Contact me for custom written articles, blog posts, copywriting, proofreading, transIation, illustrations, cartoons and comic strips.


The cart is empty


Blog Pen & Wok Blog -

The all new Cecilie's Pen & Wok Blog

Tree Pen & Wok Blog -

A couple of weeks ago we had a strong wind warning here in Mallorca. Some called it a storm, but it was difficult to take it seriously as the sun was burning down - 24 degrees on my terrace in January. (In the sun! Inside my office: 11 degrees.)

Tree-trunk Pen & Wok Blog -
Tree trunk after removal

However, on my afternoon dog walk the next day I noticed a hullabaloo outside a friend's house - there were fire trucks, uniforms, police cordons. A rather large eucalyptus tree had toppled, taking a corner of the house and an outdoor iron fence and parts of the staircase with it. My friend N said it had happened during the night, but as he had just thought it was "someone trying to kick down the neighbours' door" he had turned over and gone back to sleep. 

Tree-storm-house-corner Pen & Wok Blog -

N's flat is on the other side of the building, but whoever lives in the corner flat where the tiles have been crushed must have received a lot of free rainwater during the next few days. Then it was back to burning sun again and no need to think about it anymore. But I did. 

That crushed staircase could easily have been me. 

My first three years on the island I lived in an old Mallorcan house, an old fishmonger's built in the 1800s, with two floors, two balconies and a sea view. 

And a tree. 

My-gaff-and-tree Pen & Wok Blog - I took a photo of it from a nearby building, and measured it to be exactly four times the height of my house. 

The tree was a Norfolk Island pine, which should never have left Norfolk Island. Not only did it constantly shed smelly acorn-like leaves, but every time it was windy, it shook so much I couldn't sleep. For the house, for all its charm and uniqueness, sported walls 8 cm thick and a roof that consisted of ... some tiles. 

Having seen the ravages of more typhoons than you have had hot dinners with the subsequent corpses of mature trees strewn everywhere, I knew that the damned tree would come down one day. And that as soon as it toppled, my entire house would be crushed, my upstairs bed receiving the main impact. I lay shaking in un-sleep every time the wind howled, which it did less rarely than you would think. 

The tree was so ridiculous, its trunk so overpowering, I had to include it in the first film I made in Mallorca. 

I begged the landlord to take it down, but he thought it was so beautiful and a 'real landmark'. And it was true, unlike the Great Wall, it really could be seen from space, or at least from the ferry to Menorca as he often pointed out. That was evidently worth the death of a tenant. 

But when the neighbours on both sides started digging deep holes in their gardens, cutting many of the tree roots, as well as dropping large metal beams onto my flower pots and drilling through a wall just above my bed (that's how I got the opportunity to measure the wall's "thick"ness) do you think I lost my enchantment with the gaff and got out? 

Garden Pen & Wok Blog -

Not at all. What saved me was that the landlord was a serial rent-ist, known in the area for telling tenants to do whatever they wanted to improve the house, and then kicking them out when the three year lease was up. 

So now I must weigh the indignity of living in a flat, up against sleeping well at night and never being flooded. Or crushed.

Flat wins! 

Another thing that must win, is the Cantonese culture against the Mandarin behemoth. 

Learn Cantonese the Natural Way - from a Norwegian! 

Today's Cantonese: 好驚呀 - hou gehng ah - well scared/scared shitless 




CNY-miniature-China Pen & Wok Blog -
Chinese New Year in Shenzhen

It's February 1st and Christmas is now is well and truly over. It must be true, because I found two naked Christmas trees by the dustbins earlier this afternoon. No one can say they didn't put up a good fight!

Chinese New Year, which this year happened on January 22nd, is also nearing its end. Last year was the year of the Tiger, supposed to be turbulent - don't know how anyone could possibly... But now here comes the Rabbit, a more agreeable and somewhat less psychotic animal than the tiger. 

Tiger_small Pen & Wok Blog -

So, that's good news, right? According to Chinese zodiac websites, 2023 will be very gentle; a time for reconciliation, endless meetings probably, everybody gets a medal, bla bla. (We'll see.) 

For me, Chinese New Year feels more like a new year is starting than for example January 1st. Called 'Spring Festival' in communist China after they had 'smashed' all the old traditions, it follows the agrarian/lunar calendar, and brings about spring, although it's only January. 

