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Beijing Ups and Downs

Beijing Smog

This city is driving me crazy. I’ve now been in Beijing for one week, and it keeps sending me shuttling between the extremes of my emotions.

One second I’m shivering with rage and frustration when I get fake notes out of the ATM, the taxi driver (successfully) rips me off, the Internet breaks down just before deadline, my VPN won’t connect, traffic jams bring everything to a standstill, and my professor tells me that China is a human rights frontrunner.

But then the setting sun sends golden rays of goodness over the leafy boulevards in the embassy neighbourhood, the cool crowd in front of the Great Leap Brewing gets high on the perfect combination of a balmy summer night, alcohol and laughter, the rickshaw driver doesn’t try to cheat me for a few extra renminbi, and the mood on the Bookworm’s rooftop bar grows ecstatic when the band starts playing, and I just want to move here for good to really get to know this crazy country.

That’s a scary thought for a commitment-phobia like me, but something about this city’s extremes draws me in. It’s all ups and downs, no middle ground. So far it’s mostly been ups, but today is down, down, down. It’s one of those polluted days where Beijing is as gloomy, grey and grimy as any city can be. Breathing feels like inhaling an ashtray. It’s impossible to tell if it’s smog or clouds blocking the blue skies beyond (definitely smog, Caroline tells me) and I don’t know if I’m coming down with a cold, or if it’s just the pollution that’s made my throat sore and given me a headache.

On days like this, I wonder how anyone can live here. I’ve spent all day lounging around at Wagas and Moka Bros and the Bookworm, those cafes crowded with young expats in serious relationships with their MacBooks. I look around at them and wonder what their lives in this city are like, what brought them here and if they’re driven by the same restless search for adventure as me. Back home people think I’m unique for leaving to go living in a far-flung country all the time, but out here I look like every other expat girl sitting alone in a café with a cappuccino and a computer. One of them even has a compendium on Sino-American relations lying on the table.

I met up with a friend today, a Danish correspondent who’s been living here for the last six years, and he said he just can’t wait to get out of this highway-plastered hellhole. Perhaps because he just found out he got bronchitis from living here. I don’t know, I can’t make up my mind about this city, this country. Every time I come back, this being my fifth visit to the country, I love and loathe it a little more. At least it’s interesting.

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Back in Beijing, biatches!*

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I’m in Beijing! While that sentence may not be deserving of an exclamation mark in its own right, the fact that I no longer live in Hong Kong does, and that’s what the sentence implies.

I left my home for the last year yesterday, and though I hadn’t even begun packing before I ought to head to the airport, everything went surprisingly smooth. It still amazes me that I can wake up one morning and be living in Hong Kong, and then less than 10 hours later I go to bed in Beijing, having uprooted my life and sorted it in two smallish suitcases.

It’s my fourth or fifth time in Beijing, and the city is a lot different – and a lot more pleasant – in summer. The fading autumn light that made the city seem old and sad in October has been replaced with bright summer sunshine, the chilling winds of winter have turned into a welcome breeze breaking the heat, and the pollution I experienced when visiting earlier this spring is not nearly as bad now (though I’m sure that’ll deteriorate while I’m here).

I’ll be in town for two and a half week, working for Time and studying a crash course on Chinese foreign policy at Peking University. I’ve already studied a similar course at HKU, but I’m sure it’ll be interesting (apart from the fact that it starts at 8.30 and the university is one and a half hour away from the place that I’m staying).

But that’s tomorrow, for now I’m gonna concentrate on my coffee and reading books about booze and good times (Sideways, as good as the movie).

*Sorry, Caroline, I know you don’t approve of my swearing

Confessions of a Perpetual Time Optimist (Work-Free Weekends, I Want You Back)

How my friends spend their weekends: Hungover on a beach, drinking white wine

How my friends spend their weekends: Hungover on a beach, drinking white wine

Six months ago, when I decided to pursue my dream job and dream education at the same time, I thought I knew what I was getting myself into. I also thought I’d be fine with the sacrifice I had to offer to make it work: My weekends.

“It’ll be fine, I’ll just study and write exams during the weekends and after class ends at 10 pm,” I chirpingly told my friends and family, who stared at me in worried disbelief before finally giving up on ever knocking some sense and basic knowledge about the world – you know, like the number of hours in a day – into me.

