High Time for High Tea: Christmas Afternoon Tea @ China World Hotel

For Christmas, last year (i.e. 2017) it was once again time for a little British tradition in Beijing. As we had done the year before, the idea was to spend a lovely afternoon enjoying that most British of activities, the afternoon tea. Capital M had forever closed its doors – a terrible blow to the scone-scoffing Beijing community, as their scones were as fluffy as cushions and about as big as your head; and all that for the very reasonable price of 128 RMB without alcohol.

Where to next, then? The vast interwebs was on this occasion able to provide a little insight, but not as much nor as up-to-date as one might hope. In 2012, City Weekend was raving about China World Hotel’s afternoon tea in terms of service, orchestra and quality, ranking it the winner out of all of Beijing’s High Teas. We decided to put it to the test – it was a fun and delicious, but also slightly confusing afternoon.

1. Finding the bleeding place

Any of you who have ever been to the China World Mall know it’s a labyrinth; one that has only become more confusing as the New China World Mall and Hotel Jen has opened. This means that in this complex there three different hotels that all have confusingly similar names

中国大饭店 The China World Hotel

北京国贸大酒店 The China World Summit Wing

新国贸饭店 Hotel Jen

I kept getting mixed up between the World Hotel and the Summit Wing (that’s the one that has Atmosphere, the highest bar in Beijing). Naturally, I started off by showing up much too late at the wrong place. The hotel kindly called to confirm that we were still going to attend – even half an hour late. But upon showing the very unfriendly concierge at the Summit Wing where I wanted to go, I finally realized it was the one at the other end of the complex. Hasty jogging and much sweating ensued; exactly the kind of image of grace you want to convey for afternoon tea at a five-star hotel. Anyway, found it in the end, first hurdle of the day mastered.

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Lovely Christmas feeling in the Lobby

2. Mathematical Mysteries involving Scones

We seemed to remember that there was an option to add on extra scones to an afternoon tea, rather than having to order too full portions. As there were three of us, and the afternoon tea on offer was for two people, we thought this would be a great option. Rather than simply saying this is not a service we offer, our server then went into a long explanation of how it would be impossible to just add on two scones onto the tea set since they make an exact number of scones every day, and they cannot exceed that number. No matter that we had originally booked for four people and so by that logic, there would mathematically be at least two unclaimed scones floating about. It was simply impossible insisted our server. I don’t think I am a person with incredibly high expectations, but I do feel that a five-star hotel should really be able to offer a simple extra wish such as add-on scones.

3. Small-ish Scones

Here comes the big one – the scones. Taste was indeed delicious, though interestingly the tea came with a serving of regular, and then chocolate chip scones, rather than sultanas. That was unexpected. Size-wise they were on the slightly smaller side, but still big enough as not to illicit any swearing. The accompanying jams were delicious, and the staff were very good at bringing more cream and jam when asked. The tea was also good, there were the classic English options, Earl Grey, Peppermint etc. and some distinguished Chinese flushes.

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It’s not the largest of scones, I’d say.

4. Confusing Christmas Theme

What we hadn’t anticipated before our visit was of course the fact that the afternoon tea would be Christmas themed. And that this was the only choice. In the end, it ran up to around 330 RMB for a two person Christmas set plus service charge. There was no option for just scones and tea to the disappointment of my fellow slurpers. It was certainly fun to have the Christmas theme, and the sani selection had some very delicious options of salmon and paté. There was a bit of confusion around what we thought were Santa shaped biscuits. After attempting to take a bite and almost losing a tooth, it seemed they were made of icing on a very hard base of plastic or clay or some mysterious item. So that was a bit strange. Overall there was a lot of decorative items made from very hard icing, that would have been a welcome addition to any Christmas cake. As such we were debating smuggling them home, but the need to look like ladies prevailed (well, as much as it could after us gnawing desperately at a clay biscuit).

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Christmas High Tea @ China World Hotel

5. The Orchestra

The review in City Weekend had raved on and on about the live orchestra, so I was looking forward to that part in particular. As it were, we ended up sitting behind a column far, far, faaaar away from the orchestra. While we did hear them playing, the music very much disappeared into the background, as we didn’t have the visual access that would have made it all more special.

