Home is where I want to be, but I guess I’m already there

Taipei. 25 degrees Celsius. Palm trees. Jungle- like nature surrounding the city. Finally paying 1 $ for a beer again. Yaoza!

One week ago, I thought that coming home would be fine; I’d be so busy that I wouldn’t notice and within 2 months’ time, I’d be back in China anyway. Now, however, I find myself dealing with an ambivalent reality. Reading my notes from being home last fall, I realize that I didn’t get squat out of my last year at university. There has not been any personal, academic or professional development in this past year. It was a massive waste of time: something that I quite simply needed on a piece of paper. Here, colors are brighter and life is faster and more vivid.

But then, I was faced with a grim reality when I visited Beijing this time. Seeing everyone again and revisiting all the familiar places was wonderful (oh, so wonderful!), but to my mind, there has been such a regression since I left, that the trade-off is simply no longer sustainable. Last year, I did not think so much about how the governance affected me. Now, however, I am for the first time actually too scared to write about the issues. The stakes are, at the moment, too high.

It seems to be the common dilemma in this company, to deal with our love for the region while facing what actually lures beneath the surface. To me, Taiwan and Korea seem like the most liveable places in the world. They are a wonderful mix of imprints from surrounding cultures, while that in fact makes them unique. However, both of the times I visited South Korea there were threats of nuclear annihilation/ actual shells launched at the territory from the North, and Taiwan is experiencing constant friction with China, while not being recognized by the international community. Hong Kong is pretty poppin’, but the eventual inclusion into China has already begun to show its nasty marks.

So what does one do? I really have no answers to this one. When I think of home, I think of security, health (not a given everywhere) and a high quality of living. But I also think of unemployment rates, conformity, pathetically narrow-minded debates and boredom. And the fact of the matter is, that I get offered SWEET deals in China. 

Wouldn’t it be great just to travel all the time..?

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Koewokikasete

How did this happen? Are we really leaving Japan tomorrow? I guess we are.

Very happy that we decided to extend our stay here to Osaka, Kyoto and Tokyo, I can say that Japan has grown on me immensely the last couple of days. In my books, any country visited after a trip to Korea will have a hard time standing the comparison, since I think that Korea + Erik is like fireworks + unicorns. I have never been to a place where I feel so energized, inspired and in my element. I simply love it. Initially, I thought that Japan was too similar to Europe, dated (compared to Korea which is like a young tiger in its prime) and way too expensive when we got to Tokyo.

But then, something happened. I realized that every meal I ate was a 10/ 10, every person I spoke to was a model of friendliness and helpfulness, there is an abundance of places so beautiful that you have never seen anything like it, the language is so delectable that I could listen to people speaking on the phone for half an hour without understanding a word, things are clean and simply  hold a certain quality to them. Tokyo is huge but still has very lovely parks and (to a person who lived in China) good air.

People here seem to work unimaginably hard. Too hard. Yuki said that he sometimes stays in his lab until midnight, and Yusuke considered finishing at 21 in the evening normal, whereas he simply slept at work during busy days. Still, people are so generous and don`t seem to think twice before sacrificing their hard- earned cash to buy you drinks, dinners or even opening up their homes to you. Yusuke was our host in Kyoto where he holds a good position at Nintendo (he’s also a street performer and a skydiving instructor, #coolestguyever). He works a lot and still generously accommodates couch surfers basically every week. He finished work earlier one day (19.30) so that he could take us to teppanyaki where we chatted about Japanese culture. We could not have gotten a nicer or warmer host! Also, yesterday, Marco and I were having sushi (delicious) as two businessmen in suits came in and sat down next to us by the conveyor belt. We chatted, they bought us beer, we said no, no, no, they bought more beer and ordered in things that were ‘special insider sushi- tips’. Soon, it felt like we had been friends for a long time as we awkwardly had to ask for each- others’ names. They insisted on paying for our dinner. Marco and I were supposed to have an early night, but we couldn’t refuse when the guys treated us to their favorite Irish bar. In came drinks, snacks and food. Everything payed for. We had valuable conversations about what it is like to grow up  and work in Japan. After a while, we had to say good – bye, two friends richer and very satisfied from the sushi and drinks. Once again, I had to sadly acknowledge that this just does not happen in Europe. If someone unknown approaches you on the street / in a restaurant back home, people automatically think freak. The people of Asia, instead, seem to have understood a pretty basic human truth: it’s nice to be with other people. (This stated, I know that there are issues of loneliness and isolation in Japan, which I think is due to their crazy work hours).

