Sunday, December 16, 2012

Earthquake Rookie in Tokyo

The neon lights of Akihabara, a special part in Tokyo
It had been a while since my last visit to Tokyo, and therefore I was excited to get another opportunity to visit this great city again last week.

I was invited to manage IT Project there to implement the latest Microsoft Active Directory technology, and besides the interesting project scope, it was a good opportunity to meet my friends and company partners again.

Tokyo is another place besides Hong Kong that has attracted my attention. Ever since I first set foot in Japan, I felt that the Japanese way of life is quite different than Hong Kong, but it took me a few years of living in here to really understand what that difference really means. (Perhaps I need to write a separate article about it) Anyway, it was good to be back in Tokyo, and I was enjoying the cold but sunny winter weather which was quite a change from the humidity in Hong Kong.

I was staying in a nice hotel in Shinjuku which was located very close to the main train station and (also important) a Starbucks for the daily supply of good coffee. The long working hours and the cold weather made me have several nights of good sleep, however on the 4th night around 5.00am something unusual happened which I couldn't really comprehend at that time. 

I remember I was in a deep sleep, dreaming something (innocent), until I suddenly felt that my bed was shaking. It started slowly, but the shaking got more intense, and it took me a couple of seconds to wake up and figure out what was going on. "Who is shaking my damn bed in the middle of the night??" I thought. I turned on the light, but nobody was there. Nevertheless the shaking continued more intense with even the walls making a slight screeching sound. 

"Well I guess this might be an earthquake or some real fatty couple is making love in the room above me", I thought. Then as sudden as it started, the shaking slowed, the walls stopped making noise and my bed became steady again. I lay there for a while with my eyes open, thinking what just happened. People in the next room also woke up as I heard them talking and in the room above me somebody went to toilet.
I guess they also must have woken up by this mystery. I lay there a foew more minutes until it got silent in the rooms around me, and as the shaking didn't return I fell asleep again.

The morning after I told my Japanese colleagues about the mystery from last night, and they said that I've probably experienced a small earthquake. Nevertheless they didn't seem to have noticed anything last night, and they didn't seem very impressed by my story either. "well we grew up with earthquakes, so when a small one like that happens at night we don't even wake up any more", one said. 

"So this was my first earthquake ever, while other people don't even wake up from it.. that sounds very exciting! ... great.... let's forget it and get back to work...", I thought...

Luckily the new Tokyo TV Tower
with 634 meters is Earthquake-proof..
We worked for that whole day on our project in the office, and everything was going quite well until I suddenly felt the same shaking as I felt that night before. It started slowly but quickly grew more intense and I could feel the whole floor underneath me shaking like we were on some bus ride in rural China.

I sat down on the office couch, and looked around the room. Everything seemed to be shaking, from the computer monitors, the desks, the closets to even the walls around me.  My colleague sat down next to me and said "wow.. this is a big earthquake", and while observing it all I started to think about the ceiling above me which made quite some noise. "How many floor levels there are above our heads?" I asked my colleague, who smiled and said "just one whole apartment". 

"Great...just one apartment.."

The shaking continued for a little longer, and I think the total time was almost 2 minutes, until it stopped as suddenly as it came. The walls became silent again and the ceiling stopped moving. 

"Roald I think you just experienced your first real earthquake", one of my colleagues said, and smiled. "I Guess so!" I said... remembering the one from last night, which was nothing compared to this. 

The radio suddenly stopped playing music and a female news announcer informed us that an earthquake hit the coastal area of Japan with a magnitude of 7.3 and a tsunami warning had been issued. Luckily we are in the middle of Tokyo which is high and dry protected from any Tsunami. And as everything seemed to be back to normal we continued to work on our project. 

For most Japanese this kind of events are nothing new, as they experience this a lot during their lives. However, for me it was a quite interesting experience as I never sat down on a couch in an apartment where the floor was moving like a roller coaster... I must say it is a quite unusual experience.

But... at least I know who shook my bed last night.... Hello Mother Earth!

Friday, October 26, 2012

Chinese Creativity... Part 6

Unfortunatly The Hong Kong busy life is still paying its toll on my available time to contribute to my blog. Nevertheless I'm trying to finish a couple of articles, to be published soon I hope.

In the mean time I want to share with you some more Chinese Creativity I discovered in Hong Kong.

I was walking in the Central district in Hong Kong when I discovered the logo of this company:

I'm not sure what exactly is the purpose of this company...
Can somebody explain me?

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Newspaper "Recycling"

Besides the high-rises, the busy streets, the greasy restaurant smells and the crazy nightlife there are actually many other interesting and funny little details that make Hong Kong so very unique. 

One of the things I started noticing is the process around "free" newspapers.

You probably might not have realized it, but Hong Kong has one of the world's largest press industries, and in the digital age that we live in today, the majority of Hong Kong people still reads the news on paper. 

With 7 million people living on this tiny place on earth you can imagine that the newspaper distribution is big business here. Besides the usual subscription based newspapers, such as Apple Daily (Cantonese) and the South China Morning post (English), there are over 7 free newspapers distributed in Hong Kong. 

And it is that distribution of free newspapers that I started to find both interesting as funny, as for the last year I found myself wrestling every day through hordes of people waiting in line to get a copy of one of the free newspapers. 

On my journey to work, which takes only 20 minutes, I pass about 15 of those "distribution points" where the newspapers are handed out to everybody that wants one.

Whether it is the AM730, Sharp Daily or another of those free newspapers, the women who hand them out all have their own strategically chosen location, and I noticed that the place they stay never changes, which to me feels like they all have negotiated upon who is allowed to stand in which location. 

Unfortunately the place they choose to stay is also a place where many people are walking to work, so before you know it you find yourself in a maze of people all zigzagging left and right and bumping into you, as the AM730 is located on your left side ("ah, I need to have that") **BUMP**, followed by the Sky Post on the right ("Ah another free one, let's get it") **BUMP**, the standard on the left ("ah, more!") **BUMP** and 5 more to go. 

You can imagine that when finally reach my work I do not want to read any free newspaper at all. My colleagues all know by now that they shouldn't leave their newspapers on their desk when I pass by, as those editions will all magically reappear inside the dustbin, shredded in a thousand pieces. 

But besides above traffic issues there is another phenomenon that is going on with those free newspapers. 

I noticed that next to the people that actually get those newspapers to read them, there is a significant quantity of people that have another purpose for those free newspapers. 

Every morning I saw a bunch of old people walking with huge trolleys behind them, all filled with... exactly... free news papers. 

"What does one person need with so much of the same editions of one daily magazine?" I wondered, and so one day I decided to do some investigation and started following a bunch of oldies rushing through the office-worked traffic in their hunger for free newspapers. 

