Saturday, January 29, 2011

Not being forgiving

Just as I was getting back into my life in Shanghai (as I wrote earlier this year: coming back from Australia to China was a bit of a shock and gave me the “post holiday blues”) I had to pack my bag again (this time with winter clothes and UGGs instead of flip flops and summer dresses) and head to Sweden for work. It was a long and painful airplane ride where I was seated next to a Chinese man. He travelled with a HUGE hand luggage (not kidding, it was the size of the suitcase that I had checked in) and when he tried to put it in the overhead locker I could sense a disaster.

-Can you please be a bit careful? I said. My stuff is also up there. You will crush it with your bag.

He looked like me as if I was an alien.

-Your bag is too big! And please be careful with my stuff! I said, a bit annoyed.

To this, he snorted. And then he started muttering that “you should be more polite to Chinese people!”

His comment really hit me. There I was, trying to save my stuff, and coming across as a RUDE laowai! Gosh, had I crossed the line? Maybe I had? I don't want to be considered rude (I hate rude people!) so I decided to apology and then spent the rest of the trip trying to be extra nice to him in order to mend the rocky start.

So, when he realized he didn’t have any headphones I handed him mine. When he was out of water he got my bottle. When I had to ask him to stand up so that I could go to the toilet I was careful to excuse myself and thank him about 1 million times. Do you think any of this helped? Oh no.

When we landed he hit me in the head with his mega bag when he tried to take it down.

-Aoooch! I said and rubbed my head.

He said nothing. I think he even smiled.

So much for trying. Oh well, at least I didn’t have to suffer from a bad conscious for maybe being too rude at first on that trip. But some situations are obviously not meant to be saved.

Anyway, now I'm in Stockholm and I just had a shower in hot, clean water (not to mention water pressure)! Ahhh.. heaven! Now sitting here, blogging in a central heated flat that is so comfortable heated that you can walk around in shorts and a t-shirt. Farewell, dry skin! Oh, and I'm drinking tap water! LOVE IT! Sure, there's a lot of ice on the streets out there bit so far, so good.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Re-starting the new year

Happy New Rabbit Year -best celebrated together with your near and dear ones and a big, home cooked meal

This year hasn’t started that great for me. Although my trip to Australia was fantastic a lot of things happened when I came back, some I mentioned and some I didn’t, because it’s personal. Point to be made: I have been feeling rather sad, negative and down lately, and I think it’s been reflected in my blog posts.

Fortunately, Chinese New Year is coming up, and what better way to shake off a shaky start of the western new year? Well, simply by re-celebrating it again, although this time I’ll be celebrating the year of the rabbit, rather than the start of 2011 (It’s not often you get a chance to re-start the year, so this opportunity is simply too fine to be missed)

Unfortunately, I won’t be in China for the actual new year (going on a business trip), but it doesn’t matter. I will be celebrating from where I am and the main thing is: this will be a new, fresh start, and it is going to be a good one.

Happy New Rabbit Year!

Monday, January 24, 2011

Painful paperwork

I think I have enough blog material soon to make a book about “painful paperwork stuff you have to do as a laowai in China.” The book could include some different sections, such as:

• Horrible experiences at the bank
• Heart attack potential situations at the Visa office
• Not being listened to at the police station
• Trying to get your deposit back from your landlord (hahaha, good luck with that!)
• Different fainting spots at the hospital when there to do a medical check

For me, the bank has been the worse by far. Before I went to Australia, for instance, I headed over to my bank (ICBC) to ask if I could use my Unionpay card at ATMs in Australia, as I had read that you could online.

-No! said the bank clerk.

-But.. on unionpay’s homepage it says…

-It’s impossible. Doesn’t work.

-Eh… OK. Not even at the National Australia Bank (NAB)?


-Eh… OK, well then I have to exchange some currency.

-Oh, that’s also very troublesome! You will have to stand in a long line for that. I suggest you don’t do it here….

-Right.. thanks for your help.

Guess who headed over to Perth, located a NAB ATM and withdrew money! And, in some stores (that had EFTPOS machines) I could even pay with my Unionpay card! This just proves that the people at the bank don’t even listen to your questions, they just say no so that they don’t have to deal with you anymore.

Yesterday at the police station, I had another, classic experience of “there is no standard as different rules apply to different people.” I have all my papers in order, but since I have a new passport since a week back, I needed to renew my police register form so that it had the same number as my passport.

“Fortunately” a friend of mine had done the exact same process just 2 days before, and told me that it was simple:

-You don’t need anything more than your old registration slip and your new passport!

-Really, it’s that easy?

-Yeah! Real easy!

Could something ever be easy when dealing with authorities over here? Sounded foreign to me. So, just to make sure (…) I packed my lease and brought my wallet along to station.

And, very well.

