Thursday, February 27, 2014

Xi (西) Shuang (双) Ban (版) Na (纳)

I was in Xishuangbanna for four days last week with my program. Xishuangbanna is in the way south of Yunnan and borders Thailand and Laos. Predominately Dai people live in the area, who are closely related to the Thai people. Their language is very similar and Dai and Thai actually go back to the same origins. 
The first two days we spend in a village that was bought up by a travel organization and was made into a sort of live-museum for the Dai culture. My heart cinched when I first heard that, because on my first ever trip to Asia I went with an organization that basically talked the entire time of the trip about how bad these places are. 
It wasn't however as bad as I expected and when talking to the locals they actually seemed to like the changes, because they don't have to do back breaking work on the fields anymore, but can now sell (delicious) fruit to the tourists. Each family gets 4000 kuai ( around 800 USD) per year. One can argue for hours about whether this is good or bad, but the people seemed not too unhappy. 
There is a ton of handicraft and one old monk still engraves palm leaves with buddhist prayers. It really is not as bad as Lijiang or Shangri-La, but we also went during the low season and had the entire village to ourselves. 
After that we went to a tiiiiiiiiny village high up on a mountain peak 2 hours away from the nearest bigger city. We stayed there for another two days getting to know the village people, who were Hani. They were so incredibly polite and open and loved to drink their local liquor. As a German I see myself having a high tolerance, but after three glasses I was well beyond a comfortable level of tipsy. One always forgets how strong the local and home-brewed liquor is. 
They also loved to dance and sing and preformed for us these amazing dances. We also had to dance and showed them the best of the western culture. We were terrible compared to them, but it was funny to dance and sing to twist & shout, sweet caroline and buttercup in the middle of nowhere in Yunnan. 
It was overall amazing and I will share some pictures with you: 

Amazing Handicraft

At the Buddhist Temple after Meditation

An ax has always been the best way to safe people from a sinking ship

Ani-Village deep in the mountains of Xishuangbanna

Picking tea

The amazing food they prepared for us

Rubber Tree

The Fruit was so good and so cheap. I ate way too much. 

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Arts & Crafts for Language Students in China

One would say my talent is not to create art so my arts & crafts abilities are close to zero. HOWEVER, I do make some mean flashcards and here I will teach you the very essential (and one of a kind steps) to making yours as perfect as mine. 
I believe in flashcards more than any other study techniques. People are using apps these days to simplify the process, but that takes away the most important part: writing it down. 
Over the past 4 college years I must have written more than 1000 flashcards for all my subjects. Here is how you do it:

1.) What you need: Paper, Scissors, Words in a foreign language, pen & for the really sophisticated and advanced: a clip to hold them together.  (if you are anywhere else in the world you can buy flashcards, but my local super market doesn't have them and I am too lazy to look for them anywhere else):

I like to use paper with funny cover pages

2.) Take the paper and fold into 8 equally big squares (equal is the key here): 

3.) Cut (carrrrrrrrefully) along the folded lines (Concentration is key): 

4.) Write your strange sounding words on one side and the translation on the other side: 

5.) Be way too proud of your flashcards that you have accumulated over the past 3 weeks........ 

6.) Realize that you are total looser and that you should post more sophisticated things on your blog....... CHINGLISH

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Meeting My Boss (what on earth is going on here Vol. 2)

So I started working at this huuuuuuge company. (One of the one hundred biggest corporations in the world) I go there every Wednesday to observe and learn about their work. It is a huge honor for me to be able to get the insight into this world. I interviewed with them in Chinese and trust me I was so incredibly nervous, but it actually turned out really well. I talked with my supervisors for a while, and I actually think they like me.
When I got to the second branch in Yunnan my supervisor showed me the offices and introduced me to the accountants. I realized that he did not show me one of the rooms and so I obviously asked what was in the room he didn't show me. He replied that it was the office of the boss of the branch.
Now, culture differences are also huge when it comes to the boss vs. coworkers and I was not aware how big the differences are. Let me show you another great picture by Yang Liu:

This image really couldn't be better described. However, at that point I wasn't quite aware of this and wondered why my supervisor was so reluctant to enter the room. He whispered to me that if we do meet the boss that I need to bow in front of him and I just thought..... what???
I met the boss' two secretaries and was very polite, but actually was not nervous at all whereas my supervisor seemed to be dying next to me. His friend had disappeared at that point, because he seemed to not be able to handle the anxiety.
My supervisor brought me to the bosses room and very shyly introduced me to his boss. I bowed as I was told and my boss seemed satisfied. He invited me to sit, even though I really did not want to, because my supervisor was so incredibly scared of this situation. Our lives seemed to be depending on these next ten minutes. (that passed increeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeedibly slowly).
Turns out my boss owns an apartment in Shenzhen and we were able to bond over that. We leisurely talked about my experience living there for 6 months and everything seemed fine.
When we left the room it appeared my supervisor was reborn and finally was able to smile again.
What an experience. I was NOT aware this was such a huge deal.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Culture Differences (or: what on earth is going on here?)

