Building a house in China

6th of August 2017

Building a house in China can be complicated. It can also be fun.

You find the place where you want to live, and then you find a house, which most likely is still under construction.

The Chinese move mountains. Literally they do. They make islands and lakes around them, all by hand. Well, there are also heavy machines but a lot is done by hand.

My first visit to China was to find a place where I wanted to spend the rest of my life. I chose Fuzhou and found some local people who could help me. When you are a foreigner in China you need help. The system is complicated and the language is not easy. There are things only the locals know about, and you need someone you can trust. I was lucky, I found a family that helped me.

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It was mostly the man in the house that helped. The ladies were occupied and anyway it is a mans job to take care of business.

I was invited to their house for lunch and there was a lot of food. A lot of it, as you can see. Fish, shrimps, big shrimps and of course lot of vegetables. I love Chinese food but the fish is full of antibiotics. They swim like kings in the aquariums and you buy one. You have no idea why they look so healthy but the truth is, they are swimming in antibiotics. My stomach was not too happy about this and usually I did not eat fish in my wonderful country. I knew the secret.

What I wanted from the area, which would be my future home, was to be able to see the mountains and a lake would be good as well. I found both. There were 6 islands, manmade of course. Several mountains and the lake just outside my property. Could not be better.

This was a new area, close to the university city that was also being built from scratch.  My house was on island number 6, the smallest one. The bigger ones have houses about 400 square meters big or more. They do show you one of those fully furnished and they are beautiful, but I wanted something smaller, and got it.

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During the construction I came for a visit.

I needed to see my house would not collapse in the next typhoon!

The view was amazing. Clear sky, mountains and the water just outside my garden. What more could I wish for? Nothing, except permanent residence. I was told it would not be a problem. I could teach in the university and everything would be perfect.

Little did I know.

My wonderful Miss Jiang, took care of me. She was my real estate manager. She had my interest at heart. She worried that the builders would cheat on me. Had it not been for my dear Miss Jiang everything could have been a catastrophic situation.


But she was there by my side all the way, until she got pregnant and left her job for one year, to take care of the baby.

In China we are clever. The sun is hot, really hot, and we use umbrellas for protection. Hats are not common, except of course on the caddies and the golf players. Even though everything is a mess, the golfers are out. The golf course is partly around my house and I saw them every day.

Chinese golf is for the rich ones. The really rich ones. Perhaps it is like that everywhere. I did not play golf but watching my country men was fun. They were all men. I have never seen golf like the one they  practised. If the ball ended up in the water it was just left there. The caddies, the ladies in pink, took care of everything.  During the afternoon brake, swimmers went into the water, diving for the little white ones. The same happened in the evening, before dark. There is no golf after 5. I don´t know if the divers could sell the balls or if they just gave them back to the company. I never asked.

If the golfers want to cross the road and you are driving, guess what. You have to stop. The golfers are the lucky ones and you wait.

Hulda Björnsdóttir




Bacalhau, or salted codfish !

I love fresh codfish, but when it has been made into salted one I don´t like it anymore.

In Portugal everyone loves the Bacalhau.  It is expensive, and in this photo you can see the one imported from Iceland. I sneaked to take a photo in the supermarket, which is of course forbidden. You can not take photos there!


When I was a child, codfish was on the table every Saturday. I hated it. It was ugly and there were worms in it. Yuck ! We had potatoes and melted fat to go with it. What a disgusting food. The mouth got sticky and horrible. The taste was there all day long.

When I look at the horrible Bacalhau I can feel the horror. My childhood horror.

Everyone wants me to like the fish. I can´t.

My Portuguese friends, this has nothing to do with you. I love you, I just don´t love the ugly salted codfish, the Bacalhau. The fresh one is wonderful but it´s hard to get one here in the country.

One day I was in the supermarket and there, from the fishmonger’s table, a fresh beautiful codfish smiled at me. Really? Yes, it was there. The price was high, seriously high. They had 2 and I wanted them both.

Do you really want them both? my friend asked.

Yessssssss! I do.

She looked at me and got someone who spoke English, just to make sure she had understood my Portuguese correctly. This was for her somehow too much to swallow. The other lady convinced my friend it was ok to cut the fish and I was not going to back on my word. They don´t cut it, they saw it. I would have preferred to have it in fillets but did not want to confuse them any more.

