Sunday, 21 December 2014

Back in Europe

Frankfurt Main Airport, Tuesday the 16th of December, 6am: Coming home, after about 15 months in Asia, felt decidedly strange and weird, everything seemed so ordered, even this early in the morning, with the break of dawn another two hours away. All around me everything seemed quite familiar yet completely different. The long flight didn't excite me in the least though, so these past couple of weeks whenever my Chinese friends asked me how I felt about going home my reaction was a tangled mess of emotions. When you've got to conquer a long-haul flight and some nasty jet lag it's hard to look at what's waiting for you beyond all that...until you actually get there!

But home is home and it will always be home, even though I haven't actually lived at home for nearly ten years. I had a lovely time in Frankfurt with my sister and her friends but Frankfurt won't ever be home...or feel as familiar as my hometown. It's one of my favourite cities but it lacks something I can't quite put my finger on.

I have to admit though, my first thought about being back in cosy, little Koblenz (in the heart of the Rhineland-Palatine) was "too small". Frankfurt is big yet the outskirts are small but compared to China it still almost seems like a village and compared to Wuhan my hometown feels like a tiny, tiny village somewhere in the depths of the woods.

When I first arrived in Frankfurt, I felt so happy about seeing my sister but jet lag and a bad stomach due to unfamiliar food (saying is downright seems laughable) made it hard to feel really happy and there is someone in China whom I miss so I felt a bit homesick. Now that I'm home and reunited with my dad I feel ridiculously happy and at home. There is proper Heintze-coffee (among friends and family this is what we call the coffee my dad makes, I still think he puts a little love in every cup so it always seem to taste better than when I make my own coffee), there's good food and I have time to look through some old memorabilia in the depths of the drawers in my room, I can debate with my dad and enjoy his simple but delicious cooking, but most of all I finally have time to read. I spent the entire morning reading a magazine from front to back and now I've picked up a book from one of my favourite Irish writers, Maria Duffy. I did plan to go for a walk earlier but I haven't really had time to read much more than a couple of articles so I didn't  especially feel the need to venture past the four walls of my dad's apartment.

I don't think I ever got a bout of culture shock after arriving in China, at least nothing that I vividly remember, although I certainly have my five minutes every now and then where everything pisses me off just a little. It passes and then I move on with my life. I did get a bit of culture shock when I got back though...people around me suddenly seemed considerate enough to apologise for bumping into me or helped me heave my heave suitcase out of the train...that definitely felt special. It was a nice and welcome change. On the other hand, I do discover certain Chinese characteristics in me, like for example when waiting for customer service in a shop makes me want to snap at the shop assistant and demand service, my patience level is extremely low and after only a few seconds I found myself thinking "I'm waisting my time here". I held my tongue yesterday but I can't garantuee that it will always work, I'm afraid I might slip up somewhere, which I reckon won't go down so well with the person at the receiving end of my wrath. 

On the other hand, then there is that surprising but not unwelcome feeling in the pit of my stomach when the cashier in the shop wishes me a happy holiday instead of treating me with utter indifference like the staff in my local supermarket in Wuhan like to do. In Kengee (a bakery near my apartment in Wuhan) it seems so fake when all of them loudly chant 下午好 (Good afternoon!) when you walk into the store. It seems so fake and almost scary because it feels like a military greeting, like a bunch of soldier responding to an order, and not warm, kind and polite. But the cashier here smiled and so I wished her a happy holiday too and that was that.

You seem to become somewhat indifferent to some of the coldness that surrounds daily life in China but it melts away almost immediately when you return home. Still, it feels like a tiny shock every time I find myself appreciating some some gesture I suppressed over the last year and a half. If I let myself miss all those things that are normal in Germany (or even Ireland) I fear I'll end up deeply unhappy, so I ignore their existence until I get back to familiar territories.

I'm home. I've had an exciting 15 months in Asia, packed with many amazing things but sadly also too many things I'd rather forget for good. For now though, boy does it feel good to be around the people I love. My first thought upon arriving was that I no longer fit in and that life in Germany is too slow and too different from what I'm currently used to but I think this leopard can change her spots as required. I'm loving China and I'm also loving Germany...or should I say I love the people more? And the fact that I have time to read! 

So far nothing crazy has happened but I'm having a jolly good time. More updates to follow.

