Last time I was at Mallorca's airport whose name I can't remember now, I saw this, what my late aunt Bette would have called "unfathomable tragedy": Someone had dropped a bottle of red wine. (Or had an open brain haemorrhage while carrying a box of wine.) Some people thought it was me who had done it, but of course not! 1. I would never drop wine and 2. I only like white wine.
I was thinking about that the other day when about 10 Norwegian friends came to Palma. One of them is something of a musical genius, and he became very interested in my two banjos rotting away in the corner with no one to teach me. He kindly offered to change the strings for me (not as easy as it looks, hello!) and I accepted with joy! This could be the push I needed to start playing again.
I finally managed to locate the packets of strings, some of which I had been given by former banjo tutor Adam Petrashune,
some bought on the website Elderly Instruments and some thrown in with my purchase of a light, easy-to-handle banjo in Sydney in 2014. I had so many strings, I could have opened a string quartet boutique!
Except, by an unfathomable tragedy the strings, so carefully stored and lovingly shipped from Hong Kong to Palma, had lived through three Hong Kong summers. They had all rusted right through.
Today is China's National Day, and also 30 years to the day plus one, since I arrived in China for the first time. It was a beautiful sunny morning when I hopped off the Trans-Siberian Train in Beijing 12 days after leaving Oslo. And just like that, China became my life.
That day, Tiananmen Square was festooned with pictures of Lenin, Mao, Marx and Stalin. Now only the teachers' rooms at state schools sport the visages of these luminaries, plus Deng Xiaoping of course. But Mao is on all the nominations of the Renminbi (The People's Currency) and his photo is used to ward off bad luck in taxis.
That year, very few people had even a landline in their house. Then they jumped straight to iPhones without even going via pagers.
That year, owning a bicycle was still something of a status symbol. Now everyone has a car.
I'm sure the average person in China is much better off now than on October 1st, 1988; economically at least. But me, I miss the days without cars, without high-rises and without constant coughing. It's selfish, I know. Maybe I just miss my youth with constant excitement and adventure. Anyway, I'll just celebrate this quite momentous day with some of my photos from China.
Ah-On contemplating the intense cold of Guiyang, Christmas Day 2013. That was the week after which I never smoked again.
Jiayuguan Fort, Gansu provimce, at sunset, August 2008.
Geezers playing traditional Chinese music on saxophone and electric guitar - and erhu. With artwork above them featuring drunk scribbles by an avant-garde art group. Yeung Gong, Guangdong province
Coal workers taking a rest.
Phoenix Town in Hunan.
Uncle enjoying his daily visit to the main park in Seun Dak, Guangdong Province
Aunties getting ready for yam cha, Sei Wui, Guangdong province
Abandoned house, Guangdong province
Monastery and Tibetan town, Xiahe, Gansu province
Ellen in Guangdong province
Curious but a little worried ("why is your hair yellow?") Xinjiang province
Grapevines near Urumqi, Xinjiang province
Sigh. I miss China. But only the China of YORE. Not the China of Social Credit (google it. Unless you live in China of course - they can't access Google. or Facebook, Instagram, Whatsapp...).
Is this a salsa course? I had the feeling that the black guy was the instructor and the other people passing drop-in learners. A bunch of other people were sitting down nearby. Were they waiting for their turn or just taking a rest from a day's hard touristing? Or were they just exuberant young people of today spontaneously breaking out in dance?
This and many other things will be made clear when I can speak Spanish fluently.
"Everybody", for example people who don't speak a word of Spanish, keep telling me how easy Spanish is. This is like learning Cantonese but in reverse! When I lived in Hong Kong, few days went by without someone, Cantonese speaker or not, telling me "Cantonese is very difficult", with I don't know how many hong Kong people helpfully adding "... it's too difficult for you."
This they would often tell me after or in the middle of a long conversation - in Cantonese. It was just something they did, because I'm white and everybody knows it's impossible for us to learn Cantonese. Other Asians or Asian-looking people, on the other hand, should be fluent pretty much by the time they touch down in Hong Kong for the first time.
I've asked countless Hong Kong people (in Cantonese) why this would be so, and most of them looked at me as if I was an idiot. "Because you don't have Chinese blood - hello?"
Right. But now I feel this strange pressure to be fluent in Spanish already, because "it's so easy". Well, I don't think so! It's got verb declensions! Plural! Past participles! Genders, and genders in adjectives! The opposite of easy, paint-by-numbers Cantonese.
Actually, I don't think any languages are difficult OR easy. It's all about expectations. Here, locals expect foreigners to learn the language fast, and so they do.
In Hong Kong, no one expected me to speak the language and kept insisting I couldn't learn it for genetic reasons, even after I had clearly learnt it.
But of course I don't want to be the only foreign idiot in town who can't ask people why they are doing salsa in the shadow of the cathedral and what I'll have to do to join, so I've found a new language exchange guy by the name of Rafael Angel (!). I'm damned if I'm paying for lessons for something that is as natural as breathing. I'll keep you posted on my progress.
Meanwhile: Learn Cantonese the Natural Way - from a Norwegian! It's only a Skype-click away.
0的語言好容易學 - di yu yin hou yongyi hok - languages are easy to learn
Patagonia - un lugar diferente (a different place) - the sign above this busy café proudly proclaims.
When I arrived in Palma all those months ago in the coldest winter ever (the locals claimed), Patagonia was my big saviour. Open from 06.15 and serving really great coffee, it was the only place I could work. Yes the Airbnb-ish IKEA-riddled little flat I stayed in for the first month didn't have WiFi, preferring to tap into a nearby hotel (Feliz, to be reviewed here soon) for its online needs. Well that didn't work. The password only worked if I stood inside the actual hotel, so to be able to get online I had to go to Patagonia every morning.
And so did all the early morning smokers in El Terreno, it seemed, and sitting "outside", they were the ones given all the space heaters. Inside, the cafe was not only sub-zero arctic, but the chairs made of reinforced plastic also turned out to enhance cold like a nice bathtub full of water enhances electrocution by hair dryer. So that was an interesting February.
But now I am of course whiling away the days in a house with wifi, Nespresso machine and all mod cons such wooden chairs, and don't 'need' Patagonia anymore. Still, I was looking forward to going back in the name or research. What's 'diferente' about this 'lugar' is that while in February it had curries and all sorts of proper meals, now it seems to have only chips and bready things. There wasn't even the Palma café staple tostadas - toasted bread with olive oil and mashed tomatoes. But... that's impossible!
I ordered Sandwich out of desperation but only when I bit into it realised I had ordered Serrano Ham and not York. Now, Serrano ham is very good, together with scrambled eggs, potato salad and maybe a summer-y salad also containing eggs. But with cheese? For some reason, not so much. And the bread, although toasted to perfection, was overly sweet. Like a cha chanteng in Hong Kong.
But what the hell. A coffee is only 1 euro or something and a sandwich maybe double that. The coffee was very good, and the ingredients in the sandwich, separately, great. And their WiFi is beyond compare.
In our series Spanish words that don't sound like what they mean, shown together with photos from Mallorca that I really like we present:
I think this word sounds like "do everything you can to get absolutely no result" or "get a result but then dismiss it." Or could it mean "be an orange but then cast off your identity as an orange. Or banana" OR "make sure there is no fruit."
All those sound more plausible than the real meaning:
In Cantonese it's 享受 (Heungsau) - among other things. Of course a lot of people can speak Spanish and I'm not one of them, but quite frankly, being able to speak Spanish is not very ... special. Speaking Cantonese IS special. Very. So Learn Cantonese the Natural Way - from a Norwegian! This year!