Thursday, 24 December 2009

Happy Christmas

I remember that when I was little, teachers at school told me that everyone around the world celebrated Christmas. They didn’t go to China, cause here the only people who are celebrating Christmas are other foreigners. Though the Chinese do seem to use the opportunity for having some commercial events, they seem to like the idea of a special day. It reminds me of my first week in China, when I was in Beijing and it happened to be valentine’s day. It was far more commercial than in Holland, everywhere you could see couples buying roses going to more expensive (for China) restaurants, and spend their money in other ways.

However it still doesn’t feel anything like Christmas at all. The weather is finally getting colder, but it’s still more than 10 degrees during the day, and of course there are still palm trees outside. There are people wearing Christmas hats in shops and restaurants and you can buy Christmas trees and products in stores. They discovered the commercial side of Christmas here in China, but personally I think that most Chinese have no clue at all why Christmas is a holiday.

We will have a Christmas dinner at a house of French friends, so I suppose the food will be at least somewhere similar to Christmas food. Tomorrow morning I will earn some money by playing for Santa Claus at one of my Kindergartens. For tomorrow we’re also going to a Western restaurant for a Christmas meal. So the food and drinks will be good or again more similar than the usual Chinese food (which can be delicious, don’t get me wrong.)

Monday, 14 December 2009

The 'real' China

There’s a discussion going on in the foreign community about what exactly is the “real” China. There are quite some foreigners who claim that Shanghai or maybe even Xiamen is not part of this “real” China, because it’s too rich and modern. On the other hand there are people who claim that, when you enter the isolated rural countryside in far away provinces like Yunnan you leave China. The answer of course is that all these places are China. The only places which you could argue that are truly different, are Tibet and Xinjiang in my opinion. Although I still don’t know any Chinese person who would agree with those regions not being part of China.

The real question is what people see as the “real” China. How they picture the ‘real’ China. Some people think of rice fields when they think of China, while others will think of big ugly polluted cities. Everyone has an idea of what China is, but since China is so extremely big the ideas people have about China are sometimes very different from each other. Not rarely do I read or hear very contradicting statements about China. When I first came to China I didn’t know what I had to expect. Off course I had expectations, but the thing I remember most is that I had pictured it as a crazy place you could only love or hate. I got this idea before coming here, because the stories I heard and read contained such a big contrast. Some people loved it, while others were simply sickened of it. Some people even seemed to be in love with the idea of China as the new superpower of the world, while others were sure that we would all be doomed if such a scenario would ever occur.

By now I have lived in two very different places in China for longer than 3 months, and traveled around for about 2 months. Some places I traveled to were pretty similar to each other from my perspective, but I also traveled to some very unique places. Hiking the tiger leaping gorge in Yunnan is nowhere near similar to traveling around Beijing. I enjoyed both a lot and comparing them shows me how different China can be.

Wuhu is the city I worked and lived before, and for me this might be the ‘real’ China. I just read back my post about Wuhu and I wrote that it was a typical Chinese city. I still think this observation was quite correct. Xiamen is way too modern to be a typical Chinese city, of course it’s also China, but Xiamen is definitely part of the new China or modern China. Last Saturday I had diner in one of the nice restaurant/bars in Xiamen, this place is owned by an old foreigner and has very good pizza’s. The place is located at the sea side and the terrace they have has a very nice atmosphere. It’s hard for me to describe why and how, but this kind of place would just not be able to exist in Wuhu. Maybe in 10 years, or even 5, because that seems to be the same everywhere in China. They are developing in top speed. Too fast even maybe…

Sometimes I like China a lot, while on other times I’m very glad that things are not like this back home. I love some of the food they have here (I also like western food a lot, so maybe I just like to eat), I liked the traveling, I like the way how easy things can be arranged if you speak only a little Chinese and are willing to pay a little money, I like the optimism Chinese people can have, I like to learn and practice Chinese most of the time, and finally it’s still the adventure and the big contrast with Holland that keep me fascinated. There are a lot of things I dislike as well; I dislike the spitting or baby’s peeing in public, the lack of queuing in any crowded public place where there should be a queue, the beggars, useless bureaucracy, the accepted hierarchy, the ignorance of Chinese people which is for a great part due to censorship which I also dislike very much.

