I’ve got a special vistior from the Netherlands over this week. Giel Talsma is a former neighbor of mine and we’ve known each other for over ten years. I ran into him when I was in Holland during the summer and I invited him to China, he was excited immediately. After picking him up at the Pudong airport on a early Saturday, we have had a busy schedule. Besides doing groceries at the local market, we have been to a black-market to buy clothes. In the evening, we went to a Chinese hotpot place with Korean, Australian and Japanese friends. First, Giel was a bit intrigued by the fact that there was a sheep-spine being served, but he quickly adapted to the Chinese kitchen.
When people inquire about typical Dutch cuisine, the first thing that pops to my mind is the “potato eaters” painting by Vincent Van Gogh. To me, this ‘cozy setting’ visualizes how Dutch peasants have been eating potato’s every day for at least 400 years, in a typical Dutch way. Besides the painting, I was raised eating potato’s almost every day – thankfully in a much brighter environment – and growing up on a small farm, I still remember being occupied with bare-hand potato harvesting for a number of seasons as a kid. It stuck to me that this is typical Dutch lifestyle and cuisine. After having worked and lived in Netherlands, Spain, Sweden, South Korea and now China, I know that potato’s are eaten very differently in every country (Same counts for the potato chips). In Europe, we used to eat dry-boiled or fried potato’s, and of course mashed for boerenkool, I was shocked to learn that South Koreans regard to potato’s as snacks! The (sweet) potato’s are consumed behind the TV while watching a movie and most pizza’s are topped with the Peru delicacy by default, they would not even think of boiling them like we do. However, I have never had such nice potatos as in Shandong China, (likely Anhui kitchen?). The Chinese prepared one particular dish where they seem to fry rasped potato together with ginger, garlic and hot spices. I know it’s silly to even mention such a simple dish while referring to sophisticated Chinese cuisine, but the taste just blew me of my chair: If anybody has the recipe, let me know!
PS: Thinking about it, I realize that Nuffic, The Netherlands Organisation for International Cooperation in Higher Education, prints brochures telling Asian students that the Dutch national dish is not potato, but Indonesian fried rice. But Dutch are probably eating that for less then 200 years. If you ask me, potato is more typical.
Remember the 20 cent gym I blogged about? It was about the Chinese ‘muscle beach’:, a bunch of people assembling in a Shanghai park to work out every day. Frankly, the Chinese men pulling heavy weights while looking angry can be quite impressive (but why do they take their shirts off?), I decided to show the scene to a foreign visitor yesterday. After watching the spectacle together for a few minutes, one of them came up to me and dared me to do some bench presses.
Last week, the entire Spilgames Asia team assembled on a Thursday morning 7 AM in front of our office. The Chinese, Polish, American, Korean and Dutch colleagues got up early for good reason; Spilgames organized a company outing to Qiandaohu – favorite holiday destination for many Shanghainese – by bus, so we had to leave early to avoid Shanghai traffic. Upon arrival, the tone of the weekend was set: we hiked up a mountain as a group. At first I wanted to race to the top but I realized that this was a great opportunity to get to know my fellow Chinese colleagues. The scenery was beautiful, almost magical with a thick fog floating over the typical Chinese mountaintops. The highlight was the end of the road, heavingly lake and then a beautiful waterfall, something our CEO, Marc van der Chijs found irresistible – when I met him after his climb, he was soaking wet from the water! After the climb, went downstream a river rafting, and then we had a very nice dinner.
That evening we decided to go to the most exquisite – and only – discotheque in town with 3 euro all-you-can-drink service. The spirit was good, and the music was so loud that we ended up looking at the crowd. I noticed that the (mostly male) crowd seemed to be very hot, as they all took off their shirts… then I noticed a little while later, thay they seemed to be irritated by the loud music as well, as they clearly had difficulty hearing each other; oh no… wait… are they making out? That was quite a surprise to see! Anyway, the night ended up eating chicken at the local KFC; naturally. The next day – after a Chinese breakfast and a coffee in the morning – it was finally time to see the artificial lake, the “land of 1000 islands” – a place I have visited before, ten years ago. This was the first time that I had a clear point of reference of China’s development. The landscape was the same, but the (real estate) development blew me away! Think: Mass tourist facilitation, muddy roads replaced by highways, shops bars … but a beer still costs only a euro. All and all, it was a great time out with the company!
