So please help me God

Okay, I am not religious, but a couple of days ago I had an experience which could have easily turned me to God.

I know I live in a bubble, most of us do. We hang out with people we like, who think like we do, because otherwise we would not be able to spend more than 1 hour in 1 room. But at the same time, I try to get a feeling what people are doing outside of my sphere. Oftentimes, it helps to keep me grounded and make me less pedantic. And sometimes I realize people I thought were a thing of the past, are actually still alive and well.

Basically, I live in a rural area and do a bit of circus both in my parents’ backyard as well as in another rural area right across the border in Belgium. So I drive there by car and last time my mom asked me to fill the tank on the way back. I am not a very experienced driver, but I can generally handle the car. Not that much this time.

I missed the first 2 tank stations on the way back, so decided to stop at the next one (third time’s the charm). Even though the previous 2 tank stations were in urban areas, something that is important to remember in my final choice.

So the tank station I did stop at was near a highway, unmanned, with no houses nearby. I parked the car, only to discover that the tank cap was on the other side. With the tank cap on the right side, I remembered I just had to push a button to open it. I pushed a button, got out to check the tank cap, it was still closed. Repeat about 3 times, before I realized I had opened the engine lid.

Having finally opened the tank cap, I filled it up with sweet fuel. Once it was done and all paid for, I got in, put the key in and wanted to turn it. I could not. I tried 10 more times, each time more desperate than the previous one. It did not budge. I got out, checked the engine lid and the tank cap, everything was as it should be. I was highly confused and at the verge of bursting out into tears.

Looking around, the closest house was approximately 20 minutes walking. There was a cafe-looking building, but it was obviously closed. I checked my phone, no credit anymore, so no possibility to either call or access the all-knowing internet.

I got out, walked around the building and discovered it actually housed some people. There was a small terrase with a fence, behind that I could see a sort of dining room with an open slide door and an older couple inside. It was already a bit late, around 22.00, but I still approached them, desperate for some help. I mumbled softly something like “Could you please help me…” while trying to leave the most unscary impression possible. Apparently it did not work.

The first thing the man did, was cross his arms in front of him. I saw the woman nodding her head. I thought I maybe did not see it very clearly, so I lingered, scratched my head and tried to look as innocent as possible. It had the opposite effect. In the end, the man stood up and closed the door. I stumbled back to the tank station to see if anyone had turned up. Nobody was there.

In a last act of desperation, I still went back to the house side of the building and tried to look as pleading as possible in the dark. I saw with my very own eyes, the man and then the woman slowly get up and walk out of the room.

I do not know how exactly I would act if someone randomly showed up at my door for help. I am not a saint or anything, I often decline to give people money if I feel it is not going to something worthwhile. At the same time, it baffled me that these people existed. That you can be so dedicated to not wanting to help or be involved in anything unknown.

In the end, I was luckily saved by 2 very friendly Belgians, who were also amazed at the fact that I still remembered 2 phone numbers by heart, and I was able to return home without much of a problem afterwards.

Home sweet home.

Taking a shot at my retirement hobbies

The past months were quiet, literally and figuratively. While looking for a new job and being in the second lockdown since the beginning of this year, I had a lot of free time and not many places to go to. So like all of the other, seemingly hypermotivated people, I took a shot at some new hobbies.

Yes, I went the full self-development route, doing some music (or impersonating a steamboat as my neighbors called it), trying to do some online courses (with motivation increasingly lacking) and following YT tutorials on things I had always wanted to do (super-basic photo editing skills, check). But what struck me in the end, was the fact that so many things I did required a laptop and looking at a screen constantly. Something I did for hours when I was still working and also during my lockdown in China.

So I wanted to do something else. I am not much of a handicraft person, beyond the occasional origami, and feel a lot of things you make end up just cluttering your house. I have a prime example in my family who does ceramics, sewing, jewelry, painting and drawing. Still, after doing a sort of deep clean of all my stuff (goodbye 2014 instant noodles), I felt I had a bit of room to add new things.

It ended up being macrame. The rope knitting stuff that I remember from my youth as being something the elderly had in abundance.

Truth be told, once I wanted to start on some projects with basic knots, I made an unfortunate discovery. 75% of what I saw being made, I really found ugly. The standard boho/hippie look that is not my jam at all. I am all about clean and graphic work, without fringes or beads.

