my first English novel PILLOWS

Are you fascinated by the far East, especially modern China with Shanghai – such a metropolitan city – on focus, meanwhile you are wondering how it was like some decades ago?

Are you interested in interracial relationships? Say, Western men (white and coloured) try to develop romantic relationships with Chinese women in Shanghai, how the other Chinese people look at such things?

Or, you might be more business-minded and interested in doing business with Chinese people, especially in a very fast-paced international environment like Shanghai where opportunities pave the roads and streets, would you want to read about the business behaviour described in my book?

Then, again, love… LOVE,  this perpetual topic – seriously over-discussed but also seems never enough-discussed. How would these contemporary Chinese people enjoy love and be torn by love?

I hope you will find out everything that you have been looking for in Pillows. Now it is available on all Amazon websites. US$14.99 for a paperback, US$2.99 for a Kindle eBook.

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Day 10 in Quarantine

Today is my last day in quarantine. I’ve been informed that tomorrow morning I will be released. I will then find a way to go to Shanghai – my destination and my hometown. I’m supposed to be thrilled. But instead, I feel sad.

The whole journey to THE East has been like a dream – a not so sweet one, though.

It all started with the purpose of life, my life. When I think big, I say, I want to make a change in the world, leave an impact. When it comes down to earth, I know, I have to do it – to go to mainland China, my responsible territory for work, to develop the business.

I started looking for air tickets over a year ago. Despite the ridiculously high prices, I (actually my employer) booked them twice and twice the attempts failed. Then here came up an opportunity from Shanghai – Swiss Chamber of Commerce in Shanghai was organizing a flight to Switzerland and a flight to China. I took the latter.

After having successfully completed two PCR tests (one within 48 hours, one within 24 hours), I departed from Lausanne, where my 3rd hometown is inevitably forming into shape, on September 14th, in order to spend a night near Zurich airport. Zurich, definitely my 2nd hometown as how I want to put it, welcomed me with a drizzle and cold air.

By 4am on September 15th I checked out of the hotel and arrived at the airport. To my surprise, there was already a swarm. Many people were rushing in the last bit of the holiday season.

I fell asleep on the plane before the take-off. We all did. It was nearly full. Portugal, is always a good destination for a vacation.

When I suddenly opened my eyes, for no reason – as I was sitting by the window, nobody disturbed me – I saw something totally marvellous. I took out my phone immediately and captured the rare moment – one airplane was flying beneath ours, with a long tail of air, another airplane quickly passing by like a shooting star. Only then did I realize, in one sky, three airplanes could fly simultaneously!

Didn’t capture the 3rd airplane…But I will never forget what I saw.

It was the time for the sun to rise somewhere between Zurich and Lisbon. The song of Norah Jones’ Sunrise started playing in my head and for an entire day my mind was fixated on the lyrics…

“Surprise, surprise

Couldn’t find it in your eyes

But I’m sure it’s written all over my face”

After landing, while waiting for my checked-in luggage, I found the group that had been organized by Swiss Chamber of Commerce. Confidently, we marched towards our airport hotel in Lisbon for a two-night stay and two PCR tests (again, one within 48 hours and one within 24 hours as the Chinese authority requested).

Luckily, this time we didn’t need to hustle ourselves to find those two different clinics out of the six appointed by Chinese embassy in Portugal or to struggle with Portuguese language. It was very well organized, including a photo shoot session requested by the airline for the flight to Hangzhou, China. It was to make sure, we were who we claimed we were.

After experiencing the 4 times “let’s-try-to-find-your-brain-through-your-nostril” test, we became more grateful to the life we had been having in Europe, which till now was taken for granted.

To celebrate life, we headed to town after work (those were two workdays after all. Some of us had to work from hotel room. At least I did.), risking everything that we were not supposed to. Avoiding catching the COVID virus seemed to be everything for now. We were the only visible people on the street with masks on.

Then, there, I had the last two proper dinner. I knew subconsciously, this was the “last supper” kind of thing.

Before we asked for the bill, our test results arrived in each one’s email box with a low key. Yet, it raised all of our attention and the atmosphere became tense. The bill didn’t come even after we had all successfully filled out another Health Code online form. Perhaps the waiters didn’t want to disturb a group of customers whose eyes and fingers were tightly fixed onto their phone screens.

“I got my green code!” One after another was hurrahing in our chat group on WeChat. It must have been a long time since any of us had got so excited. Because only we knew what this meant – we were finally allowed to fly to China.

September 17th, we proudly marched back to the airport and patiently waited in a queue three hours and a half prior to the scheduled flight.

A staff came to ask us if any of us would like to upgrade to the business class. I was tempted, so I asked how much it cost.

Dear readers, please take a guess. My employer paid nearly CHF 3000 (about 3000 Euros) for my one-way Economy class ticket to Hangzhou, China.

“3300 Euros to upgrade to Business class” She said.

Okay… forget it. Nothing makes sense during the whole trip. I started to think.

After obtaining the boarding pass, each of us had to scan another QR code in order to fill out another online form to apply for another Health Code, a so-called black code . And we were told, keep a screenshot of this black code and guard it with life.

We would soon find out why we needed to guard it with life. ;p

Boarding started on time, almost.

The legendary Da Bai (Big White) appeared. Every flight attendant was wearing such a white piece of overall. The strong smell of disinfection liquid compellingly suggested us this was not a vacation airplane. Every flight attendant took their job seriously. Each of us was requested to wear a KN95 mask, during the whole trip.

The airplane was about two thirds empty. Yet, we were requested to sit all together. They blocked the middle part and draped the curtains as soon as boarding was complete. Every passenger’s seat had two boxes of snacks and two bottles of mineral water. There was a TV screen on the back of every seat, but there was no earphone.

