Friday, July 30, 2010

Being A Bicultural Baby

Is it true that people can only have one child in China?

I think so, yes.

What happens if your family has more than one child?

I've heard that you have to pay a fine.

How much is the fine?

Er...I don't know. It can't be cheap, I'd imagine, if it's supposed to be effective.

So how much is that?

I really have no idea...I grew up in Canada, you know.

Oh...okay. But really, how much is the fine?

I've had many conversations like this, living in Europe, first as an exchange student and now as an intern. Being a bicultural kid is a big job, because not only do you have to represent the country you came from and grew up in when you're abroad, but you also have to represent your "original" culture.

Whenever people ask me where I'm from, "Canada" doesn't seem to be a satisfactory answer because I'm not Caucasian - but really, if they're going to assume anything, shouldn't they assume that all Canadians should look like Natives, who were here before any of us?

"No, REALLY, where are you from?" they press on. Many people have trouble wrapping their minds around the fact that Canadians (and Americans, as well as many Australians, for example) come in many colours.

I never know what to do or say when I get asked about Chinese government policies and foreign policies. I can go on about culture and food and even maybe a bit on history, but I'm totally clueless about how it's like to live there.

So now that I have Chinese-from-China classmates in my Spanish course, I decided to do some investigating and to find out the answers to those questions myself.

My classmate Gu told me today that apparently the tax for having a second child in China is a one-time lump sum equivalent to about 100,000€. A third sets a family back about 150,000€, and prices escalate for each subsequent child, so usually only very rich businesspeople have multiple children. If a civil servant has more than one child, their employment is automatically terminated. But being a civil servant is a sweet deal in China because you make a really good living, you have tons (as in TOOONS) of benefits and privileges the plebs don' people deal with it.

Someone else told me that the rule only applies to Han Chinese people who live in urban areas - so many people will hide their kids with relatives who live in rural regions. And then maybe emigrate.

Speaking of which, Chinese-from-China/Hong Kong/Macau/Taiwan people see us bicultural babies as totally different and separate entities from themselves as well, so I kind of feel like we're in a category of our own.

I have another classmate from China who was utterly fascinated to learn that I grew up in Canada.

"You speak English?" he asked me in his most American accent and I explained to him that, yes, because I grew up in Toronto.

He seemed absolutely delighted at the sound of me speaking my strongest language, told me he loved my accent, and from then on has since spoken to me in as much English as he could in order to get me to answer in kind. It seemed to rock his world that a Chinese person could speak another language more intuitively than they speak Chinese.

So they're kind of like a variation of Yellow Fever Creepers, except for some reason I find them less offensive...I wonder why?

Thursday, July 22, 2010

My Dose of Culture

Finding things to do on a Sunday in Spain (and in France, too, for that matter) is a bit of a challenge because the world pretty much shuts down on Sundays - except for really, really touristy places. Originally I'd wanted to have a picnic in the Retiro (Central Park if Madrid were Manhattan) but it's just too unbearably hot now - what's a girl to do?

Go the El Rastro outdoor fleamarket, of course! From about 9-10am to 3pm-ish, the La Latina area of Madrid is bustling with hundreds(?) of street vendors and shoppers. The fleamarket just goes on and on, and you can find almost everything there, except food - clothes, shoes, accessories, fans, knick-knacks, used books, even electronics and small appliances! I went a little late because I was too busy packing, but I was able to stroll around for a good 40 minutes, which was nice.

The sun was beating down on me mercilessly and I could feel the tops of my feet burning to a crisp, but a lot of the vendors had fabrics draped across their booths to provide some shade. I saw a lot of affordable, colourful, boho-chic clothes that I´d love to buy, but apparently, you need to know how to bargain or you´ll get ripped off. I can´t bargain to save my life because haggling just makes me super uncomfortable, so I didn´t end up buying anything.

Also, you have to be wary of pickpockets! El Rastro is one of their favourite hunting grounds, so I kept my purse tucked tightly under my arm at all times.

The Rastro kind of reminded me of the outdoor market I went to in Holland - the very large, touristy one that I can´t remember the name of now - except the one in Holland had a lot of food in, so I like it a bit better. :P The atmosphere was somehow lively but tranquil at the same time. Families were just out, walking around, enjoying each other and keeping an eye out for possible things to bring home. After strolling through the market, many of them ended up in the cafés and bars nearby for a tapas break.

