December 31, 2019

5 years in China

This text is for my dad, who is celebrating his 65. birthday today. Herzlichen Glückwunsch Papa!

Eli & my father in HangzhouEli & my father in Hangzhou

Almost 5 years ago, on February 15th 2015, I arrived in China for the third time. I had been to China twice before, first time in 2008 for a short weekend trip to Hong Kong and Shenzhen, and the second time from 2010 - 2011 for an internship with Hilton Hotels in Beijing.

This time, I came from Japan, with a short stop-over at my family’s house, where we celebrated Christmas together and my dads 60th birthday. I had spent the previous half year in Tokyo struggling to find a well paying job that would allow me to appropriately enjoy the high living standards of beautiful Japan. So, I moved to China in mid-February of 2015. I arrived in Shanghai on the morning of Chinese New Year, which is the biggest and most important festival season in China. Even though I had already spent a year in China before, I failed to recognize the importance of that date and was surprised to find the mega-city of Shanghai in a New Year’s slumber. A benefit of arriving during the holiday was that I was afforded an extra week off before starting to work. Nobody who could have properly introduced me to the job was on duty. Plus, my arrival visa did not allow me to work and the public servants who could have issued me the required documents were, of course, all on holiday themselves.

I thought I had come at a very impractical time, and felt stupid for showing up on my employers doorstep, without being able to get to work right away. I felt especially bad because I was lodging in the hotel and enjoyed all-inclusive service, while not having bent a finger yet. Looking back at this starting point, I feel very lucky now. I had time to settle in the hotel and get to know my new job in a very smooth and relaxed manner. Everyone around me was in a festive mood and my arrival on the morning of the New Year is symbolic for the new chapter in my life. I like to think that even my new colleagues took it as a good omen that I would start work on the dawn of the New Year. So much has happened in those 5 years that today I look back and feel a strong sense of pride and achievement. When I packed my bags for Shanghai, I never thought I would have settled down in China five years later. Here I am, working and living the new Chinese Dream.

In 2015 I met Jade for the first time and we became a couple quickly. While 2015 is an inflection point, materially there was no big change in this year. I was knee-deep in work at the hotel and devoured my days-off, spent with Jade and other friends in this enormous and fantastic city. 2015 flew by in a flash, and 2016 opened itself as grand as the year before it had.

2016 was all about getting married. In January 2016, Jade and I had our wedding ceremony on the Island of Shengsi. Having the ceremony at the only proper hotel in her hometown, meant we had hundreds of guests to celebrate with us. I was lucky to have some family and friends come over as well and we had an unforgettable time. We only had a symbolic Chinese wedding ceremony in Shengsi, and were not yet officially married. Thus we took all time between January and July to prepare our personal documents to be be officially married. Especially my German certificates that verify I hadn’t married yet, and was in fact not living a double-life, took time to get by, mail over, translate and notarize. In July, we finally had our appointment at the Shanghai registry office and received our red marriage booklet - the cute and official marriage certificate in China. Having effectively married twice already this year, we went ahead and planned our third marriage ceremony, this time in Germany. In my communal church, in front of my family and friends, Jade presented herself to me in a beautiful white gown and we got our friendly Pastor to give us God’s blessing. All three days were so very memorable, and I love the fact how we played with the dates: the Chinese ceremony on 10.01.2015, the German ceremony on 01.10.2015, and the official marriage registration on 21.07.2016, my 30th birthday.

2017 was as fast paced as the years before, but at least the first few months were calm and quiet before the storm began. In May 2017 I changed jobs, and we upgraded ourselves from a small hotel room as our residence, to a large 130sqm apartment, for which we had taken several months and a lot of money to renovate it. The apartment was completely renovated to our taste, we thought it was perfect and loved the design very much. Especially the kitchen, dining and living room were a welcome change from the hotel facilities we used the prior 2 years. And then 2017 became one of the greatest years of my life for one special reason: our son Eli was born. On 5th September the regular pregnancy check suddenly turned hectic. Because Eli had apparently drunk all of mummies amniotic fluid, he had to be taken out of the womb by way of a c-section right away. He was gorgeous, cute and well behaved from day one and is the best I have done in my entire life. The rest of 2017 went by with me learning to change his pampers and giving him milk during many sleepless nights. A beautiful year which I continue to be proud of, seeing Eli grow to such a wonderful human being.

