Saturday, October 30, 2004

Nowhere else but here

I wake up in the morning and it is around ten degrees in the room. Because of the cold I change clothes under the blanket and wait a while until my body heat has warmed them up a bit. It is comfortable under the blanket, but my face is cold during the night. I've stopped showering in the morning since it is way to uncomfortable. Only the little spot of my body that is covered by the water is comfortable while the rest of the body turns blue. While some of you reading this thinks a certain part of me normally is very small, but I tell you Samantha, it's even smaller during these times. I shower in the evening instead and I have cut down to only shower every other day. The shower is in the toilet. The smell is the same as in a public toilet that is never maintained. There is a dirty squat toilet (not much more than a hole in the ground), and a shower hose on the wall. When showering most of the water has already leaked out when it comes out from the shower head.

Instead of taking a shower in the morning I go to the sink in the kitchen and wash my face. There I have to fight with the other guys for the space. Usually we end up standing two or three of us washing our face, brushing our teeth, or loudly harkling and spitting. Don't worry, I don't really do that last part. Haven't really developed that skill (yet). The water is freezing cold and I get done very fast. When I'm not too tired I try to shave in the evening too to minimize these freezing cold minutes in the morning. The kitchen is a 2,5 x 2 meter room, with a bench and a gas burner on one side, and a sink on the other side. Most of the floor and bench is covered with pots and utensils, all unwashed since whenever someone used them last. The stove and the bench have probably never been cleaned. When cleaning ourselves we all use plastic bowls. I have two, one bigger for cleaning my feet and for hand-washing clothes, and a smaller for my face. The other guys aren't so picky. The other day I for example saw that someone was using one of these bowls for the dog meat that had been cut up. It was half full off water and half full with pieces of a dog. To add to the horror there are all kinds of bugs running around, with the ecosystem seemingly being dominated by cockroaches.

The floor in the whole apartment is considered a dirty place and should not be touched by anything but my shoes. There is junk all over. Mostly pieces of newspapers, but also old shoes, bags, pieces of food etc. The trash is gathered in a black plastic sack in the corner, but just as much trash is out side laying on the floor next to it.

Now, why would anyone like to stay in a place like that? Perhaps more interestingly, why would I want to stay in a place like that? The first question is easy to answer. The couple of millions of students and workers that live under these conditions doesn't have a choice. We each pay about 300 RMB a month and that is a lot more than the student that can live on campus. Why would I want to stay there?

Places like this is defining the student life in China. You live with many people and no privacy. Your relationship with these people is very important. Friends and contacts are so much more important here than where I come from. Your friends will help you find out everything essential you will know about your courses and study, they help you out to reserve seats in packed lecture rooms, and give you notes from the lecture you couldn't go to. They know where to buy things and how much it can be bargained down to, help to find someone to fix your computer, or help you out with an assignment you don't know how to do. They lend you a bike when you need one, come with food to you when you are sick, and know who to talk to when you need the right stamp for your internship application. These people will be the one who stand up for you in case of trouble, support you if you have to argue for something, and comfort you when you feel down. All these small things and big things add up and without it you can easily loose out without ever having a chance to do get where you wanted. In return for this you have to give back. Do everything from small symbols to big favors. Spend a lot of time and a lot of thought. It is a constant giving and taking, paying and being treated, giving and receiving gifts and tokens.

I could find a decent and cheap place and share it with some other exchange students or English teachers. We could have a nice TV, DVD-player, alright shower, washing machine, and most of all a clean comfortable place with a separate room for some privacy. Then then again, I would have very little connection to the everyday life that many students here face. Without that I don't think I would be able to understand their conditions, what considerations they have to make, and basically what they are thinking. Guess that was why I came here in the first place and I wouldn't want to be anywhere else but here right now.

Tuesday, October 26, 2004

ZhangFang's University

ZhangFang's University

Visit to my language tutor ZhangFang's university, the DongFang University.


