Nothing to be done pt. 2

“Well,” I said to him “I am only renting this place so I will talk to the housing agency and let them get back to you.”

The guy stared at me blankly and replied gruffly: “Who are you renting this from?” I told him my agency’s name and he gave no sign of recognition at all. “Give me your landlord’s number, I will contact him directly.”

At this point I started to get a bit fed up with him. Mind you, it was not even 7.30 and I still had no leaking problem in my house. I think we went through multiple forms of the conversation above in the next 10 minutes, until I finally convinced him to leave his phone number so I could reach him.

I mentioned that things can move quick in China, and surely I had a repair guy ordered through the housing agency’s app by the next evening. However, when he came I of course had no problem at my side. After checking if the downstairs neighbors were at home, of course not, I called the management guy a few times. Finally he picked up and my repair guy talked to him in the same Shanghainese-tinted Mandarin about the matter.

“Your pipe from the washing machine is too small, it needs to be changed.” He asked if it would fit in my bathroom, which I assured him would be impossible unless I wanted not to take any showers or not go to the toilet anymore. He took a look at my kitchen to see if it would fit there and decided the plumbing was too weak and again there was not enough room. Finally, he looked outside my window in a pensive matter, took a couple of photos which he would send to the agency and left.

This situation as described in the above paragraph then happened at least 3 more times. I had multiple guys visiting me, not nearly as excited as it sounds of course, and all of them made pictures, told me the pipe needed to be changed, asked if it would fit in my bathroom or kitchen and then left without actually doing anything. I almost started to wish I would have become a repairwoman if I could do my work in this way.

And then the weekend came  around. I needed to do my laundry.

Nothing to be done pt. 1

*BOOM BOOM BOOM*

I took a look at my phone. It was 6:50. Also, my alarm did not sound like a cannon. I tried to picture myself sleeping and dreaming that sound, but it was a little bit too real.

*BOOM BOOM BOOM*

“Hello anybwody hwome? Wopen de doowr!”

Note: this is not too make the person sound drunk, rather it was quite a heavy Shanghainese accent and I was not being very diligent in my listening.

Why was this person so confident that people are happy to open their doors at 6:50 for strangers? Now it happens to be that the walls in my building are very thin. Not that I actually know my neighbors (they were lighting up a fire in the hallway a few days ago. It did not make me want to befriend them more), but I was still a bit concerned that this might go on for too long to be comfortable.

So i put on some clothes, slowly got out of bed and opened the door. A 50/60-year old man, of about my height (1.60 cm) looked me suspiciously in the eyes. “Something is leaking.” he said bluntly. Or, to be fair he might have said a bit more, but that was lost on me. I looked back quite dumbfounded, as there was not anything leaking in my house for the past month.

He barged through the door, walked to the balcony where my washing machine was and looked out of the window. “Here” he said, “You need to move this washing machine.” Now I am quite a strong and healthy person, but I am not too confident in my washing machine-moving skills. Nor was I quite sure why this guy, who certainly did not look very professional, would be the right person to tell me so. “I am the management of this building, your washing machine is causing a leak further downstairs.”

The good thing about China is that times are very flexible. You can eat at any hour of the day, go to the bank in the weekend (or more like spend the weekend there) and arrange a housing tour on the same day. Truly, I think this was the first time I found that this timing was working against me.

So naturally I did something quite logical. Of course I should not have.

You have a funny sense of humor

Truly, how many times do we say that we like or do not like someone because of her or his humor? Certainly, there are those among my friends and other people I know with whom I share my jokes or do not. And then there are of course those who just laugh about anything anyway (you know who you are!).

But to be honest, humor is something that is really culturally specific. I have often said things in an ironic or sarcastic manner, such as “Why would it be that way, huh?” or “We know what they are doing with that…” Having an honest answer or receiving honest questions to these rhetoric sayings always puts me off a little.

