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Single and Grateful
By Eve Waites

She had peed on her feet, something the taxi driver had no way of knowing. Indeed he had no way of knowing that she had peed on her feet for the first time ever in her life, and had done so while wearing sandals and shorts, in a public convenience with poor ventilation, trillions of fat flies, and all the unpleasantries found in and around popular municipal lavatories at the zenith of summer. The taxi driver also had no way of knowing that her freshly-urinated toes had spiced-up a day that began with insufficient deodorant and, since noon, had been oozing rapidly into an August afternoon of blotchy foundation, sub-sartorial swampiness, frizz, and a hair-trigger mood. Nor did he know that his gravel-in-the-mouth northern accent was grating on my singed nerves nearly as much as his barrage of probing questions about myself, my partner, and our relationship (rather untimely given the circumstances). He could not have known that I had no desire to discuss international relations from his very particular and troublingly nationalistic perspective. He could not have known any of this, and could not have known that I wanted to throttle him.

The fare rang-in at 19RMB, and I slipped him two tens through the gap in the plexiglass shield which - for the past three kilometers - would have impeded my efforts to choke him had I attempted to do so. How, then, to describe my feelings when he forced one of the tens back through the gap, thanking me with a broad smile for a stimulating conversation and congratulating me on my spoken-Chinese and pretty belle?

Embarassed. Humbled. That’s exactly how I felt as I mumbled a string of penitent and ashamed thank-yous and stuffed the tenner into my shirt pocket. The taxi driver could not have known how complex my feelings were at the moment, or that the issue of the pee-feet (for which somehow I was responsible) had not yet reached its climax. Eventually it did, nine months later. This 11 November I will be celebrating Single’s Festival (guanggun jie, 光棍节).

Over the course of my 13 years in China, this would be the first and only time that a cabbie had insisted I take considerably less than the fare on the meter. (Would this happen in any city? In any hemisphere?) It was also one of the few times that I felt genuinely grateful for any courtesy extended to me in this country. I’d said xiexie millions of times, of course, and meant it. But sincere semiautomated thanks-saying is to the expression of gratitude what a McDonald’s cheeseburger is to, well, a cheeseburger.

The Chinese word into which one typically translates grateful is ganxie (感谢), a compound of gan (feeling, as in ganjue, 感觉), and xie (to thank, as in xiexie, 谢谢) -- literally: the feeling-to-thank, or, feeling-of-thankfulness. This is a little different from gan’en, as in gan’en jie, the American holiday Thanksgiving. Gan’en has the same gan as ganxie, and the en (恩, which can be translated a number of ways) approximates favor or grace – the latter in the sense of There but for the grace of the gods go I. Why was I grateful to the taxi driver? Because there was no norm, rule, or convention that required the taxi driver to benefit me – or: to aim intentionally to benefit me. He was not repaying a debt, making good on a promise, or luring me into a transactional reciprocal relationship – odds were between slim and none that I’d ever be in his cab again. He had nothing to gain by being weirdly, spontaneously generous. And that’s what made my last few seconds in his stationary cab so moving.

One thread of enquiry into these sorts of circumstances focuses on the taxi driver’s actions, on his seemingly altruistic behavior. What has long attracted my attention, however, is the other side of the coin: the experience of being the beneficiary of seemingly genuine altruism, and the resulting experience of a feeling of gratitude.

Ganxie consists of two characters which I have known for as long as I have been wrestling with Putonghua and Chinese-languages, and when I arrived here ganxie was immediately added to my new and tiny quiver of poorly-pronounced Chinese words on the assumption that I’d be using it with regularity – feichang ganxie for this, hen ganxie for that. Feichang ganxie is in fact a phrase you’ll hear a lot at the beginning of speeches, public addresses, and in the prefaces to oratory honorifics. But off the dais and in the humdrum of every-day existence, you’re unlikely to hear it being used with the same frequency as the English word grateful. As my language-skills approached proto-conversational, its absence from discourse was conspicuous.

Which is odd. Chinese antiquity – like that of the Occident – consistently celebrated gratitude as a virtue. In The Book of Odes (诗经) we find this: 投之以桃,报之以李 . (Tóu zhī yǐ táo, bào zhī yǐ lǐ. “Don’t forget the good others have done you and seek to return the favor”.) The arrival into China of Buddhism and its subsequent flourishing only reinforced indigenous traditions (folk, Confucian, Daoist), which, in their characteristic ways and in varying degrees, were principally oriented around ren (仁), yi (义), and li (利) – humanity, righteousness, and (ritual) propriety. Whereas yi and li are sufficient for formalized-reciprocity and debt-fulfillment, it takes ren (and lots of it) to get anywhere near kenotic altruism (and debt forgiveness), which are much nearer to the spirit of gratitude. Apparently, it doesn’t take too many generations of strategic and mercenary guanxi-calculation to beat the gan out of ganxie, leaving behind only a hastily-reiterated xie. Ten thousand spoken xiexie’s weighs less than a single felt ganxie.

