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Hi, my name is Philipp. My interest in other countries, their culture and languages, started in my childhood when I travelled several times to the Unites States of America, Africa, and in different countries of Europe.
Therefore, I decided to go abroad. To gather first hand impressions and experience the challenge of a completely different country, political system, culture and language, I chose to go to China.
And imagine how happy I was when I got the chance to do an five month internship with eBeijing (http://www.ebeijing.gov.cn), which is the official website of the Beijing Government.
eBeijing gives me the opportunity to discover Beijing and consequently Chinese culture through various activities and in a way visiting foreigners are not able to do. I enjoy Beijing because of the mixture of people and cultures, and modern living, combined with rich history and traditions. I want to learn and understand more about China as a whole and the people and cultures within it.
My Blog is about all these so often unexpected experiences and stories, which are inevitably generated when people try to come to terms with a culture different from their own.
Enjoy reading :-).
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02.22.2011
The Lantern Festival – the end of the Chinese New Year festivities
 

I have already written an article about my experiences and impressions during the Chinese Spring Festival. And if you want to get some basic information about the Chinese Spring Festival, please check out the article: "Chinese Spring Festival – family, friends, firecrackers and empty cities". However, most of the time during Spring Festival I did not spend in China but in Malaysia. Therefore, I thought that I would have missed the crazy time of firecrackers. A lot of people told me that the combination of firecrackers, Chinese people, China and Chinese New Year definitely would stand for craziness: "There are fireworks day and night, you can't even sleep!" Honestly, I could not imagine that and I thought that people are exaggerating!"

I came back from Malaysia on February 9th, which meant that I had the chance to experience the end of the Chinese New Year festivities, viz. The Lantern Festival. And as soon as the Lantern festival took place, I changed my opinion in regard to the firecrackers and craziness though.

But first some basic information about the Lantern Festival: The fifteenth day of the New Year is celebrated as Yuan Xiao Festival/Yuánxiāojié or Lantern Festival. It is the last day of the Spring Festival and rice dumplings with a sweet stuffing are eaten this day.

Moreover, as the name of the festival - Lantern Festival - already implies, there are many lighted lanterns – bright, colorful and in many different sizes and shapes. The traditional Chinese paper lanterns are red in color and oval in shape, which symbolize the reunion of the family.

I also tried the rice dumplings and they are "super-delicious" :-). In general, I am so happy that I had the chance to experience the last day of the Chinese Spring Festival viz. the Lantern Festival is absolutely beautiful! There are a lot of people on the street, celebrating the last day of the Spring Festival, everywhere are colorful Lanterns, activities and exhibitions and the most important thing: Everyone seems to be happy! As a consequence, there is a fantastic and unique atmosphere, I am sure you can imagine that, right!? Anyway, after I enjoyed all this in Sanlitun Village, I went to a nice bar called Kokomo (my favorite location during summer), which features a great rooftop. I love to sit and just chill at one of the tables there, enjoying the nice view above Sanlitun Village.

Now, back to the topic firecrackers and I just can say: "Yes, it is totally crazy!!" I have never seen something like that in life before. And believe me, people are not exaggerating when they are telling how crazy the combination of firecrackers, Chinese people, China and Chinese New Year is ! During Lantern Festival I had a Skype interview with Germany and the woman, who holds the conversation, asked me seriously: "Is there a war where you are right now"? That's crazy, isn't it. However, it's not a surprise due to the fact that there are non-stop explosions all day long. And believe me, you can't compare the firecrackers in China with them in Germany. I have never seen that big firecrackers yet, they are huge and furthermore "super-cheap"! "Ok, honestly, I am pretty weak when it comes to firecrackers, haha!" Therefore, I went outside, bought some firecrackers, joined the big group of "Chinese firecracker friends" in front of my apartment and drift in the world of firecrackers, colors and explosions. However, you really have to be careful!

