Notarizing documents for Egypt. How hard can it be?…..

The Egyptian embassy in the Netherlands does not have a website. I’m not sure if they ever had one, but the one linked on Google leads to nothing. With no information and no reply to my emails, I did what I always do: I just winged it.

The first visit:

A lot of people. I’m guessing around 20. Mostly male. Only travel agency representatives and Egyptians. The main consular service guy who kept walking towards the fence didn’t speak English (nor Dutch). I waited for 1.5 hours, not being assertive, just assuming that I had to wait my turn, while people pushed in front of me. I clearly still have too much Canada in me; haven’t made the cultural switch yet. Finally, after nearly two hours, a lady comes out. I elbow three men out of the way, and tell her I need to notarize two documents. She takes them inside, then tells me to wait. She doesn’t tell me for how long. So I wait. I wait another hour. The same man comes out 10 more times (let’s call him fence man), with the people on the other side of the fence talking and waving documents in front of him, while using very elaborate hand gestures (I will explain those sometime. It’s beautiful). Everyone is frustrated. The waiting took a long time and it started to rain. Some guy wrecks the bulletin board off of the fence (semi-accidentally) and murmurs the same thing over and over again while ringing the bell a million times. I have no idea what’s going on. Then I look at the one lady to my left. She had also been waiting for quite some time. I ask her politely if there’s any chance the fence man said something about documents or pick-up. She says: “not yet, but just ask him. I will translate.” Fence man tells me to wait just a little longer. The lady turns to me and says:

“You’re not Egyptian?”

“Half. I’m half Egyptian”

“Half. and half Dutch?”

“Yes.”

“You need to get your Egyptian half to come out and fight for your documents, or you will never get them! Be more assertive!”

I laugh nervously, while looking at the row of men holding on to the fence. “Thank you, I’ll do my best” I say.

“Good luck my dear” she says.

Fence man hands over the documents. I say thank you in Arabic, then walk away. I look back one more time and see everyone staring in my direction.

The second visit:

Eid al-Adha. Islamic holy festival. Embassy closed. But how could I know? I just had to know. I didn’t know. Did not educate myself. Went for nothing. Cool.

The third visit:

I had one day left before leaving the Netherlands. One day to get the last batch of documents notarized (It was a long process of going to a million different places to get a million different stamps, so wasn’t able to do it all at once). I had no idea if they were open. I didn’t want to make another expensive trip for no reason, and I was contemplating whether or not to go. Then, out of the blue, a lady who previously worked at the embassy, whose information I found on an expat help forum, replied to a message I sent her (on LinkedIn) at least 3 months ago. She sent me a number the embassy uses for WhatsApp. The embassy uses WhatsApp! Amazing. I immediately sent a message in English, asking if the embassy was open. No reply. Now, you might think: why don’t you just translate to Arabic online? Kids, Arabic language is too complicated for translation software to ever translate correctly. Try it. Impossible. I was about to give up, when a friend knew a friend who spoke Arabic. I forwarded their message, and lo and behold, the embassy replied, at 3 am! Apparently they made an appointment for me. Unbelievable. So I woke up in a panic, put on some slacks, and stumbled out the door. I managed to get there in time. This time, the fence man spoke English. Everything went effortlessly (I also realized the importance of improving my Arabic asap). I actually got to go down to the consular department, which was basically a desk with stacks of paper. Loved it (genuinely). Loved all of it.

Thus, finally, on the last day before departure, I picked up the last set of documents. I was over the moon. So happy. Relieved. Then, two hours later the embassy sent me a WhatsApp message. Remember what I just said about translation software and Arabic? The translation said: “I came to the embassy on (date), and it was necessary.” Panic yet again ensued. I thought they were calling me back. Did I do something wrong? Were the documents no good? Did they want more money? WHAT DID THEY NEED?!!!!!!!???…. Well, turns out they just sent a confirmation of my visit to let me know that everything went well. How kind. I spent the rest of the day in bed, de-stressing. My anxiety levels….

But, amazingly, I am now prepared to take on Egypt. I am ready for you, Cairo! Maybe. Hopefully…

All the Canadian(ish) things I’ll miss (and definitely won’t miss)

Dear Canada.

