One of the best things about Prague is the vast history behind every cobblestone, monument and building in the city. Prague’s two occupations, three independence days and constant social development have resulted in some exciting stories. Do you know the backstory of your favorite hang out spots?

Read the full article on Prague.TV’s website. The best place to discover Prague, like a local!


Behind the Scenes in China: The G20 Effect

What happened to locals (and expats) living in China during the G20 Summit?

The air was clean but the internet was slow – #thanskobama. Everyone heard about the political drama involving Obama’s arrival and how China signed the Paris Agreement on climate change. But less people know how the G20 effected China and its residents.

On September 1st the government shut down factories to improve air quality and reduce pollution. Skies were blue and running outside was less painful throughout China. This was probably the only positive change.

Lots of people in Hangzhou (and factory workers throughout China) got holidays in hopes that they would leave town and make it less crowded. This raised the price of flights and train tickets and sent crowds of people to other cities all over the country. Luckily the population of Hangzhou is only around 2.5 million.

Perhaps it was all the people on holiday browsing the world wide web that slowed down all the internet in China for over a week. Some people, however, blame the government, assuming that they were monitoring the exchange of information following the Summit. But who knows, right?

Shortly after G20 there was lots of construction that had previously been delayed. I had to spend two days without electricity or water between 7 AM and 5 PM. The worst part was, the notice was in Chinese so I completely missed it and ended up un-showered in an internet café all day. Not fun.

Everything went back to normal about a week after all the presidents and foreign officials left China. The internet was fast (for China), the familiar smog was back and my apartment had electricity again! The G20 brought many great chances to the world that you can read about here. I just hope the next one wont’ interfere with my ability to Facebook – just kidding!

Are E-Bikes More Dangerous Than Motorcycles?

E-bikes (electronic scooters) are a popular way to get around China. They only go up to 60 km/hour but they are WAY more dangerous than motorcycles…

“E-bikes” are what the rest of the world call electric scooters. They are more than a gateway vehicle that ultimately lead to getting a motorcycle: in China e-bikes are a way of life.

Speeding down busy roads without helmets may seem like an accident waiting to happen in the West. In China it happens to be part of the daily commute to work, school or to run errands. Even children do it – the youngest ones are usually held in their parent’s lap but older children have a wide variety of riding spots.

They could sit on the handlebars, obstructing the view of the road. They can also sit in the back seat, usually backwards, flailing their limbs dangerously close to cars, trucks and other e-bikes. Finally, they can sit on the ground, where the driver usually plants their feet. This spot is best if it’s raining and a poncho is thrown over the driver and bike.

Rain-fall is one of the greatest dangers to e-biking. The road gets slippery and any turn can become tumble. When it’s raining it’s best to avoid driving against traffic – which is another daily occurrence.

Cars and e-bikes are recommended to stay on their side of the road and follow traffic lights. This doesn’t always happen – cars take advantage of pedestrian crossings to make sharp U-turns, drive in whichever direction suits them best and don’t stop at a red light if they’re in a hurry.

E-bikes can get away with even more rule-breaking and in smaller cities like Huaqiao the police officers won’t even stop you. Shanghai and Beijing are considering banning e-bikes, likely because they are so prone to causing accidents on and off the road.

Personally, I can’t imagine a Chinese city without e-bikes. Not only is it a part of the culture, but it makes it so much easier to get around. E-bikes are cheaper than cars, they run on electricity so they are environmentally clean and they can shorten people’s commutes.

We may consider it scary and dangerous in the West, but the Chinese are raised on e-bikes. They watch their parents drive confidently while playing a game on their phone. They learn to doge near-accidents and develop what must be a special e-bike sense that keeps them from crashing despite their chaotic driving.

Isaac and I bought an e-bike too because when in China…
(we may drive against traffic like the locals, but we make sure to wear helmets!) 

 Showing off our shiny helmets!

This was before we got our helmets. We had to pick them up the day after be bought the bike 🙂

It’s not always fun if the weather is bad…

Chinese Paparazzi & Language Barriers

Caucasians stand out in China. The locals will take photos of you and try to communicate!

Living in China is an exciting experience for both foreigners and locals alike. In smaller towns like Huaqiao, where foreigners are scarce, the locals like to stare and even take photos of anyone who doesn’t look Asian. In three weeks of living in China I have been photographed on the street, in the grocery store and in a taxi.

The taxi driver took several selfies with me in the background and I was almost tempted to pose for him. It takes a while to get used to all the attention and it’s important not to get offended.