Finally, when I was sitting at the bar I just thought: "Is there something better than sitting on a rooftop, sipping at a delicious cocktail while enjoying the amazing view, which is gleaming in splendor of all the fireworks ?!"

 

 

     

 
02.18.2011
Shanghai VS. Beijing
 

I am pretty sure that you have already heart from the East Coast–West Coast Hip Hop Rivalry, which took place in the early-mid 1990s between artists and fans of the East Coast and West Coast hip-hop scenes, right?

Of course, you can't compare this kind of rivalry to Beijing and Shanghai, however, it is really interesting to see how different people and cities can be, although we are talking here about the same country and the same nation!

When I arrived in Beijing, I felt comfortable from the thirst moment, being really excited! I don't know why, but I knew that I would like it here :-). However, when I went to Shanghai for holidays, the feeling was different. I did not experience the same flair than in Beijing, feeling a little bit uncomfortable. For me, the city seemed to be more "cold"; if you know what I mean. By the way, I am not crazy :-). Honestly, I also was really confused about this kind of feeling at the beginning. But after I spent one week in Shanghai, I knew why.......

1. Everything is more expensive:
Hell yeah, life is pretty expensive in Shanghai, especially compared to Beijing. I mean, everything is more expensive such as cabs, night life, subways, food, hostels/hotels. I spent a lot of money in Shanghai!

At this point I have to mention that the traffic in Shanghai is not as bad as in Beijing. Moreover, the cab drivers are friendlier and even understand English most of the time. That's a plus :-).

However, the subway net is more complicated and not as effective and elaborated as in Beijing.

2. Please, how can I get Chinese food:
I love Chinese food, it is "super-delicious"! Therefore I don't miss western food. I even try to avoid western food due to two reasons. First, Chinese food is cheaper compared to western food. Second, I think that Chinese food or rather the Chinese cuisine is healthier than the western cuisine. Chinese food features a balanced diet by using for example a lot of vegetables on the one hand and less bread and cheese on the other hand.

When I arrived in Beijing and noticed how much food Chinese are able to eat, I was sure to become fat. However, I did not gain weight at all. I even lost weight, although I am eating a lot more food in China than in Germany. If I would eat the same amount of food in Germany, I already would have become pretty "huge" ;-).

Moreover, I love the diversity of Chinese food. It is such a pity that the Chinese restaurants are such a fake in Germany. Please, don't tell me that you know Chinese food as long as you haven't been to China or South-east Asia! So, what shall I eat when I am back in Germany? Maybe I should grab some local cooks here, bring them to Germany and open my own Chinese restaurant! What do you think :-)?

Anyway, due to all these reasons I tried desperately to find some of these yummy Chinese places in Shanghai. However, that's easier said than done! Where are all the little restaurants and street-food booth? Maybe located at Nanjing Lu, one of Shanghais main shopping roads. Unfortunately not, I only saw Pizza Hut, McDonalds, Burger King and western restaurants. Fortunately, we met a nice girl from Shanghai, who introduced us to some secret places :-).

3. Shanghai – a Chinese city?
I really appreciate that Beijing is still a Chinese city. I mean, in Beijing you still can experience the traditional Chinese way of living on the one hand, without missing the comfort and modern lifestyle of a developed city on the other hand. I love all these little shops and restaurants, street booth, ancient buildings, the labyrinthine streets of the Hutongs and crazy means of transportation. Every day is exciting and offers new discoveries. Two different worlds are existing right next to each other, featuring a smooth transition Yes, this is Beijing's flair I am talking about. This makes Beijing special in my opinion.

Unfortunately, I really missed this kind of flair at Shanghai. I would describe Shanghai as a "normal" western city, such as Los Angeles or Toronto. Of course, the tall buildings and the Bund in Shanghai are really impressive but where is the traditional Chinese life and culture? Please, if you know where it is, contact me.