As the last three years have been nothing but successes for Jade and me, we were bound to make a miscalculation in 2018. We overconfidently embarked on a costly adventure by starting our own cryptocurrency focused startup this year. We were blinded by the ever higher prices and felt in a very comfortable position at the time. However, we lost orientation in what turned out to be a bubble. We lost a ton of money in 2018, hiring expensive software developers and trying to wow investors with our blockchain enabled mobility service. In the end, this whole endeavor was a struggle. Jade and I had to realize that we got on the wrong train at the wrong time. Difficult was also the realization that, the two of us were not good working partners. We were a good team in private, but a bad team professionally, and it showed. I took 2018 as a learning session, which taught me to never work with friends or family together again. It also made me more careful with my money than ever before. It was a difficult year, which I am glad we finally waded through into a brighter and more prosper 2019.

It’s the last day of 2019 today. It has been a good year. Yes, I did break my hand, yes last year still costs us money, but luck has showed its face this time around and blessed us with good jobs, good health and a lot of quality time in the circle of our family. Jade started working in Hangzhou and we’ve all moved to the city together. Jade’s aunt was so generous to help us find a beautiful apartment right by the river which we didn’t have to pay any rent for the whole year. I got a job in Ningbo that allows me to travel and follow my hobbies and keeping myself fit with lots of running during my time off. Now, we’re off to begin 2020 in a new apartment. We’re literally moving tomorrow and will spent our first night of the new year in the new apartment. I have a feeling that 2020 will be a good year for me and my family. To the next decade.

china time writing running jade eli live
August 16, 2019

The value of writing

Got to start writing again about live, and all the little things that happen while trying to get the most out of it. Why haven’t I written for so long? Well, it is really really hard to stick to writing every day, or every night for that matter. Because the written words seem banal at that moment. And of course it is tiring to try and record live in a diary, as if live wasn’t right there in front of me, waiting to be lived. But the writing is not only a record of life, it is also analysis and helps you to distill the meaningfulness and focus on living live mindfully and the way you want to live it.

It is difficult and requires a lot of concentration for me to distill something worth writing down in during my every day life. The average day looks rather unexciting and repetitive. Finish work, go to drink” is what my Thai friends in Khao-Lak used to say when I was there. Now, when was that again? In 2007, 2008 or 2009?

I don’t remember. If I had a diary from that time, I could probably look it up right now. On the other hand I could also look up the time in my cloud-saved photo albums. But the hassle. The struggle is not real, but feels real.

Thinking of those pictures from Thailand always reminds me of a few very specific pictures, mostly of myself. One is me in a white XXL Ralph Lauren polo shirt, after I had approximately lost 15kg after living in Thailand for 3 or 4 months. It looks so ridiculous, I don’t know how anyone could let me go out like this. I am pretty sure now I threw the shirt away after coming back to Europe and seeing those pictures from a different perspective, i.e. pictures of moments clearly lying in the past. I never wanted to go back to wearing XXL Ralph Lauren shirts.

I think I never really did. My body weight fluctuated quite a bit still. I got fatter again after Thailand, without a doubt. But few years later in China, I also became skinnier or at least fitter again, with the gym just a few floors down from the room I lived in. I even got quite ambitious and wanted to run a marathon some more time later, and, along the way, got close to actually being skinny. Being skinny, was a first after elementary school for me. But 2 professional setbacks at that time destroyed also my marathon ambitions. Plus, my knees, my legs and my back don’t seem to be built for running. I’m feeling too much pain to go through the arduous training essential to finish a marathon successfully.

On the other hand, I think my mind is perfectly made for running. I enjoy running, the ability to focus on setting one foot in front of the other, controlling my breath and giving my head a 1 hour break to go blank and think through anything it desires to think about. Running is fascinatingly liberating for my mind, and gives an immediate mood boost. But but…the pain in my shins and my lower back the next day is not worth it over the long term. I want to continue to be able to move myself somewhat agile when I am sixty, and not have a worn of knee-cap and non-existent backbone marrow.

Thus, I have to find mindfulness in other exercises. Riding for example, or swimming. Or simply listening to music, smoking weed, drinking alcohol, or writing. Yes, writing is good for that too. The problem with writing compared to running is twofold. I don’t really support my health by sitting on my butt and typing on this not ergonomically designed keyboard, while staring at a bright, eye-sight worsening LED screen. More importantly to me though, writing is slower than thinking, and it involves more mental and physical rules, such as grammar and keyboard layouts. So, I’d argue it is not as free-floating as what I think about when running.

This text serves as an example of where writing goes. But, it will only do so in hindsight. If this text survives my scrutiny in a year from now (and more years later would even be better, but I am an impatient writer) writing will have proven to be an effective way to organize and consolidate my thoughts. I guess the goal is to produce something of value. The question is do words become less or more valuable after enough green grass has grown on them?