I have been inside you for over a year now. Your winters suck. Your summers are the best. You’ve inspired me as an artist. You’ve made me a nicer person. You’ve brainwashed me into saying “eh?” all the time… It’s been fun. Before I remove myself from you, I just wanted to end things on a positive note, you know? So, here’s a list of what I will and won’t miss, as an ode to being able to enter you with your consent:


I will miss all of you hippies with your septum piercings and your multi-colored hair and your radical inclusivity. There’s a fine line between love and hate. I absolutely love what you stand for. I also hate how over the top it is. My occasional honesty was almost seen as rude and too straightforward. You don’t have to be positive about everything, you know? But I’ll still miss it. So much. You guys are the best.

I won’t miss anything maple-flavored. Maple syrup is great, maple donuts are disgusting and you need to stop it.

I will miss saying “I love” or “I’m obsessed with” for things I don’t necessarily love or am obsessed with. “Oh my god, I literally am obsessed with your dog”

I won’t miss camping. Everybody in BC is ‘obsessed’ with camping in the wild. You could die! Bears will attack you. Chopping wood is stupid. Going outside to pee sucks. Tents are cold. No.

I will miss your kindness. Whether or not it was sincere, I’ve become a nicer person because of it. Never lose your kindness, Canada.

I won’t miss hockey. A bunch of testosterone-wild men running on ice and getting angry at each other. That game is seriously like a fistfight with sticks.

I will miss all of the Chinese food chains, speaking Chinese as much as I did in China, and using Chinese apps as much as I did in China. In some areas it was just like being in China, with a few extra white people. Amazing.

I won’t miss Country music. I think I am tolerant of, and am able to enjoy most music genres. But Country is not one of them. A bunch of white people singing about trucks and whiskey. Mostly. The occasional heartbreak song, maybe. Sad. Also, it all sounds exactly the same. If I were an undercover spy and I got caught, the best way to get information out of me is not by physical torture. It’s by playing hours and hours of Country music.

I will miss the silence. As I embark on a new journey to a loud, crowded, hot, and dusty place, I shall enjoy a last evening walk hearing nothing but the light breeze of wind. Silence is something to cherish, my friends.

I won’t miss weird things like when I told the waitress I wanted a medium coffee, she answered with: “bless.” What does that even mean? Am I getting old?

I will miss lumberjack shirts and hipster men with beards. Ya’ll look fly. I like.

On a slightly more serious note: I won’t miss the insane amount of homeless people. I was lucky to do some volunteering during my time in Vancouver and I’ve gotten to know some of them on a personal level. I was just taken aback by the intensity of the situation, and the way that it’s being handled. This is not a political page or anything, but I feel deeply for these people. I cannot speak for their experiences, but I know that it’s a ridiculously tough life. Will not miss it, but will not forget, nor ever ignore it.

I will miss donuts. Boy, will I miss donuts. And all the other unhealthy foods. Krispy Kreme my forever love. Dairy Queen my sidebae. Wendy’s, A&W… I hope you think about me sometimes – your favorite customer.

I won’t miss that one time I ran from a Coyote because I thought it was a wolf and it was going to eat me…. I can do without scary animals and insects forever, really.

I will miss my friend Tim. Tims. Timbits. Even though the coffee wasn’t that great. Nor the food. It’s mainly just cheap, eh? But everyone loves Tim Horton’s, so I love Tim Horton’s.

I will miss you, Canada (Vancouver, mainly). You were peaceful. Vancouver was the least racist place I’ve ever lived in. You were inclusive (and also segregated, but ok) You were kind. You were drama-free. You have free health care and affordable-ish education. You’re not too bad. Don’t ever change. Just get rid of maple donuts. Love you ❤

Canada: Music & Street Performing

Music and Busking in Canada.

The first connection I make with a new country is always through music. Canada was a bit different however; we all know plenty of Canadian artists, and I wasn’t really sure how I could make this as interesting as music I’ve discovered in other countries, or if that was even possible. I could not have been more wrong. There are some fan-tastic local artists that deserve a listen! Without further ado, a playlist of local Canadian talent you may not have heard of yet. Want to add to this list? (or add yourself) Contact me.

