didn’t. Instead we shared a lame handshake. Then came the bold once-over.

-Hm… you are really right. You haven’t changed. You are not skinnier. And not fatter. You are pretty much the same.

-I told you so!
I said.

Some days later, however, I met my language partner. The moment I walked into the restaurant she put a hand over her mouth. I already knew it had something to do with the look of me. And very well:

-Jonna, you have lost weight! She said, before I even had time to sit down.

-Eh… I have? I don’t think so?

-Yes trust me, you have. Now, shall we order? What do you feel like today?

-Eh.. how about chicken?

-Chicken is good. How about eggplant.

-Eggplant?! Great!

And then yesterday at the gym I bumped into another trainer friend, Shan.

-You Na!!! Long time no seen!

-I know, I went to Europe over summer. What have you been up to?

-Not much, same old… and you? You’ve lost weight.

-Oh, eh… well… eh… I don’t know?

-Yeah, anyways, how was Europe?


So there goes. Three people and we all start our conversation with talking about my body frame. For me, who’s been told I “look fat” more than 100 times here in China, suddenly being told I have lost weight is a kind of nice change (now, if someone wonders if I actually have, I don’t really know. I weight less than before because of lost muscle mass. But that’s sort of it). But I’m a little bit bummed about the fact that after a quick mention of it, that’s sort of it. Where are the fireworks, the pat on my shoulder, and the drum rolls? I mean, every time someone has stated that I look “fatter” we have spent at least 10 minutes talking about it; about how I have done it, how much I eat, how often I eat chocolate, and what I can do to lose my excess. And now, when I (according to them) have actually done it, lost all that “fatness”… then I get… nothing?!

Oh, oh, China and body images. Can’t get enough of these experiences, can I?

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Low-cost lifestyle

A bit bumpy to ride but definitely cheaper than a taxi

Keen to lower your living costs in China? Start studying at a Chinese university. Studying in China is really like surrounding yourself with a cheap lifestyle. For the last week or so my daily spendings has not exceeded 10 rmb/day. It’s rather great if you ask me:

Bus to school: 2 rmb.

Lunch at school: 5-6 rmb (big bowl of rice with 2 vegetable- and one meat dish. Normally I aim for three vegetable dishes and skip the meat, or take one dish less, and then it’s only 4 rmb).

Filling up your water bottle in school: free. There are water stations everywhere.

(I’ve also been told to head to the 7th floor, the “teachers floor” if I’d like to make myself a cup of coffee to the cost of nothing. But so far I haven’t taken up on this offer).

Bus back home: 2 rmb. And guess what, both buses that I can take stops outside my door. It’s almost too easy to be true.

And, I don’t even have to bring my own packages of tissues. This university has got bathrooms equipped with both toilet paper (!) AND soap (!). First time I’ve had that luxury in China.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Loser Laowai

I wonder why China attracts so many weird foreigners. Before I moved to China I spent six months in London, more than three years in Australia, and another year in Finland, and I’ve never experienced meeting as many weirdoes as I do over here. People that are comparing themselves to others, competing against others, and people that take every single chance they get to express how d*** good and successful they are and how bloody well they are doing. Maybe I’m simply too low-key for China, because I never talk about myself as if I was some kind of expert? Let me share one example from a Loser Laowai I met last Friday.

On Friday night me and some friends went to a bar in Suzhou that had arranged a special Swedsih crayfish party event. Since us Swedes love crayfish it was given that we were going to go. The crowd at the bar was mixed, but I was having fun in my group and although we sang “snaps songs” together with the other crowd we preferred to stay at our table and talk throughout the night. Me and my closest girlfriend weren’t really going for getting pissed drunk: I had been sick all week and wanted to take it rather easy, just enjoy a few glasses of wine and a good conversation.

Soon, a fellow laowai from the other group joined our table. He was quite nice to start off with, even though he started the conversation by telling us about his “fantastic career here in China.” We were like “OK, great, well done” until he asked:

-So how about you? What are you girls doing here?

We told him that we were learning Chinese.

-Oh, at Suzhou Daxue? (Suzhou University) he sad with a terrible pronunciation.