When the take-off was seemingly done, the staff came to pull down every window shield. It was in the middle of a sunny day. Nobody said no. Nobody asked why. Nobody dared to make a noise. Except my neighbour – a Chinese businessman who made an investment in Portugal as an immigration option – who kept talking to me about global economy and politics. His kept his voice low, so he had to keep our distance short. I was being polite and participating in the discussion every now and then, here and there. Luckily, we are wearing masks. – I thought.

“You seem to have high politics sensitivity and a strong observant ability.” His compliment to me.

Do I? – I asked myself. The outcome of being all by myself in a foreign environment these years, perhaps.

“And you speak several languages….” He started sounding suspicious.

I know it’s rare for a Chinese person to speak three different European languages.

“…aren’t you a…spy?” He finally voiced the word.

I laughed. I felt amused and flattered. I must be working for the wrong organization, though, who doesn’t recognize my hidden talent. :o)

We landed next morning shortly after 9 o’clock in Hangzhou, China. It was my first time to land at this airport. It’s usually not often used for international flights. The airport seemed extra large for a group of passengers with a reduced number from a long-distance flight.

Everything was very well organized. Where to go, what to show, where to scan the black code. It was scanned multiple times. Our nostrils and throats were probed multiple times, as well.

Afterwards we were embarked onto a bus, without knowing where we were taken to.

Another Da Bai came onboard to warn us: “No eating, drinking, or removing your mask. The surveillance camera is here.” He turned to point at the camera.

We listened and obeyed. Like always.

An entire hour was gone. The bus stopped inside a residential compound in a remote place in Hangzhou. Outside the compound it was a vast field.

We were arranged to accommodate in building number 2. The Da Bai staff were actually friendly. Some of them even wanted to help us with our luggage.

Each of us was taken to a unit of apartment. It was bigger than a hotel room, thank goodness. More space for me to walk around and do my daily workouts. – I quickly scanned the living room.

However, I fell deeply in depression. It was big, because it was empty. There was a desk, a chair, a bed, a small closet with a super strong smell of formaldehyde. The bedroom smelled stale. The whole apartment was extremely dirty, full of dust and construction residues. The worst of all, there was no tool for cleaning.

Each bathroom was equipped with some basic items, including a tiny towel for shower and for everything.

I had to lay my suitcase on the ground and keep everything inside. I wanted to open the windows for some fresh air. Then I found out, the balcony door was locked and each window was chained by an iron thread. Perhaps they wanted to prevent people from jumping off. When opening the door for receiving a lunch box and another round of PCR test, I noticed a surveillance camera fixed above onto the corridor ceiling. Yes, we were actually all safely guarded… or in another word, imprisoned.

There has been fixed time slots for PCR tests, temperature checks, food delivery, and garbage disposal, every day. There was absolutely no personal interaction between “prison mates”. However, we (as in the chat group) managed to ease off our anxiety and depression by joking about everything and anything possible online.

We were (and still are on this last day of quarantine) regarded as biochemical disposals, or huge viruses.

Every morning the staff punch the door so loudly that even deaf people could hear it. My heart races even till the 10th day. My only theory is, they are equally unhappy being trapped here doing their job, repeating the same thing over and over.

My colleagues and friends in Switzerland check in on me and ask me if the quarantine conditions are bearable, if I am still sane. The warmth in their questions keeps me sane and makes it easier than it looks like.

Therefore I’m motivated to tell them the pros of this quarantine:

  • It’s more spacious than a quarantine hotel room
  • The authentic Chinese food is tasty.
  • There is no distraction. So I feel more productive.
  • I have interesting books to read and French listening compression exercises to do.
  • On top of that, I have work to do – making plans to develop the business in China – the whole purpose of this Journey to the East!

It’s quiet here. Therefore, each punch on the door sounds extremely loud. But each bang brings either food or a staff to make sure we are still alive, and hopefully with no COVID symptoms. In a way, it also keeps me awake and alert, not from my sleepless nights, rather from the idealized reality that we are all living in.

Looking outside, the farmers burn the straws everyday. Perhaps it’s the season. They don’t care about the air pollution and how my eyes react to that, or how the bugs seek refuge in my quarantine apartment.

Every evening they play fireworks, as if it’s a ritual, as if they are reminding me, “Hey, life isn’t so bad at all.”

Right, life isn’t so bad at all. I look outside the chained windows and see a group of Da Bai helping some new arrivals to settle in here for 10 days. I see neon lights twinkling from afar.

Tomorrow I will be out. Tomorrow I will be on my way to Shanghai. Tomorrow I will start the second part of this exciting journey to the East.

I can feel sentimental and sad today, because I’m finishing a chapter. This chapter will become a memory, as all chapters do. One day when I recall, I’m sure I will smile.

The New Year That I Celebrated Three Times

Life in Switzerland for a foreigner without family can be lonely. With the obstinate pandemic, lonely is an understatement.

We all hoped the year of 2022 would be different and better. So we used our “witchcraft” by celebrating it again and again to ensure it.

The international new year celebration for me and my Shanghai friend/old classmate took place on a cruise boat in Ouchy, Lausanne. Coming from Shanghai, such lake view and quality of food were too low-key. Nevertheless, we celebrated life and our reunion after life had pushed us to two different countries on the same continent, far away from home.

Why are we so adventurous? Was it too easy for us at home so we had to take challenges elsewhere? And one of the challenges is loneliness. How I meet the challenge is bring a sense of ceremony into life.

One month later it was the famous Chinese new year. In Chinese it is also called “spring festival”. We wait for the arrival of spring, giving it a lot of hope, again.

To my surprise, many non-Chinese people living in Lausanne were interested in this celebration with me together. I suggested a few simple rules according to the Chinese traditions and designed a fun game to enhance everyone’s knowledge of China and Chinese culture. So it happened, successfully.

Red, symbolising passion, excitement, success, victory, was our theme color. Coming from different corners in this world and different cultures, our hearts were beating to the same rhythm.