I think  a lot of people are not quite aware of how far I am away from the western culture. On my very first trip to Asia in 2010 I was handed these pictures by my instructors in order to under stand what on earth is going on in China.
It is really difficult to describe the exact difference between the west and China, but I think these images do it justice. The artist's name is Yang Liu and she grew up in both China and Germany. She also was faced with the same issue that she couldn't quite put into words what exactly was so different. And since someone very smart once said 'a picture is worth more than a thousand words' I am just going to add some of the pictures to this post for you to check out. There are many more and many people have posted them on their blogs so just google her if you would like to find more!



Sundays on the Street

Shower Time

Noise at the Restaurant

Showing of Emotions 


My Personal Favorite: Animals

Standing in Line 

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

The Mi Xian Ladies

I get up every morning around 6.30am and review my Chinese text and my Chinese vocab for the day. Afterwards I take a cold shower and get dressed and head to the noodle restaurant around the corner from my dorm. They open around 7.30am and I am usually their first costumer. I can't function without breakfast in my stomach and nothing else is open around that time. However, I really have started to like their noodle soup in the mourning. In Chinese it is called 'Mi Xian' (米线= rice threads). It's a big bowl with these rice noodles, tofu skin, chicken and broth. I usually determine how good my day will be based on the meat I get. (White meat= great day, only odd and unidentifiable parts of the chicken= not so good).
The reason why I like the place so much is because its in a garage like room and its being run by these eight hard working women that are there everyday from before 7.30am until 8 or 9 pm. They all wear these great hats with different chinglish sentences on them and the same apron.
I really love going, because I can sit in peace and quiet, slurp my noodles as loud as I want, and review a bit more before class at 8.30am.

This morning something so simple but amazing happened and it made me incredibly happy. Here is what happened:

Usually the process of ordering is very simple. I just walk up, the woman sitting at the cashier just says 'Yao Chi Shenme' (要吃什么?= what do you want to eat) and I reply 'da wan ji rou mi xian' (大碗鸡肉米线 = big bowl chicken meat rice noodles). Then the cashier screams at the top of her lungs "da wan ji rou mixian" so that the kitchen knows what to prepare. (Her voice cracks EVERY TIME at least 5 times.)
I have tried every day to get a smile out of her by giving her a friendly smile, but I had little luck before spring festival. They simply told me to sit down and wait for my noodles. (nothing rude, but simply just indifferent)
Over spring festival I didn't go for over a week, because they were closed. But when I returned last Monday I walked up as usual. The cashiers head was buried in a drawer and she was counting cash. When I stepped up to wait for her question, she looked up, recognized me and gave me a smile. That's really it. That was everything that happened. But I was so happy because I knew that all my time invested in being friendly to them and showing them that I really appreciate their job worked!
Today I went as usual and she again gave me a big smile, I wished her a good morning and she yelled out my order without me even having to say it.

I felt incredibly accomplished.

With everything frustrating that happens during my day, with having to hear sexist or inappropriate comments, having no hot water, a leaking toilet and much more, these simple moments simple make all that vanish. Its an incredibly good feeling.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Market Day!

Friday markets in Shaxi are famous in the area. Most people traveling to this little village will try their very best to be there for a Friday. From all over locals area coming into town by foot, in cars, on motorcycles or on donkeys. It is a pretty great scene to observe. The market starts at 9.30am, but the streets don't get really busy until around 11am.
I never the less went there around 9.30 and walked down the three streets for 3 hours looking at every little stall. Everything was being sold from spices to toilet paper.
Shaxi is part of the Bai autonomoums region and you see a lot of women in their beautiful Bai-dresses.
I got breakfast at a steamed bun booth (Baozi) and had lunch later on outside a restaurant on the main street. My bowl of noodles with pickled vegetables was amazing and this little 10 year old girl sat with me and talked to me patiently while I tried to impress her with my Chinese.