Note to self:
- When going outside Shanghai, bring your own coffee (or donuts for that matter) for breakfast
- It pays off to sit in the front of the bus, as the back is hotter and more vibrant
- Snake shows with teethless snakes are boring, but (teeth less, duh) ostridges are always fun!
- Western people are barbarians as it comes to drinking beer in public, as opposed to Chinese
While walking around Shanghai last weekend, we came across the most particular scene at the People’s Park. Hundreds of elders had gathered and were having a market like situation where a few were adverting something and others were inquiring. We found out that they had eagerly gathered to exchange information about their children/grandchildren in search for their perfect life mate. These pamphlets with information were often hung on tree leafs or a washing line, and included information such as: -height (seemed exaggerated), -age, -telephone number and income. (!) These attempts are not always performed with their children’s consent! It seems that most Shanghai men and women enjoy their single life and strive for career first and consider marriage later. It seems that the ancient arranged marriages made place for arranged dating. Is this killing romance?
With the whole Seoul Hangang Marathon experience still fresh in mind, I decided to subscribe for half a marathon in Shanghai. This particular run is quite a bigger event, taking place in the heart of the city. Isn’t Shanghai a terrible dirty city to run the marathon? While some might expect that this ‘smoggy city’, once called the ‘opposite of nature’ by Yan Arthus Bertand, would be a bad place to be running *kuche kuche*. Actually, I can see stars at night, and there are a number of great facilities to exercise in the city. Out of curiosity, I compared world records the local ones and it seems that Shanghai can compare itself with the other world marathons. The overall record of men’s Shanghai marathon being 2:09:28 (world record is 2:03:59, ran by Haile Gebrselassie in Berlin) and the record of women’s Shanghai marathon being 2:26:19. (world record is 2:15:25, ran by Paula Radcliffe in London.) So I feel pretty comfortable running here. I am just trying to avoid running on the street as it is a bit dangerous. Perhaps the biggest difference to last time is that besides colleges, both my dad and my girlfriend will be joining the half marathon run as well. I will commence training from this week, if I can find the time to tear myself away from the computer.
A 40 year old Chinese man drives his motor bike with carrier filled with barbells, dumbbells and a radio to the park outside my Shanghai compound every evening. Upon arrival, he marks an area of roughly 40 square meters and unloads the heavy weights. Shortly after, the place is packed with shirtless muscular Chinese men working out. I have seen and walked by this scene on a daily basis over the last few weeks and enjoyed the scene a lot. It’s also really funny to see the trespassers sit down for a while and look at the people working out. Intrigued with this Chinese version of ‘muscle beach‘, I decided to ask the guy for the price. He smiled and told me that I could join them for 2 RMB (about EUR 0.20). My official (indoor) gym at Raffles costs me about ¬ 20 per month, if I would workout with these fine men, I would pay just 30% of what I am paying now. I’ll think about it… While the guy is hawking, and most certainly can be closed down instantly, he has shown me that with little budget and some creativity, it is easy to make a few extra bucks.
Old meets new – Taken at the Jingan temple “Temple of Peace and Tranquility” this afternoon.
Wiki: “The first temple was built in 247 AD, at the time of the Kingdom of Wu, during the Three Kingdoms period. Originally located beside Suzhou Creek, it was relocated to its current site in 1216 during the Song Dynasty. The current temple was rebuilt once in the Qing Dynasty. Its most recent renovation was in late 2008.”
Some help please? I’m not particularly proud of this picture, the woman clearly had trouble getting her goods up the bridge. Instead of helping a hand, I decided to take a picture instead. I found out later that a guy was pushing the goods from the back as well. Must be quite hard work to scrape goods around the city…
Firm stands – Chinese police blocking the road at Shaanxi Nan Lu during the opening parade of the Shanghai tourist festival. The streets were so full of people that there was actually nothing interesting to see, except for these cops.
I have experienced some Chinese culture, one of the things that made me interested in the country were the fireworks. In The Netherlands, we can only light fireworks for a number of hours per year, during new years eve. From the age of six, I used to spend every new years eve with my Chinese friends (in a small town Chinese restaurant) to celebrate the new year and to play with authentic Chinese fireworks.
Now I am actually living in China, I decided to live in a recently finished residential compound. When signing off, I knew the place would be clean and new, but I did not consider that recently married couples moving in are accompanied with a lot of … noise. While I’m watching every ‘entry ceremony’ with enjoyment, I decided to record one when I heard firework on a early Saturday morning. The only thing I can think when I start my day like this is: Good morning China!