Archive | September, 2011

How Not To Have A Nervous Breakdown Whilst Swimming in China.

26 Sep

After a couple of very decadent months in Europe part of our post-summer plan is to exercise more and diet a little bit. All that drinking and eating has taken its toll! So we’re going to the pool 6x a week for an hour’s swim and then about 3-4x a week we try to squeeze in an hour of tennis or a run in the afternoon. Dave’s also training with his footie team and has also started touch rugby. He’s especially determined as he’s constantly getting told by local shopkeepers as well as the lifeguard at the pool that “oh, very fat this year” – it might be meant as a compliment given that Chinese people admire a nice round potbelly (like those happy Buddha figurines) but Dave obviously isn’t flattered.

They haven’t commented on me yet, thank god! I think I would cry.

So off to the pool we go every morning and I endure an hour of mind-numbing lane swimming. If you took away all the rubber rings from this picture and strung up lane lines it would be a rather good representation of how busy our local pool can get in the evenings:

In other words: complete chaos.

  1. Lanes mean nothing in China. The ropes might be strung across the pool but be aware that people will be swimming across them or doggy-paddling across them or will stop in the middle of a lane to rest or have a chat. They will do this even though they see you coming but like in Chinese traffic or Chinese queuing, it’s first come, first serve. Deal with it.
  2. The end of each lane (at the wall where you would normally push off) will have, no doubt, a string of people leaning against it, eyeing you up as you swim towards them. You have no choice but to stop your swim 2mbefore the wall, awkwardly turn around and not push off. This completely throws me off my “work-out flow” but again, deal with it.
  3. There’s a massive sign that informs swimmers to swim counter-clockwise within the lanes but there’ll constantly be some person swimming counter-flow. This I just don’t understand. It’s like ghost driving… how is it not annoying for the ghost driver him- or herself to plough through all the oncoming traffic? And then on top of that you’ve also got the people who decided they want to swim across the lanes.

(Some of the above might sound like I’m a swim-snob, but the way I see it, if I’ve actually managed to drag myself down to the pool and committed myself to swimming for 60 boring minutes at 8 in the freaking morning I would appreciate being able to just get on with it. Everytime I have to stop because someone’s decided to swim accross the lane infront of me it not only disrupts me physically but mentally as well. It reminds me how boring swimming laps is and how I’d much rather be in bed eating pancakes.)

Hence, our first swim at our local pool, which is by the way, a really nice 50m, 15 lane pool, was basically an hour of stop-start, stopping again, crashes and frequent bobbing underwater to scream off your frustration (it helps, try it!). But that was a couple of weeks ago and we’ve since learned how to go about swimming in China without having a nervous breakdown or underwater screaming fits:

  1. Pick an appropriate time. The Chinese love swimming and everyone from kids and their parents, boisterous teenagers, canoodling young lovers to granny and grandpa keeping the joints oiled like to head down to the pool after work/school or on the weekends. So stay away at these times. And don’t even bother during the summer holidays. Very early mornings can be quite busy as well as a lot of professionals go for a pre-work swim. So the best time to go is between 8am and 3pm.
  2. Bring Props. I’ve found that other swimmers are less likely to join our lane when we’ve got bottles of water and hand paddles lying at the end of the lane. The hand paddles may arouse curiosity (they’re very hard to purchase here) but the bottles of water signify that you’re here to do some serious swimming. (Even if you’re just trundling along)
  3. Swim butterfly. People will actually stop in their tracks and I’m pretty sure this makes you look like you’re part of the Olympic team. I personally can’t swim butterfly (I’m more of a trundle-along-kinda-gal) but Dave does and I’m sure it helps keep our lane doggy-paddle free.

And that’s it. If you ever find yourself with a Buddha potbelly in China and want to swim a few laps in a public pool, keep these three tips in mind. Oh, and bring a swim cap. They don’t let you into the pool without one.


Why I Love China #3 aka My Future House

25 Sep

A lot of times while building are being constructed the land lot will be surrounded by a plywood advertising wall with photoshopped images of what the finished product will look like. There’ll be pictures of smiling people and beautiful furniture and lots of trees in the complex. And there’s usually some corny Chinglish advertising line like “Beautiful Villa, Happy Life.” As you can imagine a lot of times things get lost in translation and you can see some really funny claims.

