privacy (or lack thereof)

Fairly recently I moved into a new place in Gent. It’s a wonderful apartment kind of thing, shared with two friendly German girls. It’s got nice, old wooden floors, a well-functioning heater (damn it’s cold!) and four great, big, street-facing windows. Now don’t get me wrong, I like windows (the transparent things in the wall, not the operating system) as much as the next guy but what you generally take for granted is that there is something to cover them up with. Curtains.

Across the street from me are a bunch of houses, and the people that live in those houses have had front-row seats for the past three weeks or so watching the theater that is my life. They can see me sleep, eat and study. I’ve been changing my clothes behind the wardrobe door so as not to shock the neighbours with a full frontal.

Because I had some spare time today I figured I would do something about it. When I have the time for a trip to Ikea (or find where I put my old curtains) I’ll get some proper ones but this solution I rather like as well. And at just 40 eurocents it was really very economical.

One taketh a sheet of paper. Fold it as much as you like. Get a pair of scissors or a paper-cutting knife and have your wicked way with it. Just like in primary school. Whoever said that such skills do not come in useful?


revamped again

After a year and a half of faithfully serving me as a blog during my stay in China (and slightly before) this website has had its run. It’s returning to its original purpose of displaying some of my work. I’ve started my bachelor course in Sinology (study of China) last month and while it’s holding up for now, the money tap will sooner or later run dry (donations always welcome). I’m going to try and find some minor design jobs in the next few weeks and see if there is any demand for low-budget design in and around the university in the city of Gent. We’ll see if it works or not. Nothing ventured, nothing gained, right? Stay tuned.


like a bird

My brother and his girlfriend promised to take pictures of my father’s farm for my father’s birthday. Today was a good day so we finally got this done! Here are some of the pictures taken from the aircraft below.
Our little airplane.The rest of my family and some friends watching and waving on the ground.My father's farm from above. Quite big, isn't it?


the hills are alive

These pictures were all taken on a few days in the French and Italian Alps with my family and some of my family’s friends. It was a truly wonderful trip. There are only 3 on the front page, click the title of this post to see more pictures.
Panorama Read the rest of this entry »


the placebo non-effect

Sometimes I can do things that I find are incredibly stupid. This may be hard for you to believe, but yes, it’s true. One example is just the other week, when my phone’s clock was set an hour too late. I woke up and noticed that I only had 13 minutes to get to work, so I sent a message I had an emergency and would be an hour late. I turned around for another half an hour and kept sleeping. After that I went through my morning ritual as usual and left for school. On the way I met one of the children in my class. ‘Hah, she’s also late.’ I thought. Then I met another but no alarm bells started ringing yet. When I turned the corner and saw all the teachers standing outside greeting the children I realised my folly. I had set my clock to the wrong time (it loses the time when the battery runs dead) the night before. Stupid? Quite.

In a similar fashion the last few weeks have been quite difficult on me. It has truely become summer and temperatures have soared to sometimes already 32 degrees Celsius. Hot weather like that can really drain all the energy out of someone. I’ve tried all kinds of home remedies that people were recommending. ‘Drink hot tea’, one said. ‘Eat spicy food’, was another. The one that came closest to working was: ‘Eat ice-cream until you get a brainfreeze.’ That last one is nice because it has the added bonus of eating ice-cream. None of them worked well enough though and my fatigue dragged on. I thought it was just going to be something I would have to deal with until the holidays.

But it was getting worse it seemed. I was walking around half-dazed, like a zombie on the look-out for some nice brains to eat. The fatigue turned into almost daily headaches for which I had almost no explanation.

But last night the epiphany came.

I was desperately trying to make some coffee to regain some energy to do something instead of just being a couch patato all evening. It was then when I looked at the coffee I have been buying for the last few weeks and looked my horrible mistake right in its gruesome face. There, in French, it was. ‘Decafeiné’. No caffeine! I couldn’t believe it at first but started to realize that it would explain a lot. I was suprised I didn’t taste it.

This morning I got up and the first thing I did was grind up some coffee beans of another coffee I had lying around. The transformation was instantaneous. As I felt my caffeine-reservoir refilling and the dial turned slowly towards ‘full’ I felt a cloudyness of mind disappearing and my strenght returning as if drinking a magical elixir.

