Stretched

Dears,
Yesterday marked the glorious one year anniversary for my existence in this country, and I felt it highly appropriate that it also marked the day of the arrival of my CUPL- successor from my alma mater: Hanna Andersson. Gurl, you need to hit up your homeboy for a get-together one of these days!
As the one year mark has come and passed, I am also experiencing my last week at the embassy. I am trying to make the most out of the short days I have left with my amazing colleagues in this dynamic part of town. As I am trying to pack everything, see everyone, work full- time until the very end, preparing for a new semester of school on Monday and figuring out what I will say when my boss officially bids me fairwell at the Friday assembly, I’m feeling a little worn. I can easily say that working 45 h/ week for five months straight in 35 degrees heat, WEARING A SUIT has taken its toll. I believe there is a reason why people take their vacation in the summer and that is because it drains so much more energy trying to think straight while you’re dehydrated and sweating like a pig compared to when you’re… not dehydrated and sweating like a pig.

I am also taking care of all administration which comes with issues of migration in this country; for example selling all my RMB cash to Swedish colleagues because Bank of China (Bajs of China) is extremely restrictive when it comes to laowais taking money out of China. This process was particularly enjoyable as I forgot my bank card in an ATM last weekend which inevitably freezes your entire account (Chinese ATMs will keep your card until you actively ask to get it back, making it very easy to think that your business is done once you’ve gotten your money). The Chinese banking sector is also extremely ill- coordinated: if you have- for example- Bank of China, you need to do all your BoC business at the same office where you first opened your account. You can’t just go to any BoC, becuase that would obviously be too easy. Kevin traced my card to an office in Zhichunlu (across town from work) so I had to miss the goodbye- lunch, courtesy of the Migration Board, for two leaving seniors to fix this last week. Without a Chinese insider, I would never have retrieved my card again: the ‘English’ cutomer service might just as well have been speaking Armenian, the internet bank didn’t work, there were 60 people in front of me in line at the closest office where I first turned for advice, and I was without any access to my account without my card: it did not matter that I had account numbers, card numbers, passport, passwords and usernames; my entire existence came down to a plastic card. I swear, that incident + my residence permit have knocked two years off of my life- expectancy due to indescribable stress.

I will write a more retrospective and thoughtful piece in the upcoming days, but right now, when I think of the fact that i will finish work on Friday evening, move myself and my 80kgs worth of belongings on a plane less than 20 h after, come home, have one day before I start school with a ‘diagnostic test’ on Monday in a city where my apartment still lacks all of my personal things, I’m thinking: put me on that plane now, please.

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The 19th century called, they want their plumbing back.

After one whole year in China the rants decrease in frequency, but mind you, they will always be there.

Today, I am going to rant about the Chinese hatred for hot water (in all usages apart from drinking it straight out the glass which is basically the only thing it’s NOT good for, what the fuck???).

The absurdity of doing your laundry here in China is something which I can spend hours ranting about, but as one needs to maintain sanity, I’ll keep it fairly neat. The gist of it is this:

The average Chinese washing machine does not operate with hot water. I’ll write that again in bold: the washing machines don’t have hot water. This is because the Chinese think it’s a waste of energy (how this goes hand in hand with the story below, I don’t know). So, to compensate for the cold water wash they pour in insane amounts of detergent which – of course- does wonders for the environment. Being something of a washing- expert (seriously, I was obsessed with washing machines as a child), I know that it does not matter how much detergent you put in cold water, because the water has to have a certain temperature to activate the enzymes in the detergent which dissolve the schmuts on your clothes. This is something which most internationals agree with which is why you will find international students at CUPL looking like idiots pouring down buckets of boiling water into the washing machines.
The Chinese, however, vehemently oppose this and insist on washing clothes in cold water which inevitably does not help clean them at all. Schmuts, schmuts, schmuts!
This has led to such tension between me and my ayi (cleaning- lady, literally meaning ‘aunt’) that I now simply hide my clothes from her. She is not to subject my wardrobe to her toxic cold water nightmare!

Another hot water insanity which constitutes quite the mind-puzzle in my head is the shower in Oliver’s and my apartment. GET THIS!: In order to have hot water in the shower, one has to open a tap outside the bathroom which will pour down scorching hot water down the drain. One needs to open it wide enough so that the boiler in the kitchen is activated, but then slowly close the tap to the extent where the boiler is still activated but the tap does not consume all the water. The shower then gets the difference in volume between the amount of water which is heated by the boiler and the amount of water which is consumed by the tap which simply pours good, nice, hot water down a drain. This difference constitutes the water- pressure in the shower, and I can tell you: it’s bleak.
Everytime I have a shower in the apartment, I face disappointment and… unpleasure (not quite as strong a word as ‘discomfort’, I feel that my home- made word ‘unpleasure’ describes it pretty well).

Please China, stop with this madness! Embrace standarized usage of hot water!

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The last thing I will write on the subject of public urination

Incredible day in the Old Summer Palace last Saturday with Kevin and Shannon. One could hardly believe the summerday perfection which came with the lazy intake of wine, cheese, good tunes and spectacular weather on those extensive lawns next to the lotus- packed lakes.

Walking through the spectacular park (whose intriguing destiny you can read about here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Old_Summer_Palace) we eventually came to the ruins. We saw majestic remnants of roman pillars, fountains, palaces and pavilions. And then, a kid with his pants down, peeing on top of the RUINS OF THE OLD MOTHER- FUCKING SUMMER PALACE!!!!! 1 meter behind him stood his mama, not minding what went on. This time I couldn’t keep it in me. I stared, my jaw dropped, I pointed and stuttered. It was like someone peeing on Versailles.