Now, six months later, I’m cursing the delusional retard who signed me up for spending every hungover, sunny Saturday and Sunday this spring suffering over exams and presentations and articles instead of on a beach with my friends.

I’m sitting at my new favourite hangout, pretending to work while drinking their bottomless iced lemon tea, which I very much wish was spiked with rum, and participating in online debates about which Bogart movie is the best ever (Casablanca, obviously). I had a fun evening at the Foreign Correspondent’s Club last night, but while I’m not hungover enough to have an excuse to stop working (‘not start working’ would be a more honest description), I’m not exactly being very productive either, probably because I haven’t had a work-free weekend or a break in more than three months.

Somehow the perpetual time optimist in me thought that would be fine, cause you know, she doesn’t really believe that basic rules like the number of hours you need to sleep at night, the number of hours in a day and days in a week, and the time it takes to get from A to B, applies to me (my girlfriends have started showing up 15 minutes after we’ve agreed to meet, cause I always do). The result is exams and articles done in a hurry and often half-asleep, never bad but they could have been better. Sometimes I just boycott the plans I’ve made, jumping a plane or a ferry to a far-away beach in a futile rebellion against, well, myself. Very mature, I know.

How I spend my weekends: Hungover in the office/library, drinking coffee

How I’m spending my weekends: Hungover in the office/library, drinking coffee

I feel like I’m failing myself. So far I’ve gotten away with it and gotten straight A’s and impressed at my jobs nonetheless, but that doesn’t change the fact that I’m not doing as good a job as I could have, or being as good a reporter as I could be, had I given myself less ridiculous working conditions. And while that strategy may have worked for me so far, it obviously isn’t going to cut it when I’m working with the best and brightest journalists of my generation at Columbia’s J-school and TIME.

And yet, if all goes according to plan, this autumn I’ll be working a full-time course load and two part-time journalism gigs again. That’s a major improvement from my present work load consisting of a full-time study, full-time internship and a part-time editing job, but it’s still not gonna leave me time for the breaks I need to stop feeling sorry for myself. Now I’ll stop whining and get to work. Meanwhile, if anybody hears about something able to make a perpetual, delusional time optimist gain a sense of reality, please let me know.

I’m back (and I’m leaving)

It’s April, it’s sunny, it’s summer and it’s exam season, which is why I suddenly find that I have to blog after four months of absence (nothing like pushing off boring chores to make you do all the others).

I’m still in Hong Kong, but I’m leaving. As always. The last time I wrote I was half-way though my time in Hong Kong, now I’m scarily close to the end. So of course I’m getting all sentimental and bleary-eyed and thinking every moment is a memory I’ll carry with me forever and all that jazz. Again. As always. I’m really quite predictable.

So much has happened since the last time I posted in here (I actually think I wrote that exact sentence in my last post, but let’s not verify that telling truth), so I’m equally excused and scolded for not having been a very frequent guest at this corner of the Internet.

Some of it I hope I’ll get around to write about properly, but in short: Got a gig at TIME Magazine’s Asia bureau, spent an amazing couple of very festive weeks in Denmark over Christmas and New Year’s Eve, traveled the Philippines and China with my sister on what might have been my favourite vacation ever, in close competition with the one I spent in Vietnam with my brother in December, worked a full-time reporting job and studied a full-time course load simultaneously, fell in love, fell out of love, spent just enough drunken Fridays at the Foreign’s Correspondent’s Club with the amazing team from TIME, went to China again for a reunion with my homegirls from DC (who now live in Phnom Penh, Beijing, and Bergen), got into Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism, got fan mail from a journalist I’m a fan of (and had tequila shots with him, his idea, not mine), worked like a mad man and lived like one, too. And then there’s all the stuff I forgot or censored.

It’s been a crazy, wicked, wonderful spring.

I was planning on coming down from this frenzy of too much fun and too much work in Denmark this summer, but now it seems that my two month vacation has been cut down to two weeks. More about that when it’s certain, for now I’m crossing fingers and praying to the Statue of Liberty.

Anyway, I just wanted to say that I’m exchanging this skyline: 9UGUD00Z

With this one: _68020419_68016762No complaints.

