inside thoughts on China and beyond

China

Hong Kong – Pearl of China (HK.3)

 

Pearl of ChinaRecent protests in Hong Kong caused me to reflect once more on my short stay in this Pearl of the Orient. If Honk Kong was dreading its return to mainland China in 1997 for political reasons, with the battle of Tiananmen Square less than a decade earlier still looming over its people as the threatening dark clouds of Mordor, the anticipation of wealth that would be flooding its streets and shops and households surely made up for it. The bitter-sweet, decades-old Chinese medicine of ‘two systems, one country’ would do the trick, it was assured. But what good can come from an affair with an abusive husband? (more…)

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Hong Kong -Whatever You Want (HK.2)

Hong KongTsim Sha Tsui is home to an amazing large collection of exclusive brand shops and endless shopping malls. While delivery trucks, tour buses, Masserratties and Bugattis congest the long streets and narrow allays, mainland Chinese visitors crowd the sidewalks and shuffle through the malls. All along the famous Canton Road, entrepreneurial Indians scout for tourists and every 10 steps one would come up to me with a you’ve-always-been-my-most-precious-friend-client-and-it’s-so-nice-to-see-you-back-again-and-do-I-have-just-the-right-suit-for-you talk. They will try to tailor your suit; line your trousers, renew your cuffs, repair your collar and sometimes even sell you your Rolex watch back. Friendly though they are, they prey like vultures. One by one, they pick out Caucasian tourists and as such, for all my faults, I am quite outstanding. (more…)


Hong Kong Hassle (HK.1)

Hong KongHong Kong has always been an intriguing city. With its rich colonial history, its endless skyscrapers and neon signs, its ever present hilltops and, of course, the dizzying busyness between Kowloon Bay and Victoria Harbour, it was the Crown Jewel of the British Empire for most of the last a century. It was the optimum of opportunities for daring entrepreneurs and the dream of many. It was the ultimate sensation of the Orient. Hong Kong has, as Prince Charles once said, “created one of the most successful societies on Earth.” Hong Kong, in short, is a place you had to have seen before you died. But for all its magic, I tell you, never go there after Chiang Mai. (more…)


Wonderful Wuhou

For most, the attraction of Wuhou, an area just west of downtown Chengdu and sandwiched in between the ancient Wuhou temple complex in the north and the campus grounds of the Minority College to the south, is that it has traditionally always been the Tibetan quarters. A little bit of Tibet in center Chengdu, complete with a good supply of beggars on every street corner, never tired of reminding you of the ancient tradition to give to the poor -and to those pretending to be. But for me, there is more. (more…)


Chengdu Shopping

 I don’t know about you, but if there is one thing that wears me out before it has even started, it is shopping.  What traumatic experience ever caused this apparently unique disorder, I don’t know, but for as long as I remember, for me, shopping is an endurance race. And after the first 3 shops, it is right out torture. And so when my wife, daughter and son banded together against me to devote the rest of the day on shopping, I categorically refused and stuck my heels deep in the Chengdu soil. This time I serious; I wasn’t going to give in. Not me, not now. (more…)


Migrant Workers and The China Dream (part 2)

Chunjie is a moving business in quite the literal sense of the word: everyone is moving, and most are moving home. And like all previous Chinese New Year holidays, records are broken. Now, an estimated 200 million trips will be made -all in about 2 weekends. Should be enough to topple the earth, if you ask me. And this time, Da Erzi joined the crowd.  (more…)


Migrant Workers and The China Dream (part 1)

Things aren’t always as they seem. Especially when it involves my son. Just when I was mesmerizing about the fate of the migrant workers whom are the embodiment of China’s ambitious urbanization plans yet unwelcome and marginalized by every city, Asher came home. All fired up and ready to talk. That doesn’t happen to often so the migrant workers and their urbanization have to wait a while. So tell me, Asher, what’s up?  (more…)


Cosmetic News

Just after 6 this morning I was awakened by a soft but surprisingly inviting sunlight that pushed its way through the curtains of our bedroom. And by a sound that was equally astonishing: the sound of silence. Take it from me; this is a rare combination in these parts. Truly a day to remember! It was the last day of the holiday and I suddenly fell fresh and energized. It happens. And if you’re like me, you will understand; it is like the excitement that tickles somewhere deep in your belly just before departing on a long anticipated holiday, all on a Sunday morning. Surely a day to take the family out and about!

