Category Archives: My Experience in China

Goodbye China – My China Experience 31

After Lisa had left, I only had about one week left in China myself. I cannot believe how fast my time in China had come to and end. I am writing this blog post from San Diego, but let me tell you about my last week in China, which actually was quite nice and eventful.

Goodbye BeijingFirst of all, I had to do some packing and shipping of course. I packed all my stuff that I would not need right away into one of my suitcases and went to the airport to send it to the US as cargo. Several of my German friends in San Diego had done that, when it was their time to move back to Germany, as it was one of the cheapest and fastest ways to get some of the heavy and bulky items back home. Well, as usual, in China things are always a little more complicated! I took a cab to the airport and asked at the information desk for the cargo check in. Well, unfortunately, the Chinese lady that was helping me, did not speak English very well. She kept on asking me for my ticket, which of course I did not have, as I was not planning on flying anywhere yet. I tried to explain to her, that I wanted to send my suitcase as cargo, while I will fly out next week. She kept on repeating that I could not check in more than 2 hours before departure! And when I repeated cargo, all I got was a blank stare. Well, my only option to get my suitcase back home to San Diego was by shipping it by regular mail. Even though it was much more expensive than I had hoped, it was still a lot cheaper than paying for extra weight.

Then, I also had to say goodbye to my dear colleagues and my boss, Mr. Fu! They had organized a wonderful Goodbye lunch for me and even gave me a present! Even though I had some problems adjusting to the Chinese working culture and I experienced some true culture clashes with them, they were always trying to help me and supported me! When things went a little bit different from what I had planned, it was definitely my fault, because I assumed, thought and anticipated it from a completely different cultural perspective! I am very grateful for their help and support that they have given me over the course of these 6 months and they made so many things possible for me, that I could not have done without their help! A big thank you to you all!

My last day in Beijing was rather gloomy!During my last week, I also finally had the chance to meet up with Philipp! Philipp was introduced to me by a dear friend of mine from my university. He had studied at CIBU in San Diego as well and now lives in Beijing. Philipp and I had made plans to meet up several times, but somehow it never happened! We met up several times during my last week in China and we had a lot of fun together! However, the most memorable trip was on my very last day in Beijing. Philipp took me to the park overlooking the Forbidden City and we had an amazing view. But the best thing about it: I had brought some delicious wine from Germany and we celebrated my last day, enjoying the amazing view, drinking a Franconian Bocksbeutel and chatting away. This park is not as frequented by foreigners, so we drew quite some attention among the mainly Chinese crowed. As Philipp’s Chinese was pretty good, we were constantly chatted up by Chinese tourists that asked us about the funny shaped bottle and what we were doing here. We really had a blast!

I left China with very mixed feelings! On the one hand, I was looking forward to the “easy life” in the US, where I could communicate, find my way around without having to rely on other people’s help and seeing my friends of course. But on the other hand, I knew that one of the biggest adventures of my life had ended. I asked myself whether I had made the most of my stay in China and to be honest, I am not sure I did! I experienced a lot of great things, but could I have done/seen/learned/experienced more? I certainly could have! Often, I felt overwhelmed by the strangeness of this country, so I hid in my own little world of more familiar things, whether it was watching movies, writing blog posts, chatting with my friends or eating at Western restaurants. It was hard for me, to understand the Chinese culture, as I am quite the opposite of what you would consider “typical Chinese”. I like to plan things, be independent and do things on my own. My time in China was a great adventure and experience. I learned a lot about myself, who I am, what I want and how to get through tough times. It also taught me to accept help from others yet be more independent than ever.

Thank you China!!!

Want to read what happened next?

My China Experience 1

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My China Experience 21-31

Lisa goes Beijing – My Experience in China 30

After we made it back to Beijing, feeling a lot better, Lisa started her tour of Beijing. As she was here for about 2 more weeks, I could not take the whole time off. So during the week, Lisa went out to explore Beijing and I worked. Poor me!!! But we had an amazing time and quite a few things happened that we will still talk about in 20 years, I am sure.

The Great Wall of China - look at all the people!The first incident happened the day after our arrival. Lisa and I were sitting in a cab, waiting at a traffic light. What does our lovely cab driver do? He rolled down the window  and spat outside. Luckily, the car next to us had its windows up, because the green, slimy spit of our beloved cab driver ran down the window, leaving a icky trace. The funniest thing about this incident was, however, that I did not even think this was funny! Lisa cracked up laughing, but for me, this stuff has become so normal, that I did not even notice! I guess it’s good I am leaving soon, otherwise I might get into trouble when I spit on people’s windows in San Diego!

Another experience of a lifetime: Lisa and I, the culturally interested people that we are, wanted to see the Beijing Opera. I had asked my colleagues where to go to see the Beijing Opera and they recommended the Chaoyang Theater, the same place where the Acrobatics show is. So Lisa and I meet up at the Chaoyang Theater after work and bought tickets for the show. Interestingly, the admission fee included a snack pack, so we were already kind of curious going in. When I went to see the Sichuan Opera in Chengdu, they offered us peanuts and tea, so I thought here it would be something similar. You have to know, the Chaoyang Theater is a large Theater, seating about 500 people in their main show room, where the Acrobatics show takes place. So Lisa and I were quite a bit surprised, when we were led to a small room with an even smaller stage and told to sit down. We were the only ones there, except for some elderly Chinese in the first row, so we thought the show had been postponed… not too uncommon in China. So we chitchatted until all of a sudden, the lights dimmed and the Chinese people in the first row pulled out their instruments and started playing. WE WERE ALL ALONE! Lisa and I looked at each other in disbelieve. There were at least 30 people involved in the show, including the Chinese orchestra, which did not have an orchestra pit and was sitting in the front row. I am not sure, whether they gave us a short version of their regular show, but the show lasted more than 1 hour. It was simply amazing. Oh yes, half way through the show, they brought us our snack pack! It was a plastic bag with two bottles of Iced tea, and two cookies. The lady that brought it to us must have run to the store to get this for us. It was a hilarious night!

Ice Festival close to BeijingAnother highlight of our Lisa goes Beijing adventure was our trip to the Great Wall and the Ice Festival. Actually, Lisa and I had planned to go to Harbin to the Ice festival for the weekend. However, this did not quite work out as planned. Let me just put it that way! It was yet another typical and frustrating encounter with the Chinese culture. I had asked my colleagues weeks before whether it was a problem to take the train to Harbin for the weekend and they said it was no problem. Well, about 3 days before I flew to Shanghai to meet up with Lisa, I found out that going by train would not be possible. Interestingly, in China you cannot purchase round trip tickets for your train journey, but you have to buy your return ticket in the city that you are leaving from. Well, and as it was not sure, whether there would be any tickets available for us to go back on Sunday, airfare was too expensive and we did not have time to organize anything on such short notice, we canceled the trip. Luckily, my Chinese teacher told me that there is a smaller Ice festival close to the Great Wall! So we decided to go there. My awesome boss Mr. Fu even had his personal driver take us there! So on Saturday morning, we were picked up and first went to the Great Wall at Badaling! It was amazing! It had always been Lisa’s dream to stand on the Great Wall of China and when she had a great time! We took some amazing pictures and even I loved it! The sky was blue, I was not sick like the last time I had been there and we made a smart decision: Instead of walking up the top, we took the gondola skyride to the top and walked down! Ha!

