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China stories


It has been a while. Finally the arrival of our container. It’s amazing to think it came all the way by boat from California! I imagine our sofa floating somewhere in the middle of the ocean like the boy in Life of Pi. It has travelled a lot at this stage and is obviously able to withstand the rough seas. Maybe I should inform the manufacturer of its amazing ability to cross oceans and adapt to new cultures and humidity levels.

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Ted says sell your waste

Last weekend I spent a very interesting afternoon at the TEDxSuzhou event City2.0 (how people are transforming cities). Some talks were in Chinese and I entertained myself during these by counting the number of words I could understand whilst chatting to my newly found friend. Luckily there was also content in English. One talk was particularly interesting to me as it was about recycling. Not that I am overly interested in this topic in general but I had been wondering for a while whether I should really be dumping all my recyclables in the trash or start looking for an alternative. Well there it was.

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Red ants and mooncakes

This week I am a little uninspired. Plenty of things are happening but all I feel like is taking a nap. I had to abandon my plan to write about the lovely box of mooncakes we received from our landlord on Sunday because I found the box empty the next day (this did not inspire me). Someone accidentally ate them all and it wasn’t me since it turns out I don’t like mooncakes. Even though they are all slightly different, I feel disappointed every time. It’s like picking the wrong chocolate from a box that doesn’t have one of those handy explanation cards.

I really want to like mooncakes, because they look so gorgeous from the outside and the whole idea of them is very romantic. But even if I did, evidently the box would not last untill the festival moon which is when you are supposed to eat them. Gazing at the full moon while holding hands and floating sky lanterns (that’s the romantic bit).

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Need character, will write novel

Last week I really started to learn Chinese characters. So far I am able to write about 15 odd. Since there are tens of thousands of them I’ve barely made a dent in it. Nevertheless I tried to impress my Chinese teacher with my newly acquired writing skills and I think she was a little bit. I’m not sure of her general level of ‘impressedness’ by me but the other day I put a fairly long sentence in the correct order and she said ‘that’s right‘ with great surprise in her voice as if she was thinking to herself ‘she’s never gonna get that one‘. I do have to admit I was quite surprised myself. We had a good laugh about it.

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A different kind of red town

Last weekend we paid a visit to another factory in Shanghai that was abandoned, then converted for the artistic community and now labeled as a creative zone. Red Town was once occupied by the No. 10 Steel Factory but since 2005 it has housed the cool Shanghai Sculpture Space with its outdoor sculpture garden.

red town shanghai

You can also find galleries, studios, cafes, offices and a few shops in the beautiful red brick buildings that were once used as warehouses and have now been restored.

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The funny side of learning languages

This week I finished the first Mandarin language course book after just over 30 hours of classes. Two more and I will have completed the beginner level. So technically I should now be able to greet people (appropriately at different times of the day), introduce myself and others, buy cakes and clothes, order food (online doesn’t count apparently), take taxis, make appointments and book all kinds of tickets. Easier said than done…

Yes, I can introduce myself. Not that I do this everywhere I go but still, I can. Food. Well, I have been able to buy real beef (after asking) but have given up ordering ‘yi bei re kafei Americano’ in Starbucks just because it sounds so silly saying Americano after trying my best to speak Chinese. It just makes me feel weird. Buying clothes has not been much of a pastime, partly because shop assistants follow you around shops constantly (literally like a meter behind you) which really takes the fun out of browsing, however it may explain why the book devoted a whole chapter to this subject. As far as transport goes, I have managed to buy train tickets but the taxi driver can still only get left and right out of me, which has proven to be enough to get me home. Pointing also works in taxis but it is not advised in shops due to the previously mentioned overzealous shop assistants.

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The Pants

Having just moved into our new apartment we have started to explore our immediate surroundings. One thing we will not be getting away from is the new development that is being build right on our doorstep. So far there have been no sleepless nights and it all just looks very exciting. There is activity day and night and from the window of one of the rooms you can watch them working, like little men in a model village. They are all housed on site so the commute to work looks pretty easy (this on-site living is very normal over here for people working on building sites and even in factories).

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M50 Shanghai

On my first trip back to Shanghai this week (in search for work) I had some time to go to the M50. This one not being a motorway, the name stands for No.50 Moganshan Road, an arts district along the Suzhou creek on the grounds of an old textile mill which closed in 1999.

M50 Shanghai

Apparently this area is well known and one of the better creative spaces in Shanghai for established artists as well as new talent. But even if you don’t have an art degree this place is pretty cool to wander through as it also houses some small shops, cafes and restaurants. The exhibition spaces are great and the whole place still has a very industrial feel to it. The area houses over 100 galleries and art studios and you will also find architects, photographers, graphic design offices, media companies, as well as clothing and furniture shops. And apparently it attracts tourists as well as art collectors. So far I am in the first category!

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