November 06, 2008

10 things I learnt about China

The Forbidden City, Beijing

1- The People

The habits and ways of the Chinese people are by far the most intriguing aspect to me. Squatting and spitting are as common as tea and flavoured hard-boiled eggs. Added on to this is the tiny-dog fetish (really a limit on dog size imposed on residents within the 3rd ring road in Beijing) who are treated like the little kings and queens (refer: one child policy) of the family. These pets are fattened up with so much goodness that their bodies tilt from side to side when they trotter on the streets. Let us not get started on the culinary version of dog hotpot and dog on a stick/in a meal all over the country.

I immensely enjoy listening to the verbal banter on the streets even if Shanghainese is still inaudible to me. And of course there is the ‘stop & look’ phenomena similar to KL where crowds gather in an instant upon smelling the chance of a potential verbal/physical fight on the street, or if an old peddler spreads out his admittedly shoddy goods on the steps and attempts to promote each item as ‘useful or ‘valuable’ with much vigour.

Street Market, Old Shanghai ; Puppies for Sale, Yanchang Road, Shanghai

2- Vibrant Nightlife

It’s like seeing a different side of China after the sun sets; no longer do you see the conservative-looking office workers scurrying off with oversized bags on the streets, but beautiful ladies decked out in classy/skimpy outfits complete with booty shaking moves, and a whole load of hormone-raging men who dress up but let a few buttons down the front loose. Night lights line the popular streets and provide scenery for leisurely strolls and snap-worthy shots.

Enter many bars and don’t be surprised to feel like you’re not in China at all, with large crowds of obvious laowais dominating the space. The local clubs, however, are full with underaged girls and boys who are up for a good time.. and more. Have to say that Sanlitun in Beijing is still tops for cheap drinks at places like Nanjie, Tun bar, Bar Blu and the like (RMB 10= RM 5= AUD 1.2 for a cocktail and RMB 100= RM 50 = AUD 16 for 12 shots), while Shanghai is the place to be for ladies with free drinks every single day of the week if you know where to go. For the alchoholics, open bars (all you can drink for RMB 100) are common in Muse, Bon Bon or Mural.

Bar-hopping in Sanlitun, Beijing ; Landmark Building on Nanjing Road, Shanghai

The Bund, Shanghai ; Old School Beats at Windows Bar, Shanghai

3- Glorious Food

This has to be one of the biggest treats that China can give you. . The people from Guangdong province are said to eat everything under the sun, "广东人什么都吃,天上只有飞机不吃,地下只有板凳不吃",and I have to say that an inate part of me still remembers my ancestral roots.

My favourite cuisine in particular (we’ll exclude my lifelong love with anything Indian) is Xinjiang for its ample portions of meat and its Muslim tastes that distantly remind me of Malaysian spice, Guangdong for its light and fresh tastes especially in Cantonese 点心(dimsum/yumcha), YunNan for its generous use of mushrooms and exquisite flavour, Machuria 东北 for its handmade jiaozi dumplings, Mongolian hotpot 蒙古火锅, Shanghai for its 小笼饱 (steamed dumplings with soup to suck out) and 生前饱 (same deal but pan-fried) and all the Street food 小吃 like 前饼 (flour packaged with deep-fried tofu flake), chinese pancake, 肉松饱 (meat floss pastry) found in any reasonably local area that makes for the best breakfasts!

I’ve also recently taken a unbreakable affinity to bread made of wheat/yam with a sizable piece of butter/blueberry cake nestled right in the middle of it. Unfortunately, the opportunity to sample authentic Hakka cuisine has not materialised.

Wangfujing Night Market, Beijing ; Xinjiang Noodles Maestro, Suzhou, Jiangsu Province

4- Crowd Ethics

Much like squeezing the pulp out of an orange to get its juice, taking the subway during peak hours is not for the light-hearted. I’ve slowly learnt to take it with a pinch of amusement, but sometimes I do get aggravated to the point of insanity and resort to the occasional swearing and 不要推!only to regret my outbursts afterwards. But still, where else can you see people dodge swinging armpits LOL, reading newspapers at 6cm proximity, and use their elbows for such aggressive purposes? Some youngsters practically jump into a packed train even when it is bursting at the door seams with people. There is never a lack of company anywhere in this country.

National Holiday 84,000-strong crowd per day, Summer Palace, Beijing ; Beijing Subway Station

5- Laowai Adoration

Or it may just be condescending inclinations. Always thought to be the one with the deep pockets, the whites are assailed relentlessly by beggars, peddlars, and even the regular Chinese who jump at the chance to have a piece of the foreign-looking high nose.

