Tag Archives: China Germany

Culture Clash: Wedding Planning – China vs Germany

Calendar august wedding China

I wanted to scream, I wanted to bang my head against a wall, I wanted to explode. The six month mark to the date of my wedding had just passed and I was freaking out. You see, for all the interesting, bemusing and incredible cultural aspects of China I get to experience by being in an intercultural relationship, there is the dark side; some aspects of local culture my German-wired brain simply cannot wrap its head around. One of them is organising. We love organising, us Germans. Ask anyone anywhere who has ever worked with a German, and they will respond in a fashion similar to the following: “What, oh Germans? Yeah, yeah, great cars. Very organised people.” As I said to Mr. Li in one of our conversation in which I was trying to explain my rather sudden bouts of bridezilla syndrome: “Germans love organising so much they want to have babies with it, little organising babies.” Incidentally, he found that image rather comical, which helped to deflect the approaching conflict. But there it is. Organising and Germans, the greatest love story since Kate & Leo.

Now, I am a bit of peculiarity, which I blame on my English heritage (though Mr.Li I am sure would hold my scatter brain responsible). When it comes to organising I seem to have slight schizophrenic tendencies. If my brain deems something only minorly important or can justify procrastination on getting it organised, I will for the life of me not get my s…tuff together. However, if anything shows up on my priority radar, then I kick into über-organising mode, which in all honesty is probably a speck scary. I will get obsessed with organising a task and want to complete it immediately. Yes, in elementary school I was that loser who finished her homework for the entire week on the first day when we had our so-called “weekly task plans”. Later on, though, my split organising personality appeared. As soon as any science except math was involved, organising monster would mysteriously crawl into a cave only to be seen again when the next art project began.

As I mentioned right at the beginning of this blog, this Chinese wedding was initially not something me nor Mr. Li wanted but against gentle nudging from mother-in-law no one really stands a chance. She just wraps you right around her little finger. So after it was decided, I told myself there was no point in moping about it. If we are doing this wedding, we are doing it right! (Another one of those mottos I am sure was invented by a German). Hence, the Über-mode.

Chinese Organising Style

What this meant was that when we had decided this wedding was going to happen sometime in August last year, I would have loved to get the organising underway within a week. Alas, I had not considered the big, unmentionable C-word…cultural difference.
I am now going to drift into sweeping generalisations here. I apologise in advance. I would like to argue that a majority of Chinese people I have met are not into timely organising. I have come to this conclusion through countless interactions with Chinese clients, including government employees, all of which looked something like this: half a year in advance the project is discussed and broadly agreed upon. Then nothing happens. No necessary material is provided, no steps taken, in fact not one sound is made to suggest the project will come into fruition. Until about a week before the deadline, when you suddenly get a bunch of stuff thrown at your face plus the expectation that a project that should have been three months in the making will be completed within the next seven days. I am not saying this is terrible; I have actually observed quite a few interesting results from this way of doing business, the main one being that Chinese people are incredibly reactive. They are able to produce acceptable results in the shortest humanly possible amount of time. Hence, it is no surprise that the country is currently making headlines for building a 57-floor sky scraper from scratch in 19 days in Changsha, Hunan province. That should give you an impression of just how quickly Chinese people can come together to create something enormous.

Clash of the Titans

When this cultural trait does present a problem is the moment you combine it with the German über-organising mode. This will without fail turn into an explosive mixture. Both heads and tears will roll as these two very opposite worlds meet. I wanted to decide on a definite wedding location asap, after all wedding invitations could not go out without a wedding location and all my friends and family abroad needed to book their flights as soon as possible. Hence I turned into a really pushy bridezilla, while my Chinese family thought I had gone mad, after all there was still so much time to book the venue!

As if that was not enough friction, I almost had a heart attack, when MiL informed me that we should find a wedding planner only six weeks before the wedding. I almost passed out. Who on earth could arrange a wedding in such a short time?! Let me tell you who; Chinese people.

The additional problem that we face is the fact that I am not physically present in Hohhot, if I were, then I could swing my backside down to all those hotels, wedding planning companies and whatever party involved I have forgotten. However, since I am not around, my poor MiL has been schlepping herself around the city from one location to the other in search of the best place. And because she is such a nice person, she will of course check out every possible wedding location. I’m a terrible person.