Their first stop was the Wanchai MTR station where about 5 different newspapers were distributed. They all quietly walked past each distribution point and got a free newspaper, which then was put on their trolleys.

Collecting "Recycled" Newspapers
I followed them to their next stop, a few meters further where another 2 newspapers were distributed, which they (again) quietly accepted and put back in their trolleys. 

Another corner, and 3 of the same papers were collected quietly again and put back on the trolley, and so the process continued for a while until I got bored with following them and went to work. 

It was only after several weeks later when I found out what really was the purpose of this newspaper-collection-morning-exercise, when on one evening I happened to pass a waste-paper collection point. 

In Hong Kong the government has set up a waste paper collection scheme where people will get a certain fee for returning waste paper, paid by the kilo. 

When I passed the collection point I noticed a line of people (mostly aged 65+) all waiting to have their trolleys of paper weighted. Besides the large collection of carton boxes, there were several trolleys stuffed with...

... huge piles of free newspapers.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Chinese Creativity... Part 5

Last week I happened to be in Taiwan for a couple of days, and during my stay I encountered another masterpiece of Chinese Creativity in one of the hotels I stayed.

Before continuing to write, I must apologize myself for putting this post under the category "Chinese Creativity". I am not the person to make any suggestions about the politicial environment between Taiwan and China, that is up to others to decide. I just found my old category quite useful for this post :-)

Anyway, I thought I would share something very useful for everybody:

A map to avoid disaster.

I would say, too bad I didn't found it earlier, because I could have avoided a lot of previous disasters in my life.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Fake Rolexes and the once in a lifetime shopping experience...

I remember my first trip to Hong Kong very well. All the first time sight seeings such as the Peak, Tsim Sha Tsui, Hong Kong park, all were conquered during that first time I set foot on Hong Kong.

I was intrigued by the amount of luxury shops where you can buy all the brands like Prada, Gucci, Rolex and LV (that's how they call Louis Vutton here). The shops looked so humongous, luxurious and the most intriguing was that there were huge queues of Chinese citizens waiting to go in and spend their money.

Although I consider myself lucky to have earned good money during my professional career, I have never considered to buy any luxury items like expensive watches. The most probable reason for that is both the Dutch mentality ("Doe maar gewoon" we say, which means "Just behave normal") and the fact that my family (although successful) always have kept both feet on the ground. I always feel that it is insane to spend a huge amount of money on something just because it has a different brand name. Ok, the quality may be better as well, but that is not always the case.

Of course other people may think differently, but this is my own personal opinion. Nevertheless, after seeing all those luxury items I must admit the luxury-goods-virus also struck me, at least a little bit. "How would it be to wear a Rolex? Would people really act different?" I was thinking.

But buying one, no, that is way too expensive.

So what do you do when you want to have a Rolex, but do not want to spend the money on it? (Besides stealing...) Right... You buy a fake one.

Like me, you probably have had the same spam-mails in your inbox as me, saying "Fake Rolex for sale!". Most of these watches for sale on the internet come in different prices and qualities, but the fact is that most of them are originally manufactured in China. The city Shenzhen (which is close to Hong Kong) is famous of it's fake product markers where you can buy any copy of anything you like, from ferrari clothes, DVD's, to watches and handbags. 

But Shenzhen was not on my destination list that first time, so I had to figure out how to buy such fake items in Hong Kong itself. When I was talking to my colleague David about this subject, he smiled and told me he might have an idea. David, (who had been in Hong Kong several times before) took a map and showed me a place called "ladies market" in Mong Kok. Someone told him that if you need fake goods, you might be lucky there. 

Although he knew this "secret" for many years, he never went there before, and after talking some more about the subject, we both felt that it was time to pay a visit to this place. Next evening we took the MTR (Metro) to Mong Kok, and navigated ourselves to the street that supposed to host the "ladies market".  When we arrived we saw a long but narrow street where hawkers and small shop owners had set up narrow bamboo-made shops, selling all kind of items. We passed through the first batch of shops and looked around. "Where are those shiny Rolexes?" I thought, but all we saw were cheap souvenirs, t-shirts and other junk.

After passing another batch, and another batch of these (very uninteresting) shops, we got a little bit disappointed. "I'm not sure if we're going to find them here" David said. "Maybe they are all gone". 

Mong Kok, close to the Ladies Market
"Darn..." I thought. "That would be too bad. Well lets walk a little further, who knows we will find some".

But another batch of shops further gave us little more luck than before, and we decided to turn around and go back.

Walking through the narrow streets, passing by the cheap goods, the tourists negotiating  for 5 Hong Kong dollar discount ( which is 50 cents ladies..), I got more and more disappointed. 

"We're never going to find those damn Rolexes..." I said to David, and he shrugged..

Immediately at that moment we heard someone say "You looking for Lolex??". I stopped, pulled David to a halt, and looked around who said that. In an alley between the shops was a shabby Chinese guy standing with a smoking cigarette still between his lips. "You want fake watch? I have Lolex"
David and I looked at each other and probably thought the same. "Let's try it" David said and replied: "Yes we are looking for Rolex watches, can we see them?"

"Please come, please come" said the Chinese guy, turned around and walked further into the alley without looking back. "I guess we need to follow him" I said to David and off we were. 
Walking into the alley felt a bit uncomfortable. It was a small and dark street, but luckily there were still people. Then the guy suddenly turned right into an even darker alley, without looking back at us. 

"I wonder if we are doing the right thing" said David, "but anyway, we came this far, we should give it a try, right?". I nodded, and we turned right, into the dark alley. 

Nobody was walking here, and as it was evening there was almost no light. Lots of rubbish left and right, cockroaches walking around, and the guy in front of us still walking ahead without looking back.

"I hope we're going to survive this" I said to David with a smile. "Don't blame me, we both wanted those Rolexes so bad.."  I replied, " but I also hope we'll make it alive". 

Finally the guy stopped at the entrance of an apartment building. He opened the door, and waited for the elevator to come down. We followed in, and when the elevator came, all 3 of us went inside without saying a word. At floor number 22 (the highest floor) the Chinese guy stepped out and without looking waved his hand as a gesture for us to follow him. Then he turned around, looking us in the eye, and putting his finger on his lips.

"ssshh" he whispered, and followed his route with very gentle steps. We passed several apartment doors, some of which the owners had open them to get in some cool air. 
At the end of the hallway we moved up to the stairs without making a sound, until we came to floor 23. 

Floor 23 had been installed illegally, and was guarded with a big steel door locked with a chain. The guy reached into his pocket, got the key and opened the lock. After pushing open the gate, he waved at us to go in without saying a word.

"Ehrm, is this something we are going to regret?" David was whispering to me. "Do we have a choice for now?" I replied. "I guess not any more" said David, and off we stepped into the unknown behind a prison door.