Or go to: Busking

Amazing artists not (yet) on Spotify:


**♬** Busking In Canada **♬**

In case you wanted to come to Canada to make some music yourself, I feel like you could not have picked a better place. I haven’t found many places where the busking rules are this lenient (for most cities). You need a little bit of pocket money for a permit (and for being able to use amplification), but even if you just want to chill outside with a musical instrument, there are plenty of places to be creative without spending any money.

Want to add to this list? contact me.

Regulations:

Vancouver (click me)
Some locations need a permit, some locations are free to play, some locations are prohibited

Amplification allowed for certain instruments and under certain conditions.

Minimum age to perform: 13 (accompanied by adult).

Permit Prices 2020:
4 months: $42.34 + $2.12 GST
1 year: $125.65 + $6.28 GST

*I’ve found that the regulations are not that strictly enforced. shhhh
Toronto (click me)
Minimum age to perform: 18 (or contact municipal licensing)

Comply with requirements of City of Toronto Municipal Code Chapter 313 (44.1) (Streets and Sidewalks), Chapter 315 (Street vending) and Chapter 591 (Noise)

Link to application form

Permit Prices 2020 (yearly increase)
Busking / Sidewalk Artist: $25.00

Montreal:

Working on it!!

Other: Small municipalities do not require permits but still have guidelines about noise levels and sales.

Why I’m moving to Egypt: identity, racism, and being mixed-race


I have some vivid memories of going to Egypt however. My mom would play Dutch/Flemish music at my grandmother’s house in Ismailia. I must’ve been 5 or 6 years old. My grandmother always made way too much food. She used to breed pigeons on her own balcony. I recall her giving me some money to get yogurt or rice pudding at a street vendor. I loved that rice pudding. We’d also visit my ‘dreadful’ aunt who made me sit on her lap and slapped my cheeks. I remember singing songs with my cousins, and standing on the hood of a stranger’s car, speaking Arabic while explaining Dutch games to kids in the neighbourhood. I remember the call to prayer in the morning, the sunshine through the windows, the noise, the dust, the first supermarket that opened, the cassette stores, the mosquitos..…18 years ago, the last time I visited, I promised that aunt that I would come back and learn Arabic. I never did. She passed away several years ago.

My grandmother & me.


I never understood that my upbringing was different. I also never saw the massive cultural/religious clash that went on. My life was my only point of reference and it was normal to me. I didn’t know any better. Like how you don’t see race until you understand what racism is. Plus, as far as I knew I was just Dutch. Before the divorce I may have gotten instilled with both Dutch and Egyptian values, but after my dad left, Egypt left with him. And as I grew more and more estranged from him over the years, I cared less and less about that part of me.

All I wanted growing up was to belong. I didn’t want to be different. People need a sense of belonging to feel like they’re part of something bigger, and cultural identity is a powerful thing.

Surhuisterveen, the town where I grew up, is a small, Frisian town in the north of the Netherlands. I stood out. Kids would always ask if I was adopted. My name was the butt of the joke very often: Somayonaise. Somini. Somalia. I hated my name. I also had a “funny looking nose” and “hairy arms.” I don’t remember 9/11 so much for the impact it had on the world -because I was too young to comprehend- but I do remember that all of a sudden I was called “muslim,” “Bin Laden’s daughter,” or “Arab” (like it was a bad thing to be called Arab). While we’re at it, let’s go through a few more on the list: I’ve been called a hairy monkey, I’ve been a filthy Turk or Moroccan, terrorism was “my people’s fault,” and my last name sounded like “that suicide bomber…” On the flipside, people would also comment on the thickness of my hair and how different it was from Dutch hair, or the “mystery” that was my race. My identity was always challenged by others. I was always different. I was always confused.


All I wanted growing up was to belong. I didn’t want to be different. People need a sense of belonging to feel like they’re part of something bigger, and cultural identity is a powerful thing. Trevor Noah, in his book Born A Crime, described it perfectly: “I saw myself as the people around me, and the people around me were black.” In my case, the people around me were white. But when no one looks like you, you’re going to be perceived as different. And growing up in a small town in the 90s, there wasn’t much cultural blending going on. There still isn’t. On top of that, I didn’t have a father around, and no one to actively teach me about the other 50% of my racial background. I was too naive to understand then, but I understand now how much that influenced me. It was a massive internal struggle, perpetuated by the outside world. I tried very, very hard to fit in all the time. I just wanted to be a normal kid. Until I gave up trying.


