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Palma-idiotic-palm-tree Pen & Wok Blog - - Cecilie's

Palma’s widest road that isn’t an autopista (motorway) is probably the Paseo Maritimo, official name Avenida de Gabriel Roca (the engineer who designed the thoroughfare).

Tagging-writing-Palma-vandalism-walls Pen & Wok Blog - - Cecilie's

 It’s built on reclaimed land, creating a border between El Terreno, the delightful neighbourhood in which I live, and the sea.

 I suppose every Mediterranean city and town has a screaming thoroughfare right next to the sailing boats and the beach umbrellas, so nothing new there. What is new is that in Palma they are actually going to make it narrower instead of widening it.

 Yes, there will be more restaurants, more bicycles and more trees, and the cars will have to make do with two lanes in each direction instead of four. To accommodate all the new trees, most of the old, big shady trees have been removed, leaving only tall palm trees.

Paseo-Maritimo-shorn-of-real-trees Pen & Wok Blog - - Cecilie's

Palm trees are silly, aren’t they. I hate them. What are they for? They are not beautiful - just long sticks with some crap on top. They give hardly any shade with their thin and spiky leaves. They look naff, fake, like the worst excesses of those 1970s wallpapers. 

As far as I know, the palm trees in Mallorca don’t even have coconuts. So what are they for?

The palm trees in China’s southernmost point, Hainan Island, although also pretty naff and silly, at least are indigenous and have a purpose: To produce coconuts.

Hainan-coconuts Pen & Wok Blog - - Cecilie's

 I had been looking forward to drinking fresh coconut water straight from the nut, for during many beer-laden trips to mainland China I had fallen in love with 椰樹 Coconut Milk as a tasty hangover cure full of electrolytes or potassium or something. 

It's available from the excellent Chinese supermarket i Uetam street, and I have one every time I'm there. 

.download Pen & Wok Blog - - Cecilie's

 But my first (and probably last) fresh coconut water turned out to be a big nothing burger! It had absolutely no taste. I was so disappointed that I had to make a film. 


My Cantonese student ah-On and I had come down from Guangzhou on the slow train. Ah-On thought it took a long time and the word 'plane' was mentioned, but our 18 or so hours on the train had nothing on the large group of holidaymakers from Heilongjiang in the farthest north east of the country. 

They had been on the train for three days and nights, many even without as much as a hard bunk to sleep on, but they were still full of beans. They were decked out in full holiday regalia: Hawaiian shirts and shorts, as well as up to three floppy hats - per person.

Hainan-Hawaiian-shirts Pen & Wok Blog - - Cecilie's

For Hainan is known as the Hawaii of China, probably because there are palm trees, in the same way as Suzhou is called the Venice of China because there are canals. Compared to Heilongjiang, presumably the Siberia of China, the people on the train must have thought Hainan was boiling with its 12 or so degrees, while ah-On and I, wearing wool, shivered our way through the tasteless coconuts.

Hainan-ah-On-and-coconut Pen & Wok Blog - - Cecilie's

Tropical paradise my arse. But they did produce a lot of coconuts, and in fact my beloved Coconut Milk drink was produced on that very island! 

By the way, I just checked their website and found some interesting nuggets.

"You can tell how good this Coconut Milk Drink is by tasting it when you drink one." Heh! So that's how you do it. "Like sipping coconut juice directly from the coconut." Er, no. sipping coconut juice directly from the coconut has exactly zero taste.

They go on to say: "Do you know that one of the top ten most powerful corporations in the soft drink sector, Coconut Palm Group specializes in deeply processing tropical fruits like coconuts." Now I do! 

On the bottom it says:

Consuming this product can expose you to chemicals including lead and cadmium, which is known to the State of California to cause cancer and birth defects, or other reproductive harm.

A Perfect Choice for a Healthy Drink!"

Mmmm. Lovely. I don't think the lead and cadmium come from the actual trees, no matter how much I dislike them - but I wouldn't put it past them either.

The other day I saw on a poster the local government pledging to plant 10 000 trees in Palma, to lower the temperature in the streets. Wait, is that in addition to or including those in Paseo Maritimo?

I hope to God they won't be palm trees. 

Hainan-tropical-toilet Pen & Wok Blog - - Cecilie's

Hainan Island, where even the toilets are in a holiday mood, is WELL worth a visit though! And of course the people there, unless they are Mandohooligans, speak Cantonese. 

Now this language can be yours for a low price with high entertainment value, when you learn Cantonese the Natural Way - from a Norwegian!  learn Cantonese the Natural Way - from a Norwegian!  