The locals are just curious and they don’t do in an offensive way. They also have no problem with you take photos of them Or walking around armed with a video-recording GoPro.

Locals here tend to be inquisitive and will often try to communicate with foreigners. They like to say hello but few can hold even a simple conversation in English – those bold enough will use a translator app to learn more about you.

Taxi drivers may even add you on WeChat, the Chinese equivalent of WhatsApp, that has a built-in translator in its messenger.

Not knowing the language has been a lot more difficult than expected. The Chinese have their own unique hand gestures for numbers up to ten, consider pointing to be rude and get confused by typical Western gestures. It was a huge wake up call to discover that what I always considered to be “universal” body language is far from it.

Luckily, the locals don’t make the same assumptions as we do – they understand that foreigners are not accustomed to their ways and they don’t get offended when you don’t accept money with both hands or if you point at the menu you want to order. Some assume that you don’t speak Chinese as soon as they see you. McDonald’s has a special picture menu that they will pull out to ease communication.

There are also cases when vendors won’t stop explaining things in Chinese while you look at them wide-eyed and shake your head. Even then, they usually just laugh. Learning basic Chinese words is a great idea, but keep in mind that they may not understand you if you have even the slightest accent.

So before you visit China, it’s a good idea to prepare a cheat sheet including any addresses (in Chinese) that you may need, photos of food that you want to try and get an icon T-shirt to communicate with anyone anywhere! The photo below is from Bored Panda.

10 Coworking Spaces in Prague

Office sharing has been gaining popularity because it gives freelancers a chance to share a space, experience an office environment and even share ideas. Working around others can be a great motivator and a distraction-free office can lead to better focus and less procrastination. There are many different coworking options in Prague each with their own unique perks.

Read the full article on Prague.TV’s website. The best place to discover Prague, like a local!

A “China Day” at the Water Village

Suzhou Water Village is known as the Venice of the East for it’s canals and oriental Chinese boats! Read more…

Oriental boats float romantically down the narrow canals. They pass under the round arches of aged stone bridges, past blood-red lanterns and glowing Chinese text. The modern neon lights clash with the serenity of the ancient water town.

After the boats are out of sight and the water stills, the reflection of the bridge creates a perfect circle – like a full moon on the river. The singing voices of the boatmen bounce off the traditional buildings that sit along the edge of the water.

Suzhou known as the “Venice of the East” is a famous water town located not far from Shanghai. The town has a rich history, with 60% of the main area spanning half-a-square-kilometer was built during the Ming and Qing Dynasties which go back as early as 1368.

Not far from the boat pickup is The Humble Administrator’s Garden. The 52,000 meter squared garden was built in 1509, during the Ming Dynasty and is a World Cultural Heritage site today.

You need to purchase a ticket to enter and see the bamboo forests, impressive pavilions and bodies of water that are covered in stunning lotuses.

The China Day:

As beautiful as everything in Suzhou was, it was far from a smooth day and absolutely nothing went as planned. Expats in China refer to a day when simple everyday things just don’t seem to work as a “China Day”… and this was definitely one of them.

It started when my husband and I got on the wrong bus from our home in Huaqiao to the train station. It took us several stops to realize that we were going in the wrong direction. Once we got off the bus, we crossed a busy road and the bus stop to take us back was nowhere to be seen. We had to trudge through +40°C weather until we found a metro stop.

Sweaty, we took a metro to a bus stop and then stood for an hour sardined on a bus until we finally got to the train station. We walked past the deliciously smelling fast food with our stomachs growling – we wanted to buy tickets first. After following a “Ticket desk” sign to a counter where we bought tickets, we were rushed to depart n under 10 minutes. It was seconds before boarding that we realized that we were getting on a bus instead of a train…

The bus wasn’t air conditioned and took thrice as long as a train, but we sucked it up. Finally, at Suzhou we found ourselves just 2 kilometers from our destination. Of course, the taxi tried to rip us off and a strange lady on an e-bike (an electric motorcycle basically) came to the rescue, promising us a ride for just 2 RMB (0.30 USD).

We squeezed onto the back of her e-bike and she took off… in the opposite direction of traffic! She drove between the cars, then onto the sidewalk and over a bridge! When we arrived at our location, she surprised us by demanding 20 RMB instead of 2  which we had to pay.

On our way to The Humble Administrator’s Garden, we got lost and accidentally ate at the most expensive restaurant in the area. We didn’t get to enjoy the garden for too long either, since we got there an hour before closing and didn’t even realize so we didn’t rush. At least the Chinese police that shooed us out were friendly.