The Greeks and Romans of antiquity were fixated with the idea of gratitude (or rather: ingratitude), and the Roman Stoic philosopher Seneca (4bce-65ce) went so far as to say of ingratitude that there was no vice more odious. This was the title of a lecture I gave in 1999 at a very small philosophy colloquium at a university you’ve never heard of. It was based on my research interests at the time, and it focused mainly on a question raised by Seneca in On Benefits (63ce): Can children bestow upon their parents benefits greater than those bestowed upon the children by the parents, on the assumption that the parents “benefitted” the children best and most by creating them in the first place? It is in this context that Seneca gave Western letters one of the earliest explorations of gratitude and ingratitude. My bagatelle of a paper was an incomplete and imperfect attempt to resurrect discussion of a subject which (to my thinking) was receiving far too little attention.

I had no way of knowing at the time, but psychologist Michael McCullough (University of Miami) had been working on a similar topic, and in 2001 McCullough and Emmons (et al.) published “Is gratitude a moral effect?”. Had this paper only helped to legitimate scholarly interest in the phenomenon of gratitude, all would be well; but what it did was yank the subject matter away from belles lettres and philosophy and slam-dunk it into the overrated but fashionable mosh pit of the experimental behavior sciences. McCullough’s long-time collaborator Robert A Emmons (University of California/Davis) explains, in lovely prose, his take on “the new science of gratitude” in his 2008 book Thanks: How Practicing Gratitude Can Make You Happier.

Gratitude is an important dimension to our life as we interact with one another in our everyday affairs. It is impossible to imagine a world don’t receive and give gratitude on a regular basis. Binding together people in relationships of reciprocity, gratitude is one of the building blocks of a civil and humane society. Georg Simmel, a prominent early-twentieth-century Swiss sociologist, referred to gratitude as “the moral memory of mankind”. He wrote that “if every grateful action… were suddenly eliminated, society (at least as we know it) would break apart”. We need gratitude in to function in relation to others.

McCullough and Emmons (editors of the 2004 The Psychology of Gratitude) continue to do research in this domain. Both have websites which cite their work and celebrate its importance in the domain they (individually and collectively) helped to create.

My notes from May, 2008: I am sitting in a well-known chain coffee shop which at the moment smells more like scalp and wet Labrador retriever than Arabica beans and cacao. I am awaiting the arrival of a friend, and have just held open the door for an incoming-patron who, due to what she was carrying, would not have been able to open it on her own. She does not say thank you (or xiexie), or acknowledge my efforts, or appear cognizant of my intention to help. This is the rule and not the exception in these latitudes, and although I’m used to it, it still annoys me. It’s not that it’s rude not to say “thank you” -- that’s a judgment based on cultural-norms for etiquette. It is the seeming failure to apprehend a conspicuous intention to benefit that has me wondering about her and her compatriots’ cognitive or visceral amenability to the feeling of gratitude. And I am wondering about the deeper implications of that.

Emmons’ book Thanks! was published in 2008. I didn’t know about it at the time. But by that year I had been thinking rigorously and conscientiously about the phenomenon (and the phenomenology) of gratitude for nearly a decade. As the scalpy smell of Starbucks churned the mocha-caramel latte in my stomach into something unpleasant and unmentionable, I was acutely aware of the fact that - eight years in-country - and I was still finding it very difficult to reconcile what I thought I know about ‘gratitude’ with what I thought I knew about ganxie and with what I thought I knew about human nature. When my (local, bilingual, and wealthy) friend arrived, I asked her what seemed to me to be a simple question: How often do you think about the things for which you are grateful? How often do you feel consciously gratitude? She paused for a moment, masticating the query with what appeared to be embarrassment. Almost never, she said, almost penitently. By appearing as if she is confessing a moral shortcoming, she redeems herself. She also helps confirm a working-hypothesis. She does not know about any of this.

Since 2004 I have been living in what Oriental Outlook magazine rated “The Happiest City in China”. (In 2009 the same publication ranked Chengdu as “The [Second] Happiest City in China”.) I learned only last year that McCullough and Emmons keep the bread of their research buttered with “happiness-studies”, and it occurred to me precisely ten minutes ago those who cut grant-checks seem to like happiness-research nearly as much as they do research related to childhood allergies, addiction, and Asperger’s. “Gratitude”, Emmons opines,

is the “forgotten factor” in happiness research. We are engaged in a long-term research project designed to create and disseminate a large body of novel scientific data on the nature of gratitude, its causes, and its potential consequences for human health and well-being. Scientists are latecomers to the concept of gratitude. Religions and philosophies have long embraced gratitude as an indispensable manifestation of virtue, and an integral component of health, wholeness, and well-being. Through conducting highly focused, cutting-edge studies on the nature of gratitude, its causes, and its consequences, we hope to shed important scientific light on this important concept.