-We need a copy of this, a copy of this, and this, and this…

-But my friend only needed to show her old registration form…

-That registration form is the only thing we don’t need..

Of course I didn’t have copies of my lease and my visa page… so there I was again, running between the police station and a copy place down the road (thank GOD it was open! Last time I was in a similar situation it wasn’t and then I had to go into a real estate office and bribe the workers in order to get them to copy 5 document for me).

Anyway, once everything was in order I got the form that I needed. But man, this stuff is daunting! Especially since different rules seem to apply to different people. And it changes all the time. Ahhhrg!

Friday, January 21, 2011

Don't try to understand the system: just accept it for what it is

Our air cons broke down around the same time we came back from Australia. One simply wouldn’t start, and the other one started producing so little heat that we started questioning if it was useful or not. For a few days we walked around with a mini-heater, bringing it with us wherever we went (bedroom, kitchen, bathroom… it had to come, otherwise it got too cold). Obviously we also told our landlord, who promised us “two new air cons, a.s.a.p!” After four days of misery we decided to tell him that a.s.a.p better be now, or we were going to freeze to death (being dramatic really works over here so I made sure to use sentences like “cannot stand this any longer!” with a high-pitched voice when I explained to him). That did the job. Some hours later he called us and said there would be a delivery with 2 new air cons the next day. Could we skip out of work in order to greet them?

My bf did, hoping that it would be quick and smooth. It wasn’t. They were supposed to come at 4pm but at 1pm they called him, saying they had been waiting at our door for 45 min. China in a nutshell.

He rushed home and was greeted by the delivery guy + our landlord’s dad. The dad told him that he needed to give 2 new dates and times: one for them to come and remove the old air cons, and another time for them to come and install the two new ones.

Couldn’t they do it at the same time?

Absolutely not!

Was it possible to come after working hours?

Definitely not.

Eh… righty. So my bf managed to negotiate them into coming to remove the old air cons at 4pm on Thu, and then we would have to wait until the wknd for the installation. We simply cannot skip out of our offices every now and then.

Thursday came and at 12pm our landlord called my bf:

-We are here now!

-Eh… right..

He rushed home to let them in and then our landlord told him that he would stay and supervise it all, and that they would also install the new air cons. Riiiiiight.

When I came home yesterday, around 6.30pm, we had 2 new air cons and a filthy, muddy floor. Still, I could not have felt any happier.

Think something will ever be smooth/go the way you have been told in China? Oh no. But don’t worry about that. Main thing is that it happens. Also, never trust comments like “it is not possible” because it always is, but they won’t admit that until they know themselves for sure. Also, come to peace with the thought that you will never fully understand the system over here. I have. And it makes life easier. And gives you less headache.

Now we are going to enjoy living in a heated home! Who said that small things don’t matter?! It’s the small things that make your day!

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Sharing a city with 23 million people

That's what I do. According to this recent article in Shanghai Daily. Apparently some 9 million of those (that's just the whole population of Sweden) 23 are migrant workers. No wonder the metro feels so crowded every morning. No wonder Perth felt a bit small during my recent visit.

Scandinavian fashion boutique Göte Göta opens in Shanghai!

Ann-Sofie Back
Ann-Sofie Back
Gorjan and Petter -the designers behind Odeur

Now you can shop Ann-Sofie Back, Odeur, Noir & Blanc, Säby, Camilla Norrback, VITA and much more here in Shanghai! Göte Göta is located on the 2nd floor, 174 Xiangyang Lu, near Fuxing Lu (just above Awfully Chocolate -so basically you can shop first, and then treat yourself with chocolate afterwards... or the other way around -I'm not yet decided on what would be the best way?). It ain't cheap but it's not outrageous either. And the clothes do look really nice! So proud of the people behind this: great job and hands up for you!

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

I can also tell the truth (even though it may hurt)

My gym membership is about to expire and I seriously cannot wait. I’m going to join a new gym. A nicer gym. A fancier place. Somewhere where exercising doesn’t feel like a punishment.

I’m not the only one who has noticed that my card is up for renewal. Last night when I went inside I was greeted by no eye-contact, no smile and no “hello!” by the receptionist. Then he scanned my card, realized, and ran after me:

-Hello, hello, HELLO!

(I had to stop myself from saying “my name is not hello!” Could have come across as too rude.)


-Oh, hello! Your gym card will soon expire. Would you like to renew it?

Oh, here we go! Eye contact! Smile! Politeness!

-No, I don’t.

-No?! Uncertain giggle. Eh… just like that, no?

-Yes. Definitely a no!

-Eh… why?

-Why?! Oh…. well...

