at home in... w| Gerald Zhang-Schmidt

Look Closer, Learn More, #GetAtHome In This World

Tag: China Page 1 of 6

Haikou Construction Tilt-Shift

Construction in China, Child’s Play

Visiting China, living like a Chinese, celebrating a wedding – it just had to involve some home purchasing aspect… :-p

The background, if you need it:

You may have heard about the challenge in finding a wife that the surplus of men in China faces.

You may have also heard of the phenomenon of “leftover women” who are considered too old (at around age 26), too independent, too highly educated, earning, and demanding, to find a husband.

But, there’s still more:

Finding a partner is still seen as more-than-essential in the clear life paths Chinese society seems to push everyone towards.
And an equally-as-clear part of that path, though one you may not have heard of if you haven’t delved deeper into social issues in China, is that it is the husband(-to-be) who is seen as having to provide most of his future family’s income (and hence, to have a high salary already), to go into the marriage having a car and a house/apartment.

Well, we didn’t and wouldn’t be able to get a place in China, but the in-laws did and the relatives with a good income are after the next apartment purchase.

Of course, we had to go and check it out – and I used the chance for some fun with photography. Which strangely turned out fitting for a theme of child’s play (which always looms in the background of discussions about marriage prospects and the gender imbalance in China)…

Haikou Market Vegetable Pile

‘adventuring’ into Haikou Markets

“Cities are all the same nowadays,” you will often hear.

Global trade has led to many brands (seemingly) being everywhere, and many an inner city has come to look basically the same as any other, it is true.

[vrview img=”” ]

The beginnings of globalization in the Columbian Exchange (as in, when Columbus “discovered” the Americas and species of “Old” and “New World” started to spread and mingle) made global food offerings similar even sooner.

Yet, differences also remain, and nowhere are they more obvious than at local markets…

Such “wet markets” are particularly interesting in their regional differences, which speak to the extent to which different places are still shaped by their different ecological conditions, resulting in different offerings.

Unsurprisingly – in spite of all the talk of globalization and uniformity – on Hainan, this includes a much stronger presence of fish, shellfish and seafood.

Here, even the markets in Hunan, where carp and eel would typically be the major, if not the only, fish on offer, are already distinctly different, even though one may think of them all as Chinese markets – and of course, in Europe, things look different yet again.

(I have a whole series on markets over on ChiliCult, my blog about hot spices and the world to be discovered through them.)

Tropical City Contrasts: Haikou

China’s tropical island paradise, Hainan, may easily be one of the most interesting places for getting to know the craziness that is China.

Especially if you look at it with an awareness of Chinese history, it is quite paradoxical – and all the more interesting for it.

Hainan, after all, used to be one of the places where people who had fallen out of the imperial court’s favor were sent into exile; Sanya’s coast was considered the end of the world.

Su Shi (Su Dongpo), one of China’s great poets and polymaths, for example, ended up here.

He is memorialized in (the area of/beside, to be exact) the Wugong Ci, the Five Officials’ Temple/Memorial in Haikou.
There, among other things, he is shown as this exile who still did great things even in this backwater hellhole of a place, introducing the poor backwards islanders to agriculture and learning of a higher kind.

Su Shi (Su Dongpo)Statue in Sugong Temple

Su Shi (Su Dongpo)Statue in Sugong Temple

Islanders who otherwise collected tropical fruits, for example. Of which Hainan still offers a lot of kinds and for which, certainly with my wife and me, it is now one of the favorite holiday destinations … and by the example of which, in my opinion, one can learn quite a bit about this our world, i.e. do some at-home-making:

Where there are fruits, there are markets.

Even as malls and entire cities seem to be getting ever more the same no matter where you are, at least with all the same global brands advertising their wares, local markets still have some ‘color’ reflecting their location.

In China, and in a place such as Haikou, particularly so…

But then, even as Haikou is much less popular a beach vacation destination than Sanya on the opposite, Southern coast of Hainan, there are also beaches.

This being China, you may visit them very differently from how other people do if you go with Chinese and like a local… and with a “real” visit to the beach (in more Western terms) being different yet again. See more on that here.

Haikou Beach Running

Finally, of course, with the rising popularity, the usual Chinese housing boom has come.

In my travels, this was a chance both to see how locals proudly present their latest property purchase to relatives – and a chance to just have some fun with photography. See more here.

Haikou Construction Tilt-Shift

Haikou Construction Tilt-Shift

China Circle - On the Mountain

Running in a Circle… in the Heart of China

Three years – has it really been three years already?! – after the first time I visited the place my wife grew up and her parents still (mainly) live, deep in the countryside of Hunan, we returned.

One of the things I returned to was running in a circle.

Read More

Jiubujiang Reservoir Lake Swim

at-home-making/adventuring, In the Heart of China

“My” China is not that of so many a visitor to or expat in that country.

I have not lived there for so long, took quite a long time before I finally went and stayed, but then it was neither the Beijing or Shanghai (or other large city) of most tourists and expats where I found myself.