The festival of lightsAfter that, we drove towards the little village, where the Ice festival takes place. We wanted to see the Ice festival after dark, as they light up the ice sculptures, so we went for a yummy lunch with our driver. It was quite funny, as our driver did not speak a single word of English and my Chinese, well hm, lets not talk about it, ok? Luckily I brought my Chinese phrase book, so for example, when we told him a meeting time, we just showed him page 11 and then page 15 and he got it that we will meet up at 11.15! Smart he? After lunch, we went to a small ski resort and all Lisa wanted to do was get a board and slide down the slopes. They even had a little cottage, just like in the Alps and we warmed up with some nice hot  chocolate. When it was getting close to dawn, we headed over to the Ice festival and it was simply amazing! The sculptures were breathtaking and at night, they illuminated them so they glittered in different colors. They had a huge St. Peter’s place, the city hall of Moscow and other famous sights. Of course, the Olympics were another popular theme! The Ice festival topped off a truly great day!

Shortly after, Lisa flew back to Spain and I had only one week left in China.

Want to read what happened next?

My China Experience 1

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My China Experience 21-31

Chinese New Year in Shanghai – My China Experience 29

After my return to China, I only had to wait 5 more weeks to celebrate New Years again.  This time the Chinese New Year of course and with my friend Lisa, who was visiting me for 3 weeks.  We met up at Shanghai Airport, she flying in from Barcelona where she lives, and me from Beijing.  After a big welcome scene at the airport, which certainly turned some black haired Chinese heads, we took the Maglev from the airport to the city.  This train is just amazing.  Well, of course it is, it was developed by a German company!!!  It reaches a maximum of 431 kilometers an hour and you just see the cars and houses flying by.  It really feels like you are sitting in a really low flying airplane.  It definitely is a great experience.

Shanghai SkylineI had booked a room at the Metropole Hotel, mainly because of its location.  When we arrived, they told us, that they unfortunately had no double room available, and asked if we would mind to be upgraded.  We only had to walk about 3 minutes to the Bund and about 10 minutes to Nanjing Road.  The service was good and the rooms were clean.  Oh yes, did I mention that they only charged us the 10 % deposit and forgot about the rest?  So we ended up paying 20 $ for four nights in a double room in Shanghai, can it get any better?

On our first day, we just walked around Nanjing Road, had some coffee and chatted about the good old times.  The second day, we went to the Bund and then to YuYuan Garden.  As it was Chinese New Year, everything was decorated and full of people.  It reminded me of my “great” trip to Le Shan, but since my friend Lisa was there, we still had a lot of fun.  In the evening we splurged and went to the Jin Mao for dinner and cocktails at the Cloud Nine Bar.  It was really amazing to see the city from top, but unfortunately the skyline was not as spectacular as usual, due to the horrible blizzard in South China.  The government issued a regulation to safe energy, which meant not only that the buildings were not illuminated at night, but also that the hotel turned off the heating and we almost froze to death in our room, but that’s a different story.  On our way down we tried to find the restroom and we started talking to a guy who was trying to take pictures of the firework.  Guess where he was from:  He was from Nuremberg, a city about 100 kilometers from where Lisa and I are from.  What a coincidence!!!  It was really funny, especially because Lisa and I also met a guy from Nuremberg when we were on a train from Nice to Monaco a couple of years ago.

ZhouzhuangThe next day, we had booked a tour to see the famous water villages outside of Shanghai.  This time I made sure that the tour guide spoke English and we had a great day.  First we went to Suzhou, where we visited a very appealing private garden.  We were only 8 people in our group plus our really nice tour guide.  After a nice, but touristy lunch we went to a silk factory and Lisa proved her strength by trying to pull apart the silk strings.  We had the opportunity to do some shopping there, as it is always the case on tours in China, but we did not buy anything, as all the things were just too expensive.  In the afternoon, we went to Zhouzhuang, a beautiful water village.  First we walked around a little and then we took a boat ride in a boat, which was very similar to the Gondolas of Venice.  Our Chinese Gondoliera sang us some Chinese folk songs and if there had not been at least 50 other boats on the same canal, I am sure it would have been very romantic.

When we returned to Shanghai, Lisa spotted a sign, saying that we now entered Shanghai… well, we were in the middle of nowhere and as far as the eye could see were fields some lonely houses every once in a while.  2 minutes later, we saw another sign, posting that Shanghai downtown is still 76 kilometers away.  Well, even though that might be similar in the US, it is definitely not something you will ever find in Europe, as after 76 kilometers you already passed through the city and the next three that are on the way!!!  That evening we asked our hotel staff to write us down the name of a good fish restaurant.  It was a typical Chinese street with lanterns, decoration and blinking neon signs everywhere and on each side nice looking Chinese restaurants.  We tried a couple of them, but all of them said they were booked out and on the streets were some beggars with monkey who were following us to beg for money.  So we were really happy to finally find a place that had a table ready.  Well, lets just put it that way, afterwards we knew why they had only a couple of guests.  The food was not the problem, it was outstanding, even though we certainly looked kind of strangely when our corn came with frosting and sugar pearls.  But the real problem was that it was freezing in there.  Even though we ordered really spicy food and kept our jackets on the whole time, we thought our noses might fall off.  Well, OIC-Only in China!!!

Red Lanterns in ShanghaiOn Sunday, we went to the Buddha Temple and that was the first time that I was cheated by the cab driver.  He had a faked meter and we paid the outrages amount of $10 for a 15 minute cab ride!!!  Well, in the end he made a couple extra bucks and Lisa and I have yet another funny story from Shanghai that we will never forget!!!  After we visited the Lama temple, we went back to the Bund, took the Tourist tunnel to Pudong and went up the Pearl Tower.  We took some amazing pictures, especially of the “soon-to-be-highest-building-in-the-world-if-they-are-not-beaten-by-Dubai”.  In the afternoon we went to the City Development Center, which has an amazing model of the city.  I had been there on a previous visit, but I really did not mind seeing it a second time.  When we were kicked out from the CDC, we went to Xiantiandi, first for dinner at a nice Brazilian restaurant and then for a nice German beer at the Paulaner.

Well, it seemed our luck came to an end on our last day, as Lisa and I were both not feeling well at all.  We stayed in our room all day and took turns using the bathroom.  I don’t want to go into details, but let’s just say it was not nice and we even thought about canceling our flight.  Well, luckily we felt better in the evening and we made it without any accidents to the airport and back to Beijing.

