Decadent December

The time has come! Yay! It is really almost the end of the year and Christoph and I are finally in holiday-mode together. We are both in Berlin and are loving being able to wake up to slow mornings and spending lots of time simply reading. What a luxury :o)

Another luxury Christoph has discovered is a barber shop around the corner from us. No he hasn’t grown a beard but he gets all the whiskey or beer he can drink, a hair wash, haircut and his chin stubble shaved off in a strictly woman-free zone. We’re now calling it his ‘day spa’ :o)

That’s actually another customer as Christoph couldn’t take a selfie while he was in the chair. 

That’s actually another customer as Christoph couldn’t take a selfie while he was in the chair. 

We don’t have big plans for Christmas but this is the first year since we’ve been coming to Berlin that we won’t have a beautiful Christmas tree in the apartment. I’ve still decorated what I can but because Christoph will be heading back to Shanghai on Jan 2, it will mean that it’ll be quite difficult for me to throw a tree out the window by myself on Jan 6. (You may be thinking that I could get a small tree but the whole fun of having one, for me that is, is to make sure I have one that almost touches the ceiling!). So, regardless of a tree-less Christmas, we’re very much still enjoying the time here.

Happy getting-ready-for-Christmas everyone!!

Too Much Of A Good Thing

I’m still riding around Shanghai on the bike-sharing bikes but these days it’s become a little more difficult to find a non-damaged bike. What is it about some people that if it doesn’t belong to you, then you think you don’t have to look after it?

What started out as a great idea; reduce car-use, encourage physical activity, create a sense of community etc, has quickly turned into a headache for many locals. There are so many bicycles in the city that they are now congesting walkways and creating havoc on roads and foot paths. Bikes that have been parked on the sidewalk sometimes get knocked over or are wind-blown to land onto roads where cars then have to drive around them... if seen in time.

Unsightly street scenes

Unsightly street scenes

Throughout the city, you’ll run into particular foot paths that have turned into dumping grounds for bikes, damaged or not. What I don’t like happening is that so many bikes are damaged and riding them is a hazard in itself and although I report defects, I’m not sure the bike will get fixed as it seems that throwing the bikes away has become a better solution than to actually fix the bikes :o(

I’m really hoping the authorities will come up with a strategy for the share-bikes soon. Either have designated parking areas or have the bike companies fine you if you don’t park the bike correctly. It makes me sad to see such a good idea turn into such a waste of resources while revealing the innate character of some people...

Sea Turtles

I recently read an interesting article about Chinese who study abroad and return to China to find work. Last year registered 430,000 graduates who returned home with degrees but alas, discovered that the job market had changed dramatically. Ten years ago, a foreign degree was highly valued and it was easy to get job offers even before the students returned. Nowadays, the competition has become fierce as more and more families opt to spend the money ($60,000 for a one year master’s degree abroad as opposed to a two-year master’s degree inside China for $3,000) and hope that the investment will pay off.

Image source:

Image source:

The article rang true with me as I am seeing the changes in the Chinese job market. Not only has it changed for the local Chinese, it has changed significantly for incoming expats as well. When I first arrived in China in 2004, I didn’t speak any mandarin and my diploma was not from any prestigious college but I was still accepted and valued for my knowledge and experience. Nowadays, most expats coming to find work in China must speak mandarin, have a master’s degree and there is a strong preference that they have previous international experience outside their home country. I would never have fulfilled those criterion if I was looking to come to China for work these days :o(

I can understand both sides of the conundrum. The Chinese are getting better educated and the government want to make sure graduates can secure suitable employment. Factories no longer appeal to many youths even though high salaries are offered for engineers and technicians. Status, glamour and prestige all play a role in attracting graduates. It’s not just about the money anymore.

However, education plays only one part, the other part is experience; creativity, management skills, people skills, problem-solving... or in other words, life skills. This is what is still lacking in Chinese education and why so many expats are able to fill that gap in China. It will take another generation or so but soon that gap will be successfully filled by China’s own people and the ‘foreign expert’ will no longer be needed.

Singles Day aka Online Shopping Craze

It was about eight years ago that Singles Day became a thing in China. Apparent roots of the celebration began in 1993 at the Nanjing University where students wanted to make a celebration of being single (or alone), a kind of antithesis to Valentine’s day. Online retailers ran with the idea and encouraged singles to buy gifts for themselves by heavily discounting prices. Hence, November 11 has turned into what is now known as the Chinese equivalent of America’s Black Friday sales.

Alibaba is China’s behemoth online shopping portal and closed the day with earnings of $17.9 billion USD in 24 hours of sales.(Correction: that was last year’s figure. This year’s figure eclipsed at $25.4 billion!!!). Alibaba pulled in sales of $8 billion within the first hour... $1 billion in the first 2 minutes. Take a moment to think about how many people were sitting by their computers or staring at their smartphones at midnight waiting for the sales to start.

I was chatting with one of our receptionists about the sales and she was telling me about the ways in which buyers try to input in their credit card details as fast as possible and what kind of items are bought. We looked it up on Baidu (the Chinese Google) and found the top selling brands. For your interest, the top 10, in order, are: Apple, Midea, Xiaomi, Haier, Nike, Honor, Sharp, Adidas, Uniqlo and Siemens.

The figure will likely drop due to possible product returns but what a crazy number it is for us to ponder. Billions and billions and billions...

Surging Ahead

We had another new subway line open up recently to add to Shanghai’s extensive Metro system. We now have 16 subway lines! Construction started in 1986 with substantial growth in the years leading up to the World Expo in 2010. Christoph and I like to try out any new developments and so took a ride on the new Line 13 to the Shanghai World Expo Center to visit an art fair. The new line was great; clean and almost empty as residents haven’t caught onto it yet.

The main hall of the Shanghai Exhibition Center in downtown. 

The main hall of the Shanghai Exhibition Center in downtown. 

Another area where Shanghai is surging ahead is in the area of art galleries and museums. It was only a few years back when private galleries were given permission to establish themselves in Shanghai and since then, there’s been an explosion of art fairs in the city. Not all are filled with great art but occasionally you’ll find a gem. We saw some lovely work at the Photosfair a few months back and were looking forward to today’s outing but alas, it was not meant to be. Nevermind, there’s always something on display in the city and as more and more people become interested in art and culture, I can only imagine that there’ll be more exhibitions each week than I can visit! :o)

The Return of The Cheeses

I am happy to report that soft cheeses are back! The ban has been lifted... even though no one really knew why it was banned in the first place. So, cheese-lovers can now continue their soft cheese affair in China :o) Happy days!

He’s happy about it! (image source: American Museum of Natural History)

He’s happy about it! (image source: American Museum of Natural History)

Apart from the cheese news, other news is that Christoph is still in the full swing of a busy work schedule while I have been getting bags of goodies ready for the upcoming influx of trick or treaters. How crazy is it that Halloween is a big thing here??