When the alarm goes off in the morning and I'm brutally brought back to the morning me that want to stay in bed, I usually manage to convince myself that if only I take a shower and have some breakfast it will be worth it. Life will go on. Today when it was almost freezing on the outside, and it was just as cold inside it wasn't so easy to convince my body. Fist of all I was too tired to take a shower last night, and this morning I was too late and too cold to even think about taking off any clothes. After have spend more valuable minutes contemplating my choices under my relatively warm blanket I decided to take on all my clothes (still staying under the blanket) and then just go out and wash my face. That leaves me feeling rather shitty and I don't really feel that I get a good start of the day without a 'waking-up shower'. Getting up was still fucking cold and I'm really not looking forward to tomorrow morning.

It is just very uncomfortable to have a lot of clothes day and night. When sleeping I'm wearing clothes, when I get up I put on even more. When I go inside I can't take off anything. It is like staying outside from morning until evening without really entering any place with comfortable temperature. Takes some time to get used to.

Friday, October 22, 2004

The Hotpot Mafia

Yesterday I had my first hotpot of the season. It was Jeff, a guy from the states, together with the English club mafia and me. Their little club organizes some meetings and sometimes English Corner, and in return each member has to pay 10 RMB. In their ads they usually write stuff like "hang out with native English speakers". At one occasion that was I. Only me. And a room packed with Beida students eager to talk to the "native English speaker". Horror, such horror.

As a friend of Wang Jun, who is the president of the club, I got the privilege to go with the board of the club to eat food using the money from the member-fees. The board by the way consist of only English major girls who are almost exclusively room mates and close friends. The board’s duty, except the hard work of putting up a poster and a finding a place for the English corner, is also to help companies come to Beida and hold lectures for students. The club by the way gets paid for this too.

Thursday, October 21, 2004

Winter is coming

Leave from work has been granted, the ticket has been booked, and mostly clear skies in the on-going saga of Johan and Samantha. She will come and take on the city in the middle of December. At that time it will be long-johns times (at least when venture out from the warm hotel room).

The temperature today made a big dip. The wind was blowing through the room I was staying and it is not hard to predict it will be a pretty cold November until some leader decides that the people have suffered enough and turn on the heating. Then there will be boiling hot water, heated up by burned coal, flowing through the pipes of the city. The routes of the pipes under the streets can be seen by the melted snow or frost, and steam is flowing out from various leaks. The system has only two modes, nothing or full steam.

As my sister remember, our place I lived last year was on the top floor of the old building, and it seemed that most of the heat was already gone. Friends in other places though reported that they had to open the windows sometimes, unless they wanted to live in a sauna. In my room closing or opening the windows has a very small effect anyway, so no risk for sauna there.

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

Coffee and Tea

I'm just taking a little break from classes and use the free computers at the school. The computers suck, but they are free! If they were faster they would probably be hogged by the Koreans, so it is probably pretty good anyway.

Last night I went to a lecture at BeiDa. The class is called Comparison of Eastern and Western Cultures. First I have to say that I understand very little of what the professor is talking about. The little things I got was when Wang Jun translated them for me. She things the class is great. It all seemed to boiled down to showing the superiority of the "Eastern Culture" to the excitement of the Chinese student that was attending. Wang Jun mused when the professor pointed out and ridiculed weaknesses in "Western" languages. It sure is interesting to compare different aspect of cultures, and I had a very interesting class that I took in Singapore on this subject, but how ridiculous it was to turn it into some sort of competition or nurturing of nationalistic feelings.

Maybe I misunderstood some things, but actually I think it was worse than I try to reflect here. When thinking about it, some of the teachers and the text books I had last semester took every opportunity to do just the same. How tea is so much better than coffee, how Chinese never solve disputes by fighting (!), how superior Chinese medicine is to "Western" etc. One text explained how superior the Chinese abacus was to electronic calculators and that more and more people was starting to use it. Even in foreign countries, like the United States, the abacus was getting more and more popular as people understood it's advantages. Sure tea is great, Chinese are fighting every day, Chinese medicine has it's uses, and the abacus is... eh... useful, but I hope that in the future time the Chinese won't be taught and teaching like this is some sort of competition. If you want to drink tea, go ahead. I don't really think it has miraculous health effects, but if you think so, just go ahead. I like coffee because I'm used to it.

