Dienstag, 23. November 2010

Trip to the Huang Shan

typical view in the mountains
Last weekend we took a trip to the 黄山 (huáng shān) „Yellow mountains“, which was organised by the language partner of Christine (one of the girls in our program). The yellow mountains are actually really famous in China. It is said that once you have been there you don't need to see the other mountains in China anymore. And it is said to be unlucky to go back the same way you came there. Especially the sunset and -rise are the first thing that come to people's minds. I still haven't figured out why you would call them yellow though. I dind't feel like that was their most distinctive trait. On Friday, we went there by train (about 7 hour ride), and stayed the first night in a hotel in the city. Early on staurday morning we left to get to the mountains. We were really lucky with the weather, it was really warm, and I actually got sunburnt in the end of november. It's a really beautiful area and even on the way there the world already looked a lot more „Chinese“ than in Nanjing. Even in November there were way too many people and like in most parks I've seen so far all the tracks are paved and there are just millions of steps. But I must say that I found it great that no streets or extensively big buildings on the peaks were destroying the landscape as one might encounter it in different places all over the world.
on the left is the group I went with
In recreational areas the number of people asking to take a picture with you or even sometimes secretely taking them, only because you are a 老外 (lǎowài) „~foreigner“, seems to be heightened. But especially Christine with her white skin and straight, very long, dark hair is very popular for these pictures. We climbed a lot of peaks and the view was amazing. Apparently every stone and a lot of the pine trees have a name and a history to themselves. It was also the first time that I really saw bamboo growing like normal trees in a forest. There are also wild monkeys in that area, but we didn't see any. Probably to the best, because they aren't afraid of people and are supposed to get really annoying. On every peak one could get the name engraved on a medal, and on every scenic spot, couples could buy locks and but them on the fences. Since there are no streets, hundreds of carriers are running around with huge loads and you can also book them for carrying people on a seat mounted on two bamboo sticks. Seeing these man carrying somebody up a steep staircase, I really got reminded of feudal times.
The next night we spent in a hotel in the mountains. So we really could enjoy the great view of the sunset. I was once again a little amazed at the openness at which hotels (but also other places) explain to you that you have to pay more, because you are a foreigner. It seems normal to everybody and the prices are still really good, but it's still irritating. If you are bargaining it is one thing to try a higher price, but to use it openly as a fixed rule... Anyways, the next day we were not quite as lucky, the sunrise was mostly covered by clouds and it was starting to rain. But it was still worth it. In the train back we luckily had some beds. It's always three beds over each other. Even though next to us were some people snoring extremely loudly I managed to find some sleep and monday morning at 3 am we were back. I found it really great how Christines language partner took care of us. It was her first time in the mountains as well and I hope she also got to enjoy it through all the work and worrying she has been doing. 
tourist street with nice art
In Nanjing autumn is a little more noticeable now, but it's still green outside. The landlord was supposed to come by yesterday for rent and the bills, but he didn't. Tomorrow classes as usual. And that's it... :-)