So with this rather personal, biased, and unscientific piece of research I can with certainty say that there is no placebo effect. It’s all big bull. All this time I believed I was drinking real coffee yet it failed to provide me with any benefits. Myth busted.

The proof? The first time I’ve felt energised enough to write anything in almost a month. Sorry.


noodles, the making of

As I sit here typing this I can’t help but wonder if I’ve just made a foolish mistake. This night I felt a little headache coming on and I’ve had a couple over the last few weeks and I didn’t want another. So I went downstairs to a little place to have a massage. The last one was quite long ago, so I had forgotten what it was like. If I had remembered, you see, I might rather have had the headache after all. My headache seems to be gone, but that is quite possibly because it is just drowned out by all the the other pain. I wonder what it will be like in the morning.

The other day during a little of close-to-home exploring me and my boyfriend stumbled upon an open-air food market. It was a market with business as usual. Chickens being beheaded on one side, watermelons being sold on the other, and inside a shop people getting their hair cut. People fixing clothes, making fresh dumplings from scratch and all other kinds of activities. It’s always fascinating to see how skilled these people are in their work and how quickly they can sometimes do or make something.

While looking into various little stores we peeked inside one and it was curiously white and bright. At first glance it looked like a place where they were making curtains. But upon closer inspection it turned out they were all noodles hanging out to dry. All I could think was that I really wanted to take some pictures, but I didn’t have a camera with me. We asked when they would actually make the noodles. Ten o’clock at night was what they said. So a few hours later we came back bearing a tripod and my camera and starting shooting. They seemed oddly uninterested. Most Chinese would be calling the whole neighbourhood if they had a white guy taking pictures in their shop

I’ll try and describe the process as best as I saw it. They just had a big, big supply of the dough mixture which they scooped into the first machine. This machine turned it into sheets which actually looked more like paper than noodles at that point. It rolled it up into a nice wheel-shape, which was they moved to the next machine. This one cut the noodles into the shapes they wanted. When they were long enough they picked them up on a stick and cut them off from the sheet without ever stopping the machine. After just the 20 or so minutes we were there they had already created more noodles than I could eat in a lifetime. Here are some of the pictures.

Flour, flour.Paper?Making dough-sheets.Sticks and noodles.


‘tis the season

Outside the sun is shining its warm rays in vain. Nobody and nothing but the mango and lychee trees seem to enjoy them nowadays. When the long day is finally done people come home and curl up on the bearskin rug in front of the airconditioning, sipping their hot tea or chocolate to keep warm, and basking in the cold affection of their most wasteful appliance. It is a love that one misses as soon as one steps out the door and the humid summer air gives you a mean bitchslap in the face. People make themselves comfortable inside on the bright days of summer. They wait until that fiery globe finally sinks below the horizon before they venture outside.

Perhaps you will think me crazy. It’s nice and warm outside so why would you choose to stay inside, right? Well, warmth is nice when you are on a holiday, but while working, trying to sleep and just doing the day to day things it becomes uncomfortable. It saps you of energy like nothing else and will make you unbearably tired even before noon. During the week, it is the enemy. But in the weekends, when trips to the swimming pool or beach are options it is a luxury to have a climate like this.

It also applies to blog posts. You start to write something and you’re very happy with the first paragraph, but then the drowsiness and sleepyness takes over and it goes downhill faster than, uh… See! Now I can’t even finish that and it could have been really funny.

Another thing that I have been doing a lot recently is listening to Chinese music and radio. There are a lot of lovely songs on it in my opinion (although on some level all rather similar in genre and style, but perhaps because the music-scene here is rather young and generally people are not that diverse in musical tastes). Anyway, here is one of my favourites at the moment (it may take you a long time to buffer).


green, green world

We had a school outing to ‘green, green world’ last week on Saturday. The weather was divine and everyone seemed to really enjoy it. And on top of that I managed to get paid for it! In Chinese it’s called Qing Qing Shi Jie which roughly translates as ‘Everything Green’ world. They had fake rainforests – with actual rain from sprinklers in the trees, and also with fog machines – tacky and wastful but kind of fun. And there were tropical fish and a butterfly garden. There was also this vegetable patch where I went with the kids and told them not to take anything, but later they showed me pockets full of tomatoes. Some of which were squashed, yum.