All in all I do understand why people come back from China completely disgusted by the country, while others come back completely in love with it. It matters a lot where you go and what you see and experience. China does have some amazing nature, while it also has the most ugly polluted cities I have ever seen. It’s all part of China and so are all the opinions about China, the thing is this country is just far too big to be able to talk about a ‘real’ China.

Monday, 30 November 2009


This weekend I’ve been to the cinema in China for the first time. I’ve been to the cinema in Taiwan, and there I was almost the only one in the cinema and I was definitely the only one laughing at the jokes of the movie.

However last Friday the cinema was packed with people just like every other place in China seems to be. (Although here in Xiamen we are very lucky to have a few empty spots.) We were lucky to have a Chinese friend buying the tickets a few hours in advance for an even cheaper price, cause I’m quite sure that if we would have had to buy the tickets at the cinema, they would have been sold out. A second advantage was, that buying the tickets this way was about half the price of buying them straight from the ticket office at the cinema.

The movie we watched was 2012, which is for the people who never heard of it, a disaster movie, like “The day after tomorrow”. Since this was the only thing I knew about the movie before watching, and that I really didn't like The day after tomorrow, my expectations were very low.

Probably because of my low expectations and because I haven’t seen an action movie like this in long time I liked it a lot. The special effects were over the top and there was even room for some humor at times. Of course it was a very unrealistic movie, in one scene they escaped from an earthquake in L.A. by flying through 3 collapsing buildings. But it looked very spectacular. Though I have to admit that I would probably not like the movie if I didn’t see it in the cinema. The cinema itself was quite big with comfortable chairs and even a lot of leg space. The screen was very big and the sound was very loud, which was exactly how it should be for this movie.

Another thing which was interesting, is that China played an important role in this movie. Yes, the scriptwriters in Hollywood really looked into the developments around the world. So the end of the world is discovered by an Indian scientist in India, and the solution of this problem lies in China, in Tibet to be precise (Which makes me wonder if I saw a censored version of the movie.) Under the excuse of building a dam, the Chinese have build a massive spaceship in Tibet, which is like the Arc of Noah in the movie. However the heroes of the story remain Americans. The American president for example didn’t join the Arc because he wanted to stand by the American people until the end, needless to say that we didn’t got to see a Chinese president showing the same empathy with his people. Apart from that I’m pretty sure that Obama wouldn’t have done the same thing in reality.

The movie also tried to show the difference between the rich and poor in today’s world by having a big role for a Russian billionaire who bought himself into the Arc of Noah, while the Indian scientist, who discovered it all, is not even picked up at all. The other rich people who bought themselves in seemed to be Arabians (Muslims). The Europeans had a very limited role (just like in reality?)

All in all it was nice to go to a Chinese cinema and to see a real Hollywood action movie. I will probably go again. Finally, I will fly back to Holland the 29th of January, and will stay for almost 3 weeks in Holland.

Monday, 12 October 2009


Taiwan was a very nice break from China. It was similar to China, but with a few big differences. Taiwan is a developed country, and it was very clear to see when I used the public transport, because that was extremely good. It was a huge change from China, to buy a train ticket without any hassle and to sit in a train on a very comfortable soft seat without anyone next to you. In China you usually have to buy train tickets in advance cause else you have to stand the whole journey and even if you can sit it’s usually a hard seat without any space. In Taiwan however it’s ok just to go to the train station and to buy a ticket without queuing for a nice seat with huge leg space. I would even say that the trains I have been on last week in Taiwan are more comfortable and cleaner than the ones in Holland. Personally I think Holland has one of the best railroads in the world, so I was very surprised to see that Taiwan has better quality trains. Apart from the trains I was very impressed by the public transport, I think it might actually be the best public transport I have experienced.

Ok enough about the transport, but it shows that Taiwan is a developed country, which makes travelling in it a lot easier. (Though China has quite good trains and busses as well for a developing country, and it’s amazing that there are public busses going to the most remote corners of China.) Because Taiwan is a developed country it was also a lot more expensive than China, this was most notable when drinking beer, because in Taiwan they pay taxes over alcohol, something which is quite normal, but which doesn’t seem to be the case in China.