Tomorrow, we leave for Taipei again which will be the last day and stop of our trip. It’s hard to grasp right now. We have seen and done so much in just over one months time that it feels like we have been away for ages. When I think of everything I have to do when I’m back home, I kind of want to crawl into my Asian turtle-shell again, but I just won’t think about that right now. Right now, I will have a bathing bonanza in our capsule- hostels’ (?!) hot springs. I will think of Sakura, kimonos, sushi, and 1990’s street fighter games. ImageImage

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We just missed our flight because we are idiots.

So… Yeah. Headache.
A low point in life. Too much soju last night. Too late last night. Too early today. Grasping the fact that we just missed our check- in to Osaka (by seven minutes) where we are supposed to meet Shannon and Yuki this afternoon. SHIT.

BUT IT WAS SO AWESOME LAST NIGHT!!!!!!! Started off with Korean barbeque (which instantly skyrocketed to a solid position on my top- 5 favourite things to eat- list) where you grill things while strangely and wonderfully making an omelet on the side of the grill. Sort- of chimneys come down from the ceiling to take the smoke from the grill away. It’s so clever and delicious at the same time. At the restaurant, we met three Korean dudes who used to manage hostels in the Hongdae- area. Shared lifestories. Spoke French. Drank beer. Ordered Soju. Perfect start. Marco then became very adamant about fulfilling his dream of eating a live octopus. We got directions from the guys for a good place.
In a picturesque Hongdae- alley, we found a place which served the grossness. Marco was pleased. Nobody in the staff spoke English, so a friendly fella with a vocabulary of ~30 English words from the next table offered to help as Marco gestured that he wanted it as alive as possible but that the mouth should be cut off (otherwise it’s too dangerous, apparently). More Soju. More beer. In came the octopus which was rattling on the plate (picture evidence is coming soon). All of a sudden, we were seated at their table, expressing appreciation for each other and love for traveling and our respective countries. They were musicians, designers and civil servants in their late 20’s/ early 30’s. It’s amazing, isn’t it, how much you can share with people from different cultures despite language barriers, when you travel. At that moment, the love, warmth and respect were propelled by Soju, but real and genuine nevertheless. I felt richer going home yesterday.

Now, however, I feel considerably poorer since I had to fork out money for a new plane ticket a couple of hours later from the original one as we (as stated) missed our check- in by 7 MINUTES!!! OK, fine, we were late, shame on us, but isn’t that a tad too anal?
Had a meltdown an hour ago as I imagined us not only having to buy another ticket, but also missing our appointment with Yuki (whose place we are staying in tonight) and Shannon in Osaka. However, since Yuki is such a massive star, he’ll meet us for sushi and key- exchange tonight instead, despite traveling to Tokyo a few hours later. This is the awesome guy I met at the hostel in Hong Kong more than one year ago, who graciously offered to host me and my two friends in Osaka. Yuki, if you read this, you’re my hero.

Now, a few hours of R&R before boarding the new flight. Jesus…

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Marco’s Magic Massage Man

Wudaokou. A late, warm evening in blossoming March. Shannon, Marco and I stuffed our faces with the deliciousness that is the pizza at Red House (where we also prayed to the Face of Mercy which still hangs there in all its glory!). We decided to have a massage at the good- and- ridiculously- cheap- but- questionable place next to Fahlafel. Determined to not be subject to unholy propositions, Shannon asked for a woman masseuse and made clear from the very beginning what we were there for. However, the tone changed suddenly when Marco’s Magic Massage Man appeared- a Chinese Adonis with able hands, humble demeanor and a gift for carnal pleasure who made the very straight Marco utter things like:
I would cook for him, I’d wash his clothes. We could have a good home together! I’d drop out of university and move to Yunnan and his family, I don’t care!!!
If this massage does not end soon, I’ll be giving him a happy ending. and climaxing in
Oh my god, when he massaged my ass, I was like take it! Take it now!!!

Granted, it was probably the best massage any of us had ever had. They knew all the tricks. Two hours of heavenly bodily sensations for 79 Yuan with student discount. Remind me how much a drink is in Sweden again?

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Wow, Fantastic Baby

There. THE FAR EAST.
As I am writing this, I am in the powerhouse city of Shanghai where you could probably do and accomplish anything you’d like, except access your Facebook or WordPress- account. The uselessness of Chinese internet continues yet to astound me.