Anyway, click HERE for some pictures.
Read the rest of this entry »


attempted swimming

Summer is coming and it’s noticable. Butterflies everywhere, tiny mangos and lychees appearing on the trees in the street and rays of sunlight that sometimes make you feel like aliens are firing laser beams from the sky. But strong, spring wind makes it quite agreeable for now.

Faced with these increasing temperatures I thought it might be nice to go swimming. So we went to the top of Eros’ building in Guangzhou (to the 30th floor) and looked around his neighbourhood to see if there was a swimming pool anywhere. We spotted a big one not too far away and decided that was the one we would go explore. So we grab our things and see if we can get there.

After some asking around we find the place, but it turned out that it was a military/police base and everyone was walking around in uniform. ‘They’re never going to let me in here’, I thought. We walk up to the entrance and a guard asks what we’re there for. Swimming, of course. And just like that he lets us in. The changing rooms looked absolutely disgusting on the inside, with mold practically everywhere. I at least got some practise holding my breath before we even started swimming. The pool itself looked quite alright though (and water checks here are actually very frequent and thorough).

We buy a ticket and after some hassle with a locker key we change our clothes and head towards the pool. Just as we’re about to dive into the outdoor pool someone tells us we need to put on a ‘maozi’, or hat. So we buy one of those icky condom-like things for your head and think ‘finally, good to go!’. Then someone comes up to me and says ‘You need to change into your swimclothes’. I inform him these are my swimclothes and we tell him that it’s not quite in the European fashion anymore to show your bikini line. For men, that is. I saw him check me over once more and he was probably thinking whether he should tell me to get a whole body suit to cover up all my leg, chest and arm hair as well?

And after one man telling me that it’s not allowed for a foreigner to swim here and Eros telling him off (got to love that) I finally jump in the water.

It was absolutely bloody freezing.


would rather be an asparagus

Kite flying, an important part of Chinese culture.
The clouds were drifting lazily through the sky as a gentle yet firm wind nudged them along their way on the deliciously clear day. Occasionally the sun cast its rays, forming pools of bright shining light amongst the trees. People flocked to the park to enjoy the heavenly combination of sun and wind. Where there is wind, there are kites. Where there is sun, there are flowers. Please enjoy these pictures from this wonderful day.
This plant decided it would rather be a big asparagus.A single kite.
Click here or on the post title to see more pictures. Read the rest of this entry »



Time for work! I pick up my bag for school, grab my umbrella – they’ve been saying for days it will rain – and make sure I have my keys. I open my door, walk to the elevator and push the button. So far so good, I’m thinking. Then, the elevator arrives and the doors open and things take a turn for the worse.

Inside is a man, eating an apple.

Now, in most circumstances this would not immediately cause sympathy. But, it’s an older man. He takes a bite from his apple. Then, with a volume that would make the jet-engines on a Boeing 747 green with envy, he starts to chew.

Chomp, chomp, chomp. Crunch, crunch, crunch. Mnam, nom, nom. It would be considerably more pleasant to take a knitting needle at this point and put them right through my eardrums. But unfortunately I don’t carry knitting needles around on a regular basis. For a full seven floors it lasts until I virtually rip the door open and run until I don’t hear it anymore. Thankfully, I don’t meet this apple-eating-elevator-man often, or I would have to start taking the stairs.

And the worst part of it is, apple-eating-elevator-man is not even aware of the torment he is putting me through. Even if I did feel it is within my right to speak to this person and ask him to stop he probably would not even understand why. But fortunately not everyone is like this nowadays. The children in my kindergarten are not allowed to spit anywhere and have to chew with their mouth closed. Also, they’re not allowed to talk with their mouth full. And I have to keep an eye on this also. I’d never expected to turn into my mother quite so suddenly though.

But I try to do my part to educate the adults here also. Not in English but in manners. Today I let a woman in the supermarket go in front of me at the cash register and she looked so utterly grateful that it made me feel like a veritable mother Theresa. I hold elevators and doors for other people although that favour is never returned. But who knows. It ten years there might be a statue of me that says: ‘Paul Franken, the man that taught the Chinese manners’.