At the same time, I have watched some Chinese television where I either find most jokes not funny or plainly do not understand. The last situation expecially occur when it is traditional Chinese cabaret (相声) or something related to traditional opera etc. I have literally watched twenty minutes of this programme where whole comedy troupes compete, are allegedly very funny, but it does not really come across.

A thing that is quite funny, are Chinese puns. I was going on a trip with some friends recently and saw a Chinese shop called 非常稻, the English translation being Very Rice. Where the English version is literally a wordplay, the Chinese spoke a bit deeper to me. It reminded me of the first sentences of the Daodejing, the sacred text of Daoism. This sentence in Chinese is道可道非常道, which in a way can be translated as “The Way that can be expressed is not the everlasting way.” Although this does not have a direct link to rice bowls (which is really what the restaurant sold), it is still quite clever.

This different use of the first sentence of the Daodejing also reminds me of a short play I did while in university. But that is something to be told another time.

This is sick!

Actually, in Dutch we can also use the word ‘sick’ as a positive adverb. Once you are sick, it feels quite illogical to use it in that sense.

For me, being sick abroad is almost my second nature. I must have seen almost as many doctors and hospitals in my country as I have abroad. I must emphasize that in the Netherlands, going to the doctor or hospital is taken up as a more drastic measure. if you have a cold, the flu, or are just not feeling well, we might go to the GP but normally we just suck it up and huddle up in a blanket. As a consequence, most of our conversations about feeling sick are relatively low-profile. ‘I am not feeling very well.’ ‘Something’s been in the air lately so I think I caught that too.’ ‘My whole body feels listless, I need a good rest.’

In China, that is quite different. On the one hand, the chances of having food poisoning and/or diarrhea are much larger here. Therefore, you might just hear somebody say very casually: ‘That hotpot did not go well, I had diarrhea for 3 days.’ The dutch, not the most prudish but still, would feel a bit uncomfortable directly stating that in a casual conversation. The same goes for constipation.

Another difference, is the amount of medicine. I now happen to have a cough and a cold which has already kept me in the cough-sneeze-breathe state for almost a week. Almost all Chinese will ask me if I have taken any medicine, and if so Chinese or Western medicine. In the Netherlands, we almost tend to pride ourselves on our ‘toughness’ and ability to bear sicknesses without any medicines.

I do have a feeling in China apothecaries and/or doctors still receive commission over medicines. I recently was in the hospital for someone else who had a hole in his head and he received four different medicines for the next 4 or 5 days. It seemed like a bit of overkill. I had the same when I had ‘a simple’ pharyngitis and also received about 5 different medicines.

However, sticking to my Dutch roots and trying to survive on as less medicines as possible is also quite a challenge. But who does not like a challenge?

Biking Battles: Work never seemed so far away

So you accept your role as prey and see if you need to call on your other bunny friends. After putting down the foot on the pedal, you decide to go for it and join your fellow friends.

The start is a wide road, separated from the main car road. So it should be easy cruising through the sun (when it is there), however in reality it only means that you need to pay more attention to the cars trying to sneak into your biking lane. They are not even being sneaky. Acting like the predators they are (see The jungle road) they push you away while giving you the side eye to make sure you do not even touch their precious skin.

Furthermore, it is not entirely clear to you how much brain power bunnies have, but there are enough moments where it seems very low, yours included. The amount of curves you made along the road and scares you had by suddenly having scooters, cars or even buses making some or a lot of noise because of your maneuvers would make any normal person question your sanity. But adaptability is the highest means the ones lower down the pyramid have to make it, so you go along of course.

And then suddenly you have trees, shade and absolutely nothing else changes. The largest difference it makes is that you can play hide and seek with your opponents and startle innocent pedestrians. A real obstacle are the bus stops on the side. The people getting off seem like real mice crawling around, seemingly walking deliberately in front of your bike or freezing at your first sight. After toying with them for a bit, you decide to go for the last stretch.