The guy followed in and at the end of the hall there was another door to be unlocked by our "friend". He did so, and we all stepped into the final rooftop room. When he turned on the light, we noticed a small room (probably 20 square meters) , with 4 tables and 4 black suitcases. The chinese guy opened the black suitcases, and inside was a fine red cover holding at least 15 watches per suitcase. 

Looking at this we got relieved. "Phew, we are still alive". And after calming down we started to pay a close look at the watches. All were high quality fakes of the Rolex and other expensive brands. Gold, silver, everything was there. (Of course you have to take the words gold and silver not seriously in this case.)

"You want watch for your wife?" The Chinese guy said to David, and pointed out a watch from Louis Vutton. It was silver with a slight pink twitch, and on the glass where shiny glitters. 

"Are those real diamonds?" David asked, while already knowing the answer. The guy smiled and said nothing. "I guess we know enough" said David, "However I don't think we have a choice whether to buy something or not, but this watch looks ok, so I will buy it". 

After negotiating the price (which was probably still too high, as the guy was very happy at the end), we all went out of the room, and after closing the door and the steel fence, we tiptoed our way one level down, and took the elevator until we finally were outside.

"Safe..." we both thought, and smiled.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Getting used to being "Back"

Several weeks have passed since my last blog-post in which I announced my (temporary) return to Holland.

It had been about a year ago since I had been back to my home country, and it was about time to show my family that I was still alive and (relatively) healthy. So I booked myself a flight to Amsterdam and wrote the previous blog while waiting for my departure.

Nothing changed at
Schiphol Airport.
Still feels like coming 'home'
My trip back home was fantastic, as it was absolutely great to see my friends and family again. The 3 weeks that I spent back "home" were fully booked with meetings and gatherings. The evening after arrival I organized a "let's catch up together" evening at the beach, and I was amazed to see so many of my friends show up there, even though it was organized only a few days before. 

It is funny to realize that even though you are gone for a year, nothing seems to change very much; You expect the world to be different when you return, but actually it isn't. The same people are there, the places have not changed that much, and it is amazing how quickly you reintegrate into your usual habits. Going to the supermarket in your local hometown, driving towards your old office, watching TV, everything did not seem to change much.

I assume that if I spend more years far away from home, this experience of "everyting stays the same" will change a bit, year-by-year. If I make it until that time in Hong Kong, I will definitely look back to this post and reflect on it.

Now I am back in Hong Kong, sitting at my usual place in Pacific Coffee with a regular cup of Americano, "tall size milk...paper cup....", and reflecting back on the 3 weeks in Holland I must share another thought with you.

Absolutely awesome to cycle again
through the Dutch landscape.
As I said before, I expected that my trip to holland would leave a big impression. Seeing your friends and family, looking at the totally changed country.. no it actually felt like I left it all just yesterday. No,  coming back to Hong Kong, was the most toughest part of my trip. 

After 3 weeks back in Holland, I got quite used again to the Dutch way of life. Living there, working (I had to visit my fellow colleagues regularly for some projects we are conducting there), meeting friends in the evening, everything felt as usual. Did I really go to Hong Kong for a year? Or was it a dream? 

Of course it was not a dream, but sometimes it felt like that. And when the 3 weeks were over, I had to go back to my life as a Dutchman in Hong Kong. And despite the change from Hong Kong to Holland went very smoothly, I had a lot of trouble being back in Hong Kong.

So great to sit outside on a
terrace in Haarlem...
And no airconditioning!
It was not the fact that I didn't like to be here, but it was the fact that it felt that I had left something behind.

Some memories and feelings of a happy time, catching up with everyone, and looking at how life was going on there. It felt like a part of my life was going on, but without me.

Gradually, I got back again to myself here in Hong Kong. I caught up with work, met my friends, and started to get my life here back on track that I have set for myself. And despite the crazy hot summer weather here, I am enjoying myself again.

To be continued for another year!

Friday, May 18, 2012

Time to go home!

I wake up and turn on the TV screen in front of me. The map on the screen shows Nizhny Novgorod. (Some city that actually brings a lot of memories to my mind.. which some day I need to write about in a separate blog).

“Ah”, I think by myself. “Another two and a half hours and I am home.”
“But on the other hand, what is home nowadays?” I’ve been almost a whole year in Hong Kong, and after this long period I am finally in the airplane on my way back to Amsterdam.

“But this visit is just temporary, don't make any illusions..” I say to myself.
I am lucky today, as the whole plane is fully booked, except the seat next to me. And when you are sitting in seat 67H with an empty seat next to you it means you’ve got lots of space and privacy. Especially on a long flight like this that is very welcome, so I was quite happy when the doors of the airplane closed and there was still nobody next to me. Somehow I happen to be this lucky quite often, as it occurs frequently that I’m the only one in the airplane that sits next to an empty seat. Of course the comfort is not the same as business class, but in these times of crisis we have to be considerate, right?

Somehow when I fly back "home" I always start thinking about what happened during my travels. When it was either flying back from Spain after a great vacation with my friends, or returning from a trip to Ukraine to experience the cold winter or one of my many business trips, somehow the engine noise, the uncomfortable seats and the constant waiting remind me of the past memories.
But today's 12 hours of flying made me think especially about the past year in Hong Kong.
My first year in Hong Kong has been relatively smooth. I arrived in April 2011, initially only for a couple of months. However, back then my goal already was to stay in Hong Kong permanently. A year before in 2010 I already sold my house in the Netherlands, and moved to a rental apartment in Amsterdam. Back then I already had in mind my long term goal... Hong Kong... and day by day I slowly started to prepare, until the moment of departure was finally there.
These first months after arrival were passing very quickly. It was April when I moved Hong Kong and the weather was already great so there were plenty of opportunities for sightseeing, travelling and meeting new friends. I joined several events and got to know the Hong Kong local people. At work also everything worked out quite well. My project was going smoothly and it seemed that they were satisfied with the results.

The only thing that was quite challenging in the beginning was the size and comfort of the apartments. The first months I stayed in a studio apartment in Wanchai, one of the busiest areas in Hong Kong. The apartment was located on the second floor of a building on Johnston road, a noisy street with the Hong Kong tram passing by, and the 24 hour McDonalds and a school located all within 20 meters distance of my window. You can imagine that I had a lot of difficulties getting used to the 24 hour noise around me.

The first month I slept very bad, especially on the days when the McDonalds was receiving their hamburger supplies at 4 am in the morning from the nightly delivery truck. Luckily after a few weeks I somehow got used to the noise and my sleep got better.

When the moment came that my employer decided to accept my wish to relocate permanently, I remember being very excited and happy. “It was finally going to happen!” I thought. However a lot needed to be arranged. I had to fly back to Amsterdam, pack all my belongings and clean out my apartment. It felt a little bit uncomfortable to see my apartment getting emptier day by day, until the last day, when I slept on an airbed on the floor, with nothing left but myself, 2 plastic bags and a suitcase.