"Sir, you want lady?", " Lady, you want watch/handbag/wallet?", " Sir/Lady, can I have a picture with you?"

Open Market, Yanjiao, Hebei Province

6- Powderful English

People here are so modest about their proficiency in English that it amazes me. Most are competent in language, if not fluent. The lack of English interaction could be the main barrier, but even then most Chinese students are more than willing to speak out in public using a language other than their mother tongue. There are notable differences in Beijing and Shanghai, with the latter enjoying a higher level of proficiency probably explainable by the larger manifestation of foreigners in the city.

7- Travelogue

With 56 ethnic groups, differing temperates, cultures and ways of life have sprung up from the 23 provinces, 5 autonomous regions, 4 municipalities and 2 specially administrative regions (lets be nice and assume Taiwan and China have held hands). My regret is not being able to travel to 4 other parts of China: Guangdong/Fujian to reconcile my ancestry roots and see the habitat genius of the tulou 土楼,Xinjiang to experience the distictly un-Chinese culture and spice-worthy Muslim food,Tibet for the Potala Palace and to make a trip up the highlands for a grasp of tranquility and Sichuan to see the aftermath/recovery of the province and maybe to hug a baby panda.

Horse-Riding in Inner Mongolia ; Desert Boots in Inner Mongolia

AIESECers at the UN-Habitat World Urban Forum, Nanjing ; Music Concert at the top of Yuejiang Tower, Nanjing

Camel Throttle, Inner Mongolia ; Yungang Grottoes, Shanxi Province

8- Organic Growth

How far and fast China has come since the Cultural Revolution (which is another story altogether). It is the only place that warrants a visit every year because so much would have changed in that short span of time. 6 months is enough to build an edifice of 40 floors, complete with retail and recreational facilities. The Olympic Park, amongst other things, is a testament to this. The cost of living has also been accelerating in urban cities, and most will not be able to survive on less than RMB 25 a day. However, the toilet works, while immensely improved, may reek of 'smells' because toilet paper cannot be flushed down the bowl. Baby steps.

Bird's Nest the National Stadium, Beijing ; Water Cube the Aquatic Stadium, Beijing

9- Government Regulation

The Great Firewall has toned down on its operations of late, but there are of course sensitive issues that will not turn up on your search engine such as the Tiananmen Square Massacre. The media has opened up bit by bit, and officers who receive bribes hit the headlines in no time. Traffic lights are not meant to serve any purpose, and peeing is encouraged at the scene of crime (refer to left picture). And despite the outright ban on the presence of NGOs, AIESEC in China as a company is still one of the fastest-growing LCs in the world with a growing base of dedicated and skilled members.

10- Working culture

Sensitive Asian values coupled with crude bigtime bosses magnifies the need to be gentle but firm. Employees work to get through the hours, and the minority who dream big dreams limb the ranks. Unproductivity is quite the norm, motormouth business clinchers (没问题,没问题!) are aplenty, and the same can be said for the sometimes unintentional afternoon naps and apple breaks. Definitely an experience to take away from working in 2 of China's major cities. Event volunteers are on the other end of the sprectrum though; selfless and ever ready to help, I have always wondered how they would withstand the pain of standing the whole day while being treated like slave labour. Turns out that voluntary contribution to a large event, say Beijing Olympics or the recent UN World Urban Forum, will not only impart intrinsic pleasure, but also add value to your CV.

World Urban Forum Exhibition Centre, Nanjing ; Sitting Volleyball Work Station, Paralympic Games, Beijing

In conclusion, being an overseas Chinese with fairly near blood ties (grandpa is a Taipu Hakka that came from a certain Fuliao village in GuangDong/Fujian), I see many cultural similarities and differences between the Malaysian Chinese and Mainland Chinese. Subtle inclinations still hold strong, such as the proper respectful way of addressing elders in your extended family, and the emphasis on education and eating customs. Meanwhile, there are tangible differences moving down south.. during Chinese New Year for example, jiaozi (dumplings) is not a mainstay dish but instead we have yeesang, a communal and celebratory dish where all members of the family gather around to toast (by using chopsticks to mix the ingredients) outloud in Cantonese to the new year. Originally Malaysian.