You could really tell how that manifested itself during high school. I took to alternative fashion and music. I also started to act out (in a very modest way). I was known for being kind of rebellious and scary looking. I was loud and unpredictable. I wasn’t a bad kid, per se. I was just weird. I needed a lot of attention, but it was more a cry for help. It’s not that I was unhappy; I don’t remember high school as a particularly bad place. I now describe it as my ‘floating’ identity. That’s how I felt: always floating in-between everything and nothing. I wasn’t Dutch enough, but I definitely didn’t feel Egyptian. Yet no matter how hard I tried being Dutch, I kept being pushed in different racial boxes. So I became an outcast. That never really changed. Finding likeminded friends within an alternative subculture might have been the first time I felt like I was part of something. My high school years were filled with boyfriend drama, feuds, rebellion, puberty problems, but also music, performing, and artistic self-expression; it was the first time where part of me felt like I was accepted for just being me.


At 18, I had developed such strong resentment towards anything ‘Arab’, that I decided to change my name. Not only did I hate my name, I was also told that I’d have a higher chance of finding a job with a Dutch name. To me, at that time, my foreign name was the only thing standing in my way of becoming a less confused individual. Somayah Feisal changed into a name nobody in the Netherlands would even blink twice over. I have no evidence on my job prospects, but other than that, nothing changed. My dad, who I had been seeing on and off periodically during my teenage years, was furious. I didn’t see him for several years after that. Our relationship was already hanging by a thread, but that made it so much worse. It was never normal to begin with. I never considered or understood his point of view, or why he tried to teach me about Islam, or the importance of family names in Egypt. I never considered anything really. I just wanted it gone. He was bad, his culture was bad, Egypt was bad. There was a lot of hidden resentment I wasn’t aware of.


Two years after changing my name, I left my home town. I distanced myself completely from anything Egyptian. But even when I said nothing, I would continue to hear Arabic slurs, terrorism jokes, and questions about Islam. Media portrayal of the Arab world is 100% negative. But all I remembered was the rice pudding, my aunt slapping my cheek, or the lullaby my dad used to sing to me (Yalla Tnam Rima). I took other people’s negativity to heart my entire life. I started to feel ashamed of never talking about it. Of not acquiring the knowledge to say that Egypt wasn’t all like that. I didn’t actually know. I associated Egypt with negativity just as much.


I say this a lot, but self-awareness has been such an eye-opener. I only started to put the pieces of the puzzle together around my mid-twenties. Before that, the only thing I understood was that things were always different. Now I understand why. I understand why I behave a certain way, or why I house so much anxiety. Things finally started making sense. I don’t regret much in life, but around 25, I started to regret never trying to understand my Egyptian side. I never cared about the fact that I have an entire family living in Egypt. I don’t even know their names. I never bothered to learn Arabic. I never attempted to learn about the culture, history, or customs. I know nothing about Islam. I just kept pushing it away. Knowing the link between my past and current self has helped find so much acceptance around my ‘floating’ identity.

I want to know how life could have turned out if I embraced ‘mixed-race’ as my identity. Not because I need it, or because I still struggle, but because I owe it to myself to stop being ignorant on behalf of others.


I knew that I wanted to make a change. But by then I had over 20 years to catch up on. I didn’t know where to start. So I decided to work on myself first. I went into therapy (would recommend), I took on every opportunity to push myself out of my comfort zone, and I focused on overcoming personal insecurities. I also started taking Arabic lessons (currently at level toddler), reading books on contemporary Egypt and modern history, following Egyptian media and related social media influencers, and I have since made new friends with similar backgrounds and experiences. I’m ridiculously comfortable with myself now, and I have gained the self-confidence to attempt rediscovering what was lost.

I have been watching more Egyptian Sesame Street than I can stand


The best way to do that rediscovering, for me, is by moving to Egypt for while. I’m definitely not without fear. I have no idea how things will turn out, how people will view me, or how my family feels about me. But I want to have a sense of closure. I want to know my family and their history. I want to know what my dad was like growing up. I want to know how life could have turned out if I embraced ‘mixed-race’ as my identity. Not because I need it, or because I still struggle so much, but because I owe it to myself to stop being ignorant on behalf of others. I deserve to come back and never omit, be ashamed of, or fear that part of me ever again.