Even though the end was not really nice, we still had a great time in Shanghai.  It is a fascinating city and I can understand why China hopes that Shanghai represents the China of the future.

Want to read what happened next?

My China Experience 1

My China Experience 2-11

My China Experience 12-21

My China Experience 21-31

Christmas in Germany – My China/Germany Experience 28

After missing out on the Holiday festivities with my family last year, it was time to return to my roots and celebrate Christmas and New Years in Germany with my family and friends. Last year, I spent Christmas with my friends in Los Angeles, and I had a lot of fun.  They always treat me like family, so thanks to them, Christmas away from my “real” family was not too hard.  But Christmas alone in China?  No, sorry, but that did not sound to appealing to me.

Winter in GermanySo on Saturday, December 22 I boarded my plane to Germany.  The 10 1/2 hours really went by “flying”. I had a window seat and thanks to a clear sky, I had great ground visibility.  I saw the Gobi Desert, Mongolia, Siberia, the great Baikal lake, unfortunately no view of the Ural, as it was clouded there, but a great view of the Baltic coast line.  It was really amazing; I hadn’t had such a good view in years.  I was picked up in Frankfurt by my Dad and we drove home.  It was so good to see him and I couldn’t wait to be back home.  On our drive home, we stopped next to the Autobahn and when I got out of the car, I took a deep breath and thought to myself: Wow, this is some clean air! Well, I said this while standing next to one of the busiest 6-lane streets in Germany, so I guess the air in Beijing is really somewhat polluted… When I arrived home, my sister Tina, her husband Tom and my two nieces Lisa and Anna waited for my outside with some sparklers to welcome me.  It was so great to see and hug them again and to be finally home after 6 months.

Now let me tell you all about Christmas in Germany and our family Holiday traditions.  In Germany, the most important day of Christmas is usually Christmas Eve, which is usually celebrated with close family at home. So on Christmas Eve, we attended the Children’s Service, because my two nieces Lisa and Anna both took part in the Nativity play. After that, we had a great dinner at my sister’s home with smoked salmon and trout, shrimps, and crawfish.  Then my sister lit up the candles on our Christmas tree and we sang some Christmas songs, and then, most anticipated part of the evening, at least by the kids, the opening of the gifts.  After having unwrapped, looked at, played with, and thanked for all the different gifts, we sat back down, talked, had some great Franconian wine and chocolate truffles. The next day, my Dad and I invited ourselves for lunch at my Godmother’s house.  After some yummy German food, we drove to my Grandmother’s house to celebrate Christmas with my Mother’s side of the family.  It was very nice to see everybody again, as I had not seen most of them for more than 1 1/2 years.

My Hometown WürzburgBecause we are German and can never get enough of holidays and celebration, we celebrate Christmas for 3 days. So on the second Christmas day, everybody came to my sister’s house for a little get together…  Everybody, that is: My dad, me, my sister, her husband, their two kids Lisa and Anna, my brother Thomas, his wife Bianca, their son Tim, my Grandmother, my Godmother, my uncle and my cousin. We had a great time, some more delicious food, more great wine and of course more presents to unwrap.

The following days, I spent visiting family and friends and with some slightly less agreeable appointments, such as a visit at the dentist and my physician. I went to my favorite bars, talked to many of my friends, whom I hadn’t seen for such a long time and time was just flying by.  On December 30, all the family got together once more, this time at my Godmothers house for our annual “Rouladen-Essen”.  Rouladen are a typical German dish made of rolled beef filled with bacon, onions, and pickles, gravy and dumplings.  We used to have it on Epiphany (January 6 th), but due to my absence we now just do it whenever I am in Germany.  As usually, my aunt cooked an outstanding meal and most of us couldn’t stop eating until we had to open at least one button of our pants.

On New Years Eve, my friends and I went to a party at a nearby bar called Mainstreet.  The bar is next to a repair shop for motorcycles and owned by the same guys.  So you can imagine what the bar must be like, Harley gas tanks on the wall, guys with long hair and beards in leather jackets and some good ol’ Rock played by Donny Vox and his band.  Donny Vox is from LA and when I went up to talk to him during a break, we had a nice little chat about California. I really had a great time there and it was nice to go partying with my friends like in the old days… gosh now I sound really old, so I better stop…

The next days I visited some more friends, my brother and my Grandmother and then, all too soon, I was back in Frankfurt to board my plane to Beijing.  The goodbyes are always hard, but I guess it would be worse, if it were different.  This time I did not have much time for tears, because the security guy picked my laptop to be tested for explosives and decided to be funny and make jokes the whole time.  Sorry, but after a very heart breaking goodbye from my family just a few minutes before, I was definitely not in the mood for his games… but well, what can you do.  Of course my laptop proofed to be TNT-free and I went on to board the plane, which was full and I was lucky to sit next to a wired German guy in his mid-forties, who went to China to meet up with some 20 year old Chinese tour guide he had met on an earlier tour in China.  Well, he would not shut up for several hours, so after about 4 hours of constantly being talked to from one side, I pretended to be asleep.  Well it worked, because after I “woke up”, he did not bother me anymore…

Want to read what happened next?

My China Experience 1

My China Experience 2-11

My China Experience 12-21

My China Experience 21-31

Business Trip to Shenzhen – My China Experience 27

A couple of weeks ago, my boss David Fu came up to me and asked me, if I would like to help out at a fair in Shenzhen in late November.  Always eager to experience new things and see more of China, I happily accepted.  If you have followed my story, you know that November was a quite eventful month for me.  First Malaysia, then a strained ligament, a Chinese Wedding, the removal of my wisdom teeth and also my birthday, which I celebrated with some friends and a little too much sake at the rain club.

Me, working in China! Ok, before I start with my description of events, I have to tell you that my story is solely based on my experience with very few people in a 3 days timeframe.  I don’t want to generalize, so if I write “Chinese do that”, don’t be offended, but it sounds better than an endless repetition of “my colleagues”.  I really like my colleagues and they took great care of me, tried to communicate with me as best as they could in English and help me out with whatever I needed.  I want to thank Libin, Sarah, Ady, Jack and of course my boss David for the great time in Shenzhen.  I learned a lot about the Chinese business culture and even more about the Chinese mentality.  Some things were just strikingly different from what I am used to and what I had experienced before.  Sometimes I laughed and sometimes all I wanted was to cry and go home. I had to jump over my own shadow more than just once, but in the end I am very grateful I did.  It takes a while to accept the fact that my own culture is not better than Chinese culture, only different.  I have read this phrase so many times, every little cell in my brain knows it, but this trip helped me to understand China, its culture, and especially its people a little bit more.

So here is what happened:  A business trip to Shenzhen – the Chinese way…

On Thursday morning, I was picked up at 6.30 AM by my boss and my colleagues to go to the airport.  When we arrived in Shenzhen, the sun was shining, the weather was nice and there were palm trees and flowers all around.  What a difference to freezing Beijing.  We took a shuttle bus from the airport and somewhere along the way my colleagues and I were dropped off on the side of the road.  Instead of going to the hotel first, we went directly to the convention center to meet with one other colleague, Jack (sorry, I still don’t know his Chinese name…) and to see how things were going with our exhibition stand.  Everything looked fine, so we left our promotion material at the stand and went to the hotel.