But the year of tiger didn’t necessarily make everyone’s every wish come true. Perhaps, sometimes we were wishing for the wrong things. I fell while skiing and badly twisted my right knee. My watery eyes remained me how lonely I was. I managed to stand up and to go to the hospital emergency myself. For the first time I was offered to sit in a wheelchair and was pushed around by a nurse. For the first time I had an X-ray and MRI scan done on my injured knee. Looking at the pictures, I was hoping my knee was instagrammable.

A strong sense of humour is my secret weapon to meet the challenge of loneliness.

Today is the Iranian new year. I was introduced to it by a brilliant Iranian girl living in Lausanne. I was glad to be invited to this special celebration. It certainly injected new hope into my life.

We were placed in an 1001 nights wonderland. Without a flying carpet, we took the stairs to go upstairs to visit the palace like venue and learned the old tradition of Iranian new year – seven “s” items were placed on a table. They were somagh (sumac), serkeh (vinegar), senjed (dried fruit from lotus trees), samanoo (sweet pudding), sabzeh (sprouts), sib (apple) and sir (garlic). Every item symbolised something, meanings could be easily found.

The real spring has thus begun. Has it?

Love Hard vs Love Is Hard

Photo by Akshar Dave ud83cudf49 on Pexels.com

While entering again the miserable cold times in Switzerland, I watched a love comedy called Love Hard. It’s a story about online dating, catfishing, and being cliché about the girl and the boy eventually falling in love.

Afterwards I saw a short interview with those lead actors and learned a new term “cuffing season.” Google explains: it’s a time when people enter a short-term relationship in order to go through the colder months together. I thought it was a very practical hence brilliant idea.

As all relationships end, I could design a harmless one for the benefits of both parties. Among all the men profiles there was this particular one average looking guy 80 KM away who super liked my profile. I “liked” him back so we matched.  To my surprise, he sounded super polite, sincere and respectful. Every question from him was trying to understand (and analyse) my personality. He suddenly became outstanding in my view. He was fresh out of a long-term relationship and I assumed he needed a rebound. I decided to give it a try on him.

We communicated well, and saw each other twice. I liked his neat tidy looks and his down-to-earth introverted character. I didn’t like so much something that he was very proud of, though – his long dark bushy beard. But it didn’t matter. It would just be a two to three months deal. Each time he raised a finger to slightly brush his walrus moustache while contemplating, searching for the right words to say, I found it irresistibly cute. 

Then I popped out this question over WhatsApp chat: “Will you be my cuffing season partner?” He said yes. I was thrilled. It all reminded me of the scene in the movie The Proposal. And it went so smoothly. Drama free.

To ensure it would really be drama free, I set up some ground rules. He accepted them all and said he had the same rights as me, so he would add some more if needed. I agreed and was content.

Next morning around 5:30 his first message came in. I had been having sleeping problems lately, which probably was a result of having been sleeping alone for nearly two years. The cold weather deteriorated it. So I read his message shortly: “I have thought about our pact and rules. I’m fine with them and have nothing to add.” He sounded serious.

“Welcome onboard.” I was thinking to myself and clearly having a smirk on my face which nobody saw.

“Great!” I replied, “I’m still in bed but have to get up now. Let’s race to the kitchen!”

“1…2…3…” I typed.

“You won!” He answered, “I’m still lying on the sofa. But as I live in a studio, I’m almost in my kitchen.”

I laughed.

I asked for a third date. He agreed again and told me he would come to my city to visit me and planned to stay overnight.

At my place.

Whoa…. That was going to be another first time for me. My place, is always my sacred temple, my safe haven, my sanctuary, my refuge, my paradise. It’s a literally no man’s land.

But for him, and with him, I was willing to try the experiment.

We found each other at the train station. The mask and the hat covered most of his face. But I would always recognize him by looking at his beautiful hazelnut eyes – big, round, bright, clear, decorated with sinfully long eyelashes that all the girls could only dream about having.

We hugged like old friends. We talked and walked, like old friends. We dined in a homey-looking Chinese restaurant, like old friends. Afterwards we continued with drinking cocktails in a hotel bar, like old friends. However, after a few sips of alcohol and a few flirtatious smiles from me, in the dim light, he was looking at me with extra tenderness. I was captivated by his soft look, uncontrollably falling into the whirlpool made of his dilated pupils.

I managed to pull myself back into the reality. Again, some logical limitations I set within myself reminded me of the very thin probability of working out a long-term relationship with someone like him, who didn’t take initiatives, who didn’t match my energy level, who lived so far away, who just got out of something serious. The list could go on and on. Yet, I was still proud of myself for executing such a brand new seasonal plan.

We were back at my place, sitting on a small couch with some distance in between. I selected a remake of a classical movie Little Women to watch. I had known this story since I was a child. But I was still wondering why Laurie fell in love with Amy and why my cuffing season partner didn’t make a move on me.

Before the movie was finished, I was tired.

I was tired of trying and failing. Yet, I kept trying. And I kept failing. We spent an awkward night together, followed by an even more awkward morning. The sky remained grey and the heavy snowflakes couldn’t fight against the gravity. They fell. They just fell.

I scratched my brain hard, trying to find the most convincing words to make him stay, for just a bit longer. “It’s warm and cozy here. Why don’t you have breakfast with me?”

He said no.

He was certain and firm. He was determined to walk out of my door when the winter officially announced its inception. I had learned to not show my emotions. I had learned to let go. So I gave him one last friendly hug. I stood on my toes. His lips lightly touched mine. His walrus moustache brushed my skin. It was soft and tender. But underneath his soft appearance, there was a hard core. He walked out of the door, and out of my life.

Minutes went by. Hours went by. “He must have reached home by now.” I thought to myself. I had my phone in my hand, but I couldn’t bear to look at its screen. I put on a nice outfit and headed out to have a brunch with friends in a popular restaurant with the reservation I had made weeks back. I put on a smile, so they would know everything was fine.