However, I am happy to announce that despite the odd bit of drama, surprisingly through bouts of über-organising mode, it seems everything is slowly coming together; and there are still five months to go to the wedding. Touch wood!

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Jet-Set Wedding (Part 5) – Excuse me, can we get a divorce here?

So, the man himself finally arrived and it was time to begin. We followed him into his plain office that could have just been any other old office, the only indication that it wasn’t being a humungous, round and red sign, which read “Marriage Registration” in English, Chinese and Mongolian propped up precariously on a coffee table in the most random fashion imaginable.
The registrar was an incredibly unceremonious and unenthusiastic man in his thirties who after merely glancing at those documents it had been such a hassle for us to procure started chucking forms at us to fill out. They were entirely in Chinese and both Mr. Li and I had to fill out our own copy including partner’s job, address etc, due to which practically all the information was duplicated. I wonder what would happen if the foreign partner is unable to write Chinese characters, as the registrar seemed to insist we each fill out our own sheet of paper; fun!
At this point the whole excitement of the entire day, probably worsened by the fact that I kept vlogging any insignificant piece of information (that is modern lingo for recording everything on video with my phone while giving running commentary), came crashing down on me and suddenly writing a couple of Chinese characters seemed incredibly difficult and gave me a severe headache (not the figurative kind).
After handing in our sheets of paper, the registrar input all the information into his Lenovo computer, once he had finally managed to read Tong’s mother’s name. Since it is a very old and not commonly used character, most Chinese people are unable to read it and believe it is a traditional character rather than a simplified one. An easier version of Chinese characters was introduced in 1949 under Mao on the mainland to make communication easier and combat China’s concerningly high illiteracy rate. Hong Kong, Macao and Taiwan still maintain the traditional system, which in my personal opinion is a lot more aesthetic, but infinitely more difficult to master and hence less practical.
In Tong’s mum’s case it is truly just a fact that she as a very uncommon and complex looking surname, which often causes problems when she needs to “describe” her character or has official business to do (you cannot really spell a Chinese word, rather you describe the components of the character, e.g. 婧, a common given name for girls would be “woman”(the left bit 女) plus “green”(the right part青)). In the end, our friend, the rigid registrar managed to locate the character in his Chinese typing software and all was good with the world.
He printed out two electronic copies of our marriage application, sticking one of our little red wedding pictures on each paper. We then had to not only sign this document, but also add our fingerprint with red ink, which I felt was rather dramatic, or symbolic of how marriage and jail are not dissimilar institutions for the glass-half-empty philosophers among us.
Thus, it was done as the registrar handed us our little red wedding booklets; plural because you receive two booklets, one for each spouse and in it the name of the owner of the booklet comes first. So in my case it reads my name and sex and below details that I am married to Mr.Li, who is male (quelle surprise).
The registrar was less than enthusiastic about our proffered bag filled with German sweets; the ungrateful b…ureaucrat, but what can you do? In the glamorous life of a Hohhot foreign registrar, a couple of Nimm 2 and Schokobons simply fail to impress.
He did then make the nice gesture of offering to take a picture of the two of us together with our booklets, with the white wall in the background; not as Chinese tradition has it at a brown podium with a red cloth background; if you are going to the special foreigners marriage office, you don’t get the special red curtain, I mean who do you think you are? Mao?
We were just gathering our belongings, after we had completely destroyed the formerly neat office, it looked a bit like a bomb went off with all our documents and goodie bags and clothing strewn across the place, when there was a slightly awkward moment as a couple walked in, by the looks of it in their early twenties, asking whether they could get a divorce here. Mother-in-law of course interpreted this as a bad sign for our marriage sent from the heavens, while I just found it all rather hilarious. Suffice it to say, the young ex-lovers where in the wrong office, even the wrong province as it turned out, what with him being originally from Henan, or one of the other H provinces and them having tied the knot there. As I always say, one of China’s provinces is equal to an entire country in Europe, be that in terms of food, language and as it seems even divorces.