My colleaguesThen we checked in and when we were only given 2 keys I knew that I had to share my room with a Chinese girl, Libin.   Don’t get me wrong, she is a very nice girl, but I am just not used to it.  For god’s sake, I don’t even want to share my apartment, not to mention my bedroom!!!  I love to be around people, but definitely need a door to shut and a place to be by myself, when I had enough!!! We started to unpack and freshen up.  Oh yes, Chinese people obviously don’t have much sense for discreteness.  5 minutes after we entered the room, my colleague started to change, not in the bathroom, oh no, right in the middle of the room in front of me.  Oh and she was not just throwing on a new shirt, no she changed EVERYTHING!!!  Another thing that was a little disturbing, although I didn’t find out until the next morning, was that Chinese people don’t flush the toilet at night.

After I had seen a little bit more of my colleague than I had wished for, we met with the other two girls and headed for lunch.  They were afraid that I might not like what they order, so I told them that I eat everything.  In hindsight, this was a little blindfold of me… The first thing that was served was chicken claws!  Great!!!  This was a nice catch 69 for me.  On the one side, this was one of the dishes I had tried to avoid by all means so far, on the other side, I knew my colleagues would lose face, if I didn’t try them.  Since there were no other dishes on the table, I also did not have the chance to “eat my way around” them.  So I bit the bullet and ate my first chicken claw.  I was very relieved that the next dishes were not quite as “exciting” as the first one… or so I thought.  For dessert we ordered half of a papaya filled with some clear “jello’filling”.  It was very sweet and wobbly so neither the taste nor the consistency was too appealing to me.   After finishing it, one of my colleagues pulled out her cell phone and used the dictionary function to tell me what I had just eaten.  I am sooo glad she did it afterwards! I had just eaten frog spawn!!!  No, I did not puke on the table but I am still wondering, if there are now little pollywogs swimming around in my belly and if I open my mouth one day soon and all that comes out is “quak”!!!

Business Trip to ShenzhenIn the afternoon, my colleagues, my pollywogs and I walked back to the convention center to get our exhibition stand ready for the next day.  At around 6 PM we walked back, but before we went to the hotel, we went to the supermarket to buy some supplies.  If we had only tried to smuggle in some alcohol into our rooms, not just water and juice boxes, it would have truly felt like a school trip in 10th grade.  Back at the hotel, we rested a little and then Libin, Jack and I went out for a fantastic seafood dinner.  No, no surprises this time, only fish, shrimps and other familiar creatures of the ocean.  After the outstanding dinner, and since it was only 8.30 PM, I convinced my two colleagues to go for a night cap to the hotel bar.

It was only then that I found out that my colleague Jack speaks English and not that bad either.  I had been sitting directly opposite of him for the past 3 months and he had never spoken one word with me.  I had assumed he could not speak English, but he was just too insecure to try.  I tried to build up his confidence and praised his English and as soon as he plucked up some courage, we had a pretty good conversation.  He told me about his family and his background and about his big dream to go to Europe for his honeymoon.  He was very open and he even told me that he misses his parents very much, even though they “only” live 6 hours away by train.  In our culture, this would have been an embarrassing statement, especially coming from a 30+ year old man.  Our society trains us to become self-sufficient and independent at a much younger age.  If you still live at home at a certain age, you are considered a mThe Winglong Booth at the fair in Shenzhenommy’s boy, which after all does not have a very positive connotation.  As a teenager, independence and “freedom” from your parents is considered cool and desirable, even though at that age you might not realize that there are also some small and minor disadvantages of being an adult.  In China on the other hand, you are expected to live with your parents until you get married.  Moving out to go to college or because of work is still the exception to the rule and the bond between parents and children seems to be very strong.  While individualism is not part of the Confucian mind set, respect for parents and unquestioned obedience is.  Respect??? Unquestioned??? Obedience???  I have to admit, that these three words describe the exact opposite of my behavior as a teenager.  I fought with my dad on a daily basis, slammed doors, screamed, and cried, everything.  But I have always loved my father.  I love him, because he is my father and because he encourages me and lets me pursue my crazy plans (probably because he is just as crazy as me!!!).  This difference really made me wonder, whether love is nothing but a cultural characteristic.  Do Chinese really have a deeper connection with their parents or is it just culture that makes it look that way?  Is culture so powerful that it determines who we love and how much we love them?

The next morning we got up early, had breakfast at KFC and walked to the Convention Center.  The second person to visit our stand was a guy from the Australian Embassy in Beijing and I secured my first business card.  Unfortunately, my company did not provide me with any business cards, even though this is one of the most important business items in China.  They are exchanged for any reason and no reason at all.  I mean, I will be happy if only one of my two suitcases will be filled with business cards I collected, when I fly back to San Diego…  Even though there were supposedly 30 different countries taking part in the exhibition, not too many foreigners came to our stand, even though we were one of the busiest stands of the fair.  99 % of our visitors were Chinese, and therefore I was not very busy.  My job was to sit as an “eye catcher” behind my little desk, smile friendly, entertain the visitors with the few phrases I know in Chinese and then call for my colleagues for help.  That evening, we enjoyed some more seafood, and because we were all tired, we went back to the hotel to get some rest.

I LOVE CHINGLISHThe following morning, we went for a yummy dim sum breakfast at a nice hotel.  The food was outstanding, though I didn’t have a clue what I was eating.  But I have learned my lesson and did not ask!  The fair was the same as the day before only that day, we left after lunch, because Sarah and Ady wanted to go to Hong Kong, and Libin and I flew back to Beijing.  I could have gone to Hong Kong, too, but since I had been there already and being low on funds, all I wanted was to go home.  Another reason was that my friend Sabrina was leaving the next day for Germany and I had promised her to see her off at the airport.  When Libin and I were waiting to board the plane, I asked her why she didn’t want to go to Hong Kong.  She confessed that she actually wanted to go, but David had told her that she has to accompany me back to Beijing, because he was worried about me.  I was so shocked by that, I didn’t know what to say.  Of course it was very thoughtful and caring of him to send one of my colleagues with me to Beijing, but on the other hand it was absolutely unnecessary.  I am used to travel on my own and to take care of things on my own and I definitely don’t need a babysitter!!!  I also felt very bad for Libin.  If I were her, I would be pretty mad at my boss and at that stupid laowai I had to look after.  Well, it wasn’t my fault actually, since it was not my idea, but I still felt bad for her.