For a moment I stopped short. Should I tell him the truth? Should I say that I don’t want to go there anymore because:

1. The gym opens at 6.30 am which is way too late for a gym when you start working early.

2. That the gym staff seem to enjoy keeping you outside the gym until 6.35am, just to piss you off.

3. That all of the receptionists are insanely rude! They never greet you with a hello, they never look you in the eye. Once they threw my gym card at me.

4. That you need to rent a towel… at 15 rmb!! Most places give you towels for free.

5. That they quite often say: “we don’t have any towels” and then you have to nag for 15 min before they finally give you one (WTF?!).

6. That women in the changing room uses the hairdryers for drying everything but their head hair.

7. That there are cockroaches in the showers.

8. That there are sometimes orange peal in the shower.

9. That 5 out of 10 treadmills are out of service.

10. That there is no aircon during summer and so hot that you feel as if you’re going to explode when you run.

11. That the gym staff laugh at you when you try to ask them for something.

12. That it’s dirty.

13. That the music is so loud during spinning sessions that if you don’t wear earplugs you might run the risk of getting tinnitus.

Then I decided to put it all in one, simple sentence:

-Well, this place sucks.

-Eh… hehe, eh… haha… OK!

-Yeah. This place sucks! So no, I won’t renew my membership. Thank you!

With the risk of sounding a bit bitter, I have to say that that felt good. Farewell, stinky ol gym. I deserve better.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

I'll never get used to this

So, there I was at work, feeling quite happy and excited about being back. It was fun to see my colleagues, to give them some snacks from Australia and to catch up. In fact, I was having a rather good day until a Chinese work mate suddenly popped into my room:

-Jonna, can I ask you something?


-Well, don’t be sad now, but you look… like… you look, quite a lot bigger than before!

-Eh… okay.

-Yeah, did you put on weight?

-Yeah, I did actually. Too much drinking and eating I suppose.

-Because I’ve been looking at you and you and you really look huge! And all round everywhere! It’s kind of cute… but… I don’t really understand why.

-Eh… what do you mean, why?

-Well, you were only gone for 2 weeks. Why would you put on so much weight?

-Well… I don’t know really…

-OK, well anyway, I have LOST weight! Can you tell?

-Eh… sorry, I haven’t been checking you out…

-OK, well I just thought I’d tell you.

What the hell is WRONG with this society?! I spent the rest of the day staring at my computer, feeling like a walrus. So what if I put on some weight (something that I am already fully aware of –I kind of felt it when I put my clothes on, and I intend to lose every single extra stone), why do people over here feel they should tell you? As if you didn’t already know?!

Actually, don’t bother answer that. I’ve blogged about this so many times before and sure, they have their reasons: it’s to show that they care, it’s just a cute little comment, a la the Chinese way… Anyway, Chinese way or no way, I’m sick of this. Four and a half years in this country and I’ve had it with these kinds of comments (and no, sorry, but you never get used to it). Yesterday, for the first time in a long time, I wished I was living somewhere else. Somewhere less weight-obsessed. Somewhere where colleagues don’t comment on the size of your behind.

It also hit me how sad this is: 15 days into the new year, and I've already been told I look "huge" and "round." This does not bode well for the new year. Yes, I'm heading to the gym this arvo.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Back in (cold but convenient) Shanghai

It was a cold flat that greeted us when we got back to Shanghai yesterday. As soon as we stepped inside it felt as if 90% of our tans faded away and we had to run inside to turn on the aircons, the heater and put on heaps of clothes (including triple socks and scarves, gloves and hats…). Going from +38 to minus 1 (and something like 10 degrees inside!) is a bit of a shock to the body, but in 2 weeks I’m going to Sweden (where it’ll probably be minus 10 with my luck) so I shouldn’t be complaining. Also, with 2 weeks of sunshine in the luggage, life should be a bit smoother than usual, once I have caught up with my emails at work.

We didn’t have to deal with any jet lag this time (no time difference between WA and China –sweet! So basically I could go to WA for business trips all the time –hear that, dear boss if you are reading this?!) however, since we had a night flight we didn’t get much sleep and therefore we were quite tired when we came home. Unfortunately being tired doesn’t equal not being hungry, and how do you solve that when you come home to an empty fridge and don’t feel like going out shopping? Well, by internet shopping of course. If there’s something to love about China it is the pace/speed of things. A few clicks here and there and food from our favourite restaurant arrived (waiting time: 30 min). And then, a few more clicks and groceries from the shop arrived (no delivery fee –and it only took a couple of hours). My significant other were quite amazed by the fact:

-So basically, we can just sit back and have everything delivered.

-Basically, yes.

Then we both looked at each other in horror (I think he had the mental same image like me: the two of us –about 20 kg heavier than we are now- sitting on our couch, stuffing ourselves with pizza while the door bell rings -the next delivery- and we start fighting about who should go and open the door) and promised ourselves that we should only use delivery services during extreme situations, when we don’t have time to go shopping ourselves. Or something like that.

