Summer Days

Last week we rented a car to visit Christoph’s mum up north of Hamburg. We decided to use the opportunity with the car to do some exploring on the way back to Berlin. We therefore, drove through Lübeck and Schwerin; both wonderful cities.

Lübeck is home to Christoph’s favourite chocolate-covered marzipan and due to it’s location at the mouth of the Trave, has a rich trading history. The old town is UNESCO Heritage listed due to the extensive brick Gothic architecture. When we walked through the old town, you could really see how wealthy that city must have been back in the day. Buildings dating back to nearly 1,000 years are still standing, have been restored and are presently used for businesses and dwellings. One of the oldest buildings in the city is the Holy Spirit Hospital (built in 1286) which is believed to be one of the oldest social institutions in the world. Another highlight was the European Hansemuseum which has been restored and updated. It shows us how important architecture is in helping us keep the stories of times long forgotten alive.

Lübeck is a small city so it didn’t take us long to walk around the historic centre. On our way back to our hotel, we then had the luck of stumbling into a beer festival hosted by one of the local breweries. There were loads of people in attendance, food and drink stalls galore and best of all, a band playing on a floating pontoon. The artist playing was Florian Künstler and he was really good! It was such an unexpectedly nice way spend the evening; sitting by a river, drinking a G&T and enjoying great live music.

Top left and clockwise: Lübeck’s Holstentor Gate (built 1478), Christoph enjoying the music, Schwerin Palace and getting eggs from the source!

Top left and clockwise: Lübeck’s Holstentor Gate (built 1478), Christoph enjoying the music, Schwerin Palace and getting eggs from the source!

After Lübeck we drove to Schwerin. We had no idea what was there and so Christoph drove in the direction of the city centre and parked the car. There was not much around us and we thought…hmmm…Schwerin doesn’t look like much. So this is when your mobile phone comes in handy. I looked up the city and directed us towards the Schwerin Palace. We parked again and went by foot towards the castle. This turned into a magnificent walk through a picturesque town and around a fabulously restored castle and town centre. Beautiful! The first spot we parked at was only three blocks away from all the beauty the town had to offer! We were so glad we didn’t give up after the first stop. The Palace (also known as the Castle) was first recorded in history in AD 973!!! Amazing!

The afternoon drew close and so we hopped back in the car and hit the road. I had wanted to pick up some fresh eggs for a recipe I have and so was constantly keeping an eye out for chicken farms. We found one and after I collected my eggs from the sales point, I went over to thank the chickens for their hard work. Have you ever seen happier or healthier chickens? These ladies were all clucking away and free-ranging as chickens do. Happy Days :o)

Berlin Summer

Happy Swiss National Day everyone and greetings from Berlin! It’s great to be back in our neighbourhood, to catch up with our local friends as well as our visiting friends.

Top left and clockwise; Christoph and I joined the party on Christopher Street Day, I finally got to hoon around the city with friends in my little Hot Rod, sharing the fun of bouldering with little AG and Christoph giving AH a lift when she was visiting us with her dad, CH.

Top left and clockwise; Christoph and I joined the party on Christopher Street Day, I finally got to hoon around the city with friends in my little Hot Rod, sharing the fun of bouldering with little AG and Christoph giving AH a lift when she was visiting us with her dad, CH.

Despite the unpredictable weather, we’ve been thoroughly enjoying being outdoors, on our bikes and sharing our love of Berlin with our wonderful friends. We have another few days with our current visitor, BF, and then we’ll head north to visit Christoph’s mum.

A good friend told me a long time ago that the three keys to happiness is to have someone to love, something to do each day and something to look forward to. We try to keep that in mind whenever we make plans and I can tell you that so far, this summer has been a blast! Hope your summer (or winter, for those in the southern hemisphere) is too! Happy Days!

Peppa Pig To The Rescue

It’s been two weeks since the implementation of Shanghai’s new garbage sorting regulations and so far we’ve had a number of companies, garbage collection points and residents getting fined for not sorting their trash correctly. We’ve also had lots of arguments and one reported case of a garbage regulation volunteer being attacked and choked for reprimanding a resident.

You may have some difficulties too because some of the regulations are not too clear and from what I’ve heard, are already being reviewed by the authorities. However, in order to simplify the rules for kids, we’ve had Peppa Pig come to the rescue!

Helpful Peppa Pig (Image source, That’s Shanghai)

Helpful Peppa Pig (Image source, That’s Shanghai)

Food Waste; Can Peppa Pig eat it? Residual Waste; Would Peppa Pig want to eat it? Hazardous Waste; Would Peppa Pig die if she ate it? Recyclable Waste; Can Peppa Pig make money from it? These four simple questions actually help me!!! hihihi

Hunchbacks of Our Time

When I commute to my various activities each day, all I see around me is everyone's eyes glued to their devices. I'm sure it's not happnening only here in Shanghai but in most countries and cities.