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The offending cardboard/clay Santa biscuit that wasn’t a biscuit after all

Conclusion

We had a fun afternoon at the China World Hotel – they kindly didn’t kick us out although we tried to eat the decorations and stayed a good 5 hours. The savoury part of the tea was really great, the scones weren’t bad, the orchestra was lovely if a bit invisible. Mostly, the weird insistence on staggering the scone output left a bit of a disappointing taste, as did the mysterious clay-cardboard cookie. You can probably give the regular afternoon tea a try; reckon it’s  fair to say it won’t be a Christmas theme all year round.

Price for Christmas Special:  331 RMB + service charge/ 2ppl

Address:  北京市朝阳区建国门外大街一号 Jianguomen Wai Dajie No.1

Phone: +86 10 6505 2266

 

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Getting caught up on 2018

Goodness me, January is already pretty much over at this point and I feel like my brain is still catching up with the fact it’s no longer 2017.

The Christmas tree is still up, while the resolutions are already down. It’s -8 degrees in Beijing and every time I step foot outside, I can feel my actual brain freezing in my head. But sitting in the flat makes me so depressed, I quickly lose the will to live. So, depression versus frost bite, it’s a never-ending choice between the two.

But it’s not all bleak on the horizon. I am still clinging happily to my memories of the Christmas holidays, while already looking forward to the next. Christmas was spent in Germany with family, and we put the Colmar Christmas Market to the test.

I have long boasted about the superiority of German Christmas markets (and Frankfurt’s in particular) to any other country I’ve lived in. But I have to hand it to the French, they really know how to knock it out of the park. The decorations were stunning – every house worth half its salt got involved and prepped and primed itself into a glittery, happy explosion of Christmassy glory. In terms of presentation, Colmar wins hands down. The only small disappointment for a munchkin like myself was the strange lack of food. In Germany pretty much every second stall at least is breaking full with coated almonds of all descriptions, gingerbread hearts and horses, sausages and Flammekuchen. In other words, you can expect you will end up in a food coma. Colmar, however, was suspiciously foodless. We did in the end find a great Choucroute stand and had a delicious meal, so who am I to complain? If you’re ever in the neighbourhood around Christmas (or rather up until 30th December), definitely go check this market out!

The thing with going back to Europe these days is that I feel if I am not at least visiting one new country each time I go back, it’s a wasted opportunity, and so we made our way to Budapest. With a quick stopover in Vienna for New Years’ where I was so psyched to see my uni friends, who are all being very grown-up and adulty these days. Feeling the pressure…but that then went on to a fabulous time in Budapest with my former flatmates as a couples’ trip, something we’ve never done before. It was fun, the Airbnb was stunning and so was Budapest, what a lovely city! I was a bit surprised at the general level of deterioration of some of the buildings, had not expected that. But nonetheless it’s an incredible city with a fascinating history. So very good start to 2018 with another country to tick off the list.

While the weather this month in Beijing is very Hohhot-reminiscent and makes me want to write a letter of complaint to whichever deity controls the frost, my social calendar has somehow been stuffed to the brim with exciting events and outings. Most importantly, the big project of 2018 – a tour of Beijing’s High Teas. As we were slurping our tea at the China World Hotel for Christmas, a few friends and myself felt this is something that needs to be repeated. Add to that there’s currently not much info about Beijing’s best High Tea out there, and our mission was born. Let’s see if we can keep the monthly exploration of Beijing’s High Tea options going, but so far we got off to a great start with Harrods’ Afternoon Tea. I’m hoping to tell you all about it!

While the year started out strong with travel, the resolutions have remained rather hypothetical conceptsl. We’ll see what February holds. How has the year started out for you? Cold or hot, resolved or dissolved? Wishing you a happy January 2018!

 

 

Beijing vs Shanghai: The Battle for Christmas Capital

 

With 2 years living in Nanjing, close to Shanghai, on my back and another 2 in Beijing, as well as frequent visits to the fashion and finance center of the South throughout my time up North, I’ve been enjoying comparing the festive spirit and Christmas decorations in both cities on multiple occasions.

Nowadays you will find Christmas music playing non-stop in many of China’s international coffeshop chains and even in most larger shopping centers. Pretty much mid-November the Christmas decorations were also starting to appear in any establishment that fancied itself worldly – and that goes not just for Beijing and Shanghai, but also second-tier cities like Nanjing.

That being said there is always the question of how “genuine”, “tasteful” or surreal the decorations and Christmas celebrations can turn out to be. From Christmas lamas, to Mrs Santa techno flashmobs, Christmas trees decorated with or made out of teddy bears and lots of neon-plastic deco, the festive spirit here can sometimes come across as a little gawdy or just not quite right.