Seeing as I have had quite a few mind-boggling encounters with children’s urination lately, I had to turn to Kevin (born in Inner Mongolia, but with Han-Chinese ancestry) and ask if he peed on cultural relics as a child. Would it be acceptable for him to pee on the Summer Palace? The Forbidden City? Would it have been condoned?
His answer was short, but reassuring:

NO.

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An obvious perk to a Chaoyang address

Having the CCTV-tower and the CBD right outside my window:
CCTV-night

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…Dude.

Spotted: a water fountain- show taking place smack in the middle of The Village and a group of 20- or- so kids frollicking about in the water as the sun was blazing down on the 37 degree-hot streets of Beijing. I thought “well done, Beijing, this is a very nice idea for the summer!”. Then, all of a sudden, I see one of the boys whip out his Mr. Happy and start to urinate in the fountain! Startled, I looked around to see if any of the parents would intervene and sort out the situation. No. Not a hint of responsibility in any of the parents’ eyes. None of the other kids seemed to mind, though, and I had to conclude that it is still a mystery to me what is appropriate in this country and what is not.
Nudity is very much censored in the media, but all the while, the Chinese are the most loose people ever when it comes to 1) Defecating in public 2) having children urinate everywhere and anywhere 3) Communal showers, where the male participants happily give each other back-rubs and scrubs in their birthday suits for everyone to see and *drumroll* 4) the Chinese roll, where men roll up their shirts to let the old belly hang loose for ventilation purposes.
It does not take you more than a day in Beijing to spot some kind of genitalia/ naked ass, so my thought is that the people could handle some nudity on TV just as well as they handle it every day in the streets, honorable Mr. Premiers!

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New Digs

As of last Sunday I’m officially lodging with Oliver (employee of my age at the economic section) in his Chaoyang crib until my departure from China at the end of August. I must admit that I was very worried when his complete lack of knowledge of Spongebob Squarepants surfaced (that is, he didn’t know what I was talking about when I mentioned the phenomenon in both English and Swedish :S). But then, I learned of the half-Brit’s extreme savvy when it comes to tea (drinks ~12 cups/ day), and I immediately felt more at ease. We have established common ground.
It will be two good months.

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That time when we were held at axe-point(!)

Seeing how our dearly beloved Marco Sichirollo is soon to leave this nest of warmth, excitement and discovery (China), Tom and I decided that we needed to have one big blast before we moved out of the apartment in Wudaokou. Truth be told, we also had to honor a long standing agreement that Tom, Marco and I should pose with the go-go- dancers at gay-club Destination (unknow-own-own-own) in Sanlitun for a photo. As such, we called in the Special Forces (read Shannon Dunn) and let the ambrosia flow. As we had a lot to celebrate and commemorate, there seemed to be no end to the champagne, beer, wine, baijiu, tea-shots(!) or the Chinese obscure liquor that people had left behind after a party months ago. The effect came predictably fast and before we knew it, there was a balloon-fight bonanza going on at Chengfu Lu. All good. Concluded that we should get a taxi pronto. Did so after apparently having shouted some less-than-classy remarks in the streets of Wudaokou. Arrived outside Destination. There was a lady selling helium balloons outside. Shannon thought that this was hilarious and pretty much bought her out of stock. For a good half hour, we stood outside the club saying things in various languages with Mickey- mouse voices and laughing our asses off. I remember feeling fine from the alcohol, but really gutted from the helium, though. Who knew that it would be so disgusting? Entered Destination. Our goal was clear: we went straight for the pole and concluded the mission. We danced for a while, but pretty soon total confusion reigned and everyone spread out into different directions (for a reason which no-longer seems clear). Inside the club, it was pretty much all a haze and there seemed to be no concept of time or the outside world, but it was all a hoot. After a while I found Tom in the bar chatting with the same dude I had seen him talk to 20 min (45 min? 1 h?) before. We decided to leave.

As usual when you exit a club in China, there were quite a few people outside the club saying ‘taxi?’ ‘taxi?’. Despite being much more clear-headed then than when I had entered the club, Tom and I stupidly agreed to one after having solidified the price of 60 Yuan to take us back to Wu. Pretty soon after we sat ourselves in the car, the driver told us to pay half now and half when we get there. Tom stuck out 30 yuan, only to hear the driver say ‘no, 60’. We immediately saw where this was going (as people try to fool you pretty much every day of the week as a foreigner in China) and started to protest loudly. The driver wouldn’t have it and still demanded 60 Yuan up front. The argument got more and more heated and Tom demanded his 30 Yuan back. The driver refused. Tom got pissed off and slapped the driver (not too hard) in the back. The driver started to get aggressive. I took out my phone and demonstratively dialed 120 (Chinese emergency) so the driver would see. That’s when I saw Driver digging for something in his bag that he kept in the front seat. A few seconds afterwards, his hand comes out of the bag holding a small double- headed axe. I think I said ‘oh, shit’ and suddenly everything became very clear: I had to open the door and get the hell out of that taxi as soon as I possibly could. The next thing I knew I was standing hyper-ventilating with Tom on the side-walk and assessing what just happened. We vowed never to take a black taxi again, and after all the seriousness had been dealt with, we realized that we had just entered the glorious league of this enchanting lady:

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