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.

Wat een weer is het weer

Belangrijke aankondiging: Ongeveer sinds mei 2017, is het vandaag weer eens voor het eerst onder de 20 graden in Peking. De winterjassen mogen weer tevoorschijn komen, de deken kan weer op het bed en poes kan weer een dikke vacht gaan groeien.

Alle gekheid op een stokje, het scheelt wel weer een graad of 10 met de temperatuur van gisteren. Deze stijgingen en dalingen horen bij het leven in Peking (naast de andere ups en downs die je al beleeft). Een van de redenen waarom het meer zin heeft om het weersbericht wat actiever te volgen.

Een andere reden is natuurlijk de luchtkwaliteit. Over het algemeen laat ik me er graag op voorstaan dat het weer me niet zoveel uitmaakt. Warm, koud, droog, nat het is allemaal relatief nietwaar? Maar sinds ik in China ben, volg ik het toch vrij actief. Of er zit in ieder geval wel wat meer urgentie achter de vraag: Wat voor weer is het vandaag?

Nu lijkt de gemiddelde Nederlander toch wel vrij gefocust op het weer. Misschien komt het door het (vermeende) gebrek aan zon dat in (delen van) ons land geldt. Het stereotype dat Nederlanders gelijk naar buiten gaan bij de eerste zonnestralen, is in ieder geval zeker voor een groot deel waarheid.

Uiteraard is het weer in Nederland natuurlijk ontzettend mild. Met een beetje geluk komt daar verandering in als de klimaatverandering een beetje meewerkt, maar vooralsnog zijn het vooral milde winters en zomers, nat het hele jaar door. Daar ben je in Peking mooi vet mee, met behoorlijk koude winters, snikhete zomers, een regenseizoen (dat zich dit jaar goed laat gelden), reguliere windvlagen uit Mongolië en haast non-existente herfsten en lentes.

En dat is dan enkel wat het weer doet, de omgeving past zich daar ook nog op een andere manier op aan. Dik ingepakt in de winter, dik ingepakt in de zomer. Ijskoud in elk overdekt etablissement in de zomer, snikheet in de winter zodat je bijna je zomerkleding weer aan wilt trekken. Kortom, naast het leven, zorgt het weer ook voor genoeg spanning en vermaak.

How to get old really quickly

No, not your Facebook timeline. Nothing happens on there anyway, especially when you are in China.

So, a while ago I had a talk with a friend of mine on relationships, age, marrying children and such a future that many people envision for themselves. We already both agreed it would not happen in our foreseeable future, you can read a previous Dutch post for more on that, but there are of course different views on the course of life. Specifically, in China where many people seem to be 5-10 years younger than they are. So this results in seeing women walking around your age with babies or children of age 4 or even older. And parents who would seem quite old with a little kid, but quite young again when they turn out to be the kid’s grandparents. It was not for nothing that I had the idea you could only become a grandmother or father once you were over 70 years old.

But not only do people tend to get kids a bit earlier here, there is more pressure earlier to get kids too. My friend and I based it off a timeline, in which people’s views change quite quickly and radically within a few years. It basically goes like this:

1.  18-21 years old

You are still young and innocent, studied long and hard to get into your university and need to focus whole-heartedly on your studies. Do not waste your time on such frivolous activities like dating or partying. You are still young. You will find love once you are ripe for it.

2.  22-24 years old

Okay, you are done with university, found a good or otherwise stable job. It is now time to actively think about the next steps. You cannot stay alone for the rest of your life of course. And your parents and family is also not getting younger as years pass by. Find that partner you want to stay with the rest of your life and make your life complete.

3.  25-27 years old

You have worked for a while now and probably saved up quite some money. What are you going to spend it on without spouse and a house? You are missing out and very quickly, your family will be too. Youth is fleeting and your parents’ worries will only increase. Is that what you want them to feel?

