Owen in China 17: Of superstitions, projects and reservations (March 11th, 2016)

Hi everyone, this is Owen and this is my podcast for Friday 11th March, 2016. Let me begin by wishing you all a very happy Chinese New Year. All the best for the year of the monkey! Everyone here gets a week’s holiday to welcome the new year and most people take the opportunity to [1] travel to their home towns to celebrate with their families. A lot of people in Kunming are not from here, so we decided to stay here because we thought it would be very quiet during the holiday. I was really looking forward to a few peaceful days. Unfortunately, however, it seems that more and more people like to travel during Spring Festival and Yunnan province is one of the most popular places in China, so our neighbourhood wasn’t quiet after all [2]. In most places in China they make and eat dumplings [3] on New Year’s Eve and this year we decided to celebrate like the Chinese.

Today, I’ll be talking about a superstitious [4] neighbour, a job I was offered over the holidays and a visit from a friend.


20160311 E new years eveSpring Festival is all about fireworks and firecrackers. They start lighting fireworks at midnight and it continues for 15 days until the full-moon. Fireworks can be nice but I’ve never really understood the appeal of firecrackers. They just make a loud bang [5]. Here they sell strings [6] of firecrackers that you can light at one end and then you get to listen to a long series of bangs. People normally go outside to let off their firecrackers. However, a neighbour on the sixth floor of our apartment building didn't bother [7] going outside. He just opened his door one afternoon and let off a lot of firecrackers in the staircase. It was so loud, I thought the whole building was collapsing [8]. Then for the next couple of days I noticed that he wasn't cleaning up the mess [9] he’d made in the staircase. I was a bit annoyed by it all, so I knocked on his door and told him to clean it up. But he just said: ‘Tomorrow, tomorrow.’ I didn't understand why he couldn't just clean it up straightaway. After I told a friend about it, he explained to me that you’re not allowed to sweep [10] for the first three days of the new year. People let off firecrackers to scare away ghosts and bad spirits. To make sure you have a good start to the year, you have to let off firecrackers in front of your house in order to protect your house from evil [11] spirits. But cleaning and sweeping is a bad omen [12]. You could be sweeping away your good fortune for the new year, so you leave everything the way it is. Our neighbour did sweep the staircase the next day. The Chinese are very superstitious during this time of year. I also found out that you shouldn't use scissors because it means you’re cutting off wealth. You also shouldn't borrow or lend money during the holiday.


I was offered a job recently. A proper job this time. I know an American, called Dennis, who lives here in Kunming. He had his own lT business back in the US but about 10 years ago, he got divorced, sold everything and moved to China. He’s now married to a local woman and seems very settled [13] and happy in Kunming. I’d seen him a few times but I didn't know him well. Anyway, he’s decided to open a brew pub, which is basically a bar that makes its own beer. He’s been brewing his own beer at home for a while now and he saw an opportunity for a venue [14], so he went for it. It isn't open yet. It is due to open next month. A colleague of mine has agreed to manage the bar. And they’ve found someone, who’ll be in charge of all the brewing. Dennis was looking for one more person to run the kitchen. He knew of my interest in food and cooking, so he invited me in for an interview. I went to meet him at the venue, which is in an old industrial area outside the city centre. The interview went very well. We talked about the location and what sort of food they wanted to serve. I left with a very good impression. Dennis then asked me to cook for him and two of the investors. The three of them came to my flat a week later for a big meal. I spent a couple of days preparing lots of different things for them to try. I tried to think of food that would go well with beer and western food that the Chinese like. I ended up making a stew [15], a roast [16], different pastries [17], breads and desserts. The whole lot. And it went very well. They seemed very happy. Dennis asked me to meet him the following day to make me an offer. So I went over and we sat down for a coffee. First, he told me that everyone had been very impressed with the food and that all three of them thought I would make a great head chef at the brew pub. He then took time to explain how the project was not about money but about building something, starting off small and growing and about how he wasn't going to pay himself a salary for the first year. After all that, I wasn't really expecting much, but what he ended up offering me was still very disappointing. He did say: ‘We can renegotiate [18] after twelve months.’ But I had to say: ’Thanks, but no thanks.’ I still think it could be a great project though and I wish him success.