4. Shanghai and its preference for money:
I can remember: Once, I went with some friends to this super-classy club called M1NT. Every person I talked to told me me some "money-stories" and how great Shanghai would be. This guy from India spoke to me: "Come to Shanghai, Shanghai is all about money!" When I asked him to tell me a story which would not include the word money, he did not understand me. Believe me, I experienced many of these conversations. And that's not my world, if you know what I mean......

All in all, I recommend visiting Shanghai for holidays, it is definitely worth a visit! However, I prefer to LIVE in Beijing due to the reasons above. Now, I can understand why people in Beijing characterize themselves as being different in regard to people in Shanghai.


P.s.: By the way, the The World Expo 2010 in Shanghai was really great. However, if you missed it, never mind, there are lot things, which are more exiting to discover on this planet ;-)!

Below are pictures of Beijing:

Below are pictures of Shanghai:       

                

 
02.16.2011
Beijing's calculation of times - a world of its own
 

Michael Ende - a famous German writer - wrote in his book called Momo, which tells the story of time-thieves and a child who brought the stolen time back to the people once: There is a big secret, however which is so ordinary at the same time. All humans are taking part in it, everyone knows it, however the fewest are thinking about it ever. Most of the people are just accepting it, without being a bit surprised about it. This secret is called time." (Momo, 1973).

When I came to Beijing, I was overwhelmed how fast time is passing here! In Germany, time passed so much slower and I could not wait for going abroad. Now, I am almost six months in Beijing and my internship is almost over, however it feels more like only being two months at this place. I am sure, there must be one of these time-thieves here! So, let's try to find them, I want to have my time back :-)! Ok, I have to admit that there are probably no time-thieves :-). In fact, there are so many things to do in Beijing, no matter what! You also have to imagine that due to another culture and different traditions, the way of life is pretty different in Beijing. Every day, you are discovering new aspects of Beijing and meeting different people. Consequently, you are always busy and life never becomes boring. Therefore, you don't even think for example: "Hm, what shall I do today, I have no idea"! Believe me, you always have something to do. At the same time, it is very difficult to relax. Try to find some time for yourself, otherwise life could become too fast!

Yes, I am really surprised being already here for almost six months. I really enjoy this fast life and to gain so many different experiences but I am also looking forward to some relaxed months afterwards.

All in all, I started to think more about the abstract term "time" and I just can say: " Life is short, so live every second of your life"! What about you? How do you consider "time"?


          

 
02.14.2011
My Top 3 Restaurants in Beijing
 

1. Carmen (Spanish restaurant)
I've already wrote about Carmen in the article: "The colourful night life in Beijing". However, it definitely has to be mentioned again in terms of the topic "My top 3 restaurants in Beijing".

Located at Nali Patio (opposite north entrance of Let's Burger), 81 Sanlitun Beijie, Chaoyang District and famous for their hot and cold tapas, Carmen furthermore offers a huge selection of salads, soups and mains, wines, juices and cocktails. My favourite drink is definitely Sangria, a refreshing sweet white or red wine. The food is "super-delicious", unfortunately it is pretty expensive. Every day a band is playing live Spanish music (the band is amazing) and together with the simply decoration it creates a fantastic and cozy ambiance, well-suited for both romantic dates and atmospheric evenings where people are singing and clapping. My friends from Columbia introduced me to this place and I have to say: " Thank you very much, I love this place"! It is the perfect place to have a drink while listening to the music and enjoying the delicious food at the same time.