San tai gin hong! cheong meng bak sui! lin lin gam leng!:)

October 19, 2008

the good the bad and the beautiful

the good

- 生前饱 and spicy-sour noodles on wujiang road, lilian cake egg tarts, bubble tea and turkish breakfasts
- evening walks after work along huaihai road where beautiful faces on huge billboards stare at you while you people-watch
- AIESEC Regional Induction Conference in Jiangsu where new friendships overshadowed the shiny 4-star apartment
- having friends from Beijing in close proximity again, rekindling old times in a new place
- exploring old shanghai by peeking into torn down shikumens where sturdy bamboo sticks hold up the livelihood of many

the bad

- overpriced drinks at classy bars where people dont dance to good music
- officers in the metro station shouting repeatedly over the PA system to tell you that the metro line is now closed (so get out)
- bargaining your way through any shopping transaction because the starting price is always ballooned to multiple proportions
- bureaucracy in every institution coupled with grey areas at work that throws certainty out of the window

..and the beautiful

- the tight AIESEC network among locals, interns and alumni; providing a welcome getaway by inundating everyone's calendar (and inboxes) with daily activities
- the housemates at The Palace who make for entertainment and late-night chats; giving almost a family-like support that transcends just average friendships
- the growing circle of friends; restoring your faith in the people under the AIESEC banner and its borderless international network
- the possibility of so many opportunities, so many new cultures to learn about, and so many countries to travel to.. if i have the chance, the money and the time.

how far can you go?

yeah, shanghai is starting to be pretty damn awesome:)

October 07, 2008

beijing is way cleaner than shanghai

at least from what i've seen so far.

the streets leading to my apartment complex, otherwise known as 'the palace', are filled with little eateries, convenience stores and fruit gardens that produce as much junk as they do the enticing smell of fresh bread and spicy soup.

and i still find myself instinctively walking away a little faster whenever i hear someone perform a gurgling/cackling throaty noise that will inevitably lead to a blot of spit on the ground.

cosmopolitan as it is, the glam clan is mostly only seen in the endless shopping complexes that line the city streets and colour the night sky on Nanjing Road.

the Bund is currently home to a long stretch of construction site, probably in preparation for the World Expo 2010. ah, but still no obstacle for the scores of locals who fill the entire viewing platform adjacent to the Huangpu River.

the skies are foggy, and while the weather is not as humid as it was in summer two months ago, is already slowly picking up winter's cold wind.

everywhere i hear the somewhat slurry-sounding shanghainese dialect, on the streets, at work, in restaurants, at supermarkets, on the metro..

speaking of which, the metro is another battlefield of pushing and jostling bodies with complete disregard for the ethics of ‘先下后上’ blared on the loudspeakers.

yes im here in shanghai. another nomad move, although not as painful as expected. thank you for making the transition all that much easier.

now im really on my own. again.

September 25, 2008


the pakistan mariott hotel suicide bombing that inflicted pain on too many..

the 2 year detention of RPK in what is supposed to be a need for religious rehabilitation..

the reckless implementation of nonsensical policies and baseless institutions set up to bring 'democracy'..

contaminated milk that has hindered many all over the world from their daily dose of dairy products..

the collapse of what is supposed to be one of the strongest financial markets in the global money-obssessed world..

the usage of taxpayer's funds to buffer the loss of stability brought upon by ambitious firms themselves..

the inadequacy and inefficiency of certain departments to ease the transition of their employee transferring to Shanghai..

the debilitating fear that numbs your body in the night's cold when you realize you're being stalked by a random guy on the street..

the impounding sense of loss and loneliness that drowns the mind, heart and soul every time solitude beckons..

the wave of tears that give a merely temporary form of release, only to hit again relentlessly..

the helplessness that stares at you in the face, knowing that you can do nothing about everything at all.

September 18, 2008

My Paralympics Story

The Paralympics Opening Ceremony at Bird's Nest

and the spectacle began.

being the lesser-known other half, the Paralympic Games is a parallel competition held alongside the Olympic Games. first held in Rome in 1960, the Beijing Games had about 4,200 participants from 147 countries. while the Beijing Olympics boasted grandeur and splend0ur that exceeded ordinary expectations, the Beijing Paralympics shared a genuine and heartfelt love that transcended the extraordinary.

i was privileged enough to have a taste of the Paralympics spirit because dad sits on the Asia Oceania Committee Volleyball for Disabled (AOCVD). With an official tag that allow you access into any sporting venue and VIP lounge, playing unofficial interpreter and tour guide has given me an insight into the Games and allowed me to meet many inspiring people from around the world. technical directors who stress over the most minute details because they want to create a flawless flow of events, competition managers who devote themselves to organising everything but still find time to show you around, and sports officials who are passionate about their respective sport.

more importantly, the Paralympics athletes, whose zest for life has gained them more respect than any able-bodied athlete. among the lessons learnt while watching Paralympians compete is that you first have to have self-respect before others can respect you. acceptance of your own strengths and shortcomings can go a long way in making dreams come true.