A day and a night went by. His message finally travelled through the cold time and reached me.

“I have doubts.” He wrote, “I don’t feel it is right.”

“I was just being silly.” I didn’t write this to him, though. Instead, I wrote: “Let’s forget about the pact. I don’t want to put you under any pressure. I want you to be happy.” I knew he would want the same for me. We had so much respect for each other.

Our pact… ended before it even started. How could we possibly date just for the sake of dating? What was I thinking?! I quickly reset my mind in order to embrace another normal Swiss winter.

Weeks went by. A friend recommended me a different dating App, sharing with me her success story. I created my profile and started browsing. Surprisingly, meanwhile not so surprisingly, I saw his profile, where he wrote he didn’t know what he was looking for and where he used a selfie of himself and a donkey. (I’ve always liked his subtle sense of humour.)

I know what I want, always, in my entire life. I just sometimes don’t know how to get what I want. Life has taught me to be patient, to be grateful, to forgive and forget. But I couldn’t forget him and the last friendly hug.

I reached out to him. I told him that photo reminded me of Shrek and Donkey. I told him that he was looking for spark and chemistry. And needless to say, he was looking for his Fiona. We exchanged quite a few messages and laughter, as if we just started to get to know each other. “I’m glad you still want to be in contact with me.” He said.

Why wouldn’t I? Even with the best intentions we can make mistakes, not to mention I started off with a silly and selfish one. He made me realize that quickly enough. Although the liking didn’t disappear so quickly (even though it was generated by the very limited interactions in real life), we didn’t have a reason to see each other again.

Soon it will be 20 months of me being officially single and alone. I’ve tried a few dating Apps and come to a conclusion that love is hardly on those platforms. Because, if Shrek didn’t rescue Fiona, if they didn’t spend time together traveling back to see Lord Farquaad, they would not possibly get to know each other and eventually (but naturally) fall in love with each other.

If two souls don’t interact, there won’t be any spark. If two souls don’t find a way to meet, there won’t be any interactions. If two souls don’t meet naturally, there won’t be a genuine desire to get to know each other.

If you don’t want to get to know me, you won’t know if I am your Fiona or not.

Photo by Jill Wellington on Pexels.com

How to market your product?

I know you love your product. It’s like your own baby – you conceived the idea, you materialised it, you created it. Now you want to nurture it and make it grow, make it shine, make it seen and appreciated by others. You want to be proud of it, and of yourself; you want to benefit others from having it, using it, or even just knowing it; and most ideally, you want to make money with it.

You then created your website, or perhaps even rented a physical space which is to be called a shop. You are aware of the influence of social media, therefore you have created all kinds of accounts to promote your “baby”. However, there is no sales…. which means no revenue… which means your costs are not even covered, not to mention profits.

What is wrong? You ask yourself and you rack your brain. You start investing more money into the physical decoration of your shop, into promotions on social media, but all seems to be in vain. Why?

I know your “baby” was “born” out of love. But was it meant to be “born”?

It sounds harsh. But please take a minute to think about it. Before conceiving the idea of such a product, did you know about the market? The whole market size, the whole addressable market size and your target market size? How many players are already in your target market? How many of them are your competitors?

Then about your product – What are the differentiations of your product? What makes your product stand out? Is it environment friendly? Is it ethical?

Your customers’ unmet needs make them your target customers. Because you will meet their needs. Hence they will love your product and you. Have you spent time trying to understand your future customers? Their gender, age group, educational background, profession, lifestyle, hobbies, etc. etc. If it’s a B2B business, the same principle applies, everything about your customer’s industry matters. Their growth means your growth.

Is your business model feasible? Is it sustainable? Do you know anything about laws and regulations in your production site and your market site? Do you know if your raw material suppliers are reliable? It also applies to the shipment and payment method.

Before you have answers to all those questions, don’t, please just don’t make your “baby” born. Because raising a child is tough.

I am here to help you find all your answers. Contact me.

Back to Innocence

— my online dating stories in Switzerland

About a year ago a girl friend in Zurich gave me a book, encouraging me to go online dating. To celebrate my regained dignity and freedom, she said,”I hope you will find true love. Never give up.”

“121 First Dates” is the title of the book.

By looking at the title, I already felt discouraged. “Does it have to take so many random men to find THE one?” I thought to myself,”Or does this author really have no standards?”

Needless to say, I didn’t finish this book. I have my own standards, and belief.

“What the world needs now is love, sweet love.”

I set out unprepared. The pandemic “lured” me into trying online dating. So after doing my desktop research, I downloaded this most popular dating App in Switzerland. (note: Swiss people in Switzerland don’t approach people. Men and women both. How they date remains a myth to me. Online dating seems to be the only known way to make people meet and talk.)

Next day I stepped into office, two male colleagues nicely pulled me over and raised their eyebrows,” Jinglei, what are you doing on T. App? It’s a hookup App.!”

That’s the reputation of it. I knew. (I did my desktop research, remember?)

I actually felt a bit amused. I tilted my head and managed to ask nonchalantly,”Where did you find your girlfriend?” “On T. App.” One of them answered. I turned to the other one and asked the same question. He gave me exactly the same answer.

“You see, it works.” I smirked.

“But this happens only one out of one thousand cases!”

If this was a matter of probability, I was wiling to give it a try.

A few months passed, my date pool was several times empty. It seemed like I even didn’t want to find a date. But I knew myself – I was never an online shopper. I didn’t like going through product catalogues, just to start with. All those pictures of men looked to me just meaningless, especially when 80% of them left their profiles blank. By showing a picutre of their six-pack abs and some silly snapshots, they thought women (like me) would just swipe right.

No, I wasn’t that desperate. I had my standards.