Monday, October 18, 2004


Another improvement in my life here was the fact that my flatmates are kicking ball during the weekend in the dirt ground I played at last year. In fact, I think I vagualy remember playing with them. I guess they don't really recognize me from that time. For them all foreigners probably pretty much look the same. When they put on their fake ManU and Arsenal shirts and started playing I knew I had seen them before. It was great to get to run a little, though with all the dirt that you breath in at that field, it can hardly be healty. Living in Beijing is probably equivalent to chain-smoking 24/7.

Saturday, October 16, 2004

Ceren's birthday

Ceren's birthday

The picture is from Ceren's birthday. I invited my good friend to join
me to the party. From left is WuZheJian, my lawyer and former bed mate
(he was on top and I was below), me, Ceren, the mafioso WangJun, and
former flat mate CaoWenYa.

For you guys who don't know Ceren, she is a Turkish girl spending her
second year at Peking University. Last year when we both studied at
the Chinese language center at the university, we ended up in all the
same classes! Funny is, she is also studying at the Diqiucun together
with me this year. Some things never change and going to class is one
of these things, Ceren will always be there! When she doesn't study
there she attends lectures at the International Relations Department
at Peking University.

Cooking Class

Last week I discovered that the school I'm going to has cooking classes during the weekend. What a great way to learn a language! And also, if I don't manage to learn the freaking language at least I learn how to cook a little! I signed up right away and it sure was worth it. I'll start out with two classes this and coming weekend, and I think I will go on. This was just a lot of fun.

today's mission was the Sixuan classic "YuXiangRouSi", which roughly can be literally translated into "fish smelling meat shreds". The dish of course does not either contain nor have anything to do with any fish. Names of Chinese dishes often has nothing to do with they contain, making it difficult for us poor foreigners. The dish is made of pork shreds in sweet in a sweet-and-sour sauce, together with various shredded vegetables and lots of different spices and herbs, all first boiled and then fried in oil. It's very tasty but it can't be eaten too often because of all the oil. It is a classic for foreigners and one of the first dishes one learns here together with the standard "GongBaoJiDing" and "MaoPoDouFu", which we by the way will cook tomorrow.

The teacher is a proud cook and explains every aspect of the cooking very detailed. She is just as careful with the appearance of the food as the taste and smell. As the traditional Chinese woman she is, she harshly criticize the girls and encourage the boys. She praised my poorly cut vegetables, though I have to maintain that in the end they turned into something pretty edible. When we had finished our dishes the teacher pointed out the two creations she thought was the best, and then also had to point out the poor fellow who in her point of view had done the worst!

And no, that wasn't me.

Friday, October 15, 2004

National Day

National Day

1st of October or 十一¸€ is China's national day. I took this picture
while walking by the entrance of 圆明园, the YuanMingYuan park, just
opposite the block where I live. Many tourist attractions had been
decorated to make a good impression on the crowds that come to Beijing
during this time. Going to any tourist attraction is hopeless unless
you really love getting elbowed or pushed around by Chinese country

My daily routine

Life has gotten into some sort of routine, which is kind of what I wanted. That helps me to save money and it's harder to make excuses for not studying.

6:45 I get up from my hard but warm bed to stick in the plug to the water heater
7:00 Take a pretty cold shower and in the kitchen.
The guys from the other room usually get up at this time and I'm trying to finish up before they come around.
7:15 Put on my long-johns and thick sweater and head out in the smog with my 70 RMB super-rider
7:30 Reach some place to have a quick breakfast. Lately I usually have ended up at YongHeDaWang in WuDaoKou for some Youtiao and hot soya-bean milk. 6 RMB
8:00 Morning class, Listening and speaking class (12RMB*2)
10:00 I go to KFC to read and study until lunch
11:40 Go to some of the cheap restaurant and have some noodles, 6RMB
12:30 Return to class-room to prepare class. Sometimes I go and surf a little bit. 4 RMB/H
13:00 Afternoon class (12*2 RMB)
15:00 School day ends and I'll be doing various things.