4. 28-30 years old

It is too late. You are old and need to settle down as soon as humanly possible. You might have a good job, a fun life and be an interesting person in general, but it just does not cut it. Do you not want your parents to know their grandchildren? Who is going to want you at this age? Who will take care of you once you are old? In short, you are a failure.

Opvoeden doe je samen

Okee in Nederland hebben we een zorgmaatschappij. Dat betekent dat we voor elkaar zorgen en dat de overheid ook een duit in het zakje doet. Nederlanders in het buitenland met visumproblemen helpen, zorgen dat iedereen naar school kan of een toegankelijk gezondheidssysteem.

In China doet de overheid ook duiten in het zakje. Sterker nog, het zakje, de duiten en de hand die ze erin doet zijn ongetwijfeld allen eraan gelieerd. Economie, kunst of religie heeft allemaal een politieke component hier. Maar ook in het dagelijks leven kom je de overheid geregeld tegen. Spandoeken met motiverende teksten, borden met waarschuwingen of de minilegers aan bewakers, politie en soldaten die overal rondlopen.

En iedereen doet mee, beroemd of niet. Ik heb op dit moment geen televisie, maar toen ik nog wel eens tv keek, kwamen regelmatig opvoedkundige reclames voorbij. Een dame die kanker overleeft en er weer bovenop komt dankzij de blije, invoelende vrijwilligers. Kinderen die alleen maar grijze tekeningen maken van hun omgeving door alle vervuiling om hen heen. Maar alles wordt op magische wijze opgelost. Door gehoorzame burgers, vreedzaam beleid met dank aan de overheid.

Recentelijk zijn ze ook begonnen met het afspelen van korte clips in de bioscoop voor de film. Er worden sowieso zeilen bijgezet om iedereen in het gareel te krijgen als er belangrijke zaken aankomen. Partijcongressen, machtswisselingen of interne spanningen bijvoorbeeld. Kosten noch moeite worden gespaard om iedereen mee te krijgen. Internationale Chinese beroemdheden mogen de partijboodschap verkondigen, meneer Xi is ineens in de kleinste dorpjes te vinden en je VPN is ineens supertraag.

Op een licht anarchistische buitenlander zoals mezelf, werkt dit behoorlijk op de lachspieren. In Nederland werken de partijspotjes al voor geen ene moer. Politici die ineens bereikbaar lijken, samen naar een betere wereld toewerken. Natuurlijk moeten we dat doen en een beetje samenwerking met de overheid kan geen kwaad. Maar opvoeden, daar hebben mijn ouders al genoeg tijd aan besteed. Daar heb ik de overheid nou net niet voor nodig.

Would you like some service with that?

Service in China is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, things are possible here that are totally unacceptable in the Netherlands. On the other hand, things are impossible here that are generally accepted in the Netherlands.

Pro’s:

  1. Calling a waiter or waitress – Admittedly, this is not as common anymore as before. The rise of Western-style restaurants also brings with it the usual struggles to attract someone’s attention. But there are still plenty of establishments where you will hear a “FUWUYUANR” regularly in between all the other conversations. I highly prefer it to side-eyeing, cheerleader-waving or raising-your-hand-up-as-if-you-know the answer motions.
  2. Making a mess – Whether it is yourself or the table, it is almost always accepted without any comments. Bones, fish grates, shells are all nasty and troublesome, but at least you can easily get them out of your sight by just dispensing them on the floor. Provided your hand-eye coordination is reasonable and you do not accidentally hit yourself.
  3. Free refills – I remember that there was still a discussion in the Netherlands if you could get free tap water. Also, if you order a cup of tea in most restaurants or coffee tents, you will have to pay the full price again for a second cup of steaming water in which you will use your first teabag. Not so in China. In most places you can refill water and tea endlessly until you feel uncomfortable about having had more free than paid drinks throughout your stay.
  4. Your living room from home – Unless it is really crowded, you can generally lounge the entire afternoon in one spot. Order one drink and refer to the point above to make sure you are hydrated throughout your stay. Most waiters will only approach you to refill your glass, or ignore you. They are also very skilled in doing that.

