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?

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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!

 

 

Celebrating International Women’s Day: My Role Models

Dear Readers,

Happy, happy International Women’s Day! In order to appropriately mark this day, I’ve decided to spread some girl love, or should I say woman love, by listing the women that I find most inspiring. This is by no means an exhaustive list and it changes constantly. Without much ado, here are (in no particular order) the outstanding women I look up to and who give me hope for a more equal world:

Emma Watson

She has grown from Hermione in Harry Potter to an outspoken women’s rights activist, addressing the UN and most importantly handing an epic comeback to the people trying to police her body.

Her response to the criticism of her partially exposed breasts in Vanity Fair is both eloquent and hilariously blunt at the same time.

“Feminism is about giving women choice. Feminism is not a stick with which to beat other women with. It’s about freedom. It’s about liberation. It’s about equality. I really don’t know what my tits have to do with it.”

Thanks, Emma. You rule.

Miranda Hart

Oh, where to start with Miranda Hart? She is one of the most singularly funny women I know, one of the rare, but growing breed of female comedians that are taking on this world. Her awkwardness in social situations and her struggle to fit into the narrow mold of what society considers “one of those women”, the ones with trinkets, who always know the laugh of the season and the appropriate appetizer for each social occasion is so relatable. She will have you spewing your beverage all over the room with laughter as she farts, gallops and falls off chairs. If ever you need cheering up, Miranda’s comedic talent will certainly save the day.

Carrie Gracie

If you are an avid follower of the BBC, especially with a focus on China, you would have come across Carrie Gracie. She is my favourite journalist of all time. She was out reporting on China when China wasn’t the place to be yet; in the mid-90s she does a series on White Horse Village, where the villagers are affected by urbanization. Then, last year, her documentary the Xi Factor takes on China’s Big Papa, culminating in a visit to the very same dumpling place he had blessed with his presence, where the “presidential set” fails to impress the seasoned China expert Gracie. And in her latest coup, she is attempting to untangle the web of a certain Chinese politician, his wife and the murder of a British business man in 2011. The woman is fearless. And, incidentally, also was married to a Chinese man at one point in her life if memory serves. If I ever meet her, I might end up stammering “I want to be you when I grow up.” Too weird? Yeah, I thought so.

Okay, before I run on for too long, I think I’ll have to stop here. But not before giving a shout out to a couple of other amazing women and their achievements:

Elizabeth Warren, succesful politician taking on Trump and his administration in a serious & viral way

J.K. Rowling, who gave us Harry Potter and one of the best feeds in the Twitterverse

Superwoman, a.k.a. Lilly Singh, Youtube Mega-star, bawse and girl power advocate

Oh, and one surprise woman you can find right here

And finally my Mum, tomboy in her own right, who taught me there’s no need to fit the mould

Who are your female role models? Let me know in the comments!

Happy Women’s Day 2017!

 

 

Mangjing Village; A Disappearing Way of Life

Life recently took me to a rather unexpected place. It’s called Jingmaishan (or Jingmai Mountain) and is made up of 14 small villages that are colourd with ethnic minorities, mainly Bulang and Dai. 


A three-hour car drive from Xishuangbanna, I thought I knew what to expect – palm trees, sun and unique architecture. I’d actually even forgotten about fog, a starry sky and the scent of fresh, wet grass. The memories that Manjing brought to mind after years in dry and dusty urban giants were melancholic and bitter-sweet. However, what I didn’t expect to find were the people. 

Sure, everywhere in the world there tends to be a difference between big urban centers and small rural villages in the way people carry themselves and the way they behave towards each other. It’s common to greet people in smaller placer irrespective of whether you know them or not. 
But particularly Mangjing village, the base from which I explored this stunning area, absolutely turned my preconceptions on their head. 

Without fail every person we encountered would offer tea – this region’s main source of income – but not in the way that many tourist places in China do, where their ulterior motive is always to sell their product after. Rather the people here just socialize in this way. While I was waiting for my group, one of the locals, whose toilet I was standing next to, kept offering for me to use it if I needed. Another ran off to return with a branch from his ancient tea tree as a present. 


There is just genuine affection, warmth and a sense of community here that I have never seen in quite this way anywhere else, even less so in the big metropolises of China.

This attitude towards life and relationships is visible in the local architecture. The ground floor of their buildings is entirely open; there are only wooden beams that keep the whole structure standing up – and so it’s common for people to take a short-cut right through your house. While there is a second floor that is a closed-off room, the doors in this village aren’t locked and it isn’t uncommon to just pop into anybody’s house. Of course it has to be said that most people in the village are actually related and few outsiders have made this their permanent home. 


The contrast with Beijing couldn’t be more obvious. The bemoaning of how cold and isolated people are in big urban centers is nothing new of course. However, I think this is even worse in China than in any other country I’ve been in. Part of it is certainly the sheer size of cities. Beijingers can only muster a weak smile when they hear that London hit a record high in terms of population – totaling 8.6 million people. Try 21.7 million. 

The social isolation that comes with big cities seems to go hand-in-hand with some of the social developments bemoaned in recent years. Particularly the lack of empathy and unwillingness to help people in traffic accidents or facing violence in public for fear of ending up branded as a perpetrator. There is a lot of mistrust, a lot of apathy, and sheer loneliness. 