This might one of China’s most consistently happy cities – one with an increasingly affluent population, no less – but I don’t hear too many people talking about gratitude or the things for which they are grateful. Superficially at least, this seems a little at odds with core of the McCullough-Emmons hypothesis. I also would have thought that being affluent in a country which, a half a century ago, didn’t have enough kilocalories to go around (never mind Starbucks and Lamborghini dealerships) would be reason plenty to feel grateful, to be brimming over with ganxie-ness. But perhaps none of China’s happy cities are really happy. I’m sure there’s grant money somewhere for asking and attempting to answer that question. But then again, social and behavioural scientists are generally better at applying regression-analysis to data from questionnaires than they are at thinking up the right questions to ask in the first place.

I for one am grateful for many things, and the number of things for which I am grateful increases as I get older. I write, now, from a comfortable chair, snugly warm in a little café, sipping a nice California Merlot and nibbling on cheese cake that the immigrant teenage waitstaff here – in this twee boutique, in my happy city - cannot themselves afford. I walked here at a healthy clip and without the use of a crutch or cane. I have at no point in my life peed on my own feet, or anybody elses, at least unintentionally. I know that gratitude is not a feeling of indebtedness, but a feeling of wonder, and that feeling gratitude – as intensely as I do, as often as I do - does not seem to contribute much to my happiness. (To my eudaimonia? Maybe. To my happiness? No. On the contrary.)

And I know, too, that however we analyse, biologize, and demystify altruism it is still a wonderful thing, and that gratitude (whatever the psychologists say) is a feeling of smallness – the kind of smallness that makes one feel giddy, and summons to the frontal lobes appreciation of the fact that most of the best things in one’s life are, in one way or another, hostage to circumstances beyond one’s control. To be susceptible to the experience of authentic gratitude, one must appreciate acutely (and I think chronically, too) one’s fragility, and the ultimate contingency of one’s contentment – or better: one’s lack of discontent.

"Since you are mortal”, wrote Simonides (556-468bce), “never say what tomorrow will bring nor how long a man may be happy. For the darting of the dragonfly is not so swift as change of fortune." I suspect Simonides grasped and understood the essence of gratitude. I’m not sure if the maiden sitting nearish to me now in the café – the one with the iPhone, BV purse, and tuhao bling; the one posting on Weixin pics of her bare milky knees and creamy latte; the one who did not even ritually xiexie waitstaff for serving her the expensive beverage she photos rather than drinks – grasps the essence of ganxie.

But how would I know. She seems to have a nice grip on her latte and smartphone. And she seems happy enough. As well she should.

Still, I hope she accidentally pees on her Pradas.

Eve Waites is the author of a number of books which he has not yet written.

1 “Shiyi shiyi”, the eleventh day of the eleventh month. The series of ones (1 1 1 1) is, I’m told, suggestive of singleness.
2 Emmons (2008) Thanks: How Practicing Gratitude Can Make You Happier, p.9
3 Highlights from the Research Project on Gratitude and Thankfulness Dimensions and Perspectives of Gratitude, vide: http://www.psy.miami.edu/faculty/mmccullough/Gratitude-Related%20Stuff/highlights_fall_2003.pdf
4 See Lung Hung Chen et al. (2008) “Validation of the Gratitude Questionnaire (GQ) In Taiwanese Undergraduate Students”, Journal of Happiness Studies, vide: http://www.psy.miami.edu/faculty/mmccullough/Gratitude-Related%20Stuff/Validation%20of%20the%20Gratitude%20Questionnaire%20(GQ)%20in%20Taiwanese%20Undergraduate%20Students.pdf. See also http://www.psy.miami.edu/faculty/mmccullough/Gratitude-Related%20Stuff/Chinese%20GQ-6_Joyce%20Leong.pdf, and generally http://www.psy.miami.edu/faculty/mmccullough/Gratitude_Page.htm.
5 See generally Martha Nussbaum (1986) The Fragility of Goodness.