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People Persons

 I am not a Catholic but I do want to congratulate Pope Francis wholeheartedly. (Though I do think he would want me to call him Jorge, given his achievements of the last 9 month as a People’s Pope, so I shall.)  Being chosen as Time’s ‘Person of the Year’ doesn’t happen often (well, it happens once a year, of course, but not to the same person). And that Jorge is chosen ahead of Snowdon and Assad is a sign; a writing on the wall. The Great Wall, I hope. (more…)


Patriot Talk

My Chinese language teacher is a fervent traveler and true patriot. Had she only lived in, let’s say, March 8, 1421, she would surely have joined admiral Zheng He, whose ships (each an impressive 5 times the size of Columbus’ dinky boat!) crossed many seas. She would have explored the new worlds of Australia and Africa and beyond and enjoyed the cultural diversities and tried to comprehend it all. That’s how curious she is. She would have returned home with spoils of arts and animals and sing glory to the Middle Kingdom’s achievements and greatness. That’s how patriotic she is. But then she would also have been uncontrollably upset when eventually the emperor burned all ships, shut down China’s borders and closed off the country for any contact with the outside. That’s how headstrong she is -and angrily disappointed. I won’t say it aloud, but I am sure she would have started a rebellion, back then. (more…)


Big Business

Disclaimer: do not read this article while eating! And with that said, let’s dive right into it: China is changing rapidly and its toilets are changing with it. Notably slower though.

But toilets have always, how shall I put it, intrigued me. After all, we spend quite some time there. As a boy I would sit and study the patterns of the floor and walls while doing my business. In the shapes and lines on the concrete floor I would see the outlines of countries, of wild roses at the point of withering; the list of what I saw was endless and always growing. Sometimes though, I would see faces. An old man with a sharp nose and deep eyes, a girl’s face with wavy long hair falling down her bare shoulders. Sinterklaas. Well, today it happened again. (more…)


Portfolio – On The Road

Portfolio – On The Road

October 2013

Chinese roads are amazing. Some are new and hectic, others are ages old but quiet. Some wind across high passes, others cut through endless deserts and grasslands. But all have their own story to tell. All we need to do is travel them, listen, and learn.   As Aldous Huxley said long ago: “To travel is to discover that everyone is wrong about other countries.”  (read more)


The Stroller

My traffic light is red. I stop. (Do take note of this; stopping for traffic lights isn’t anyone’s second nature after more than 10 years in China – remarkable, really!) I wait and watch thick raindrops splash on my windscreen. Soon I will need to switch the wipers from interval mode to constant. A young woman is crossing the road. With one hand she pushes her stroller loaded with Aldi shopping bags hanging heavily on the handlebar while holding an umbrella with the other. (more…)


Milk Rush

It’s been awhile since I last was in Holland. One year to be precise, or, as my assistant puts it: 12 boxes of Nutricia baby milk powder ago. She measures time by what is dear to her, and don’t we all?  My daily drive to work used to take me 4 songs, but after we moved to our new home it only takes one song. Sometimes even less than that and then I drive around the block just to hear the end of a Mozart cantata or Sting’s ‘Mr. President’.  (more…)


Lamentations

LamentationsBuckets of tears we shed, and believe me, it was a real family happening. Everyone joined in. Eyes watered and messed up mascara -not that we have mascara, but it visualizes the flow of tears so nicely- and soon enough large murky floods poured out from us that would dwarf the 3 Gorges Dam. Noses dripped like leaking taps. My son handed me a tissue -again. It was the same one I passed on to my wife just a minute ago. Tissues were shared. For the last time. The last time! “Whaaah!!!” And off we went again. (more…)