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.

It is not the most wonderful time of the year

The holiday season has arrived. Christmas trees are all up, Christmas hats are on heads and ginger is in all foods. Not to put a damper on the whole atmosphere, but these are not the most fun times to be in China.

There are many holidays in China, mostly based on the moon calendar. They also often involve gods, family and almost always food. But Christmas and New Year’s are not included among those traditionally. That means the Chinese have a different perception of this time of year than most Western countries.

Discounts, shopping and food. Those are the most important ingredients for Christmas over here. It is that time of year when all those faded decorations that are there all year long suddenly make sense. The time when all employees are obliged to wear a Christmas accessory on their uniforms, which makes their poor service only stand out even more.

To make matters worse, for many students the exam season is often around Christmas. I remember studying here in 2012 and having the joy of getting delicious food pictures sent by my family while making exams. Although there is of course no shortage of delicious food in this part of the world.

All in all, December is already a bit depressing and the commercial and artificial atmosphere do not make it better. To cap it off, New Year’s is always a disappointment since no one cares at all. Oh well, in any case we get a second new year in February to catch up on all the festivities.

Sweeping the nation

Fall has arrived in Shanghai. Or rather, it has been below 20 degrees the past few weeks, a couple of times under 10 and generally around 15. Most importantly, the weather has turned the leaves a different color. Preferably yellow, but mostly brown.

I just did a search to make sure I had not written about this yet. Leaves are a big deal in China, and larger parts of Asia (and according to an American I met, apparently also in some Western places). Meaning in this case that it is important enough to generate its own terms. Looking at them in this case. I remember when learning the words “looking at red leaves” in Chinese, everyone in class was quite giggly about it. Is this something we have to learn? Is this actually an activity people say they are going to do during the weekend?

Well, yes it turns out to be that way. Although, to be fair I do not think I have ever heard anyone actually say they are going to ‘look at red leaves’ over the weekend. However, there is a “looking at red leaves season” and there are certainly “looking at red leaves places”.

As I read quite recently and fittingly in a column last week, some things are only worth it for the pictures. That is certainly the case with these leaves. Although fall might be a season reminiscent of melancholy and chestnuts the right leaves make for a lasting impression. I think that actually the only time I have Chinese actively sitting on the ground or encouraging one and another to do so, is below yellow-leaved Ginko trees, even going so far as to picking them up the ground and throwing them in the air.

While the general public goes crazy for the right-colored leaves, many others do not have such luck. This is also the season where all the not-pretty-enough-leaves are being swept up by the countless people sweeping the streets (hidden unemployment very much). These are the times when it seems that non-biological material only gets swept up if it is in a huge pile of leaves. What would they do with all the leaves they collect? Perhaps they do organize special “looking at leaves events” for these experts. Who knows, it might even make road cleaner become a much more wanted job.