One of the people in my group told me that when they were growing up in Chongqing, the community felt much more like the one in Mangjing village. 
But this lifestyle too is under threat. As projects to increase tourism are expanding and the locals strive for a more materialistic, city-like lifestyle, not knowing the cost it holds. 

It is clear this will have a considerable impact on people’s lives and attitudes. For one, if the number of tourists increases, it will become inevitable for locals to start putting locks on their doors. As soon as they start shutting people out out of necessity, this will inevitably erode the incredible closeness that is the essence of Mangjing’s community. Development is, of course, unstoppable; but the loss it will entail is very costly indeed.

Pre-CNY To-Do List

Every year before the Spring Festival there are a couple of tasks that need to be completed. Here are the three main things we have to do before returning to Mr Li’s hometown. 

Buy new clothes 
It is a fairly typical CNY tradition to start out the new year with new clothes to mark the new beginning. In the past, as China was not yet as economically developed as it is now, this would be the only time of the year that children got new clothes and so in the past it was incredibly exciting and meaningful. As consumerism has taken hold and incomes have increased buying clothes is no longer just a once per year activity and so it’s completely lost its excitement. I did buy two new winter qipaos, however delivery was slowed down and so by the time I got them all the tailors in the area had already shut down for CNY, and of course with my pear-shaped figure they look more like lumpy sacks than anything else. Mr Li couldn’t even be bothered to get new clothes since there is nothing he hates more than being forced to shop for clothing. We walked into a store and within 10 minutes he was complaining that he didn’t want to buy anything after all. We will definitely be getting a scolding when we show up without new clothes for him.

Get a haircut 
It’s said that you’re not allowed to get a haircut in the first month after the new year in his family, otherwise your uncle dies. And so the night before we fly up into frosty Inner Mongolia mr li has to get a haircut, otherwise he would look like a crazy professor by the end of the month. Since we tend to not remember to get this done until the last minute by now half of Beijing’s hairdressers have closed and the other half have more than doubled their prices. Maybe we will learn next time.


Buy Famous Beijing Cakes
Beijing has a nationally famous bakery called Daoxiangcun (fragrant paddy village). They have so called Chinese cakes, which are the only Chinese bakery items I will actually happily stuff my face with. Since they are so famous, they are also the traditional gift for us to bring home to close family members since we have moved to Beijing. The photo shows their smallest size box, and because we have such exclusive tastes they are choc-full of very heavy (and therefore not inexpensive) cakes stuffed with paste made from coconut, hawthorne, winter pear, lotus seed and plum. The cakes a very carefully crafted with beautiful ornaments – my faves this year are the monkey and the rooster, marking both the year that is ending and the coming one. Because I have no discipline when it comes to cakes, it’ll be mostly me stuffing my face with these for the week to come. And then having trouble fitting in my trousers. That’s CNY for you! Happy holiday! 

Signing Off For Chinese New Year w/ a Nugget of Chinese Humour

My dear friends,

Chinese New Year has almost arrived and so before I retire into a week or two of holiday bliss, I wanted to leave you with this little New Year’s joke circulating on the internet:

Our neighbour, Mr Wang, met a girl online and kept happily chatting with her for a few days. All of a sudden, she suggested he go over to hers. “What if your husband suddenly comes back?”, he asked her. She said: “Not a problem, he usually doesn’t come back unannounced. And if he does, we will just say I called you in to clean the windows*. Chinese New Year is approaching after all! He won’t suspect a thing.”

So he went. But only minutes after he arrived, the husband returned, and so Mr Wang did pretend to be the window cleaner. He spent the whole afternoon wiping the windows down. On his way home, the realisation started to dawn on him, that something about this whole encounter wasn’t quite right…that’s city life for you. CNY is approaching, watch out you won’t be called in to clean someone else’s windows.

In case you have an urgent desire to practice Chinese, or want to pick apart my translation (I dare you, you nitpicker…JK…or am I?), here’s the original:

隔壁老王网上约了个妹纸,聊了几天相谈甚欢。突然约老王去她家,老王说那你老公突然回来咋办,她说没事,一般不会突然回来,万一要回来了你就说你是我雇来擦玻璃的,快过年了,我老公也不会怀疑。结果,在她家没呆几分钟,她老公就回来了,为了装的逼真老王擦了一下午玻璃。
回家的路上老王越想越不对劲…城市套路深 😀 😀 😀 快过年了,注意啊别被叫去给擦玻璃了!!!

And with that, I leave you to clean your windows, buy some new clothes and stuff yourselves with dumplings, fish or whichever CNY foods land on your strained table. I won’t be posting much on OCW in the coming week or two (depending how busy and/or inspiring the New Year proves), but my interview with Mr Li (in which he reveals that he almost died a few times during CNY) did recently get published on beijingKids; and there are two posts, I contributed to, scheduled to go up on WWAM BAM! In the coming days. So watch those spaces, rather than this one, if you are keen to read my musings, which I’m certain you cannot live without 😉 Yeah, modesty, it’s my strong suit.

I wish you all a very happy Chinese New Year and I’ll be seeing you all again in the Year of the Rooster (or rather Cock as some colleagues proclaimed…naughty!)

万事如意,新年快乐and a hearty恭喜发财!

Laura

 

*In Chinese tradition, there will be a spring clean before the Spring Festival, which must include wiping down the windows, a tradition I certainly observe very closely *coughcough*

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

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