Without much doubt, both Beijing and Shanghai are probably nationwide leaders in Christmas spirit and are getting better at it with every passing year. But is one better than the other? Had you asked me 2 years back I would have without a doubt said that the Western fashion and lifestyle loving Shanghai is the clear winner. With tasteful decorations to be found on the bund, it seemed at the time miles ahead of Beijing, where strange decorative items and festive events abounded.

However, two years on and I am not so sure anymore. Beijing has heaps of amazing Christmas stuff going on. Christmas Bazaars, Markets and Fayres in the Hutongs, with Mulled Wine and Meat Pies. Christmas High Teas at luxury hotel chains. And more Christmas lunches and dinners than you can count. The overall quality of decorations also seems to have gotten much better, as decorations are becoming more sophisticated and tasteful and less screechy, if you know what I mean.

But Shanghai competition is tough! I just went back for a work trip and once I realised this was where I was going I got very giddy at the thought of hitting the Bund and soaking up some of the best Christmas decoration to be found on the Chinese mainland. My very personal absolute favourite is the Peace Hotel (former Cathay Hotel). Not only do they have what I believe to be the most stunning Christmas deco in all of China, I will always remember with the greatest fondness the amazing weekend I got to spend there as part of a media drive. Once in a lifetime kind of weekend! So of course, I had to pop in and see my beloved Peace Hotel Extravaganza and this almost decided the big battle between the two rivals.

However, just before writing this post this afternoon I walked past “The Place”, yet another shopping mall in Beijing and all of a sudden I ran straight into the arms of Santa! I realise he’s not the first Santa to appear in China, but he was the first I ever ran into as I don’t tend to spend my time in many international schools. He was adorable and very much in character, telling me all about his trip over from “Finland”. So, in light of the adorable Santa – who was a marketing stint by a Chinese car company as it turns out – I will have to hand the Christmas Crown to Beijing after all!

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Santa came all the way from Finland to Beijing’s “The Place”

PS: I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but Mobike have changed their locks’ ringtone to Jingle Bells! So much adorable Christmassy-ness – I LOVE IT!

Who wins your Battle for Christmas Capital? Let me know and merry Christmas!

 

 

Vlog about Cheating in China with Ling Ling

I recently had the pleasure of recording some vlogs with Ling Ling. We started off with the very heavy topic of cheating in China – we like to take it easy, obvs!

With emperors having concubines, cheating does seem to have been carried down into modern society especially among business men, the rich and the powerful, where having a 小三 a “little third” or mistress is seen as a status symbol. In some US cities, or so I am told, there are entire suburbs filled with mistresses whose squeeze is paying for their house in order to keep them at least in a separate country from the wife.

Does that mean cheating is more common in China? In 2015 of around 3.8 million divorces over half were down to cheating. However, it is difficult to say that it is only down to culture. As women are earning more money and becoming more emancipated, they are much less willing to accept cheating husbands. Sure, I have had my fair share of conversations with Chinese women who believed cheating just happens, is inevitable and at the end of the day they would probably choose to look away. But I have heard just as many women say that they do not accept it in this day and age.

I even know some particularly strong women who decided to go for divorce in the 90s in a third-tier city rather than suffer their husband regularly stepping out. Which at the time was an impressive move considering social stigma on divorced women and the acceptance that cheating men were just “being men” or had somehow been pushed into cheating because their wife wasn’t a good enough wife.

Anywho, check out the vid and let me know your thoughts about whether Chinese culture encourages cheating or whether it’s all just a matter of proportion.

Also, check out Ling Ling’s channel – she’s a very hard-working YouTuber and does some very cool stuff 🙂

It’s Already the Most Magical Time of the Year in Beijing’s Coffee Shops

When I was still in Europe, I remember clearly the groaning that would commence when the Christmas decorations hit our supermarkets around mid-November. People around me would complain that Christmas is starting earlier and earlier each year. Well, here’s the irony. In China, where Christmas was traditionally not celebrated, it seems on the 1st of November someone somewhere flipped the Christmas switch. Don’t get me wrong, as a fan of anything Christmas I’m not complaining. Mostly when I saw that Costa had put up their extra-special Christmas selection (Billionaires Latte, Crème Brûlée Caramel Latte, and English Trifle Latte in case you weren’t wondering), I felt excitement at the thought of dragging the Christmas playlist out of the depths of my computer and setting it on repeat, plus the ceremonious setting up of my less-than-20 RMB Christmas tree, that has been my faithful Jollyday companion for the past three years. Imagine my excitement at the fact that I managed to snag some prime Primark Christmas tree decorations in the shape of Disney’s Mickey Mouse during my recent trip back to the UK. Yes, I shop at Primark. No, I am not ashamed. Yes, I am a 30-year old woman with Minnie dangling off my festive plastic greenery. Stop judging!