Nonetheless, I found it quite easy to learn most knots and I made some plant hangers. For a fake plant, because I do not have any wish to grow any plants. And although my back hurt a couple of times because I was so bent over my project, it was nice to work on something tangible and use it as well.

So I am all set for my elderly life of leisure now. I just need to hang on for like 40 more years.

It is all about them young’uns

Among all the changes and developments that happened recently, I could not imagine my 30th birthday would be really quiet and memorable at the same time. As it goes when you ‘hit a new milestone’ in life, a lot of people asked about my feelings. I like to think I must have at least defied expectations a little bit when I replied that I actually somewhat looked forward to it.

Especially in China, everyone looks a lot younger then they often are. I feel a lot of parents look way too young to be walking around with kids of their own. And it gets tricky when seeing older women to determine if they are a mother or grandmother already. Besides whitening, I think most people are very focused on staying youthful. Perhaps because of the polluted air, the fact that all photos (including official passport photos) get retouched or the ubiquity of plastic surgery commercials, there are many ways to be reminded of the fleetingness of your youth.

To be honest, when I see images of very old people (85 and over in my opinion) they do not seem really attractive or anything. At the same time, I imagine it must be nice to sort of leave all of the pressures of looks and appearances behind (provided you are not a celebrity).

Furthermore, looking at some of the other older people around me, especially now that I do not see that many people around my age due to quarantine anymore, I fully admire their peace with most things in life (except for the cleanliness of the place they live). For Chinese elderly, there is an added feat of general fitness that I also hope to keep up in my old age.

Having become 30, I already feel more comfortable in some ways with life and myself than the past 5 years. At the same time, though life passes really quickly (now especially), I feel I still have so many years to go (without too many real problems hopefully) before I will enter my ‘full retirement’. Well, for now I can already enjoy having that status for any future kids and teens I will meet. A good way to already get used to the idea at least.

Old-school communication methods

Once in a while, when birthdays come up or the holidays, I think to myself: I should really write some cards and letters. I toy with this thought for too long to send it before the right occasion and then let it simmer for a while. Then, I am suddenly hit by a wave of motivation and start writing letters, folding origami, making use of all the paper I had bought for this purpose. But then I need to find the addresses, go to the post office to actually send it and then wait in agony for happy messages from my friends to old news. And oftentimes, I will send it 3 months after the first time I wrote the card or letter, so I add an addendum.

All in all, it is quite clear I like the idea of writing letters and cards more than actually doing it. At the same time, I do really enjoy the process, and especially in China and Asian countries there is a plethora of cute cards, stickers and letter paper to choose from.

I remember that before I went to China, I looked for letter paper in the Netherlands. When I was younger and pen friends were still a thing, there was a lot to choose from. Not anymore in like 2014. I held onto the few pieces of paper I had like they were treasures.

Then I moved to China, traveled to Japan, Taiwan and South-Korea and was overwhelmed by the choices available. I stocked up enough origami paper to last me 10 years, spent hours in stationery stores picking and choosing paper, bought packages of cute cards to send out.

I am now slowly making my way to actually using up all that stuff I bought at a whim. Once I put my mind to it and sent it all out, it is quite fulfilling. Even writing the stuff and reading back what I wrote if I am adding a letter is kind of fun. And it is basically the only reason I have to write Chinese by hand.

So anyway, I probably would not thrive in the real analog era, but pretending to be a ‘real’ writer from time to time works out fine.

She still got it – cooking and baking again

No joke, I told most of my friends that my mother watched me with astonishment as I still managed to cook several (edible) dishes after not cooking regularly for almost 5 years.

That is not to say I severely dislike cooking and baking, but I just did not do a whole lot of it while in China. I think many can agree with the fact that food is almost too easy to get in most parts of Asia. Under most circumstances you can get it wherever you are at whatever time and in large quantities at a (relatively) low price.

Naturally, I made full use of that environment while I lived in China. I ate out more than I ordered online, but my kitchens were heavily unused. For the first 3 years in China, I can probably count the amount of times I cooked myself on 2 hands. Part was that I had a cat in Beijing who was a: curious and b: hairy so not an ideal environment. Although I had basically all the equipment I needed, it still was a lot less than I was used to in the Netherlands. All this resulted in gas fees that were less than 10 RMB (less than 2 euro) a year.