Yesterday I went back to the dorm to wash some clothes and have a nap. I met up with my old tutor Zhang Fan in the evening. Hopefully we will continue with that (2*10 RMB).

17:30 Dinner at Beida (8 RMB), usually at Nongyuan or Jiayuan. Nothing ever changes.

If there's a movie at the BeiDa Memorial Hall I will usually try to catch it (5-8 RMB). They have both new and old movies and most of them are dubbed to Chinese and and/or have Chinese subtitles.

If nothing special is up I've been sitting in good'ol Kangboshi ("Campus"), a canteen on campus, and reading until 22, when they turn of the light. If I feel like reading later I usually go to some lecture room. Campus is better because I bump in to people I know, but they play painful music there and it is sometimes pretty noisy.

23.00+ Return to the dorm. Wash my feet and read a little bit. Talk to Samantha on the phone.
00.00 Sleep... (300RMB/month)

Still haven't figured out when I will squeeze in writing this blog. Posting is painfully slow and reading it is almost impossible.

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

High school visit

I've been readying a book called "Beijing Doll" by Chun Sue. It's a pretty amazing book and it all takes place right here where I spend my days. She dreams of Beida, hangs out in Wudaokou, and goes to shopping centers around here... and she talks about her high school. That got me interested in how the schools are around here. I asked Wang Jun to take me to see her school which is just a few blocks away from Beida. Today was a sunny day and she wanted to get away from her studies, so we went over for a little visit.

The RenDaFuXue (Associated high school to the Peoples University of China) is a very prestigious school and have more students qualify to Beida then even whole provinces! This year it was 87 student. A year a go Wang Jun was one of them. From the whole of Beijing there is not more than some 200 that qualify, so this school is pretty exceptional. I was told that there are two kinds of students there, those who study really hard and have fairly well of parents, and those with parents that are connected and/or are very rich. The school is like any high school in Singapore and that is very good for being in China. I would say that their facilities are better than that of Beida. The teachers I talked to seemed very nice and the atmosphere seemed very relaxed. This came as a surprise after reading Chun Sue's book, and after having listen to a series of radio programs about Beijing schools that was send on the Swedish public radio, that talks about a pretty oppressive system. I thought people here paid for putting pressure on their poor kids. That didn't seem to be the case at this place.

When entering the campus I felt that something changed. The atmosphere was different from that of the street just outside. The most obvious was that suddenly no one took notice of me anymore. Walking on any street in Beijing and even more in any other city and you always get a quick look by most people you pass by. These kids in this school must have been so used to foreigners (they have 20 foreign language teachers!) that they didn't care anymore! Wang Jun's relationship to some of her teachers was really like a friendship. We sat down with three of them and they talked about this and that. It was very relaxed and they seemed to like her very much.

Guess that is the one thing I really like about this place, I keep getting surprised about things.

Sunday, October 10, 2004


I just haven't been able to find a good routine for writing this blog. The free connections at the university are so damn slow when it comes to surf foreign sites and it has been pretty inconvenient to go to the internet cafes. Unfortunately the occasions when I feel inspired to write something and having access to the internet hasn't coincided very often recently.

As usual I got a pretty bad cold almost immediately after arriving. I couldn't sleep the other night because my throat was so soar. When going to Wudaokou in the mornings the last couple of days last week I've been watching how the city has been more and more started to disappear into the smog and dust. From the clear and cold day I arrived until now it has just been worse and worse. From one day to the other buildings that could bee seen before disappear. Somehow during those times I felt that the city was getting sicker and sicker along with me. WangJun showed me a SMS where someone encourage her to go out and watch some star falls during the coming night. It was supposed to be extra dramatic this night. Unfortunately no one would be able to see anything that night. The moon could hardly be seen through the gray daze. She claims that it's just clouds, that it is just fog. Somehow I doubt that. I think this air will cause a lot of respiratory deceases. Maybe I should get the hell out of here. Then again, some people get away with smoking all their lives, so why shouldn't I get away with this. Now I can only wait for a windy day that will bring us some clear days and a chance to see the sky again.

