Crazy China

After a few months of advanced ethnography of the Chinese population, let me summarise for you in a few points the cultural clash that us, expats in Shanghai, live every day…

Sustainability first 

Fact #1: Chinese people are environmentally friendly. Or not.

Everything is individually packaged, from toilet rolls to flowers. Here, if the streets are super clean it’s not because people are well educated like in The Netherlands, it’s because there is an army of street cleaners — who are payed close to nothing. Here, so long recycling! So long different-colour trash bags…everything ends up in the same bin.

Global marketing at its best

Fact #2: if its sounds western, it sells. At the supermarket you’ll have the chance to find a detergent named “Pigeon”, a brand of shampoo called “Sifoné”, or “Descente” apparel. Well, if it sells…After all, Superdry is a purely British brand that has nothing to do with Japan despite it’s heavy use of Japanese graphics and signs.

Yummi!

Fact #3: Chinese people have a mutant stomach.

For instance, we don’t really know if the picture here, taken at the supermarket downstairs, represents the weekly oil supply of a family or of a fried noodle shop….but we don’t really want to find out either.

Coagulated duck blood will find its way in your soup; you will be unable to find something that has not been fried, fried and re-fried (except, maybe, said duck blood) & chicken feet are by no means to be tossed: they are a sought-after snack. Oh and be ready to have a bowl of spicy noodles for breakfast, too.

I think I am in for a colonoscopy next time I come back to Europe. My stomach might already have mutated, though.

At the gym…

Fact #4: in China, sport is “casual”…

First of all, who needs trainers to exercise. Like the lady here, feel free to come to the gym in your high heels, that’s perfectly fine. Secondly, running is vulgar: one WALKS on a treadmill. It’s so much better to walk inside rather than in the polluted city. Then again, forget about gym gear: jeans and a button-down will do just fine.

Lastly, when you go into the lockers, ladies, take a deep breath. Intimacy and reserve are inexistent: when you get changed, you go all out and hang about naked as long as you need to. I have no visual proof I’m afraid…

Flawless style

Fact #5: Chinese people have taste.

They will tell you that you are the one dressing in a very boring way, but do take it as a compliment, because to them, fashion means:

  • Wearing Winnie the Pooh slippers in the tube (photo)
  • Going grocery shopping in a Mickey Mouse fleece pyjama
  • Matching a stripped shirt with polka dots trousers, Crocs and flowery gloves (what looks nice on its own, looks nice with anything!)
  • Wearing heels so high you can only walk like a duck
  • Having skirts so short that they are actually belts (I guess it’s to make up for the inability to wear low cuts…you make do with what you have)
  • Own a real Louis Vuitton bag when you make €400/month
  • Sport FAKE Vuitton bags, Prada glasses, Jimmy Choo shoes and a Guess belt…well, because the fake market is around the corner.

Here are a few pointers of what to expect if you plan on coming and visit in Shanghai. Those who’ve come already can testify. I also wanted to say a word about politeness, but I think I will need a whole post just for that. Freedom of speech could also be a theme, but I would not want my blog to be blocked by the government (there, I already said too much).

I hope you enjoyed the read and the glimpse into Chinese culture!

Weekend in Beijing

After living for 4 months in China, it was high time for me to go and visit Beijing. I took advantage of an impromptu business trip to have an express tour of the capital city.

The week-end kicked-off in a bit of a rush: finish work at 7.30 on Friday night, leave Shanghai at 10.00 and arrive in Beijing by midnight. The next morning, wake up call at 7 am, direction the Great Wall.

Great Wall

The Great Wall (Chang Cheng in Chinese) is this massive and really impressive, 9000 km-long stone wall. We reached it by cable car and then started walking on the wall itself, which is quite a hike! Reaching the highest towers takes a while, and there are quite a few steps to take, but it is really worth the effort, especially with the wonderful weather we were lucky to have.

We visited two spots on the Great Wall: Mutianyu, which is rather touristy, and Huang Hua, which is much quieter and secluded. In Mutianyu, after admiring the view and some intense leg action, we had an amazing time on the slide that took us down the wall. There again, you could see the difference between careless Europeans going down the slide as fast as possible, and respectful (or scared!) Chinese people going as slow as they could. I must confess to slightly bumping into a poor child in front of me…After these emotions, we took it to Huang Hua (Yellow Flower) in the afternoon for a bit of peace and quiet. We fished our own lunch and had it in a little hillside restaurant, with the same wonderful view of the wall.

On the Saturday night, it was the cherry on the cake! Or, rather, the duck on the crepe. As you know, Beijing is known for its “Peking Duck”, and it was a must for us to have it at least once. The cutting ceremonial that goes with it and the wonderful sauces and condiments made for a truly amazing meal.

Tiananmen Square

Forbidden City

On Sunday, we were off to the other key attraction of the city: the Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square (above). The Forbidden City was erected in the middle of Beijing, under the Ming and Qing dynasties. At its entrance on Tiananmen Square, the massive portrait of chairman Mao reminds you not to speak too loud around there. We spent a few hours in the beautiful Forbidden City before heading to an area with traditional houses: the Hutongs (below).

Hutongs

We finished the trip with a visit of the very hype and busy area of Sanlitun, and then hopped back on the plane to kick-start a new week of work, super fresh!