is niet meer.

De ploeg van is verhuisd naar waar we samen met anderen aan een nieuwswebsite werken. De komende weken en maanden bouwen we om tot een archief van 10 jaar werk van honderden vrijwilligers.

Good morning all from the city of the ever clouded sky

Good morning all from the city of the ever clouded sky

I am sorry not to have written earlier, I know some of you have been wondering when the next one was due! Work has been more busy than usual as one consultant was travelling for three weeks and another was ill. But that was good for me as I got to do new assignments and learned more about the HR consultancy business.

Again, there is much more to tell than what follows below, but I hope nevertheless that I choose some interesting topics. As I did not have much in the way of free time, there are just a few pictures this time. The last one needs no comment, just to show you this is a normal sight in corner shops that are everywhere in town.

There is however a document attached this time. I wrote it in
one go and I was not sure whether it would interest you as it is a more opinionated piece and would make the news email to long. So feel free to skip it.

If you do want to make a personal comment, you know it is always nice to get some feed back.

Air Grade C - Hospital de luxe

After a little health dip earlier this month, I can say I am pretty much back on the Shanghai track. I was exhausted and my body just stopped. As usual I was going a few too many things at the same time!

I have tried making some adjustments in my daily routine and that has helped. I have cut down on the amount of exercise I was doing, and in an attempt to avoid the worst of the pollution and dust, I am trying to make sure I don't go out too much in the middle of the day. Of course Shanghai is a perpetual building site and although it is not legal, often the building continues through the night. There is a number you can dial to call the police so they go and stop the works which they do do, but that does not seem to deter building sites from trying.

Someone told me that the sky is grey here because the dust particles of the entire continent are blown to China. So it is amongst others, Belgian dust, that is the reason Chinese paintings and scrolls always have a grey or muted brown sky. It sounds very good, but I can't help feeling smog has something to do with it too.

Since a few days the sun is breaking through, or at least, the rays of sun hit the ground even though the sun itself is not visible. Still, living in Shanghai you get a pretty good deal compared to the people living in Beijing and some other large industrial towns. Although the Olympics, for all the critique of having allowed it to be in China, has had the result that there has been a phenomenal effort to clean up Beijing (albeit for the wrong reasons namely pressure from outside). Of course there is still much to do, but apparently the result is quite spectacular. In some parts of Beijing people are for the first time in their lives hanging laundry outside and leaving windows open.

Maybe the Gods of Journalism put something in my drink to make me land in hospital, because it was quite an experience in itself. I would certainly recommend being sick China, that is, if you have one of those "Tiffany" health insurances, that expats have little choice but to subscribe too. I luckily did just the week before needing treatment.

I went to a hospital which was affiliated with my insurance and part of local hospital but with a separate entrance and staff. I was immediately helped, had the principal doctor and director, who guessing from his attire and accent, was straight from a remote corner of the United Kingdom, checked up on me three times. At night one other doctor, a petite Indian lady doctor who more than made up in elegance, beauty and British-ness for her boss, visited me. And a third doctor, a very likeable down-to-earth rather chubby American Chinese guy, who could not get used to Shanghai's climate or China's food, called up on me before checking out for. All the while a battery of nurses took care of me in a room that was more like a hotel than a hospital room. All this, although I only stayed there one night and had not been in need of surgery.

The food I had to order, and it goes directly on the hospital bill, from a restaurant menu as they don't serve food for expats. I guess they think expats never eat local food or perhaps the hospital food is not considered trustworthy by the insurance companies? So I had pasta from a local Italian restaurant in the evening and McDonald pancakes in the morning. All very good, although the pasta was a suspiciously close relative to the local thin noodle. The coffee was excellent. But then so was the bill; nearly 800 euros. One of my Chinese friends has promised to come with me next time I need to go and we will check in the Chinese side for 10 euros and see what happens with me (and a few more Chinese people). I have been meaning to try Chinese medicine anyway and there are some hospitals famous for it in Shanghai.

While laying in my smooth bed, I watched some TV which I rarely do at home. The only English speaking Channel was ICS, international channel Shanghai. One of the programmes features was about the luxury goods business. It is becoming so big in China that several Chinese universities have added a master of Business concentrating on the Luxury Goods business to their curriculum. China is now responsible for 18% all luxury goods purchases. Not too far away from my home, there is shopping complex that calls itself, Super Brand Mall. It does take much guessing to know what is sold there. Step in and you feel like to entered Old Bond Street and Rodeo Drive all mixed into one. Toilets are clean, for free and in some malls they much look like designers hotel toilets with gorgeous tiling, hand crèmes, perfumes, and combs.

The universities are taking this very serious, as you do when obscene amounts of money are involved. Foreign professors are invited to join the teaching staff and courses are given in English.

Another TV programme was on artists searching for peaceful and harmonious ways to live. Several travelled to Tibet, both Chinese and foreigners, to finally stay there. Others decorated their houses in Shanghai to transform them in temples of pastel colours and gentles shapes. Sitting in my 800 euro room, watching programmes on luxury goods and the search for inner peace, I was miles away from much of the Shanghai outside my doorstep.
For sure, next month, my number one aim is to get out of Shanghai again. In the visit of my friend Lucy, I could not have a better excuse not to check work emails in the weekend and to go and hike in the bamboo mountains and climb some big wall to check out which barbarians are at it again this time.