Saying goodbye to all my friends was also hard. I knew that I wouldn’t see them often anymore, and even though there is Skype and Facebook, nothing is better than having “real” face-to-face contact.  On the day of my farewell party I felt both happy and sad. It was great to see that all my friends wished me good luck on my journey to the unknown, but this was probably also the last day I would see them all for a long time.
“I hope I am taking the right decision” I thought.
And now I am living almost a year in Hong Kong, I can say that I think differently about the Hong Kong life than I did before. The first couple of months I lived here I thought I already understood the life here, but It is only after a year that I understood what the real Hong Kong life consists of, mainly due to my own experiences but also talking to many Hong Kong locals.

Escaping the city life is great. A lot of quiet hiking
trails with beautiful views.
First of all, the work life balance is much different than where I come from. In The Netherlands we are all used to our comfortable life with 9 to 5 mentality, and although there are many people that make longer days in Holland (such as me), the work-life balance over there is still acceptable.
In Hong Kong however, the majority of people will not leave work before 7, and also the workload is much higher because people here expect everything to be done immediately. They are not so used to long term planning. No, everything they want should get to them right away. Therefore, most of the days I worked here I discovered that by the end of the day everything I originally planned worked out completely different. That only already makes you quite exhausted.
Besides the work-life balance there is the lack of holidays. Most people have only around 10 holidays a year, which makes it difficult to plan some long vacation. Instead, you can only make short trips, resulting in the fact that you do not entirely recover from your busy life.

And then there is the problem of staying healthy. Because of the hot and humid climate, every building has air-conditioning, which is usually set on freezing low temperatures. Going in and out will give your body such a shock that you will easily catch a cold. And then there is the risk of infection when you walk in the MTR and hold the handrail which has been touched by millions every day. You easily get sick by a virus or infection. (I now understand why there are so many commercials on TV related to solving the problems of being sick)
And next to that, the air pollution is sometimes so bad, that you really don’t want to go out, as it feels you cannot breathe. I have this feeling every morning when I exit the MTR station in Wanchai and walk up the stairs to enter the street. In Holland I never have any problems walking stairs, but here I am out of breath before I am half way. Luckily the air at the place I live is a bit better, but if you think that the only park where I can do my running exercise at home is next to the highway, you will wonder whether it is good to do any outdoor exercise at all. I also developed a sort of cough that I normally relate to a die-hard smoker, but not to a (used to be) healthy person like me.
So I can imagine that reading this you might think that due to the climate and air-pollution it is better to stay inside your house, right?

My first apartment in Hong Kong
Yes you would say so, if your house would have a decent size, to be living comfortable. However , as Hong Kong is almost the number one expensive cities to rent apartments, you can imagine that also this factor is quite disappointing sometimes.
I pay 15.000 Hong Kong dollar (about 1500 euro) excluding utilities for an apartment of around 650 square feet which I share with my girlfriend.  For Hong Kong people this size sounds reasonable, but if you come from Europe you would immediately start laughing at this price. In the usual Hong Kong bedroom you cannot even walk more than 1 step before you hit a wall. By the way, if I want to buy this property, it will cost me 6.5 Million Hong Kong Dollar, about 650.000 euro. Insane!
But besides this all, there are also positive things that are worth mentioning. When I escape the busy city life, I still discover every day new and interesting things that the city has to offer. Vast nature, quiet beaches, beautiful islands and long cycle tracks. Even if you only have a few holidays each year, you can use every weekend to explore and relax. This is really something that keeps me being able to handle the busy city life.
The second thing what still keeps me here is the fact that this city has many opportunities. Every day there are new and interesting people to meet, and also business wise there are a lot of possibilities. Some of you that know me closely know that I am always looking for new challenges and this city certainly has a lot to offer for me. (both business-wise as in my private time). More about that in another blog post later!
And at last, I need to mention one more positive thing about my life here. Shortly after I arrived in Hong Kong last year I went a weekend to Macau. And it was in Macau that I met a girl which soon became the love of my life. Without having her around, things would also have felt totally different, I’m sure. She is by no doubt a very important factor in my happiness here in Hong Kong.
So what will the future bring? I have no idea yet. I am flying back to Amsterdam now, to see my friends and family, and after 3 weeks I will return to Hong Kong, no doubt about that.

And when I will return I certainly will miss my family and friends, and even a little bit of Holland (yes I admit), but even so, my future still lies in Hong Kong. For now... 

Until when? We will see, just keep on reading my blog and you will find the answer.
(And so will I)

Thursday, April 19, 2012


Just before I went to Thailand for my holidays, I received a notice that the Hong Kong Post had tried to deliver a package to my home.

The green-coloured note that they have left behind stated that "unfortunately I was not at home at the time of the delivery", and that I can pick up the package from the post office myself.

"I'll do it after I return from my holidays..." I thought.

But reading the rest of text on the green note, I discovered that if I was unable to pick up the package within 14 days they would charge me a "package storage" fee, depending on the size of the parcel.  "Hmmm," I thought, "better pick up the package then..." and off I went to the post office.

Half an hour later I arrived at the post office, and went up with the escalator to the first floor where the pickup counter is located. I was about to step off the escalator when a Hong Kong guy approached me. It was a man, in his 40's, dressed up in short jeans and a yellow polo shirt. Next to him stood a trolley car, one of a model that you see all over Hong Kong, as it is being used to transport all kind of amazing things through the small and busy streets. From noodles, to rice, from construction material to live chickens, it all ends up being transported on such small one-person trolleys.

"You?? You??" He asked me in a polite but nervous voice. I looked at him and had no clue what he wanted, until I noticed he was pointing to the paper that he had in his hand. "Is you? Is You?"?

I looked at the paper and quickly scanned it through. It appeared to be an email that he had printed out. It as a full page letter and on the right side there was a photo of a young black woman dressed in what I call African clothes.

(I've reconstructed this according to what I can remember)

"Dear mister,

We have not met before but I got your contact information from a friend. My name is Bolanle and I am from Nigeria. As my friend told me you are a caring and helpful person, I am seeking your help. My brother is living in Hong Kong, and as it is almost his birthday I have sent him a birthday package with birthday gifts from my family together with US dollar worth 10,000.

Unfortunately he cannot pick up the package by himself because he is travelling in China for the coming two months for his business. Because I am afraid that the post office will send back the package due to late delivery, I am seeking your help.

If possible, could you collect the package for my brother? I already paid for the insurance fee and the delivery charges, but I did not pay for the security keeping fee due to the fact that I do not know when the package will be picked up. It would be great if you can help me pick up the package and pay the security keeping fee of USD 500.