In the meantime I shall leave you with this gem:

I forgot the adapter for my iPhone charger at my sister's so my dad improvised to a) save me from having to buy a new adapter and b) keep my phone from dying. Having a dad who is an electrician and generally knows just about everything about electric devices and various household installations is more than a little awesome. My dad is super cool, he's rock'n'roll! I do have the bestest dad in the world! Yes there is some bias there but I just don't know any daddy's girl who doesn't put her dad on the highest pedestal available. Sometimes it gets so bad that I will rip people's head off for saying bad things about my dad. Nobody's perfect but anyone who dares to talk ill about my dad will end up in my black book and once you're in there it's pretty much impossible to get back out. Sadly I had a little run-in with one of my sister's friends while in Frankfurt. She said a few things that she shouldn't have said and it made me very angry and probably even happier to finally be at home...with daddy!

Monday, 15 December 2014

How To Juggle A Blog & Real Life

I admit, my blog title might be misleading and if you clicked on it in hope that I have some advice for you on how to juggle real life and posting regular blogs, then I must apologise. I have none, but if you have some for me, I'd be more than happy to find out what you have to say. Everyone else seems to be doing a much better job at writing regularly and juggling real life. I simply suck at it and I'm green with envy because some of my friends make it look so easy, even though I know it isn't at all easy.

I've been running around like a headless chicken lately, using all my free time to do things that involved getting out of the house to either meet people or work out at the gym or do other things that generally required me to not be at home. I've not slept in in weeks and what with having a temporary house guest (I friend is hunting for a new apartment so I've told her to move in with me until she's found her own space) I've not found any time to blog in peace (or write in my diary). It is nearly impossible to have some quiet time in a one-bedroomed apartment and when I write I need quiet time or quiet time with music. This afternoon I'm leaving for the airport, I'm flying home to Germany for Christmas and New Year. I can't remember when I was last in Germany for the holidays so this should be fun. People I care about have already booked time to see me, which makes me feel really good, and a little bit important.

So as you can see I'm really not the best person to juggle life and a blog. I'm doing  all these awesome things and I'm meeting a bunch of fabulous people as well as go to some really cool places but I never actually write anything about it. It's not that I don't want to, it's just that I don't find the time, because on the rare occasion that I'm home doing nothing, I find myself getting distracted by the one or other TV show. Today, on my last day in China (for this year anyway) of all days I have however found some time to write one last blog entry. 

I'm determined to do some writing while in Germany and it should very well be possible to accomplish this task since I don't have to work or anything. This should be fun... Let's see if I can do actually stick to my plan, otherwise I don't even need to bother about making any New Year's Resolutions... You should however follow my Instagram (Selly06) since I will do my best to post loads of pics of the German Christmas market! 

Here's a kiss for you, I'm off to see one my friend, who is incidentally driving me to the airport, before I have to leave.

Friday, 14 November 2014

Five Awesome Things I've Done That You Have No Idea About...Yet!

I'm still not especially good at posting regularly, although once a month could be considered regularly, but once a week would be even better. I do manage to post updates to my Facebook and Twitter accounts (mostly) via Instagram though...go figure! Taking pictures and posting them with a short message is just a lot easier (and faster) than sitting down to write a blog post! Today I'm taking the time for it though.

For this reason I've decided to keep things short and sweet and tell you about five awesome things I've recently done that you probably have no idea about, just yet. I'm about to change that though so don't go anywhere...unless of course you're going to get me a cup of coffee. Black please, no milk no sugar. Thanks!

Alright. So what have I been up to? Work's quite busy, especially because I work four days in a row, then enjoy one day off, then I work for one day and then I get to enjoy another day off. That means Tuesdays through Thursday I have it easy but Friday through Monday I have to teach 20 classes and that's exhausting at the best of times. I used to work three days, then enjoy a day off, then work two days and then enjoy another day off, but my hours got changed because apparently I'm a work horse and not a human being. Thankfully I'm going home next month and I get to do nothing (related to teaching) for a whole month (or two years), whichever way you look at it. My friend is also ridiculously excited to house-sit because it means her commute to work will be reduced from about 40 minutes to five minutes. Aren't I just an awesome girl friend?

Alright, here's my list, in no particular order.

one hour of fast uphill walking
I've started regularly working out at the gym again. Admittedly, I'm still somewhat lazy and not quite in perfect shape but when I'm actually working out I've mostly got my vigour back and I'm thoroughly enjoying myself, even when my trainer tortures me with excruciating exercises, such as rope skipping, running across the room and various other forms of endurance training. Spending an hour on the treadmill is tiring and exhausting but it feels blooming amazing. I get to listen to music and space out for a while, it's a good way to clear your mind or resolve some issues. When you're busy walking uphill on the treadmill you don't have the energy to complicate things by coming up with elaborate resolutions to simple problems. Instead you will usually find a simple solution and most of the time that's also the best. I promise I will write that post about my trainer so I'm not going to praise him too much here.