On my way out, after paying, I saw a friend from the gymnasium, and showed him my wonderful bag, a big bag, full of fresh codfish. Smiling and happy I told him now my life was perfect. He looked at me. He looked at the big bag. He looked at the price. How are you going to cook this? he asked.

How? Just in water, I replied.

My friend looked again at my fish with wonder in his eyes. Perhaps he now realised that the Icelandic woman was nuts!

I went home and had fresh codfish in the freezer for weeks. It felt somehow like a victory! The pressure from my Portuguese lovely people to help me to like codfish is still there. They try and I resist.

Sometimes I can even get dried codfish heads in the market. Oh, that is a story for another day, the dry heads I got here in my new homeland! Even though your imagination is vivid you can´t guess what that is about. I will tell you later.

Hulda Björnsdóttir


My first Chinese New Year

4th of August 2017

I came to China in January. My house was not ready and the first month I spent in a hotel.

On the eve of the New Year I went for a walk around the neighbourhood.

There was something in the air. Everyone looked so happy an the excitement spread from one person to the next. A father walked ahead of me with his son. He was explaining the meaning of the new year to his son. The little boy was maybe 4 years old and I am not sure he understood much of the philosophy, but those 2 walking hand in hand I remember always. The love and comradeship between the father and son shone. This was my first experience of the bond between families in China. The bond that never brakes even though nowadays there is a generation gap.

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The lion got its read ribbon. Decorating the guard was of course necessary on this day.  When I see this one he always seems to be smoking! Smoking while taking care of the house is perhaps not appropriate.

I came across a beautiful florist while taking a turn into a narrow street.  I had to see this one. The decorations are something. The owners were happy to see me and even allowed me take some photos. In China people are not always willing to have their photos taken but I always asked and most of the time I got a big smile and a yes.


This evening it was bitterly cold and I had put on my warmest clothes. The shawl I had made from Icelandic wool some time ago and it kept me warm during those first days, and many more, because my house, when I eventually moved in, was freezing. Absolutely freezing.

After spending some time with the wonderful couple and drinking some tea to warm me I went on. During this time people do leave the cities and go to their home towns to spend the new year with their families. For many it is the only time during the year they can be together. Many younger people work in the cities while the parents live in the villages.  Then there are those who go to universities in other towns and everyone wants to spend the new year with the family. So there were not many people around where I was, but some.

I came across the fireworks shop. That was something. In every country there must be one of those. What would the new year be without fireworks.

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Oh, yes. This is where you can find everything you need and here we are smiling. The young boy is the son. The father is the salesman. They are related to the florists. A big country, China is, but so small! A long and thorough speculation about what to buy, what would be the most exciting and glamorous. Eventually the young men bought a huge cake and it crossed my mind that perhaps I should head home. The fact is that I am terrified of fireworks and don´t like them at all. We did not talk much, the night was young and customers wanted to take a look of the goods.

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Before I managed to get back to the hotel this beautiful young girl came to me and wanted to speak English. The excitement was there. She had already one burning and the sparks tried to catch me. I put on a brave face and we talked a bit. The young Chinese do want to practise their English and I was about the only foreigner in Fuzhou at this time.  This young beautiful girl lived in the neighbourhood, just as the others I saw this evening. Her whole family had moved to Fuzhou, some years ago. They had to because the government wanted their farm for modern houses and golf courses. The families have to move on and adjust in the new environment. Her family runs a small restaurant. They all cook but the father makes the best food, or so she told me and was proud of her parents.

What an evening. My first Chinese new year, a long time ago.

Hulda Björnsdóttir

My first days in Portugal – When I stole the bread from the landlord

4th of August 2017

Every morning, the car who sells the bread comes to Podents, where I spent my first months in the rented snake house.

I had seen him coming and one day I decided to go out and buy some bread in the morning.

The man was nice and he brought fresh bread, all kinds of breads and even cakes. Not expensive and when he arrived he blew the horn and gave the people some time to get out and become a bread customer. Sometimes the same customers and sometimes different ones.

One Saturday morning I was going for a walk. Every time I left the house I opened the door just a fraction,  to see if the snakes were there or not. Most of the time they were not but sometimes they had taken a sunbath in the morning and had a nap afterwards, just outside my door. Those days I did not leave.  This morning no snakes but I  noticed that on my gate there was a bag.

Since it looked safe to go out I  looked inside the bag.  2 small breads smiled at me.