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How do you know Christmas is coming? Coz Costa won’t shut up about it…

Anyway, wandering off course again. Some part of me feels a bit strange about this early onset of festive spirit. It feels a bit improper, doesn’t it? Next thing you know, you’ll be hearing Jingle Bell Rock in August. Well, actually, that has happened. Chinese shopping mall DJs in particular have the outstanding ability to appreciate a good Christmas song at any time of the year.

At the same time, they’re no better back in England. One of the ways I feel connected to my British roots is listening to Capital FM – you know, the channel that plays the songs da yout is listening to ten times on repeat in one hour. Thank god half of my heart is in Havanna, also (see, I’m cool and down wit da kids #reference). Not that I’ve ever been to Havanna. Wait, off course again, return to topic, first mate! So, Capital is also, I suspect, hooked into the 1st of November switch grid and have started pushing their annual Christmas Ball tickets like it’s the only thing we’ve been waiting for all our lives (which it probably is). That of course makes me miss home more – yes, I love an extended festive season, but really being in China during the run-up to Christmas is the time when I, and from what I know many of my peers as well, miss home the most. Therefore, this bittersweet period of pre-festivities is extended and I find myself in a pickle: enjoy the magic and the sometimes very surreal Christmas events around Beijing – and drink my way through ALL the Christmas specials Beijing’s coffee shop chains have to offer, or be depressed about my missing out on the atmosphere at home. I choose the former, especially since this year I am going home – something I’ve managed to keep up pretty much every other year since I moved to China.

And so, on this morning, in what is barely the second week of November, I sit in a Starbucks – and boy, they’ve already been taking it to the next level. One Christmas smash hit after the other, and despite my slight misgivings I cannot help but want to jump up and run around the store, scream-singing “I WANNA WISH YOU A MEEEEEERRY CHRISTMAS FROM THE BOTTOM OF MY HEEEEEEAAAAART”.

Feliz Pre-Navidad,

My friends!

What is it you miss about Christmas at home?

Getting Through Long Distance Relationships

While I was living in Nanjing, Mr Li and I did a long-distance relationship (4 hrs on the high-speed railway) for two years. At the time, a friend asked for some advice on long-distance relationships. Now, I find myself back in one and remembered this post I wrote 2 years ago before I moved to Beijing. This was actually a great exercise for me to reflect on my own relationship. A lot of the things below we might do automatically, some others I found in my research and want to try them or do them more consciously.

Before we start, I want to say that not everyone can do a long-distance relationship, some people simply need to be in the same place as their partner, otherwise they miss them too much. In that case you should probably find a way to be together, even if it means giving up on something.

For those who can, want to or have to do it, I hope the tips below will help keep the two of you stay connected. Enjoy 😀

1. 100% Trust

The first and most important condition for any long-distance relationship is trust. When you and your partner are in different places, a lot of the time you do not know what the other person is doing, so you need to be able to believe that your partner is not messing about. If anything has ever happened in your relationship to make you suspicious of your partner, e.g. they flirted with or kissed someone else, then do not even attempt an LDR (long-distance relationship), as you will go crazy with worry and jealousy and it will most certainly end badly.

2. Build Closeness across the Distance

A big threat in LDR’s is the physical distance turning into an emotional distance. When you and your partner are far away from each other and do not share your lives, it is very easy to grow apart and fall out of love. There are a few actions you both can take to work against this happening.

2.1 Regular Communication

The absolute key is regular communication. I speak with my husband every single day multiple times, usually we video chat in the evening and during the day we send some messages via apps. Whenever anything exciting or bad happens, he is the first person I will message (or call if possible) and this way he stays involved in my life. Many LDRs I know started out fine and then suddenly communication got less and less until it was only once a week. If this is happening to you, you need to ask yourself (and your partner) if the relationship is over, as you two are obviously drifting apart.