After that, I did the only other available Sunday activity in Madrid - I went to the Prado museum for free. Entrance to the Prado and Reina Sofía museums are free after about 5pm on Sundays, so my friend Charlotte and I decided to go ahead and cross the cultural thing off our lists of things to do.

The line wound around one side of the huge building, but most of it was under shade, fortunately. And when the line finally started moving, it moved pretty quickly, so we didn´t have to wait very long at all.

And being inside the museum itself was heaven, because it was so cool. I kind of wanted to just forget about the art and curl up on one of the benches on the lower level. So the two of us (who are clueless about art) sauntered around with the little brochure in our hands and looked at all the masterpieces. ("Ooh, that´s pretty. Let´s go see that one." "Wow, there are so many paintings of Jesus and people dying in here." "Using breast milk to put out fire? What the what???") I saw Las Meninas, The Garden of Earthly Delights, both the clothed and naked Majas, and Satan Devouring His Child again.

After about two hours, itis hit us really bad because we´d just had a big Galician lunch, so we went outside and did what the locals did - we laid down on the grass under the shade of a tree and just relaxed.

When we felt refreshed (and when the worst of the day´s heat subsided), we walked over to Atocha station to admire the indoor palm garden and turtle pond. The garden was gorgeous, but it was very hot and humid in there, so we didn´t stay very long. The turtles, however, were adroable and there were many of them. It brought back memories of my second trip to Spain when I was 18 years old and travelling with my school!

And that, friends, is how you enjoy a Sunday in Madrid. ;)

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

I Have A Boo-Boo :(

During the first week of work, one of my co-workers, with whom I´d already engaged in a few sessions of juicy girltalk, took me on a tour of the office to introduce me to everyone. When I was upstairs in a department I can´t remember the name of anymore, she introduced me to an affable fellow with kind eyes:

"Cristina, this is J*****."

"Encantado, Cristi," J***** said as he leaned in to give me dos besos, "If you have trouble understanding me, it´s because I´m from Granada."

My co-worker jumped right in and told him I´d have no problems understanding him at all, because I had a...friend...who was from Andalucía, too.

"Well then, she knows how we speak!" J***** said good-naturedly.

Of course I´m familiar with that accent. J***** was dropping and swallowing letters in practically every word, just like I remember, albeit from a different voice.

Today, I was bringing a heavy stack of mailing from the third floor to the second, like I always do. The stairwell is very dimly lit, so while I waited for my foot to meet the landing of the second floor, I suddenly found myself falling on my left foot, leg and thigh, with a huge thud, while the envelopes all landed neatly in my lap.

J*****, who was on the landing above, quickly ran down to see if I was okay, supporting my elbow even though I was already up and walking steadily again, hovering over the right side of me, asking if I was alright, asking if I needed help with the envelopes, asking if I was hurt, and on and on and on in that southern accent of his.

I tried as graciously as I could to decline his help because I just couldn´t handle hearing a male voice with that accent fawning over me, trying to rescue me. It hurt too much, and I´m pissed off that it still hurts so much later.

Monday, July 19, 2010

My First Real Meal in Spain

Hi, guys!

A lot of you have been after me to update you on my situation - thank you SO much for all the love and concern! :) Sorry about being so slack - I work pretty long hours (for an intern) and I'm tempted pretty much every day to explore the city after work, so I don't get home until late, at which time I just feel too lazy to write.

But I'm back. And I'm doing great! I´ve found myself a new apartment that´s within budget, within walking distance of my office, right by a gorgeous supermarket, cleaned weekly, and literally steps away from the nearest subway entrance.

My landlady was livid, because apparently, I'm the second or third girl to be driven out by my current roommates and here I am, giving my notice just after a week. But because my landlady was so kind to let me stay 8 nights for free in June, I decided to try to be a good person and do her the courtesy of staying for July. It's not easy, but it's only two weeks until freedom! I only get half my deposit back but I'm just cutting my losses.