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My journey from West to East

Inspired by the skills of martial artists Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan, 18-year old Tim Vukan and his friends were intrigued by this ancient art. After seeking guidance and training from Ving Tsun Gong Fu instructor Jan Hantelman, a connection was made for life. He shared with us stumbling across a tiny Chinese bookshop and discovering hundreds of books detailing the very art he loved. Intrigued by the images he found within the pages, he often went back to look around. It was here that he found the book that would change his life: Chinese Shaolin Kung Fu. Being the only book he found written in German, it became a part of him, attached to him day and night. After watching a live performance from the Shaolin monks in Hamburg he knew it was time…

After six years of intensive training and teaching in Hamburg and Münster, Tim took the plunge and moved to Dengfeng, Henan to practice directly at the source. Home to many academies and thousands of students, he chose to study at Wushu College where a little girl took him by surprise: “The best teacher I had was a nine-year old girl. She taught me high kicks and how to perform very difficult techniques. She taught me to be honest and kind to people.”

 

What was the most difficult part of your course?

The most difficult part was we had to train very hard every day no matter what condition our bodies were in. Training started at 5:30am and continued all day until 6-7pm. After three weeks of intensive training, I couldn’t walk up the stairs and suffered from heavy muscle tension pain in my legs. Once I was lying in bed, I felt calm and peaceful until the loud Chinese march music woke me up in the morning and it started all over again. This pain is necessary to understand your body. If you want to perform Shaolin Gong Fu and to reach a high level we must go further to feel what it means to have focus.

In Chinese there is a saying 先苦后甜, which means after hard and bitter work there will be sweetness. It means that we have to work hard if we want to achieve something. Everything we do is to gain a deeper understanding of ourselves and to learn how to control our body and our mind in different situations. Our body is sometimes weak. Learning Gong Fu is a way to train our minds to tell our body what to do and when to stop. I learnt jianchi 坚持 – it doesn’t matter if we fail or succeed, it is more important to go on. Our body and mind each have their own language and we are able to control our body with our mind. If there is a strong mind and a clear heart, there is a strong body. Many diseases are based on an imbalance of our body and our mind. If we stay focused in the moment, we can prevent illnesses and have a happier life! Gong Fu is a way to choose health and happiness in your life.

 

After Henan, Tim moved to Yangshuo, Guangxi province to continue with taiji quan classes. There he met a woman who was offering taiji sword lessons and became her student, learning taiji next to the Li river. She taught him many things like Chinese cooking and the art of bartering. He felt happiness getting to know a culture which he had always wanted to learn more about.

During his travels in 2004, he really enjoyed Hangzhou. Growing up in Hamburg, he was a part of nature. In Hangzhou, he found he could still have that in the beautiful mountains and bamboo forests surrounding the city. From the beginning of his martial arts career, he often came into contact with Chinese medicine. In 2005, he decided to start studying it. In ancient times, masters of Gong Fu were often also doctors of Chinese medicine – it was a natural progression. Zhejiang Chinese Medical University offered him a place.

 

We hear a lot about the pressure of education in China, did you feel a lot?

The Chinese education system can be very challenging for foreigners. First to master the language and then to get used to the way of teaching. Asking questions doesn’t have much space in classroom; it’s very different to the west. Chinese students are not used to communicating with their teachers, only listening to gain information. This caused a lot of pressure while studying. Preparing for a test required memorizing and repeating facts instead of putting the theory into our own words like back home. Every culture has its own specialties, especially when it comes to education. Now, I often meet young people in the clinic telling me about their life and study and that it made them sick. Young students are often overwhelmed with pressure. I start telling them my story, hoping to inspire them to find their own way to learn.

 

You’ve founded your own company, how has that been? Do you have good support?

I founded Wushan TCM, a Chinese medical network, with the goal to connect the east with the west and to offer Chinese medicine education to students and current practitioners. There are live webinars and recorded online courses about the theory and practice. I also arrange local treatments for foreigners with Chinese medicine and take care of the language translations and clinical arrangements. I work in cooperation with Chinese medical doctors whom I’ve met during my studies and practice over the past twelve years. I want to help people to come to China and to gain their individual experiences.

 

You’ve studied tai chi, TCM and lots of other ways of healing. What would you say is the best medicine?

In our modern times a practitioner has to have knowledge from both western and Chinese medicine to offer the patients the most accurate and suitable diagnosis and treatment. Even though western and Chinese medicine are very different from each other, they can be combined in many different ways. While western medicine is treating the illness, Chinese medicine is treating the symptoms of the patient and finding the source. An example of how they work in harmony would involve undergoing surgery for an external injury (western) followed by Chinese medicine to strengthen the patient help to recover in a more comprehensive way. Both medicines have their limitations and their benefits.

I won’t say that TCM is the best medicine. I believe Chinese medicine can help a lot of people, where western medicine cannot. Above all, the best medicine is when people take better care of themselves and gain more understanding of how we can keep healthy and prevent illness. It’s about our lifestyle, our emotions, our living and working environment, our family situation, our nutrition and so much more. I want people to gain more sensibility about their lives and what makes us ill.

 

What plans do you have for the future?