In Shanghai, I did cook for a few months more regularly. But that changed after I found out there were mice in my building and in my kitchen cabinets as well. Consequently, instead of being a fridge, this became my sealed-off cupboard for any food products that I could still have at home. Mainly instant noodles and snacks.

However, I not only have loads of time now, but also a fully equipped kitchen to my disposal. Additionally, I think the choice for ordering online where I am now is very limited. We only have a McDonalds and a few local restaurants. I have had enough Big Macs that that is not the first thing I am missing now.

So instead, I have been cooking and baking lots. I think we have about 3 kinds of pies in our freezer at any time now, I folded dumplings, wonton and spring rolls in the past weeks, as well as preparing dinner regularly or helping out. Although there is something to say for the convenience of not needing to cook yourself, I am rediscovering a certain joy in making something and directly getting the result. I am not aiming to make very complicated things, but it is fun to experiment a bit and make some things I have never made or thought about making before.

Since we cannot get any people over during these times, cooking more means eating more as well. Honestly, it is a win-win situation.

Losing your way around

A few weeks ago, when I was still allowed to walk around freely, I found myself in an unfamiliar city with some time to kill. I knew the fastest way to walk from my current spot to the train station, but decided against it since it was nice weather and I would not have anything to do at the train station anyway. So taking my time, I strolled through some typical Dutch neighborhoods and made a detour to the old city center as well, making sure not to stray too far from my goal. It worked out well.

I tend to do this quite often, but realized that the reason it went well, is because I did it in a relatively small city (the Netherlands is small after all). When I lived in Beijing and Shanghai, I sometimes did the same. I would be done with work or returning from my sports studio and wanting to make life a bit more exciting, decide to do a detour.

The good thing about biking, is that you can more easily go further distances, even if your route turns out to be a bit longer than expected. The bad thing about biking is that I tend to do it at high-speed, which means I need to cover more distance if I take a wrong turn.

And the other disadvantage of big Chinese cities, is that many spots tend to look very much alike. Those cute hutongs and charming alleys? Very nice to wander for a while, but once you decide you want to now go straight home, it may not be that straight. The big boulevards and ring roads? There are so many of them, and most of them are dotted with similarly huge shopping centers and government buildings. You only end up knowing if you went wrong, once you notice the name of a subway stop which you did not expect to see at all. Which is not be close to where you need to be at all.

So that is how I spent a lot of time in China, lost on a bike. It will probably continue once I move to a bigger city here again. Something else to look forward to I guess.

We are family~

So right now I am living the #familylife. Not that I have a husband and child of my own (even though all Chinese insisted I really needed to have one in the past few years) but I am back to basics. Living in with my parents again to be precise.

It’s special times and those mean special situations. Having moved back with my parents (right before I am turning 30) makes me slightly concerned, but at the same time it seems to be the perfect time to do so. A few days ago, my mom literally said: “You are now living the life you wanted to live when you were going to university.” I would have liked to stay with my parents longer when I was younger, but needed to move out for my studies. Guess I am able to catch up now.

The main thing about living with my parents, is that it is very different from how I know many Chinese arrange it. I cook myself (my mom being amazed all the time that I can still do it even with all those years of eating out), fold laundry, organize our pantries and I can even make money by doing some chores (throwback to 16-year old me).

As I have heard and seen from situations where my Chinese friends live together with their parents, it is the kind of situation that would drive me crazy. Parents who clean up after you, cook for you, fold your laundry, worry all the time about of for you and have their own private places.

I understand the ideas behind it, you are there for each other and want to make each other happy, but I am very glad that I can live together with my parents in our own way. We all have our own spot in the house, but these are interchangeable (my dad complained that his computer seat was too low all the time because I am sitting behind his desk) and we cooperate pretty nicely for the cleaning, cooking and other chores.

It is kind of like those great roommates that you see in tv series. They fully understand me, but we all have our own lives. I could join their hobbies (sports and chopping wood), ask them for advice and discuss how the world’s going down right now. Furthermore, they do have a fabulous house (if I may say so myself) and I do not pay any rent.