My brother will pay you back as soon as he will meet you. I have also asked him to compensate you greatly for your kind assistance and he will give you 50% of the amount of USD inside the package.

Can you please call mr. xxxxx on this number xxxx.xxxxx.xxxx to confirm your willingness to pick up the package, so we can arrange further clearance?

Thank you in advance,

Bolanle Wiwa"

For a second I was hesitating how to react. My first feeling was that this poor guy got trapped in a typical e-mail scam, one of which we are all familiar with. But on the other hand, even though it was so obvious, I wasn't entirely sure I should give him the bad news, and tell that he just became a victim of Nigerian scammers. First of all, he would lose "face" in front of someone (which is not a good thing in Asia), and secondly he might lose his temper, as he probably paid a significant sum of dollars to retrieve the (probably worthless) carton box.

"No, that's not me, sorry", and off I went.

When I walked away I heard the guy behind me letting out a big sigh. He probably was waiting for a while already, and getting to the point of understanding what was going on.

I had no clue why this guy was waiting at the post office. Perhaps he was told to meet there after picking up the package, or maybe he was hoping to find the person that supposed-to-pick-up-but-never-did. Anyway, the situation didn't look too good for him.

And besides that, I was wondering why he asked if I was involved with this? I know that the Hong Kong sun is much stronger than the one I'm used to in Holland and that I like to go to the beach, but I certainly did not look like a black man.

I went to the pickup counter for my own package, and while I was waiting there in the queue, I thought about what just happened. Should I talk to this guy once more and see if I can help him? Perhaps it is all a misunderstanding, perhaps there is really someone picking up the package later. Anyway, when I retrieved my package, I walked back to the elevator and discovered that the guy was gone, and so was his trolley with the carton box.

Too late, now I will never find out what really happened...

Thursday, April 5, 2012

BeingDutchinAsia featured by

I'm glad to announce that BeingDutchinAsia has been featured by

InterNations is a community for expatriates living  in Hong Kong and 180 other countries in the world.

You can read the article here.

In the mean time, I also have to announce that I will be away to Thailand for a week. After these extremely busy months in Hong Kong, I really need to take some time off and enjoy myself without any laptop, smartphone or iPad.

Beach, sunny weather, good food and relaxing environment it will be...

See you all in a week!

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Monday morning and my near death experience

"A typical Monday morning" I thought, when getting myself a cup of coffee and a left over pancake from Saturday. I spent the whole weekend on Lamma island, and I felt totally relaxed after two days away from the busy Hong Kong life.

No buses, no cars, no 24 hour noise, the quiet environment of Lamma with my girlfriend made me forget everything. Nevertheless, on Monday morning my alarm went off at 6.45 and an hour later it was time to get to work. After breakfast, I put on my office suit and my shoes, grabbed my laptop and I was out of the door, followed by my girlfriend. We were waiting for the elevator when I heard another door closing. "That must be my neighbour" I guessed. And yes, it was her.

A girl in her early twenties, and based on how her "good morning" accent sounds I figured out she must be American. We usually do not exchange a lot of words, which personally I do not mind, as in the morning I am not on my very best when it comes to communication. We said a polite good morning to each other, while we were waiting for the elevator to arrive.

When the elevator finally came, the door opened and a mother and a boy were already inside. The boy was sitting in a wheelchair and was wearing his school uniform and had a red backpack in his hand. The mother was obviously helping her son to go downstairs. Both didn't say good morning, which is the usual practice here, something that had to get accustomed to after moving to Hong Kong.

Anyway, the doors closed and the elevator started to move... while nobody said a word. "It's going to be another a long silent ride down.." I thought. All the way from 25 to the ground floor with people staring at the wall.

Until just a a second later, the elevator got one floor down to 24. Apparently somebody was waiting there and the elevator slowed down to a halt. The doors went open just a little bit until suddenly there was a loud *scratch* and the elevator started to move in an uncontrolled way. The doors were not even closed completely, and through the open part in the middle you could see the wall behind and a part of what supposed to be the opening to the 24th floor moving up, away from us. The movement was so sudden and uncontrolled, that it felt like we were going to fall down.

Surprised by the sudden move, I immediately grabbed the handrail. My girlfriend and the neighbour girl started to scream, and I must say that scream, although not loudly was quite justified as it felt like we were going to crash down. Luckily the elevator stopped after sliding just half a floor level, bounced a little up and down and then stopped dead still.

"Great..." I thought.
"We got stuck halfway between 23 and 24..."

After a few seconds everybody realized we were still alive. A little smile came on the face of the neighbour girl, and the woman with her son in the wheelchair also came back to her senses. While I was still recovering, my girlfriend (who probably has much more experience with Chinese elevators) said "Let's try to close the door, maybe it will continue".

And so we were all pushing on the doors our hands.

The door closed, but the lock was obviously not working, so when we stopped pushing the door opened slightly and the same small opening was visible again.

Shouldn't that elevator go down??
After a few tries we decided that that didn't work. "What to do, what to do!?" said my obviously nervous neighbour, but before I could answer, the woman with her son pointed to the alarm bell. "Let's try that", and I pushed the bell. The alarm went off, and after a few moments, we heard a female voice through the speakers. "Waiii? Waiii?" (The Cantonese word for hello).

My girlfriend (now I'm definitely convinced she has more experience with Chinese elevators) immediately started yelling (in Cantonese) "Heyyy we are stuck in this elevator, come help us!" (or so I assumed she was saying as my Cantonese is still pretty limited).

After explaining the situation, the operator told us to give it one more try with the door. And then, when I was pushing both sliding doors to the middle, suddenly the elevator jumped down a few centimeters again. It was not too fast but with the previous experience in mind, we were all quite sensitive, and that sudden move didn't really help lower the pressure. "It doesn't work! Get somebody to fix it" yelled the woman to the operator with a nervous voice.

"Don't worry, somebody is already on it's way" The operator said.


We started to calm down, and the anxiety changed into impatience as we were all realizing that this was not going to be quickly fixed. "Oh my god, the schoolchildren will be in the class in 20 minutes", my neighbour said. "What can I do?", while trying to call the school director. The woman with her son also started to get angry. "Last week I already told the security that this elevator was behaving weird. Why they didn't fix it yet? My son needs to go to school, and the school bus is waiting for him downstairs".

"At least we are alive on this black Monday" I said, which broke the ice a little bit, and everybody started to smile. "That THIS should happen to us, really. It actually is the second time in my life that this happened to me." I said. "Last time I got stuck in an Elevator was in Amsterdam, a few years ago,  together with 7 other friends. We got stuck because one of my friends asked out loud what would happen if somebody would suddenly jump, after which somebody took the initiative... and the elevator stopped functioning. It took two hours before it was fixed."