福牛乐乐 at the Games Village
from the VIP stand
the First Lady at the Malaysian Embassy
Opening Night inside Bird's Nest
athletics: 800m on wheels
some of us volleyball regulars Malaysian delegation!
Sports Minister & KL Mayor in Beijing's Kedutaan Malaysia
swimming at the Water Cube
traversing the Juyongguan Great Wall with a helpful volunteer
wheelchair basketball at Wukesong Stadium
dinner with close friends at 花家怡园
gold to China
Closing Night outside Bird's Nest

it has been the week of a lifetime.
a memorable end to my chapter here in Beijing, and a good start to a new Shanghai journey.

The Paralympics Closing Ceremony at Bird's Nest

the flame fades under the fireworks extravaganza

September 04, 2008

misunderstood but it's okay

when casual catch-ups turn into obligations. or social gatherings turn out to be nothing more than aimless roaming with multiple detours. something which is both amusing and disturbing at the same time. hey, i tried. it's tough to accommodate all when time itself is a mighty opponent.

when others disapprove, and assume the worst without understanding. so being nice is said to be too friendly, and being cold is called using the trump card. im just being myself. what if this actually is the real deal?

when physical attraction remains to be the only draw. and the lines of familiarity get entangled with what shouldnt be. what makes me feel whole again may only be a temporary illusion that may hurt much more than it rejuvenates. silly as it sounds, sometimes being mean is to mean well.

when too much spice causes daily discomfort. but never bad enough to deter relentless gastronomical adventures from the deprived soul. . only to be accused of being gluttony.

when seeing is feeling heartpangs and knowing that more needs to be done. more time spent, more walks and talks together, more love shown and shared with loved ones. including the loyal dogs we call our best friends. i wish with all my heart i could.

but i am blessed enough to be able to laugh. and cry. express my emotions with friends whom i will always share a bond with.

to speak my mind and share my innermost thoughts with a treasured brother who listens and shares with equal trust. to hope that he knows his 19th birthday means the world even if i cant be there.

to explore familiar haunts with renewed delight and seek new pleasures with newfound vigour. nothing better than to sample local tastes with family. and revel in the usual banter that keeps me sane and grounded. to know without a doubt that there is nothing that stands between blood.

to love, and be loved in return. and hopefully make others happy in the process. im still learning.

it's good to be back, but the days have never felt so short.. it's as though they were snatched away before i could fully absorb the force of it.
if anything, it is fuel to last the next two trying months before the next trip home.

August 21, 2008

let success be measured by the happiness in your heart

In the midst of little observations and quiet realizations, i found the above quote to be beyond many's reach.

August 09, 2008

Olympics Opening Night 080808

pictures speak louder than words.

Sanlitun Bar Street; the 5 Olympic rings was a spectacular sight, even on the screen

beer, chips and baijiu all around; but we were still hungry for more

Sanlitun Open Area & Worker's Stadium North Gate; where we joined in the endless chants of '加油中国!' till our voices were hoarse

some of the happy people; Australian flag or not, Malaysia still Boleh!

beach volleyball prelims tomorrow, a good chance for a tan!=D

August 02, 2008

Beijing skies

on a typical foggy day, you can stare at the moon head-on, and wonder why it's so huge in evenings, and in a strong orange hue that stands out in the grey sky. okay, so maybe some have told me that it's actually the sun. still, a sight to behold.

on a lazy afternoon, people-watching while leisurely strolling the streets at Beijing's popular spot for its scenic lake views and traditional courtyard houses 四合院. kudos to the guy who sat on his rooftop with a Tsingtao beer in hand; a pretty damn cool way to watch the flurry of activities below.

at a pivotal bridge crossing at Hou Hai 后海

on a spontaneous night, you unexpectedly catch the soothing fountains and night lights along the park, a scenic prelude to witnessing the string of high-end shopping malls coming to life along the streets. and of course, we couldnt resist battling it out in mindless arcade games that provided many laughs and much-needed endorphins.

the Chinese Catholic Church at Wangfujing 王府井

.. and on a clear day, you can even glimpse the far mountains that you never even knew existed, and watch the clouds envelope the CBD in its white and blue glory.

from the 21st floor of LG Twin Towers 双子座大厦

in front of Jianguomenwai Avenue 建国门外大街


crazy beautiful.

just like how friendships are.

even if it's an exhausting talk in between the zooming subways trains, or a long-distance phone call on another sleepless night. or the well-meaning comments, and the casual e-mails.


it's the little things that catch you on your way down. so even if everything isnt okay, there's always something worth living for.

thank yous.