It is a bridge. With two roads that need to be crossed, way too many traffic lights and very little patience. Whenever you see the chance, you just hop in between everything. This means paying most or your attention to where vehicles come from, not the stupid lights. You especially need to be careful when going against the (traffic) flow since everyone always seems to act as if this is a rarity. And if worse comes to worse and you need to cross the road without the traffic lights, just inch forward and try to look the drivers behind their wheels in the eye. You are one tough bunny!

You manage all that, and you will arrive at the oasis. Green everywhere, people fishing, cars slightly following the rules (since the military is watching or acting like they are) and silence. Oh and then you need to go to work. Nothing is perfect after all.

Biking battles: The jungle road

So before moving onto the long road, let us take a look at what kind of people are most often encountered on the Chinese roads. A comparison with the jungle is not strange, you have for example the predators:

  • The king of the jungle: Trucks, buses and any other vehicles which are heavy, large and intimidating. They cruise along, sometimes with people furiously shouting and/or honking but almost never stopping. They can suddenly lash out with their legs and doors, just to spite you. You know you should not challenge them too much. They have teeth and they bite. Although eating and hitting innocent people is still illegal of course…
  • Cheetahs: Very fast, lean and mean cars. Except, they belong on the Savannah or the open road. Not the clogged streets of Beijing. They roar loudly to let you know that they are dangerous, but barking dogs do not bite. Unless of course they suddenly have a precious piece of open road in front of them. Oh and you should not touch them. One scratch and you are gone.
  • Hyena’s: They are lagging behind, dealing with the leftovers. They are in great, huge numbers. Diverse, irritating and only slightly frightening. They are the ones tuktuks, scooters, bikers and even pedestrians dare to defy. When they hit, of course they hit hard. But as long as you stay out of reach…

So what about the prey?

  • Birds: You can go very fast, if you want to. You can almost manage to squeeze in between everything and anything. But just like some birds cannot fly, these birds often choose not to fly. Just carry on their daily business as they go excruciatingly slow and even slalom along the road while doing their best not to die multitasking. They do make a lot of noise however, whether they are moving or not. Would be nice if the sounds were as nice as birds’ twitter or songs.
  • Rabbits: They are quite harmless and with a growing number. They are usually a group of cyclists, some really put their foot down making noise, others are less brave and just sway from side to side. When they want to, speed is made and a lot of road covered. However, they are also quite single-minded. Just getting ahead already costs a lot of effort, so often following the rules or watching out are optional tasks.
  • Mice: When they are in a group, they have a lot of power. They can basically cross roads whenever they want, however they want. But if they move by themselves, they are the lowest on the foodchain. Literally everyone speeds past them and they are the first ones to take a hit. It also helps that they do not make it easy for themselves by being easily distracted by either eating, looking on their phone or checking their hair in the mirror.

In other words, the road to work is long, hard and dangerous. How to manage?

Biking battles: The origin

“Let me bike to work today.” Quite an innocent thought, if you might say so yourself. So you pack your stuff, glance outside to make sure it is not raining and go out.

At the bicycle parking lot of your compound you look for a while for your bike. It is black and, like most others, rusty and old so it does not stand out too much. It takes you a while to find it, because you realize the community workers moved things around again. To have a large space in the front of the lot to put nothing. Probably for a higher purpose, or to perform some rituals. Things happen for a reason right?

Nevertheless, you get on your bicycle and bike away with a speed which makes the security guard pause and stare in his morning talks. Your compound is quite old and although they often renovate the roads, the fact that people people do not care and keep walking makes sure that the road stays in the same state.

After having crossed that first hurdle, you enter the main road. Here, the real fun starts of course. The traffic lights designate the invisible race that is taking place here. Bikes, steps, unicycles and scooters are going ahead, because the buses, cars and trucks have speed and mass to compensate. You are eager to get to work, so after making sure the right lights are red, you cross in one smooth go.