CNY-Wan-Fau Pen & Wok Blog -

In Hong Kong, that means going from burning blue skies and "cold" (14 degrees celcius is a cold weather warning) to grey rain and lots of it. Here in Palma, the temperature dropped from 13 to 3 degrees on Chinese New Year's Eve, just as I had predicted. Time to put on - gaaaaah - tights, one of the worst pieces of clothing ever invented, but it does make the difference between life and death. 


CNY-Toi-San Pen & Wok Blog -

Chinese New Year used to be a time when I took my Cantonese students ("victims") on adventure trips in the southern provinces of China. Freezing cold, rainy, and so entertaining. The big cities were empty because everybody had gone home to the villages for a month; the towns and villages exploding with life and colour. We called these trips 'language seminars' and they consisted of talking Cantonese to half sloshed strangers (snake wine features prominently at Chinese New Year) photo safaris, fantastic food and lots and lots of beer. 

CNY-temple Pen & Wok Blog -

Happy days. 

Will I ever get over missing China? Or rather, my days there? The days will never come back, any more than the days of my youth will come back. And with its social credit system (European leaders are salivating at the idea, but calling it ESG) and with all the old towns being razed to the ground, even China isn't China anymore, anyway. 

Now that I'm not the only Norwegian Cantonese teacher in the village anymore, I'm looking for a new identity. What will it be?

CNY-bad-calligraphy Pen & Wok Blog -

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

Today's Cantonese: 過年  - Goh Lin - Pass year (Chinese New Year)

Happy year of the Rabbit, innit. 

Rabbit Pen & Wok Blog -





koldbrann_urns Pen & Wok Blog -
Koldbrann in Hong Kong, resting near bones (they are inside the urns)

Ahhrghhh - the game is up! 

As mentioned more than once, El Terreno, the barrio (neighbourhood) on the outskirts of Palma where I live, is a doggie paradise. Everybody has a dog and I know them all, impressed by their names like Connor, Toulouse, Zeus, Athos and Byron. 

I should have called Koldbrann something noble like that, but when I got him back in 2012, how was I to know that I would one day live in a place with 1. lots of Swedes and 2. intellectually curious people? 

Well, scratch 2. for now, but I'm leading up to it. 

Koldbrann-the-dog-is-alight Pen & Wok Blog -
Koldbrann in Hong Kong, early morning. Not photoshopped!

The reason why I gave Koldbrann such a, some would say horrible, name - it means Gangrene in Norwegian - is that my first dog ever, (2002) was called Piles. I told people it was because he was a pain in the arse, but of course he wasn't really. I just loved the name, and liked being able to say I was "living with Piles". 

PILES_ASCENDS_copy Pen & Wok Blog -
Piles in my old gaff

This was well before people started calling their dogs "fur babies" but even then I said we were just living together as flatmates, not "mother and child". I was and am against the idea of treating dogs like children when they are so clearly animals and, unlike children, will never grow up enough to start picking up their own poo.  

Piles-beach-Lantau Pen & Wok Blog -
Piles on the beach, Pui O, Hong Kong

So when Piles died of kidney failure and, about a year later, I found Koldbrann, I thought I would continue with the tradition of naming my dogs after afflictions. 'A slight cough' didn't sound dynamic enough, and although I did toy with the idea of 'Anthrax', I thought it would be safest to give him a Norwegian name, seeing no one would understand.

IMG_6293 Pen & Wok Blog - PenAndWok.comI told Chinese people his name was 老闆, Lou Baan - close enough and not unapt, seeing it means Boss and he looks like a cross between Ralph Fiennes in Schindler's List and a sea lion.

How was I to know that, five years later, I'd be living in a rats' nest of Swedes? "Gangrene! That's not at all a good name," they say. 

Oh how I wish I had called him Bjørnulf (Bear Wolf) or something instead, because around here, people think his name is Cobra! Ahhrghhh as if I would name my dog after a snake! Even 'Shingles' would have been better. 

Koldbrann-Bellver-forest Pen & Wok Blog -
Koldbrann in Bellver Forest

But my downfall came the other day, sauntering through nearby Bellver Forest. A woman with her own dog, a beagle, took an interest in Koldbrann. 