temple on Qixishan
So it's been quite a while now. It's steadily getting colder, the fall is coming and with it the typical autumn in the personal phases that characterize such one-year-trips. With alle the on-going debates about integration in Germany, one unevitably reflects the own situation. Even though last Sunday I went to a German restaurant to eat a „Schnitzel“ and watch „Tatort“ (usually considered the complete failure of integration for a German in a foreign country, if done regularly), I think it's not quite as bad. In daily life (shopping, eating, taking a cab, ...) I usually don't encounter any major problems, but still I notice something is missing. In retrospect I'm not sure if I really should have chosen Nanjing. From reports of others, the density of foreigners and people who speak English here seems to be even worse than in Bejing and Shanghai. The general problem of exchange programs for students is that there are very few occasions to get mixed with Chinese. Nanjing is a nice city and on one side it would be sad not to be here, on the other hand I feel like I would have a much better chance to get to know China if I were to be somewhere far out in the middle of nowhere. In order to overcome that I considered volunteer work as an idea, but it turned out to be very hard to offer work for free. Apparently Chinese are so hospitable, that they feel to have the obligation to care so much for you, that having a volunteer is much more work than not having one. Quite honestly, I'm getting quite frustrated with that situation, because right now (in comparison to my other trips to other countries) I don't even see the prospect of ever having an impression after one year of what being a Chinese could mean.
Looking at other students from my program, I have noticed that it makes a huge difference living together with Chinese. Getting money for being here, makes me feel obligated to make this year a success and i know that I'm being impatient, but this is just a part of the autumn-phase. :-)
Besides that not a lot happened since my last entry. We already took our mid-term exams and finished our first book. Some people dropped by to have us answer for the Chinese census (luckily only 7 questions for foreigners and not 20 or 40 like for Chinese) and I took an 二胡(èrhú) class. It's a traditional Chinese instrument, similar to the cello, but the sound is very Chinese. I also booked my tickets for my trip back for Christmas.
Actually now is a good place to tell a small Christmas story: One night we came back from eating at a restaurant. Walking over one of the biggest crossings in Nanjing we came to notice a strange light on the blue nightsky. It was moving, colourful, blinking and we definitely had no inkling of what it might be. Obviously the first idea: an UFO. But then it struck me and I came to realize: we are three wise men from different parts of the world, in the East, carrying some presents on us (money, a bottle of water, …) ... this must be a sign. So the three „wise“ men decided to follow the star even though it was actually already quite cold outside and they were a little eager to get back home fairly quickly. Luckily we didn't have to walk too far, just up a small hill to the wutaishan sports center. Having a little expected to find a stable, we had to realize that an old man was playing with an kite wired to some bulbs. Having solved this riddle and already on our way back we overheard a couple of small children who were also following the weird light in the sky. Obviously we didn't tell them what it was...
small group photo on the mountain
the four on the right
 are in the same program
One actually gets to see kites, fans, fireworks or umbrellas more often here than one would generally in Europe. On the other hand they are usually not as spectacular as one might expect.
Another great experience I had was getting my hair cut. Since wages are really low and therefore it is not really worth testing one of the smaller hair cutting places, that sometimes offer services I'm not really interested in, I went to a big shop on one of the biggest streets. For approximately 3 euros, about 4 or 5 people were involved my hair cut, the most outstanding being the so called „master“ who first threw some sort of cowboy belt filled with all imaginable hair utensils around his body, and then with big gestures and his own hair flying around me started cutting every single hair on my head by itself. At least that was what it looked like and how long it took. Actually, in every small shop there are about three or four accountants, everyday somebody is sweeping all the streets and in malls there is always somebody whose sole job is putting a stamp on the receipts of the customers. Comparing that to the prices and the numbers of customers, one can get a feeling how little those people earn in comparison. That is probably also why there is often put a lot of effort into seemingly small wishes. The service is in regard to what is actually done for the customers really amazing, but in regard to the very rough tone sometimes unbearable. It's the same with people shouting 服务员(fúwùyuán) „waitor“ through the whole restaurant, or that if you dind't know better you would start thinking your name was (wèi) „hey“ or something like that, with all the bikes shouting at you to get out of their way or people yelling angrily about the smallest things to strangers. In contrast to that, once you only mention a small problem on the side to somebody you just know a little bit, they start worrying about it much more than you ever would and spend a lot of time trying to help. So much that you don't want to mention problems anymore, because you don't want to be the reason for so many troubles.
One weekend ago we went to the 栖霞山(qī xiá shān) „Mount Qixia“ in Nanjing, which is supposed to be really beautiful and colourful in the autumn. In Nanjing City itself the fall is not really noticeable, the leaves just seem to fall down green or just slightly brown. We went in a mixed group of Germans and Chinese students of German law. During the cab ride I learned that there is about 10000 taxis in Nanjing and that might also be about the amount of steps that we took on that mountain. From the top I got my first small glimpse of the 长江 (chángjiāng) „Yangtse 'long river'“. It was still pretty green, but some of the leaves already showed some color. On the foot of the mountain we got to see a small buddhist temple. After all it was really, really nice to get outside of the city and get to see a bit more than just high-rises.
We also got to see a kunju-piece from which the jingju (Beijing Opera) evolved. Nanjing is one of the few cities in which one can go see such performances on a regular basis. The high pitch they are singing in is actually not causing as big a headache as I would have imagined earlier^^

Samstag, 16. Oktober 2010


Nanjing: view from my room at night
Nanjing: main building of the university
better pic of my room