But this also showed me once more this very typical Chinese cultural trait.  They don’t like to do things on their own or be alone.  Their sense of community influences every aspect of their lives. They travel in huge groups, never wander off the beaten path, make decisions only with the consent of everybody involved, share their room and live with their parents until they move in with their spouse.  I am the exact opposite to all the traits and characteristics that one would consider typical Chinese. I might be an extreme case, moving alone to the US when I was only 16, and now exploring the world on my own once more.  Traveling and living in foreign countries on my own, relying only on me is adventurous and when I am successful, the feeling of accomplishment and confidence cannot be described.   This trip made me realize that I don’t have much in common with the Chinese people, but it helped me understand it a little bit better…

Want to read what happened next?

My China Experience 1

My China Experience 2-11

My China Experience 12-21

My China Experience 21-31

Chinese Wedding – My China Experience 26

The weekend after I returned from Malaysia, I had another event I was looking forward to: A Chinese Wedding.  My Boss, David Fu, was getting married and all the employees were invited.  I was looking forward to it very much, but I was also very concerned that I might make some unforgivable cultural mistakes…  So I interviewed my colleagues about the dos and don’ts of a Chinese wedding.  I am so glad I did, otherwise I am sure I had made some serious faux pas.  I wanted to wear my black suit, as this would have been the most suitable for a German wedding.  Not so in China!!!  It is ok for men to wear black suits, but not for women, as black symbolizes death, not a nice thought on a wedding day.  Then I found out about the presents.  There are no presents at a Chinese wedding, but you are supposed to either give money in a small red envelope with your name on it, or jewelry.  In the latter case, you are expected to put the receipt with the present, so newlyweds know how much they are worth to you.  I decided to go with the red envelope…

The Happy Couple - my first Chinese WeddingThe day of the wedding, I picked up one of my colleagues and we drove downtown to the Regent Hotel.  The wedding took place in the ballroom and the decoration was more Western than Chinese.  There were beautiful bouquets of white orchids on each table, two huge ice swans on the center stage and I have never seen a wedding cake that high. In front of the ballroom, a string quartet was playing classical music and there were beautiful posters of my boss and his soon to be wife.  It was truly romantic and beautiful.

I sat down on the table and chatted with some of my colleagues and suddenly David Fu tipped me on my shoulder and said he had a surprise for me.  When I turned around, my friend Rhea, the wife of my boss in the US and the woman who helped me to organize this internship, stood in front of me.  I was so glad to see her and talk to her about how things were going in San Diego.  Rhea is a great woman; she has so much power and drive.  She is a very successful businesswoman, jetting back and forth between San Diego and Beijing several times a month, has two children and a working marriage.  When you listen to her and learn how many things she manages simultaneously, you will feel nothing but awe.  She really is an inspiring woman and it was a great surprise to see her.

Chinese Wedding CakeThe ceremony was supposed to start at 11:18 AM, because they got married on November 18, 2007 and the reception took place simultaneously to the wedding ceremony.  Well, I guess that is what most guests want anyways, isn’t it?  First of all, I have to say it was a beautiful, yet very different ceremony.  We sat down and enjoyed some delicious foods, while the bride and groom got married on the center stage.  As Chinese don’t have much religious affiliation, the ceremony was led by a host who bawled into a badly adjusted microphone.  A Chinese wedding consists of two parts.  The first part is very similar to a Western style wedding, where the bride and groom say their vows and become husband and wife.  In the second part, the newlyweds thank their parents for their support and love.  I thought this was a very nice gesture and the whole ceremony was very moving.  After that, all family and friends were invited to come to the stage to take pictures with the newlyweds.  Right after that, the couple went from table to table to thank their guests for coming to their wedding.  When David and Amanda reached our table, he honored me as his special guest, because I was the only foreigner at the wedding.  This was a very nice gesture of him and I felt very flattered.  At around 2:30 PM, the reception was over and people started to leave.  This had been a very interesting experience for me.  I mean, how many interns get to attend the Chinese wedding of their boss?  It certainly was a great day and a wedding I will never forget.

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My China Experience 1

My China Experience 2-11

My China Experience 12-21

My China Experience 21-31

Hospital in China – My China Experience 25

Unfortunately, I do not have fond memories of my long and exhausting trip back from Malaysia.  I had been carrying my backpack all day long and when I finally arrived in Beijing, I could hardly walk.  My right ankle was really badly swollen and hurt like hell.  The strange thing is that I don’t even know when I actually hurt my foot.  While I was in Malaysia, I cannot recall any incident in which I could have gotten my injury.  May be it was the Langkawi curse that got me, when I tried to flee the island, who knows?  Well, when it wasn’t much better the next day, I went to work and had to find me an English-speaking doctor in Beijing.  I searched the Thorne Tree Forum, found some good recommendations, and decided to go to United Family Hospital in Beijing.  Their website looked quite nice and did not have any spelling mistakes, so I hoped for the best.  Nevertheless, I was quite nervous, when I went there the next day!  Even though the building did not look very appealing from the outside, when I went in, I was surprised to find a very modern and clean hospital and all the staff spoke perfect English.  After filling out the necessary forms, I sat down in the waiting area and since I did not have an appointment, I didn’t really know when they could squeeze me in.  After about 1 ½ hours, I got to see the doctor, a very nice woman from Canada.  She looked at my ankle and told me that most likely, I had pulled my ligaments, but just to make sure, she wanted to take an X-ray.  Luckily, it turned out that my bones were in pretty good shape and not injured.  So I got my foot bandaged and some painkiller and off I went.

Well, I didn’t know how soon I would be back.  Three days later, I woke up with a horrible toothache in the middle of the night.  When I looked in the mirror, the one side of my face was completely swollen and I could barely open my mouth.  I called in sick and went back to the hospital, which also includes a dental clinic.  My dentist told me I have a very suppurating inflammation on my wisdom teeth and they have to be removed as soon as possible.  So she prescribed me some antibiotics and made an appointment for the following Thursday, 4 days later…

I stayed home the rest of the week, because I really was feeling bad.  The infection made me really tired and I slept about 15 hours a day and lived on painkillers the rest of the day.

Since they had screwed up the removal of my other two wisdom teeth in Germany, I chose to get sedated and get it done by a surgeon rather than a regular dentist.  When I went in for the surgery on Thursday, everything went well, even though they were a little bit worried, because the Chinese nurses didn’t understand that I live on my own and there was nobody to pick me up and to take care of me the next days.  Well, they were absolutely nice and even hailed me a cab to get home safely.  Of course, it hurt, but after a couple of days of noodle soup and mashed bananas, I was feeling fine again.

Well, this was an exciting experience to go to a Hospital in China, but I was really satisfied with the treatment and the people there were so professional, helpful, and caring.  I really can recommend United Family Hospital to anyone who needs medical attention in Beijing.  Nevertheless, I really hope I won’t see them again anytime soon…

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Langkawi – My China/Malaysia Experience 24

Langkawi, the island of dreams…  When I flew in to Langkawi, it was rainy and cloudy, but when we started to descend through the clouds, I got an amazing view of the island.  It looked like the island in the old King Kong movie.  The sea was grey and the island was of such a dark green I had never seen before.