Today I really sweet couple drove me back to Kunming in their VW Polo. This was complete coincidence, because they were staying at the same hotel and left a couple days before me. We just had a quick chat before they left for Lijiang and after only a 5 minute conversation the couple offered to drive back to Shaxi, pick me up, and then go back to Kunming with me. Obviously I tried to tell them that I didn't want to bother them, but they insisted so I said yes. (Not even thinking about the fact that you should NEVER get into a car with strangers...ooops)
Little did I know...... that they were the sweetest couple ever! They drove to Dali and showed me this really great hotel founded by two journalists from Chicago. It is called the Linden Center and one of the most tasteful hotels I have seen in the region (http://www.linden-centre.com). They then treated me to an amazing lunch and then drove me to where I live (even though they actually live 30 min outside the city), and treated me to dinner. I am not sure what this has to do with markets in Shaxi, but I just wanted to let you all know how wonderful people can be.
I think if anything I am completely overwhelmed by how amazingly nice people are to me without even knowing me. This has happened all through this past week of vacation.
So maybe...... maybe..... people aren't that terrible after all.

Here the pictures from Shaxi!

This is actually Tofu with a lot of mold on top. People were going crazy over it. 
I asked the guy what you could do with it, but I could not understand a single word he
said, mainly because I can't understand local dialects that well....YET!

That's my favorite: Baozi! 

These baskets are a must. The woman tried to sell me one, but I ensured her that
my Osprey backpack was still holding up strong.

Some of you may wonder why I don't take pictures of faces and people. I wish I could, because the people here are truly beautiful and their expressions are amazing. However, I have gotten quite fed up with people taking pictures of me in the street so I imagine that they must feel the same way about me.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Shaxi Shaxi Shaxi Shaxi Shaxi Shaxi

Shaxi is tucked away deep in the mountains of Yunnan. As you know it is quite the trip to get to this place, but its well worth it. I love this place, because its one of the last villages that is more or less untouched by tourism (even though I was shocked how many Chinese tourists are here currently). The local government has definitely realized the potential and is building all these new buildings and making it more "suitable" for tourism. I think thats really sad, because it takes away from the original charm and most locals are actually also not all that happy. few want the actual development. I live outside the old town though, which is just super nice.
Shaxi used to be an important stop on the tea road way back when. It grew very rich and the local elite could effort to build all these beautiful temples in the area and these amazing courthouses in the center of old town.
Wandering down the few streets of the small old town make you think you are in 1346 just taking a stroll around. (and also wonder how all this survived the cultural revolution...)
The locals are incredibly friendly and its been a true bliss being by myself. When I eat I usually sit outside and just wait for someone to sit down next to me and start talking.
The receptionist at my hotel invited me to her home yesterday and cooked me dinner. This morning I met the other couple staying at the hotel and they offered right away to drive me back to Kunming on Saturday. (This cuts the travel time down by at least 6 hours) I mean .... can it be any better???

It has been truly wonderful. Tomorrow is the big market and I can't wait to go early in the morning.  Here some pictures... They are pretty self-explanatory, so I am just going to let you look at them.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

I am so stupid // I never stop learning

This is my 5th time in China and one would think that I know the rules for foreigners.... well I apparently don't know them well enough, because today I almost would have had to sleep on the streets of Shaxi (Not actually, but one likes to exaggerate so that the story is interesting)

Because you are a loyal reader of my blog you know that I just got back from Luxi two days ago. Well I got to Kunming all excited to rest, only to realize that 99% of all stores were still closed. Seriously though, the city is dead. You could easily longboard down the beautiful big ring roads without getting killed. There are barely any cars on the streets and it appears as if one is the last human being on earth.
I knew that people were joking around that over spring festival the country stands still, but I did not realize that this was no exaggeration.
So clearly a dead Kunming is no fun so I quickly decided to travel for the first time completely by myself in China. I booked a room in a beautiful guesthouse near Shaxi old town and prepared myself for the 12 hour travel day.
I had to leave quite early and was really excited that I could find a cab out on the streets. Everything went really smooth and I already thought that this could really be too good to be true. Here was what my general plan was:

Kunming - Jianchuang / Travel time: 8 hours.
Jianchuang - Shaxi / Travel time: 90 min (I was not sure how I would actually get to Shaxi from Juanchuan)
Shaxi - to my guesthouse / Travel time: 1 hour on foot (but my plan was to convince a local to give me a ride on his motorcycle)

So there I was in my bus on my way to Jianchuang. Now, once you are in the bus there is no turning back. However, (and this is where the story actually starts) two hours into my adventure I realized I had left my passport at my dorm. Now, if you have never been to China or have checked into a Chinese hotel/guesthouse you might think 'whats the big deal', but let me tell you: its a huge deal.
Every foreigner must provide a passport with a valid visa when checking into the guest house. The owners will then report the guest to the local police so that they can keep track of you. (In reality i am pretty sure that no police officer actually cares and that the informations just gets lost somewhere)
So no passport means no room. Now I knew that there were ways around that, but I did not want to risk it.
I seriously panicked cursing myself that I made such a silly mistake. I realized that I had to travel all the way to Jianchuang and worst case scenario had to catch the overnight bus back to Kunming. If that would have happened I would have spend 16 hours in a bus, which would have probably driven me crazy.