Hongkong: new territories
Hongkong: at night
Hongkong: Lamma

Macao: Portuguese

Donnerstag, 14. Oktober 2010


Blick über Hongkong
And now I finally get to write about the national holidays we spent in the area around Hongkong. Our flight went to to Shenzhen the industrial metropol that in the last couple of months you heard about in Germany mainly in connection with the vast suicide rate in some companies. We didnt get to see anything because we went straight to Hongkong by bus, but I heard a lot of funny stories about huge buildings just selling for example mobile phone displays and nothing else, and that in the way all the markets look like here: A lot of small shops that seem connected by some magic bond but everybody selling there things like on a basar with a whole lifetime or even a couple of geneartions of experience and expertise as salesmen. From the plane I got to see that throughout the city small greens hills just seem to rise out of nowhere, too steep to build something on them which makes the city actually look a lot more liveable. This is basically also the flair of Hongkong. Even though it is the city with the most high-rises in the world, through these steep mountains and the islands it becomes much greener and enjoyable. The public transportation in Hongkong is also just phenomenal and very thought through. There are busses, trams, metros, ferries, cheap cabs and helicopters. And they always seem to guess right were you are heading because if you have to switch lines, the one you need is usually just the one closest to you. And even though you're in a huge city, you can find yourself in wonderful spots in the nature within half an hour. We went to two smaller islands (Lamma and Cheung Chan) and then to a coast in the Northeast of the (new) territories. It really felt like I would imagine holidays on Fiji. In Hongkong everybody speaks English and Cantonese. Since basically all the signs are given in traditional characters (there are two sets of characters: traditional and the simplified that are used in the Peoples Republic introduced by Mao which is a little ironic considering that the only two people ever to simplify the chinese writing system in such a way both share some parallels in their CV – The first emperor Qin Shi Huang Di and Mao Zedong) and their pronounciation as well, I actually think I got to understand a little better the differences between „Mandarin“ Chinese and the southern dialects/languages. 
In some spots the ocean seemed pretty polluted, so I really wouldnt have wanted to go swimming even if i had taken my swimming trunks. After four days we took a ferry to Macao, a former Portuguese colony, which is also seen as the Las vegas of Asia, since it legalized gambling. Some places looked quite nice but all in all I didn't really like it, it was dirty and grey. No trees on the streets like I'm basically already used to by Nanjing or Hongkong. Then we took a cheap ride in a very comfortable bus to Guangzhou, another former colony: this time french and a little english. I liked the city very much, it was amazingly clean, had a nice mixture of modern city but also very traditional looking quarters and the place were the colonists settled which in my opinion just looks like France. After some back and forth we got a really cheap but beautiful place in a hostel with river view. The food in Guangdong is really great. It is supposed to be China's best food, even though that is also the area in which people tend to eat the weird things people might hear about in the „West“. I also enjoyed the food places right on the street, where you could just sit outside in some garden furniture eating Chinese barbecue. In Nanjing I haven't found the relaxed atmosphere of these places yet.
And now I'm back. I had to revise a couple of things that I missed in school but fortunately it wasn't too much. On Monday we celebrated Ophelie's birthday and besides that I doubt that a lot of exciting things happened.

Montag, 27. September 2010


View over North-West
of Nanjing
It is amazing how easily people can get used to different customs – without even really noticing. About a week ago we went to eat in an indian restuarant and to my utter amusement I had to notice that I felt weird using knife and fork instead of chopsticks. Even though I must admit that I still have the occasional flying chicken wings when trying to eat with chopsticks. Hearing a rooster crow in the morning or small chicken right on the biggest street even though it's a million people city and people wearing pyjamas in public also almost lost its surprising moment. But there are also a couple of mysteries I still haven't quite solved: like some weird insects(?) that I got to see here quite often that look like a crossing between a bat and a butterfly. Some other riddles I finally got explanations for: e.g. the quite frequent outbursts of liting fireworks are probably part of weddings and therefore especially frequent on certain dates: Since „9“ (jiǔ) is pronounced like the word for „long time“ (jiǔ) it is considered a good number for a wedding date. Also the combination „5 2 0“ (wǔ ér líng) is supposed to sound like „I love you“ (我爱你wǒ ài nǐ). In general (e.g. phone numbers) „4“ (sì) is really unpopular because it sounds like „to die“ (sǐ), and „8“ (bā) is probably the best number since it is (was/ still in some dialects) similar to „wealth“ (fā). There's also a lot more to find in the Internet about this.

The mentioned high-rise
Right now there's a couple of holidays. We just had three days off for the „moon/mid-autumn festival“ (中秋节 zhóngqiújié) and now there's going to be a whole week off for the national holidays (to celebrate Mao's proclamation of the People's Republic). On the other hand in China this doesn't mean you really get these days off because instead you have to go to school on weekends, which meant that I spent the last weekend at the university. The upcoming week I'm probably going to be in Hongkong and the surrounding area (Shenzhen, Macau,…).
traditional chinese instruments
at the 中秋节 party
In Nanjing nothing very exciting happened so far. There was a small „party“ at the university for the foreigners right before the moon festival where everybody got some „moon cake“ (too sweet for my taste) and listen to classical Chinese instruments and Karaoke. We also went up the highest tower in the city (which is the 6th highest tower in the world) and since we were completely underdressed for the cafe up there, the next time I'll remember and try not to embarass the waiters. Still, for European pries you can usually already enjoy some kind of lower luxury. Since wages are really low here, shops and restaurants can afford having more assistants and waiters than guests or clients. Classes are as normal, I wish I'd progress a little quicker but I guess you just need to give it time.
Oh, and just booked the tickets. So I'm going to come back to Germany over Christmas and New Years.