I took a cab to Pentai Cenang, where most of the budget accommodation is located.  I went through the hostels listed in my LP and Cenang Guesthouse sounded very nice.  When I got there, it was pouring down cats and dogs and the woman at the reception told me that they were sold out.  But another guy named Michael came around the corner and told me he had a room for me.  He loaded my backpacks and me into his car and drove me a couple hundred yards down the road.  We stopped at a new two-story apartment building and he showed me the room.  It was absolutely great, clean, sea view, AC, TV, everything and cost only 80 Ringgit per night.  I booked it for the following 3 nights and was absolutely happy.

Langkawi Malaysia, the most beautiful place on earthAs soon as the rain stopped, I headed for the beach, which was about 30 meters from my apartment.  Even though it was still cloudy and grey, it was still very warm and the ocean was nice and warm as well.  Within the first few hours on the island, I decided to drop my plans to go to Tamen Negara and stay longer in Langkawi.  I went for a short stroll on the beach, and when I came back, I discovered a little beach bar, the Submarine Bar, right in front of my apartment.  The bar looks exactly like one would imagine a beach bar, and as it was getting close to sunset, I decided to celebrate my first day at Beach Paradise with a nice cocktail.  I started talking to the owner of the Submarine Bar, Anand, and it turned out the he is from Slovenia.  We chatted and before I knew it, I had a fresh cocktail in front of me.  This wasn’t too funny, since I had not eaten all day and the mix of my rum and coke, well let me put it that way, they just put a shot of coke in it to give it some color…  After I downed my seconded cocktail while watching another non-existing sunset, I went to my room, took a shower to clear my head and headed for something to eat.  I walked down the only road in Cenang and ended up in a nice Thai restaurant.  Due to its proximity to Thailand, most of the Langkawi dishes have Thai influence.  I was really hungry and ordered a whole lot of food: Tom Yam, a local seafood soup, fried rice with shrimps and chicken, and some delicious shrimps in a spicy cocktail sauce.  The food was absolutely outstanding and I finished it to the last bite.  Then I and my happy tummy walked back to the bar, I definitely needed a digestif now…

Party with my new friends in LangkawiThe next day, it was still rainy, but I packed my book and sat down at the bar to read and to chat with Anand and Eddy, his bartender.  When I got hungry, I asked Anand if his bar also serves food.  He said no, but if I want, I could order something from the café next door and have it served here.  I thought this was somewhat strange, but Anand told me he always orders his espresso there too, since he doesn’t have a coffee machine.  I ordered a sandwich and was absolutely happy to get a real nice French baguette with ham and cheese.  I enjoyed the first real bread in months and ate and read and chatted the whole day and before I knew it, the rain stopped and the clouds parted and I watched a beautiful sunset.  I headed out for some dinner again and then returned to the beach bar, as usual.  There I met Tobi, another German, and it turned out that he is from Lohr, a city that is about 60 kilometers from my hometown.  What a coincidence, isn’t it?  He had quit his job and decided to travel around South East Asia until his money runs out.  I think people like that are so interesting and I admire their courage to live their dreams.  Tobi had been in Langkawi for more than a week already, even though he only intended to stay a couple of days.  We talked the whole evening and when Anand decided to close the bar, he invited us to come with him and some friends to another bar, called Sun Bar.  So we all hopped on two scooters and off we went.  Sun Bar was another very nice bar and we had a great time.  When this bar closed too, we went to another bar and had some food.  The waitress there turned out to be German, too and she recommended us some great food.  When we got home, it was almost dawn and we fell into our beds after a great night out.

The next day, the sun was shining and I headed for the beach.  I didn’t do anything except for reading, sunbathing and swimming.  I went and extended my room until Saturday, and asked in a travel agency for a bus to Singapore on Saturday.  I was told to book one day in advance and I thought it would not be a problem.  Of course, I spent my evening at the beach bar and met with Tobi and some other very interesting fellows from all over the world.

Jungle IslandOn the following day, Tobi and I went on the famous island hopping tour.  We were picked up at my apartment by Michael and then were dropped off at a little harbor.  We boarded a tiny boat with our fellow Korean tour mates and off we went.  First, we went to Pulau Dayang Bunting, or Lake of the Pregnant Maiden.  After a 5-minute walk through the rainforest, we arrived at a beautiful fresh water lake.  Right where the trail leads to the lake, there are some tourist attractions, like a swimming area, pedalo rental and a gift shop.  Our Korean friends jumped to rent some kayaks and Tobi and I decided to follow a walkway around the lake.  When we got close to the other side, we decided to go for a dip.  The water was absolutely beautiful and refreshing, and luckily, it wasn’t until now, that I read about the legend of a giant white crocodile in this lake.  Well, we were not attack by a mythical crocodile and we had a good time making fun of the Koreans, who were absolutely incapable of getting control of their kayak and were only turning and turning, but never got one meter ahead.  When we went back to the boat, we had to go up some pretty steep stairs, and again, those were not intended for people under 6 feet.  I mean, I really like walking and I even don’t mind steps, but do they have to reach to my hip all the time???  We made it to the boat and drove to another island.  Tobi and I sat down on a stump on the beach and made fun of a guy, who looked like the incarnation of an Italian lover.  We didn’t know if he actually was Italian or not, but we had quite a few laughs at his expense.  Gosh we are sooo bad.  After an hour on this uninhabited island, we went back to the boat and drove to the Eagle Feeding place.  Our skipper threw some fish in the ocean and we watched about a docent eagles plunging into the water to get their food.  I actually was wondering how these birds were still able to fly, because there must be several tours like ours every day.  When we got back to Cenang, we Tobi went for a late afternoon beer to the bar and I hit the shower.  Then we went to a nice little restaurant and had a fabulous meal.  And then, creatures of habit as we are, we went back to the beach bar for another fun night.

The next day, I went back to the travel agent to book my bus to Singapore.  To my great surprise, the travel agent told me, that all the buses to Singapore on Saturday were booked out already.  I decided not to go to Singapore then and stay a couple more days in Langkawi…Well, I guess now is the time to share a very famous legend of Langkawi with you.  According to this legend, a foreigner tried to seduce a beautiful married local Malay.  When she refused him, he got so angry that he accused her of adultery and she was murdered by her husband.  Before she died, she put two curses on Langkawi: the first curse said that for the next seven generations, nothing should grow on the island, while the second curse said that foreigners shall stay forever on this island.  The course of events concerning my departure really made me believe in this story!!!

