Category Archives: China Life

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!

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!

 

 

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*

The Chinese New Year’s Office Party – Decadence, Sexism and Serious Drinking

Annual office party? Sure, that’s where you get unreasonably pissed, embarrass yourself in front of your colleagues and bosses by a) stripping to your undies (mostly men) or b) singing Karaoke really badly (all genders, especially one Bridget Jones) and generally have a fun day/night on the town sponsored by accounting. Especially in the UK, it can get pretty wild, with ample booze involved.

But nothing I ever experienced in Europe had me prepared for the crazy bonanza that is the Chinese New Year Office Party. The ones I have witnessed do, interestingly, seem to have a lot in common with a Chinese wedding. Here are a few things I learned from attending Mr Li’s company bash a few years ago and the one or other viral post that gives a rare glimpse into a world of decadence and serious sexism.

*Note that these parties are nowadays much more common in private companies; after the crackdown on corruption most state-owned companies have had to tone it down considerably and I believe many of them don’t hold any celebration anymore.

didi chuxing annual party
The annual party of taxi app Didi saw performances of major Chinese superstars; employees allegedly received up to 1000 RMB in virtual red envelopes on WeChat

The Venue

Because of the whole concept of face, you can be pretty certain that any company worth their salt is going to pull out the big guns when hosting a CNY party. It will be a five-star hotel with at least 100 tables and there will be a massive stage, if the company can afford it. The more I think about it, the more it really is very similar to a Chinese wedding extravaganza. Except with fewer flowers and random decorative elements.

At the event in question, there was even a large screen showing videos and speeches and even offering the opportunity for people to send a Wechat message that would then flash across the screen. It quickly descended into a slightly childish game of people calling each other silly names, which let’s face it, is the whole point of such a function.

CNY party screen wechat
Little Zhang loves Cherry – what else do you use a massive WeChat screen for?

The Show

Tencent got some rather embarrassing and unwanted attention after photos of their recent CNY bash were leaked showing female employees being forced to mimic blow-jobs on stage on a bottle tucked between male colleague’s nether-regions. This sounds pretty bad, and sadly, it’s not one extreme example but rather the norm. Since the CNY gala is the opportunity for Crystal in Marketing to get the big bosses’ attention, every employee will work seriously hard to put on a good show. My husband’s work group rehearsed their dance for two or three weeks, I kid you not.

However, grabbing the bosses attention as a woman in China, and the big boss almost inevitably will be male, still mostly equates to one classic mantra: sex sells. In addition, the concept of “professionalism” as it exists in the west, doesn’t really exist in China. And so Crystal will inevitably strap on her way-too-mini skirt and twerk as if her career depended on it (which it ultimately does) up on a stage in front of hundreds of employees and, yes, that big boss who might just be enchanted by her butt.

But then Cherry in Admin emerges as a dark horse and brings it home – those hours of professional dance class just for the purpose of this one moment are finally paying off.

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Twerk as if your career depended on it…

The only redeeming quality that this circus of sexism had was that one of the work groups didn’t take it all quite that serious (or rather they did), and had a group of male employees run around dressed up in sexy women’s attire and twerk their way across the stage. It seemed like an ironic commentary, and so I enjoyed it. I do hope that at some point the girls will do a dance in a suit though. Gimme some of that woman power!

The Drinking

This was the most fascinating part of the evening. As with weddings, the big bosses of course had to go from table to table and cheers every single employee. For Mr Li it was an opportunity to show off his foreign wife; as the only Western person at the event, I did stick out like a sore thumb and as usual got some awkward attention. Though it did seem to help him gain some brownie points, which I guess is a good thing for him.

The junior table I was sitting at had maybe bitten off a bit more than they could chew. Or rather chugged a bit more than they could stomach. And not been eating enough of the grand banquet that was being served up. Aside from Baijiu and red wine, they had smuggled in some stronger liquor, Korean Soju if memory serves, and were egging each other on to drink as much as possible. It didn’t help, I reckon, that they were curious to see how much I could drink, and Soju and wine are my fortes. Whereas the young stallions were knocked out pretty quickly by the mixture and so, all of the sudden there were two or three young men spewing up on the carpet of this five-star hotel. That was probably the most surreal moment I have ever experienced in China, especially since no one really seemed that bothered about it.

Torn between disbelief and empathy, I felt for the young lads, since had I entered a Baijiu competition I wouldn’t have made it very far either. Though when I ended up tipping my insides out during my last office party in the UK, at least I managed to do so outside on the pavement, rather than on the expensive carpet of an exclusive hotel.

Have you ever been to a CNY Office Party in China? What has your experience been? Wishing you a happy New Year!

An Ode to Inner Mongolia

As the Chinese New Year approaches fast, so does my typically longest visit of the year to Mr Li’s hometown, Hohhot in Inner Mongolia. Since the beginning of time, there’s been a bit of animosity between the two of us caused by our differing perceptions and opinions of the place. I, as a person who enjoys tropical weather, humidity, multicultural society and distinct architecture, have had quite a hard time embracing this city that is characterized by a desert-induced dryness that will make the skin peel off your hands (true fact), -20 C° degree winters, and fairly homogenous, Han style construction with hardly more than 10 buildings to be found in a city of  that have any kind of architecturally distinct or fascinating character; and that in a city of over 2.8 million people. I realize it’s a tad snobbish to reject a city based on it’s architecture, but to me buildings have always been a major part in creating the feel of a city, and when you’ve lived in cities like Vienna, London or Nanjing, I guess your expectations as to architecture tend to be a little bit on the high side.