But enough of that - can we talk about how well I'm eating instead? Because Spanish food is just phenomenally delicious, and the best part is that it's actually affordable, even to people on budgets as tight as mine - unlike when I was living in Nice, when all I could afford were croissants and McDonalds!

So my very first morning here, I decided that I needed to treat myself to ease the trauma of the previous night. I went to the heart of the city in a fairly touristy area and just walked around, looking for menú del días.

A menú del día is a set menu that restaurants provide - they're required by law to do so - that contains usually about two courses and a drink/bread/dessert at a reasonable price. In Madrid, you can find these set menus at prices as low as 6.75 €, but the ones I've had were about 10 € or just under.

I came across this restaurant called Lizarran, which was on my list of restaurants to try in Madrid. It had a 9.90 € menú del día and one of the choices for the first course was pinchos (which took the form of a slice of bread with yummy stuff on top of it at this restaurant), so I decided to go for it!

I was kind of nervous about speaking Spanish, but I steeled myself and walked up to the gentleman behind the bar. He was a very kind, dapper, diminutive man who spoke English beautifully (he could tell I´m a foreigner) - well, except he kept "ma'aming" me, but then again, it'd be unreasonable to demand that someone understand all the nuances of a language I've been speaking much longer!

I went to have lunch at a very unSpanish 1pm, so I was absolutely doted on by the server. I chose the 4 assorted pinchos for my first course and the baked cod (bacalao) for my second choice.

The server told me to go up to the bar to help myself, where there were trays and trays of picture-perfect pinchos sitting in a long, glass case waiting for me. I promptly chose the ones that had a bunch of cured meats and smoked fish beautifully arranged on them and brought them back to my table with relish. Meanwhile, the server already brought my Fanta (my vice in Spain!), thin, crusty bread and olive oil/balsamic vinegar.

To be honest, I didn´t really know what was in my pinchos but they looked so beautiful I decided to just eat first and think later. They were DELICIOUS! The bread was soft and crusty, the toppings were super savoury - it was a massive flavour party in my mouth. I think there was morcilla (blood sausage) on one of my pinchos, and it´s quite delicious if you manage to not think of the fact that you´re eating blood.

After a while, my baked cod came. There were all these eraser-crumb-like squiggles on top of them, which were also on one of my pinchos, and I had no idea what they were. They tasted kind of like Chinese fish balls to me - there was definitely some kind of fish in it. So I asked my server what it was and he looked worried, like he thought I´d freak out.

He carefully told me, "They're baby eels..." But of course, I wasn't fazed, because I'm Chinese and we eat pretty much everything. The only things I won't eat are rabbit (I was born in the year of the rabbit so it feels like cannibalism to me), lamb (can't stand the flavour), genitals (which they serve here in Spain as well as in Chinese cuisine!) and baluts (EWWW and so cruel!!!).

After my meal I was so full I couldn´t even spare any room for dessert or coffee, which apparently was included; I wasn´t sure if the server was being nice to me by giving me all these things, because unless I understood the menu wrong, I was supposed to choose between bread, dessert and coffee, not get all three.

For 9.90 € it was a great deal AND it was absolutely scrumptious. The service was lovely and there were lots of locals eating there despite the fact that it was in a touristy part of town, so I felt like I had a really nice little slice of Spanish culture that day.

I´d highly recommend this restaurant - I went to the location at:
Calle de Preciados, 33
28013 Madrid, España
917 010 812

¡Que les aproveche!

Monday, July 5, 2010

Proud in Madrid!

Everytime I hear the Vengaboys' Boom Boom, I'm going to think of dancing my legs off at Madrid Orgullo 2010 in Plaza de España!

Orgullo (Pride) isn't just a weekend here in Madrid, but a week and a half of nightly events and parties that culiminate in a multi-multi-MULTI-block party and concert with guests from all over the world.

I arrived in Madrid amidst all the festivities but didn't begin to attend until the second last night, unfortunately, because I was still settling down. But what I did get to participate in was incredible!

Last Friday night, I happened to be in Chueca, Madrid's trendy gay district, at about 9pm. There was a Lady Gaga talent show type of event, and the Plaza Chueca (the square in which the Chueca Metro Station is nestled) was full of people. The atmosphere was positively exuberant and boisterous, and there were people from all walks of life there - gay, straight, bi, pan, every age and race you can think of - all having a good time together.