It always amazes you with what kinds of vehicles people enter the road and what they take with them. Lately, carrying bikes on your tricycle or truck seems to be the new trend. And you always have the hilarious look of people on folding bikes with an electric motor on it, does that not defy the purpose of a folding bike?, or the ones who can barely sit on their steps because they are so small and lightweight.

So getting on the road is only the beginning. The road ahead is long and you need to get to work. On time preferably. What to do?

Ik verkies jou!

Ja, het is zover. De Tweede Kamer Verkiezingen vinden vandaag plaats in Nederland. Dit is het moment voor de burgers, om je plicht en recht te vervullen en te gaan stemmen. Okee, behalve als je braaf volgens de procedure je hebt geregistreerd maar niet je stembewijs en biljet hebt gekregen. Dan mág je niet eens je ding doen.

Tot een jaar of 2,3 geleden, was ik maar minimaal geïnteresseerd in de politiek. Ik heb wel in de verkiezingen van 2012 gestemd, relatief strategisch want ik had geen flauw benul waar de PVDA toen voor streed, maar niet de programma’s bestudeerd. Overigens ging het hele politieke speelveld grotendeels aan mij voorbij, nationaal en internationaal.

Nu is dat eigenlijk in deze politiek turbulente tijden vrijwel onmogelijk. Ik keek een tijdje geleden nog een filmpje van Zondag met Lubach terug waarin de draak wordt gestoken hoeveel Nederland met de Amerikaanse verkiezingen bezig was. Eraan terugdenkend, deelde ik ook wel ongeloof en een zekere verontrusting toen de winnaar bekend was. Maarja, Amerika is toch wel een stukje verder weg dan Nederland.

En zo beland je anno 2017 in een situatie waarin je actief politiek gaat volgen. Want ja, erg geruststellend is het allemaal niet natuurlijk. En nee, zelf doe je er niet echt specifiek iets aan onder het mom buitenlands uit te zien, in het buitenland te zijn en niet te kunnen stemmen. Laten we de balans opmaken:

Voordeel:

  1. Je kunt meepraten. “Ja, Geert Wilders is een eikel. Maar hij is wel een van de weinige met een Limburgs accent regelmatig op de televisie, dus er is ook nog voor mij hoop!”
  2. Je hebt het gevoel iets toe te voegen. “Nee ik kan niet helpen. Ik ben politiek bewust onderzoek aan het doen om als zelfredzame burger een geïnformeerde stem uit te brengen.”
  3. Je hebt altijd iets om over te praten. “Ja. Laten we het anders over de verkiezingen hebben.”

Nadeel:

  1. Je hebt het idee dat er veel mensen zijn met radicaal andere ideeën. “Nederland uit de EU? Hoe dan?”
  2. Je ziet overal politici die ergens iets van vinden. “Meer blauw op straat. Blauw is het nieuwe zwart.”
  3. Je wordt ongelukkig van alle extreme discussies en meningsverschillen. “Het is erin of eruit.”

Toch maar goed dat die verkiezingen er dus maar eens in de zoveel jaar zijn. Nederland zou nog eens te spannend worden.

I will have hot water, thank you

Walking to work today (with blue skies and in bright sunlight mind you!) thinking about something quintesstentially Chinese: hot water. Okay, hot water is of course not only limited to China, luckily, but the way they use it here is quite Chinese I would say. They drink it. Without any added flavor. Except perhaps for some other chemicals that are in the water here naturally (or not so naturally).

Anyway, I remember that when I started to drink hot beverages, I would drink tea, but with sugar. Not with milk, I did not like English tea like that. And also no green tea, because it was too bitter. Then, when I was 11 we went to China for the first time. None of us, except for the local guides, could speak Chinese (and I dare say my English was quite spotty then too) so most of the times there was no sugar. Furthermore I discovered that there was often not even tea or any flavor in the pot. Plus the water was boiling hot, so that even a full table of foreigners mostly only finished half a pot of tea.

