Aww, it‘s been a while, but never mind. Found some new TiC stuff I gotta write about^^

So we are all aware that Chinese people are some of the most pragmatic folks you‘ll ever meet. Trust a Chinese person to find the most pragmatic solution to any given problem, even if it‘s friggin ridiculous.

So I went to this firm event of a friend  of mine where they celebrated their achievements of the past year (with looong diashows, Chinese just love that and many companies are like family to them) and of the next year. Because of  Gangnam Style performances, theater sketches, belly dancing and many emotional speeches (always introduced by some epic movie soundtrack like PotC) they had to do a whole lot of clapping. That‘s tiring after 3 hours. So with which kind of solution would the come up? Right, clapping devices. Literally. Small plastic hands that make clapping sounds when you shake them. Yep, for real. And you know what‘s the weirdest part about it? Call me 老外 but personally I found it easier to just use my hands since you need a whole different muscle group to use those and it gets tiring as well. But TiC.

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Second thing I discovered when we went shopping. So you know those moments when you gotta appear professional when you gotta tuck you shirt in and it just keeps getting back out? Well, lucky us, the Chinese folks found a solution for that. However, I‘d rather keep dealing with the problem itself than this inner voice that keeps telling me last time I opted for this solution was 20 years ago…

Baby Style;)

Being in China, especially in a very Chinese city like Taiyuan can put any coffee addict into a serious withdrawal – especially of good coffee. For months I‘ve been dealing now with Nescafé instant coffee and coffee mix drinks. However, even using normal coffee here is very difficult since coffee machines are either not known or ridiculously expensive (or cost like 80 €).  Also even if you get coffee here you NEVER find ground coffee – always only the whole beans. Great thing, except that buying a grinder will cost you another 30€ – so not really an option. Fortunately – God bless my parents! – I got at least some German coffee from German CARE packages.

So it took me a long time to receive at least something similar to a coffee machine. Unfortunately with this small thingy from Vietnam (given to me by a really nice Chinese colleague) it takes like 30 min to make even ONE coffee, not to talk about doing it on a regular basis.

Vietnamese Coffee "machine"

Coffee shops have been a rather depressing experience so far (especially since they tended to not have any good mixes like Hazelnut Lattes), my only salvation being the occasional visit in Beijing.

BUT – I found a really good coffee shop yesterday! It‘s called Maan Coffee and is kinda like the Chinese equivalent (first stores in Beijing) to Starbucks. The food is western (haven‘t tried it, yet, though) and the coffee is…so amazing. Absolutely on the same level as Starbucks! You even get a teddy bear instead of a receipt when waiting for your coffee and the interior is also really comfy! So I‘m really happy to say that after this really long time I finally found a decent coffee shop in Taiyuan!

Carpe diem, gonna get some coffee now! 🙂

Maan Coffee

Well, as China-crazy as I am I do realize that many people think very badly – especially in environmental terms – of China. Which is partly true (remember, I‘m in the 3rd to 5th most polluted city of China) but as so often there‘s more to it than just meets the eye.

So let me tell you a bit about an aspect of China where Germany isn‘t nearly as good: bike sharing. I know Germany has it as well but only in very few places while it represents here a larger trend. Admittedly it‘s also way more dangerous (should do a post about Chinese driving in the future) but I think a really nice way of getting people to not use cars. The way it works here is that you can purchase an IC card (with which you can also ride the bus) where you put money on and it automatically charges the money from there. The stations are quite frequent and you get around pretty easily. Only reason I‘m not using it is that I have a problem with riding bikes on icy surfaces in combination with crazy drivers but maybe I‘ll get around;) But in general genius idea.

Bike Sharing

The bus service here is….well, different. Generally it‘s way cheaper than in Germany (figures), you pay 1 kuai (like 0,10€) normally or 5 mao (0,5€) for one ride, no matter the amount of stations. Depending on the line the busses are quite old and the bus drivers are crazy (well, TiC, never met a normal driver in China in the first place). It‘s rather unfortunate that the stations are only displayed in Chinese without a map which makes it harder to figure out where you‘re going. But with a little bit of help from Chinese friends it‘s fine and for 1 kuai the risk of taking the wrong bus is a worthy one^^

Cabs are also really cheap. You pay for the first 10 minutes in Taiyuan 8 kuai (0,97€) and then for every minute or so. I pay for example for a 15 min ride to the train station 14 kuai (1,70€) which is nearly ridiculously cheap. Actually cab riding is one of the most common forms of transportation, even more in Beijing. Seriously lowers the attractiveness of getting your own car cause you don‘t even have to be sober OR deal with the traffic anymore^^

Trains are also genius. It costs me from Taiyuan to Beijing about 150 kuai (18,25€) but since it‘s a 4,5h ride this is pretty reasonable. Especially if you choose the night train option – then it takes you 10-12 hours but with a nice bed. Love them and always sleep really well in them. Can only recommend it.