2. Kagen (Japanese barbecue and teppanyaki restaurant)
Kagen is definitely one of the jewels in Beijing. The design and the decoration are absolutely gorgeous. At this place, classic meets modern and together with the drum & bass ambient music, this place creates a unique experience. Moreover, the food is prepared in front of you by one of the well-dressed cooks, who suggest the best ways to eat each dish. The service is also amazing and the servants are "super- attentive" and responsive. But what about the food!? I just can say: "The food is AMAZING, both in its flavour and its presentation"! It is fresh and of the highest quality; it tastes in any case like this. Even the toilets and the entrance door are an experience :-). First of all, there is no sign who says "Kage". No, you have to find it by yourself. I spent about 15 minutes to find the right place. Anyway, you have to go down some stairs and once you get to the bottom, there is a huge door. However, the door is not featuring a door handle or something similar. Consequently, I spent about 12 minutes trying to figure out how to open this door. In fact, you have to wave your hand under the middle pillar next to the door to open the door. That's cool, isn't it :-)! I really like such kind of things. Believe me, the toilets also contain a surprise but figure it by yourself. I won't say anything now, haha.

All in all, Kagen is a definitely worth a visit and of course good for taking out a date :-). However, as you probably can imagine, this place is really expensive!! So be aware of an expensive evening!

Address: B1/F, Tower C, Heqiao Mansion, A8 Guanghua Donglu

3. Quanjude (Peking Duck restaurant)
I visited the Quanjude Peking Duck Restaurant, which is located in Houhai more or less by chance when my friend from Shanghai stayed at my place for a couple of days. Before that, I had never eaten the Peking Duck in Beijing (I know, shame on me), therefore I was really curious and excited about this restaurant. Wow, I am so happy that I found this restaurant, it is amazing. The atmosphere is really nice and although there are always many people, it seems not to be crowded or noisy. The design is quite fancy and it is a wonderful place to have a delicious dinner. The duck is "super-delicious" and the best duck I have tried so far in Beijing. It is also nice to see how the cooks prepare the duck directly in front of you. Moreover, there is complimentary cultural performance every evening at about 7pm, from which I was really impressed.

All in all, the Quanjude restaurant in Houhai is definitely worth the price and perfect for those, who are searching for entertainment and delicious food at the same time.

(Below are pictures of Kagen)

(Below is a picture of Quanjude)

        

 
02.10.2011
Chinese Spring Festival - family, friends, firecrackers and empty cities
 

But first of all, what is Chinese Spring Festival actually about! Does anyone know that? According to my knowledge, almost nobody knows about Chinese Spring Festival in Europe, unfortunately. Or did you know for example that the Chinese New Year is not the same than the western New Year, probably not, am I right? Therefore some general information about Chinese Spring Festival first.

The so-called lunar calendar calculates the Chinese year. The New Year is changing every year depending on the lunar calendar. This Year, the Chinese New Year's Eve was on the 3rd of February. During this time, Chinese have 7 days holidays, the Spring Festival which is the most important of the traditional Chinese holidays and festivity in China, equivalent to our Christmas. Thereby, the Chinese Spring festival includes a lot of different traditions and is all about family and relatives, who are coming together to celebrate the New Year.

The last day of the old year:
By then at the latest, the family is coming together to hold a feast with the husband's parents, including traditionally chicken and fish, which will be not eaten up completely though. The word "fish" is homophonic to the Chinese word yú, which means prosperity. Moreover, the children receive money in red paper envelopes called hóngbao, which should bring them and their family luck. It is also common to clean up the house to sweep away the bad luck of the preceding year to make their home ready for good luck. Another tradition is to make dumplings (jiaozi) because their shape is like a Chinese tae, which symbolizes wealth. Many families are also watching the CCTV New Year's Gala which is broadcast four hours before the start of the New Year and reaches about 700 million viewers yearly.

At this point I have to mention that I used the Spring Festival to travel with some friends to Malaysia and Thailand, escaping the coldness in Beijing. However, our airplane did not start from Beijing but from Tianjin. At the same time, I was invited to stay at a Chinese family's place in Tianjin, consequently I went one day earlier to Tianjin to experience both, Tianjin and the typical life of traditional Chinese family during Spring Festival.