I would like to combine my life in China with the life in the west. At the moment, I am preparing the German natural license test to be allowed to work and to treat in Germany with Chinese medicine. In the future I want to offer more lectures, seminars and tours in Hangzhou and to give more students the great opportunity to learn from professional doctors. More and more foreigners are interested in coming to China to study TCM. I want to help them however I can. The world will become more connected. Let’s become a part of it!

 

Tim Vukan has been studying and practicing Chinese medicine for more than ten years at the Zhejiang Chinese Medical University in Hangzhou. He founded Wushan TCM in 2008 to connect Chinese medicine practitioners and students by offering Chinese medicine online courses and training tours to enable an authentic education in the theory and clinical field of Chinese health cultivation methods. To learn more, visit the website at www.wushantcm.com.

Campbell House

I first visited Georgetown, the capital city of Penang Island, Malaysia, in 2008. This was just before Georgetown gained Unesco World Heritage designation. I vividly recall the beauty of the decaying historical buildings dating back to the late 18th century British colonial rule. The multi-coloured shop houses with peeling paint stood stoically, telling countless stories of the centuries gone by.

In 1786, Britain established Georgetown to rival the Dutch trading port Malacca in a bid to gain control of the important trade routethrough the Straits of Malacca which connected Europe, the Middle East and India to the west with China, Southeast Asia and Japan to the east.Georgetown began attracting Chinese, Indian and Malaysian merchants and settlers. Each group broughtalong their language, food and religion making Georgetown a very special mix of cultures living together in harmony.

Georgetown’s Unesco World Heritage zone is a compact, easily manageable area that you can walk around in two to three hours. Start at the grand KapitanKeling mosque, built in 1801 by Indian Muslim settlers with its Mughal-style domes and Indian-Islamic minaret, from where the call to prayer can be heard five times a day.

Then wander around Little India with Bollywood music blaring from shops and colorful silk saris on display. Tantalizing skewers of tandoori meattempt you to stop and nibblewhile tables piled with samosas and Indian sweets are hard to resist.Then further to the north, near the coastline are the British colonial buildings that now house banks, western bars and restaurants.

Turn a corner and head towards the Chinese area with colourfulclan houses, temples and shops. Bustling hawker stalls line the streets, selling Penang’s famous street foods like CharKwayTeow, Chee Cheong Fun and HokkienMee. The Chinese community has roots from Hokkien, Cantonese and Hakka and they here are a linguistically talented bunch who easily switch between conversations in Cantonese, Mandarin, their own Chinese dialects, English and Malay.

By the time I visited in 2008, much of the historic area had fallen into disrepair. Then came the Unesco World Heritage designation breathingrenewed life to Georgetown and historic buildings were restored and converted into cafes and boutique hotels. Previously, Georgetown mainly offered budget guesthouses and one very top end hotel. Now, there’s a growing range of boutique heritage hotels for visitors to choose from.

Campbell House was one of the first boutique hotels to open in Georgetown, and work on converting the building into a hotel began even before the Unesco World Heritage listing was announced. The owners, wife and husband team Nardya Wray and Robert Dreon, both saw the potential in Georgetown and had faith in its future. Nardya has a personal history with Penang, having been born in Malaysia before moving to UK andthen often returning to Penang to visit family.

Robert and Nardya bring with them a wealth of knowledge and experience, both coming from successful careers in London’s luxury hospitality industry.The couple embarked on restoring the hundred-year-old corner shophouse, completely gutting the building down to the original beams and structure.Working tirelessly over three years, they lovingly restored the building and filled their dream hotel with antique furniture sourced from around the region.

Campbell House offers eleven suites, each with an individual character representing a different element of colonial Malaysia, such as the Colonial Room with a four poster bed or the Sari Room graced with a headboard made from sari silk.

The rooms are luxuriously appointed and feature modern fixtures and technologies like flat screen TV’s, Nespresso machines, chilly central air-con, rain head showersand newplumbing. You may be staying in a heritage hotel with antique furniture, but you will not lackfor any modern comforts.

Campbell House is located on Campbell Street, right in the heart of Georgetown and makes a great base for exploring the city. The next street over is LebuhChulia, one of the main roads of Georgetown, where you’ll find many bars and street food.

Leaving behind the chaotic colourfulstreetlife and stepping into the peaceful tranquility of Campbell House, the first thing you will notice is the lovely lemongrass scent. Then the friendly receptionist will get you checked-in and pull out a map to show you where to find the best food and attractions.

Respecting the original architecture, there are no elevators in this three story house, but the hotel staff will use a clever pulley system to get your luggage to the top floor. Smoking is not permitted indoors, but you can do so on the rooftop terrace.