-Yeah, I am, my friend said. But Jonna is at another uni.

-Why aren’t you at Suzhou Daxue?
he asked me. Don’t you want to study together with your friend?

-Well, we are not at the same levels
, my friend said. I’m a beginner and Jonna has studied for 2 years so she’s in advanced.

-Advanced?! ADVANCED?! Oh really?! So you can like, speak and stuff? He said, and straight away I could feel the attitude.

-Eh, well yes, I can speak and stuff. I’m not great or anything, but sure, I can have a conversation, I replied.

-I wanna hear that! He said. Hey, Tom (?), come over here! He yelled, waving for one of his male friends. This lady claims she can speak Chinese, we have to test her!!

I felt like punching him. First of all, I had not claimed anything, rather, I just replied to his question. Second of all, I wasn’t in the mood to be “tested,” I was having a relaxed night out with a friend?

Tester-Tom also seemed a bit reluctant at first, I think he felt that neither me nor my friend were interested in playing this game. His friend kept urging him, however:

-Come on Tom! You have to test these girls! They say they are fluent in Chinese! I wanna hear that! I wanna see if it is true!!!

Me and my friend were giving him the “what-is-your-problem?”-eye, but we didn’t really say anything.

-So, where do you come from? Tom suddenly said in a terribly broken Chinese. For my friend, who hasn’t studied for too long, it was impossible to comprehend, meanwhile I got his point. But the whole situation felt completely ridiculous.

-Are you from the same city in Sweden? Tom went on.

-No, we said.

-So, what cities then? He urged.

-Malmö, I said.

-Kalmar, my friend said.

Now, Kalmar is a tiny little city in Sweden. Unless you’re a Swede, you’re not going to know this place, so we knew Tom was going to be clueless.

-Stockholm? He said to my friend?

-No, Kalmar.


-No, Kalmar.

-Ehhh…. OK, great.

Tom kept silent for a while, looking at us and obviously not feeling the love. Meanwhile, his drunken, annoying friend kept glaring at us, as if he wanted us to be put on a spot and suddenly admit that “oh, ehh… haha, no no… we actually cannot speak Chinese after all!”

-I come from a city called… bl blab la… Tom went on. Neither me nor my friend listened, instead, we turned our attention to each other.

-OK, Tom suddenly said. They are both great! They speak excellent Chinese!

His friend said. But you have to like, test them!!!

-I just did,
Tom said and got up.

Throughout the rest of the night, the annoying guy kept coming over to our table, telling us to join their table, throwing abusing comments about some other people (that we know) around and just being a jerk in general. Around midnight, he was so drunk he could barely stand up, and swayed over, telling us they were going to a nightclub.

-You should coooooooooooome! He slurred.

-No thanks. We said, not even bothering to smile.

-Why not? Come on, don’t be so boring! What are you? Like, bloody 45 years old? Let’s PARTY!!!

-Actually, we are really boring, I said, completely fed up with this guy. We are more like two 60-year olds. We don’t like going out at all. We spend most of our nights in. I was hoping this would make him leave.

-Yeah you bloody are! He said, clearly annoyed. You are so boring! I mean, what the f*** are you doing in China if you don’t like to PARTY?!

And with that, he turned around, walked straight into a table, almost fell, spilled his beer, said something like “f****!” and walked towards the exit.

He left me and my friend at our table, laughing at his pathetic departure, and his embarrassing speech.

Sure, I’ve met jerks at many places, but this particular kind of guy, who wants to compete in who is the most successful/ speaks the best Chinese/ has the most fun/is the biggest party animal… I don’t know, but aren’t there just too many of them here in China?

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Suzhou Museum 苏州博物馆

Spent a few hours at Suzhou museum this morning. Not bad! Actually above my expectations. Suzhou museum was designed by Chinese-American architect Ieoh Ming Pei, and I have to say it sported a truly fresh and modern interior. It is a museum of ancient Chinese art, ancient Chinese paintings, calligraphies, and hand-made crafts as well as some modern art. I personally enjoyed the art the most, which made me think that next time I go to Shanghai I have to go and visit the art district again, I haven’t been there since 2006.

Anyways, here’s a sneak peek from the museum:

Porcelain pillow -yikes!