Anyway, because Mr Li has this base urge to spend every CNY back home in Hohhot (though partly I cannot blame him, seen as ticket and hotel prices are horrendous at this particular time of year), he has been trying very hard to show me that there are also some pretty fun things about his place of birth. And I have to admit that through his efforts, the city has been slowly growing on me. Not so much, I’d ever consider living there, I grant you, but we do manage to have a good time.

So, I thought it was time for me to admit to some of the cool aspects about Hohhot. Enjoy!

Number One: Food in Inner Mongolia is Da Bomb

Vegetarians, you’re going to want to run for cover. But for meat-eaters with a preference for lamb, ohhh, you’re in for a treat. My personal fave are Chinese dumplings filled with lamb and carrot, a CNY treat that I could gorge myself on until I keel over.

The other massive favourite is Huicai, which I reckon you’d best compare to a stew. Just a few minuted walk from Mr Li is his local Huicai joint, where they stew green beans, tofu, potato and fentiao (thick glass noodles made from potato starch) into carb-overloaded, mushy goodness, of course with a bit of pork for flavouring – sorry, vegetarians, you really will struggle to find anything edible on the local menu.

 

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Lamb Dumplings yumm, yumm, yumm
Super Fun Inner Mongolian-Western Fusion Restaurant

While I might have turned my nose up at Hohhot for its lack of international cultural in the past, it has started to cultivate a more global restaurant scene. One of my personal faves, introduced by Mr Li’s cousin, a young, vivacious girl who knows all the best haunts, is a Mongolian-Western fusion restaurant. I never imagined myself slurping some Spaghetti Carbonara and then turning to a huge pile of stewed Sauerkraut, beans and tofu to wash it down. It totally works and has become one of my must-visits whenever I’m up there!

Number Two: Watching the Fireworks from our Balcony

Beijing has banned fireworks due to such minor considerations as, you know, environment 😉 But out in Inner Mongolia, the Wild, Wild North of China, try as you might, people will turn Chinese New Year into a festival of fireworks. When the clock strikes 12 on New Year’s Eve the racket starts and usually I will be standing on the balcony of my MIL’s flat on the 11th floor enjoying the view of fireworks everywhere. Most year’s Mr Li will have already passed out by this point, which has been a major irritation, let’s see if I can keep him awake this time around. Might have to give him some coding exercise – that’ll keep him awake till 3am.

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Spring Festival Fireworks as viewed from the balcony – love it!
Number Three: Inner Mongolia, A Great Place for Winter Sports

To me the major advantage of snot-freezing temperatures are the accompanying winter sports. As a former ice skater, going to the local park for a spin on the lake is a must. Ironically, I had never skated on a lake before coming to Inner Mongolia, only ever on man-made rinks. I love being outdoors without a roof above my head and some, albeit leafless, trees framing my view.

Look at meeeeeeeee
Look at meeeeeeeee
As I mentioned in the year-end review, IM is also the place where I learnt to ski for the first time. While it doesn’t necessarily house Swiss Alp style slopes, for an absolute beginner the man-made slopes are a very good place to wet your feet, or rather your backside when you tumble.

Number Four: Inexpensive Entertainment

Once you dig deeper, Hohhot actually has quite a lot of fun things to do. Such as pleasantly affordable Laser Tag, such fun, and a “cinema” that has private rooms for groups of around five people and uses streaming services, the legality of which I have decided not to think too much about. It’s a comfy fun way to relax on an afternoon.

Number Five: The Air, the Air, the Air. Did I mention the AIR?

Oh, yes, Hohhot’s number one selling point still is the air. While in recent years, pollution has slowly been starting to take hold, overall Hohhot, whose name in Mongolian means Blue City, is much better off air-wise than the capital of recurring airpocalypse, Beijing. This means that every visit is a much needed opportunity for your lungs to get some rest.

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Would you look at that AIR – Blue City, indeed!
Number Six: THE Blind Massage Parlour to END ALL BMPs

As a victim of desk jobs and terrible, terrible posture, I am one of those people whose neck and shoulders tend to be as a hard as brick. Seriously, you could injure your head should you for some weird reason smash it into my upper back. As locals, of course, Mr Li and his mother know exactly where the best massage parlours are, and so I was introduced to my favourite – back-crushing central. Yes, I will have bruises and feel tender for days to come post-massage, but I love it. Sadly, they usually aren’t open for CNY, and even more devastatingly I’ve heard rumours they’ve entirely shut down. But they’ll always be in my heart…and knotted shoulders.

Number Seven: Some Seriously Cool Local Architecture

Once I got over myself, I found that there’s actually quite a few interesting buildings to be discovered in Hohhot, a pagoda here, a temple there, but most interestingly the Hui Muslim district, which has a beautiful mosque and some very interesting architecture reminiscent of Arabic countries. Last time around, we even discovered a Christian church! And all it took, was for me to just get off my high horse and open my eyes.

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Hohhot’s Stunning Mosque ❤
And there you have it, my Ode to Inner Mongolia in seven neatly packaged reasons. Wishing you all a very happy Chinese New Year of the Rooster! Where will you be spending yours?