(I’m terribly sorry if this story doesn’t make much sense. It’s possible I’ve enjoyed this red wine too much.)


patience is a virtue

Due to a mounting workload and more things going on than I can wrap my head around it has been a teensy bit silent. My webhosting service had also twice banned me from my own damn website, allegedly thinking I was a Chinese cyber-criminal or something. Now that I can use a Virtual Private Network I can access it again (and it is remarkably faster as well).

That said, after nearly eleven months in China things are starting to get a little more routine-like and as I have said before things that once absolutely shocked, fascinated or appaled you now are just part of the day. A few things are still a bit odd though. Parents here enjoy using their children as improvised water-pistols when they need to pee. They just hoist them up in the air, pull down their pants and aim them at the nearest bush. Remind me never to get into a water fight here. It is an absolutely atrocious habit and it has left me with a phobia of unexplained puddles of water.

Last weekend was sort of interesting as well. Me and the mister were walking around in Guangzhou’s pearl river area on Saturday evening enjoying the lovely spring weather and the waterside when in the distance we saw a bar. It looked nice and close enough so we decided to walk to it. After zig-zagging, criss-crossing and tally-wagging through streets, over bridges and under underpasses we suddenly find ourselves in an absolutely huge fish-market in the middle of the city. It smelled surprisingly clean, actually. They were selling everything from turtles – which was to my absolute dismay, I wanted to buy them and set them all free – to things such as crocodiles, crabs, crustaceans and lobsters. I just always love how something like a fish market can almost jump out and surprise you in the middle of a city here.

I must admit that this is all I have for now. It is nearing bedtime and there are things to be done still. Soon I shall have a bit more for you, as I want to do like a review of the last year in China soon. Also, the anniversary of this ‘blog’ has come and gone already. It was started a bit over a year ago in February 2009. If you’ve got nothing to do, and I mean absolutely, absolutely nothing, have a look back at some of the things I’ve written in the past.



Socks. They are to me the most mysterious and enigmatic article of clothing one puts on each morning. Are they underdogs or do socks say more about a person’s personality than you would think? They protect your feet from sweat, painful blisters and dirt. There are some downsides to socks as well; uncomfortable when wet, stretched beyond recognition, and above all they are a source of embarrassment. To some.

Human beings are obsessed with symmetry. If we chop something in half and it’s identical – yet mirrored – on both sides we revel in its beauty. Look around you right now and try to find a dozen things that are not symmetrical when viewed from a certain angle. It’s not as easy as you would think.

But let’s face it. Symmetry is boring. You’ve seen one side of something and you already know it’s just going to be more of the same on the other side. Of course it’s useful for things that deal with gravity on a daily basis – which I suppose is everything. I guess if your head was four times bigger on the right than on the left that it could create some issues. Or if your wine glass were round on the left and square on the right that could create potential problems – but how cool would it look?

But tell me this. Why oh why does the sock on your right foot need to match the one on your left foot? It has absolutely no practical use, whereas two different shoes would mess with your balance and cause you to grow crooked – or in my case, even more crooked.

I grew up wearing two different socks. My mom said: ‘If you can’t be bothered to put them in the laundry together I can’t be bothered to put them back together either.‘ My sisters’ socks, my brother’s socks and my socks all just got mashed together into one big sock basket. And when you finished frantically looking for two identical socks you still had to frantically look for where you took your shoes off the other day. I still don’t keep my socks together (nor remember where I took my shoes off, and my apartment has just three rooms).

People laugh when they see my socks. They think it was an accident and that I hadn’t realised it until they pointed it out. Then I just – utterly unphased by their comment – say: ‘Yes, I know’. And then you get that look on their face that is just absolutely priceless. You can just see their brain saying to them: ‘critical error’.

Today I have on one pink sock with rainbow-coloured edges that comes up to my ankles and a black one with a big green edge of the same length. Symmetry is dead.


have a wonderful 2010

To everyone and anyone that would happen to stumble in here and read this: have yourself a wonderful, delicious, delightful, healthy and above all happy two thousand and ten. Welcome to the new decade! Make yourself at home. Please show your passport, empty your pockets and put your belongings in the tray, then proceed through the metal detector into the new decade.


the art of dancing

Lately there’s a thing I’ve been doing more and more. It’s not something I particularly enjoy while being watched by others but in the privacy of my own home (or the privacy of that of others) I let loose every now and then. In that case there’s no particular plan to it, just let limbs fly left and right, throw in the odd jump and kick, twirl and spin, dive and duck and such things.