Jet-Set Wedding (Part 4) – Singing in the Hallway

Import products Hohhot
I don’t know about you, but where I come from, big occasions are celebrated with alcohol (hmm, that makes my family sound like alcoholics doesn’t it…naaaah, we’re good…I think). The idea that after getting married I wouldn’t even get to toast with my new husband was simply inconceivable to me; therefore, I insisted rather passionately that we attempt to purchase sparkling wine in Hohhot. While part of me worried that I was being too optimistic actually believing we would find something as scarcely imported as bubbly in the city of Hohhot, where the definition of Western restaurant still encompasses the coronary killer trifecta Maccie D’s, KFC and Pizza Hut, as it turned out I had underestimated the third tier city. Third tier it might be, but it is still the capital of Inner Mongolia!

While we for a split second considered the 29 RMB Chinese-produced sparkling wine, which had alarm bells running overtime in my mind, Mr.Li’s eagle eyes spotted the Italian imports on the top-most shelf of the imported alcohol section. And so we walked out of the supermarket with a red sparkling wine produced in Italy and some paper cups. I have never been happier in my entire life! I did feel a little concerned as to whether red wine in combination with my wedding dirndl was really such a good idea but as I said to Mr.Li, “We love living dangerously, we are such daredevils!”

After a short pit stop at the Li flat during which I grabbed a change of clothes since we had decided to spend the afternoon at my favourite massage parlour in the entire world, we then returned once again to the b(r)at cave to await the appearance of our kind registrar Lord Lazybum from Bedfordshire.

We arrived at the offices at 2pm, and so had a half hour wait ahead of us. It was a very entertaining thirty minutes as Mr.Li stole a chair for me to sit down (he can be such a romantic when he wants to), we listened to what was going on behind the closed doors of the administration office – a group of guys sounding like they were having a serious argument, while they were in fact just playing cards while listening to really, really old Chinese music and then, in the second instance, Mongolian tunes; at which point I wrapped the folk style scarf that I bought years ago in Sichuan province’s Tibetan valley Jiuzhaigou around my arms and developed a “Mongolian style choreography” dancing about in the hall. Other highlights included us finding a song with the word waiting with it *whatever you say, whatever you do, we will be right here waiting for you…*, awkward looks from an office worker at our singing and dancing in the hallway and finally the arrival of Double-O Zero, the undetectable agent, aka the registrar.

The Dates (Part 4) – The German Wedding

Calendar august wedding China

My Christmas trip to Germany rendered a good many results with regards to the wedding that side of the sea (we are pretty early considering it is not until 2016, but that’s how we roll – we are as enthusiastic about planning as our Chinese counterparts are not; on average Chinese families tend to book their wedding planner about two months before the wedding to throw something together).

I had originally thought of setting the date for May 2016, since our idea at the time was a possible return to Europe in April 2016; however, this was simply another of Mr. Li’s short-lived plans, which tend to change once a week on average (I have simply decided to not take any of his notions seriously until I am actually sitting at the airport headed for Europe).

Therefore it was time for me to make my own plans – given the choice I will always go for a summer celebration as I love the heat. This led us into July. It took about a week for my brain to have an epiphany that 2016 will be my mum’s 65th birthday; and since I have no idea where I will be living at the time, wouldn’t it be great to make sure I got to spend my mums big birthday with her?

After a short discussion we agreed that we can simply combine the two occasions, especially since friends and family who cannot make it to China will hopefully be able to pop by Germany more easily; but they wouldn’t necessarily come twice in a short amount of time. And so it will be July, a few days before my mum’s birthday, that we will have our ultra-special wedding cum birthday party. Damn, we are efficient! *pat on the back for me*

What Drives Me Crazy About Germany

Welcome back to the final part of the “Reflections on Germany” trilogy, as I have spontaneously decided to call it.

The last two posts talked about all the great things Germany has to offer such as bathtubs and internet, but since I do not want to compromise my journalistic integrity, I must strive for objectivity (man, that sounded posh, didn’t it?). Therefore, today I would like to share a few of the things about Germany that drive me absolutely bonkers.

1.The Calories
The number one complaint that I tend to hear from Chinese people who travel in Europe is that the food is so heavy and calorific. I never quite understood what they were on about; until I returned to Germany this Christmas, having spent the past 14 months in China. Following 2 weeks of creamy pasta, cheesy breads, meaty Döner Kebabs, bacon-infused potatoes and so on and so forth, I finally could relate to what my Chinese comrades had been on about. European cuisine is really heavy! After two weeks of attempting to stuff my arteries up as much as possible, I was craving my regular Hefan, a lunch box consisting of 4 different portions of veggies, a few of them with meat and lots and lots of steamed rice. Of course, the fact that I was only home for two weeks and didn’t know when next I shall return did nothing to improve my discipline. Quite the opposite. It’s a terribly dangerous symptom, the “who knows when I will get another chance to eat this” paranoia. Luckily, it only lasts for the duration of the stay, which in this case probably saved me from a heart attack.