Silk wadded dress, from the Yuan dynasty, 1271-1368. 
Veeeery old shoes... also from the Yuan dynasty, 1271-1368. 

Friday, September 18, 2009

Tiger Leaping Gorge trek day 2

Better late than never, right? I thought I’d finish writing about the Tiger Leaping Gorge trek today, only 1 week after I wrote about the day one trek (ehum).

First of all I have to recommend anyone doing the trek to stay at the Halfway House. It was great: fair prices, insanely good food (or is it only so that on a mountain everything tastes rather amazing?) and friendly owners that took their time to chat with us. Mom and I stayed in an fairly big room (that had a private bathroom) that was clean and OK, and 120 rmb/night. I think the dorm was something like 20 rmb/night. There were also cheaper rooms.

We were up early the next morning and had a wonderful breakfast at the roof terrace (muesli with yoghurt and fruit, Yunnan coffee and some Naxi sandwiches, note to others: no need to order this much, the portions here are BIG!) before heading out.

Our Naxi friend Xiao Hua had already warned us that walking down the mountain could be a bit tricky, and I was personally a bit worried about this. I have weak ankles and I’m quite clumsy in general, so I prefer walking upwards (where you have everything under control) to walking downwards (where nothing is in control). We decided to walk together with a bunch of guys that we had gotten to know the night before at the roof terrace (a great mix of ABCs and Chinese and a lovely British couple on their around-the-world-trip –respect to them, the guy was in sandals!).

Everything started off well and the road was flat and pleasant until we suddenly saw a…. waterfall. That’s when it all came together for me. The day before Xiao Hua had told me that there were several “pubu” (瀑布) but for some reason I hadn’t clicked and realized that it was waterfalls he was talking about (note to self: never just pretend that you understand when you don’t). Now I saw a huge waterfall in front of me and I saw some people crossing it, having obvious difficulties as the waterfall was on one side, and a steep edge on the other side.

I immediately wanted to turn around. I could already see myself slipping on those wet, slippery stones and being swept away over the edge, breaking more than my foot when I landed some 20 meters down.

-Sorry I can’t do it, I told Jason, a guy I had been talking to.

-Sure you can, here, give me you water bottle and you’ll be fine.

I feel kind of bad because I held up our group for about 15 minutes at this spot, simply because I was too scared to cross. In the end, everybody had crossed except for me and Jason who claimed he would “catch me if I fell” and therefore walk behind me. Eventually I did it, but without any of that grace that the others had done it with. I simply walked straight into the water, ignoring the wet, slippery stones that others had been stepping in. I still had to use some stones (sooooo slippery!) but I magically managed to stay on my feet and didn’t even fall once (soooo proud of myself!), and got a big applaud from the others once I was on the other side. 

-I’ll never do that again! I said I said with a grin when I sat, wet as a cat (In order to avoid the edge I had walked so close to the actual waterfall that I was soaked) on the “safe side.” 

-Oh, don’t say that! the others said. And sure thing. Only some 20 minutes later I had to eat my words when a new waterfall appeared.

In total we crossed three waterfalls, but the other two were quite small compared to the first one so it went well. No one fell, only thing that happened was that I got a bit wet and had to walk the rest of the trek in soaking wet shoes. But that’s no biggy.

Going downwards proved to be steep and a bit hard on the knees, but overall it was OK. I think I was so relieved about having crossed that waterfall that I actually didn’t really care about anything else. I made my way down in one piece, and we did it quite fast. I think it only took something like 1.5-2 hours?

Down at Tina’s Guest house (which is some kind of meeting point) the others went on to see the actual “Tiger Leaping stone” where as me, mom and some other guys caught a car back to the entrance, and then a bus back to Lijiang. Here we also found out that one of the other hikers were Swedish. Yikes. So much for talking your own language thinking no one can understand you. Oh well.

Overall I have to say it was a great hike. I would recommend it to anyone going to Yunnan. For me it was the best part of the whole trip (except for when mom got dizzy in the beginning of the trek): Stunning nature, friendly, helpful people, and good food + a hot shower awaiting you at the end. You don’t need much more to be happy.