Post work-out: sweaty, tired and red-faced but happy

I've been cooking a lot. Or more than usual anyway. I'm big into eating my greens, especially 菠菜 (spinach) and 油麦菜 (Indian lettuce) and even though I'm not cooking as often as I could, I try to cook at home at least a few times a week. I've as good as given up on rice (once a day, if at all) in a hopefully fruitful attempt to be more healthy and help me lose some more weight at the gym. Chinese rice really doesn't agree with me so I treat myself to the more expensive Jasmine rice from Thailand. It tastes really good, which can make it difficult to control how much you eat of it, but I'm trying my best to be good. Admittedly I'm not cooking anything amazingly special but it has flavour and I enjoy standing in my petite little kitchen, wielding a kitchen knife attacking the garlic and other various edibles. In addition to that I've made a point to have breakfast at home, unless the craving for a portion of steaming hot dry noodles gets the better of me (which hasn't happened just yet). Just the other week I caught a nasty bout of food poisoning after having dinner with my friend and for a good few days that bug thoroughly ruined my desire to eat absolutely anything.

Post food poisoning recovery food: mashed banana and grated apple + a steamed bun

At home I'm the boss, I thought my slippers should reflect that!
I bought a new handbag. This is newsworthy because I haven't done that in over a year. Well actually that's not quite true. I did buy a handbag sometime bag in April or May but it broke after only two weeks of using it so I gave up on the whole handbag-buying business for about six months. Last year my tiny little handbag and faithful companion post-arrival in China, a present from my ex's aunt, split into a thousand pieces and with no spare handbag at home I went to the next best shop to buy a new one. It's been a faithful friend up until now and despite it's low price of 130 RMB its proven to be of amazing quality. Even though I've been using it every day, since the day I bought it, there is absolutely nothing wrong with it. There isn't a single stain on it or a single crack in the "leather" or tear in the seems. I just decided to retire it, in favour of another handbag. Sometimes a woman just needs a change.

amazingly my new handbag is not black

Now, this isn't really something I've done, because I actually regularly do this, but I decided to add it to the list because it's something I rarely did while in Ireland. I (to my own surprise) regularly get my nails done or my hair or ask a make-up artist to beautify me. Ireland's steep prices in that department never allowed me to do more than just dream about it, but here in China I can afford to let myself enjoy a "celebrity" lifestyle as I like to call it. There's just something special about getting your hair washed and professionally styled and just having to pay 20 RMB for it. A good make-up artist will demand about 30 RMB and manicures range anywhere from 20 to about 350 RMB. I usually pay about 150 RMB to 200 RMB for mine because there is only one beauty parlour I go to and their prices are slightly higher than elsewhere. It doesn't bother me much though because their products are of good quality and it's not like I do this every week. I do have a VIP card and I always get treated well. Also, the boss is my friend and as you know in China you need guanxi...

While waiting for my date my friend snapped a photo of me. FYI, she's not two metres tall, she's standing on top of a pillar

I'm putting as much effort as I possibly can into improving my Chinese further. Compared to last year it already improved a great deal but I try to increase the amount of characters I know by reading a lot. I mostly read short articles on WeChat and rely heavily on HanZi Reader, an amazing Chinese-to-English translation iPhone app for Chinese learners, for my studies. I try to write some Chinese everyday, although only on my phone or on the computer. My handwriting has if anything only gotten worse. I want to work on it but it really isn't my priority. What's more important to me is to be able to speak clearly and be understood. I've gotten pretty good at arguing in Chinese because sometimes you just have to be unfriendly and direct to get your point across, otherwise you don't get anything done. My friends are also happy enough to teach me new things and I ask my colleagues occasionally to explain the one or other thing to me. I still don't speak Wuhanhua but I definitely got the accent down right. I don't like it when people praise my Chinese though as I've discovered that I stop understanding people when they do so. It's really funny. We'll chat for quite some time and I have no problem with keeping up with the conversation, then the person or persons I'm talking to praise my Chinese and bang there it starts. I find myself not understanding things and asking for them to repeat things time and time again. The HSK test level 4 is definitely on the agenda for next year. I'm going to bite the bullet and do it!