How nice, the bread man had left them for me, without me asking. This was something new! The Portuguese were welcoming the strange foreigner who came all the way from China.

I waited for the bread man to knock on my door and ask for payment, but he never came.

The next time I bought my bread he did not mention it so I thought it was just a gift and said thank you very much. Those days my Portuguese was limited, very limited, but I knew how to say thank you!


These pictures are taken outside my condominium yesterday morning. I went downstairs early, just to take the photo to show you. My neighbours do buy bread every morning and sometimes, when I leave for my morning walk, the men are in their boxers, tiptoeing downstairs to get it before they leave for work. They do need breakfast and this is their first task, I think, in the morning. At least they are not dressed. My next door neighbour looks quite nice and has lost a lot of weight, perhaps working out!

When my landlord, the one who rented me the house in Podentes, and totally ripped me off, came to the snake house one  Sunday morning and knocked on my door, he had a bag in his hand.

A small bag with breads in it!

Right!  I realized what I had done when I took the bag from the gate. I had stolen the bread from my landlord!

I never mentioned it to him. I never told him who ate his bread. I never told him why he was hungry one Sunday morning, not long after I moved in. This is the first time, ever, I mention this. I hope he does not read my blogs. He is probably not a blogger!

Hulda Björnsdóttir

ps. If you get confused when you read my blog telling you about my life in China and then suddenly I go to my life in Portugal and then something else, I want you to keep this in mind. I am a Gemini, a typical one, and jump from one story to the next. You will get used to it and I might even manage to figure out some system, but for now please bear with me. I do realise it is difficult for normal people but I promise you. It is possible.




What a wonderful day !

4th of August 2017

It is such a beautiful day here in Penela and I have to share it with you.

I woke up in the morning, late, after a nightmare, where my best friend had jumped from a house. She thought there were steps  down but nothing was there, just 3 floors down. We were outside. I ran down the stairs, around the house and there she was, standing up. I asked if she was ok. Yes, she said, but then got very pale and wanted to sit down. I was terrified and asked someone to call the ambulance and woke up crying.

What a night!

Thank God I got a message, in real life, from my dear friend on Facebook and at least I knew she was ok and well.

After something like this you need an uplifting moment. Something that takes away the horror of the dream. I went out, and stood on my balcony, as I do in the mornings, absorbing the beauty.


It is like a painting.

The view is stunning. Everything is quiet. The birds are sleeping or at least resting. It is hot, 17 degrees and the sun shines like there is no tomorrow. The clear sky, the blue colour, the shadows and light playing, dancing a soft waltz that seems to last forever.

Sometimes we forget to enjoy the moment. The beauty in front of us is worth more than all the money in the world. On a morning like this, after having a horrible nightmare, I feel nothing but gratitude. Gratitude for being alive and being able to enjoy the paradise in front of my eyes.

I hope you all have a great day.

Hulda Björnsdóttir



Siesta in Min Hou

2. August 2017

In Fuzhou it is really hot. Min Hou is a suburb, about an hours drive from the city. During the winter its freezing cold but the summers are hot.

The workers begin their day quite early during the summer. About 5 or 6 in the morning. They take a brake from 1 to 3 in the afternoon. Most of the time they don´t go home, or at least if they don´t live in the neighbour hood. Then it is good to have a place where you can sit in the shadow and enjoy the nap.

My balcony was a good place to rest.

One day I arrived with my interior designer and we found the workers resting.  They did not move, just continued their rest.

After mowing in I witnessed a lot of work done in the houses next to me and opposite.

It was sweet to see the man give his lady a massage. They were bricklayers and worked as a team. A heavy work. They had to carry the sand and cement up 2 floors. I never understood how these tiny people could be so strong.

The little blue tracks brought the bricks and other material needed.

After the massage the husband had his reward. A bit of sex and then they slept in each other arms until the heavy work began, again. What kind of love is that? Beautiful and heart warming. When I left China they were still working in my neighbour hood  and I gave them some pillows and a dune duvet.  The next day I brought them bed linen. Beautiful one and they had tears in their eyes when accepting my gift. It took a long time to convince them to accept it but that is the culture here in my wonderful China. I am sure they never spent their money on anything like this but they deserved only the best. Sometimes we forget how wonderful it is to make our fellow human beings happy and surprise them by doing something different.

I had watched them for weeks and talked to them. I will never forget this wonderful couple and their wonderful hugs when I left.