Another thing which really hit me when I was in Taipei and actually everywhere in Taiwan, even in the more remote east coast, was how beautiful the people were. The girls are hotter, the guys more handsome and even the old people are looking way better than their counterparts on the mainland. Since the ethnicity of the Taiwanese is the same as the Chinese this difference is quite striking, cause you would think that they look the same or at least very similar. But somehow they don’t. Of course the main reason for this, is that Taiwanese people have more money, so they can spend more money on their clothes, and happily for them it pays off. Another reason for this is that Taiwanese people seem to have developed their own style and rather wear nice clothes without the word ARMANI in big letters, than an obvious fake one.

In one week I went around the whole island and apart from the weather it has been a great week. We were very unfortunate with the weather, cause there was a typhoon in Taiwan and so it was raining a lot. The only souvenir I now have from Taiwan is an umbrella.

For me the highlights were simply seeing a different Asian country with the same or very similar culture but than a lot more developed, and the Tarogo gorge. The Tarogo gorge is a national park in Taiwan and unfortunately I could not do any hiking there, but there were some great views because off the typhoon. The Typhoon was basically only rain and it made some really big waterfalls possible in the gorge, which were quite spectacular to look at. Those waterfalls were also on the road in the gorge and made the wonderful public transport stop, so there was no bus out of the gorge anymore. I was very glad that in only ten minutes I could catch a ride from an American out of the gorge, cause no matter how nice the views where, it would have been a very boring day to stay there the whole day.

Taiwan has been the first place for me to visit which has been part of Holland in the past. I visited one Dutch fort, called fort Zeeburgia and I was surprised to see that the Dutch colonialists where portrayed as intelligent people who have build great ships and had very advanced artillery. Although in Taipei we also visited a Spanish fort, and there the Taiwanese made the mistake of putting up a Luxembourg flag. Telling me that they didn’t had a Dutch one and that most people didn’t notice anyway. Apart from those two forts and Taiwanese people telling me that there is a historic relationship between our countries, there was nothing to see which reminded of Dutch rule in Taiwan.

Finally Taiwan has also been the first country I’ve been to where at the time of leaving they told me, that I would not be able to enter Taiwan again with the same passport. No, I didn’t do anything wrong, but my passport is just expiring within half a year. Since I didn’t know this, I guess I’m very lucky that my holiday was an early one, cause else I would have been at the border being told I could go back to China again.

Tuesday, 29 September 2009

Some thoughts about 60 years of Communism

Tomorrow I’ll leave to Taiwan. I’m looking forward to go there, because I’ve met some wonderful Taiwanese people in the past and heard good stories about the country itself. But before going there maybe I should consider why I’m getting this holiday. The first reason is the 60th anniversary of Communist rule in China, the second is the mid-autumn festival, which is a really nice festival of which I could write a really happy post. However I choose to write something less happy about the first reason.

Apart from blocking internet sites, and the trouble of getting the right visa you don’t really notice a lot of the Chinese government if you’re a foreigner. And taking in account that the Chinese have it far worse to get a visa to Holland or any other European Union country for that matter, you could almost say that it’s easy to obtain one. (Although that’s not what you think when you have to run all around the city for another document which really is only unnecessary paperwork.) And if you’re a Chinese neo-Nazi you will be bothered by some EU countries blocking your websites as well. (I know, this is not the same.)

Several days ago I saw a picture of the Dutch premier meeting Barack Obama and his wife. Our premier had a big smile on his face and looked delighted to meet the Obama’s, actually he looked so happy finally to meet this couple that he was about to ask their signature. You saw him thinking “Can I?” If he would been Chinese he would probably have gotten his camera out himself and ask if they would like to pose with him. All in all he didn’t look that good at this picture and he looked a little bit like a loser who will never say no to Barrack. It made me think by myself that this picture would never appear in the Chinese news. Cause one it would not be allowed to picture the president in this way, and second the Chinese president would act a lot more serious and stronger.