As is the tradition in Malaysian houses, guests have to leave their shoes in the public area before proceeding upstairs to the rooms. This ensures that the living areas are immaculately clean and you get the warm feeling that you are an honoured guest in a private house. Each guest receives personalized attention and you can even make special requests for breakfast to suit your dietary needs. The library invites guests to lounge and chat with each other and we had many lively conversations with our fellow travelers there.

Rooms are cleaned twice a day, and atnight they will leave iced tea and some sweet treats in the fridge. The soft and fluffy king-sized feather-topped bed is so comfortable, there seems to be a magic spell around it because as soon as you lay down you almost immediately fall asleep.

Breakfastis served in their Italian restaurant from 8am-12pm, so guests can leisurely sleep in or go out for an early morning walk before temperatures get too hot and still have ample time to return and enjoy breakfast.The breakfast spread includes a basket of freshly baked bread, a selection of housemade jams like coconut, orange marmalade and pineapple, a large platter of fresh fruit and a choice of entrée such as Eggs Benedict or Welsh Rarebit.

Their Italian Restaurant, Il Bacaro, draws on Robert’s Italian roots and offers an alternative to local cuisine. As much as I love curries and fried noodles, sometimes you just crave a fine Italian meal. It’s become a trendy dining destination for travelers and locals alike.

Georgetown is a city you can come back to again and again and never grow tired of.The Unesco World Heritage designation came just in time to save many heritage buildings from demolition. Though developmentis bringing about changes, its soul and authenticity still remains, just a scratch beneath the surface. The introduction of a heritage hotel like Campbell House means you can now visit Georgetown and stay in style and comfort.

Campbell House is a World Luxury Hotel Award winner and is ranked #1 on TripAdvisor for B&Bs in Georgetown. Rooms range from 600-800RMB per night.Air Asia flies from Hangzhou to Penang, transferring in Kuala Lumpur.

Bon Provecho!:

The Hyatt Regency welcomes Raul Avendano, a 31-year-old chef from Chile, to “spice up” their restaurant and buffet. This South American hottie creates a flavor so refreshing it will whip your taste buds into shape and wake you up from a world of slumber. This talented chef started his career in the hotel business studying administration, but after one year he decided it wasn’t for him. He changed majors to be in the kitchen and everything fell into place.

“When I put on my uniform and take my knife, I feel different. I get this intense feeling, just taking the raw ingredients and transforming them to something incredible.”

Raul has been cooking in top hotels all over the world. After four years traveling in Mexico, he moved on to Macau to open a new branch of the Banyan Tree. He was also the chef in the pre-openings of Dubai’s exclusive beachfront bar and restaurant Zero Gravity and the Grand Hyatt Casino Hotel in the Bahamas.   

His Mexican Flautas are a good place to start if you are unfamiliar with Latin cuisine. Succulent chicken breast cooked in a tomato base and wrapped in a crispy flour tortilla, topped with sour cream and fresh salad. Next, we tried the Pork Loin Roulade with onions, garlic, dried cranberries, nuts and apple sauce, pan seared and finished to perfection in the oven. This was served with roasted potatoes and a chorizo-like sausage. If that wasn’t tantalizing enough, the final surprise was the Green Lamb Chops marinated with lemon and served on a bed of creamy quinoa risotto that really got our tongues tingling! We managed to have a chat and find out ‘more’ about the man himself for all you readers of MORE Hangzhou.

So Raul, you have quite the resume! Can you tell us which of your experiences have been the most rewarding so far?
A great place for me to work was Dubai. It was challenging at first because of the religion and restrictions. In Chile, we like to cook with red wine and experiment with new ingredients and spices, but there I could not use alcohol or pork. But, the supply of fresh meats, vegetables and spices was endless and we had good contacts with the suppliers. In the end, I really honed in on other techniques and flavors. It was a memorable time.

We all know how difficult it is to get certain ingredients here. Why did you choose China?
The fascination came from when I was a kid, you know. Growing up, I loved the Chinese movies with Jackie Chan, and I was amazed by the different culture and, of course, the food! Then I worked Macau and I learnt so much! I thought “I’m here! I’ve done it.” China is a place that people from the west think they know until they arrive here and it all opens up. It’s a whole new world. After I left Macau and went back to South America, I thought… “Something is missing in this kitchen… the woks!” Working on a line with these tools and producing a different taste was incredible, and I am happy to be back working with a talented group of individuals.

What’s the greatest difficulty you have here?
It has to be the language. I’m learning slowly but it will take time. I always say “I have no problems, just challenges,” and because I have no problems, I have more time to find solutions. I love working in this team. To these chefs, it isn’t just a job, it’s their passion and that’s what make this food very special.

