Thursday, October 22, 2015

Censorship in China

During the week I like to watch BBC world news at 7am while I eat my breakfast just to get a quick glimpse at what is going on outside of China. I have noticed that on some days the reception can be bad and I never second-guessed it, since the internet can also be painfully slow at times. So over the past couple days these black outs have been quite frequent and they only ever last for a couple minutes. Today it happened again and the report went as follows:
“XJP visited various pubs in London while enjoying the company of so and so. Meanwhile in the House of Commons Mr. XX was addressing more serious topics concerning China such as human rights and how last year a prominent lawyer disa----------“ 
My initial thought was: “God damn it. This stupid satellite.” I ate another spoon of oatmeal when suddenly my brain started working. I finished reading 1984 a couple weeks ago and it was probably because of the book that I started thinking about it. This has happened multiple times over the past couple weeks and it has only ever been at interesting times because I remember always wanting to know what people would say the second it blacked out.
Then I thought some more. Yesterday an interview aired where Mr. Xi only answered one very vague question at a press conference before the TV again blacked out.

Immediately my heart started pumping very quickly. It’s censorship! BBC is really being censored!

I thought it was absolutely crazy. I am aware that youtube, facebook and google don’t work. That stuff is the obvious censorship. The one you know about and start to live with in your everyday life. You start to accept it. However, the subtle stuff like some agency disturbing the news broad cast and blacking out the sensitive stuff is mind blowing to me.It felt like I had caught the censorship office trying to sneak into my daily life. 

By the way. I couldn’t post any of these things is it wouldn’t be for a working VPN and it has been hard to find one that works well. In my experience it is becoming stricter.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

The Tiny Japanese Restaurant in the Alley

Guangzhou is big. Let me rephrase: Guangzhou is absolutely insane. The city is huge and there are high risers after high risers after high risers for about as far as the eye can see 360 degrees from the top of the largest building in Guangzhou. (I have been there and actually starred in fascination into the distance).
Where I am from the “city” looks a bit different. There is one building that could be considered a high riser and than there are a lot of quaint buildings that make you say … aw… cute… but not here. The city hits you in the face.

Actually when I finally got to my tiny hotel room late at night after my journey from Europe to Guangzhou I put down my bags, looked outside the window and started crying. People do not talk a lot about how hard it is to come to China. (This being my fifth time I returned to China) I was alone. Completely alone. I literally did not know a single person in this city of 12 million. What on earth was I doing here? Why on earth did I study Asian studies? Why does everything have to be so difficult with me?!
I breathed. A lot. Put on my work out clothing and was determined to hit the gym. I got to the gym only to see that it was closed. So I returned to my room, took a shower and went outside for a walk.

Honestly, that is my secret weapon whenever I am overwhelmed with my own life decisions. I walk. It does amazing things and in this case it made me face this city and just explore the area around my hotel. It was right in the middle of Zhujiang New Town so not bad at all.
This continued for a couple nights and every night I dared to walk down smaller and smaller roads and allies. One night after I was chatting to a woman outside her real estate office I decided to take a different route back home and walked down a dimly lit road behind my hotel. When suddenly: A tiny wooden sliding door. I look up: A sign of some sorts. I could make out that it was a Japanese restaurant and it looked awesome. I couldn’t see inside from the outside but it still looked amazing. I decided to return the next night to eat there. (When you have to eat by yourself these places are a blessing)

Yuki is standing in the entrance

So the next night I walked back down the alley and stopped in front of the wooden door. I pushed it to the side and entered. It was a small restaurant. Along the wall to my left was a big long shelf with manga magazines and dozens if not hundreds of bottles. To my right was a small bar with three stools and in the back were two tables. On the left side were three entrances to three individual private dining rooms. I immediately was in love and sat down at the bar. The manager came by and introduced herself as Yuki. I introduced myself and ordered a bowl of ramen. I looked around and all costumers were Japanese men. Interesting. Yuki and I started chatting and it quickly became clear that I would return again soon. Even better: We became friends almost instantly. The ramen was insane and it was determined that I would return again the next night.

I actually returned five times in a row and got to know all the other loyal costumers. The Japanese community is very tight in Guangzhou and it seemed like everyone knew each other. I handed out my business cards and everyone wanted to drink with me.

Yuki and me are good friends now. Her Japanese costumers and friends have taken me out to dinner (three restaurants in one night), I arm wrestled with them, drank copious amounts of alcohol, and was introduced to the Japanese magic pills which get rid of the hangover the next day.

I learned that the Japanese generally work insanely long hours and still manage to maintain a very lively drinking culture almost every single night of the week. Some of the men I have never seen sober.

But that is not the point. The point is that I am so incredibly thankful that they invited me with open arms into their world without a single hesitation. I was welcomed to sit at tables with company bosses, bottles of whiskey were purchased for me, food was ordered and business cards were exchanged. Something like this would truly be unimaginable in my hometown. (Or at least I have never experienced or heard of it.)

This restaurant (of which I still don’t know the name of by the way…. I think its something with a horse) is a huge reason why I feel so much at home in this city and it goes to show that within the vast sea of high risers lie communities that are more welcoming and open to complete strangers than in my quaint and cute home town.

The Woman with the Fish

Some things can only happen in China and this was one of these moments. Maybe one of my top 10 experiences in China.

Let me preface this by telling you a bit about my office building. I work on the eleventh floor in a pretty large building for this area, which is in old Guangzhou (Yuexiu). Next to my office is Levi Strauss and there are numerous other pretty big trading and fashion companies in this building. I work way at the end of the hallway and there is only one more office further away from the elevator. So all in all I would give this office building a pretty reputable ranking.