Today's Cantonese: 我好無鍾意椰樹!O hou m jung yi ye suk! I hate palm trees. 



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Chinese_smokers_ Pen & Wok Blog - - Cecilie's

One of my students, an absolutely delightful girl who lives in San Francisco, emailed me the other day apologising for her absence from the Cantonese lessons - she had been forced to look for a new flat. 

"[...] my downstairs neighbor is a cigarette chain smoker and he lights a cigarette every 30 mins starting at 8 am until midnight when he goes to sleep. And he is retired so is home all day smoking, and I work from home and the smell is killing me and driving me crazy.

It's been a nightmare, even my clothes and pillows and mattress smell like cigarette smoke. My landlords aren't doing anything about it, I've only been here for 6 months but I have to break my lease."
Ouch! Ouchissimo! That's a tricky one. Personal freedom, all well and good - but when it ruins other people's clothes and pillows? Poor girl, she has to move out. Or start smoking herself, which I presume is out of the question. 

My next door neighbour in Palma is a back to back smoker, but only of cigars, which smells strangely good considering how awful cigarette smoke is. 

It wasn't always thus. Although I was never a ‘suck down the life-giving smoke before getting out of bed in the morning’ type; my thing being ‘drinking without smoking is meaningless’, I still managed to pack in stacks of the packs. Coming to China in 1988 was like coming to a freewheeling smoke filled paradise. 

Chinese_smoker_hand_small Pen & Wok Blog - - Cecilie's

China and smoke are like... lips and teeth. One can exist without the other but it’s a miserable existence, cold and full of longing. Guys (few Chinese women smoke) light up as they walk into lifts. Restaurants, shops, taxis, massage parlours; no place is off-limits for the Chinese fuming male. Smoking is something men do, and the further away you get from big cities, the more any non smoking adult male will be viewed with suspicion. 

Not smoking would be like... not paying off your teacher with a carton of cigarettes to give your son good grades! (Yes, like in prison, cigarettes are currency in China.)

Smoking_and_playing Pen & Wok Blog - - Cecilie's

I remember clearly the day of my awakening. On an already full overnight sleeper bus to Beijing from Dandong, on the North Korean border, the driver started letting on stray people without official bus tickets soon after departure until every square inch of the bus was full of people, mattresses, blankets, sheets and pillows. The hull on the Mayflower would have been like a ballroom in comparison. And all the men smoked, maybe to allay their fear of death as the overfilled bus careened all over the road for ten hours.

 I spent the night in a state of hyper alert, terrified of perishing in a fireball.

That’s when I decided to stop smoking. And only seven short years later, I did. I didn't see it as "giving up" but freeing myself from a terrible yoke. But I had to get down on my knees and ask God to take the burden away from me. Three weeks later I had my last cigarette - ironically on a Christmas trip in mainland China - and never thought of it again. 

Wanda_Smoking Pen & Wok Blog - - Cecilie's
Illustration from my Spanish textbook Plonkers Abroad

Now it seems so strange that I have ever been sitting around with a little fire sticking out of my mouth. Smoking has be the strangest addiction - it doesn't taste good, it doesn't change your perception of the world, there are no benefits except perhaps staving off hunger. 

(Here is hoping you find a new gaff very soon, delightful girl whose Chinese nickname is a tea! And that it smells as fragrant as said name. 香片,我掛住你)

You must continue to Learn Cantonese the Natural Way - from a Norwegian! Learn Cantonese the Natural Way - from a Norwegian! 

Today's Cantonese 我 唔 食 煙  O m sek yin - I don't eat smoke. That's right: Eat smoke means to smoke. 





IMG_5969 Pen & Wok Blog - - Cecilie's

Swinging around London the other day, I was incredibly lucky to be given not one but two tickets from Cantonese students.

That's right, people, take Cantonese lessons from me, become a tutor, and then one day you too will have kind students giving you tickets to 1. An exhibition of Hispanic stuff and 2. Windsor Castle! 

Windsor-1 Pen & Wok Blog - - Cecilie's

Arriving by train on a semi sunny Thursday, we were welcomed to Windsor Town with bunting, flags, tea containers etc. It turned out not to be for us, but for the coronation of King Charles III.  Both London and Windsor were in a tea towel frenzy.

In England, there are two types of tea towels: 

IMG_5968 Pen & Wok Blog - - Cecilie's
William Morris design

And this:

IMG_5967_copy Pen & Wok Blog - - Cecilie's

The latter was given to me by another Cantonese student when he came to Mallorca in 2018. Markle and Orange Sparkle unifying the nation in a royal tea towel extravaganza - oh halcyon days of yore.