It was Xiangtan, Hunan, where I lived and worked for three years (with only a month’s each interruption in Beijing and Shanghai and, more recently, another 6 months in Beijing).

With the woman I got to know and love there, and everywhere, I have made it even deeper into the country, to stays with her parents in her home town of Jiubujiang.

Where that is? Here:

It’s the China of old stories in rural settings, a China where a foreigner is still a strange sight – and also the China where many migrants working in coastal factories come from (or have returned to) and where development is also starting to both take its toll and bring improvements.

Jiubujiang Construction

There used to be “only” rice fields here, now it’s meant to become a tourist village…

(If one wants to delve deeper, it is also the China where many revolutionaries and generals came from, not least Mao Zedong himself – and fittingly for my interests, many people like to blame the Hunanese penchant for the chile pepper for all that martial prowess and revolutionary / “red” zeal ;)

So, being there in China is another situation where I am “adventuring”. And making myself at home.

Admittedly, “adventuring” there is different from doing so when in Austria.

I grew up in Austria, after all.

Therefore, it takes somewhat more special things to be thrown out of a routine and into the spirit of “something else” that makes the ordinary less usual and more eye-catching.

In China, just living with the parents-in-law, going for walks, accompanying the mother-in-law on the local market, having fun going for a swim in the local reservoir-lake (which is increasingly being turned into a tourist attraction), is somewhat adventurous.

Jiubujiang Reservoir Lake Swim

Swimming in the reservoir lake of Jiubujiang… This is right below a sign saying “The lake is large, the water is deep… No swimming!” ;)

But, it is also an at-home-making, trying to get to really know the place and live there, not just be the tourist who sees nothing but the most noteworthy and most strongly promoted attractions.

This is easier to realize you need, and to do, when you go somewhere other than “home”.

In fact, I may have noticed that whole problem-we-don’t-know-we-have of our need to make ourselves at home (rather than think that “home” is something we naturally have and get to and then know everything about, merely through our familiarity with it) because I went somewhere else for long enough.

It is only too easy, though, to remain superficially “touristy” both at home and somewhere else.

If you want to become at home in this life, in the places you are, in this world, you’ll have to make yourself at home. Educate yourself, explore, experience.

It’s worth it.

Rural Hunan. Mao Zedong still watches over...

Two Views of China

Said goodbye to Europe shortly after the OutDoor Friedrichshafen 2016, went to the other place that is home for my wife and me, while also always being something of a place for ‘adventuring‘: China.

Wanted to share a few impressions which show something of the very different views…

China West-East, From the Plane

Goodbye to Europe

Goodbye to Europe

Hello Himalayas

Hello Himalayas (between Pakistan and China)

Takla Maklan, probably

Takla Maklan, probably

More Chinese Desert

More Chinese Desert

Settlement, Far West China

Settlement, Far West China

Northern Central China

Northern Central China

Northern Central China

Northern Central China, finally with more water

Mountains before (west of) Beijing

Mountains before (west of) Beijing – and before everything disappeared in cloud cover (and/or haze)

China Intimately, In Rural Hunan

Rural Hunan

Rural Hunan, where the road ends. Seemingly…

Rural Hunan. Grave in the Hillside

And even that far out, graves speak of the millennia of human occupation

Rural Hunan. Tomb

And tombs as well…

Rural Hunan. Mao Zedong still watches over...

Rural Hunan. Mao Zedong still watches over…

Rural Hunan. Butterfly

There is also wildlife, though

Rural Hunan. Dragonfly

Rural Hunan. Trash Burning

Trash is still being treated as if it were all biological material…

Rural Hunan. Farm Workers on Break

…much work is still done by hand…

Rural Hunan. Traffic

… but much transport has long since switched to motorization.

Rural Hunan. Market

The market is as I know it from our visit three years ago, and as it probably has been for centuries (except for the plastic)

Rural Hunan. Village(?) Street

Even in this village (if that’s what one wants to call it), construction has kicked up a notch – but that may be a different story yet.


At-Home-Ness in China and the Miracle of the End

Home, the way I talk about it and want you to make yourself more at home in, is the ecological relations in a life and the connections we tend to overlook because they are so obvious, especially in the actual physical place you are in.

In this world of global trade and global migration, though, everything ends up connected, no place and certainly no life is unaffected by other’s.
Oftentimes, it’s all connected to China (just like my personal life has become).

And China is in a strange position yet again.

From poverty it has gone to economic power, from closedness to openness and on to the current climate that feels like a strong mixture of both, from a miracle to, supposedly, the end of the miracle, and to the beginning of a new and difficult normal.

The Financial Times Features piece on “The end of the Chinese miracle” is a good look into what’s been happening, in China and for individuals, and in the big picture and with influence on the whole world:

There is one caveat: I think they seriously under-used Gerhard Flatz (who I had a chance to meet at the ISPO) and KTC, who are doing just the necessary work to change China’s position in the global economy – and the page title itself is rather better than the headline one quickly gets to see, as it does not proclaim the end of the Chinese miracle, which has been proclaimed pretty much every year since at least 2008, but rather the end of the *migrant* miracle.

