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China: the Bund, the Scam, the Wall, the Ricewine

I was in China! It was an incredible experience! It was unique, shocking, inspiring, educating, frustrating, it was pretty much everything you would and wouldn’t expect when being here.

True story: This is considered "empty"

For the first 4 days I decided to spend in Shanghai, thinking that it might be giving me a first plain insight into China’s culture, lifestyle and patterns of being. I couldn’t have been more disappointed…

Shanghai may also be called the “European Capital of China” for that matter. I had to look really hard to find spots and people I believed would still count for a more traditional country. But finding those between monstrous Apple stores, 85-store high shiny buildings and the ever-present Starbucks/McDonald’s/KFC wasn’t a simple task. I tried, honestly. Some spots were very interesting to explore, such as the Bund at night, overlooking the financial district or small streets where I saw the most amazing and the most disgusting dishes in my life and I cannot even start thinking about certain smells. Truly incredible! I had tofu one day (and normally I adore tofu) that had the smell of a train station’s toilet in Berlin at 2am. You’ll learn from it. Oh, one more thing that hit me while being in China (and especially Shanghai): My skin kept burning like stupid and regardless pf how often I’d wash and moisturize it, I’d always feel a thick layer of dust and dirt on it.

The scenery of my scam (should the location above a shopping mall made me think?)

I believed to be lucky when I found a group of 3 Chinese, very enthusiastic in inviting me to a “traditional tea festival” experience. I was like “score, finally!”. It turned out to be a well-known (for everyone else) scam in a small room on top of a rotten-looking shopping mall, that involved tasting tea (which was amazingly tasty to be fair) and paying a buy-out of a little over 90€… well, it was an experience!

Maybe it was due to the omnipresent jet-lag I couldn’t have fought until the arrival in Beijing, but I need to stress the fact that Shanghai disappointed me more that I gained from it. When you see a huge “Calvin Klein” commercial right next to a let’s say 1000-year-old Temple, you’ll understand what I am referring to. I wouldn’t have wanted to miss it for the world, but I am convinced that the next time I’ll make my way to China, Shanghai may not have top priority.

Standing at "the Bund", overlooking the river to the Financial District

Nonetheless, I saw a lot, ate a bit, spent “accordingly” (metro ride: 50cent; fried noodles from the street: 60cent, Tea scam: 90€), slept during the day and walked the streets at night.

Who came first? Buddhism or the model?

This was my first encounter with the traditional storage of meat in China. I should have been prepared for Beijing, but nah...

I’d much rather be a smoker in the Netherlands than a non-smoker in Beijing

The best thing about Shanghai was the High-Speed train to Beijing! Going on roughly 320km/h, we easily made the 1,300 km in less than 5 hours time. And from the moment I disembarked at the train station until the moment I entered the plane back home to Europe, Beijing was one heck of an experience! Frankly, I did not see anything from the city or its sights during the first three days due to study obligations which would tie me to the 4* hotel conference room and the CUC and its canteen. Hold on, canteen? Oh yeah! I finally felt like a proper student, eating food in a uni’s canteen. And it was among the most amazing food I ever had. Steamed, boiled, fried vegetables, tofu and rice, hauntingly beautiful 🙂 These dishes cost me about 1,60€ per meal, including the cozy loud Chinese student atmosphere.

Choose your weapon

A bowl full of novelties

After some days of so-called working on our home projects with our Chinese buddies (who couldn’t be more helpful!) we finally found some time to explore the city. First during the night, when we ended up being in the shiny nightclub “Latte”, where male dancers dress up like women, where women walk around having over-sized teddy bears tied to their bodies, where men wash your hands in the bathroom for 2€ and where the prices exceed those of Europe. Unfortunately, cameras were forbidden. However, the weren’t forbidden in the Forbidden City, so I made it there the other day and took countless pictures. I won’t give you the history of the Forbidden City, but I myself had no idea what to expect after all. Yet, I was amazed by the buildings, but again, the heavy smog that caused some troubles breathing made things seem a bit less enjoyable. Continue reading

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how the age outgrew me

I have been a passionate football supporter for many years now (and still plenty to come from here). Throughout most of these years, I was lucky enough to still be of a certain age here most players I’d know and even see in town every now and then would be somewhat older than me, more experienced than me and, well yeah, much much cooler than I could ever expect to become! For the greater part of these years, I’d dedicate my “childish” passion to those players aged 28 – 30+, because they were much older, much more talented but would also say the occasional “hey” in the city center, giving me a good feeling about myself.
In short, I saw people I could idolize, very important at the time being when a youngster like me longed for identity and recognition.

Today, however, I wake up, seeing most players just graduating from school, starting a (professional) career or playing football at the side. And let’s face it, they are all much younger than me. A personal connection to any of them is not possible for me anymore, though I would not deny any.
The youth outgrew me, making me see football less a passion with people I’d define as “special cool guys” but a bunch of youngster willing to play for money/fame/fun who might even see me as a person of an indefinable older generation soon. Which is good, I reckon. After all, it is not the players that I should idolize, but the team I am passionate about. Players are just a commodity for a much wider plan. i do realize that now.
But I had to outgrow first…