I hope Charlie will justify all those thousands of miles of cotton a little bit better than Ginge and Whinge.

Meanwhile, back at Windsor, the entire world seemed to be there; after all it was Easter. Inside the hallowed, 1,000 year old walls echoed the screams of history, and I felt myself transported back to the reign of Henry VIII - or at least could view his portrait high up on the wall together with the woman he went against the Pope to be able to, er, marry, only to kill her afterwards anyway. 

Windsor-2 Pen & Wok Blog - - Cecilie's

When we came out, the beautiful day had turned into a torrential rainfall, so I had to brave the souvenir shop hordes to get a very British umbrella. For 15 quid I thought they could have afforded a few inches more of material, but maybe it had all gone to bunting? 

Only semi soaked I got back on the train where I had a table all to myself, the hordes still being stuck inside the castle waiting for the rain to stop. As I got off, I heard a voice inside me say: Turn around. Turn around.

What? No! No one tells me what to do. "Turn around!" the inner voice shouted, but I ignored it sniffily. As I got out at St. Pancras I realised I had left my brand new umbrella on the train table. Ahhrghhhh! 

Windsor-3 Pen & Wok Blog - - Cecilie's

Back in Palma I had to hop over to the excellent Chinese supermarked on the other side of town for some lotus root, and set out on foot with my trusty shopping bag, the first thing I bought when I arrived here five years ago from bespoke dog gear shop Palma Dogbespoke dog gear shop Palma Dog

IMG_5974 Pen & Wok Blog - - Cecilie's

I was wearing flip flops, and a nasty grass seed or something found its way into the sole of my foot. Ow! Ow! What what what to do? Hobbling past Plaza Progres I saw an open door with a staircase, on which I sat down and extracted the intruder with my shorter than average nails. Leaving the lobby I heard the voice again, very loud this time: "Turn around!" But did I obey? No!

About 35 minutes later, in Plaza Espanya, I thought there was something missing and: Oh no! I had left my beautiful shopping bag on the stairs. What a plonker! I was too far away to turn around and wrote the bag off in my mind, although I was very fond of it. But bugger me if I, from the bus window more than an hour later, didn't see the bag inside the lobby! What are the chances of 1. A street door in Palma being open and 2. That no one would have gone in or out in all that time? 

IMG_5953 Pen & Wok Blog - - Cecilie's

The people living in that gaff must have been agoraphobic or something. 

My point: You (and I) should listen to not only your dog but to that inner voice, especially when it's screaming.

Also, you should buy my book Don't Joke on the Stairs buy my book Don't Joke on the Stairs for "an insightful, yet hilarious, assessment of modern China" according to critics, before you proceed to stick a finger in the eye of the Chinese communist party by learning Cantonese from me. That's right - finger in the eye! They deserve it. 

Learn Cantonese the Natural Way - from a Norwegian.

Today's Cantonese: 國王 Gok wong - King 





Brendan Crash Canto BAR 2 Pen & Wok Blog - - Cecilie's

Spelling and grammar! In this as in so many other things, there are only two kinds of people in the world - those who really really care, and those who don’t give a shit.

 I belong in the former category of course, the type that gets banned from Facebook and ostracised for correcting people’s writing.

Yes, I am the type who, if some lawyer were to send me a letter saying: “The late Queen of England has left you Buckingham Palace and all it’s contents,” I would answer “ITS contents!!!”

Some of you will know only too well what I mean, others will think (incorrectly) "what's the big deal". The latter group can't fathom how it hurts the eye to look at a wrongly spelled word, a sentence that doesn't make sense and even txtspk. (I mean UR instead of you're OR your, and don't get me started on the apostrophes!) They can't imagine how the fingers itch to send an email, a strongly worded letter, go to some office and shake someone lightly to death. 

It IS a big deal. 

IMG_5948 Pen & Wok Blog - - Cecilie's

So you can imagine how my eyes have been smarting for the last five years every time I walk past a certain Chinese restaurant in my neighbourhood and see their sign that is set up back to front. 

That's right! The characters, meaning Longevity and Take care of separately but together is a transliteration of Sushi, should be shown like this: 壽司


 IMG_5949 Pen & Wok Blog - - Cecilie's 

Ahhrghhhhh! Pain! Nausea! To stick with the British theme, it would be like walking past the Savoy Hotel every day and seeing the sign spelled like "Savvy Hostel. Wellcome, Ur Majestie". 

Why do they do it? Why? Why? The owners are Chinese. Surely they can read their own language (although the characters are normal, not the crippled version that the communists introduced after 1949 ostensibly to make it easier for illiterate peasants to read propaganda posters, but actually to destroy every remnant of the old culture)?