Where did your motivation come from? Did your mum cook at home?
Oh no, my love for cooking comes from my Dad’s side of the family. My aunt and my Grandmother, they have good taste. My teachers too, they really inspired me to do more. I hope the people in Hangzhou can be open to try new flavours and enjoy eating my food as much as I enjoy creating it.

If you would like to join the taste fiesta, then head down to the Hyatt Regency hotel for their Latin Festival which lasts until April 10th. The buffet, which includes the dishes we tried, will run you 348RMB from Sunday to Thursday and from Friday to Saturday 368RMB (both prices have a 15% service charge).

Raul is in the process of creating a whole new a la carte menu that will be available after the festival with other dishes of Latin taste to tease you too! For more information on this, go ahead and contact the hotel or pop by for a sneaky peak at Raul himself hard at work in Café at the Hyatt. Buen Provecho!

CrossFit:

To be honest, this is not exactly how I saw my Saturday morning going. After a good deal of persuasion, I had given in and decided to come to CrossFit Qiantang to see what all the fuss was about. Standing in a room full of about twenty-five athletic-looking sorts limbering up, little did I know that I was about to experience what would be one of the more intense twenty minutes worth of exercise I had done in my life.

In the car on the way to the gym, after having signed up for the class, we found out what the WOD (workout of the day) was. That day it would begin with 150 Burpees, a movement which involves going from standing to lying, to standing and a jump to finish. Then, 100 Wall Balls, requiring you to throw a medicine ball to above a line high on the wall. These two exercises were to be completed as a team, shared and in rotation. The final part, 5x200 meters, would be an individual effort.

After stretching and warming up, we were put into teams of three, our team name placed on the board, thereby riling up the competitive spirit in each and every athlete present. As the countdown began from ten, the crowd erupted, and as the music got louder, the tempo in the room sky-rocketed and the anticipation became unbearable.

Then, the room exploded as the battle for supremacy began, each team pitted off against each other in an effort to achieve the best time. During the next twenty minutes, I found strength in me that I didn’t know existed as my team and trainers (and even the opposition!?) spurred me on to reach the finish line in as fast a time as possible.

So this was my experience of CrossFit, a way of working out that has taken countless countries by storm and is now rapidly spreading through the mainland of China. For a better explanation of what CrossFit actually is, I spoke with the founder of CrossFit Qiantang, The General. Summing up my experience perfectly he told me, “It’s all about stepping out of your comfort zone. CrossFit is fun, but at the same time it can be brutal because it pushes you to your limits. The purpose of CrossFit is to train at your threshold area, which means you need to push your margin out.”

What is CrossFit?
CrossFit has three core fundamentals: constant variation, functional movement and high intensity. The first, constant variation, aims to improve your overall fitness, offering new and completely different workouts each time, using muscles you never knew you had, in contrast to a more focused improvement that some sports or traditional gym training offer: “We want every single one of our athletes to have a great general, broad fitness, which means they are prepared for the unknown,” said The General. In addition, you only find out the WOD after having booked the class, so if it’s something you don’t like, there’s no backing out: “You have no idea what you are going to be doing that day, just like real life. Life is unpredictable... CrossFit is the same thing.”

Functional movement involves using non-artificial movement – many gym machines promote a movement that is not entirely natural, whereas functional movements are more daily-life based and can therefore be used more in everyday situations.

High intensity is fairly self-explanatory, the benefit being you can put in less time but get more benefit. Rather than spending countless hours on a treadmill, CrossFit can condense this into around fifteen or twenty minutes of actual workout time (not including warming up or down), and yet offers results to match and even surpass longer, less intense workouts.

Why do CrossFit?
Aside from obvious health benefits, the most valuable thing CrossFit can offer is community. Looking lost on my first time in the gym, I was warmly received by trainers and members alike, as they approached me to introduce themselves and confess their great love for CF. Jenny had been CF-ing for around six months and was quick to praise the social aspect CF offers. She’d been working out in traditional gyms for years, rarely meeting anyone new: “I would be next to a guy on a treadmill every week for five or six years and have no idea about his name or who he was. Coming to CrossFit, there is a real feeling of community; everyone is very friendly and a strong bond is formed.”

This bond can only serve to improve your workout input as when you are making that final push, those around you shouting your name are sources of admiration and inspiration, team members who want nothing more than to see you do that extra rep, sprint that last 100 meters. They expect nothing less than 100%, and that is exactly what you should give them.

Furthermore, CrossFit supports and encourages its members to leave their comfort zone behind and do things they never thought they were capable of. The General explained, “The vast majority of people in this world only want to do the things they can do well… we like to give you something that you’re not good at… just use four or five hours a week to do this and your life will change completely.” So rather than doing something which comes easily to you, something you’re used to and can handle with relative ease, why not improve yourself by doing something you’re terrible at. Makes sense, right?