Cons:

  1. Service without a smile – Some jobs can be very boring or mind-numbing. And you can see it right of their faces. People will serve you with as less interest in you or their job as possible. Not looking at you, doing only the bare minimum and certainly without a smile. In that way, many Chinese do look alike.
  2. Working is optional – I remember that for most of my jobs in the Netherlands, there are quite strict rules about when to use your phone. Not so much in China. Whether there are any clients or not, whether chatting or watching a drama, everyone is certainly not focusing on you.
  3. Inefficiency – I already mentioned that there are often a lot of people working anywhere and a large part of them are doing nothing. It is a bit similar to my instructions for working at a Chinese Japanese restaurant. Also, when a question is asked, they will be sure to not do anything directly but for example inquire if you are sure that you want what you asked for.
  4. Passivity – The customer is king is still sometimes the case in China. But that also means that any (illegal) smokers, irritating children, drunken men or screeching women will be accepted and not reprimanded. Jumping in front of you in the line? Pushing you in or out the subway? Being polite or not? It is all accepted as part of life.

Hot as hell

The sun has been here longer than we have. It is also burning hot. The sun itself is, but also here on earth. Yes, of course we created this ourselves. With all the conveniences, low costs and high risks we want and take, this was bound to happen.

Everyone here already got around mostly covered when the sun shone. Large visors, long sleeves and pants, gloves, masks and hats. There are also images of other countries, basking in sunlight. Men and women in long, wide gowns. Most of us here wear pants. Seemingly the only difference would be that the sweat touches your thighs instead of the fabric in between.

Moving outside in broad daylight is becoming increasingly dangerous. The sun is literally scorching these days. The pavement is so hot that water literally instantly turns into steam and you could actually bake anything on it. That is, if it would be kept clean.

And even in these circumstances, there are more than enough people still working outside. Shuffling leaves together in the shade so that they do not start a fire. Watering the plants in the shadow or keeping an eye on the traffic from under a parasol. That is just as effective as it sounds.

It is said that several cities with extremely hot summers exist which were called ‘ovens’ before. Currently, all cities are real ovens. The concrete sucks up the heat and it permeates every structure. Steel pots and pans do not even need to be put on the gas anymore. We can just cook in them on the balcony if we wear fireproof gloves.

The well-of, rich people leave the city en mass during this time of the year. Pictures of luscious green fields, wide blue seas and bare skin flood the social media. But even outside the cities, temperatures are still at an all-time high. It makes censoring for nudity very easy, showing that much bare skin can simply lead to burns and is thus very rare.

Windows have since long been covered. It is still strange to wake up in the morning, seemingly at dusk. Before, you still had commercials where people opened their windows in the morning and let the sunlight in. Half of my stuff would directly catch on fire if you would do that in my room now.

There also used to be a buzz of insects outside when it was really hot. Old series on television would have that playing on the background to symbolize how hot it is. Apparently, if you go even hotter it turns quiet. Eerily quiet. Everyone seems to move in slow motion. The weight of the heat is instant whenever you go outside. Life is slowly turning into a real child’s play. Only move from shadow to shadow, step into the light and it is game over…

Dagboek van Moek: 19/20/21 mei

19 mei: WAAR BEN IK??? Ik ruik hier allemaal rare beesten en onbekende geluiden. Vanuit het raam wat in deze kamer is kan ik mens wel zien. Er staan allemaal vreemde dingen in deze kamer. En van die geuren gaat mijn haar gelijk overeind staan brrr…

Een klik en de deur gaat open. Het is mens maar, maar wie neemt ze mee? Een onbekende zwarte kat die totaal geen herkenning bij mij oproept. Bovendien ruikt ze helemaal niet als kat, maar als hond. En het eet van mijn voer! En poept in mijn bak! Een beetje geblaas houdt het tenminste op afstand. Hier zit een luchtje aan…

20 mei: Mens ruikt iedere keer weer raar en anders als ik haar zie. Hoe moet ik haar dan herkennen? Langzaam kom ik een beetje mijn kamer uit, maar het is nog steeds sluipen over de grond en terug sprinten voordat een grote boze hond mij kan opslokken. Gelukkig zijn er in deze kamers geen spullen waar ik niet op mag of niet mee mag spelen van mens.