Chinese Wedding

Two weekends ago I was invited to a Chinese wedding. I did not know the people who got married very well, so I was depended on our mutual good friend Flora to help me prepare for this happening. Flora is one of my language exchange partners who became a good friend. She studied and lived in the UK, so she is an excellent cultural guide. The couple is the same one I accompanied to buy wedding dresses a few weeks ago. So it was nice to also be there and see the result of the fasted dress shopping I ever saw.

I was told not to dress up and not to bring a regular gift. Everyone brings money in a red envelope, which is marked with the donor's name. When I arrived at the restaurant where the wedding took place, I was one of the first ones there. A huge poster of the couple graced the entrance next to a large desk where guests could sign in on a large red scroll with a golden pen. Now they have a guestbook with one signature in letters next to all those beautiful Chinese characters. I tried to write in my prettiest handwriting but it still looked pretty plain next to all the other writings. They, however, will cherish the fact there was a foreigner at their wedding.

The huge groom immediately appointed one of his former school mates to escort me during the day, as he spoke very good English. Funnily enough, the little guy was totally thrown because I was fully at ease with the ritual, the people and the food. He could not get over it that I ate everything that was served and with chopsticks. Working for Caterpillar, he has apparently only met foreigners who stay clear from most Chinese food and rarely leave the expat community. He has not been very lucky, because I met quite a lot of expats who enjoy the food, the language and the people. Fortunately! I did, however, put my foot in it when I poured my self a glass of wine from the bottle that was meant exclusively for the couple.

The wedding itself was a strange affair, mixing Chinese and Western tradition. All together not my cup of tea. The couple is actually already legally married which is an uninteresting formal procedure that is not attended by guests.

The afternoon was led not by a priest but by a kind of show master with a microphone. Loud pop music was playing all the time and the other events where happing at the huge venue simultaneously. So people where walking through the ceremony heading to another room for someone's birthday and here and there were tables with couples where eating like in a normal restaurant. I have no idea how normal that is, but no one seemed surprised.

The pictures I took did not come out very well. It was pretty dark and things happened quite fast. In my eyes it all looked very kitsch and tiring for the couple. Especially for the girl, who had to go and change three times in the space of 5 hours, the white western wedding dress, a sort of a cocktail dress and a Chinese dress. There were a lot of speeches, some quiz games during dinner and lots of eating. From what I understood it is more a social obligation mixed with an opportunity to have photo's taken than an intimate and proud celebration. Some people there, Flora told me, where not good friends of the couple, but had invited them to their wedding so they had to be invited back (and pay back too).

I sat at the table with the bride and groom with other friends. The respective parents sat with their respective family members. Perhaps the most surprising moment for me was at the end of dinner. Suddenly the waiters arrived with plastic boxes, cartons and plastic bags and literally every bottle and every piece of food was packed and wrapped by the guests to take home. It was a strange site to see the guests leaving overloaded with bags where they had come in with little red envelopes.

As Flora explained to me, this is customary amongst the older generations and indeed none of the young people took a doggy bag home. She respects that habit and knows where it comes from, no food shall be wasted. But she, just like me, will rarely go home straight after dinner and bars are not ideal places for doggy bags. Also younger people are less inclined to over order in the restaurants like the elder do.

Chinese language

I am very glad to have decided to take learning Chinese seriously. Now I have four hours of private teaching a week and the result is maybe not spectacular but still it is noticeable. It is funny the way some words are phonetics copies of Western languages (usually English) or on the other hand that they are literal translations in Chinese.

For example phonetically Carrefour is Jia le fu, Holland is Hé lán yu. America gets shortened to méi (zhou=continent), Africa to fei (zhou).

My favourite of the second (literal translation) is the Chinese word for cocktail. It is je wei jui, meaning chicken tail in Chinese… So image yourself consciously ordering: "a pinacolada chicken tail please".

Sometimes it is a combination of phonetics and meaning. Starbucks is xing ba ke; xing (meaning star) ba ke (phonetics simulation).

Another characteristic is that some meanings are made up of sound repetitions (also frequent in the little Swahili that I learned) but also that some times entire words are repeated in order to sound more informal. Chang chang means often, tai tai means aunt. Xing means star, but xing xing means starry night. But please be careful, because in the exact same pronunciation but written with a different character, xing xing also means gorilla.

So maybe on a last note and tying in to the last remark, Chinese is not as I originally thought just or only a matter of pronunciation and intonation. I have been told that no Chinese in the street uses all the intonation as correctly as the traditional Chinese teachers are forcing down on frustrated foreigners by endless repetition - I fortunately have a more modern teacher.

Context is the most crucial factor in Chinese. The pinyin words, which are the English phonetics for Chinese and most widely used by foreigner to learn it and used in China to transcribe it, are but a pale reflection of the Chinese language. It is not as is often said with the famous example of ma that it in the first, second, third and fourth tone simply has different meanings. But each sound with its particular intonation can have several meanings, as in the example of xing xing. I found one word, which is ba in the first tone (in the tone which is high and steady), that means all of the following: eight, banana, tree, scar, dumb, to hope, corned beef and female pig.

I wish you all a very happy labour day, which is a day off in China.




So are you speaking Chinese quite fluently now? Has the hard studying paid off? I have always thought about pursuing this myself, but was never really clear on how long it would actually take to make any kind of progress.


Gepost door Flavia