2.2 Do Things Together Apart

The best way to keep that emotional connection is by doing things together, even if you are not in the same place. Video chat is a godsend for this. For example, you can cook together using video chat, each person making their own meal. Or you can both agree to watch your favourite TV shows at the same time. I think it is a great idea, though we have not yet done that, because it creates that normality of when you were living together.

Another great option is falling asleep together, or one of you falling asleep while the other stares at them creepily, haha. We have done this a few times and I have to say it is magical, it creates a really strong bond. Watching my husband sleep away peacefully like an innocent little baby is one of the most gratifying experiences video chat has to offer.

Finally, you can create a new bond by learning something new together, something that you can share and ideally it is connected to online. I have not done this before but I think it is a great idea and I now plan on learning Cantonese with my husband to test this out. He recently moved to Shenzhen and I have been wanting to continue my Cantonese classes for a while now. Let’s see how that goes!

3. When you Meet

Of course it goes without saying that you should meet your partner in person as often as possible within your financial possibilities. If you are in the same province you might be able to meet every two weeks, same country maybe once a month. If you are on different continents it obviously gets trickier than that. When you do meet, make sure to keep a few things in mind.

3.1 Prioritize Your Partner

Your partner has just come all the way to meet you and the two of you only have a limited amount of time together. You have to prioritise spending time with your partner over anything else. After all there is nothing more frustrating than taking a plane to see someone only to be told “Honey, I am hanging out with my friends tonight. See you later.” That might be the last time Honey comes to see you, my friend. Don’t waste people’s time like that.

3.2 Be Realistic

When you are unable to spend a lot of time together you often expect the little time you have to be super exciting and magical. Like a Disney movie. All fireworks and Happily Ever After. In reality, that is rarely the case. You are just human and very likely you will disagree on something or other. Going into these meetings with unrealistic expectations can set the bar too high and cause disappointment and unnecessary conflict.

3.3 Build Rituals

Actually, rather than planning an amazing bombastic meeting, you should be focusing on building rituals. For example, you always go to have lunch at that same restaurant the first day after you arrive in your partner’s town. This creates a routine and a feeling that you are still a “regular couple”, and gives you a sense of security and familiarity.

4. Appreciate the Advantages

I personally believe that the attitude with which you go into the LDR makes a huge difference. If all you are thinking is about how your partner is so far away and how lonely you are and how little you see each other, you will make yourself unhappy. Instead, enjoy the free time and space that you have now gained. Take up new hobbies, rediscover yourself as an individual person. Meet new people and expand your network.

By leading an independent life and becoming a more interesting person you will become even more attractive to your partner as well. After all, would you rather date the exciting person who paints or runs marathons in their free time and keeps telling you funny stories about their friends, OR the mopey, sad depressed person who sits at home just waiting for your call to tell you how unhappy they are?

5. Make Plans for the Future

Finally, while I do believe LDR’s can work with the right mind-set, they should ideally be only a temporary solution rather than a long-term situation. In order to give both of you the mental strength to pull this off, you need to have a finish line.

Make plans for the future, this will bring you closer together and show your partner that you are taking this seriously. This will also help in motivating you as it will give you a goal to work towards, e.g. if you are studying, after graduation the two of you can be together.

Most of all, stay positive and talk. Talk lots. Not just about how your day was but about thoughts, feelings, wishes for the future. I know many men are not keen on this but it is really important. Trust me.

Good luck! You can bridge the distance!

Laura

Recent Posts on WWAM BAM!

Hello dear friends,

I have once again been way too quiet on OCW. Part of the reason was summer – swimming pools are the best, are they not?! Part of it was a big change in our living situation that I hope to write a bit about soon. But that doesn’t mean I’ve been totally lazy, as I have been posting over on WWAM BAM! So, if you don’t follow our group blog yet (which you absolutely should *cough cough* shameless self-promotion), here are some articles that I have written over the past few months (May – October):

If you want some serious Asian eye candy, then check out our group post on our Top Ten picks for an Asian James Bond:

James Bond, the British Secret Service agent with a penchant for explosive story-lines and pretty ladies has been flitting across our screens for all of 55 impressive years. In that time, he has been played by a host of different actors; or maybe not so different after all? A quick scroll through James Bond actors past and present reveals a painful truth: the height of diversity for the Bond Brand is Scottish or Irish ancestry (not that we don’t love you Sean Connery and Pierce Brosnan!). However, in light of our increasingly multicultural societies and this abysmal diversity record, we here at WWAM BAM! have decided that it’s time for an Asian Bond. Click here to go to our Top Ten List.