That last sentence I should better not have said, as people started to worry again about their delay. Luckily, the engineer arrived, as we heard some noise on the floor above us. After a few minutes, the elevator door opened a bit, and we saw the face of the engineer. "Don't worry, everything is going to be fine. Do you need an ambulance?" He asked us in Cantonese. "No everybody is fine, just get us out of here" The woman with her son said. However, we were still stuck halfway between 23 and 24. It was impossible to get out unless you would climb up, and even that was impossible for the boy with the wheelchair.

And all this time that boy stayed very calm. You could see in his eyes that he exactly knew what his situation was. Stuck in an elevator that was behaving weird. The risk of falling down. No way to get out by himself. And yet he was calm, smiled to his mother, and looked at her like he wanted to comfort her. It was like he was telling his mother without words that he already went through a lot of difficult times in his short life and that this was not going to let him down again.

"We found the problem!"

After a few minutes more waiting, the engineer yelled at us that there was an error in the computer system, and they were going to reset it. The doors closed, and the elevator went up. A sign of relieve went through the small cabinet. Everybody was happy that this disaster was over. On the 29th floor, the elevator stopped, and the doors went open automatically.

"Yesssss" we said to each other.

"We made it!"

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Chinese Creativity... Part 4

This weekend I deserved some time off from my busy Hong Kong life, and stayed over on Lamma Island for a night.

Lamma Island is just half an hour away by boat from central Hong Kong, but provides a real oasis with its small streets, cozy restaurants and beautiful nature.

The island is inhabited by many expats, as they all feel much more comfortable with this environment than the busy and overcrowded Hong Kong island.

One local businessman recognized that certainly and started his own realestate agency. I must admit, he chose quite a creative English name for his business!

How dollarful! 

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

BeingDutchinAsia reviewed by Hong Kong Blog Review

I recently discovered that BeingDutchinAsia has been recommended by, a site that reviews Hong Kong related blogs in essay-style.

Hong Kong Blogs Review is known for their thorough review and selective recommendation of blogs, so I am pleased that they have given my site a very positive review.

You can read the review here.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Coffee House Generation

When I first came to Hong Kong I was wondering why there were so many coffee houses in the city. I thought that as an Asian country, Hong Kong citizens would prefer drinking tea instead of coffee.

So why did I see a Starbucks or the Asia Pacific competitor Pacific Coffee on almost every corner of the street?

It was a little while later when I figured it out, when I actually became part of the so called "Coffee House" generation.

Most of you know by now that I spend a reasonable amount of time behind my computer for work, to communicate with my friends and family abroad, or to write for my blog. Sitting behind the computer is for me no problem, however, doing that at home every day gets quite boring. 

Sometimes you need a little change of environment, and especially a good couch (mine is awful at home) and some fresh coffee. So where to find a place that meets these requirements? Right.. Starbucks or Pacific Coffee.

These coffee houses have popped up like mushrooms in a forest, and can be found on most street corners and big shopping malls. When you visit one here in Hong Kong, you will notice they all offer comfortable couches, relaxing music, and free wifi. And since they opened, they are attracting more and more young people who not only come there to have a chat and drink a cup of coffee, but bring their laptop, study books or even portable DVD players, and stay there alone or in groups until closing time.

I've seen people studying, doing work on their laptop, watching movies, skype with their friends abroad, sleeping (for 3 hours), having meetings and even do babysitting. The coffee house seems to be another house extension that I was talking about in my earlier blog post. Certainly most people stay longer than 3 hours, and therefore occupy half of the cafe while only drinking one cup of coffee,ice tea or frappucino.

I assume it is due to the fact that the Hong Kong houses are quite small, and that it sometimes may be hard to find a quiet place at home, if you are living with your brothers, sisters, parents and grandparents in a 70sq. meter apartment. Therefore a "quiet" coffee place with your own couch can be quite comfortable.

Typical Example: On the left a couple watching a movie,
On the right a guy doing his work on his computer
I must admit I also have become one of "them", as I am a regular visitor of one of the coffee houses in my area. I like to sit there, open my laptop and write or study for a few hours. You have a reasonably quiet environment, a good chair, and tasty coffee. (And something to look at when you are distracted).

The girls at the counter already greet me by the name, (which one cleverly remembered from my credit card). "Welcome back Mr. Andersen, do you want the regular today"?

.. Sigh.. "Yes please!"

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Chinese Creativity... Part 3

Dear All,

Unfortunately I do not have time to write any new blog entry this week, as my family from The Netherlands is currently visiting me in Hong Kong. (And of course you understand that after I haven't seen them for quite a while, it is very nice to spend some time with them).

But, I wouldn't want to keep it all quiet here, so take a look at the picture below. I found it when I was hiking in Zhangjiajie last year. Zhangjiajie is a beautiful mountain area in the northwestern part of the Hunan province in China. The unique characteristics of this place inspired the makers of the movie Avatar. (Remember the floating rocks in that movie? Well thost rocks you will find there in ZhangJiaJie, but of course not floating around). I will write about that place when I have some more time.

Anyway, I was walking through a park there, and found this sign:

Obviously somebody has done a creative translation of "Please don't walk on the grass".

Monday, February 27, 2012

Chinese Creativity... Part 2

On my way to our factory in Shenzhen I recently came across this fellow, who obviously didn't want to drive more than once to deliver his packages.

Click on the image to zoom in

I hope he is not the same guy that shipped my boxes from The Netherlands to Hong Kong last year. (99% of my glassware got broken...Thank you!)

If it's him, I guess he took a corner too fast and tipped over...

Sunday, February 19, 2012

How to extend your house in a creative way

During the last week I discovered a new phenomenon going on in my neighborhood.

I'm not sure if it has been going around for longer, but at least I discovered it myself during last week.

Every evening when I come from home I exit the MTR (Metro) and walk for about 10 minutes to get to my apartment building. The road that I take to get home leads me across several highrises which are similar to my own building. In the morning and during the day there are hardly any cars parked there, but when I come home late, the whole road is full of cars.

Normal, would you think, right? Yes, quite normal, as people come home from work. However, I discovered that one out of 5 parked cars have people sitting in them. Normal do you think again? Yes, if you are waiting for someone, you stay in your car, that's obvious, and I never thought something behind that.

However, last week it happened that I had to walk that road for several times in the evening. The first time was when I got home from work. I passed the street, and everything seemed as usual. The first car had a mother and 2 children inside, the second car was empty, the 3rd car again a mother, father and a child. Some cars later I saw again a car with a whole family inside.

The mother was watching a movie on their iPad while the children were playing in the back of the car on their portable game computers. In another car I noticed a father sleeping deeply with the seat in the maximum position, while the children were watching a cartoon in the back. I guessed that they probably had to wait a while before they could pick up the person they were waiting for.