Halfway there, halfway drunk

Metropolitan Hong Kong

I’m back in Hong Kong, and the city is covered in a coat so grey that you forget that colours ever existed. It’s raining like hell on the cars (and everything else), the street is a sea of hard-working umbreallas, and when I flew in yesterday I sent a silent thanks to the inventer of automatic plane landing systems, as there’s no way the pilot could have found the runway, located dangerously close to the ocean, through the clouds.

It would be really depressing if I didn’t happen to know the perfect cure to rainy day blues (one thing that growing up in Scandinavia has taught me well): hole up in a cozy cafe, order the biggest cup of coffee on the menu, bring a book, convince your friends to come join you, and then leave the book and coffee untouched as you switch to wine and get boozy.

And so I find myself at Metropolitan, one of those restaurants where everything from the wine list to the decor to the cocky French waiters to the soundtrack (consisting mainly of Serge Gainsbourg, no complaints) is designed to make you feel  as if you’re in  an old-school brasserie in Paris. I’m slightly drunk and very happy after a fun lunch with friends. My only plan for the rest of the day is to meet up with some Danish journalists who have been traveling the world for years to hear about their experiences, and then I’m heading to the airport for a red-eye flight back to Denmark. I can’t believe the first half of my time in Hong Kong is already over, but I’m too excited about the next half of my Asian adventure to really notice. It’s been swell, as the many brits occupying this tiny bit of Asia would say.

Saigon Sunday

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I’m in Saigon, and I am not happy about that. It’s not because of the city, which I actually think I like (contrary to most people, apparently) or my surroundings, as I’m staying in a suite (I love getting upgraded!) in a luxury hotel. I even have a giant balcony looking down on a lovely mayhem of motobikes. But I left the island I’ve been spending the last week on today, and, even worse, I left my backpacking brother there. I don’t think anything can successfully follow spending a week on the paradise island that is Phu Quoc with someone as sweet as my brother (sorry, Balder, but you really are), so I think I’ll just camp out on my balcony with a glass of insanely expensive red wine from the mini-bar while trying to figure out how I can make the mobile jukebox that has been playing the same Christmas song for two hours outside of the hotel go away. And then I’ll go to sleep in one of my three beds (seriously, what do people usually do in suites?) and accept that I’ll have to come back and explore Saigon another day.

December mornings

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(Let’s just ignore the fact that it’s almost two months since I last posted anything)

It’s December! And it’s the end of the semester, the year and of a lot of other good things, but let’s not get sentimental. The sky is blue and the sun is shining and it’s still warm enough to sit outside in a summer dress and have your morning coffee with a view of pretty Hollywood Road (Classified, I love you), so I’m trying to pretend that people aren’t leaving (some of them for a couple of months, some of them for good), that I’m stressed out about my two final exams (I should be, but I’m enjoying my Hong Kong life too much), that I didn’t just move out of my beloved apartment in Soho (sort of, my sweet roomie offered me to stay in another room so that I don’t have to crash on friend’s sofas for a week) and that I’m not about to cry because I hate it when good things are over. 

The last couple of weeks have been a whirlwind of good news, good times and good people. I’ve had wine with friends in Soho’s bars, hiked to the peak in the worst downpour of the year (laughing all the way while getting soaked to the bone), done really well on tough exams, kissed with bankers and managed to buy a millionaire a drink, stayed up till sunrise, worked too hard and had too much fun, cried and laughed with exhaustion over the insane amounts of exams we have, been offered my dream job in the whole wide world (I accepted), chased down hidden whiskey bars in dark alleys, and then I’ve done it all again. 

Now I just have two exams left before I’m going to Vietnam to pretend I’m Graham Greene in Saigon, meet up with my backpacking brother on the island of Phu Quoc and work on my application for Columbia’s Graduate School of Journalism while lying on the beach. Then I’m back in old Europe for Christmas and New Year celebrations, and after that I’m kidnapping my little sister and taking her on a trip around Asia. I’ll be working all along, writing travel pieces to finance the trips, but I’m actually looking forward to write on something that has nothing to do with the world order. That’ll be later, for now it’s back to the exams.

 

Letting go of kryptonite

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Dusk was falling over Hong Kong while the day was getting started in Copenhagen, I was winding down with a glass of rosé at my neighborhood hangout while my friend was having her morning coffee on the way out the door. 

But then we’d gotten stuck on Skype talking about boys and love and life and other small matters, just as we used to get stuck on the kitchen windowsill doing exactly the same (or nothing at all). Putting 5000 miles and six time zones between us luckily does not change that habit.