Even though it‘s still under development the train network is really good in China. A new line was opened from Beijing to Guangzhou (far south) and is supposed to be incredibly fast. I was also happy to hear that from Taiyuan there‘s even a direct line to Shanghai since I‘m gonna be using that.

So you see at least in public transportation there‘s a lot we can learn from China. Just because we‘re fewer people doesn‘t mean we should have more cars because they still all fit the streets. Especially the price policy needs to be reconsidered. If it‘s more expensive to go by train somewhere than going by car something is not right.

But we‘ll hopefully get there;)

You know before I came to China I‘d have expected Apple and iPhones to be something reserved for the few wealthy ones. Like maybe 5-10% of the smartphone users would actually own an iPhone. You know, cause it‘s rather expensive, especially in a country where a large part of the people kinda have to survive with 300-400 €/month.

However, I was wrong. Like big time. I‘d say especially in Beijing the iPhone user rate is around 70-80%. This remained a mystery to me for the longest time. I mean, of course Chinese people care less about privacy rights or Apple controlling them, with that kind of behavior the company just fits the political system,.

But still, why investing such a large amount of money???

Well, here‘s my theory:

So it‘s kinda hard in a 20 million people city to have the classical status symbols: car, big house, w/e all make either no sense (ever driven a car in China? Especially Beijing? During rush hour? Yep, let the cab drivers deal with that, you‘re not gonna survive it.) or are multiple times as expensive as a phone. And China is after all all about status and ways you could display it. And Apple is THE status symbol, even more than in Germany (in Germany it‘s rather cool to say you‘re an Android user because you care so much about your freedom). Furthermore you can get stolen ones here pretty cheaply but I don‘t know how much that actually contributes to the total amount of iPhones I‘ve seen so far.

So we have this huge amount of iPhones and everybody is using it. Consequently the next problem Chinese people encountered was that now all of the sudden it wasn‘t that special anymore. But switching to a less valuable and popular brand wouldn‘t solve the problem (for people would be thinking you only have the other brand because you couldn‘t afford a real iPhone).

So what do you do? You pimp your iPhone China-style.

Believe me, the kind of cases and accessories you can find in China top anything and everything you‘ll most probably be able to find anywhere in the west. For onebecause they‘d sell those cases anywhere: normal accessory store (see picture), street, electronic store and any Chinese market you can find. Second because they don‘t have that natural restriction of wanting their phones to kinda look elegant or whatever Apple is trying to represent. It‘s already enough to be the brand. Apple with Hello Kitty is not destroying the image, it‘s adding to your own personality, readily displaying it for the world.

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Well, that results in a whole lot of new, (im)possible choices (and I will try to post more crazy case pics in the future): Blinky-blinky cases, plush toy cases (literally!), stickers for iPhone with all kinds of crazy motives, stupid pictures, embarrassing pictures, fairies, … I think you get the point (and I get the point that I need to post pics because a written description doesn‘t even come close to the visual proof).

I think this shows again how very different the Chinese mentality is from the Western one. But I love it. I resisted joining this weird movement for months now but during New Year‘s shopping they got me: I really bought stickers to put on my phone. Though I would say it‘s still the European elegant version of the Chinese possibilities I have to admit I have been pimped;)

Bildschirmfoto 2013-01-06 um 12.27.55

Maybe we all need to go a little bit more crazy sometimes 😉

Now I know this isn‘t really Chinese culture OR forestry related but a thought that has been crossing my mind quite a lot recently.

So a lot I hear from people (not necessarily saying that to me) is „You‘re perfect, just the way you are.“ or „Stay as you are.“, even „Don‘t let society make you somebody else.“. Now as I do agree to a certain extent with the last one, I am a strong denier of the first two. For the record I do not believe that there is any good coming out if you don‘t work on yourself constantly. This might result in setbacks and whatever but in general somebody trying to stay the same is somebody taking small steps backwards everyday. I‘m not saying I‘m a role model in doing the opposite, and yes, I fail quite regularly, but I haven‘t had the intention of staying the same for even once in my life.