Yes, of course I have mentioned it to the owner, for who wants to have their eyes taken out with a burning spear every time they walk past an establishment. I think it was my third time there I said it, and the third time they messed up my order and/or overcharged me. "What's the big deal" she shrugged. 

Thus ended my patronage of Sushi. 

Chinese-new-year-4 Pen & Wok Blog - - Cecilie's

But wouldn't you like to be the one pointing out to Chinese that their writing is wrong? Or at least, learn something about Chinese characters - so mysterious looking yes, downright inscrutable, but when you look closer and know how they are constructed, so simple and brilliant? I can give you an insight into this beautiful writing system if you live in Mallorca.

And if you could stick a finger in the eye of the Chinese government, wouldn't that be fun too?

You can do that by learning Cantonese.

For every person in the world learning Cantonese, a Chinese government official gets another haemorrhoid. Nothing irks them more than people speaking this free and irreverent language, the essence of the real Chinese culture.

Learn Cantonese the Natural Way - from a Norwegian! Learn Cantonese the Natural Way - from a Norwegian! 

Today's Cantonese: 壽司  Sau si - Sushi. 





William Morris
William Morris' house in Walthamstow

You know those English costume dramas that always open with a close-up of galloping hooves and then pull back to show a black carriage hurtling towards some manor house where petticoats, handwringing and a minor emotional outburst await?

I was thinking about those when I visited William Morris' old gaff in Walthamstow the other day. 

Not the emotional outbursts, you understand, but the carriage and the manor house. When he lived there as a child, it must have been hours away from central London. Now it was a few minutes' walk from the Tube, where I had been gnashing my teeth because it was packed solid and I had to stand for a few minutes. Imagine living in a time when you had to travel by carriage, pressed together with strangers, shaking, jumping and thudding along on unpaved roads with not as much as an underwired bra for support.

For days! And that's if you could even afford it! 

William-Morris-chair Pen & Wok Blog - - Cecilie's
William Morris chair and wallpaper

Instead of complaining about cars and planes, we should be super thankful that we can get around so easily and in relative comfort. This is all thanks to oil, by the way, so we shouldn't be so eager to get rid of it. A world powered solely by electricity will soon put us back in costume drama discomfort or worse. 

Another thing I thought about was how these people, the artists in the olden days, all seemed to know each other despite how difficult it must have been to get around. Like the master of light, Sorolla - how did he get to know painters from the northern tip of Denmark and be influenced by them? OK, trains had been invented by this time, and of course they all went to Paris, but it must have taken ages and been uncomfortable, hot and with lots of soot. 

The Skagen paintersThe Skagen painters in their turn were involved with or certainly influenced by people like Morris, who even as a young man managed to look ancient with hugely unbecoming facial hair. It started with a moustache in his late teens,

William-Morris-2 Pen & Wok Blog - - Cecilie's

and by his early 30s the game was already up. 

William-Morris-1 Pen & Wok Blog - - Cecilie's

But despite the facial thicket he managed to work non stop. Not only did he revolutionise design, he was also a writer and champion of great architecture before that even became a thing. He was a socialist while it was still counter cultural and in favour of the common man, before it became all about controlling and killing others. He wanted most of all that the ordinary people should be able to enjoy art just as much as the elite. And he thought even the humblest of tools and utensils should be beautiful as well as useful. 

William-Morris-quote Pen & Wok Blog - - Cecilie's

After London I hopped over to Dublin where I ended up in its National Library to see an exhibition of one of Ireland's greatest sons, WB Yeats (whom I discovered through one of my top five bands, the Waterboys) and bugger me if the first thing I saw on a wall showing some of Yeats' associates and friends wasn't a huge picture of William Morris! I'm telling you, they all knew each other. 

William-Morris-cup Pen & Wok Blog - - Cecilie's
Beauty and utility, oh yeah baby

Another artistic and intellectual elite who all know each other is the non-Chinese who carry on the legacy of Cantonese. You don't have to live in Hong Kong or be surrounded by Cantonese speakers to enjoy and appreciate the logic and wild fun of the Cantonese language. And how about the beautiful characters - wouldn't you want to be able to read and write just a few? It's easier than you think. I'm sure William Morris, already influenced by Chinese design, would have loved being able to write Chinese characters all over the walls. 

Oh, and I was introduced to William Morris by one of my ex Cantonese students from Hong Kong who now lives in Walthamstow! You see, we all know each other. 

Learn Cantonese the Natural Way - from a Norwegian! Learn Cantonese the Natural Way - from a Norwegian! 

Today's Cantonese 設計  Jit gai - design