Proof, proof! I did it! (Photo by Jason/Justin)

Previous posts about the TLG trek:

Thursday, September 17, 2009

The holy hour

Eat up!

The Chinese lunch hour is holy. 12-1pm is for eating in China. I remember once when I was doing a job in Pudong in Shanghai and didn’t have time to eat lunch. Around 3pm I was on my way to the city centre in a taxi: I was going to meet some friends who, like me, also had skipped lunch and were in a kind of “starving” state of mind.

Somewhere between Pudong and Puxi we got stuck in a traffic jam and I was so hungry I simply couldn’t keep it together:

-How long do you think this will take? Is there any other road we can take? Can’t you just overtake that car? I whined to the driver (quite unlike me, I never encourage overtaking in China).

My driver, though, was a friendly man:

-Don’t worry my friend. This is just a small jam. You’ll be in Puxi in 15 minutes or so.

-OK great!

-Are you on your way to some important meeting?

-Meeting? Eh…. No. I’m actually going to a restaurant. I didn’t have time to eat lunch today so I’m starving!

-NO LUNCH?! What? But it’s almost 3.30pm!

-I know, I was just too busy to…

-Too busy to what? To go to a shop and buy some bread?! Oh you women! You cannot skip lunch! You have to eat! Here, have some cookies!

A package of Oreos landed in my lap.

-Oh, thank you, but I….

-And some crackers!

A package of rice cakes joined the Oreos.

-And give some to me too! I’ll eat with you!

So there we were, me and a Shanghai taxi driver in a traffic jam, munching Oreos like long-lost pals.

-You must remember never to skip lunch! Lunch is important! The driver said, spitting Oreos all over himself

-I know, trust me. I normally eat lunch.

But the driver wasn’t really listening.

-You know, I see so many young girls nowadays. Young girls like you. So thin. And still they don’t want to eat anything. They don’t understand….

-But I, like.. today I was just so busy….

-You should know that you are already thin enough! If you get thinner you will disappear! You must eat your lunch….

I decided there was no point arguing, instead I let the driver continue lecture me while feasting on Oreos and rice crackers. I had to promise him before getting out of the car “never to skip lunch again!”

When it comes to lunch at the university, it’s (if possible) even more of a holy hour. Every day, between 12-2 pm (2 hours!) there are no classes because of the “lunch break.” This has bothered me for a while now. One hour, fine. But two? Who needs two hours to fill their stomachs? I normally eat within the first 15 minutes of my lunch break, and the rest of the time is spent lulling around.

When I asked my teachers about the matter I got a bunch of different answers:

Option one:

-Two hours is because some students want to go home during lunchtime. If they live a bit far away one hour isn’t enough.

-But why do they need to go home?

-To cook their own food!


-Eh….. yes….

Option two:

-Two hours is because the older teachers at this university want to have a nap after lunch. They need that in order to rest up for the afternoon.

-Nap? At work?

-Yeah well. It’s lunchtime.


Option three:

-Well the lunch break is so long so that people have time to go to new and different restaurants every time!

-But isn’t one hour enough for that?

-Well not if you want to go to the city.

-But who goes to the city? It’s too far away!

-Yes, that’s why lunch is two hours! So that you can make it to the city!


There, I give up. 12-2pm are the holy lunch hours at my university. Siesta!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Some funny shots from Yunnan

Need to hire an ayi? Why not try someone from Dali's "ceaning hoes?"

A pimped bike in Dali

I've never seen as many sex toy shops anywhere in China as I saw in Lijiang. Seriously, there was one in every corner? Got to love their discreet translation "adult thing."

And then, some toilet concepts:

One of the many toilet without doors we experienced

(Blurry shot, I know) In case you'd like to have a cigarette AND/or watch some TV while having a toilet moment to yourself? -Public toilet in Lijiang.

Interesting toilet concept at one of our hotels. Pull the curtain for some privacy 

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

In for a challenge

I will have to take the risk now of sounding like a complete geek, but I have to say this: I love my new university! I don’t think I have ever been happier with a decision I’ve made. Last semester at Suzhou uni was so dreadful, I didn’t feel that I got anything out of it, rather, I just sunk back and became a background person never opening my mouth in class (not blaming this fact on anyone else but me). 