We had an old friend from Beijing staying with us during the Spring Festival. He’s Italian but he’s been living in Beijing for the last 8 years. His dad was visiting him and because they're both very keen cyclists they came to Yunnan to do some cycling. Marco and fatherMarco, my friend, speaks Chinese and he’s very used to travelling in China but they still had a hard time getting here. Travelling in China can really test one’s patience [19] and travelling during the Spring Festival is not the best idea. So many people are on the move and train tickets are hard to come by. Trying to get reliable [20] information about which trains and buses they could take their bikes on turned out [21] to be very difficult. Everyone they asked had a different answer. Before buying any tickets, they always asked them 10 times to confirm that the bikes were not going to be a problem. The answer was always ‘no’. But then, of course, once they wanted to put their bikes on the train they were told to go to a different office to get a separate ticket for the bikes. That office told them that bikes weren't allowed. As a result they had to change their tickets, but because it was the holiday there were no tickets available. Fortunately, Marco’s father knows China and seemed very patient [22] and understanding. He said he’s used to it from living in Italy and didn't seem too bothered [23]. The day they eventually made it to Kunming, Vittoria and I went to check restaurants to see which were open during the holidays. We passed one of our favourite restaurants and it was open, so we went in to ask if we could book a table. We asked the manager if they were open in the evening and she replied: ‘Yes.’ We asked her what time they closed and she replied: ‘It depends.’ We asked: ‘Well, roughly, what time do you close?’ She said: ‘7, 8, 9 o’clock.’ So we said: ‘In that case, could we book a table for 7 o’clock, please?’ And the woman said: ‘That’s a bit late.’ And then she added: ‘How about 5 o’clock?’ We said: ‘That’s a bit early, we don't usually eat dinner that early.’ And then she said: ’Why don't you just eat now?’ It was 2 o’clock in the afternoon at that point, so we told her again that we wanted to come for dinner. She looked at us and said: ‘Well, you’re already here, so why don't you just eat now? Are you busy at the moment? What are you up to?’ Vittoria and I weren't in the mood to explain or argue anymore, so we told her to forget about it. As we walked out we couldn't help but laugh at how we’ve become so used to these sorts of conversations.


That’s all from me for this time. Käthi, thank you very much for your comment. The saying is definitely true and it is what makes it all interesting, too. If you have any questions or if you want to leave a comment, there is a box below for you to write in. You can listen to all the podcasts on our website www.podclub.ch or by downloading our app. Remember also that there is a vocabulary trainer for you to use as well. In two weeks Gerry will be back. My next podcast will be on April the 8th. Until then, have a great month! Goodbye!

[1] to take the opportunity to do sth.: to have a chance to do sth. and then do it
[2] after all: here: despite what was expected
[3] dumpling: a Chinese-style tortelloni
[4] superstitious: having or showing a belief in supernatural things
[5] band: here: a sudden, loud noise
[6] string: here: a long, thin material made up of threads twisted together
[7] to bother: to take the trouble to do something
[8] to collapse: here: to fall down
[9] mess: a thing or collection of things causing a dirty or untidy state
[10] to sweep: to clean an area by brushing away dirt
[11] evil: very bad
[12] bad omen: a sign that something bad will happen in the future
[13] settled: to feel at home
[14] venue: here: a building
[15] stew: a dish of meat and vegetable cooked together in liquid in a closed dish
[16] roast: meat cooked slowly in an oven
[17] pastry: a dough made of flour, water and butter
[18] to renegotiate: here: to discuss the terms of the contract again
[19] patience: the capacity to accept or tolerate delay or problems without getting annoyed
[20] reliable: consistently good in quality or performance
[21] to turn out: here: to prove to be the case
[22] patient: the adjective of patience
[23] bothered: feeling worried or nervous


Ruth 12-03-2016 16:36
Hi Owen
I‘m really sorry that I didn’t find time to write you a comment about your last podcast from Friday 12th February. I was fascinated about, it was very interesting from the beginning until to the end.
Your description how the situation was and what you were thinking and doing, when you was waiting at the airport to pick up your girlfriend, was such an exciting story. Also all these unthinkable incidents like from your friend who is studying at a university, or the unknown friend who asked you to support her for an important business, I can hardly believe it.
I just have read your new podcast which was very interesting too. Spring Festival sounds good but I wouldn’t be happy if I would have the lighting fireworks for 15 days. I think it’s disturbing for people, animals and environment. I’m agreeing with you fireworks which only make a loud bang makes no sense. It is crazy what all happened in this apartment, the responsibility toward the others isn’t as good as it should be. I was amused about your story of the superstitious man, I have never heard something like that. And then the job who Dennis was offering you, unbelievable but it was exciting to read it.
I want you to know it makes great fun to read in your podcast, unfortunately I need still too much time for my comments.
Have a good time