I went home, cooked, and after an hour or two I decided to take a walk outside. After taking the elevator, I entered the (same) street. Walking a bit, I noticed that the street was still full of cars. Nothing special I thought. But when walking further, I discovered that the cars with the waiting people were also still there.

The mother was still using her iPad while the children were in the back, and car whole family was also there, and also the sleeping father with his children. "What is going on here?" I thought.

They can't be homeless I thought, as the cars were pretty empty and clean. So what is it?

I decided to do some more investigation that week to see if this was just incidental or a structural phenomenon. And so I went walking out every evening of that tweek to conduct my investigation, and indeed, it seemed that it was not just an incident. I noticed that some of the same cars were occupied on other evenings as well. Sometimes I saw the same cars with the same families, and sometimes I saw new cars with other people doing the same thing. Even on sunday, I noticed some people, mostly men, sitting in their cars with a drink and a laptop.

And then I figured it out in my mind: These people were just looking for some personal space. You know, the the average apartment in Hong Kong is around 60 square meters and even though that is not much, the biggest problem is that most families share this with themselves, their children, and their parents.

And with just 60 square meters shared by 5 or 6 persons, I understand you are craving for some personal space. Therefore, I understand that those people are being creative; they use their car as an extention to their apartment. The inside of a car is about equal to a Hong Kong bedroom, so it is a useful space if you want to leave your grumpy grandparents, you need to study or just want to spend some time by yourself and your iPhone.

I'm wondering whether this is something that has been going on for years, or that this is a rising trend due to the ever increasing price per square meter, forcing people to live with more people in smaller apartments.

At least it is a creative idea to overcome the typical Hong Kong problem of having no personal space!

Friday, February 17, 2012

Who is next ruler of China?

I expect that the years 2012 and 2013 will become very interesting for the Asian region, as China will appoint a new general secretary for the Communist Party this year, and a new president of the People's Republic next year. (Something that only happens once in a decade).

So who will be the one to be assigned those roles? It is expected to be Xi Jinping, the current Vice President.

With such a major event happening in our near future, I think we all need to have some background information about this potential new leader of one of the most powerful countries in this region.

Xi Jinping was only 15 years old, when in 1969 the supporters of Mao Tse-tung sent him to Liangjiahe, a village the middle of China where he needed work in a farm. His parents were high in the party hierarchy and therefore seen as "suspicious", and measures needed to be taken such as relocation. He worked at a pig's farm for little over 7 years.

During his 7 years in Liangjiahe, Xi worked his way into the graces of the Communist Party, using his intelligence and keeping himself away from privileges. For example, once when he was assigned a larger room than he was entitled, he refused. Safety first, and don't give any room for your enemies.

He is seen as the perfect and therefore unnoticeable Chinese ruler. But nevertheless, his daughter is studying at Harvard and his wife is a very famous folk singer in China.

The L.A. times has posted an interesting article about this man, who is expected to rule China for the coming 10 years.

Read the article here.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Chinese Creativity...

My friend Scott sent me a picture he recently took with his mobile phone in Shenzhen, China.

On an ordinary day while going to work, he suddenly spotted something weird in the distance. It was a car.. but something strange was going on...

It looked like this car was parked sidewards, with the headlights pointed towards the pavement. But if it is parked like that, how can this car be moving forward? That's impossible!

And besides that, it appeared to be flying as well!

No he wasn't dreaming...

A couple of seconds later, when the flying-sidewards-moving car came closer, he realized what was going on...

(Click on the image to watch full screen)

This guy's car broke down somewhere and appearantly he couldn't get it started again.

So, what do you do as a clever chinese?

Right .. you take a forklift... put it under your car.. and drive it to the next garage!

Thanks Scott for your contribution!

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Hong Kong Accelerate - The beautiful side of the city

Madison, the founder of the company Spot on Idea recently sent us a link of his new video project.

In his video he shows us the 24 hour non-stop Hong Kong life with its crazy traffic, rushing people and ever ongoing construction work.

Why I am posting this video?

Because the video is shot in such a way that below the surface of this dirty, overcrowded and stressful city, a beautiful pattern will reveal itself. In other words, when you look at Hong Kong from another perspective, you will definitely see the beauty of it all.

This video gives you an impression of how I felt after visiting Hong Kong for the first time.
During that first visit I made up my mind: I'm definitely going to live there and experience it all!

Take a look, and you will see what I mean.
Please watch it full screen(!)

Hong Kong Accelerate from Spot On Idea on Vimeo.

(Ps. this is not a sponsored link.)

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Chinese New Year, A period full of traditions

Last week I experienced one of the most important Chinese holidays: Chinese New Year, also called Spring Festival or Lunar New Year.

I heard about the Chinese new year before, and before I experienced it, I thought it should be similar to our western new year, where you spend an evening (and night) with your family and celebrate the start of a fresh new year. You drink champagne, you eat (too) much, and when it is midnight, you congratulate everyone and start watching fireworks. For the rest there are not much traditions involved in the western world as far as I know from my own experience. Yes, maybe you go to your family on January 1st, and you may have some good intentions for the new year, but that's it, right? Nothing really special besides having a good time with your loved ones.

Fireworks in Hong Kong during the Chinese New Year
The Chinese new year however, involves much more than just a night of celebration. Besides being one of the longest holidays throughout the year, it involves a lot of traditions that we are not familiar with in the west.

First of all, every year, the Chinese new year falls on a different date, somewhere between January 21 and February 20. This is because it is based on the Chinese lunar calendar, a calendar whose dates are linked to the phases of the moon. Compared to our "normal" calendar, the Chinese calendar is about 11 days shorter and therefore one extra month is inserted every 3 years to keep the calendar in sync with the seasons.

According to a Chinese legend, the Chinese new year started by a mythical monster that would come on the first day of the new year to eat livestock, but also people and children from the villages. The people thought that if they prepared food for the beast, it would not eat them and their children. Also, the monster was scared of noise and red colours, so therefore the villagers hang red lanterns and red rolls on their windows by the time that the new year was starting, and used fireworks to scare him away.

Nowadays, the people are not afraid of the monster anymore, but you can still see the ancient tradition being applied. Everywhere you go, you will see that people will hang red lanterns near their house. They also put red scrolls of paper on their front door, which usually have Chinese characters like "good health, good fortune, happiness" written on it in big golden letters.

In the week before Chinese new year, most people will clean their house thoroughly, as it is believed that the cleaning will wash away all your bad luck, and you will have a good start in the new year. Also you are supposed to buy new clothes, shoes and cut your hair before the new year starts, as it will give you a good new start as well. (Don't buy any clothes or cut your hair in the first days after the Chinese new year, as it will bring you bad luck!)