I am Dutch. And I am on my way to becoming Egyptian.

  • Fin

————————————————————
Because of the concern raised by loved ones, as Egypt can be tumultuous at times, I have decided to be relatively candid about it. Also because I want to document this and look back on it later.

And, who actually knows that much about Egypt? It hasn’t gotten any mainstream coverage since the Arab spring. I’m curious, aren’t you?

Survival in China

1. Expectations

1. Intro
1.1 Communication Complications
1.2 Try to be informed, not just opinionated.

Intro – Under Construction

1.1 Communication Complications

If you’re completely new to China and don’t speak the language, getting around might not be the easiest thing. Language is a powerful tool, and where some of us may try other ways of communication to get closer to someone, the Chinese may put up a guard. Sometimes what’s foreign to you is a little bit scary. However, as soon as you show any willingness to speak Chinese, or you know a few words, that guard will come down very quickly. They’re also known (to us Westerners) to be more rough around the edges. Communication is more straight-forward and their hospitality rules are different from ours. It’s more to-the-point. I think it’s actually really nice to do away with our formalities every now and again (not that there are none, by the way). Well, apart from the fact that people may cut in front of you sometimes. But you can just elbow your way through that. You’ll learn to elbow your way through a lot of things. Like in a packed subway during rush hour. Ugh, the horror. My feet were once elevated from the floor; that’s how busy it was. Yeah, good luck with that!

Of course, there’s a large behavioral gap between generations, and just like in any other country, people behave differently based on where they live or their income status. I lived in Beijing and traveled to: Shanghai, Henan, Fujian, Guangdong, Hubei, and Xinjiang – no place was the same. China is a massive country and people in the north are vastly different from the south, not to mention the many minority groups that live across the country. Keep that in mind during your travels. It wouldn’t hurt to read up on some modern history and contemporary developments (here, or here), if you’re really keen on understanding the country before your visit.

1.2 Try to be informed, not just opinionated

The many times I’ve yelled and cursed in Dutch because I was in a rush and the traffic was in-sane. The first gym I went to closed down because it turned out to be a scam, and the owner took my money and ran. I’ve also had mental breakdowns in front of hospital doctors because I didn’t have the vocabulary to express what my problems were and they rushed me back out with pain killers. I’ve been “stopped” during travels because I was mistaken for an Uyghur. I’ve been mugged. I’ve been harassed…. It’s not all rainbows and butterflies. And it’s okay to be frustrated during times like these, but try to not single out events and think negatively of your entire China experience as a result. I’ve heard so many people go: “China is like this, The Chinese are like that…” Every society has some bad apples. Customs, traditions, education, upbringing: it’s all different from what we’re used to. Try to be aware of that (I love using the word ‘awareness’ everywhere. Get used to that).

When wanting to start a business in China as a foreigner, the main advice you’ll get is to always have a Chinese business partner. I feel like the same applies to all other situations. Definitely attempt to befriend the locals. Someone who can show you the ropes and tell you right from wrong. When I told my Chinese roommate about my gym situation, she said: “Why didn’t you just come to me?! This happens all the time!” I was too scared to ask for help, wanted to fix things on my own, and ended up making a mistake due to my own ignorance. If there’s one thing I know about people, is that if they’re proud of their country, they love telling you about it. Ask (and stay calm). The most important cliché to remember, is that we’re all human. I forget that all the time. We all have the same struggles, we hurt just the same, we have hopes and dreams, and as what’s-his-name from the band Good Charlotte once sang: “We all end up the same.” A reminder in times of frustration, wherever you are.

2. Prepare

Ahhhh, paperwork. My favorite thing in the world. Some very basic information. I will share links by people that have done a much better job of explaining things.If anything is outdated or if you feel anything needs to be added, please contact me.