The week in Taiwan delivered me to a religious extent. We went from gross, cold, grey and sluggish Scania to pulse, warmth, opportunity and ease in Taipei. Within two hours of landing, the city gave me night markets, electric Kpop and street food (Marco wasn’t quite so enthused by the Kpop). The rain was tepid, the way it is in South – Asian spring and summer. We lived in the coolest, all- leopard loft of a hostel, which basically meant that we had an apartment in central Taipei to ourselves for the first days, because of low- season. We bonded with the Japanese, Chinese, Hong Kong-nese and Malaysian who later came to our room, and I felt as if I was in a frikkin Lonely Planet commercial when ‘good morning’ was spoken in 3 different languages in our little shack of international love. However, then came the other ridiculously good- looking, but rogue, Hong Kong model pack and made havoc in the other room of the loft as they turned it into a 24 h trash- club. Oh well.

I loved Taipei. There was the warmth and bustle of the Chinese culture + free, fast, uncensored internet and freedom of speech and thought. Now how about that! The day of the 8th of March 2014 will be noted as a highlight of Erik Kvist’s life: within 24 hours, I SAW TAEYANG, G-DRAGON AND SEUNGRI at the DOPEST concert I have witnessed, and got offered a pretty sweet deal to come back to my old job at the embassy after graduation! Yiihaaw! My first job after graduation will be in a diplomatic body, in a booming metropolis that I love. Whassup, whassup, whassup. The relief of knowing what happens after this era of academics is incredibly gratifying.

The week in Taipei entailed meeting up with Max whom Marco and I got to know in Beijing and who now works for the German delegation in Taipei 101. Awesome! Marco’s reencounter with baijiu at Max’s apartment is also something which will go down in the records. Wulai was very picturesque and was full of free, wild and almost jungle- like nature: a kind of nature which I have never seen in the mainland. The hotsprings were amazing.
In the airport on our way to Kinmen, I thought that it’s a pretty darn privileged life. It’s a pretty darn privileged life. Freedom. Youth. Opportunity. The world.

When the cab driver took us to the Bund where we saw the skyline of Pudong, both Marco and I got goose bumps. It was both of our third time there, and the city smelled of memories from our remarkable year in this country, which could not have been richer. The feeling inevitably came with a sense of contrast: we are bored in our respective countries. It’s been great, Sweden was definitely the right choice for me when I moved back from Scotland, I had awesome years in my bachelor’s and I’m sure it will be the right place again in a little while, but right now, it’s too conformed, too expensive and… old.

Papers are to be signed at the embassy on Wednesday after which there will be litchi martinis at Juicy. Roll tide.
Asienresa 2014 046

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Swingin’ in the backyard, pull up in your fast car (A reunion sweet)

Well I’ll be darned! I’m going back to Asia!

Six months passed, and let’s be honest, they weren’t the kewlest ones. Sure, there were highlights: the leverpastejsmacka was awesome and it was swell to drink tap- water and breathe breatheable air and all that, but the memory of the pulse of 10 + million people- cities haunts me still. More than that, I feel spectacularly done with being a student, at least at this institution. There is a time to do concrete things, to have a structured lifestyle and to earn $$$$. But first, the prophecy of The Intentional Return shall materialize.

In 14 hours, Marco and I will be on our way to Taipei where we will live with the intriguing host(ess?) Mr. Cindy of the ‘Zebra Apartments Inn’ (leopard sheets are included in the booking fee) for a few nights before we venture to Wulai to bathe in hot- springs. Another stop in Taiwan will be Jiufen which supposedly inspired Spirited Away which makes me have to go to check it out. After Taiwan, China, <3Korea<3 and Japan await us, where we will hopefully couchsurf our way into the hearts of an everyday Japanese family. #STOKED.

Perhaps it's a tad crazy to go on an epic 6 week tour of Asia when there is a thesis (shudders) to write. But then, I'm thinking, just when is it that I'm supposedly going to be able to do this kind of trip, then? When I've gone corporate and work my ass off for The_Man? I may only have 25 years of experience in the field of life, but it's my impression that people generally put off life to an unhealthy extent. There seems to be no end to what young folks are supposed to worry about, in this day and age of uncertainty (and I do my fair share of worrying myself, which I recognize and regret). Yet I feel that the world is still so full of wonders, and I want to be there to see them. If North Korea implodes, it won't wait to do so until I have a day off. The time to be young and experience things is now. The time to write a thesis is… sometime around mid- April.