So two days ago around 4pm I was standing in the hallway outside my company’s office talking to my doctor in Switzerland on the phone about a possible Khmer inhabitant of my stomach. (Who is still surprised about me having stomach problems in Asia? Not me!) Anyway, I am in the middle of telling him about my symptoms when suddenly an elderly woman turns the corner and is quickly approaching me with her hands held right in front of her and in her hands was a huge fish. As I was trying to figure out how in the world I was supposed to simultaneously keep a serious voice while explaining to my doctor my symptoms and get out of the determined woman’s way the fish suddenly came to live. It was alive! This woman had carried a live fish into the office building, had managed to push the elevator button, took the elevator to the 11th floor and walked down the hallway, with a live fish in her BARE hands. (I have no clue why she didn’t just put the fish in a plastic bag or choose one of the million other better ways to transport a fish)
As the fish flapped it fell out of her hands directly on to the nasty carpet in the hallway. The woman picked it back up as if dropping her wallet and passed me while I was pressed against the wall mortified that I would be its next victim.
At this point I could not take it anymore and had to leave in order to conduct the conversation on my phone. I have no idea where this woman went, but that moment was simply amazing.

My only regret is that Louis C. K. wasn’t there for it, because only he could retell the story with the respect it deserves. 

Friday, October 9, 2015

Yuki and me 

Dinner at a Sichuan Restaurant


The one time I took line 3 to get to the airport

Sunset in Kep, Cambodia

Hello from Guangzhou!

I know it has been quite some time, but I finally managed to get my internet working on my computer and I am now subscribed to three different VPNs so I should definitely be able to access this website no matter how tough the Great Chinese Firewall is.

Here is a quick Q & A that I am having with myself trying to anticipate some of the questions you might have:

Hey, Theresa how is Guangzhou treating you:

Actually it is pretty awesome! Guangzhou is a great city so far and I have already settled in well. I have to say I prepared for the worst having seen some of the other mega cities in China, but I am pleasantly surprised. Now, that doesn’t mean that Guangzhou is not an insane mega city. It most definitely is. My commute is crazy, the buildings are huuuuuge and it takes a good minute to walk across a main road (which makes it at least six lanes wide). However, contrary to Shenzhen the city has a good vibe to it. People work extremely hard during the week (that’s including yours truly), but they relax on the weekends and go out for tea, dim sum, or drinking. It’s great!

So how is your work?

It is amazing! I get to basically do what I did in college: Research! Except this time it’s being applied in the real world and I might actually make some sales. I have long working hours and usually leave home by 7.20 and get home around 7. However, I honestly do not care. My job is great and I am excited to go to work in the morning. My coworkers are super nice and I think they like me. So that is great.
I feel like the company is actually caring about me despite the fact that I have only worked here for about a month. I get my own projects and in a week I fly to Shanghai to get training on a product I feel extremely passionate about. So all in all I would give these past few weeks a solid 9 out of 10

Have you made any friends outside of work?

I have! When I move across the world I generally try to talk to every person that seems interested to learn more about me. I have already befriended some great people on a pub crawl and became friends with the manager of a tiny Japanese restaurant, which I consider my go to restaurant no matter what. (Don’t worry I will most likely write about it soon). I have been already invited to dinner by a lot of people and have been able to meet people from all different kinds of backgrounds. For example: One chemical engineer from Mongolia who works for Exxon and one classical string musician working as a music teacher in a private school in China. The spectrum of people here is so big!

How is your stomach?

It’s pretty good, but I honestly have only been eating good food. I have two minor incidents, but I knew something was fishy as soon as I entered the restaurants. But now everything is okay. The food here is good and the quality is good as well. I have a kitchen and will soon start cooking hopefully. There is a foreign food store close to me and they sell all sorts of Western food.

What do you eat on a daily basis?

I make myself oatmeal in the morning before I leave for work. There is a starbucks on my way to work and I sometimes pick up a muffin and coffee, but I am more often than not trying not to.
For lunch I usually eat in my office building. They have a kitchen and serve pretty good food for very cheap. That includes a bowl of rice, green veggies and two dishes of your choice from a daily selection.
For dinner I usually go to some place around where I live with is Zhujiang New Town or the central business district. So there are a lot of options. I go to Yuki’s Japanese restaurant a lot for a bowl of ramen. All in all I am spending almost no money on food. My lunch costs usually around 2 dollars and dinner at Yukis place will cost me around 8 dollars. So …. Not that much at all.  

How is the dog meat?

Funny joke.

And how is your health in general?

Pretty good. I have sinus problems, but I think that is just the adjustment phase to this incredibly humid environment. The air is pretty good, so no reason to complain about that.

How is the weather?

Oh the weather…. Its great now. Around 28 degrees I would say. Mostly cloudy. (8 out of 10 days would be my estimate)

How is the commute?

Pretty intense but exhilarating! I am in the middle of a wave of Chinese people pressed into a metro for 40 minutes. It sounds like it sucks, but its pretty fascinating in its own way. I commute around two hours a day, but I have coworkers who are on the road for four hours (that’s public transportation) so again, I can’t complain.
Also I can get off at pretty good stops and I don’t ever need to set foot in the Line 3 subway which is a whole  other story. Where I get off and on the train there are a lot of people, but its all manageable. I learned quite quickly that the public transportation where I come form is NOT the norm. (I knew that before of course as well)

Sounds like the adjustments are going great!

It really is nice to have a good job with an amazing boss. China is never an easy country to adjust to, but I have to say I was expecting worse. I am not saying I was not overwhelmed. I definitely was contemplating my life decisions when I first got here, but now its all good. Guangzhou can most definitely be overwhelming when you look at the big picture, but what you find in the small streets is absolutely amazing.