Thursday, October 07, 2004

Back to school

Today I started school again. The little school is in Wudaokou and is packed with Korean students that are preparing for the HSK Chinese test. In the two classes I took today there was no other nationality but Koreans. Trying to follow the courses was pretty depressing. I had to try my very best just to not make a fool out of myself. Good thing is that I spend almost all of these days only speaking Chinese. Then again I'm having pretty pitiful conversations.

Reading and talking

I've started to read a book that predicts the collapse of the communist party in China and have as a result brought it up in conversations with some of the friends here. Guess it is not a very tactful thing to do, but still I find it pretty interesting. They say that they find it interesting too, but I think it generally just brings up bad feelings, so I guess I should better shut up. Maybe I will write a little review when I'm finished with it.

When talking to WuZheJian, my former room-mate he said that if he ever came to a powerful position he would for sure also take bribes. He said that it is what everybody does and that is in fact the reason to strive for such a position. I understand that people could easily fall for the temptation, and I'm probably not different, but I still find it rather remarkable to make such a statement.

Tuesday, October 05, 2004


Yesterday I borrowed a bicycle from Wangjun. A really crappy little beast without any breaks. The breaks doesn't matter much because I'm not able to gain much speed with it anyway. The sad part is that I can't find the key for the damn thing this morning. I would have bought one myself if I just knew where to get one. There used to be a black-market outside on the west gate of the university where you could buy stolen bikes from the neighboring Qinghua university. It has unfortunately been closed down. Rumours say that they still sell bikes in the evening, so I guess I will go for a look. If not I guess I chould go and find the equivalent black market at Qinghua...

Monday, October 04, 2004

Getting set (Beijing, China)

Ok. I'm finally in China and I have finally been able to connect to my blog. It has been damn hard to connect to it and I have actually just managed to see my own posts once. I'm not sure whether it is because it is blocked or that the connections are slow.

I arrived late in the afternoon and didn't really know where I would stay. I started out by sending out a bunch of SMS:s to see if I could get in touch with some friends here. On the airport coach I got in touch with Uma who in turn got in touch with my potential room mate. Arriving by taxi to the university it was already dark. From the university we got into a taxi and drove around the campus to the shady little alley where the apartment is. There we met up with the guy. To welcome us he had gone out to buy dog meat and when we got in it already boiling in the electric cooker.

The two rooms look just like student dorms at a Chinese university. For you who hasn't been in one, most westerners would not consider staying in one. I only share my room with one other guy, the other are three in their room. Some dorms at the university actually has 8 guys in one room, but their room is of course bigger. Still, we live very close to each other which I know will be rather hard to get used to. I have though shared room with other Chinese the last two years.

The dog meat was ok, but personally I prefer to have something to the meat, not just only meat. I got a big back bone and ate off as much as I could. Since I didn't have my bed stuff I had to sleep on the bed as it was. I was actually glad to have a bed at all. I wouldn't want to pay for a hostel and even if I wanted they would probably been full since it is the national holiday week now. The city is full with Chinese tourists. The guy lent me a thin blanket and I slept with my clothes on. It proved to be rather difficult since it was both cold and there was a lot of annoying mosquitoes biting me. The weather has again warmed up a lot and yesterday night I was sweating. There must have been a one day temperature drop of more than 15 degrees!

The day after I was able to get a hold of the girl who has kept my clothes and bed stuff. She keeps her room at the university though she never stays there. Her room mate let me put out the stuff in the hallway and in the evening I rented a car and brought it over to the place. This night I also put up a mosquito net and slept like a baby!

The rent is paid for the next three months, so I guess I will try to stick to this place now. I'm paying 300 RMB a month, which is very good. My only worry is that I won't be able to cope with my flat mate. I don't even know their names and I have no idea what kind of people they. Hopefully my stuff is safe there, though I carry the most essential with me. So far I've walked over to Shaoyuan, the foreign dorm at the university, to take a shower in the morning, but soon I guess I will try to adapt and do it the Chinese way.

Dog meat

Dog meat

There is nothing like a big piece of dog leg to chew on.