It‘s a very fine line between telling people „I‘m not happy with you.“ and telling them „I like you but I‘d never take from you the opportunity to change yourself to the kind of person you desire to be.“

George Bernard Shaw once said „Life is not about finding yourself, it‘s about creating yourself.“. One of the truest statements in my belief. There is always going to be a part of ourselves we won‘t like. I hate being lazy at times I shouldn‘t be, not always reaching for my highest or even for whatever reason missing out on running sometimes.

Now you could say this leaves you always a frustrated person. Why are we not allowed to be happy with ourselves? I think you can also be happy and still discontent with yourself. Because it is a journey. Because every single time you expand your limits you feel this deep inner joy of facing a struggle – sometimes it doesn‘t even matter if you win!

Also sometimes we just don‘t want to be things we are right now. Do I want to be a Youtube addict? No. Do I want to waste my evenings watching movies just to take my mind of something? Certainly not, but sometimes I do. I feel I do have a right to feel discontent about myself because – quite frankly – I‘m not all that great and there is a huge deal of things I should and want to change about myself.

Therefore I cannot understand people who say they wouldn‘t change anything or say others are perfect the way they are. It‘s become quite the trend recently in our society to feel this way. I struggled with this idea for a long time but I could not honestly tell a person they‘re perfect the way the are. Alone cause a struggling person is so much more beautiful than one in stagnation.

I think we can actually learn a lot about that from business entrepreneurs and enterprises. Nobody would ever tell Apple to just stay the same – actually right now the opposite is happening. Because the iPhone 5 was kinda average people start complaining and being unhappy – but Apple stayed only the same, essentially! We all know there‘re limits of growth (one of those books I‘m committed to read in the future) but I think especially for personal development there aren‘t. I think there‘s always a way to treat the people around you better, make your own day more splendid or exceed expectations you and others have in yourself. And I think if we‘d finally stop clinging to a stage we are at the world would become a much more beautiful place.

This also applies to things where you think you got it figured out. It‘s especially easy to stop improving there. Like let‘s say you‘re good at treating people well. At some point you‘ll stop thinking of ways to treat them even better. But you could. And who‘s really saying it‘s enough? The people telling you you‘re doing that perfectly? Masterfully? Splendidly? Think hard if you‘re truly content with the level you‘re at.

Another thing is constantly questioning the paths you‘re walking on. It‘s even harder to do this. Let‘s take a personal example from my life: The idea of veganism having actually more health benefits has shaped my thinking for years now. So I intuitively avoided eggs and milk. But recently I got myself up to do some more research on that – not only from pro-vegan or pro-vegetarian/omnivore pages – and I‘m not so sure anymore what is the truth. I notice right now health benefits from consuming those products so I‘m questioning a lot about that! In this case it‘s a search for truth but also this has to be done! Don‘t ever be content with your level of knowledge, don‘t ever think you really know the truth! You can have opinions (as we all have) but claiming to really know is something that maybe only ignorant people can do. So (as you might figure) I‘m for example also learning right now to not think I know the truth – something which is especially under environmentalists nearly a disease.

But back to the start: So when I see a person complaining about something like wanting to live healthier I wanna be able to tell them instead of „It‘s fine, you‘re trying so hard already.“ „I totally agree. Keep going, I know you can do it and you will be much happier if you achieve that.“

And now (especially for the German readers but I‘m gonna put up an English translation anyways) a poem from Hermann Hesse, one of my favorites, and in my opinion quite fitting:

 Stufen

Wie jede Blüte welkt und jede Jugend
Dem Alter weicht, blüht jede Lebensstufe,
Blüht jede Weisheit auch und jede Tugend
Zu ihrer Zeit und darf nicht ewig dauern.
Es muß das Herz bei jedem Lebensrufe
Bereit zum Abschied sein und Neubeginne,
Um sich in Tapferkeit und ohne Trauern
In andre, neue Bindungen zu geben.
Und jedem Anfang wohnt ein Zauber inne,
Der uns beschützt und der uns hilft, zu leben.

Wir sollen heiter Raum um Raum durchschreiten,
An keinem wie an einer Heimat hängen,
Der Weltgeist will nicht fesseln uns und engen,
Er will uns Stuf’ um Stufe heben, weiten.
Kaum sind wir heimisch einem Lebenskreise
Und traulich eingewohnt, so droht Erschlaffen,
Nur wer bereit zu Aufbruch ist und Reise,
Mag lähmender Gewöhnung sich entraffen.