If you enjoyed reading the profiles of some of the seriously cool WWAMs out there, you might enjoy mine of “Badminton Becky”:

Becky has been in China for 8 years, and has been living in the hot and humid heaven that is Xiamen for the past 3 years. She’s a blogger and the face behind Ms Wai, our very own intercultural dating column. Aside from that she is also the queen of Xiamen’s badminton scene (ah, who I am kidding, she’s the Badminton Queen of China! – or the BQoC) and just an overall superstar! Follow the link to find out the answers to questions such as what drives her insane about China, how the country has changed her and how to do casual dating in China.

If you are interested in finding out about Western media representation of Asian men, then I’d invite you to read my highly opinionated ravings in our Where’s Wang column:

I’ve written about the new Star Trek, Harry Potter, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. The one I’d like to share with you today, though, is a review of “Disgraced”, the Pulitzer award winning play that came to Beijing a few months ago. Click here to find out how this play about an American of Pakistani descent, who grew up Muslim, and his white, privileged wife and their relationship made me think about the dynamics in my own WWAM relationship.

If you want to know about how much race might or might not play into our WWAM relationship, here are some thoughts on whether race really matters:

“I wish I had lighter skin.”

“I wish my eyes weren’t slanted.”

It feels as if my heart splits in two every time I hear these words. And I have heard those words uttered a number of times by the person most dear to me, my own husband. Click here to read some thoughts on how I might have been naïve to dismiss race in my relationship.

If you’re curious to find some very creative WWAM businesses, here’s a post highlighting some cool arts, crafts and fashion incorporating Asian traditions

When you are in a cross-cultural relationship with someone from a very different background, chances are you will develop an interest for some of the traditional elements in your partner’s culture. For some Women from Western countries, this experience with their partner’s Asian culture has further inspired them, and they have incorporated elements into their businesses and creations.  Here are a few examples of WWAMs whose businesses have been inspired by traditional elements of their respective husbands’ cultures from Tibetan blankets to Chinese children’s books.

And finally on a more serious note: Why you probably want to register with your embassy in Asia

For most of us, either us or our partner will be living in a different country than the one we were born in, and there is the option to let your respective consulate know “Hello, I am your citizen and I live in this country now. Here’s where to find me in case of an emergency or crisis.” The thought never occurred to me until I read about it in a chat group right after the words “So, with North Korea’s latest tests…”.  Check out why, how and where to register (unless you’re a UK citizen, in which case you’re f*****) in this post.

Well, that’s it for now – hoping you’ll enjoy the read and I am convinced what with Father Frost knocking on the door of my Beijing flat, that I’ll be writing quite a bit more over the coming months, especially on OCW.

Read you soon!

LNF
Feature Image Credit: By Bullets Film, Donnie Yen.Asia – Bullet Films, http://www.donnieyen.asia, CC BY-SA 2.5, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=52554038

Ghost Festival Drama: The Time We Attracted Ghosts

September, 5th 2017 was a warm autumn night, and my roomie and I decided to go on a food item hunt at 11.15pm. What began as a little adventure around the block to five different convenient stores turned into another classical case of too little cultural knowledge clashing with too much of it.

The minute we stepped outside, we saw the fires. We had unwittingly made our way into a minefield. It was China’s Ghost Festival, or Hungry Ghost Festival, the day on which people honour their dead by burning paper money, houses, cars or even iPhones.

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I learnt very early on from Mr Li that the white circles that people draw onto the sidewalk with chalk, and in which they place the items to burn, need to be avoided at all costs, since this is where the ghosts lurk to pick up their offerings. Walking over their circle is tantamount to walking across their grave. It can only end one way: you will be haunted by a pretty pissed off ghost. My roomie knew even better than me to stay away from the white circles.

However, as well as our intentions might have been, this proved a lot more tricky than we initially thought. With half of the lanterns not working, spotting the circles was incredibly difficult and once you found one, there tended to be a whole cluster, so we started hopping in between this supernatural minefield, half wondering if anyone was filming the crazy foreigners jumping around chalk circles and giggling manically (out of fear of lingering ghosts, more than anything).

In the end, we decided to walk on the street, choosing rather to be run over by a speeding car than risk the wrath of Beijing’s deceased. We made it all the way to our final store, and upon having discovered the items we were after, euphorically made our way home.