Like this one that I drove past today:


Flats with included G&Ts AND they’re good for you!

Brilliant. Sign me up.

Why I Love China # 2

23 Sep

“Polizei” means “Police” in German. This was parked in our complex’s carpark one day. Why “Polizei” on a civilian car in China? And on a Smartcar no less. Why, why, why… why, why, why, why?

Another day, another Mandarin class.

22 Sep

Remember two weeks ago when I was all up on my high horse due to the fact I was able to master the “u” and “ü” sounds better than my Anglophone classmates?

Yeah, well, that royally bit me in the behind at our second lesson yesterday.

We decided to ditch our last language school and go for another that seems a lot more professional and more in tune with Western learning. Less memorising of the pinyin chart and more coversational phrases.

So new school, new teacher and I just couldn’t get those sounds out again.

I was doing exaclty the same as I did the other time, pronouncing them just like I would in German but for some reason it was never right.

The funny thing was that the teacher even said that these sounds were easier for German and French speakers so what does this mean, I’m not pronouncing these sounds correctly in my own mother tongue??!

But overall (and on a less emotional note), we were very happy with the lesson. We covered the whole pinyin chart in an hour and then did the tones for 15min and the last 15min was learning our first phrases like hello, goodbye, see you next week, i’m sorry, it’s no problem, thank you and you’re welcome. Most of these phrases I already know, however I haven’t really been pronouncing them correctly.

We also came accross our first irregularity, conveniently found in Nǐ Hǎo (hello) where the tone is pronounced differently to how it’s written.

After the lesson we went for dinner and a few drinks. It’s funny … well, sad really… how pumped and motivated you are during and immediately after a lesson but five minutes later you’re sitting in a restaurant and you have no idea how to order four beers because you can’t remember the word for four, only the word for three and two and that’s hardly going to help. Thank God somebody had Lonely Plantet’s Guide to Mandarin in their bag. We eventually ordered our food and drinks, mostly by pointing, and then the waitress asked us something. We stare at her blankly, “uhmm…”, look at one another, and then one of us just shouts “Duì!” (correct/yes) just to give her some sort of answer.

Ah, yes, as said before, it’s a long road ahead.


Why I Love China # 1

21 Sep

Yes, that’s a public restroom for doggies. You might see mothers holding up their kids over street gutters and litter bins but dogs get their own roofed toilet in parks.

Unlucky in Love in Shanghai?

20 Sep

Can’t find that special someone?

Then head to People’s Square.

Actually, send your parentals as there’s a specific area in People’s Square that is designated for finding a suitor for your son or daughter that is unlucky in love. Hundreds of printed and laminated profiles are strung up between the trees and everyday parents trawl the market. The profiles depict what I can only guess to be gender, birth year, height, monthly income and a whole bunch of other stuff I can’t decipher. Maybe hobbies or a personal statement or something.

I especially like that height is high on the list.

It was a Sunday when we walked through there and it was very busy. Even some of the benches and bins had profiles stuck to them. There were notepads out and pens poised, a lot of shuffling and frowning and scrutinizing.

One of Kat’s Chinese colleagues at work has given his parents permission to look for a girlfriend for him and says it is very common. (Though he would have to say that, wouldn’t he?) This young man in particular has gotten tired of trying to find a girlfriend and future wife in the usual pulling pits (Karaoke bars? The mall? Arcades?) and he has happily handed over the reins to his folks. They will now peruse the market and once they’ve found someone they think is suitable a date is set up. If the kids hit it off, that’s great, hopefully they’ll continue dating and eventually marry, have one child and live happily ever after. If they don’t hit it off, it’s back to the laminated sheets in People’s Square for the parents to find somebody else.

There must be some good ones over in that corner.

So there’s no real imminent pressure to find the One and get married straight away, Kat’s colleague can still date around and it’s not like an arranged marriage where he might not have a say. It’s basically like signing up to without paying the £20 a month membership. And your parents do all the preliminary cutting room sorting out and then take care of all the logistics of setting up the date. Seems like a pretty sweet deal.