All this mystery continued for a while, but did not leave me unmoved. Sugar disappeared from my tea routine. Milk entered it in the form of milk (bubble) tea (that is milk powder though, not liquid milk) and scorching temperatures no longer became a match for my tongue and mouth.

So after having ample of experience drinking tea and hot water, I am officially trained. I can mostly drink any water directly after it has been boiled, can drink it with or without a flavor and drink loads of it. This is especially helpful in China since you can get a refill of your tea ad infinitum. I heard my friend complain that the Starbucks in the Netherlands charges 30 cents (eurocents!) for it. Ridiculuous!

The advantage of hot water is that you have a hot drink, which does not have too strong a taste and can neutralize other tastes. Very handy in China where strong flavors reign and the tongue can sometimes get a bit too much coming at it.

Also, Chinese teas have so many varieties and flavors. No bitterness in green tea. It is amazing, the best. Although I am too lazy to cook it at less than boiling temperature. I do remain a foreigner of course.

Li’s lievelingswoorden: Dinges

Nederlands is niet de mooiste taal. Het is mijn moedertaal, de taal waar ik het meeste in thuis ben, maar mooi is het zeker niet. Over talen zoals Frans, Spaans en Italiaans hoef je natuurlijk niet te discussiëren. Pure poëzie rolt daar over de tong, ongeacht wat de inhoud of betekenis van datgene wat gehoord wordt mag zijn.

Toegegeven, ik heb wat meer waardering voor Nederlands hier in het buitenland gekregen. Niets zo leuk dan in een in China vrij onbekende taal te praten, roddelen en becommentariëren. Jammer dat het vaak met Engels wordt verward, omdat veel Chinezen dat ook niet verstaan, maar de gezichtsuitdrukking wanneer taal en daarmee ook mijn nationaliteit worden onthuld is onbetaalbaar (vind meer over deze situaties in het Engels in deze post).

En ja, zodra je meer talen leert besef je des te beter welke woorden ontbreken in het Nederlands. Maar je realiseert je ook dat het Nederlands toch wel woorden heeft die je niet zou willen missen. Daarom hierbij een ode aan een van mijn lievelingswoorden: dinges.

din·ges (de; m,v; meervoud: dingesen)
1 (informeel) naam waarmee je personen of zaken aanduidt waarvan je de naam niet wilt of kunt noemen

Bron: vandale.nl

Misschien heeft het met de klank te maken. Het Engelse equivalent ‘thingy’ klinkt een beetje kinderachtig. Dat dingetje, nee dat is bij lange na niet stevig genoeg om een brede categorie aan te duiden. Misschien heeft het ermee te maken dat een deel van de Nederlandse aanwijswoorden met een d begint: die, deze, dit, dat. Dat allitereert wel mooi. Misschien omdat de vorm vloeibaar is. Je hebt een dinges, gaat dingesen, iets is dinges, de dinges in de dinges dingesen, moderne taalkunst.

Ik gebruik dit woord te pas en onpas, in moeder- en vreemde taal. Zo hebben mijn Chinese, Japanse, Koreaanse, Australische, Franse en Duitse vrienden die ik in China leerde kennen tijdens mijn studie allemaal in meerdere of mindere mate ervaring met dit woord. Het is voor een Nederlands woord ook nog eens best goed uit te spreken door buitenlanders.

In zekere zin zijn dit soort tussenwoorden op een bepaalde manier onbelangrijk en tegelijkertijd heel belangrijk voor een taal. Aan de ene kant heeft het geen invloed op grammatica, uitspraak of schrijfwijze. Maar het laat wel zien dat een taal leeft. Genoeg leeft om dit soort woorden nodig te hebben of dat de gebruikers in ieder geval deze behoefte hebben. En ja, als levende gebruiker van een levende taal dinges ik dus met heel mijn hart.