2.1 Things to prepare (government)
2.2 Things to prepare (non-government)
2.3 Upon Arrival (under construction)
2.1 Things to prepare (Government)
  1. Visa Free: There are ways to avoid getting a visa. If you’re planning to go through China on your way to another destination, you may be able to stay visa-free for either 72 or 144 hours. (As of today, June 10th 2020, this has been temporarily suspended due to Covid-19)
  2. All Visas: China doesn’t make it easy (or cheap) to enter to country. What visa you need depends on what you want to do and how long you plan to stay. For a list of all visas, check out China Briefing’s overview here. Applying for any visa usually requires a visit to a Chinese embassy or consulate. You can also get an agency to do it for you. Some countries have mediating institutes specifically for visa application and pick-up, you should check out the requirements for your country to figure out where you need to go.
  3. A work permit (on a Z visa) requires an invitation letter, employment license, and a medical exam. If you’re not working for a government body or a large company (which is rare, unless you teach English), I suggest getting some help. I’m assuming you’re here because you don’t know a lot about China, and without prior knowledge you really shouldn’t do stuff alone. Internations has a clear overview: here
  4. Have a place to stay (hostel/hotel/address) before you arrive; you’re required to fill in an address on your application. You won’t get a visa without it.
  5. Within 24 hours after arrival, you need to register at the Public Security Bureau. Most of the time you’re required to go in person (bring a Chinese-speaking friend/landlord/someone), although sometimes hotels may help out. You’ll need your visa (and passport), and sometimes a lease contract, depending on where you stay. After registering you get a Temporary Residence Permit form (am I saying that right?) – don’t lose it!!! Otherwise you have to go again or you might get in trouble for not having it. Like me. Don’t do it.
  6. China changes its immigration rules all the time. Anything political or any major event can interfere with your plans. In 2016, my move to China came right after a series of political events. My passport had Taiwanese stamps in it, which China did not recognize. I was forced to get a new passport and delay my flight. Cost me a lot. Make sure you stay up to date on current immigration rules (Chinese embassy is your best bet).
2.2: Things to prepare (non-government)
  • Take Chinese currency with you (no airport ATM would take my European debit card. Drama ensued. Take money with you and/or a credit card)
  • Check whether the hotel you book accepts foreigners. To accept foreigners as a hotel owner, you need to have a type of permit. Not every hotel has one. You’ll get sent away.

As you hopefully know, China censors a lot of non-Chinese (social) media. Here’s a list of things I wish I had downloaded before arrival:

  • VPN. A “Virtual Private Network” that circumvents Chinese censorship, so you can keep posting those selfies to Instagram. Chinese authorities have actively tried to block most non-paid networks and keep adding new ones to the list. Obviously, if you find a free VPN that still works, I suggest you use it. But just to be safe, I prefer to use a paid VPN. It’s cheap, don’t worry. Here’s a list. I’ve always used Express VPN and am overall satisfied with it.
  • WeChat – The app that substitutes ALL social media platforms we know. It’s used for business, banking, ordering food, talking to friends, posting selfies… you name it. Very important.
  • Baidu & Baidu Maps (replaces Google & Google Maps)
  • YoukuQIY or Tencent Video (replaces YouTube & Streaming Platforms)
  • Not sure if this is essential, but: TanTan (replaces Tinder. There are other dating apps, but this is the simplest one)
  • Food delivery apps I used: Meituan & daojia
  • Translation Apps: Pleco & MDBG
2.3 Upon Arrival

A typical Chinese New Year: Food, Family & Fights

Aaaah, Chinese new year. A yearly get-together with loved ones including fireworks, dumplings, alcohol, karaoke, red envelopes and… lot’s of fighting!

IMG_20190204_192258

In today’s episode, me and my friend’s foreign faces got us a free ticket to spend Chinese New Year in rural Beijing with a random Chinese family in the most traditional setting. Foreign guests are a rarity, and big eyes and long noses are worth investing time in. And so,  as me and my friend got back from an ice sculpture event in the neighborhood, the owner of the guesthouse gave us no choice but to join the rest of the family for dinner. Every sentence uttered was a reason to drink, food was reluctantly accepted into our bowls with elaborate explanations on the taste of home cooked rural cuisine, there was mandatory singing (and dancing) and we got lectured on the inclusivity of Chinese hospitality rules during Chinese New Year: that night, we, the two foreign guests, were all one big family, because that is how the Chinese roll, and we were to participate the entire evening. After the fireworks at midnight, we were all supposed to get together and make dumplings, drink and eat to our heart’s content, and go to bed stuffed and wasted. All was well. For a very short while…