99% of train commuters are staring at their devices, people drive while looking at phones in their hands, scooter riders staring at their phones and people walking while staring at their phones. All this screentime while moving about in sometimes dangerous situations makes me cringe. It'll be very interesting to find out how many accidents occur on a daily basis due to 'not paying attention to what you're doing because you were staring at your phone'.

Can’t get enough.

Can’t get enough.

I was coincidently walking behind the girl above for about two blocks towards the subway station. She was staring at her phone the entire time without a clue as to what was happening around her, she crossed the road while still staring at her phone! If we would have been anywhere else but in Shanghai, with all the CCTV cameras, it would have been super simple to mug her and run off without her even reacting. I overtook her on the sidewalk as it was really annoying being stuck behind her lacklustre walking in narrow laneways. I then saw her come down the stairs at the subway station and immediately plopped herself down to stare at her phone some more. This moving with blinkers on evokes a sense of sadness in me to see how cut-off we poeple have become from one another and our surroundings.

The hunchback generation.

The hunchback generation.

I went to take a seat to wait for my friend and saw these three. They look like they’re asleep or something like that but no they were not asleep, they were just on their phones. Gone are the days of drumming up casual conversations with strangers or even just acknowledging the people in your vicinity. On more than the one occasion, I’ve noticed how people would not be able to describe the person sitting next to them other than it was a man or a woman. But to give a useful description of a person would be impossible for many.

I hope we are able to recognise how regressed this all is and make a real conscious effort to engage with those around us; even a little eye contact with a nod of acknowledgement would be a step forward (or backwards to the ‘good old days’).

Recycling Revolution

Shanghai residents are all gearing up for a massive recycling overhaul. Since this past month, the Shanghai Greenery and Public Sanitation Bureau has been releasing official domestic garbage sorting and dumping guidelines to the general public. It will take time for everyone to naturally be conscious of their garbage habits but I hope this initiative will be followed through with an effective positive outcome for the future.

The new regulations will come into effect on July 1 and we are seeing every building and garbage collection point getting themselves ready for the change. Friends have also told me of neighbourhood door-door knocking with brochures in hand to help clarify the guidelines for residents. Have a look at the charts below and see if they are clear enough. Individuals can be fined up to 200 rmb for failing to sort garbage. Last year, residents were fined for not slowing down at yellow traffic lights and for honking, so garbage sorting should eventually work as well.

It’s quite a detailed chart no? With very specific Asian ingredients.

It’s quite a detailed chart no? With very specific Asian ingredients.

Now I know were to put my hair but I’m not sure if slag is saliva or something else? 

Now I know were to put my hair but I’m not sure if slag is saliva or something else? 

The English translations have been very well done overall. 

The English translations have been very well done overall. 

I’m really hoping that the recyclables will really be recycled. 

I’m really hoping that the recyclables will really be recycled. 

With larger items like sofas, mattresses, fridges etc. There will be collection points where people can drop those off. I’ve also been told that I won’t be able to discard any leftover food in the public trash cans and will have to keep it with me until I come across a food waste bin. Shanghai has been trying to reduce food waste in restaurants this past year and so this will hopefully help with that as well.

New bins at Ikea today. 

New bins at Ikea today. 

This will be a very interesting exercise to witness and participate in and by the time we leave Shanghai, this city is perhaps going to green clean.

Happy Children’s Day

Welcome to June and greetings from Shanghai! Thank you to everyone for Christoph’s lovely birthday wishes. We had a quiet weekend in Shanghai and absolutely loved it. June 1 is also International Children’s Day and so there were many parties throughout the city in celebration of all the little ones in the world.

We had a slow start on June 1 and after a leisurely breakfast together, Christoph headed off to the dentist while I made my way to a kid’s birthday party. After our various outings, we circled back home for a much-needed apero of G+T and nibbles. This was followed by a global picnic dinner of some of our favourite things; crackers and dips from Australia, cheese from England, wine from Italy and chocolates from Switzerland. It was luxuriously decadent; Christoph’s perfect birthday meal and a representation of how small our world has become.

Kumihimo: who knew strings could look so fancy? They can be bracelets or necklaces.

Kumihimo: who knew strings could look so fancy? They can be bracelets or necklaces.

So now, what’s with June? Christoph is working full throttle on his factory project shuttling between Shanghai, Jiaxing and Mainburg. I’m quite booked up with kids’ activities, volunteering work and crafts. My newest learning is kumihimo which will be added to my list of ‘Skills I Have But Can Not Earn Any Money From’, hihihi. June will keep me mostly running around but also a little sad as a good friend, VB, will be repatriating back to Australia at the end of the month. There may be some shedding of tears but that is the Shanghai life. People are constantly coming and going and we try to get used to it but that still doesn’t make it any easier. I’ll have to go friend-finding... again. sigh

On with other June news, here’s this month’s challenge if you’re up for it:

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I’m going to try my best to not be a collector of plastic bags. We‘ve already stopped using plastic straws since a few months, instead we use these metal straws we bought in Australia, and I always have my trusty re-usable carry bags with me for those small purchases. Also, I always have my re-fillable water bottle with me so in a way, I‘m almost half-way through the program. Let’s see how much more we can do about reducing our plastic use by the end of the month ;o)

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon

Linh came for a short visit last week and because she has come to Shanghai a few times before, I decided to get out of the city so we could see more of China. We headed out to Anhui Province, home of Huangshan, also known as the Yellow Mountains.