So if this is what it is going to be, I would almost rethink moving out. Almost.

10 thoughts everyone has during the coronavirus apocalypse

It has started, everyone is inside, afraid that her or his last day has arrived. So you have locked yourself in, and your mind is racing. This is probably your thought process.

  1. I am going to die.
  2. Okay, I am probably not going to die. But I should definitely leave. I cannot be quarantining myself for weeks inside!
  3. Let us be honest, I need to work and be pragmatic. Wait and see. Cultivate some patience, one of my new year’s resolutions.
  4. I have so much time now, I should do that online course, read some books, do some baking. Let me take a look where I put all that stuff.
  5. I do not want to do any of this.
  6. How about learning something new? Let me google ‘finger crocheting’.
  7. I need to get out. Who among my friends will be most likely to also not worry about this epidemic?
  8. My high school classmate that I didn’t talk for years to asked me if I am doing well. Do they expect me to say “no”?
  9. Again a news update on the number of deaths. Anytime now my parents and relatives will start bombarding me.
  10. Turns out being in the eye of the storm is pretty damn boring.

At least we can rest assured that we are all in this together. Except for the ones who will catch the virus of course. Stay healthy and happy everyone!

Various exercises in self-control

In general, I view myself as a pretty disciplined person. I exercise regularly, am able to just take 1 candy out of a bag and tend to come on time. But I realize that especially in China, the exercises in self-control come in great numbers.

Summer is here, and surprisingly it is not even “just-let-me-die-already-hot”. I keep repeating this to every person I talk to, we definitely have a reverse climate change on this side of the globe now. Of course, summer preparations tend to call for self-discipline. Bikini bodies, tanning sessions and pool parties do not go in moderation, but the preparation for those do.

There do not tend to be a whole lot of bikinis and pool parties in the center of Shanghai. What there are a whole lot of in the city, are mosquitoes. And not only in the evening, like I was used to when younger, but all the time and everywhere.

At the office, at the gym, at cafes, restaurants and of course outside. Unless you constantly douse yourself in mosquito spray, you will get bitten. Add to that the fact that my blood is ‘sweet’ (to compensate for my sour personality no doubt) and I attract mosquitoes anywhere. Furthermore, I am also too lazy to want to heavily smell like citronella all the time, so I just get bitten. A lot.

There are definitely different kinds of mosquitoes or bugs buzzing around, because luckily most bites disappear in a few hours or 1 day. But that unfortunately does not lessen the fact that I itch a lot, in inconvenient places. My toes, my fingers, heels, shins, hips, neck, basically anywhere that you can think of gets bitten. Even with clothes on. Or in the rain.

Even if I would not bite my nails, which I still do from time to time, I would not have enough fingers and nails to continually scratch my whole body (and I could not do anything either during that time as well then). So this is my highest form of self-discipline that I employ: no scratching.

It sets me and my legs apart from the other Chinese who generally have very spotted legs because of all the mosquito bites they (presumably) scratch open. Yes, I accept disciples.

Why watching TV shows is tiring

So I was staying at a friend’s place for a week while visiting Beijing. She has her TV linked up with the Youku (local YouTube) app, which means she can stream anything that is on there on her TV.

My own TV mainly functions as a washing/clothing rack and card stand, so it was nice to actually watch something on it. I always aim or have the intention to watch more TV or TV shows, yes the stuff that all kids dream about, because listening more to Chinese people talking never hurts.

There is only 1 problem that I established early on: TV shows wear me out.

I remember watching TV shows when I was younger and getting increasingly frustrated and irritated by them as I watched them more regularly. The way that everything is drawn out, the staging of certain emotions and the second-hand embarrassment of some things that are being said. These points all play out the same when I watch a Chinese TV show.

Sure, I pick up some new words or neat way to say things. But the texts are equally overwrought, the acting as overdone and the cliches largely the same. Moreover, Chinese TV shows, especially those involving competition, always emphasize the humility of their participants. They have superhuman discipline, need to hammer down that they had a lot of help getting where they are now and how proud they are of being Chinese.

This is to say that for me, watching a TV show is almost equally unattractive as just regular studying. I remember being on exchange in China and once having the chance to be audience member to a, to be honest, quite boring TV program.

I almost fell asleep. Literally.

I never watched that show, obviously.