“WAAAAAAAHHHHH, SHIT!”, my roomie screamed.

In our celebratory mood, we had started babbling about random things and…walked straight into the biggest minefield of white chalk circles with grey and white ash heaps in the middle. Four years ago, I would have laughed about it and walked off, but four years in China and I found myself cursing. It seems the superstitions I always made fun of had come back to haunt me after all.

Luckily, my switched-on roomie had the solution – when we got home, we would throw salt over our shoulder.

“A Western solution for a Chinese ghost problem. It’ll work”, I decided.

When we did return, it was straight to work, though we couldn’t decide which shoulder to throw the salt over. We started with left for Communism, and then did the right for good measure. Let’s hope our failure to pay attention won’t, in the end, come full chalk circle.

Addendum: As I was researching for this piece, after I had returned from a stroll past midnight, having complained about the circles being everywhere and taken photos of the food items I purchased (luckily not of myself), hung up my wet clothes and combed my hair in front of a mirror, I found this helpful slideshow that only made matters worse. It was nice knowing you, everyone!

Rediscovering Germany

Disclaimer: This is a post I wrote about my last return to Germany, almost one year ago. I finally decided to post it, despite its rather negative tone. 

Selective memory is a dangerous thing, isn’t it? Having left my native country Germany nine years ago, and not having had spent a longer amount of time there in almost three years, I had myself convinced that it would be a great idea to move back “home” in the near future.
Yes, I had read all the reports about problems with both right wing radicals and supposed migrants and soaked in the fear mongering, always telling myself it’s the media, no point in taking it seriously.
But take it seriously I probably should have. That is the conclusion I have drawn from my latest visit to the Land of Pretzels, Cars and Kebabs. The day of my arrival, fresh off the airplane, resembled a bucket of ice water being tipped over my head; and not in a “I’m helping raise awareness” kind of way.

In just a short trip that took me through three cities to my final destination, I witnessed fights, altercations or a feeling of being under threat – sometimes all three at once.

Encounters in the Public Space

First off a shouting match between what from their appearance can only be described as probable PEGIDA marchers and the poor conductor, who had pointed out that smoking was not allowed on the platform. In response, a veritable thunderstorm of foul language was unleashed with the conclusion that these specimens announced they could do “whatever the heck they want” to put it mildly. This, so I have been told by a number of old friends during my stay, has become Germany’s new normal. Returning from China in the past usually meant a relaxing and pleasurable experience, with people being rather polite and considerate of others in the public space. It seems incidents such as the above are now not uncommon as the behavior towards other people has changed for the worse.

Cologne New Years’ Aftermath

Next stop Cologne. One hardly has to repeat the events of New Years 2016 that have made the city’s main station infamous. The after effects though are as tangible as they could ever be. There was police everywhere on the premises; you could have cut the tension with a knife. After I asked one lovely policeman for directions to my following destination, he immediately warned me to be on my guard since “there are a lot of thieves especially in the station, and a bag such as yours is particularly easy to grab.”

So I found myself skulking up and down Cologne train station feeling doubly exposed not only due to the easy-to-steal handbag but with a massive and glowing red suitcase that screamed tourist at anyone in a 100m radius. The black one then, next time.

Beggars, Junkies, Alcoholics 

Upon arrival in Bonn, I was about to attempt to purchase an underground ticket, an unnecessarily complex process in the former capital, when something moved at my right elbow. Not registering what was about to happen, I turned to the young man with snake tattoos on his arm and a shaved head with a quizzical look on my face about to ask for help. Now, I cannot say for sure whether this was actually a junky, though he definitely would have fit the description. What surprised me about myself is that such people begging for money was completely normal even when I was growing up in Germany. This is also why train station toilets have blue lights, so said junkies can’t find their veins and shoot up in there; a fact of which I was painfully reminded when I set foot in the local “blue loo”.

At the sight of this stranger however, I was totally thrown. He did then very kindly help me out, but within seconds station security walked up to tell him to stop “harassing” me. He did ask for some money to buy a slice of pizza, even suggesting I can come with him to check he is truly buying food not alcohol. I gave him some change and sent him on his way, musing about how hard it is to fight stereotypical thoughts from entering your mind.