With a few hours to kill before the last train to Shanghai, where we would catch a metro home, we decided to find a boat. We found what looked like a boat stop but several boats passed right by us without a glance. Finally, one boat stopped and said that a ride would cost 150 RMB ($22) which we quickly agreed to. The boat ride was amazing, but just after 20 minutes we were docked and the boatman was asking us to get off.

We got off reluctantly and just as he left, we read the sign that showed a much longer journey for the same price that we had paid. The problem was that we had gotten on in the middle and the boatman was happy for the extra cash. Another failure of the day!

For two hours we had a great time, enjoying some wine by the river while bats swooped above our heads. Then the Uber arrived and found us without any problems and drove us to the train station, that was incredibly breathtaking! We managed to buy a ticket and only had to wait 10 minutes to board the train. We scanned our tickets, anxious to get home… but the barrier didn’t budge.

Panicked, we ran over to the security guard who pointed at the date on our ticket – we were scheduled to depart in three days! Isaac ran back to the ticket counter, past the security check and long lines while I paced in front of the gate. Moving as fast as he could, he returned with the correct ticket merely a minute after the departure. The guard let us through just in time for us to watch the train pull out of the station. The last train had left…

Another train was about to leave but it was headed to a different area of Shanghai. Not knowing what else to do, we jumped on and the checking lady miraculously accepted our expired tickets. Finally, we had done something right! We took a longer, different route home but we made it. Our China day was over and we had some beautiful photos to show off – looking at them you could never tell how the day had actually been!

This was near the overpriced restaurant that we had a delicious meal at:
A Chinese chandelier at The Humble Administrator’s Garden:
The Humble Administrator’s Garden:
More of The Humble Administrator’s Garden:
The boat ride down the river:
The boat ride down the river:
The Suzhou train station:
The Suzhou train station:

All in all, it wasn’t a terrible day after all! The wrong turns and challenges just made it more exciting and memorable! 🙂

Chinese Hot Pot: All You Can Eat

Chinese hot pot: where all you can eat, self-BBQ and food on a conveyor belt all come together!

Conveyor belts with all you can eat sushi are popular worldwide. But it’s done a little differently in China. The Hot Pot Store is a restaurant where you can eat as much as you want for just 39 RMB ($6). The conveyor belt is set up so that people can sit on either side and everyone has a small hot plate in front of them.

When you are seated you choose your preferred broth: it can be spicy, meaty or a veggie-flavored. They don’t always have an English menu but it’s easy to at least figure out if it is “la” (spicy) or “bu la” (not spicy). While the pot simmers, you can go to the ready-to-eat area and fill your plate with fruit, ice cream and plenty of mysterious but yummy finger food.

The conveyor belt is loaded with tofu, raw veggies, a wide variety of mushrooms and even lettuce leaves, to be used as a burrito shell for cooked foods, rotating on the belt. It’s not just food, but straws are also rotating in a cup on the belt – the drinks are located in a fridge and you can take them yourself and then pay for them afterwards. “Maidian” is the Chinese word for bill and it happens to be the name of the Ukrainian revolution, so I find it easy to remember.

Most people just take a bunch of different food, dump it in the pot and eat it all together once it’s ready. There is also a great choice of sauces: spicy, sour among others.

Hot pot restaurants are popular in China and they come in all shapes in sizes. In restaurants you can get up to three different broths in a divided pot. You can then buy a variety of raw foods to throw in the pot, including frozen vegetables.

If you are not accustomed to Chinese cuisine, you may have some stomach problems as the broth is boiled tap water which can contain chemicals and bacteria that Westerners aren’t used to. Water is often brought to the table free of charge, however it may also be tap water. If they don’t bring you water automatically, you can ask for it – but don’t be surprised if it’s hot. You have to ask for “bing shuǐ” (cold water). Shuǐ is the spelling in pinyin, it’s pronounced a bit like shway.

There are also street-food hot pots served on tiny mobile carts in the evenings. The raw foods including meat, fish and vegetables are sold on sticks – customers select what they want and the vendor takes the items off the stick into a to-go cup of hot broth. It’s a great snack: quick & cheap! The experience is unique to China so make sure not to miss out on it when you visit.

Please excuse the low quality phone pics:
Meats, fish, dumplings and more:
Fruit! And tomatoes… they are 100% classified as a fruit here.
Sauces and more to spice things up!
They kept refilling this, but we ate it too quickly…
These ice creams were basically frozen sodas. Some were corn-shaped!