How the liberation on business hours affects traditional family values

I clearly lost the pole position during the qualifications. I could have made it right there at 4pm, when the doors opened for the supermarket. Now I have to take what they left over and wait in long lines with them at the cash point. Them, that is literally hundreds of people, being overly excited about the opportunity of shopping on this rainy Sunday afternoon. Since in Groningen there is only one supermarket open on that particular day, it seems as if half the city is getting on its feet to do what they could have been doing during the previous 6 days – spend money. While the idea behind opening trade on Sunday is not new, it seems to have a major impact on what used to be the traditional Sunday setting – a day spent with the family and loved ones (and of course the obligatory visit to the football ground!). Limiting the opportunities for doing the groceries to one supermarket only creates this bizarre image of an entire city eager for shopping, while the other days of the week are rather calm. Of course they are, the activities are spread across many places and many hours. So what makes the idea of shopping on a Sunday so special and why do people experience it as something spectacular? During my time in Tartu, Estonia I saw shops being open every day, sometimes only closing a bit earlier on Sunday evenings. People were accustomed to it and acted (=spent) accordingly. Now back here in Groningen, time and leisure have a different connotation on a Sunday. You normally spend that day sleeping in long, cooking something nice for supper and maybe meet a friend in the center for a cup of coffee. Now with the extra option of doing the groceries, the ease of a Sunday afternoon life gets more and more attacked by those that want you to like spending money in every moment.
Of course I am not complaining, why should I? I just bought my dinner at this Sunday afternoon supermarket. You will most likely find no one complaining about it. Because after all, there are only beneficiaries: me, who gets his pack of cottage cheese, the cashiers who earn an extra shift and uncountable numbers of people who deliberately decided to turn their backs at values that once met the world to many and that now has become a distant memory in times of unlimited opportunities.
Oh, the line of people in front of me has slightly moved closer to the cash point…


A dollar a day: The European Approach

According to statistics taken from the past 10 years, about 60% of the population in Cameroon lives on less than 1$ per day. While I have lived there, I came to realise that despite the cruelty which derives from these news, 1$ is worth much more in Cameroon than it is for instance in the Netherlands. For 1$ (roughly 0,67€) I was able to take a cab to work and back and to buy a decent lunch, including some fresh fruits. For the same money here in the Netherlands, I could not even get the peel of a pineapple. Therefore I decided to conduct an experiment: I want to live for 5 days (Monday-Friday) on 1$ a day. This includes the preconditions of preparing 1 hot meal per day (with a minimum of 2 ingredients), no additional drinks during my work (except tab water) and no usage of pre-bought groceries such as pepper, oil or milk. I will only have 1$ per day (that is to mention that I will not start with 5$ on Monday and buy shitload). Starting on Monday morning with my 1 week budget of 5$ (3,40€), I will see how far I get with fresh food, enough nutrition and a smile on my face.

Monday

500gr Spaghetti = 0,25€
50oml Tomato sauce = 0,28€
80gr (1) onion = 0.10€

= 0,63€

Since I returned to Groningen only in the early morning, I haven’t had any time to do the groceries before going to work. Thus I had to wait till around 4pm to finally start the experiment. Up till then, I only drank water. While I used all the tomato sauce and the onion, I still have lots of spaghetti left for tomorrow and even feel slightly saturated and very satisfied, as I managed to even safe 4cent.

Tuesday

125gr Mozzarella = 0,39€
6 halfbaked rolls = 0,32€

= 0,71€

Having saved 4cent on Monday, I could spare the additional money to buy these two luxurious ingredients. Together with some pasta from the previous day I managed to get 2 rolls with cheese and pasta for dinner and still have 3 rolls left for breakfast and lunch tomorrow – woohoo! Luckily, I was able to also have some dry pasta for breakfast (and for lunch, as I cooked a bigger bowl), so I spent my day not completely hungry. However, pasta without any salt or oil (or for that case anything that helps building taste) is far away from being delicious. So far, I am amazed how much but also how little one is able to purchase having that amount of money.

Wednesday

I am not proud of it, but I have decided to terminate my experiment immediately. The reason for this is that after two days of only having dry pasta and water, my lack of vitamins caused steady headaches and loss of concentration. I am still confident that the experiment could work out, but preferably conducting it in a group of people, who each have 1$ a day to spare. Then having a community dinner might even be delicious. Having 1$ per day as a single person in the Netherlands, you can survive, but it is hard work which requires a certain amount of self-confidence and trust, not to mention spending 30 minutes in a supermarket, trying to compare the best deals 🙂


Warhol 2.0 – 15 minutes of anonymity

In times where people wish their “friends/followers” a good night via twitter and in moments, where Maltese real estate agents want to professionally interact with a communication intern in the Netherlands, you cannot stop but notice how public your private life has become. I can barely browse the internet without stumbling upon a Facebook thumb or a small blue bird. Hold on, I stumbled upon it? What seems as a nice usage of semantic turns out to be the latest gadget in the social media theme park. This service offers you (by logging on with your FB account) websites that mixes your personal interests and hobbies, so you can be exposed to even more news, tweets, updates and thumbs up than you even did before.

15 minutes of fame

While I personally have only joined LinkedIn to create a professional network which might come in handy for future jobs, recommendations and the usual “hey, let us stay in touch” idea, I come to regret it more and more these days. With smart kids, who seem incapable of understanding the difference between FB and LinkedIn (and thus publish seemingly meaningless nonsense regarding formula 1 or pressing the “i like” button on a “i go to bed” comment) I considered deleting my account for good. However, this action will be non-beneficial. Not for me, not for my “business partners” which whom I might engage in professional interaction at some point in the future (left aside the mysterious invite from the Maltese real estate agent) and certainly not for these geeks who need people like me (or in general, people) that are able to see their comments posted on various websites, blogs and forums. I will not delete my account at LinkedIn nor will I ever have one on Facebook. The reason for that is that I do not want to get sucked into the whole “show the world who you are” nonsense any more than I already have.
In 1968, when the great Andy Warhol coined the widely used expression of “in the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes”, his idea was far from being realistic. Fame was something remotely known to the younger generation.

I now want what my generation has come to learn but has forgotten even faster: 15 minutes of anonymity…

15 minutes of anonymity