Tianjin is really different compared to Beijing in my opinion. When I left the train station I was really impressed by the mixture of European buildings (This part of Tianjian was British concession), typical communist buildings and skyscrapers/modern buildings. One is for sure, life in Tianjin is not as fast and busy as in Beijing and I had the feeling that people are more friendly and relaxed, especially the cab drivers (traffic is not as bad as in Beijing) but also more traditional and careful against foreigners. I went to a bunch of places in Tianjin and enjoyed the ice-skating on the river in Tianjin a lot. Tianjin is definitely worth a visit and I would love to visit Tianjin again to see the sea.

I really have to say "thank you very much" to the Chinese family which hosted me for one day. It was an unforgettable experience. I experienced all the things which are described above, the feast including the chicken and fish, the "super-delicious" dumplings, Chinese television ;-) and I even got hóngbao. Of course, the parents were not able to speak English, therefore thanks to my wonderful translator. We had nice conversations and it was really interesting to talk about Chinese culture, traditions and differences between Germany and China, all in all, a great cultural exchange. I would have never expected to get involved that deeply into Chinese family life.

The New Year's Day:
The first day of the New Year is also celebrated with the family and is dedicated to the oldest and most senior members of their extended family. And of course, red envelopes are given to family members but not only, such as business managers also can give bonuses through red envelopes to employees for good luck and wealth. Moreover, the day can be used for shopping and to visit friends to wish a happy new year.

Second Day:
The second day of the Chinese New Year is for married daughters to visit their birth parents with their husbands.

Fifteenth Day:
The fifteenth day of the New Year is celebrated as Yuan Xiao Festival/Yuánxiāojié or Lantern Festival. It is the last day of the Spring Festival and rice dumplings with a sweet stuffing are eaten this day.

Of course, there are a lot more habits and traditions but those, who are described above are the most important ones in my opinion. I was really impressed that there are so many different costumes and rules, which are observed very strictly by Chinese families. In Germany, we have less traditions and customs, which are not observed that strictly.

I have already mentioned that Chinese Spring Festival is all about family and family is probably the most important part in Chinese life. However, there are more and more family members who are living apart from each other, such as migrant workers in China as well as overseas Chinese around the world. Therefore, the period around Chinese New Year is also the time of the largest periodical human migration, when everyone is travelling home to have reunion dinners with their families on Chinese New Year's Eve. I also experienced that the last days in Beijing before I went to Malaysia. From one moment to another, I was able to find a seat in the Subway and there was almost no traffic in the inner city, which is equivalent to a miracle. Beijing seemed to become a ghost city. Moreover, all the small shops and restaurants are closing and before you are going to a restaurant you better call them. It is really crazy and a little bit scary to be honest. For sure, it was totally unusual for me and there is nothing comparable to this in Europe.

Finally, the firecrackers. In Germany, the burning of firecrackers is normally limited to one day viz. the New Year's Eve. However, in China firecrackers are very popular and have become an integral aspect of Chinese New Year celebrations. Therefore, the burning of firecrackers do not take only place on New Year's Eve but the whole Spring Festival. I was not in China during the main time of firecrackers, but I my roommate told me that it is absolutely crazy. There are fireworks day and night, lasting for 7 days :-). Consequently, if you like firecrackers, China is definitely your country during Spring Festival.

At the same time it was really interesting to experience Chinese New Year's Eve in Malaysia. The population of Malaysia consists out of 50.4% Malay, 23.7% Chinese, 11% natives, 7.1% Indian and 7.8% others. As you can see, there are many Chinese in Malaysia, forming the second biggest ethnic group. Therefore, in Southeast Asia, Chinese New Year is considered to be one of the most important holidays of the year. The biggest celebrations take place in Penang and Singapore. Fortunately, we stayed at Kualalumpur and Penang during this time, so we were able to experience Chinese New Year in another country, which was great. (See the pictures below).

Below are pictures taken in Tianjin:

Below are pictures taken in Malaysia:

All in all, I had a wonderful Spring Festival, including a lot of unexpected but wonderful experiences. I learned a lot more about China as a whole and the people and cultures within it. So Xin nian hao!

    

 
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