She was telling me about the night she had recently spent with her summer fling, despite the fact that the calendar reads October, summer is long gone and their flirt has been over for months.

”It didn’t made me feel anything. I don’t need what I thought I needed from him anymore, I don’t even want it”, she said, curled up on her couch in a wrinkled Rolling Stones t-shirt.

She seemed puzzled by the discovery, mildly surprised to find that the guy who used to be able to bring her to tears by not responding to a text did no longer stir up any emotions.

”I guess that sometimes it’s harder to let go of the dream that you found the man than the actual man”, I said, making a lot of sense to my wine-imbibed self.

Less than an hour later, I discovered that I would have to let go as well. Though I’d already said goodbye to the guy – in a dignified ceremony consisting of yours truly drowning her sorrows in a bottle of whiskey and sobbingly symphatizing with the worlds saddest man while lying on the kitchen floor – I hadn’t managed to make the daydreams about somehow, somewhere, someday falling in love with him again go away. But now I had to, due to the telltale curse of Facebook forcing me to understand what I had tried to push out of my mind. It was over.

The realization came with a pang of pain, but then it passed and it didn’t reappear. I recognized the bewilderness I had just seen on my friends face. To my surprise I wasn’t crushed, I wasn’t crying, I wasn’t crumbling on the inside. I wasn’t even feeling like drinking whiskey.

”Oh no, how are you?”, my friend asked nervously, fearing I would fall apart again.

But I was fine.

It dawned on my that I had failed to notice that the guy I had considered to be my kryptonite had lost his impact on me. I had not wanted to get over him, but I was. But still I did not want to let go of my kryptonite. My heart was too empty without someone in it that could break it. The night seemed lonelier, the world seemed larger. And I felt a little lost.

A weakness like that, the kind that can bring you to your knees, adds a sense of purpose to your life by mapping out the direction. Find what you love and let it kill you, Bukowski wrote, and the first step in following those words of advice – and you should always follow Bukowskis words of advice – is to identify what can kill you.

All of a sudden I wasn’t only robbed of the man and the sorrow, I was also robbed of the believance that I had found that thing. Something great enough to kill me. I thought I had experienced the kind of love that could break me, and as a hopeless romantic longing for big emotions and something worth letting my heart loose for, I wanted it to.

As the winding streets of Sheung Wan led me home, I was a little annoyed at how fine I really was. Annoyed that now I have to start over testing the seemingly endless limits of how much a heart can take. They’re stronger than we think. So now please excuse me while I go looking for a more powerful piece of kryptonite.

Upcoming travels

It’s Monday again! I can’t believe how fast time flies. The days run away like wild horses, as my man Charles Bukowski said. He also said that you should find what you love and let it kill you. And he drank a lot of whiskey. He was a wise man.

Anyway, I thought I’d stop by to tell you about my upcoming travels, as this is, you know, a travel blog. Sort of. Mostly it’s just random rambling, as you’ve probably noticed.

I’ve worked hard for the last couple of months, and the reward came today when I looked at my bank account. It is a fine-looking bank account, or at least it was until I payed rent. Rent in Hong Kong is as insanely expensive as the plane and train tickets are cheap. Here’s where the latter are taking me:

Pulau_Mantanani-sabah-travel_package-island-e1335325018439

Pulai Mantanani
I had a reading week in October, but of course my beloved university decided that we have classes anyway (we also have courses almost every Saturday, as I’ll tell you more about later). That means that I know have two prolonged weekends instead, and I’ll be spending the first of them on this lovely little island off Borneo. It’ll be just me and 3000 pages on international affairs. Very romantic, I know.

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Beijing (and beyond)
The second weekend I’m going to Beijing to trek on the Great Wall, see what that talk on China is all about, hang out with my two favorite Texans Rick and Caroline, and track down the mobile mohito bar I’ve heard so many rumors about. I spend almost all of my time writing or reading or thinking about China’s rise and the implications it will have on everything and everyone, so it is about time that I go.