Some go to church, others go to CrossFit
For most, CF is more than just a workout. It’s way of life, a way of thinking that seems to make people want more from themselves. For one member, Adriana, CF was the missing piece of the puzzle, and after discovering it, her life came together, leading her to quit her job and become a shareholder in the company. Like many of the members here, you too may find yourself starting a new chapter of your life. Discover a new you, meet new friends. There’s really no excuse, so go on down and meet the CrossFit Qiantang family.

Give it a shot
For those of you thinking of joining, the first step is to sign up for one of their trial classes, either on Saturdays at 10am or Wednesdays at 8pm. The Saturday morning class will include members, so you’ll have a chance to meet the whole gang, something I strongly recommend, whereas the Wednesday evening class will include prospective members only. Also, many different membership schemes are available depending on your availability, ranging from a one-off drop in fee to a five-times-weekly membership.

To play live is to feel carefree

Etienne Jeanne, guitarist with gypsy jazz band Three of a Kind, has been living in China for almost ten years. His Russian bandmates are based in Paris which means he mostly gets to play with them when he returns to France in the summer. This year however they are recording a new project in April and are hoping to embark on a world tour next year. I asked Etienne some questions about the band and the musical genre of gypsy jazz.

How did you meet your bandmates?
The three of us met in Paris in 2002. I had just moved to Paris when I was 18 in order to start my career as a professional musician, and met Aliocha and Vladi separately while doing gigs in Paris. It was the beginning of the "gypsy jazz revival" at the time. They were performing in an old Russian cabaret every week. I went to jam with them and found we had a strong connection right away so we decided to form a band. We've remained friends ever since.

How do you define gypsy jazz?
Gypsy jazz is a musical genre developed by the late great Django Reinhardt and Stephane Grappelli in the late 30's, on the initiative of Hugues Panassié and Charles Delauney who wanted to build and promote a unique type of European jazz. That is why the Hot Club de France were the first "strings only" jazz quintet ever, innovating jazz music with a totally new sound never recorded before.

Is gypsy jazz the hardest genre to play on guitar?
It definitely requires strong guitar skills to play gypsy jazz, but not only that. A certain knowledge about jazz and gypsy culture in general, and an acuity for improvisation are also important.

Do you think there is a large audience for this type of music?
There is undoubtedly a large audience for gypsy jazz as this type of music is getting more and more popular. When I started to play this music, it was kind of a geek thing known principally in France and a few countries around (England, Germany, Holland, Italy), and now there is a Hot Club in every major city in the world, such as San Francisco, and even in Beijing! This style of music is pleasing to the ear, non-aggressive, and visually strong as you can see guitar players and violin players going crazy on their instruments! Plus it involves the guitar, which is the most popular instrument in the world, so people tend to identify themselves with it even more, especially metal guitar players.

What's the best thing about playing to a live audience?
Two things; the reward of an intense practice at home for years when people are clapping their hands, and the freedom to re-arrange our tunes, improvise, and make people surprised with a brand new show each time. To record is to leave a trace in time, to play live is to feel carefree again.

Where's your favourite place to play in Hangzhou?
I personally like to play in JZ Club because the venue is well adapted for live performances. There are many other places in Hangzhou offering the possibility to watch live bands, but not enough in my opinion. That is why I still need to work in Shanghai regularly since there are more opportunities. Fingers crossed about more musicians coming to Hangzhou in the next few years.

Has Chinese music had any influence on the music that you play?
Chinese music had an influence on the way I write originals indeed, we also cover a few songs from the early 30's Shanghai jazz repertoire.

Which bands are you following at the moment?
In the field of gypsy jazz, there are a lot of good musicians upcoming from all around the world although I think this type of music is precisely the legacy of Django Reinhardt, and hasn't really improved yet. People tend to copy the "authentic gypsy style" too much instead of working on their own interior music, which I think wouldn't have been the wish of the creators of this revolutionary musical genre.

If you would like to see Three of a Kind playing live, you can check them out at the venues below.

April 2nd @ ABC Café (Starts at 7:30pm)
1/F, Changjian Mansion, 415 Huanxing Rd, Binjiang, 滨江环兴路415号长建大厦1楼

April 8th @ Amigo (Starts at 9pm)
8 Yugu Rd, 玉古路8号  

April 17th @ JZ Hangzhou (Starts at 9:30pm)
6 Liuying Rd (Nanshan Rd) , 柳营路6号(靠南山路) 

April 22nd @ Reggae bar (Starts at 10:30pm)
131 Xueyuan Rd, 学院路131号 

April 23rd @ Schänke (Starts at 9:30pm)
Room -3 and 2-2, Building 32, Qingchunfang, Qingchun Rd, 庆春路青春坊32幢1-3室和2-2室

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