Als ik naar beneden kijk zie ik daar ook vreemde vormen bewegen. Zolang het vrij rustig en stil is, kan ik ongehoord naar beneden sluipen. Maar die engerds beneden zijn haast net zo groot als ik in het geheel ben. Ze kennen vast hun eigen krachten niet. En ik kwam ook nog een andere katachtige tegen op de gang laatst. Die rook ook niet normaal, dus heb ik ook even direct duidelijk gemaakt. Hij loopt echter zonder problemen zo naar beneden, dus dat heeft hij wel voor op mij.

21 mei: Toen mens net thuiskwam dook ze weer een andere kamer in. Een witte en gladde kamer waaruit ineens een keihard geluid kwam. Het bleek water te zijn, dat in een grote kom ging waar mens toen hij vol zat gewoon in ging liggen. Geheel vrijwillig. En haar ogen sloot. Waarom? Ik zou het niet weten.

Dus toen ze er toch wel een tijdje langer in bleef liggen ging ik eens polshoogte nemen. Met mijn achterpoten tegen de rand en mijn voorpoten op de rand kon ik precies met mijn oogjes haar zien. En ik zette grote ogen op. Mens moest lachen, dus ik liet haar dan maar met rust. Als ze zelfs naakt en geheel ondergedompeld in water blij kan zijn, heeft ze duidelijk andere dingen die haar blij maken dan ik.

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.

Li’s Lievelingswoorden: Even kijken

Kijken doe je met je ogen. Althans, dat kreeg ik altijd te horen toen ik klein was. Niet dat ik ernaar luisterde natuurlijk. Ook op latere leeftijd ging ik nog vaak tegen mijn opvoeding in. Sommige vrienden werden gek van mijn rondneuzen tussen spullen waarbij alles aangeraakt en bevraagd werd.

Nu ik in China zit, heb ik ook meer dan genoeg te kijken. En ja, de Chinezen doen dat ook een stuk meer met hun handen, het zit in de natuur! Iedereen leest hier boeken uit in de boekwinkel (ze gaan er echt voor zitten) en zelfs bordjes met ‘niet aanraken’ worden routineus genegeerd. Een droomland wat dat betreft voor mij. Komt bij dat ik me onlangs realiseerde dat het Chinese karakter voor kijken geïnterpreteerd kan worden als een hand en oog gecombineerd. Klopt vast niet helemaal, maar wel een leuk idee.

Als we echter nog wat verdergaan, is het helemaal niet zo dat je kijken per se fysiek hoeft te doen. En daarmee komen we bij deze uitspraak: “Even kijken”. Net zoals alle fijne stopwoorden zijn deze ook multifunctioneel. Volgt er een komma, drie puntjes, of een ander stopwoordje (“hoor”)?

Zo blijkt maar weer dat we ook niet noodzakelijk met onze ogen kijken. De helft van de tijd dat iemand iets vraagt (wat we gaan eten, weekendplannen, boeken die ik nu aan het lezen ben, wanneer ik voor het laatst heb opgeruimd) kan ik heel goed mijn antwoord beginnen met “even kijken” en gewoon in het niets staren. Of juist mijn oog of beide ogen sluiten om een blik in mijn hersenen te werpen waar toch de meeste kennis is die ik bezit.

Dus ja, kijken doe ik het liefste met mijn handen of mijn hersenen. Komt misschien ook doordat ik een bril draag, dat mijn ogen pas op de derde plaats komen.

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?