Submarine Bar - the best bar on earthThe next days, I spent also at the beach, doing nothing but reading and relaxing during the day, having some of the best foods of my life and having a great time at the Submarine Bar in the evenings.  I actually had planned to do so much sightseeing in Langkawi and Malaysia, but after doing this so extensively in China, I was just tired of it.  All I wanted to do was nothing.  I haven’t done this in such a long time and it felt really good.  During this time, I met some really interesting people.    I met Lynn from England, who quit her finance job to travel the world.  Kudey, a guy from the Maldives, who was in Langkawi to build a boat.  A Skipper from Norway, who told me that he had not been home for Christmas in more than 15 years and how deeply touched he was, when his crew bought him a ticket to Norway to reunite with his family for the holidays.  A girl from Ireland, who wanted to meet her sister, who had moved to Australia, for vacation and while she was in Langkawi, she just called her office and quit her job to follow her sister to Australia.  It was so amazing to listen to their stories and their adventures.  I really wish them luck and might they never stop living their dream.

Returning to KL turned out to be a little adventure as well.  I had booked a bus to KL for Monday evening, which would have been a stupid hassle.  I would leave Langkawi at 5.30 PM, catch the bus at 9.00 PM, arrive at some remote bus station well outside of KL at 4.30 AM (with all my backpacks and my stuff), and then my red eye flight to Beijing would leave at 12:50 AM the following day.  I was really not satisfied with my connection, but I couldn’t figure out a more convenient and affordable way to get back to KL.  Especially since buses in Malaysia are not known for their punctuality, I did not want to risk taking a later bus to KL and miss my flight to Beijing.  I complained to everybody at the bar, but no one came up with a better solution for me.  So on Monday morning, I checked out of my hotel, put my backpack in Anand’s hands and sat down at the bar and lamented to Anand about my stupid travel itinerary.  He just looked at me as if I am stupid and asked me why I didn’t want to fly the next day with Air Asia.  This solution had never even crossed my mind.  Off I went to the next internet café and booked a flight for the next day, then I went to Michael to extend my room for a third time and then I went to the travel agent to refund my ticket, which unfortunately did not work out (well, it was 11 €, so what the heck…)  After this, I went to Anand and got my backpack, threw on my bikini and headed to the beach once more.  As I had already said goodbye to all my friends the night before, it was a big surprise for them, to see me again.  You should have seen their faces, they looked like they had seen a ghost.  After all these delays, all I could think about was the Eagle’s song “Hotel California – You can check out any time, but you can never leave”.

The next day, I checked out of my room once more and headed for the bar to have my last morning coffee with Anand, our little routine, which we developed over the past week.  At around 3 I took a cab to the Airport, flew to KL, transferred by shuttle bus from the Air Asia terminal to KLIA and waited there for a couple of hours for my check-in counter to open.  I boarded my red eye flight at around 12 AM and left Malaysia with more than one tear in my eye.  Malaysia is such a wonderful country, I really wished I had picked it instead of China to do my internship.  The people there are so friendly and it is so much easier to communicate, since most of the people speak English very well.  Since I didn’t do most of the things I actually had intended to do, I definitely have to come back to this great country and explore it some more.

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Kuala Lumpur – My China/Malaysia Experience 23

After I finally found a nice backpack in Beijing, I finally boarded the plane to Kuala Lumpur, or KL as the Malay say, on Saturday afternoon.  After a six hour flight with Air China, I arrived at 11:30 PM in KL, went through immigration, got my backpack, went through customs and changed some money.  As soon as I entered the public area, I was surrounded by at least 10 cab drivers who offered me their services.  I had read that taking the cab to town is only cheap if you are at least 4 people, and since I was on a budget, I decided to take the fast train.  There is an even cheaper alternative, but I would have had to take a shuttle bus to the Air Asia terminal, which is about a 20 minute drive and by then, all shuttle buses to KL would probably be stopped for the night.  So I bought a 35 Ringgit one-way ticket for the fast train, which brought me at least close to my final destination, The original backpacker and travelers hostel in China town.  From the train station, I bought a taxi coupon to my hostel for another 20 Ringgit and finally arrived at the hostel at 1.30 AM.

Petronas Towers Kuala LumpurI was welcomed by the manager, who spoke very good English, a very pleasant surprise when coming from China.  I checked in and went straight to bed.  Actually, I had planned to go up to the bridge of the Petronas Towers the next morning, but to get a ticket, you would have to get in line at 8.00 AM at the latest and I was just simply too tired and slept until 9.00 AM.  When I woke up, I had a thorough look at my room.  I had a Single Ensuite for 13 €, and I got what I paid for.  It really looked like a prison cell.  I had no window to the outside, but only to the hallway.  All walls, floor and ceiling were bare concrete and there was a 10 inch gap between the walls and the ceiling.  I still don’t understand, how the ceiling stayed up there and did not burry me alive…  The bathroom was also typical for Malaysia:  Shower over the toilet, and no toilet paper, but rather a hose with which you are supposed to wash yourself after, well after you did what you got to do…

I don’t know if its me, but somehow I feel I am too stupid to use Asian toilets.  First the Chinese squat holes, now a hose instead of toilet paper???  How can they use a hose to clean themselves and not be wet from head to toe???  I tried it once, when I was wearing a bikini, and if I had put on shorts or pants right afterwards, well, let me put it that way, it would have looked as if I had not made it in time to the bathroom…  Is there anybody out there who could solve this mystery for me, I’d really appreciate it.  I already thought about filming a documentary about the use of sanitary facilities around the world, sort of like: Sh***ing for Dummies!!!

Back to KL…  After an American breakfast at the roof top bar in my youth hostel, I went out to explore the city a little.  I strolled around the streets surrounding my hostel and went shopping.  After two hours, I went back to my hostel to talk to the travel agent there.  My intended route was as follows:  Spent one more night in KL, then go to Tamen Negara, a national park with the oldest rainforest in the world, then take the jungle train to Singapore, spent one night in Singapore, then head to Pulau Pangkor, a little island and get some rest on the beach, and then head back to KL to catch my flight back to Beijing.  When I showed my itinerary to the travel agent, he suggested to book a flight to Langkawi, a little island close to the border to Thailand, then head over to Kota Baru, take the jungle train to Tamen Negara, then go to Singapore and then back to KL.  We checked out prices for flights to Langkawi for the next day and since the airfare was only 30 €, the flight was booked and my new itinerary was in action, or so I thought…

After setting up my new travel route, the travel agent asked me what my plans were for the rest of the day.  I said I wanted to check out little India, and he offered me to take me there during his lunch break.  He was a very friendly guy and he even bought me a day ticket for the subway.  He told me, that little India was not much more than a tourist area, and he showed me a quarter of KL, where the “real” Indian people of KL lived.  He kept on warning me about people in KL, who would be very friendly to me at first and then they would take advantage of me, so I should be careful with whom I talk and I should not go with any stranger.  When we got to the “real” little India, he had to go back to the hostel and I went for some authentic Indian cuisine.

View from TV-Tower Kuala LumpurAfter my lunch, I took the subway to Masjid Jamek, a beautiful Mosque in the city center.  I had to wear a veil, which I did out of respect for the religion, but it still felt very strange.  I wandered around the Mosque, which was very interesting, especially, since it is sort of an outdoor Mosque, which I had never seen before.  The Mosque was surrounded by a beautiful garden with exotic flowers and lush palm trees.  I found some nice benches in the shade and decided to rest a little, since the heat and humidity were almost unbearable.