The Other

The problem, and the place where “at-home-ness” comes in, is that our view of an other, and especially one as different as China, is skewed from the beginning.

The “miracle” certainly has been a story of success in many a way, whether you want to interpret it as the success of the Chinese Communist Party or the success of the people out of whose way the CCP stepped.

Having started from such a low point as it did, all in the context of a pent-up entrepreneurial drive, however, it has been less miraculous.

It has, and that image is not unpopular, been like the growth spurt of a teenager finally in puberty, and it was rather similar to the economic miracles of Germany and Japan post-WWII (which started from similar low points), as well.

Similarly, now, the end of the miracle may be less of an end than a maturation. Changes will be necessary with it, growth will not be as high as it had been, the difficulties are particularly acute in China – but it will not be the end it is often portrayed as.

China has problems for sure, and international companies counting on nothing but the easy availability of cheap labor and a population profiting from higher incomes and a drive to consume will be in as much of a bind as people expecting that easy times would continue.

That, though, has – except for a small cohort among China’s millennials – never been quite the expectation, and even in the midst of much current moaning about difficulties, most people still seem to find work and get by, if not do even better.

The country is big enough that everything can happen at once, maybe even the miracle of an end: A time of change that, difficult though it may be, leads on to the next phase in China’s development – and perhaps the world’s.

The Fact

Everything cannot all go on based on consumption and growth, same as it had been going on, after all.

The main thing we should remember, especially for our own lives, is that change still continues to be the only constant.

Things will never go on just as they had before.

We keep forgetting this basic fact of life, trying to ignore it – or ignoring it without even trying to – because we become too comfortable with a recent situation rather than at home in the change.

It will happen, though.

Whether we want it or not, whether we get ready for it or refuse to acknowledge it, whether we let it steamroll us or find the niches and leverage points from which we can get through or even influence it: happen it will.

Time to accept and adapt. Which, incidentally, seems a pretty Chinese way of doing things.

Food for Learning

Civilizing China

We are all being told how we are supposed to behave.

First our parents (and teachers and peers) tell and show us what sort of behavior is normal and acceptable; later, advertising and various public and educational campaigns try to push us towards their preferred ways of acting.

Read More


Coming ‘at home’ From Afar

I’m back (at?) home in Austria, wondering if I’ve failed with the small (photo and writing) projects I started in and on Beijing because I’m not finished with them… and yet I realize that this is just one of those points where being somewhere else can actually bring you closer to a place.

Wiener Eistraum, RathausIt’s not this dream that “if only I were *there* rather than *here*, I’d be so happy and everything would be so great” that people sometimes fall into that I am talking about.
Yes, I know.
Where you are can be familiar and “at home” just as well as it can be that familiar hellhole you want nothing but to get out of – but so can any other place.

We have a natural tendency to think in such ways.
We get used to what we always see, tell ourselves that somewhere we don’t know would be much better, and end up liking or disliking both here and there based more on what we decide to focus on than all that’s really there.

This process plays out particularly well when it comes to foreigners in China, where a whole other level of exoticism or “going native” or criticism or you-name-it comes into play.

One of the constant debates among “China watchers” circles round and round the (im)possibility of knowing China when you are not living there.

DSC04819It just happens too often that some expert/pundit visits Beijing, Shanghai, and Shenzhen and pronounces the power that China has become. Equally as often, experts or analysts sit in London or Washington and declare China’s impending collapse.

(Sometimes, a columnist even just has to read the China Daily to claim tremendous understanding – fittingly, on April 1.)

Meanwhile, “old China hands” live in the midst of all the chances and changes and challenges in the country and shake their heads over the naiveté of these pronouncements.

You may have noticed something similar when it comes to your own country, or even city or county:
The further someone is away, the simpler their statements about a place, and the more convinced they may often be about them.

At the same time, however, the opposite problem can also apply:
Being in the midst of a place makes one only too aware of all the nitty-gritty details of daily life, but less likely to look down deeply into the history of this place, or up and at longer-term trends and patterns.

When we are in a place we “know” (i.e., we have been for a while and know our essential ways around), we don’t usually even notice any sights that are of note to others from farther away anymore.

In Beijing's National Library

In Beijing’s National Library

This is what has always struck me about my China experiences (especially because it was the same pattern I then noticed about my attitude towards my native Austria):
Living there is great for the direct lived experience, indeed.

But the same direct experience also makes for so much focus on everyday things that happen and that need doing that there is little time and energy for anything else.

Only when I’m back somewhere else do I get to better libraries and more of an interest in understanding more deeply what I had been observing before. Not to mention the critical distance from which to try and see larger patterns, not just everyday problems.

It’s just this kind of a balance that is a back-and-forth between intimacy and distance, engagement and aloofness, that we actually seem to need in many a situation.

Even romantic interest doesn’t work without some degree of separation (at the very least, enough for interesting individuality); variety spices up life; the familiar becomes more interesting (and all the more comforting, often enough) only once it has been the unusual.

Page 1 of 6

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén