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Chinese opera star Shenzhen Splendid China

New island, new language

When I moved from Hong Kong to Spain in 2018, I had this crazy idea, well, faint hope, that it would be like coming to China all over again. I would fall in love with the country, Spain, the island, Mallorca and the language, Spanish, possibly Mallorquin, just like I had felt myself born again and been riveted by everything Chinese way back in 1988. 

Unfortunately, that didn't happen. Perhaps I don't see everything quite as much in love and hate, black and white, and yellow yellow yellow as I did then - yes, I just can't muster all the hormones and strong feelings about everything that I had when I was young. But I was content with living in a stunning place with fresh air and very pleasant people. 

Mallorca_women_traditional_dress Pen & Wok Blog - - Cecilie's

Still, I'm a born-again linguist! Why couldn't I get super interested in Spanish and study day and night until fluent? It irked me. I thought I knew the reason: Spanish just isn't anything special. It's too normal. Cantonese is this really cool, happening and subversive language with its own Chinese characters that the Mandohooligans (Mandarin speakers from north in mainland China whose purpose is to eradicate the Cantonese culture) can't understand, and speaking it feels like belonging to an exclusive club. Spanish? With a normal alphabet instead of pictograms and a syntax similar to that of my mother tongue Norwegian, with lots of boring grammar and verb declensions, it felt like studying accountancy. 

There was only one thing to do: Write a Spanish textbook! In cartoons. 

Derek_Sheila_Dog_small Pen & Wok Blog - - Cecilie's

(I advise you to do the same. If there is something you don't know or aren't interested in, write a book about it! )

It helped, somewhat.

Ah, but Spanish is so cumbersome and uses so many words, where Cantonese is short, elegant and to the point. "Long time no see" is straight out of the Cantonese playbook. I missed the terse, four worded missives, especially "Mou ban fat la" which means something like "I have no other choice" or "There is really very little I can do about it."  

Would the Spanish have such an expression?

Only a Chinese could answer me. A Mandarin speaker, but better than nothing. I trotted off to the closest China shop, the owner of which I knew spoke good Spanish.  

"Oh yes, that's easy. No hay le medio," she said.

Really? That sounded strange. No hay, there isn't any, okay. But "le medio"? For him half? I wrote it down and showed her. Yes, yes, she nodded. No hay le medio. 

My super fluent friend Heather, who is also teaching my Spanish course Learn Spanish without Really Trying, cLearn Spanish without Really Trying, cracked up when she heard it. 

"It should be No hay remedio! There is no remedy!" she cackled between gulps of air. 

Ahhh, so that old chestnut, that Chinese say L instead of R, was true after all. From Hong Kong I was used to Chinese people saying W instead of R when they spoke English; not the famous "flied lice" but "fie wie." But of course, the Spanish R is something else! Only L will do. 


Cecilie's Cantonese school, Happy Jellyfish Language BureauHappy Jellyfish Language Bureau, is still going on. Currently only on Skype, but if you live in Mallorca...

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You know how they say 'you can't go back'? Well it turns out it should be 'you can't go away.' 

Hong Kong harbour at sunset

I left Hong Kong after 30 years mainly to get away from high-rises and the increasing incident of metal fences, railings and walls. I'm not knocking Hong Kong, an extraordinarily successful city until now, I'm just saying that feeling like an ant in a canyon of dark, forbidding glass and metal surfaces while being corralled down a pavement made ever narrower by metal railings "for your own safety" while choking on fumes just wasn't for me anymore. 

Paseo Maritimo El TerrenoWater without high-rises Mallorca


So when I moved to Mallorca where I could cross the street anywhere I liked, houses were two or three floors and the air was fresh, I breathed a literal sigh of relief. Hong Kong was great and China was the best thing that ever happened to me, but it was time to move on. I moved to the outskirts of Palma de Mallorca, with the water in front of me and with a huge park/forest behind me - great feng shui!

The neighbourhood was peaceful and my traditional terraced house old and beautiful.

 So what if on one side it shared a wall with a house that had been empty for 40 years, and on the other a house that had a 八卦 (bat gwa, nosey hag) on the second floor who liked to watch loud tv until two in the morning. Then late last year the stick-in-the-mud 1972 mindset socialist government must have had some kind of mental breakdown, because they suddenly allowed people to do renovation on their own houses. 

All at once an explosion of work started in the neighbourhood, including on both sides of my house. I felt myself catapulted back to Hong Kong, where incessant pile driving, drilling, hammering and double drilling is everyone's life all the time, every day. 

Cecilie_Gamst_Berg_Hong_Kong_Mong_Kok_Skyscrapers_ Pen & Wok Blog - - Cecilie's PenAndWok.comHong Kong island seen from Kowloon

Because in Hong Kong, if someone moves out of or sells a flat, that flat must be completely, and I mean completely renovated before the next tenant moves in. Gutted. Taken apart. Not for them a fresh coat of paint, a carpet and some new curtains - everything must be powderised, annihilated, and crushed. 

Suddenly I found myself between two such renovations, where the house on the left was torn down altogether, and the one on the right gutted, powderised, etc. with a new roof, new walls; lots and lots of new walls, and new everything. 

All well and good - my rent went down and noise doesn't bother me although it has rather been like living inside a pneumatic drill while having all your teeth pulled out without an anaesthetic. But then the building of the new house on the left started. And not only wouldn't it be the same size and height as mine anymore, but its edge would reach all the way to the middle of my garden, and it would be one floor higher than mine. OK - more protection against the elements for me? 

Sunrise over El Terreno
Sunrise over my neighbourhood

When I moved to Mallorca, the one thing I had been a little worried about, apart from missing Hong Kong too much, was the EU. Rules and regulations, niggling measuring of millimetres and tearing down of houses with the wrong door frame colour, that kind of thing - not like free-wheeling China and Hong Kong.

But I needn't have worried. When the brickworks reached my balcony, the workers didn't put up any protection, but let wet cement and little pebbles rain down on my balcony and on my garden.

"Please put up some protection!" I said.

They just laughed.

"Please stop spurting wet cement on my wall and on my clothes drying on the rack!" I said, but in Spanish, so it probably came out as "No. Bad. Net. Help. No cement. My clothes. My wall. No. I don't like." 

"It's not from us, " said the foreman, who was standing there with a trowel in one hand and a brick in the other, 30 cm away from me.

Oh glory! It was exactly what a Chinese bricklayer would have said. I'm HOME! Doubly. 

Next episode: More ways Mallorcan housebuilders are eerily similar to those of Hong Kong. 

Lockdown is the mother of invention

Corona-table-new-table-laptop Pen & Wok Blog - - Cecilie's PenAndWok.comYesterday I met a friend "accidentally" in a shopping centre. We cruised around the aisles, masked and be-gloved, trying to look as if we didn't know each other. That was the highlight of my week. That, and my fabulous IDEA.

As I mentioned last time, book writing, for the most part, is a ticket to starvation and death. But actually, that's only if you don't become a successful author. No, forget about the starvation. The worst thing about writing is the boredom (can't do other things while writing) and the physical pain in shoulders and wrists. So when I got a freelance job demanding eight hours of writing per day on top of the book writing, I thought: I need a proper office chair! 

Two years ago I got an office chair from a charity shop:

Corona-office-chair Pen & Wok Blog - - Cecilie's

Cool, eh? All I need is a long nail, an eyeglass and a white cat, and I'm good to start world domination. The only problem is: The chair is ONLY for looking at. Comfort or workwise it's actually worse than no chair at all. So if I don't want to wreck my back, I'll need a modern, comfortable, real office chair. But it's the kind of thing I really should try before buying, and I can't try when everything is closed. Also they're damned expensive. 

Then, because I'm now totally self sufficient, it came to me. No chair! Stand and write! Like a pulpit or... or a lectern! Buy a lectern? Buy online? Buy... bu... BUILD a lectern!!!

Didn't I have a lot of wood in the garden, thriftily collected to use as firewood? Woo hooo! Full of pioneer spirit I set to work. 

Corona-Table-top-laptop-coffee Pen & Wok Blog - - Cecilie's

It worked. Now I do all the work standing up, and I can't recommend it enough. I also give speeches and sermons from behind my lectern, which my dog Koldbrann listens to with rapt attention in his sleep. This, combined with some Skype and secret meetings near the pickled cucumbers, makes being shut away not only bearable but enjoyable!

When the food shortages start to bite in earnest it will of course be different, but by then I will have grown my own vegetables and caught a couple of cows and chicken. I feel there's nothing I can't do now. 


Love of Spanish in the time of Coro-lera 

Corona-mask-relax Pen & Wok Blog - - Cecilie's PenAndWok.comWell, I'm officially one of the in-crowd! A few days ago I carried out yet another daring raid. A nearby friend, maybe the same one who lent me the DVDs, maybe not (I never kiss and tell, especially not now) gave me a proper MASK together with some hand sanitiser via a dead drop behind a tree 200 metres from his or her house. The mask is both stylish-ish and useful, and SO much more comfortable than what I had before, a too-small painter's dust mask covered in toilet paper. Now I can go to shops and what not, safe and politically correct. 

Talking of which, on Sunday the government of Mallorca "allowed" children out for the first time since the lockdown started. But only for ONE hour, and within a ONE kilometre radius from their home, and with ONE adult. I saw some people eagerly taking advantage of this benevolent gesture that day, and oh how good it was to see children playing again - only one by one and in a suitably sombre fashion, of course. The next day, FB exploded with angry memes. Apparently parents had been talking to other parents, sitting near them and - gasp - chatting! Some children had even gone into the water. The little murderers! Here's what I think: These angry, fearful meme-writers are deeply envious of other people's joy. If they are so afraid of this virus, they are free to barricade themselves at home. They will soon come out when the food shortages begin, to forage for scraps. What, you don't think there will be food shortages? When no one's "allowed" to work? Yes we have deliveries and food shops are open, but who's going to produce the damn stuff? 

Corona-Spanish-course-social-distance Pen & Wok Blog - - Cecilie's PenAndWok.comTalking of a guaranteed way to kill people, or rather, oneself: Writing books. It's the highway to poverty. However, I keep writing away on the course Learn Spanish without Really Trying, now with lots of Corona related expressions! And I don't mean the Mexican beer. 

Corona-Spanish-measure Pen & Wok Blog - - Cecilie's

So my friend Heather, an expert, teaches it (online), and I write and draw. 

Sign up today! You know you want to. 


The danger of breaking the intelligent, well thought-out rules 


Child-train-window Pen & Wok Blog - - Cecilie's

Well, "quarantine" is supposed to be 40 days, so that's cool. Or at least it used to be, in the days when they quarantined the sick, not the well. It's easy to lose track of time and lose interest in the world when one is locked down/in, but some news manage to make it through the grey wall of indifference clouding my brain. 

The other day, an evening before dark, I heard a helicopter flying low over my neighbourhood; so low that I was actually thinking it might crash into my house. Could it be... corveillance? (Corona surveillance.) Surely not, I thought. But yes, two days later I read in the Majorca Daily Bulletin Majorca Daily Bulletin that the local government is indeed flying low over the entire island, trying to catch those who "break the rules" by for example being inside a car with the windows rolled up. 

Not for the first time I thought about my life in Hong Kong and the similarities between that island and Mallorca. I thought about my travels in China with its communism which, at the time, I mostly found surreal and hilarious. One example was being arrested for having hairspray.

Arrested for hairspray


That day I was more than 3,000 kilometres away from Beijing and moving in the opposite direction of that glorious city made more glorious by hosting the Olympic Games (to accommodate which people were being kicked out of their own houses even as late as two weeks before the opening ceremony, the houses being torn down to make way for flower beds) - but in all fairness it was the Olympic Games which had forced the government to take such necessary measures. It's for your own safety.

So the helicopter thing - I think it's a litte bit like that. No, a lot like that. Exactly like that, in fact. 

Meanwhile, all this could have been avoided if China hadn't covered up what they knew was a dangerous epidemic. They stopped flights between Wuhan and other cities in China, but allowed international flights, for example. Me, I prefer the train, but that's beside the point. On that same train trip in 2008, I came across this poster: 

Summer-2008-Guangzhou-to-Lanzhou-Train-restaurant-car-Pensive-before-the-Beijing-Olympics Pen & Wok Blog - - Cecilie's

One World One Dream. At the time I just smiled and thought, aw, good design! But now I can't help thinking: Belt and roadBelt and road, take over Africa, take advantage of the whole world being shut up at home leading to deflation, then global depression... then: One World! Led by you know who! That's the kind of thing I absolutely can't help thinking about, especially when I see each country's government joining in with various degrees of enthusiasm. 

But oh, I miss train travel in China. 

Corona-train-conductor Pen & Wok Blog - - Cecilie's

P.S. If you're not a fan of the Chinese Communist Party and all it has done to its own people and now the world, you should learn Cantonese! Cantonese is a pet peeve of the CCP and nothing irks them more than people being rebellious by speaking it. I give Skype lessons from my quarantine. 100% virus free.