"Cómo se llama?" (What is his name?)

"Koldbrann. No, no es Cobra. Es Koldbrann. Es un nombre noruego." (It is a Norwegian name.)

And then she said this dreaded thing that no local had asked me, but I knew this day would come: "Qué significa?" (What does it mean?)

Reader, to my eternal shame, I lied! I couldn't bring myself to answer "gangrena" and risk seeing her make a face like a Swede. I told her 

"Es un nombre de viking. Koldbrann el naranja". (It is a Viking name. Koldbrann the Orange.)

and then legged it out of that forest as fast as Koldbrann could be arsed to walk (for he is an ancient geezer who has been through a lot). 

I can never lie again, so that's out. Next time I must tell the truth. I'll just have to hope no one else possesses the same intellectual curiosity as this beagle owner, and stay away from Norwegians and Swedes until Koldbrann dies. 

Pan__Cocina_Koldbrann_Dogs Pen & Wok Blog -
Koldbrann INSIDE a café! Dog paradise

Maybe I should have just kept his original name, 汪汪, Wong Wong, which means Woof Woof in Cantonese. I should have known that all I had to do to make my dog's name go from being the same as every other mutt's to super special, was to change continents. 

Today's Cantonese: 維京人 Wai Geng Yan - Viking Person 

Do you want to learn more Cantonese so you can talk about dogs and other things! in your neighbourhood? Then you should Learn Cantonese the Natural Way - from a Norwegian! 





China-sign Pen & Wok Blog - PenAndWok.comAfter having lived in Hong Kong and been rather intensely involved in the place for 30 years, it's hard not to think about it sometimes. I mean a lot.

I imagine it's like a long and happy, sometimes turbulent, marriage. You don't just stop thinking about the guy just because he's, well, dead.

And you don't stop thinking about and laughing at the funny bits. In the case of Hong Kong, its government's addiction to signage, for example.  

When I visited Hong Kong again for the first time in three year and found it to be rather less than its former self (aren't we all) I didn't think it was in any way the fault of ordinary Hong Kong people. They have been hammered non stop since the spring of 2019 and are now worn down.

Hong-Kong-signs-ferry Pen & Wok Blog -

No, it's only the government that has dragged the place down and with such astonishing efficiency. My criticism and scorn must be laid at its door, and by extension, that of the CCP itself. 

One of many ways in which the Hong Kong government is imitating its masters up north is the ever increasing use of signage. We foreigners used to laugh at it even in the late 1900s or early 2000s when "everything is illegal" signs started springing up, especially in parks and near beaches. 

Hong-Kong-beach-signs-forbidden Pen & Wok Blog -

Signs-Hong-Kong-everything-is-forbidden Pen & Wok Blog - PenAndWok.comTravelling all over mainland China all the time as I did, I was used to seeing signs everywhere telling people to do this and not do that, while the whole time praising the glorious Communist Party as the saviour of China (for "solving" problems that the party itself had created). These signs and posters came from a long tradition in China of Big Character Posters, which the communists fervently embraced as a great way of brainwashing people


Pyjamas Pen & Wok Blog -

and getting rid of political enemies. Even more fervently than even the newly "liberated" Hong Kong government after 1997 embraced its northern masters (while securing British or Canadian passports for themselves and their children, just in case). 

Signage-slip-carefully Pen & Wok Blog -


So inspired by the stern signage in mainland China, Hong Kong started a softer version, not threatening with death or anything, just helping. Just explaining. Oh, the signs! I loved them. The signs helped me speed up my ability to read Chinese characters, because I wanted to see what they actually meant. (Send me a PM on Facebook if you want to know!)

Signage-stairs Pen & Wok Blog -

So for a signage loving entity like the Hong Kong government, covid must have come as manna from heaven. Now they could cover what little was left of empty space of Hong Kong, with huge plastic Big Character (and cartoon) Posters. I had expected this and wasn't disappointed. 

Hong-Kong-signs-beware-of-hygiene Pen & Wok Blog -

Beware of personal hygiene! Indeed. 