Dutch politics are a little bit like a circus nowadays and I don’t think a lot of Dutch people think very highly of most Dutch politicians. Reading about Dutch politics in China always makes me feel a little bit sad. The topics they are discussing are as good as the same, as when I left Holland, except for maybe adding a law to force people to work for a longer time. Apart from that the topics haven’t changed nor have the viewpoints of the politicians themselves. Happily enough I can always find relief in the thought that our governments decisions only influence the lives of about 16 million people and that in a few years there will already be a new legitimate government.

This is where the Chinese government is different. One it’s not legitimate cause it has never been in question who the people in charge are. And second it rules over the lives of almost a 100 times more people. It’s decisions influence roughly about 1/6 of the world population. Thinking about these two facts I’m one very happy that the Chinese don’t have a similar government circus, and two afraid that so much power in the hands of so few isn’t that ideal either…

It’s not such a comfortable thought that China’s future which will most likely determine the future of the world is in the hands of only a few people. I don’t know enough of the Chinese government and how it really works to judge, but looking at the development which is visible I would say that so far, they do a very good job for most of the Chinese. 60 years ago China was a very poor country and now cities like Xiamen are rich and don’t do a lot under for European cities. I can’t see the situation 60 years ago, but from what I’ve been told there has been great progress.

There will be big parade’s, shows and celebrations everywhere in China, and it’s deserved in some way, the development is undeniable and most Chinese people are happy and extremely proud of being Chinese. But coming from a democratic country like The Netherlands I can’t do else than wonder about how the Tibetans or the Uyghur’s or just any Chinese who disagrees with the way things are going, feels on a day like this. There is without a doubt a dark shadow to this holiday.

The only thing the Dutch government could be is a good example of how to lead a country, for the rest of the world. Unfortunately they are very far away from that at the moment, in my opinion, but at least we voted for them and at least we have the possibility to protest against whatever our government would ever think of. Hopefully China will be able to allow something like that as well somewhere in the next 60 years. Personally I think they will, because just as the Dutch government can’t continue like this, the Chinese government will be forced to change as well.

Now I’m going to bed and will write a nice blog about my travels in Taiwan next time.

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

Some news from XiaDa 厦大

Already more than 2 weeks at university again and already a month in Xiamen. Time flies! So far I’m quite happy with my lessons and everything. Although it did surprise me that the teachers kind of supposed that we were also able to write the characters we knew. Cause I do know how to write some characters but only very few. So I will learn how to write them very soon I suppose. Besides that I think I will learn a lot of new words here, which I will hopefully also be able to use sometimes.

The first two weeks there have been a lot of students switching classes, because they thought the lessons were too easy or too hard, but now we’ll have the class which will stay the same for the rest of the semester. It’s a very international class, with only a small majority of students with an Asian background. From Europe there are only 2 Dutch people including me, two Turkish guys and four German girls. Surprisingly there is only one Russian girl in my class. It’s a surprise because there are quite a lot of Russians studying here, in Wuhu the Russians were also quite visible in the expat scene. Before going to China I had not expected to see so many Russians, but on the other hand it’s a big country and its right next to China, so it makes sense.

Most Chinese universities have a campus and are isolated from the rest of the city, and because of this many students in China never leave the campus for months. They don’t need to leave the campus and at night it’s normal that they have to be back in their dormitory before 11pm. In those dormitories they’re usually living together with 3 or 5 other students, so they don’t really have a lot of privacy. My university here also has this kind of campus, but having said that, I have to add that it’s not very isolated from the city and that it actually seems to be in the best part of the city. It’s right next to the beach and in a quite (for Chinese standards) area of the city, besides the campus is voted more than once as the most beautiful campus in China. So most students here do leave the campus once in a while, although even here there are a lot of students just staying inside I believe. Of course this is not the case for the foreign students of which most don’t even live on campus. Which leads to a lot of differences between the lifestyle of the foreign and Chinese students. Despite those differences I did manage to make my first few Chinese friends (or maybe I should call them contacts) here. Which is good, cause now I’m finally able to actually use the language I’m studying again.