German food

2. The Inflexibility
As a major stickler for plans and adherence to them, I never thought I would say this, but I really missed Chinese flexibility. In Germany, a no is a no; come thunder, come rain, come the big lady of the nation, Angie herself. In China however, people are rather flexible. A no never truly means no and if there is nothing to be done via official channels then a bit of underhanded bribery or connections can often do the trick. This also makes Chinese people very effective problem solvers; when they need something or want to achieve a certain outcome, they will think of very creative measures to bend the rules and turn that no into a yes. The thought that there is always a way is very uplifting and liberating, whereas in Germany a no is like running face first into the Great Wall; you shall not pass!

3. The Rules
Slightly related to the inflexibility issue are the rules. Germans love rules. They make rules for making rules, and no doubt about it. Closely linked to German rules is of course the infamous German bureaucracy, of which we have been getting regular kicks in the kidneys since we have begun the process of trying to get married (in China nonetheless). Read more about that fun adventure here.

The thing with German rules is this; we are programmed to actually listen to them. Put on your seat belt, or you will be fined. Yes, sir! Ironically, China probably has far more rules than Germany; just a trip on the metro will confirm this as you listen to about 10 different announcements about letting others exit the vehicle before getting on, no pushing, priority seating and so on and so forth. The difference is that no one ever pays attention to them. I frequently envy the Chinese ability to not perceive rules as anything of interest and simply sidestep them, while I stand at the crossing of ridiculous regulation and ludicrous law watching their taillights disappear in the distance.

4. The Quiet
Those of you, who have carefully followed my previous post on what I love about Germany might recognize this item. So if that is one of the good things about home, how come it also gets a place on the naughty list? Well, as I discovered upon my return there is such a thing as too much quiet.

While I did enjoy being able to sleep in and all the other luxuries of a noise-free environment, I am now so used to being constantly surrounded by one sound or another (such as the beeping from my neighbours broken door which has been going off every 30 seconds for over three months now; and yes, I informed building management of the issue two days after it started), that utter quiet makes me physically uncomfortable. Such was the case, when we had guests and sat down for dinner. While I did realise the TV was too noisy, and hence switched it off, we progressed to dine in complete silence. No radio talking along in the background, no dancing ayis with their techno-raving ghetto blasters on the square outside, not even any major conversation took place during this meal that very soon started to feel like it would take forever. For a split second I considered whether suddenly starting to scream might help, or just singing some of my favourite tunes as a type of Ersatz radio. But I had to admit that even by my standards that sounded a little bit nuts. Luckily, I was freed from the silent torture after dinner, and not a minute too early – I did almost belt out the chorus for Santa Clause is comin’ to town.

German countrysideWhere did all the dancing ayis go?

And so it comes to an end, my reflection of all the things I love and could do without in Germany. I am hoping to get back on track with more wedding-related talk soon; as you can imagine my stay in the Vaterland triggered quite a few developments in that area.
Bye for now!

What I Love About Germany (Part 1)

Okay, so I kind of disappeared into a black blogging hole of festive holidays, traveling, jet lag and catching up with Nanjing friends for a while there – but I am back, for now, and happy to report that my Germany travels were a fruitful endeavor in a number of ways (apart from putting me off from ever wanting to take a bus to go anywhere in my life ever again).

In the end, I spent a total of 78 hrs, i.e. three full days and eight hours of my 16-day holiday on the road in almost every type of vehicle the human mind has invented so far. But it was so worth it, in many ways.

To begin with, of course there is a number of things you sorely miss when moving away from your country of origin to another place; especially one as radically different as China. So I have compiled a list of all the things I love about being in Germany (and some I could do without, but more on that later).