We sat at the table with three women and two men, all related somehow. After a period of elaborate laughter and keeping up the façade, two ladies step inside, come back out, step back inside, and as the karaoke machine started having some minor technical difficulties, it was clear that it wasn’t going to be all smiles that evening. One of the women sneered at one of the men as she tried fixing the sound machine, then angrily walked back inside. There was some minor bickering after that, all the while the alcohol kept flowing. At some point it was just me, my friend and one man left at the table while everyone else went inside. We had no clue what was going on. The man seemed to try to call the others (on the phone) several times, trying to mediate and fix whatever was going on, all to no avail. Everyone came back out at some point, with smiles that turned into forced grins, and continued the festivities.

Me and my friend were getting tired; we had a long day, we were dreading more food, I was mainly tired from the wine, so we made the executive decision to “rest for a bit, but we’ll be back later,” aka go to sleep.

I woke up at 12. I heard the fireworks. -It must be midnight- I thought to myself, while I slowly fell back asleep. At 4 am I woke up a second time to go to the bathroom. My friend was awake too. I told her I heard the fireworks for a bit. “What? You didn’t hear everyone fighting?” she asked. Apparently, for over an hour, part of the family got into a violent feud over, of course, money. The entire floor was covered in food, people threw chopsticks at each other, there was pushing and hair pulling, there may have been a food fight, people threw chairs and glass around and someone seemed to owe the other one one million Chinese yuan. The fight apparently started in the main entertainment area, then one woman dashed upstairs angrily, followed by one of the men, and the fight continued in the hallway. It was very loud (I slept through pretty much the whole thing) apparently.

Not long after that we heard objects falling in the kitchen. Some woman started moaning in… pain? Anger? Fear? We were not sure. I locked the door to our room; you never know…

Me and my friend planned to leave some money and just escape through the backdoor, but eventually we both fell back asleep. As we left the room in the morning, everything had a funny smell. Vomit, probably. There was some hair sticking to the stairway…  we had no clue what happened.

As we entered the restaurant area, we noticed the two men sitting on opposite tables, looking completely miserable. “You guys want breakfast right?” he said.

We didn’t have to try that hard this time to refuse. They seemed fine with not having to put in any effort. One of the women came out as she accepted the payment and said: “They drank a little bit much.”  We nodded silently. She kept reiterating that she hoped we would come back again sometime. She must have noticed we knew a little bit too much.

All in all, again, a very typical Chinese new year.

Happy year of the pig, everyone

The Matchmaking Scheme

Currently I live together in an apartment with a 40-something year old bachelor who sleeps about 20 hours a day; the rest he spends in front of the computer doing “stock market” things. Whatever that means.

As a foreigner, you need to register your address in order to change your visa to a residence permit. My roommate never lived with a foreigner before; he didn’t understand the situation and got scared because he rented out my room without being a landlord or something, so he got really nervous and decided to ask a friend for help. He gave a suspicious amount of details about his friend: Born and raised in Beijing, likes to go out, good sense of style, actually a landlord, very intelligent etc. 30-something year old, so we should get along fine… Didn’t know that was relevant information for registering, but okay..

Yesterday I was finally introduced to the friend. Mr. Wang ( of course). He was in a wheelchair and had some kind of muscular dystrophy. My roommate needed to make a copy of my passport, so I ended up alone with his friend for 30 minutes. I tried making some small talk, but he had no control over his voice, so it was super hard to follow (he was really nice btw, not to sound rude or anything, he was just hard to follow). He offered me his gloves about 8 times. I kept telling him I wasn’t cold. That was about the extent of the conversation.

Anyway, we registered, all fine, then the lady behind the counter goes: “We talked on the phone didn’t we? I told you you didn’t have to bring a local, anyone in the same apartment would have been fine.” I look at my roommate who turns red and goes “oh..really?.. I must have forgotten”..

Then after registering my roommate goes: “Yating (my Chinese name), my friend is really into ‘western’ movies and music, and you like Chinese culture, so he would really like to add your WeChat and talk about …’your culture’. If you guys get along, maybe we can all go to dinner sometime soon. ”

I dunno, but I think I was part of a very odd elaborate matchmaking scheme…🤔🤔