When you walk through the street before New Year, you will hear a lot of firecrackers everywhere. Shop owners will light the fireworks before they close down their shop, to make sure they scare the beast and get good luck for the new year. It's really something you will hear for several days, throughout the city. Also families are doing that on their balconies, so watch where you are walking!

On the night of Chinese new year, all the families come together to have a big dinner together or light the fireworks. There are also a lot of firework shows organized by the government, which are usually much more impressive than their western new year counterparts in Asia. (I remember I was quite dissapointed seeing the 2012 New Year fireworks in Hong Kong. It lasted only 5 minutes, while the Chinese New Year fireworks lasted for 20 minutes.)

The new year celebration officially lasts for 15 days, but just the first 3 days are officially a public holiday. During these 15 days, there are a lot of different traditions as well. First of all, someone told me, the old tradition says that you are not supposed to wash your hair during the first 15 days, as to not wash away your luck.

Day one and two of the Chinese new year are usually family days. People will visit relatives to have dinner and wish them a prosperous and healthy new year. Besides that, many people will visit some of the old temples to make a wish for their family or to worship their ancestors. I heard that on the third day you are not supposed to visit your family, as this day is cursed for visiting relatives. According to some old myth, if you will visit your relatives on this day, you will end up having arguments with them, so this day better not to visit with them.

One tradition I personally like is the tradition that involves the so called red pockets. If you are married, you have to give a red pocket to all your friends and family members that are not married, once they say "Kung Hei Fat Choi" (Happy New Year) to you. A red pocket is a small red envelope in which they put a certain amount of money. (Usually between 10 and 100 Hong Kong dollar).

Red Pockets, lucky me!
For people that are not married (like me), this is a very good time of the year, as you are able to gather a reasonable amount of money. Make sure that you do not open the envelope in front of other people, and also you should put the envelopes under your pillow at least one night, to make a good fortune.

You can see that the Chinese new year is quite different from what we western people are used to. I never expected that these days, just in the middle of January, could be so special for a major part of the world's population! Next Chinese new year, when you walk in Chinatown or visit a Chinese restaurant somewhere, wish them happy new year. I'm sure they will appreciate very much!

Kung Hei Fat Choi! (Happy New Year!)
(In Cantonese)

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Transportation in China: Not for the faint-hearted

One thing I learned during my travels in China is that using any kind of transportation such as Car, Bus or even motorcycle is an unforgettable and sometimes even regrettable event. Every time I need to travel within China, I'm faced with the tough decision of how to get to my endpoint. Basically, there are 3 options: by airplane, train, or via the road.

Hong Kong, although busy,
is a safe place to drive. 
If you think that airplane would be the the most convenient, you are wrong. Most of the Chinese airports that I have been to, I got stuck in endless queues of fighting Chinese, who all were trying to get as close as possible to the check-in counter as they can by jumping the queue, not realizing that by converting the line of waiting people into a V-shape, we all are not going to get our tickets much faster.

And after finally managing to fight your way through the queue, you will have to face the same kind of event near the customs.

So.. usually I do not prefer taking domestic flights.

By train is quite convenient, especially the new high speed lines, if you don't take into account the recent accidents they faced. I've been travelling on the modern high speed trains that for example go to Guangzhou, but I also have travelled in the night trains that will get you to your destination when you are sleeping on one of the beds in the cabin that you share with about 5 other people. However, I noticed that in most trains, the travellers are very quiet at night. I managed to sleep perfectly during those kind of trips, without being disturbed by anyone. If you are less lucky, and booked a hard-seater train, you will have to get accustomed to the plastic chair, which can be quite uncomfortable.

Then the last option is by road, using a bus or car. As a non-resident I am not allowed to drive in China, so I have always been a non-driving passenger. Before I moved to Hong Kong, I drove about 40.000 KM per year for the last 10 years, so I call myself a reasonably experienced driver. I had my experiences in Europe, and I thought that I've seen it all. But that illusion was blown away already after my first 10 minutes as a car-passenger in Shenzhen.

It was in 2005 when I went to Shenzhen for the first time ever. We took the train from Hong Kong and exited in Lok Ma Chau, where a minibus driver was picking us up to go to the office. Me and my colleague went in the car, the driver went off, and within 2 minutes we were stuck in a traffic jam on the road that supposed to get us up to the highway.

Our driver, being "experienced" with this situation, didn't hesitate for a second. He waited patiently for a couple of seconds in the jam, before he said something in Chinese to us, turned his car, crossed the double line in the middle of the road, drove in the opposite direction on the other half of the road (while we saw cars coming at us flashing their front-lights), made a sharp turn, and drove straight up the what-should-be-the exit from the highway from the opposite side.

Then, at the end of the still what-should-be-an-exit-off-the-highway-and-not-an-entrance, after evading some cars with again flashing lights, he made a sharp turn, and drove the (now) correct direction. Our driver smiled at himself. He outsmarted everyone, and was clearly very content with his action. I looked at my colleague, and he looked at me. Probably I had the same pale face as he had.

Welcome to China!

This is not the only near-death experience I have had in China. The story above happens quite frequently. You see drivers turning left or right without looking over their shoulders, you see people make sudden reverses on the highway, and more frightening actions. I'm amazed however that I have seen very few bad accidents, which I believe comes from the fact that most of them don't drive really fast.

Besides the near death experiences, I've also had some other interesting moments:
  • I've seen a man on a bicycle, in the middle lane of a highway, transporting a small palm tree on the back of his bicycle. (Yes, I still regret I didn't take a picture).
  • I've seen (and heard) cars of ordinary people making police sounds or flashlights. Although this is strictly forbidden, some people install it so they can make their way thought the traffic jam.
  • I've seen, while waiting at the gas station, a car coming from the wrong direction on the highway, driving (in the wrong direction) up to the gas station, flashing their headlights to drivers that are waiting and yelling at them to move away.
  • I've seen cars that do not want to be flashed by the red-light police camera, driving through the red light, making fake left or right turns, and then halfway past the crossing, turn back straight and accelerate away straight ahead. Apparently the Chinese red-light camera has some "bugs" to be worked out...
But despite all the scary moments, I think you cannot really blame the Chinese driver. If you look at Shenzhen, there are millions of people that have their drivers license for less than 5 years. Combine the lack of experience with the (I heard mediocre) performance of the driving exam, then you understand why the roads are such a crazy place.

In the last 5 years I've been visiting China I do see some improvements though. The police is getting more aware of safe driving, and there are millions of speeding camera's installed nowadays. (Hopefully they solved that red-light "feature")

So I think that eventually even the road will be a safe place, even in China. But until then, I hope my guardian angel will be monitoring me on my roadtrips until then!

By the way:
Compared to China, Hong Kong is pretty safe to drive. Although it is very busy, the drivers have a more "european" style of driving.

Have a safe trip!