Everything turned out okay though. I got a pass port copy sent to me via email, which was everything I needed.

I ended up meeting some cool europeans in the back of a minivan that I took to Shaxi. They were able to give me some intel on Xinjiang, which I was very happy about. I can't wait to go.
Overall I think it is incredibly important to start an adventure without really knowing where it takes you. I already made friends with a Chinese TV host and talked with some locals in Chinese. Traveling by yourself is actually pretty nice.

The guesthouse is also amazing. I nearly had to walk the one hour, but ended up finding a local bus that took me part of the way. The guesthouse dates back nearly 200 years and was restored in a very tasteful way. They try very hard to be environmentally friendly and most importantly they were very understandable about my rookie mistake.

The things I am thankful for: My parents, the ability to roam, and most importantly I am thankful that my poorly planned adventure turned out so well.

Now I will go to sleep in my huge bed, listen to the wind blow through the pine trees in the courtyard and get excited about my hot hot shower tomorrow morning. Good night everyone!

Monday, February 3, 2014

Chinese New Year

So I am back, but I don't think I have the ability to put into words what I experienced in these past couple days.
I think what overwhelmed me the most is the fact that I felt so incredibly welcomed by both of my host parents' families.
My host mother and father met in high school and have been together ever since. They are both from the same county and the two family houses are just 15min apart. The dad comes from a larger city in Luxi (I forgot the name, but it has around 600'000 people... really an insignificant city). The city itself was everything that was so incredibly typical about isolated places. I was the only foreigner around and the amount of development was insane. I am sure they were building over 50 different housing communities and I could not figure out who was supposed to live in them...
My stroll around the city with my two cousins was great never the less, because cities like this one really are the epitome of what China is trying so desperately to achieve. The rapid push for urbanization really does not make a lot of sense in my mind (Except that its the easiest way to increase the GDP).
I am so glad that I walked around the city, because it helped me so much to understand what is going on in this very complex system.
Besides that I spend the actual eve of spring festival eating A LOT of food, drinking some sweet, home brewed red wine, trying to figure out the local dialect, and watching CCTVs infamous spring festival show. (You can see pictures of all this below) The Show itself had the occasional propaganda piece on the benefits of the cultural revolution, or impressive military choirs singing together with (probably han chinese) women in minority costumes. Overall very impress, because the show carried on for 5 hours without a commercial break. Impressive!

Two nights later we went to my host mom's parents that still own and operate a farm in the country side. My host uncle prepared all the dishes in one wok over a steel bucket with coals in it. I have never eaten such amazing food before. The vegetables were freshly picked from the farm and when I asked about chemical fertilizer my host grandpa replied that he never used them on his soil  and never will. Surely enough the veggies were incredible. Both grandparents are over 75 and still do most of the work by themselves. They cure their own meat, make Surou (cured meat dipped in eggs and flower and then fried... amaaaazing), make their own sausages, pickle their own vegetables and are just overall awesome. That evening I sat on a tiny bench with my rice bowl in my hand and ate like I have never eaten before. I was not thinking about anything else besides about how unbelievably thankful and happy I am to be able to experience everything I am experiencing here.

Okay I do not want to bore you any longer. I really can't put into words the amount of great things I have learned about China these past few days. This is also mainly because I barely spoke any English. Here are some pictures:

Chickens are being distributed to his children by my host grandpa for the big dinner:

Everything was red on the day of Chunjie. My family gifted me three Hongbao (Red Envelopes), which made me so happy.

The city in Luxi 

The big dinner with my uncles, parents, sister, cousins and grandmother 

The infamous CCTV show. Here a propaganda piece about the cultural revolution... It really shocked me that this was shown. 

There was a French star (no idea who she is, but everyone in China loves her) 

Beijing Opera: Everyones favorite 

The ultimate harmonious ending

My family really wanted to take me to the one really important sight in Luxi: A cave. But there were so many people that we had to turn around. It was incredible how many people went to the cave/park that day...

The next day: Second try with the cave. Outside the exit was this activity square:

My uncle's amazing dinner cooked with the most basic utensils. Unbelievable. 

Here it is:

And here the picture of me and my beloved host family

Tomorrow I am heading to Shaxi, which is one of the oldest and most iconic villages left on the tee road through Yunnan. The journey will take about 10 hours, but I will be staying at an old landlord house with apparently amazing views. Pictures will follow when I am back! All the best from Kunming!