The workers that took the siesta on my balcony when I came to see how my house was doing, became good friends. After I moved in they did not take a siesta on my balcony but they took care of my garden and made sure it looked beautiful and did not have any weed.

There was just one gardener  I did not get on with. We fought about my bushes. I wanted them high, he wanted them low. We fought, he screamed at me and I was pissed off. Eventually the house company got me another one to cut the bushes. He understood what the strange lady wanted and did what she asked. One day the other one was there again. I saw him. He saw me. We looked at each other. The workers stood around waiting for the fight. That day we just stared. The next day I meet him while having my morning walk. He said good morning and I replied. After that everything was ok between us, he did what the lady asked and the lady said thank you in Chinese. Problem solved.

Hulda Björnsdóttir


The traffic in China is interesting

2nd of August 2017

When I moved to China I had a car. Bought it on my second trip and it just waited for me.


I decided it would be a good idea to spend some time exploring Fuzhou and getting the feeling. The feeling, of how it would be to drive there, was something. I came from Iceland where the drivers are mostly able to follow the rules and they can drive in a line. While observing the Chinese traffic, on foot and in taxis, I had the feeling they did not usually drive in a line. It looked to me that they drove like a sick sack machine. If there was a space they went there, no matter if it meant to break the line. Of course there were more bicycles than cars most of the time.

The behaviour of those cycling made sense to me. They waited for the light and then we all crossed the road. The cars also respected the traffic lights and waited.

This was more or less all the respect in the Chinese traffic, or at least so I thought.

Would I ever be able to adjust? Some foreign companies don´t allow their employees to drive themselves. Its too dangerous!   Of course they are foreigners, you know! I was going to live in the land and would be one of the locals soon.

One day my interior designer called me and told me he was leaving Fuzhou and would not be able to see me for at least a month. Now I needed to drive to my house, he said. I had been living in a hotel because the house was not ready when I came in January. Now the Chinese New Year was around the corner and everyone would go to their hometowns.

Mr Chen came, and we drove to the house. I drove, and he was convinced that I actually COULD drive! He showed me the easiest way, and gave me a map. In Chinese of course. Next day he would leave and I would be on my own. I had to go to the house every day to make sure the workers were doing what they should do.

Obedient as I am, I left the hotel in my car and headed to Min Hou. 3 hours later Mr Chen called me. Where are you? he asked.  I am on my way but I got lost, I replied.  I went back to the hotel, got some advise and headed again to Min Hou. Finally, late in the afternoon, I arrived. Mr Chen was not too happy with me. He had waited. I told him I needed to go back immediately because it was getting dark and I knew I would never find my way in the night!

Mr Chen went to his hometown with the family to celebrate the new year. I headed to the hotel and that would be a piece of cake. I now knew the way back. Well not quite. I got lost. It got dark. I had absolutely no idea how to find the bloody turn I was supposed to take. I called the hotel and asked them to pick me up. Where are you? they asked. I don´t know, I replied.  Can you find someone Chinese to talk to us? they asked. I looked around. Yes, there was a gate there and a security guard. I gave him the phone and he told my hotel staff where the woman was. The guard smiled at me and told me to wait for the people, outside the gate, not inside. They came. I was so close, so close and the turn was so easy. Of course I had someone sitting next to me in the car who knew.

The next day my new friend, the hotel  manager, took me for a drive and taught me how to get home. She said that it might be a good idea for me to practise again, immediately, so I would not forget.  I practised! I practised many times and eventually returned to the hotel. Are you ok now? my friend asked. Yes, I am, I replied and gave her a big hug. Everyone in the reception looked at me with huge smiles. They were happy. They would not have to pick me up again!  The next time I made it to Min Hou, barely, but after 3 or 4 trips  I was like a local.

I learned that Jing San bridge was not a bridge! And I learned to ask, before I came to the bridge, if I should take the left or the right. Most of the time the same people stood at my place, the one I stopped at, and after few days I got a salute from them. No more asking just heading to the right.

I do have a problem and have always had it. I get lost! Even in Iceland, where everything is small and not complicated, I managed to loose my way. Just imagine how easy it was in a huge country like China.

After a while I managed to drive around the country. The motorways in China are excellent. They are of course quite often under repair but what about it, you just take another turn, without loosing your mind. When I went to Xiamen and took some of my students with me, they were amazed at how good I was ! No GPS there, just common sense.

Hulda Björnsdóttir