The passport is locked and loaded: new territories wait to leave their mark.

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Our Love is a Flower that Blossoms in China

Home. After 369 days in Asia, it is time to conclude the raison-d’être of this blog which has been an awesome tool of communication between my Asian self and my loved ones abroad. Here, in a place where the tap-water is good and potable, a beer at a relatively tired place costs at least 50 yuan/ kr, and people whisper along the streets I can look back and account for all the happenings of that extraordinary year under willows and red lanterns, but words will probably not suffice to explain what it all meant to me.

I had high hopes for my year abroad. I chose an international high school- education and to start undergraduate studies in Scotland because the international community always appealed tremendously to me, and when I looked at Swedish universities Lund’s exchange programs were definitely a big part of my final choice for an alma mater. Three years’ studies led up to my going to China and I was itching to experience as much as I possibly could. Nevertheless, I could never imagine what I would find in the golden Far East: I certainly didn’t expect to work for my country’s embassy; I didn’t expect to see Macao, Korea, Hong Kong, the Philippines or the remarkable winter city of Harbin; I never thought I’d live with three other dudes in a shared space of 13 square meters; I didn’t think I’d work as an English teacher or a model; I didn’t think I’d push myself the way I pushed myself and I didn’t expect to fall absolutely in love with the place and culture which seemed to grant me everything I asked for.

Upon coming to China, I had to revise a lot of prejudices: the West is often very quick to point fingers at China and condemning breaches of rights and freedoms. I’m not saying I’m condoning China’s way of controlling certain issues, but I do say that I have a different understanding of it now. China is booming at an unimaginable rate to outsiders and you can literally see the landscape of cities change before your eyes. China has gone from a poor state crippled by communist doctrine to the world’s second economy in only 20 years. With that come new problems which require quick fixes. And there are different kinds of freedoms in China compared to the West. We think it’s crazy that the movement of citizens is limited to what kind of hu-kou they have, but my friends were flabbergasted by the fact that it’s illegal in Sweden to bike at night without a light, or to give someone a ride on your bike. They had never heard of such micro managing state- control and thought Sweden sounded like a semi- fascist state! It puts things in perspective. (And actually, the thing I probably find most unattractive about Swedish life is that there are rules about fucking e.v.e.r.y.t.h.i.n.g.).

I learned a lot about that beautiful ancient culture which held a surprising spirituality to it. I learned that the small bon-fires on the street corners in August were not an effective way for the people of China to burn trash, but actually a ritual where they burnt paper money at night to commemorate their dead; I learned that the reason why you shouldn’t put your chop-sticks vertically in your rice is because it resembles sticks of incense which you place on your forefathers graves (thus connoting death); and I learned that in 4 cases out of 5, the looker behind the wheel of that Lamborghini in Sanlitun is a young girl rather than an old businessman.

Of course, the backbone of every good experience is the people you meet, and I met truly amazing people. Things which struck me about basically every expat I met at CUPL were their eagerness to see and experience things they normally never would, their wanderlust, their openness and a certain cynicism with the West; the East had become the new Promised Land. We were all a part of a young and truly global community. One person whom I’ve often thought of dedicating an entry to is Marco Sichirollo, the fantastic Italian whom I shared the Wudaokou – apartment with and who taught me so many things about Asian culture. Marco might be the most genuinely unprejudiced and open person I’ve had the pleasure of knowing and I hope he’ll use his standing invitation to Lund liberally and soon!

It was time for me to go home; I had been away for more than a year and I wanted and needed to wrap up my degree here back home. I had grand reunions with friends and family here, and I now go by the epithet of proud godfather to my brand new striking baby- niece, Cornelia! Still, homecoming has both been nice and hard. I have never before felt lonely in Lund, but the first night I slept in the apartment marked the first night I slept alone in over one year which was pretty rough, and there was one specific good- bye back in Beijing which has been much on my mind… It is obvious when you come from a place like China, that people here live much more isolated lives and everything feels comparatively very small; but there are of course sweet perks to this life as well. I just need more time to acclimatize and set new goals. Until that happens, I hope to control my eagerness when I see an Asian at school and not think ‘xie-xie’ when the woman hands me coffee in the cafeteria.

Thank you, China. You gave me everything I asked for and more. I can’t wait to come back for a stay which won’t be quite so accidental, but very intentional. You had me at ‘ni hao’!

Respectfully and forever yours,
Xiao Long / Little Dragon

We are lao wai

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