Then when least expected, someone caught my attention. He greeted me politely and talked smartly. (being of Swiss-German origin) His English was perfect. And most importantly, we shared the same message typing habits. (Yep, this is very important to me.) We clicked immediately. We chatted everyday. We teased each other every now and then. Sometimes I’d laugh out loud reading his messages, and vice verca. “I want to see where our chemisty takes us.” He said. Yet, he made me wait for an entire month before meeting me in person, explaining to me all about his work projects and priorities. As his star sign and ascendant sign both were Capricorn, I sort of believed in his workaholic trait and his words.

Then we finally met and he asked for the very simple thing as much predictably as possible.

Pff. What a strategy he had!

“Told you, it’s a hookup App!” I could almost hear my colleagues say.

“Looking for a serious relationship? Try P. App.” A suggestion from the aforementioned two colleagues.

So, without doing a proper desktop research, but by remembering seeing their advertisements everywhere in the streets, I was convinced it was gonna work. I downloaded it and after completing their painfully long questionnaire, I even paid for a one-year membership! I was determined to take online dating seriously.

At first, you were not allowed to see each other’s photos. Sure, it was designed for finding your soulmate. Many messages from my potential “soulmates” came in. Within a couple of weeks I experienced two extremes – one group of men deleted my contact as soon as I released my photos to them (Apparently, a pretty Asian woman is equivalent to a monster in Switzerland. Run, chicken, run!) The other group of men got way too excited and boldly wrote me: “You are Asian. You must be good in bed.” and “I’ve never been with an Asian girl. What are your tricks in bed?” This time I had to run away as fast as possible.

One of them after seeing my photos wrote me that he wanted to have sex with me, when I reminded him to behave himself, he wrote: “Meinst du, du kannst hier Liebe finden?„ (You think, you can find love here?) (Sigh, he was even not able to write in English.)

No?

Instead of answering him, I wrote a complaint to this App’s customer service. A few weeks later, the App developer decided to let all paid members see potential “soulmates” profile photos. (Yeah, let us judge a book by its cover as we are basically all visual creatures when it comes to online dating.)

The consequence on my end was – it became extremely quiet. No more guys contacted me. When I took the initiative to contact them, their reaction showed that they belonged to the first group of men. They deleted me immediately without saying anything. It hurt (my ego) at first. But I got over it within no time. And I wrote an email to the customer service again and cancelled my membership. (There was no refund. But I didn’t care. The bad expreience was priceless.)

Well, as some wise people say, “Rejection is protection.” This is the living truth in Switzerland. I hence feel very safe in Switzerland.

Winter fell and stayed. It even prolonged to fight against the global warming. And it prevailed. I gave up online dating.

June arrived. The suddenly picked up warm temperature and loosened up COVID-19 measures restored some hope in me. I heard more and more successful online dating stories rooted from T. App.

I was tempted to download this App again and re-created a profile which sounded more serious. “…looking for a soulmate, a kindred spirit, a partner in crime…” I wrote.

And as efficient as I had always been, I paid upfront for one month, to see who “likes” me so that I could choose from the “likes” pool directly.

24 hours later, I received over 1100 likes. 72 hours later, the number of likes climbed to over 3000. By the time I finally chose someone to like, it had hit 4400. So, it should be easy to find THE one, right?

His profile was concise but well-written – he revealed his educational degree, his profession, his origin, his reason to come to Switzerland and his hobbies, his taste in music. Needless to say, he was my type, 100%. (Didn’t I mention I was a visual creature?)

We matched and chatted. He seemed to be outgoing, bold, smart, fun, honest and hardworking. Wasn’t that some of the qualities I had been looking for?

We met and talked. He couldn’t even wait for a second to point out my flaws. So direct and straighforward. So I was triggered to talk more. We talked more. And we wanted to talk even more. So we did. And we did it again, and again. I fully understood his goals and ambitions, his struggles and achivements, his loneliess and longings. There was a sense of innocence in his boldness. There was a reflection of insecurity in his confidance. He was a little boy (from a small town) in his age. I was a little girl (from a big city) in my heart. I thoroughly enjoyed the simplest things we did together. Nothing could prevent us from feeling the attraction and connection, except one thing…

He didn’t know my age and didn’t want to know. I had my theory but I was too scared to prove it.

Rain started and intentionally tired to quench the sparks before they could become flames. I decided to be honest with him about my age and my past (as I had lived longer than he had at this point, my past would probably seem a bit longer as well.)

“I find you very interesting and intelligent.” He looked at me softly from a distance, “But…”

The lightning scraped the dark sky and the thunder followed quickly to cover the sound I didn’t wish to hear. Outside, the rain was still pouring. I knew it was out of my power to stop the rain. The universe always had its own plans.

“Please drive me home.” I uttered those words.

A goodbye was a well-meant goodbye. We didn’t kiss. We didn’t hug. We didn’t shake hands. I jumped out of his “humble” (I quote his word) car and dashed to my apartment building. I told myself not to turn my head. So, I didn’t. I told myself it was alright to walk away from another wrong one and I should enter the buiding as quickly as possible to keep myself dry. But the air was so humid and it got my eyes moist.

I looked at my T. App profile. Over 5500 men “liked” it. But I only liked one. One month subscription was due and I didn’t renew.

“You are too picky.” All my colleagues and friends tell me.

Truth is, I absolutely disagree. The innocence and simplicity I find in myself is gold. I just need to find someone who will be able to recognize the gold and cherish it, and keep it.

The Misty Road to Refuge

Törbel, Wallis

It’s been a whole year and my broken heart still hasn’t been healed. Stubbornness, sometimes can be one of my personality traits. When running out of ways, the only thing I could think of was go on the spiritual path.

It was misty the whole time up in the mountains, where a meditation retreat was organised. The theme was “refuge in Buddha, Dharma and Sangha”. I wasn’t familiar with Buddhism nor meditation. But my hopeless heart brought me there.

The venue was located in a small ancient village with about 500 inhabitants. A church, a cemetery and a temple shared the same piece of land, so harmoniously.