Anyway, Australia was truly fantastic but now it’s time to get on with “real life.” I gained 4 kgs during this trip so I plan to spend quite a lot of time at the gym too.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Last day of sunshine -then things will be back to normal

This is it. D-day. The last day in Australia. I'm so sad I don't even know what to say. I don't want to leave this place. This is paradise. Heaven on earth. Too good to be true. But everything has to come to an end. Including this holiday.

So right now I'm getting ready for a last day at the beach, before heading out to meet some friends, and then... going to the airport to depart Australia.

But... it will be nice to be back in China too, of course (except for breathing all that horrible, polluted air again -ahhhh, can someone just fix the air in China?! Then life over there would be great). To go back to work, get back into blogging, start exercising again (this has, er, not been my most healthy trip) and get back into the routine of life. I'll get on with it. Just give me a week or so to be all sentimental and nostalgic about Australia and then I'll be fine.

Until then -I'll be enjoying the last of this wonderful country. See ya when I'm back in China!

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Heat rash -pls help!!!

OK, so my "health issues" started already on the morning of departure. I woke up with a queasy stomach, and felt sick during the 1 hour taxi ride to the airport. Insecure of how my belly would handle flying for so many hours straight, we asked to be seated next to the toilet for both flights (Shanghai-Hong Kong and then Hong Kong-Perth). No probs. The first flight went well, and very well, we were seated next to the loos.

Then came the second route and imagine our surprise when we stepped on the plane and realized that we had been seated in the middle of the plane, in the middle section... in the 2 middle seats!!! So, there was no easy toilet access, and also, we had strangers on both sides. Gaaaah! At that moment I wanted to fly back to Shanghai and yell at the young boy who checked us in. Idiot!!

Fortunately I survived the trip without any major issues. The next day (in Perth) we went out to explore the city and I was wearing my lovely sandals that I had bought at a market in Shanghai. Now, here the stupidity award goes to me, because what was I thinking? Cheap does not equal good and it only took 30 min before I had some serious blisters under my feet. Determined not to be a complainer I went on without saying anything, and the result of that: huge blisters on my heels! So huge, that I had to walk on my toes for the next 2 days (resulting in a calf cramp) and yes, this was despite me using those good compreed bandage plasters. Oh well. (Sandals went to the bin).

Then, yesterday, after some hours in the sun, a non-beloved "friend" returned: a skin rash on my lower arms and lower arms and legs. Red, itchy small "bumps" on the skin. AWFUL! I went to the pharmacy and asked for their strongest cream and some allergy pills (anti-histamine), but so far it has done little good. Now I need you help, does any of you know any good self-cure for itchy, red rashes? It's not a sunburn, trust me, I know the difference. I've had this before and before I've had to take cortisone shots and antibiotics (steroids I believe it was?) in order for it to go away. Being on a holiday over here, I'm not really keen on going to see a dermatologist, but if the rashes don't go away I know I will have to, mainly because of the itching.

Anyway, I just thought I'd ask you guys in case any of you have any "rash experience" (I believe it's a heat rash) and could share some good idea. All help is greatly appreciated!

Happy New Year -with 300 rmb Chinese meals in Australia

New year, new beginnings, no new resolutions (I cannot really think of anything?! Normally it's stuff like "eat more healthy and exercise more" but I think I'm at an OK place right now when it comes to all of that. The yoga is proving to be a nice "sidekick" to the running, and guess what I started doing last week?! Bellydancing! Woho!)... I'm having an absolutely fantastic time here in Australia! One thing is for sure, China has damaged me. Everything over here seems so small and tiny, almost as if it's not a city for real. I cannot help it. But imagine that I used to live here when I was 19-22 yrs old, thinking that Perth was a "big city!" I probably still would if I'd never moved to Shanghai. Oh well.

It's unreal but fantastic to be back. The sky is amazingly blue. The climate is fantastic. The people are... wonderful! I cannot believe people actually live like this, every single day of the year. For me it feels like a paradise, like living a dream (yes, we are already talking about trying to move to Australia once we have finished with China -won't be for a long while though).

Food is great, but portions are huge (we have started sharing everything because we simply cannot finish our meals) and last night the Chinese geeks came out in us and we decided to eat at a dingy Chinese joint for NY. We ordered broccoli sauteed in garlic and some spicy ribs, 2 bottles of qingdao and 2 bowls of rice: 40 dollars! (like 300 rmb) INSANE!! And no, it wasn't even good, even though the owner (a Singaporean woman) insisted they were practicing "real" Chinese cooking (the "ribs" were deep-fried). So no more Chi food while over here.

The only dark cloud on this beautiful holiday is various health-hiccups... I don't know if it's simply bad luck or what, but I will tell you about them in another post a bit later today. Need your help and advices more than ever!!