Dienstag, 7. September 2010


View from the appartment
After consulting about three different realtors, and having looked at about 25 to 30 appartments, I finally found a suitable place to live in. I feel a little bad since realtors only get paid if they find you an appartment, so there was a lot of futile work involved, but on the other hand it's hard to feel any regrets sice I finally found my own place. In this matter you usually don't get a minute to think here: if you don't take an appartment right away, the next day it'll probbaly be taken by somebody else. One time I actually said I would sign the contract for an appartment quite close to the campus and when I got there I actually ran right into some other fellow students signung it, only because they came there 15 min earlier. Renting an appartment is a lot cheaper here than in Germany. Funnily enough the price is majorly based on the number of rooms and maybe a little bit on the location (getting more expensive the closer it gets to the campus), but size and quality do not really have an influence. Roughly said you always pay between 700-1300 元 (80-100 Euro) per room. Obviously you could always pay much more if you wanted to. Amazingly the prices for buying an appartment are basically the same as in Germany, maybe even more expensive.

Bad picture of my room
 - I'll take a better one later
From that point of view it wouldn't really make sense to buy one, especially taking into consideration that after the law you can only own a houses or any ground for 70 years, and after that it goes back to the state. But Chinese families in this area expect of the future husbands of their daughters that they have an appartment of their own, so everybody is trying to get loans to pay these insane prices. It gets even more difficult with many businessmen speculating on the home prices rising higher still, so in cities like Shanghai there are actually many appartments empty. It's a vicious cycle that eventually probably will have to end in a crash. On the other hand, the result is now that it actually isn't as great to have a son in the city anymore, like it was for families on the countryside. So at least the ratio women to men might return to a normal level through this weird situation.

Ophelie and I paying rent
Like I said the market is really fast, and it is also common to pay for an appartment at least 3 months in andvance. This starts to be funny if you consider that the highest bill in China is worth 10 Euros. So renting an appartment feels a little bit like doing something really illegal with a big bunch of money.

Maybe now would be the point to once again try and explain how my living situation has actually been earlier. After living in the appartment of Xin, Christine and Flavio, I had to move to a youth hostel, which was actually really good. The owner, Linda, helped us with most things, and most importantly helped us find an appartment. Now, I'm living in a 3-room apartment with a nice French girl, Ophelie, who's going to be studying in yet another Nanjing university. There was still a lot of cleaning to do after getting the appartment, but now it's looking quite alright. On foot it's about 15-20 min to the building where I have my lectures and it's pretty close to a Xinjiang restaurant.

At the beginning I was still really ambitious to find some chinese roommate, but it is really hard. The guys usually share a room (which is just a little too close for me for a whole year) and the girls are either forbidden to live with other men from their parents or they are out to find a rich foreigner. I didn't want to rush into anything, so I put this decision of; Ophelie is only here for half a year and then I'm going to think about it again.

Chinese life, I'm coming!

Mochou Lake
There's been a lot happening over the last couple of days. I found my own apartment -which I will say more about later- got most of the paper work done we have to do and already spent a couple of days at the university with classes. I got placed in an intermediate level which I guess suits me very well, classes aren't as great as they were in Trier, but they seem to be alright. In the hostel where I stayed I got to meet many foreigners, which doesn't help my Chinese, but I do enjoy the international atmosphere. I got to practice my Polish and even a little bit French throughout the past days (and obviously English as well). I got to see the Museum of the Nanjing Massacre where about 300000 got slaughtered by the invading Japanese troops in World War II, went to Xinjiekou, which is the biggest shopping district of Nanjing, and got a glimpse of the Mochou Lake in the city which looked really great.

Huge food market we
found by accident
Foodwise I spent the first 5 days eating only Chinese food. Afterwards my stomach decided it wanted something else so I switched to Mcdonalds, a German bakery and a Turkish restaurant. Now I'm switching back and forth between Chinese and Western food. Most of the Chinese stuff is just really weird and usually the smell doesn't make me get hungrier either, but that might still come, I'm just not used to it yet. And like most Weterners would make the mistake to offer dairy products and sweets to chinese people without considering that there's a big chance they won't like it, many people here seem to keep forgetting that only a few of us would consider chicken legs and claws a small snack like chips.

Other things for example I'm basically already used to, like babies not wearing pampers but just having a big slit in their pants and peeing in the middle of a crossing in front of a big bank. (Alex in Shanghai put up a nice picture of that:http://howtodowtle.tumblr.com/ ); women using umbrellas to not get tanned, people putting a stamp on your receipt after shopping (which I still don't really see the sense in), and little kids shouting „Mama, mama, a foreigner“.
Bamboo is even used
on really big buildings