Our accommodation was in a several-storey building next to the temple. It was simple and humble but had everything that we needed. Three vegetarian meals a day and tea and coffee were provided in the canteen. Again, simple and humble but it was everything that we needed. We had 8 sessions and during the breaks we could enjoy reading in the library or take a walk outside.

On the first morning before waking up I was very surprised to meet an old schoolmate / friend in my dreams. I dreamed of myself walking through some high waste water to look for something. After fetching it I went to a fountain to rinse my legs. When I looked up I caught a sight of Kai, passing in a narrow lane. “Did I see it right?” I thought to myself. “It’s been ages since I have last time seen him.”

I dried my legs and went somewhere else. Then suddenly he appeared in front of my eyes! Kai! Yes, it was Kai! My old dear friend from the university. We had got along so well and at one point we even joked that we would marry each other if we would still be single at 30. He was smiling at me and looked radiant. I smiled back and walked towards him. Before I could say “hello”, he first said to me:”Have you seen my wife?”

“Oh right!” I thought to myself, “He is married. He didn’t wait until we would turn 30. But look at him, he must be happily married.”

I hadn’t seen his wife. Before I could answer him, my alarm clock pulled me back to the reality. I saw my dear Kai again, although it was brief in a dream. My heart was delighted.

But I have never met his wife. About 6 years ago in a morning when I woke up in my Zurich apartment I received a text message from her, informing me that Kai had passed away due to cancer. She told me that Kai had told her a lot about me and when he was suffering from cancer, he didn’t want to let me know. She also said that in Kai’s last words he hoped that I would become less stubborn and capricious. I remember during my last communiation with Kai (now I know he was actually coping with the chemo at the time!) he said to me his wife was the most wonderful person in the world. Yes, now I know why he didn’t wait until we turned 30.

I’m just a little spoiled child, naive and playful, always wishing to be carefree, still on my way to grow into an adult. But I know, my inner child is wounded, always wanting to find protection and healing. Therefore, here I was, in the refuge to Buddha. And meeting Kai in my dreams seemed to be the confirmation I needed.

The first morning started with the precept of no speaking at 7am. That was the time our breakfast started as well. I somehow was very excited about this entirely new experience, therefore, I greeted everyone I saw in the canteen in three languages: “Good morning! Bonjour! Guten Morgen! ” (as I wasn’t sure who could speak which language)

No one answered. Then I realised: no speaking. Awkward. But Buddha would understand, obviously.

Sitting like a buddha wasn’t easy for me, either. But time went by swiftly. Outside the temple it had become foggy. My eyes were completely misty when I arrived and I took up 3 merit jobs to keep my mind busy. At the end of the last session, I was able to smile again.

According to Buddhism, the only way to be liberated from suffering is to renounce.

When leaving the temple, the sun broke through the clouds and brushed the valley with a golden touch. My heart found its temporary ease.

Renunciation. That was the answer I had been looking for, perhaps. My spiritual journey has just begun.

Birthday, same same, but different

Each year, February 20th is a special day to me. It is my birthday and usually this day brings back our long-desired spring.

This year, it was double special as I by chance found out my Chinese girlfriend’s daughter was born exactly on the same day…just 21 years after.

Like me and many other Pisces women, she is artistic. But she takes it to a much higher and more serious level. She is an art student working on her master program.

The first meeting with her was a bit funny. Her mom – my friend – asked her to call me sister, as I’m not a parent. “Whoa.” I took a step back. “Does it mean, you and I belong to two different generations now?” I blinked at my friend.

“Aunty?” She asked for my consent.

That title made me feel…old. So I answered:”How about simply call me by my given name?”

We all agreed and settled.

I was very proud of myself that I was able to find a not-yet-officially-open Japanese pastry shop in Lausanne to order a very authentic matcha cake for us as a birthday cake.

Complying with the Swiss COVID measures, I divided my guests into two small groups. Hence, I had two sessions of celebration. Every moment of happiness doubled.

Next day, my birthday celebration continued. As if the lonelier I felt, the more eventful I had to make each day.

With a “Goldenpass Panoramic” train, from a breathtakingly beautiful spring in Montreux, I arrived in Gstaad’s winterland, which was just like another little tiny town in Disneyland.

I was welcomed by a man who arranged for my stay at Hotel Le Grand Bellevue and who liked to say “big time” in English quite often. Mr. Big-Time was elegantly dressed – slim cut blue suit and neat velvet dark red shoes. That was the first thing that distinguished him from the locals – the Swiss locals. Yes, he was Italian.

I was warmly greeted by the hotel staff. Everyone looked just so sophisticated, as if I was on a movie site in Hollywood. One of them was called Oliver, from Paris. While I was being awed by his greetings in perfect Mandarin, he told me he spoke other fifteen languages more fluently.

After drinking up a delicious hot chocolate from a small cute cup offered by one of the staff, I was led to go upstairs to my room. At the entrance of the staircase stood a real-sized dromedary made of cloth. Actually, that was the “butler” to the bar and restaurant. Going up, I was dazzled by an exquisite chandelier hanging from the ceiling. Somehow, I felt her loneliness through her warm light, as if she had been standing there for too long, waiting for her true admirer.

I knew I had been to many other five-star hotels. It had become a sort of ritual of my birthday celebration. However, this time, I felt something different, something unique, something mysterious.

“I hope you like your room.” Said Mr. Big-Time.

“Very.” I answered, politely, with a smile on my face.

He seemed satisfied. Then he slowly stepped towards the door.

“Are we going to meet again?” I asked.

“Dinner, at seven.” He gently closed the door.

I checked the time on my iPhone. There was enough time for me to visit the wellness & spa area. It was a delicate place with enough facilities. Yet, seeing all others in couple, I decided I might need more time to get ready for dinner.

When I returned to my room, the evening housekeeping service had just been done. The water bottles I had left empty and the peanut shells I had peeled off were cleaned up and gone. 