SHA Old Town At Night

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Shanghai or Taipei or both
In the last weekend of October I’m probably going to either Shanghai or Taipei with a Danish friend of mine. I’ll probably go to the city we don’t go to the following weekend on my own.

fall-in-the-forrest-670x224Denmark
In November I’m going back to Denmark for a week to celebrate my girlfriends birthday, see the people that I miss and have a couple of work-related meetings. While I’m fantasizing about fall like it’s pictures above, it’ll probably be more like this:

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But hey, I’ll be with my friends, so who cares (I probably will when I’m standing in the pouring rain screaming at the occupied taxis, but let’s pretend that I’m zen for a moment).

Palawan-Island-3

Palawan
When I’m done with my exams in December, I’m going to the Philippines to dive and do nothing and, most importantly, see my little brother. He’s currently backpacking around Asia and I miss him so much. We’ve been on diving together previously (in Malaysia), and it is so much fun.

amazing-beautiful-christmas-copenhagen-denmark-europe-Favim.com-53087

Denmark (again)
In December I’m going back to Denmark again to celebrate Christmas with my family, escape the cold at cozy cocktail bars in Copenhagen and be remembered what degrees below the freezing point feels like. I hope we’ll have snow!

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London
I’m celebrating New Year’s Eve in London with the lovely bunch of madmen that I spent my summer in Rwanda with. I’m not one of those who laves to hate New Year’s Eve – that’s as mainstream as getting a tattoo – I really love the evening. But that’s probably just because I’m a sucker for sentimentality, and nothing is more sentimental than ends and beginnings. Even if nothing changes.

tourshalong.com Indochina Sails junk  cruise Halong Bay Indochina Sail3.jpg_21121562008_2_S_1

Vietnam (and Thailand)
When I’m flying back to Asia after Christmas and New Year, I’m kidnapping my little sister and taking her with me. We still haven’t decided where to go, but at the moment we’re thinking about Vietnam. If our brother is still roaming around somewhere in Asia we’ll probably scrub whatever plans we have and just go where he is, though. But if he isn’t, this looks like a pretty good plan to me:

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Pretty, right?

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Phnom Penh
Sometime in February or March I’d like to go back to Phnom Penh, a city I fell deeply in love when I stayed there for a few – way to few – days in January. Upon learning that my friend Emily, whom I worked together with at Hearst Newspapers in DC, is moving there in January, I want to go even more. I think I’ll go with the other people that I worked with in DC – somehow we all ended up in different parts of Asia – and do a Potomac reunion on the Mekong River.

There are so many other places I want to go – Japan, Myanmar, Australia, Laos, the parts of Indonesia, China, Borneo and the Philippines that I haven’t been to yet – but I have a couple of breaks during the spring semester where I can go travel. If I manage to write about all of my upcoming trips, this might actually become the travel blog it is intended to be.

Monday, oh Monday (I used to love you so)

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The view from Victoria Peak when it’s raining

The night passed, the typhoon blew over, the sadness was properly sedated and I’m left in the dim greyness of what I’d like to call Monday morning, but what is actually monday afternoon. And in a few minutes I’ll be writing and reading and exercising and doing whatever else you’re supposed to do in the first hours of the first day of the week, but for now I’m sitting in my windowsill applauding how well the thousand shades of grey actually suits my city and my mind. Up until now I thought Paris was the only thing that looked good in that godforsaken color.

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But it really does

I feel like hitting pause so that I can sit here for a couple of hours, but with the workload I have brought upon myself this year, that is not an option. The only thing I can do to give myself more time to do that kind of solitary nothing is to scale back on time with friends, and that is as unlikely to happen as me staying in one country for more than a month. I guess I’ll have to cut back on sleep. 

Usually I’m not like this, I actually love Monday mornings almost as much as I love Friday afternoons. I think I’m just a little overwhelmed by the growing realization of how much I’ll have to work this year. It really shouldn’t come as a surprise to me, with more than two full-time course loads (one in Hong Kong, close to two in Sweden) a part-time job (as US editor at a Danish news media) and an exorbitant insistence on having a good time, every hour, every day (and night, not least), it really was a given. But I am stunned to discover that I can’t keep on going out every night, crashing on friends sofas instead of going home, spend hours every morning reading the newspaper and strolling around town wasting time with music in my ears. Not if I want good grades and to do well at my job, and I really, really do. Well hello there, grown-up world, I guess it’s time we meet. 

I better ask the spoiled brat to go back to Never Neverland, put an end to the self-pity and start working. But if anyone sees Peter Pan, please let him know where I live.

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