The grand finale to my disconcerting welcome in Germany was the last trip of the day on the underground, where a man in his fifties was barely able to remain slouched upon the platform seating with once again six police men and women gathered around him. Clearly drunk out of his mind, upon being told to get up and leave the station, the man stumbled around so violently he almost ended up on the tracks. After putting on a pair of gloves, one of the police men gingerly tried to lift and steer him, an attempt that desperately failed.

Alcoholism in China

Again, this is not in itself a terribly uncommon sight; especially at German cities’ main stations. But for some reason, it is rare to see a run-down alcoholic on his own in such a state in China. The inebriated might violently stumble around but there will always be friends to support them and get them home – since drinking is such a sociable activity. Generally speaking, it is rare to see an alcoholic homeless man out in the open. Beggars, yes. But these people, most Chinese I spoke to have claimed, are often part of an intricate network, trying to make money, in many cases playing emotional music as they drag themselves through underground carriages trying to look as desperate as possible (which to be honest they often truly are). Alcoholics, on the other hand, often hide in their own homes and are socially sanctioned through a traditional drinking culture closely tied to doing business.

In the end, this was not at all the welcome back I had expected. And it was just the beginning of a row of discussions and revelations in relation to safety, society and employment in Germany, that have given me a lot to think about.

I haven’t been lazy, I swear!

Hello, hello dear OCW friends,

Again it has been very quiet on the site for a while but that doesn’t mean that I have been lazy…well, a little bit maybe, and enjoying the first rays of sunshine this year. Those special days, when Beijing isn’t destroyed by yet another sandstorm-smog airpocalypse blown our way from Inner Mongolia. As I say to my husband “All the good things come from Inner Mongolia, don’t they.” He doesn’t find that funny. No idea why…

But I’ve also actually been writing quite a bit, just not on this blog. Which why I thought in the name of shameless self-promotion, I will put together a post to advertise some highlights of the breathtakingly amazing writing I’ve been doing, and also announce that I’ve won the Jay Z award for Modesty. Call me Humbledore. Ok, this is turning quite strange now, back on track, please.

Beijing Kids

I’ve been doing some writing for Beijing Kids, on multicultural relationships mostly, which is why I’ve maybe been not so good at putting topics up on here. Some of my grand bouts of inspiration have included musings on how living in your partner’s home country can make you more dependent on them – and it’s all about saving 5 Kuai. Another one I’d like to recommend is my Mother-in-Law Checklist, a tongue-in-cheek listicle or a very serious warning on which you should base your life choices? You decide! And finally, one of my favouritee ranty topics – marriage pressure. In this post, I talk a little bit about where marriage pressure comes from, how it is reflected in society and most importantly how I used my cultural background to shut down any form of marriage pressure.

WWAM BAM!

The other website that has been taking up quite a bit of my attention is the WWAM BAM! Blogging collective that we launched at the beginning of the year. More info about that here. Aside from being a super strict Time Nazi (wait, am I allowed to make that joke? I guess I am part German…let me know in the comments, if that was non-PC) and making a very impressive spreadsheet to schedule all of the fabulous posts by our amazing writers every month, I do get my hands dirty with the occasional post on the site. I have been writing a lot for our Where’s Wang column, which looks at media representation of Asian men. Here is a very long piece, in which I looked at the Oscar-winning movies from that perspective – quick hint, it’s a bit like trying to find the Asian needle in a very, very large Caucasian haystack. My post on cross-cultural divorce, where I reflect on the issues that I have learned about from friends, is also quite somber. So, I better finish off with something a little more uplifting: I did a profile of the very cool, very talented Kristel, a Canadian who runs an art school next to a monastery in the Tibetan area of Gansu, and as I like to tell everyone who will listen, hers is the first piece of grown-up art I own.

Group Posts

Also, in the interest of partial self-promotion I got to contribute to some very cool group posts that our great writers have put together over the past few months. There’s the one where we all showed off our stunning engagement photos, then there’s the one where we reviewed some of our favourite movies starring Western women and Asian men in love – a tip my choice get’s quite steamy and racially biased, it’s a confusing combination. And finally, we all compared how we spend Chinese New Year with our husbands.

Aside from that, I am hoping to get a super-secret project off the ground, but more on that later (got to hype it up, ey) and I do have a couple of topics I do need to write about on this blog. In the meantime, I’m sure you will be eagerly reading every single article I linked to *coughcough* There will be a test!

 

 

Or The Unofficial Fiancé; A German Girl and a Chinese Guy get married

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