On my way to the bathroom I started taking off my bathrobe, unknotting the strings of my bikini top and quickly realizing that in this spacious bathroom where two sink cabinets opposite of each other stood, a bathtub and a shower room were next to each other installed, mirrors were everywhere, and windows were not yet covered by the curtains. It was too inviting and too…revealing. 

I instinctually used one of my hands to cover my top (this was one of the moments where I appreciated my humble breasts for their genuine size), dashed to the windows and swiftly put down the curtains. But the mirrors… were alluring. Before entering the shower room, I stopped in front of a full-length mirror behind the door. I contemplated my intact body, thinking, who could really tell my age – “The Age of Adaline”. (In the end of the movie, Adaline finally meets her soulmate and starts to age normally.)

After the shower, I went to look for my dress – a red one, not too formal, not too casual, not to thin, also not to thick, the one I had planned to go to the restaurant in, the one that would have been perfect for such an occasion. Yet it was nowhere in my suitcase nor my room. I sighed. I had forgotten to pack it. As if the universe wanted to warn me beforehand that I’d only be dining among those families and couples. Nothing romantic would occur. There would be no chance for such an effort. “How about my birthday ritual?” I thought to myself and felt like a beaten sack. 

“I’m waiting for you in the bar with a drink.” At a quarter to seven, a text message came in from Mr. Big-Time.

I had to put on what I had had before, and same applied to my make-up.

A tall slender waitress with blonde hair neatly put up was chatting with Mr. Big-Time. Even though a mask was covering nearly half of her face, I could still imagine how pretty she must have been. We greeted each other before I was seated. She said to me that the head of the chef in the restaurant wanted to prepare a surprise menu for us and asked me attentively whether there was anything I’d like to eat or not to eat. 

“Wonderful!” I smiled. “I have planned to eat fish this evening. But, just surprise me, please.” 

That was the advantage of being with someone who knew everyone here. I knew I was getting spoiled, big time. Such a familiar feeling that I had left about a century ago; sitting in a posh bar in a five-star hotel, being served with a lot of attention and care, all seemed like happened in my previous life – now was all coming back to me. 

I didn’t know what Mr. Big-Time was drinking. I asked for the name and quickly forgot. So, I ordered the same. Again, the familiar taste and sensation, crawling onto me unmistakably, reminded me of how my life used to be. 

COVID happened only a bit over a year ago. Yet, I had lost contact with myself for like over a hundred years. Or, did I find the true self instead?

Mr. Big-Time seemed very content or rather amused to see my satisfactory facial expressions. He was sitting on the other side of the table, trying to have an amicable conversation with me. Very friendly and very professionally. 

Just after having enough time for an aperitif, we were led to the dining table. Another waiter seated us at a round table that could easily serve a family of four. 

We were eagerly expecting the surprise. 

Mr. Big-Time was telling me about his professional experiences in wine business and hospitality industry. Whenever he was exited, he would exclaim “Big time!” Meanwhile, he was checking his mobile phone every now and then, excusing himself for potential emergency calls at work. 

The theme of the dinner was seafood, as I had wished. I couldn’t ask for more, could I?

Then Mr. Big-Time said something to surprise me, which was in fact foreseeable and predictable already. “I’m afraid I will have to leave around 21:30. She is not feeling well. It’s a forty-minute drive one way to her place.”

Of course. The “potential emergency calls at work” was far beyond understandable. I was neither entirely surprised nor disappointed. I was in line with the universe. However, with the alcohol running through my veins, I couldn’t deny that I was envious. 

Once upon a time, there was a prince charming who cared about me as well. 

Mr. Big-Time managed to wait until the last course which came out together with the head of the chef. We had already lost track of the courses. (But apparently, we didn’t lose the track of the time.) Thanks to my typically notorious Chinese behavior, I took photos of each course and every dish to help me to remember afterwards, perhaps in another century. 

“I will have breakfast with you tomorrow morning.” He said that before leaving. I told him it was not necessary. But he insisted. 

The delicious 8 courses.

I was back in my room, drunk. I hit the song on my iPhone “Everybody Wants To Rule The World” and started to enjoy my own party. I moved my body for a while, dancing like indeed nobody was watching. Even while I was changing into a night gown, I couldn’t stop dancing. At last, I hit a number. It went off.

I hit another. It was answered. A single girlfriend’s soothing voice was all I wanted to hear at that moment. “You will find love.” She repeated that to me, like a lullaby.

I then hit a different song and went to bed. It was Selena’s “Dreaming Of You”. 

The 8-course dinner kept me awake until late. At some point, I drifted into my dreamland. Surprisingly, when I woke next morning, I was feeling hungry. 

I’m still proud of myself for being able to take selfies like this. 😉

Mr. Big-Time was drinking his coffee with one hand and holding a newspaper in the other when I joined him in the restaurant. 

“All the bills have been taken care of.” He said gently, without raising eyes from his newspaper. 

“No!” I protested. No one had been so kind to me lately. I formed the habit of rejecting kindness. “How much did that dinner cost? I must pay you, together with the room rate.” While saying that emotionally, I took out my iPhone and opened TWINT. 

“What are you doing?” He asked me, nonchalantly.

“Transferring you the money.” I answered. Wasn’t it obvious? Everybody in Switzerland used TWINT.

“I don’t use that kind of App.” He finally looked at me, catching me tossing a weird look at him. He was smirking.

“Finish up. Go pack. I will be waiting for you in my car.” It sounded like an order. But very pleasant. 

“Right.” I thought to myself, “He is not Swiss. He is Italian. A true Italian gentleman that appears only once in a blue moon.”

Later that day, he drove me to the snow mountains nearby. We took a walk together and we chatted. He told me how he met his special lady and how they fell in love with each other. And how he realized he was in love with her – “When you are in love with someone, they bring out the best in you.”