Huangshan, Anhui Province

Huangshan, Anhui Province

I’ve wanted to visit this area since we moved to Shanghai in 2011 but was never able to fit it into our schedule. Anhui Province neighbours Shanghai and so it is very close and yet always felt so out of reach. My friends VB and CA, fellow Shanghai residents, have also always wanted to go to Huangshan and now they are both facing repatriation this year and so I thought ‘why not?’ and invited them to join us on a three day, two night trip to Huangshan.

All together I managed to fill our car with Linh, our Beijing friend CL, VB and CA. We ended up with a group of five ladies plus our lovely and forever patient driver, Kevin. Off we went to Huangshan!

It’s a beautiful area and we went mid-week when crowds were minimal. We stayed at a very affordable and modern guesthouse in Tunxi and spent the first afternoon exploring Hongcun, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The village has a 900 year old history and is where scenes from ‘Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon’ were filmed. Very lovely.

The next day, after breakfast, we headed to the cable car and went up the mountain. Beautiful scenery, not so beautiful loud groups of people :o( Nevertheless, we enjoyed the trip and spent the day walking the paths leading to the various lookouts. It was amazing to see the porters carrying huge loads of goods on their shoulders and then there were the porters carrying people on sedan chairs! Who does that anymore?! Hard work.

Overall it was well worth the trip out to Anhui Province. The ancient village was lovely, the local people very friendly and the mountain views were wonderful. We were lucky to have such brilliant weather and the area was so green and lush that it was a feast for the eyes! We ate ‘mountains’ of fresh bamboo, a local specialty, which was delicious and here you can find photos from our little trip.

Shanghai Marriage Market

Wow! What a busy few weeks we’ve had since getting back to Shanghai. Busy isn’t a word that I like very much anymore; I don’t like to hear how people like to say that they are busy just to sound interesting. So what other words can I use to describe our lives instead? I’m not too sure at the moment.

What I can share is that we are both very well with Christoph working hard to get the factory underway. After getting back from Switzerland and while still suffering from jetlag we had visitors, VZ and VM, come to stay. It was great to see them, spend time together and to show them what we get up to in our home town. Most guests leave Shanghai pleasantly surprised. I like that. It’s hard to describe what it’s like to live here; the good stuff, the bad stuff, the challenges and the small accomplishments. Until you come and stay and see for yourself, Shanghai is another world.

I took VZ and VM to the marriage market which takes place in People’s Square Park everyday but the biggest turn out is on the weekends. I’ll describe it as a kind of online dating but old school. Grandparent and parents display A4 pages of handwritten descriptions of their children. Age, gender, height, education and what they are seeking. You then approach the parent and give them your candidate. If the attributes sound good to both parties, then photographs are shown and possibly phone numbers.

This was on a quiet day but still lots of people.

This was on a quiet day but still lots of people.

What we found interesting was a significant section was devoted to Chinese citizens living and working abroad. Countries that stood out were the States, the UK, Australia, Canada and Japan. I wonder if those people know that their parents or grandparents are husband/wife hunting for them. If you were over 30 and had no time to date, would you mind? What I also noticed was that they do want their children to marry a fellow Chinese citizen.

A friend’s assistant who is a 36 year old female, decided to go there last year to see if she could find a husband. Her credentials are good; she works for an Australian company, is Shanghainese, is smart and healthy. After approaching a few parents, she was berated for the fact that she will never find a husband while earning such a high salary! She was told to quit her job and get a lower-paying one so she would then be more interesting to the potential suitors. Unbelievable! A strong independent woman can never win in such a market.

VM was lucky during our visit. She was approached by a father who liked her height. He didn’t mind that she spoke not a word of Mandarin but said that VM would be very suitable for his son who is also very tall. I politely told him that she’s not currently looking. While I was translating some of the profiles, another man came up to me to ask what in particular I was looking for. Sorry, Alison, I told him that I was looking for a husband for my younger sister (the parents don’t like tourists to snap pictures and to be nosy so I needed a cover story). I was quite intrigued as to how business-like it all was. He asked for age, education and height, and I think he was an agent because he seemed to be representing a few candidates. He also asked if she looked like me and of course I replied that she is much prettier :o)

It’s a whole other world but in the end you just hope that everyone finds what they are looking for.