As I was sitting there, a man came up to me and asked me, if he could talk to me.  He introduced himself as Mohammed or Andy, whichever I prefer.  We started talking and I told him about my plans to go to Langkawi the next day.  As luck would have it, he used to work in Langkawi and he told me a lot about the little island.  He was very nice and friendly, but due to all the warnings I had heard from the travel agent, I was suspicious about his intentions the whole time.  He asked me about my contact information, and I gave him a faked name and phone number…  I know it sounds bad, but I was traveling alone after all, so I thought better safe than sorry.  I have never ever experienced so friendly and helpful people and  I guess I am just not used to this.  After talking to him for about an hour, I wanted to go off to the TV tower to get the birds perspective of KL.  Even though Andy came to the mosque to pray, he decided that Allah would understand and he walked me all the way to the TV tower.
When we got to the TV tower, I stumbled and hit my toe on a stone.  It was bleeding pretty bad and Andy ran off to get me a band aid.  He got the whole staff of the tower involved in helping me.  It was very nice of him and at that moment I knew for sure, that he had no bad intentions at all.  He just wanted to show me his city and be friendly and hospitable to a foreign little girl.  Unfortunately, I did not have the guts to tell him, that I had given him the wrong phone number and a wrong email address.

Looks like the Burj in Dubai doesn't it?From the viewing platform of the TV tower, I had a splendid view of the whole city.  It was so beautiful, especially the Petronas Towers.  They are so amazing and they always remind me of the ivory tower in The Neverending Story.  They are so amazing during the day, but at night, their true beauty comes out.  After I watched a non-existing sunset (due to bad weather), I went down and walked to the Towers through the rain.  It was still very hot and humid, so whether you left your rain jacket on or off, you’d still be soaking wet after about five minutes.  But as soon as I stood in front of the Towers, I did not care any more about the rain.  I just stood there in awe and admired them.

After a while, I took a cab back to my hostel and went out for some food.  I actually wanted some authentic Malayan food, but since I stayed in China town, this was no easy task.  I was tired and hungry, so I settled for some Chinese food.  I was sitting next to a young girl, who was alone as well.  It turned out that she was from Australia and she joined me on my table and we had a nice chat.  After a short while, the neighbor on the other table started chatting with us as well and convinced us to come to a Reggae Bar with him.  So we did.  I had a great day and a fun night and the next day a pretty bad hangover on my flight to Langkawi…

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Backpack Odyssey – My China Experience 22

Due to the strange regulations of my visa, I can only stay in China for 60 days at a time.  As I will be in China 60 days on November 5, 2007, I have to leave the country before or on this date.  Foreign expats with the same kind of problems usually go to Hongkong for one weekend.  But I have been to Hongkong and so I decided to do something a little bit more exciting.  Yes, I know, my life is sooooo boring at the moment….

So I decided to fly to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia and spend a nice 12 day vacation there backpacking through the country.  My plan as of right now is as follows:

Kuala Lumpur -  Taman Negara (Rainforest) – Jungle-train to Singapore – Singapore – Pulau Pangkor (Island/Beaches) – Kuala Lumpur.

This will be my first backpacking trip, so I have to go shopping before I go…  Since this will be a backpacking trip, the most important item will be a backpack, obviously…  As Chinese are not too much into backpacking, but rather prefer to stay on the beaten path, I have never seen many outdoor stores that sell high quality backpacking and travel gear.  As I don’t have that much time left before my departure, I did some research on the LP Thorn tree forum.  Several posts referred to Decathlon, a French sports equipment company.  I thought it might be a good idea to go there, as I was sure they will have plenty of good quality and Western brand products.  So I found their address on the internet (city weekend Beijing) and asked one of my colleagues to write it down for me in Chinese.  Well, that’s where my odyssey began…

So far so good… Right after work I took a cab and showed the paper with the address to my cab driver.  As usual, he did not have a clue, where it is, so he called his colleague.  I think Chinese cabs won’t start unless the driver confirmed directions in a heated discussion with at least one colleague。After a short while, we took off and of course we got stuck in heavy rush hour traffic.  After about 25 minutes, my driver stopped and asked a pedestrian for further directions.  Still normal for a cab ride through Beijing.

Then something strange happened:  We drove to a hotel and my driver dragged me out of the taxi and into the hotel. I did not have a clue what was going on and thought he wanted to rip me off.  But au contraire, he figured that the receptionist could speak at least some English, so it was actually a great idea.  The receptionist, however, felt rather insecure about her English skills, so she called her friend, with whom I had to talk on the phone.  This friend tried to convince me to go to a different shop, where I could buy nice backpacks, too.  The problem is, that most Chinese don’t know what backpacking is, so when they talk about backpacks, they rarely mean something bigger than a small daypack. I hung up and asked the receptionist whether they had internet access on their computers.  They did not, but she brought me to the office of the hotel manager and after throwing him out, I searched the net for the address again.  It was the same address as on my paper, so that was not the problem.  City Weekend simply put the wrong address on their website.  Thank you City Weekend.  Then we Googled Decathlon and found a phone number.  We talked to one of their managers who spoke very good English and he told my cab driver how to get to the store.

Off we went again.  We went back almost the same way we had come from.  Suddenly I saw a rather familiar sight: IKEA!!! Since I live right next to it, I now had an idea where I was.  As it was already close to seven by now, and the City Weekend site said Decathlon closes at 7:30, I thought about telling  my cab driver to bring me home instead.  But I was so excited to look for a nice backpack, that I could not resist.

We kept on driving and the clock kept on ticking away time.  Still no Decathlon in sight.  Then, at 7:35 I spotted the familiar blue sign with white writing: DECATHLON.  Luckily, the website had mad a mistake with the opening hours as well, so the store was still open and would be open till 9 PM!!! Lucky me, at least that’s what I thought before I entered.

They had backpacking backpacks, yes, but only one brand, which I had never heard before. I read some reviews about backpacks and even though I still don’t have much clue about them, at least I know some brands and Quechua was not mentioned on any of the posts or in any review… Let me know, if you have any experience with this brand, I am really curious now.

I decided that Quechua backpacks are not for me and tried on some pants and jackets.  To my surprise, they were not too tight, but rather too big, which was a welcoming change for going shopping in China.  Unfortunately I could not find any pants that fit right, I don’t think Chinese cuts correspond too well with my figure….  So all I bought was an original Quechua rain jacket.

All day I could not stop smiling about my adventure Malaysia, but those 3 hours really got to me, so I went to KFC for some comfort food.  After that, I took a cab back home and went to bed early…  Tomorrow I will set out to find another location to find a backpack.  Wish me luck!!!

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My China Experience 1

My China Experience 2-11

My China Experience 12-21

My China Experience 21-31