1. The Air
I know, I know…pollution, that old potato. But yes, the contrast between Nanjing, where the PM levels frequently reach the “even cockroaches would not want to live in this mess”-level and the 7000 people strong town in Germany is staggering. I was sleepy throughout my entire stay and in the beginning, I swear I felt a little dizzy from all the oxygen in the air. I had to stand next to our car exhaust and inhale some fumes to make myself feel more normal. Not kidding, ask my mum.

Fresh air Germany

2. Baths
Hands down one of THE major excitements for me was taking a bath in an actual bathtub. Since a large majority, especially less modern, Chinese flats do not have a bathtub, taking baths has become a luxury, something I get to do every half year when I am able to stay in a fancy hotel. In those cases, it wouldn’t even matter if Donnie Yen were doing a meet n’ greet downstairs, I am going to take my bath; even if it’s 3am after lots of drinking at a business banquet and I am realistically putting my life at danger from falling into a drunken stupor and drowning in the tub. Hence, constant availability of a bath option in Germany has now become one of the highlights of my visits.

3. Scheduled Buses
Because humongous rush hour traffic jams aren’t really a thing in small to mid-sized German towns, and also Germans have a penchant for being super efficient, their bus schedule is timed to a T and actually adhered to. If the bus is set to arrive at 10.37am it will be there on the dot, not a second late or early. It’s beautiful.

Such a refreshing change compared to my regular 303 bus in Nanjing that sees three vehicles of the same number arrive within 3 minutes of each other and then there is a bus draught for the next 30 to 40 minutes. I hate that 303 bus with a passion…

4. Warm rooms
Okay, aside from the bath this is the second big luxury I miss most. Since insulation seems to be a myth to most local construction companies, something they’ve heard about but don’t actually think exists, the buildings do not retain heat. While this is not only a waste of resources, it also means as soon as you turn your air on off, the flat goes cold within an hour.

Yes, you read correctly. Air con. To add to the pain, the Southern parts of China, which are “mild” in winter compared with the North (whoever said that should check a dictionary for the meaning of the word “mild”), are generally not equipped with gas heating because if they were, the energy consumption in this country would rise to a horrific and completely unsustainable level. Instead of a heating, households have an air conditioning system that blows hot air in their faces. As long as you sit still in the stream of hot air you are fine, but dare move an inch outside of the heat stream and your limbs might fall off.

That is not to say there are no heaters available; however, electric heaters drive up your bill into ludicrous heights, aside from having a worryingly frequent tendency to suffer from short circuits and simply explode.

The most common coping mechanism for the indoor cold is to sleep in full costume, thick jogging trousers, multiple layers of shirts, sweaters and fleece jackets and finally, during the worst months, a face-hat that covers the entire face and neck (since for some reason the tip of my big Laowai nose always gets frosty first).

So, in summary, there is nothing I love more than a constant flow of warmth radiating from my non-exploding, reasonably priced German heating system.

5. The Christmas Market
Okay, this is a very seasonal one, granted, but it just had to be included. There is nothing the German’s are better at than Christmas markets (well, the Austrians are pretty good too, so let’s say it’s a German language speaker talent). Walking through the stalls selling mulled wine with an addition of alcohol from amaretto to rum to keep you extra warm, any type of greasy unhealthy food from France, to Northern Germany and down to Switzerland, fruit skewers coated in chocolate, sheep’s wool hats, slippers and rugs, and a huge array of Christmas presents, is just the best Christmas experience ever.

German Christmas market chocolate figurines

 

I am particularly spoilt because the Christmas Market in Frankfurt is about 2km long, which I am still convinced is probably a record, and it had the best and biggest carousel. So every year for Christmas we would push ourselves through the masses (although I am talking about German masses here, tss…amateurs) to our favourite food stalls and then I would get a ride on the carousel. Up to this day you can put me onto one of those rotating machines of delight and fairy dust and I will instantly revert to my 5-year old self.

German Christmas market

Did I mention, I LOVE Christmas Markets!

As I can see now this list is rather lengthy, so I will be breaking this into two entries. Watc out for Part Two, coming soon to a digital screen near you.

Night, folks!

German Christmas (Part 1) – Traveling from Nanjing to the Kaiserstuhl and Other Horror Stories

Kaiserstuhl jiangsu tripToday’s the day that I am meant to go to Germany; however, whether I will get there in the end is an entirely different question.