He then drove me to the train station as I had scheduled. We said goodbye, like old friends. I knew, I was going to write down this extraordinary birthday experience. I also knew, one day, another prince charming would be willing to slay a dragon for me, even if I would not need that. But that would be meant to be the beginning of another beautiful story. And we would want to be the best version of ourselves.

Love in the Time of Corona

Unrequited love.

That is pathetic. That is undesired. That is unreal.

What I truly want is: the like-mindedness, the same wavelength, the spark, the emotional connection, the chemistry, with one particular equal soul.

For a brief moment, I thought I found it: the like-mindedness, the same wavelength, the spark, the emotional connection, the chemistry.

With this one particular equal soul, my heart was lit up and my spirit was lifted. I vividly felt younger, purer, dreamier, as if everything in my life made sense, again. I instantly got addicted to this occasional high, despite being aware of all the realistic lows. I was willing to wait for the time to prove me right…or wrong. Patiently.

There is no right or wrong, only the ride you choose to take along your journey. Gradually I came to the realisation: the love in this difficult time, for me, is actually all about self-love. Being drowned in the boundless loneliness, every sound shuts up. I look inward, inside of myself. Deeply and carefully. I rediscover an amazing being, who keeps on going, keeps on igniting the spark, keeps on believing in herself and the whole world.

I manifest love to the universe and hope one day, the universe will reciprocate.

Photo by Kartik Gupta on Pexels.com

Loneliness or Solitude?

Loneliness kills.

I haven’t done my research. But I’m pretty sure it does.

There are about one hundred forty thousand inhabitants in the city of Lausanne. There are about twenty-one units in the apartment building where I reside. But they are all total strangers to me, as I am to them.

I know, we are in Switzerland. This is just normal. COVID-19, confinement, lockdown, working from home, travel bans, first wave, second wave and now third wave… just make it worse, especially for a single foreign woman who lives all by herself. As the joke goes, “When the measure of mandatory social distancing of two meters is lifted, Swiss people are happily back to the normal social distancing of five meters.”

Every joke has a little truth to it.

Another truth is, everything has a price to pay. The price for living a non-toxic life, for me, is like casting an amateur swimmer into the vast icy ocean in the North Pole. I am cast. Life can be ruthless. I have to try my best to get to the shore a.s.a.p..

Shanghai dialect is my mother tongue. Around age five I started to learn Mandarin. At age eleven I started to learn English. When I was satisfied with my English language skills, I challenged myself with French. That was eleven years ago. A couple of years later, I started to learn German. Now I’m back to learning and improving French. Life can be surprisingly kind – all my efforts on learning those languages were not in vain, as those langauge skills in THIS country seem so vital. Another joke says, even a homeless man on the street can speak four languages fluently in Switzerland.

Yet, I’m feeling as lonely as those homeless men and women. I know, the only solution is to build a shelter, a sanctuary within myself. I need to become the sun of my own Milky Way galaxy. After month and month of practice, it’s finally working.

We are in the middle of the winter in Switzerland. The last round of snow usually visits us in April. It could also be in May, depending on its mood.

Loneliness and boredom try to kill me. I fight back and we start wrestling. In the process of it I finally understand why most Swiss people don’t complain about their long gloomy winter. The “fashion show” and celebrations actually take place everyday in the ski resorts. When the outer sun shies away, the inner sun shines.

When I will have mastered the skiing skills, I promise myself, I will upgrade the sportswear winter collection in my wardrobe.

By then, I indulge myself in the merry sledging, dashing through the snow. There are quite a few ways to get the adrenaline flowing.

Loneliness thus becomes solitude. I hope.

Hello New Year! Hello Undying Hope!

The new year has inevitably arrived. No matter how awful the year of 2020 has been, the arrival of the new year didn’t necessarily change anything, except that it brought us stronger hope.

Hope. Who doesn’t need it?

When I just moved to Lausanne, the French-speaking part of Switzerland, exactly a year ago, I had nothing but hope. When I encountered a false potential love interest and got heartbroken, I knew it wasn’t anyone’s fault, but my expectations’. Hope, again, became my one and only ally. When I very unfortunately got infected with COVID-19 and my symptoms were getting worse and worse, being trapped in a small hotel room in the famous ski resort (Zermatt), without any medication, but further infection to my dear friend and her daughter (who fortunately had no symptoms at all), I thought I was going to die. I wasn’t afraid of dying, given the seemingly hopeless situation; I was ready to go (how rediculous that may sound to me now) – if I could just go like this, without making an effort to say goodbyes to my friends and witnessing them shedding tears. Yet, my dear friend worked her magic on the Christmas eve and conjured a feast. I was sitting at the table, holding a glass of red wine (symbolically), feeling my energy dwindle. I retreated to my bed and lay down, closed my eyes, hoping it would soon be over.

Hope, never disappoints me, but expectations do.

It was just like a flu. I then recovered. We then were “allowed” to return to our place of residence – Lausanne.

It was on the New Year’s Eve. While others were still trying their best to celebrate, I stayed alone in my apartment in Lausanne, the so-called home. The first time in my entire life I was all by myself spending the new year’s eve. Quite an experiment rather than an experience. However, to me, it was just like any of those evenings, nothing special. I knew, the next morning, except the calendar date, nothing would change dramatically.

Home, is where your heart is. Where is my heart? It belongs to me. I am my own home. No one here to hurt me. No one cares to hurt me. How safe I feel. I started watching Bridgerton on Netflix. I found it to be a copy of Gossip Girl, in the setting of early 19th centrury. Yet, it suited my taste – my hopeless romantic, fancy, cliched “happily ever after” kind of taste. It awakened my hope.

What the major protagonists confirmed me was my theory about two people (a man and a woman) first becoming best friends, then falling in love. When the beautiful friendship ends, the wonderful love story starts.

I hope, one day, I will start such a beautiful friendship with a wonderful man. Will the new year bestow it on me?