Now, however, everything has changed. I am in a private class. It’s only me and the teacher. What we learn is mainly up to me. All my mistakes are corrected. All my silly questions are answered. I had my first lesson yesterday morning: “Intensive Chinese.” My teacher, Liu Laoshi, was a young girl who’s never taught advanced Chinese before. The book she brought in was way too simple for me (it was intermediate level, but must have been a very initial intermediate one because it felt like a level 3 book). We chatted for a while and she quickly agreed that we must change the book. Liu Laoshi is also my teacher in “Reading Online News,” which I am happy about. We got on well and she seems really smart. We talked a little bit about political/financial system and stuff and I told her that I’d really like to learn some more vocabulary surrounding things like that. “Sure!” she said. Awesome.

I had a 2,5 hours break in between my first and second lesson (great!). I spend this time walking around the huge and clean campus (feeling like a total UFO. I am so out of place here. During my one day I only saw 2 other laowais, everybody else are Chinese), checking out the lunch options. Note to self: must make friends soon. Not fun to eat lunch alone every day.

Eventually I bought myself a Chinese magazine, located a self-study room (!!!) and spent the rest of my time in there, reading and translating some articles. Good practice. I promised myself that from now on I’ll read one article/day.

At 2pm it was time for my second class: “Introduction to Chinese Culture.” This is the course I was going to take together with students from Hong Kong and Taiwan. On my schedule classroom 272 was listed, but when I arrived there was no one there. I waited until 2pm. Still no one. I called one of my teachers. She promised to look it up for me. 2 minutes later she called back:

-Sorry, our mistake, classroom 277!

Great. I hate being late.

When I walked into classroom 277, twenty curious eyes were watching me, probably wondering what the h*** I was doing there.

-Is this Chinese culture studies? I asked in Chinese.

-Sure it, the teacher said.

-Whoooooaaaaaaaa… said all the students (who obviously had not seen me as their potential classmate).

Now THIS class is going to be a challenge, that’s one thing that’s for sure! The teacher, Xie Laoshi, a man in his mid 40-ies, spoke really fast, and also really quietly? I’ve been spoiled with loud teachers I guess. In the beginning I could barely hear a word he said. He talked and talked. Said this was a class of only 9 students, and that we were going to be close like a “family” at the end of this semester. In order to start things off he thought we should get to know each other. Everybody had to go to the front, write their name on the board and talk about themselves.

Excellent. My favourite thing to do! (Not!)

As my fellow classmates started introducing myself I realized I couldn’t get half of what they were saying because they spoke so quietly. I really had to make an effort to get some of it. Soon, the teacher gave me a nod, meaning it was my turn.

I was so nervous! This wasn’t Mandarin level 4 or 5, this was a class with native speakers. Would they all be able to understand me? At first I stumbled a bit, then the teacher started asking me questions, which I had no problem answering (phew!) Once I was done the teacher said:

-I should explain to you all that Jonna is actually not doing a degree at this university. She’s studying Chinese, but because there were no other foreign students on the same level as her, we decided to put her in this class to listen and learn. I think we should all applaud her effort.


Big applaud followed. I am pretty sure I looked like a stop sign. 

Next followed a test. All in Chinese of course. There are no short cuts around this course:

-Who was the first Chinese emperor?
-Who wrote the famous book XXXX?
-From where does the famous statement XXXX come from? Taoism? Confucius? Buddhism?
-From what minority group does the “qi pao” originally come from?

(plus 10 more questions of that kind)

And, my favourite part:

-Write an essay about how Buddhism relates to today’s modern Chinese culture.

We had 30 minutes. I didn’t do so well.

During our 15 min break I spoke to some of my classmates. Young, boys and girls from Taiwan. Really nice. But oh so young!

This course is going to include visiting famous cultural places/monuments of Suzhou, reflecting over Chinese culture, and, having a 1 hour presentation followed by a 1 hour discussion about something related to Chinese culture.

Yes you heard me. ONE hour. I’m definitely in for a challenge!

Outside the uni
Self-study room. All clean and quiet: heaven!