Es wird vielleicht auch noch die Todesstunde
Uns neuen Räumen jung entgegen senden,
Des Lebens Ruf an uns wird niemals enden…
Wohlan denn, Herz, nimm Abschied und gesunde!

Steps

Like ev’ry flower wilts, like youth is fading
and turns to age, so also one’s achieving:
Each virtue and each wisdom needs parading
in one’s own time, and must not last forever.
The heart must be, at each new call for leaving,
prepared to part and start without the tragic,
without the grief – with courage to endeavor
a novel bond, a disparate connection:
for each beginning bears a special magic
that nurtures living and bestows protection.

We’ll walk from space to space in glad progression
and should not cling to one as homestead for us.
The cosmic spirit will not bind nor bore us;
it lifts and widens us in ev’ry session:
for hardly set in one of life’s expanses
we make it home, and apathy commences.
But only he, who travels and takes chances,
can break the habits’ paralyzing stances.

It might be, even, that the last of hours
will make us once again a youthful lover:
The call of life to us forever flowers…
Anon, my heart: Say farewell and recover!

(translation by Walter A. Aue from http://myweb.dal.ca/waue/Trans/Hesse-Stufen.html)

P.S. Not gonna put this up as well but if you also wanna have a fitting song, listen to „Addicted“ by Bliss n Eso^^

Ok…so here it comes. Chinese New Year. A post I didn‘t really wanna do but kinda feel obligated to. You might wonder why – well, it just – at least compared to the western world – wasn‘t that interesting or special. At least in Taiyuan.

So I‘m not sure if this only applies to my experience but doing countdown in China doesn‘t seem to be that important – at least nobody I knew was really doing it. Instead there was a Danwei (company kinda) celebration where they did a whole bunch of songs, sketches and dances (look at the video) which was really fun – or could have been if I‘d understood the jokes. Kinda requires you to understand Chinese well, though. So jokes on me.

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(Chinese dance, pay also attention to the foods)

Also had to chant a German song, since they surprised me with this request the only thing I couldcome up with was „Winterwind“ from „Frühlingserwachen“ – you guessed it, a musical. Not very traditional or German but at least good to sing acapella.

Funny about it was especially my thank-you gift – a salad bouquet! Literally! And a huge box of cleaning whatever (I‘m most probably never gonna use because I have to idea what it‘s really for).

One thing I really like about China is the kind of snacks they put up on such events: In our case mandarins, shelled peanuts, bananas, sunflower seeds and candy. So you can always make a decent choice. Try finding those things in Germany on a normal festival!

New Year‘s day (the 1st) I celebrated with a colleagues family. Apparently the only special custom is going shopping on New Year – which we did. But aside from that it‘s really nothing special. Typical Chinese family gathering: getting food, talking (or listening in my case), shopping, dinner. Though the did make the 饺子 (Jiaozi, Chinese dumplings) themselves which was really neat.

饺子 (Chinese dumplings)

So thiswas my absolutely unspectacular (but I suppose pretty typical Taiyuanese) New Year. Yeeeehaaa^^

Being a runner has certainly improved my life in more ways than I could possibly count. I‘m a calmer, happier and more self-fulfilled person when I‘m running. Life without running is to me like life without internet: it sucks.

Opposed to what most people think it doesn‘t really take me any effort to go running – therefore I have a hard time explaining to people that I‘m not especially disciplined but just a runner (actually with any other sport I‘m pretty bad – I‘d do it for 2 or 3 weeks and then start slacking off -.-‘). It‘s like those naturally skinny people that claim even though they try they can‘t gain a pound (I‘m the first one to be jealous of that condition :P). It does not really have anything to do with determination or the kind of discipline normal people have to raise in order to do it – it‘s just there. And for me this applies to running.

There‘re only few moments or periods in my life where that kinda sucks – during hiking high in the mountains (who wants to run uphill for half an hour???), at the beach (ever run in sand? yep, NOT funny) or – like right now – during periods of extremely cold weather, also called winter.

Now in Germany I had to deal with that as well which made me go running effectively once or twice a week. Even though the temperature also contributed to that it was mostly the ice and snow I was trying to avoid. In some winters that made me go to fitness studios in search of a treadmill, in others I just endured it and settled with going fewer times.