That is, of course, the “art” of dancing. I’m the one that will be doing all the dance moves upside-down and inside-out. When everyone is moving left you can bet money on me doing my dance routine to the right.

In a kindergarten you do a lot of dancing. You dance as you tell the children nice to see you and things like that. Obviously you dance when you teach them a new song. But even teaching certain words or chants needs dancing. Teaching children is all about moving arms and legs, hips and bottoms and heads and shoulders. It’s not without its dangers – note: dancing can lead to serious injury and death, consult a doctor before engaging in any dance-like activities. Dancing should not be attempted without the supervision of an adult and only in a controlled, rubber-coated, fluffy environment – the most common of which is children getting tangled into a big ball of arms and legs or one poking the other in the eye while doing the Macarena. After a good dance there’s always someone left crying.

But ah yes, the Macarena. For the past two weeks I believe I have been doing the Macarene every day about three times. Today was the absolute highlight with a total of about six times. For children it’s great fun and for adults for about the first ten times is fun as well. But somehow seeing smiling faces and finger-to-eye interaction loses its appeal after #30.

Oh and yeah. I’m back baby.


i know, i know

Yes, yes. Even though nobody mentions it I know what you’re all thinking – I can read minds, yes. I’m actually writing a few different things but none of it is finished yet. And then I start on a new one and so nothing is ever really done to post. I just hope you can be patient a little longer. It’ll be ready when it’s ready.


so cute you just wanna eat ‘em up

But I think the parents would not agree with cannibalism very much so need to exercise some restraint there. Of course it’s just a figure of speech, and besides, they’ve got too many poly-saturated fats in them. Anyway, the other day I took my camera down during the PE class and snapped some pictures of one of my classes.
Aren’t they just adorable? And if you thought that’s all the pictures you’re getting you’re wrong. Just click on the title to see more. And don’t say I never post any pictures!
Read the rest of this entry »



The other day I figured it might be nice to ring up my brother via Skype and ask if I was an uncle yet. So, after starting up the computer, plugging in the headphones and firing up Skype I just couldn’t figure out why the call button was greyed out. I had enough money on my Skype account and everything seemed to be in working order.

Then, as it has multiple times over the last few days, it struck me again. I have no Internet.

It hasn’t been all that long since I moved into my new apartment and if I want an Internet connection I have to pay for the full year in advance. Which is rather cheap admittedly, but I’ll wait for next months paycheck regardless. Buying dozens of pots and pans, odds and ends, gizmos and whatchamecallems doesn’t come all that cheap.

But this new disconnectedness has made me see being connected in a new – somewhat more negative – light. Because for all the fantastic benefits the Internet brings – live updates, bookings, wikipedia, Google, translation, networking, e-mail, movies, music – there is a price. And that price is time. Being online is something I would almost compare to a drug (not that I have any experience I hasten to add).

Every now and then it has you wondering: do I have new e-mail? (3 minutes) Is there something new on the BBC website? (5 minutes) Is that new movie out yet? (4 minutes) Oh, I like that song I’ll give that a download. (5 minutes) Ah, there’s someone talking to me on MSN. (10 minutes) Facebook has already been lost for quite a while so that already dropped from my routine. But still, add this up and you’re just short of 30 minutes. Do that twice a day and there goes a good chunk of your free time. Without really realising it I think it is (hopefully was) some sort of addiction for me.

But I’ll also admit it’s not easy to fill up the free time once it’s back. There’s no video stores in China (not to mention I don’t have a TV) because the whole video market here didn’t exist until Internet already existed so it’s all digital here, no thick newspapers with 60 odd pages (10 at most in English) and no English bookstores nearby.

