Breakfast In Bed with: Stephan Orth *Couchsurfing in China*


Katrin: Moin, I’m Katrin and today I’m In Bed with Stephan Orth for the second time. Stephan: Halo. I’m happy to be back. It’s a different bed this time Katrin: although not that different in style I think. Last time we talked about your book *Couchsurfing in Russia* I’ll link that in the corner Did we really talk about the book? Although we did a little Stephan: We got off target a lot. Katrin: but you very cleverly managed to get back to the book anyway So, we did also talk about the book. I’ll put the link in the corner Today we’re talking about , tadaaa, your new one: *Couchsurfing in China* Usually we always ask out standard *In Bed with* questions like “How many hours did you sleep last night?” We’re not doing that today instead we’re having *Breakfast In Bed* and the food is, fantastically, from: Café glück auf from Valeska, who’s going to wink now Valeska: Hi. Katrin: have a look if she’s in the picture Valeska: further down? Halo. Katrin: beautiful. We’ll keep that in the video. I think you’re supposed to see that everything is real here. Valeska: okay. I’ll just put your breakfast down that’s exactly how we serve it at the café crowned this week with our homemade cashew *mozzarella* and our caraway *cheese* Katrin: which one is that? This is the cashew *mozzarella and this is the caraway *cheese* Katrin: awesome. Valeska: We’re experimenting with these right now and are making great progress and everything is homemade except for the margarine and I’d say I’ll put the bread rolls down for you Katrin: and this is soy yoghurt with your homemade granola Valeska: exactly soy yoghurt unsweetened, fruit and the granola Enjoy your meal! Katrin: Stephan, you just said yoghurt in China is a difficult thing? Spehan: milk products in general but yoghurt is hell because when you buy them in the store it’s mostly something sweetened where you don’t exactly know where it’s coming from and it just doesn’t taste how it’s supposed to and one just doesn’t trust these products you don’t know where it’s coming from your definitely safer in Europe with milk products Katrin: do they have soy yoghurt instead? Stephan: Yes, they have some but it’s hard to find Stpehan: milk products are a topic / Katrin: so better just without Stephan: I drank very little milk during my stay Katrin: I can’t say I think that’s bad C’mon, let’s taste some and then funny ehough I watched the old interview yesterday last time you didn’t have pajama buttons either and you did not out on for this session Stephan: It is unbelievable. Bad Especially because China is a total pajama country the tradition is vanishing a little bit but for a long time the elderly used to spend the whole morning on the streets in their pajamas it lives on in a few districts but it’s going gradually extinct although it’s a wonderful tradition Katrin: Did you actually experience it? Stephan: Yes, I did see it. In Shanghai for example Katrin: you actually just want to join, don’t you Stephan: you want to join you want to copy it there are really decorative specimen and I was stupid I should have taken one with me for today / Katrin: yes, really Katrin: I didn’t even know that you were in China or else I would have told you No, I didn’t even know about that tradition But I think we should import it. now in western Europe, actually, all over the world sitting in fron of the house in pajamas drinking coffee going to the bakers in pajamas Stephan: absolutely, The Chinese export industry will also be happy about it Katrin: and they need it! they, as we learn in your book, really have trouble earning money in the world right now Stephan: Richtig, ja. Do I have to mention that that was irony or was it clear that it was ironic? Stephan: I think it was clear. Katrin: Ok, thanks. Super delicious, by the way Stephan: Really, Superb. Stephan giggles Katrin giggles full mouthed It’s hard to find vegan restaurants in China. Or vegan cafés. There are some in the big cities but it’s quite rare Katrin: how is it tradition wise? Is it the western industry that’s taking over or have they been a meat eating nation for long? Stephan: always meat. Katrin: China, indeed. Stephan: it’s more a sign of poverty when you can’t afford to buy meat and mostly your considered weird as a vegetarian then it’s: “no chicken either”? Katrin: the same as here. So meat as a status symbol same as it’s here Stephan: but with almost every meal actually Quite extrem I’d say. Katrin: Ok. And well you probably don’t know that how difficult it would be and how they would take it when you tell your hosts well thanks, but I don’t eat meat? Stephan: They probably would think I’m on a special strange diet. It would take some explaining. And there was one situation where I should have said it when my hosts served me their dog Stephan: there it would have been / Katrin: I have to tell when I wrote Stephan – great when you’re here, we’ll have breakfast in bed we’ll have vegan food and he said: that’s very appropriate thematically So you actually ate dog in China. Stephan: yes, it was horrible I had a host – I was traveling via couchsurfing had hosts in families or single people, just everyday people so I didn’t live in hotels but in their homes and one of them came to meet me at the bus station and said: hey, we’re super happy you’re here my parents butchered the dog especially for you So it was a special honor in my name a feast for he guest of honor, so to say and it’s hard to say no to that plus China has a culture where you get pushed to eat a lot as a guest So you don’t get away with two bites but every second you don’t eat is being criticized and rated as a mistake That wasn’t an easy evening. But somehow I survived Katrin: I believe that. After we wrote I remembered that someone told be about this book called *Why we love dogs eat pigs and wear cows* And the author starts with the thought experiment imagine you’re invited somewhere and then you’re told you’re eating dog I found it super interesting because she comes from the psychological point that we instinctively don’t want to eat that and how society and system get us to ignore our instinct and eat meat anyway. It’s very interesting how she explains that in the book. Did that experience trigger something in you or was it just difficult in the moment? Stephan: it was difficult in the moment psychologically too because I felt like if I hadn’t been their guest the animal would still be alive That was the main thing. But of course I had those thoughts too that it’s somehow random If you decide to eat meat and here at home young rabbit and lamb are ok but other things aren’t ok I thing it should be the basic question if one eats meat or not but then to say one animal is much worse then the other? That’s discussable. But of course we have a different relationship to animals we keep as pets Which obviously is socialized because in China they eat the dog Stephan: although in China at least in the older generation