In Taiyuan, however, this proves to become a huge problem. The average daytime (!) temperature here was in the past three weeks around -14° (for the American readers – that‘s like 7°F) and any runner will tell you that this is seriously NOT the kind of temperature where you wanna go running anymore. It‘s not even healthy, I‘m pretty sure about that. Also the alternative treadmill is hard to get since you‘d have to be a member of a fitness studio to gain access to that and my Chinese is way too bad to manage that task (don‘t really have any desire to join one here, either – could kill me).

Now what happens when a running addict is deprived of his sport is that at some point – sometimes it takes a week but usually you can go on for a couple of weeks – you‘re gonna get really squirrely. And I mean that literally. You can‘t really calm down anymore and have this itching feeling THAT YOU NEED TO GO RUNNING RIGHT NOW. Believe me, there‘s hardly a more annoying feeling (maybe same category as resisting a bad chocolate craving for days) in the whole world. It will deprive you of your sleep. It‘ll take over your thoughts. In short – it‘ll make you go running.

Now as I am in Taiyuan right now, today was the day I had to give in. After a little more than two weeks (and trying at home strength training as an alternative – but like I said I‘m not the most disciplined person in the world) I couldn‘t put it off anymore – and went running today (-13°) not sure if I‘d be making it back – ever. It was every bit as bad as you‘d imagine it – my lung was not exactly happy about ice-air, my fingers were freezing off, my legs were numb the entire time – but when I came back I was the most content person in the whole world. As bad as it was to me it was pure bliss.

That also made me think I should describe a bit of running culture and my running experience in China. The first one is comparatively easy – there is none. I‘m not entirely sure if this also applies to summer time in China but even if it is I think it‘s safe to say that running as a sport has not yet arrived in China. In my entire time of staying here (remember, also Beijing for nearly 2 months and up to 5 times/week running) I might have seen about 30 runners. In China! With 1,2 billion people! I think you get what I‘m talking about. Personally I think it‘s a shame (well, not today but let‘s say above -10°) but it makes it an even more unique experience since now you‘re not only a weird looking 老外 (laowai or foreigner) anymore – no, you‘re also the crazy person running around in parks!

So let‘s move on to the best (and the weirdest) running experiences I had here:

  1. One thing in I remember in particular was my race with a biker that one time in Beijing. I was totally on a runner‘s high and running as fast as I could (last mile). Then there was this biker trying to round me but of course I couldn‘t let him win and speeded up even more. It was most probably the weirdest sight ever for Chinese people if they see a foreigner chasing a bike. I remember the staring and I can tell you 99% hadn‘t seen anything like that before;)
  2. My second best experience was right after visiting the forbidden city. Me and my friend were already running late to meet up with the others who had already seen it and after a whole lot of begging I got him to run with me back. Takes you usually about 10 min to get there if you‘re fast but with all the stopping and arguing about going on it took us like 20 min. But imagine the stares you get when you‘re NOT ONLY a foreigner and a runner BUT ALSO in normal clothes! Certainly memorable;)
  3. This experience actually sucked pretty bad. Being a dog owner myself I‘d never tell people they should put their dogs on the leash all the time. However, I do expect from the dogs in exchange to not be chasing me. Unfortunately that‘s exactly what happened a couple of times to me when I went running (though I also gotta tell you that 90% of the dogs I encountered would do no such thing) with one being particularly bad: I was running and saw this cute puppy when it started chasing me. Trying to get away as fast as I could I started speeding up and actually was able to escape. But when I turned around just to make sure I really lost him I tripped and hurt my foot so bad that I wasn‘t able to run (or walk for that matter) for the entire next week – which really sucked since I was badly into running that time. Needless to say I didn‘t run that part of my route ever again.
  4. Some of the usual stuff I kinda just wanna name: When I was running here a lot of the time people would starting waving their hands and shouting random stuff in English. In the beginning I just shyly waved back, now I go all out and do some crazy-ass running especially for them. Also sometimes they would start running when they see me coming (especially kids tend to do  that) so that I feel obligated to round them with double-speed. 😛
  5. Also funny are those phases when (especially while listening to your sports remix) you just feel like dancing and naturally start to do so while running. Combining weird hobbies in public (dancing and running) certainly get you most of the attention of whoever you encounter.

Of course there‘s a lot more to say about running (like tasting the coal in the air in Taiyuan) but I think this were some of the most important remarks I can make. And sorry for not posting sth about New Year, I might do that tomorrow.

See ya;)