However, Kat’s colleague’s may say it’s normal but I wonder if there isn’t in fact some sort of negative connotation associated with dating this way, just like internet dating hasn’t entirely relived itself of its negative connotation. I also wonder how people rate the profiles. Is the salary important? How important is height really? And is it the case of the taller the better or is it that you want to find someone that similar height? Maybe I should open up a special “Not-looking-to-date-but-looking-for-a-friend” side area and hang up my laminated profile:

28yr old, 1,73m, unemployed Laowai (foreigner) looking for male though preferably female Chinese friend, height and employment status irrelevant, to learn about Chinese customs and popular culture.

My unemployment status will probably not rate well but I’m hoping tall is good and that my above -average height (well, for China anyway) will score me some plus points!

Mandarin 101.

10 Sep

Welcome to the new Blog! I’m glad you’re all here!

Dave and I have been back from our Europe trip for a good couple of weeks and we’re slowly getting back into the Ningbo swing of NIngbo things. The weather is surprisingly bearable and it’s exciting being back here again. Lots more restaurants and shops have opened up in our apartment complex’s shopping street  and with university staff and students back again there’s a bit of a buzz in the neighborhood air.

Yesterday I had my first Chinese lesson and after 2 hours my head was spinning. First of all, it’s been a VERY long time since I sat down in a classroom and had to learn something theoretical and second of all, it’s Chinese for goodness sake!

But I’m feeling very optimistic even though it’s going to be a very long journey!

We’re starting with the pinyin alphabet first (pinyin being the Romanisation of Chinese characters) so we get to grips with the pronunciation of all the letters and simultaneously we’re learning all the various tones of each letter.

Yesterday we learned the first 6 “vowels” a, o, e, i, u and ü and the first 4 “consonants” b, p, m, f. Sound easy? It’s not.  A pinyin “a” is similar to the “a” sound in bar if you were to grotesquely pull back your lips and bare your teeth which, if you are doing it now, you will realize is very different to the English “a” as in bay. So there was a lot of mouth action going on while we were trying to contort our lips into the right shapes to get the right sounds.

And the “a” sound is definitely the easiest one of them. There’s the “e” which is not like in bee, no no, it’s more like the “eugh” sound you might make if you find something very revolting. In Chinese , coincidently, this sound (pronounced with the descending tone) means “hungry”. For demonstration our teacher was rubbing her tummy going “Eugh! Hungry!” while we were all thinking “Eugh! Tummy bug!”  The “u” and “ü” sounds I didn’t have any problems with because they are the same as in German but my English friends really struggled.

Then came the tones. There are 5 tones in the Chinese language: flat (ē), ascending (é), slightly descending then ascending (ě), descending (è) and natural (e) – lost you yet? – and we practiced the 6 vowels with all the different tones: aah, aah, aah, aah; ohh, ohh, ohh, ohh; eugh, eugh, eugh, eugh. Over and over again until we KINDA got it. The outbursts of giggling and expressions of complete perplexity got in the way sometimes.

Lastly we did the 4 consonants: on their own pronounced something like boh, poh, moh, foh though when combined with a vowel the “oh” sound falls away and something something… I shall no longer bore you. And don’t worry, it’ll be the last time I’ll be writing about my lessons in such detail! A comedic highlight though was when our teacher went to each of us and demonstrated the difference between the “b” and “p” sound by saying these consonants into the palms of our hands so that we could feel the different air blows a mouth makes when saying them.

But you get the general idea of the class: it went back to the real basics of the language and it was very repetitive. It’s going to take about five 2-hour classes to get the whole alphabet down, which in turn is just the beginning of conversational Chinese so I doubt I’ll be fluent anytime soon, haha! I’m doing this course with 3 other girls that work at Nottingham Uni and at the end of the class two of them felt that it was a bit TOO technical… and repetitive. Incidentally these two girls are English language teachers and for them this way of learning is very dated. They would rather start with conversational phrases that we can use in our everyday life and learn the pinyin and tones along the way. For me Chinese is SO alien I quite like the idea of starting with the very, very basics and building up. I think in the long run it will be easier and it provides a bit of logic to something I can otherwise make no sense out of. We’d like to continue doing it as a group because it was good fun (and could you imagine doing the above in a one-to-one class? my head would melt) so we’re going to ask if we can do an hour of pinyin and then an hour of conversational phrases just to keep everyone happy.

I hope you’ll all sign up for automatic posts. Just press on……………………….

I’m off to practice: bí  pā  bò mě  pù  mī  … etc.

I want this book though I think it might be lying