I also got a teaching job again. And it’s very good that by now I speak at least a little bit of Chinese, cause this time the assistant didn’t spoke any English. Which I found surprising for an English school in a developed city like Xiamen. (Still need to write something about Xiamen itself some other time.) Another thing which is very nice here, is that last weekend there was a beach party on Saturday. There were an amazing amount of foreigners (more than there are living in Wuhu) and only a handful of Chinese, but it was definitely the best party so far in Xiamen. The ambience at the beach with nice music and beer, was very good and wins it by miles over every club in Xiamen I’ve been to so far. I heard it will be held every month, although I’m not sure if they will continue in the winter, cause now the temperature at night still stays above 25 degrees, which is a very pleasant temperature.

Finally we will already get our first holiday in October! This means that in about 1 week I’ll already have my first holiday since going back to university. Since they gave me a very good visa this time, which means that apart from staying in China I’m also able to leave China and come back without any problems, I’m thinking of a small trip to Taiwan. If possible though, cause some people say it’s no problem, and others tell me that I have to go to Hong Kong first. The later will be a bit above my budget I’m afraid.

Monday, 7 September 2009

Back to school

The first busy days at university are already behind me. It was a busy week including, registration, getting to know the university, getting a new visa, meeting the other students, meeting the teachers, buying study books and finally even a whole medical checkup. Then there were also several diners and parties which were (happily enough) not organized by the university.

The first official activity was the introduction ceremony. I remember that this kind of ceremony in Amsterdam was held in the afternoon and that it included a short welcome speech and then a few free drinks to welcome the new students. It was the same in London. In China however this is a bit different, here the welcome ceremony starts at Sunday morning 8:30 and here it doesn’t even include a free cup of coffee, nor an expensive cup. Not even tea! Another difference is that after the short welcoming speech, there are several other people who need to tell the new students about the registration procedure at the university and finally they also need to inform us about the rules and regulations of the university. The last thing is a bit typical because the rules and regulations are what we in Holland would think of as common sense. In Amsterdam and London they also inform the new students about most of the possible risks they should not take, but in China they kind of exaggerate it.

A good example is that at some point the guy told us that the sea was very dangerous, because every year they “lost” at least one student. He said this in a way that half of the crowd (The people who understood English) had to giggle which made him add very seriously; “The sea is very dangerous! Don’t swim in the sea! We have a pool, so swim in the pool! Not in the sea!” So it looks like I already broke this rule before I had even heard of it.

Another noticeable event was the medical examination. It was the first time that I had to go through such a complete medical examination. It included far more doctors and research than I thought it would have, cause I thought it would be a simple blood check to see if I had aids or any other scary disease. But it turned out to be a very complete body check, everything from my body; eyes,ears, mouth, heart, lungs, skin, blood, weight, height, etc was going to be examined. In total there were about ten rooms and almost 20 doctors. If there would have been any unpleasant surprises they would have kicked me out of China by now. So as you can guess I came through the health check without any problems. Although there were a few small surprises (nothing serious), which looking on the bright side might be good to know. Although I could doubt the expertise of the Chinese doctors.

I would almost forget that last week my Chinese lessons also started. Before the classes started I had to take a placement test, so that they could put me in the right class. Having survived the first week of classes I think they placed me in quite a good class. Most of the students in my class come from other Asian countries like Korea, Thailand, Japan etc. But I’m glad that I have a few classmates who come from Europe and even one girl who comes from Holland. She already studied Chinese for 2 years in Leiden university, so I think the level of the class is a bit higher than I expected it to be. The teachers don’t speak any English in class, but I’m able to understand most of what they’re saying. Mostly because they speak very clearly, I wish all Chinese people would speak like my teachers. So far I think the classes are quite good, so I should be able to make great progress with my Chinese this year.

Finally I met a lot of other international students here. So I had a lot of social dinners and beers this last week, made my first friends in Xiamen and had a busy eventful but very enjoyable week. Although I’m very glad to have some friends around here, I do hope to meet some new Chinese friends here as well, cause so far I only know two Chinese people here. For some nice photo’s from the last days I would like to give the link of my new Swedish friend Jimmy, he’s also a new student here and updates his blog a bit more often than me. Because he takes his camera to most places he’s able to upload photo’s in his dropbox. So below every post of him there is a link to some photo’s. So check it out!