Signage-Hong-Kong-mask Pen & Wok Blog -

signage-do-not-gather Pen & Wok Blog - PenAndWok.comThe HK government signage makers weren't the only ones benefitting from Covid. For dogs, normally a hated outcast in public spaces, a whole new area of several square metres opened up during this difficult time: 

Hong-Kong-signs-inclusive-pets Pen & Wok Blog - PenAndWok.comRight? Without this explanation, how would a dog owner, let alone a dog, understand what the space was for and why? Here in Mallorca, in contrast, they don't seem to understand how much explanation people really need. On the sliding glass door of Porto Pi shopping mall there's just a symbol about the size of a large postage stamp, saying "Pet friendly"...

On my last morning in Hong Kong, sauntering along the waterfront of Central, I came across this gem. It was as if some government official had thought "here is an empty space that MUST be filled, but I'm fresh out of 3 metre wear a mask posters... Oh! I know!" 

Careful-with-fishing Pen & Wok Blog -

Another victory for your own safety. 

Today's Cantonese: 安全第一 ! On chuen dai yat! Safety number one! 


Alicante-near-castle Pen & Wok Blog -
Alicante near the castle

How do you explain this dizzying array of contradictions: I love olive oil but hate olives. (Not "hate" with an incandescent rage, you understand, just 'do not like'.)

I hate liver, the worst of all foods, but love paté. And I love the light and hate the dark - but only the dark of night. The dark of 4 o'clock in the morning, on the other hand, yeah, baby! 

El-Terreno-view-of-bay Pen & Wok Blog -
Morning view of my neighbourhood, but later, at least 6:20

It all began during hard lockdown in Mallorca. Suddenly it was a crime to go outside, but if you were lucky enough to have a dog, you were "allowed" to take it outside. I can't remember if it was 25 or 40 metres - whatever it was, it was something ridiculous. Well bugger this, Koldbrann the dog and I agreed, we will live like we've always done with long walks in the morning. And if that means getting up at 4 o'clock, so be it. 

Corona_Koldbrann_walk_me Pen & Wok Blog -

I figured no Mallorcan policeman would be awake at that time, and I was right. We lived free and without masks, (unlike the people of Hong Kong). So I got into the habit of waking up at 4 and going out in the dark. It made me feel good, like I was doing something strangely like ... building self discipline. And when I'm on holiday, supposedly to take a break from the many duties of dog ownership, bugger me if I still don't get up before 5 and go out. 

Alicante-city-beach Pen & Wok Blog -
Alicante city beach

Just before Christmas I went to Valencia on the good ship Ciudad de Mahon (Trasmed) and what a pleasant journey that was. Smooth as silk and with excellent wifi. I luxuriated in beautiful, somewhat classic furniture, bars and restaurants, while feeling sorry for the people huddling on deck, trying to light their cigarettes. 

Why fly when you can travel in style? Also the ferry terminals are 15 minutes' walk from my house, so a big win on all fronts. 

Valencia-bridge-near-Parc-Gulliver Pen & Wok Blog -
Valencia near Parc Gulliver

In Valencia I thought I'd lie in till at least 6:00, but what do you know? Before 5 I was out of the hotel, trawling the streets like a weird travel person (or stray dog).

So that is my life now. I recommend it! It's the best time of day. Imagine having a whole town all to yourself, watching a city wake up, the coffee shops open, people starting to emerge. And then, eventually, the glorious sunrise.

The good habit has become an addiction; my legs need the walk, dog or no dog. 

I met up with my sister in Alicante and it was the same thing there, as in Dénia. Out, out before anybody else, own the town, shoot the dawn. 

Valencia-estaccion-de-norte Pen & Wok Blog -
Valencia North Station

It doesn't hurt that all these Spanish towns are so incredibly romantic looking and beautiful, made for early morning photography. 

Alicante Pen & Wok Blog -

Early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise, they say. Well, it's working, for I have one out of three: Health! (Touch wood!) 

Another thing to hone personal discipline that I have done and am still doing, is learning Chinese (Cantonese of course; the REAL Chinese) and Chinese characters. Once you have fought through the first few hundred, there is no turning back! 

Learn Cantonese the Natural Way - from a Norwegian! I will show you how easy Chinese characters are, when you know a couple of tricks. Yes it can easily be done on Skype. 

Today's Cantonese: 早啲起身 - jou di hei san - early more raise body (get up earlier)




This category contains episodes of the CantoNews From Exile podcast.