So what do you do? Explore the neighbourhood, go shopping, cook food, picture-read magazines (Chinese National Geographic), eat sushi, go throw a frisbee in the park with Linda and buy a gun that blows bubbles and take pictures of it and in the same park with the same person buy a Chinese balloon and try to get it airborne only to have a security guard come and rip the thing to pieces without saying a single thing as to why (and the 2009 longest sentence award goes to…), write your diary, clean house, socialize, sleep early, study some Chinese, listen to music (and radio podcasts, love those things), Photoshop some pictures you want to develop and much, much more. It’s incredible the time that you’ve really got.

But I want my Internet back now.

Anyway, hopefully I’ll actually be able to upload this somewhere.


welcome to hellbank how may we help you

A few days ago was the Moon Cake Festival. Now, I must honestly admit that I still don’t know the details of it. To me it looked kind of like Christmas and New Year getting together and having babies. It’s got the family togetherness of Christmas and the strange concert/talking shows of New Year’s Eve.

On this so-called Moon Cake Festival day you get together with family and eat moon cakes. It’s always on a day with a full moon and all through the evening you can see the moon on TV (for those that cannot be bothered to open the window and curtain or when you have some pesky clouds in the way).

How to describe the taste of a moon cake. First of all, it looks gorgeous. All dolled up with elaborate decoration and beautiful colour. You think to yourself ‘oh, man, this thing is going to taste GOOD!’. Unfortunately, as the moon cake nears your facial orifices your opinion quickly changes. The smell is reminiscent of peanut butter mixed with a hint of rice. It’s filled with lotus seed paste which tastes like eating, hmm, butter. Also, the whole thing has the consistency of cement. And just as you think eating this moon cake you’ve been offered out of politeness cannot get any worse you hit the jackpot. A semi-hardboiled egg yolk.

Now I suppose I sound all negative so let’s go to a more positive note. The day itself is quite nice and the television shows in the evening kind of put you in mind of the Eurovision Song Contest. Me, Linda and Linda’s friend Sunny visited the market near Linda’s house and bought some ingredients to make some food for that evening (note: cannot make apple crumble without oven). They have all kinds of things here. From watermelon to chicken heads/legs/guts/livers/hearts/necks to shoes. And that’s just in one shop!

Between meat, vegetables, fruits and USO’s (Unidentified Smelly Objects) I found something else too. I read about it in the Lonely Planet but hadn’t actually seen it yet. Ghost money. It’s cheaply printed paper which is currency for your ancestors. Instead of going to Western Union you just set it on fire, how convenient is that? It’s issued by what is called the Hell Bank in notes of 50.000.000. Looks to me like this currency is pegged to the Zimbabwean dollar because for only 35 cents I bought two stacks of it. I thought of burning some of it for my own ancestors but realized that the exchange rate is probably awful. I’d have my ancestors coming to complain if I couldn’t have burned a blank cheque or a credit card instead. I wonder if they accept Mastercard where they’re at.



I‘ve just been having a heck of a time figuring out how to put something on the Chinese version of Youtube; Youku. I’d never tried it before and it actually turned out to be much harder than I thought. I certainly hope the result is going to be worth it.

While it’s finishing the upload process (or at least that’s what I think it’s doing) I’ll give you the history.

Last week was an 8 day holiday for Moon Cake festival and Mid-Autumn Day (though with 30 degrees it doesn’t feel like autumn is here just yet) and me and Linda went house hunting. On the first day we looked at about six apartments close to my work in a nice area. The first one we saw was quite nice but you can’t go and take the first one without looking at some more for comparison. However, I never really found the win-win situation. Either it had a really nice view and balcony but a crappy inside (one was so bad it didn’t even have a kitchen, the house I lived in as a student looked better than that one) or inside was quite nice but outside was so-so. In the end though I realized I wasn’t gonna have it all anyway so we went back to number one and got all the details worked out.

The nice thing was that it wasn’t furnished yet and the landlord said he needed to buy everything new. So we negotiated going to IKEA (yes, it’s even here and thank god for it, Chinese furniture is either tacky, expensive, ugly or crappy) together. I got pretty much all the things I wanted and liked so I am definitely not complaining.

Anyway, I’m afraid I can’t stick around any longer because during this almost two-hour adventure I’ve run out of battery.

Oh, and I forgot to mention my house doesn’t have internet yet so I can’t check back here. At least not soon. Maybe at school tomorrow. I hope it works, enjoy!