When the talent show ended, the DJ started spinning the best music ever and all of a sudden, the entire square began to dance. People had one hand on a giant sangria/mojito and another on a cigarette (only downer), and strangers were just all busting moves, singing along to the lyrics to each other, and dancing like there'd be no tomorrow. I didn't want to leave!

Then the next day, I met up with some co-workers to go see the famous parade. I was hoping all week that the weather reports were wrong, that there wouldn't be a storm, and very fortunately, the heavens rained themselves out on Friday so that we had gorgeous (albeit sweltering hot) weather on Saturday.

At first our spots weren't very good so we couldn't see much, but then we managed to insinuate ourselves closer and closer to the parade until we got fairly good views. I'd never been squished against so many muscles before. :P

There were bears, leatherboys, queens wearing shoes I’d kill myself in, fairies, angels, demons, gladiators, Renaissance ladies, construction workers, naughty nuns - even Avatars!

The parade was very political - there were a lot of signs with political messages (mostly about anti-religion, pro-protection, pro-equality) being waved around. And for a country that is so Catholic, well, this kind of event was really progressive. I realized that I was watching a revolution before my very eyes, something that many people had been fighting for for a very a long time, towards goals that will take a while to achieve - but things are indeed moving along, bit by bit.

The parade consisted of people from various GLBT rights groups and organizations. Many of them had their own double-decker bus, all decked out in gay magic and beautiful people. Condoms were thrown out to the audience in addition to promotional leaflets and fan-shaped papers to help people beat the heat. There were also a lot of people walking around trying to sell souvenirs and cold drinks at a fraction of the cost of the nearby stands.

The music was pumping, and so were many pelvises, and people would dance to the music that buses were playing as they drove by.

After a while, when the parade began to slow down, my hungry/thirsty friends and I decided to go to Chueca to grab a bite and to see what else was going on. On our way there, one of the girls suggested going to El Tigre, a very popular watering hole famous for their free tapas. It was on my list of places to try, so I was very excited!

And indeed, the food was amazing – will write about that in more detail later. 6 € each later, we were all stuffed and very satisfied. It was also at El Tigre that I overheard two boys speaking English, deciding on what to order. I asked them where they were from, and just like that, we found new party buddies to hang out with for the rest of the night.

We all talked and ate, and we decided to go back to the parade, which was headed for the Plaza de España, where the Kylie Minogue concert was to be. We navigated the crazy crowds with our new friends, and all of a sudden, somehow, we found ourselves in the middle of the parade! We danced all the way down the Gran Via behind a bus with two naked ladies on it. No doubt the onlookers must have been wondering who the hell we were, these normally-dressed people between the buses.

The parade itself was a great vantage point to see the festivities and to see the city in all its glory – I was utterly charmed when, at one point, my Madrileña friend gestured at the enormous crowds everywhere and said, “Welcome to Spain!”

All this was happening at the same time as the big Spain vs. Paraguay FIFA World Cup quarter finals match; when Spain scored a goal and eventually won the match, the whole city went crazy!!! People jumped around, hugged each other, screamed, blew out their vuvuzelas...and drank and danced some more!

Finally, we got shooed out by the police, and we found ourselves back in the audience. There were beautifully tempting smells of roast meat in the air, because there were street vendors selling roast meat sandwiches! I was very tempted to get one, but didn’t have room after our tapa feast.

After a very, very long pee-break, we headed towards the stage and got as close as we could. It was so packed I had to tilt my head back and go on tiptoe for fresh air – and even that was hit-or-miss, because there were a ton of smokers.

We waited a good 40 minutes before Kylie showed up (lots of artists opened for her, including the Vengaboys), and the crowd went crazy! I kept looking around to see that there were people as far as they eye could see, in every direction. Tokyo’s like that on regular days, but the streets in Madrid are about four to five times wider.

Right before the last metro was to take off, my co-worker/friend and I dodged some sketchy boys and left. I'd never seen anything like it before, and the whole thing was just enormous, amazing, unforgettable, crazy, hyper... I had the experience of a lifetime!