While Nanjing has direct flights to Frankfurt, Shanghai is a lot more affordable, and so the crazy travel route I am supposed to be on today is as follows:

– High-speed train from Nanjing South station to Shanghai Hongqiao Train Station
– Airport Bus from Hongqiao Airport to Pudong Int’l Airport
– Flight from Shanghai to Frankfurt
– Bus to Freiburg in the Black Forest
– Pick-up by my parents and taking train back to the little town they live in
– Walking up to their flat.

GRAND TOTAL: 30 hours on the road, the tracks or in the air.

It all started off with Nanjing South being suspiciously deserted. Instead of the throng of people waiting to pass through security, I simply stepped into the station and caught my train to Shanghai. That was easy.

Shanghai Hongqiao to Pudong Airport Bus – One Smooth Ride

The one thing I did not want to admit to myself is my bad Shanghai charma. Whenever I go there, everything goes wrong. Taxi lines are one hour long, metro ticket machines stop working the minute I step up to them and nine times out of ten I get completely lost; I, who prides herself on a great sense of direction and orientation skills. It’s as if Shanghai is just constantly showing me a slender, fashionably manicured middle finger (probably because I will tell anyone who will listen that I prefer Beijing).

As I knew that almost certainly something would not go smoothly, I booked my train to arrive 4.5 hours prior to my departure from the international airport. My boss gave me the exact instructions on where to find the airport bus, and indeed I managed to locate it without a problem; only to be told that it had just left 1 minute ago. I’m not making this up, it literally left at 7.30pm and I found myself staring up at the mocking red numbers on the display flashing 7.31 in my exasperated face.

So I had to wait for half an hour for the next bus. To make matters worse, the security guard already warned one of my fellow passengers that although the bus usually takes one hour there will almost certainly be loads of traffic and it will take longer. Suddenly my cosy three hours check-in time had shrunk to a less comfortable two hour window; if nothing else went wrong.

I hope for Shanghai’s sake it doesn’t or I will turn into a She-Hulk of unprecedented proportions. That would just be the right Christmas gift; missing my flight to Germany. Let’s hope Santa is in the area and I’m not on his naughty list.

As I get on the bus I see more mocking red numbers showing the time; just to rub it in. Great. So I will be spending the entire 1 plus traffic jam hours staring at these numbers. To add salt to the wound, the woman selling the tickets just announced that sometimes it might take 4 to 5 hours for the bus to arrive. Splendid.

I am wishing I hadn’t bought those items on Amazon now; I was getting too cocky in assuming I would actually make it to Germany. Damn you, Shanghai!

My dinner is a bottle of coke. I had some petty change left but deducting the money for the bus, petty change was exactly ¥8. Also, as I arrive at the airport bus stop there is only a vending machine with drinks, no food in sight. Coke it is, then. All the sugar is not helping my high-strung self calm down either. Time for some music.

I get sick writing or reading on buses, or doing anything involving screens of any kind. But if I don’t type I won’t stop staring at those red digits and convince myself I have the ability to control time and just make the clock stop (I’m sure it’s because I stopped time, not because the batteries died.)

So, the choice is chuck up or break under the pressure of the almighty clock that decides over life or death – of the countless mince pies my mum is baking in my honour. Sure, THEY would love me to miss my flight, so I won’t eat them.

I just looked up – big mistake – while we are currently still moving at slow speed, there is a sea of cars out there, that is just waiting to come to a complete still stand at any given time. Coke is now making my hands shake. The bus driver almost ran over another vehicle. I will have a heart attack. I’m sure of it now.

Shanghai brings out the worst in me. Like my paranoiac tendencies. I clearly remember placing my big, red suitcase in the compartment below. Yet, somehow I have managed to convince myself that I left it at the station. Or a thief with particularly low self-esteem walked by and decided to steal the old, non-brand, torn-up piece of junk. Yes, that’s what happened. Logically.

I am forcing myself to close my eyes and sit here listening to music. It is quite an effort, as the red little digits from hell are calling to me “Glance at us. We are all shiny and red.” NO! I shall resist!

Oh dear. Coke dinner is now making me want to pee. I knew there was something I didn’t consider with my fancy dinner option. Also, the fizziness is combining with the spicy chili oil I had during lunch to create a grumbling volcano in my stomach. Soiling your pants in public – now there’s a funny story. In China, such occurrences are always just a stone throw away.