they have a different tie to animals animal right movements aren’t a big topic with the over 50’s with the younger people quite strongly in some parts there’s activists working on that front and with them it’s much more common to have pets at all by now Katrin: wasn’t that like that in China? Stephan: the young middle class in the cities often have dogs for example I was staying with a couple they had five cats at home that’s becoming a trend right now In former times that wasn’t that common more as farm animals on the farm but not as friend and companion Katrin: that’s an industry too you can make a lot of money with pets Stephan: absolutely, thats true Katrin: animal food at the end of the day also a business How much research do you put in one of these books before you go on the trip? Stephan: really concentrated I spent about about three months with reading and research planning the route looking for hosts I had previously been to China three times and already had some impressions and had written about it before I didn’t start at point blank but I always tray to not make it appear that researched when you read it so it seems more casually narrated but I think it’s important to have some knowledge about the country and knows what to look for what could be interesting Katrin: so you select the destinations after that or does it depend on where you find hosts? Stephan: no, I choose the countries on purpose Katrin: I don’t mean the countries but the places in the countries Stephan: the places too, yes I’ve surely scanned over a thousand profiles the people have a personal profile and tell about themselves Katrin: you mean on couchsurfing Stephan:on couchsufring.com, exactly Katrin: do they pay you? Stephan: I should by now I’ve gained them so many new members but until now I didn’t receive a check Katrin: seriously, couchsurfing.com three books by now! Stephan: exactly, the name is always prominently on the books basically I’m their best advertising partner Katrin: you should start your own counter page Stephan: yes, I could do that So, when it’s for a book I scan the profiles thoroughly if somebody maybe has interesting hobbies if I think they have an interesting story to tell because the people are a main focus of the boooks I try to tell the country based on the people it’s usually not about three pages of landscape description it’s about the people I meet Katrin: should we talk about your review on amazon? Stephan: we can do that Katrin: It’s interesting, because for the brand new book and I feel it was irritating for you because it was just published and you instantly had a very bad review on amazon Stephan: yes, one of eight Katrin: exactly and we’re nor talking about taking that seriously but I felt that that was someone – if that person even actually read it it might as well just have been a hater – Stephan: probably because there weren’t any details in the review what the person didn’t like just giving a one star rating just saying: uninteresting and boring was what it said but no details and that’s just a little bit annoying when somebody coughs that out in three minutes and one feels like the person didn’t even read it Katrin: so if you have an amazon account write a good review well, read it first then write a good review Katrin: I felt the only explanation could have been that it was someone expecting a standard guide book although it clearly says couchsurfing in China it doesn’t say tour guide for China Stephan: exactly and the problem with amazon reviews sometimes also is that people read a book with completely different expectations and then give it a bad review because it didn’t fulfill their personal expectations because they for example maybe wanted that guide book Katrin: the extraordinary thing about your books is that you describe the countries through the eyes of the people that live there Stephan: absolutely if you’re looking for trip advice it’s not the right book you surely discover 5, 6 things you might visit yourself but that’s not my focus Katrin: and what makes them excellent it really is very entertaining I already said it about the last one and I can say it again for the new one super entertaining nicely written we’re making an advertisement show of this again I watched the old videos yesterday and they were nothing but Ok, let’s get back to what I was wondering about wait, we’ll finish eating this later because it’s super delicious, but I would like to eat some bread now You can continue eating this I just fell we only talk and don’t eat Stephan: it is very difficult doing both at once Katrin: absolutely. I’ll have a bread because I need to taste this *cheese* If I remember correctly – I shamefully haven’t read the Iran book yet I’ll finally catch up on that for next time Stephan: homework But in the Russia book wasn’t anything as explicit private as I think you get that question a lot if something is going on between you and the woman that host you isn’t that one of the classical questions form the audience Stephan: surprisingly little but sometimes yes Katrin: I’m trying to remember if it happened at the reading last time but that doesn’t matter now was it a conscious decision for the new book to tell about it? Stephan: I thought about it for a long time Katrin: I just thought it to be interesting because I felt that it very consciously didn’t happen in the Russia book Stephan: yes I took time with the decision because it’s always difficult to include such private things in a book especially told from my perspective but at the end I thought it also says a lot about china and about my trip there so it belongs to the story Katrin: so it wasn’t your publisher hat said: Stephan, you need to sex it up Does she know that she’s in the book? Stephan:yes, she knows about it Katrin: because it’s a police woman, married with a kid that was the dicey thing about the episode Stephan: indeed on all levels but she didn’t think it would be a problem when it’s being published in Germany and her name is different in the book so she’s not really identifiable Katrin: but the city where you meet, is that true? Stephan: that’s real, yes Katrin: so if her husband ever got hold of this book it will be translated into English Stephan: well… it’s very unlikely Katrin: that’s what I thought that the probability to get hold of it in China Stephan: and hardly detectable with the given information Katrin: do you think they will be able to sell this in China? Stephan: absolutely not I had an email two weeks ago from an agent in Taiwan that my publisher contacted for a possible translation and she said it would be completely impossible to sell it in China that would be dangerous for the publisher and the author that was her wording and of course thats a rough thing to read I was aware that that’s the case but having it confirmed that way that was extreme Katrin: were you afraid while traveling because in the book you describe that you intentionally at the consulate didn’t not tell that you would be traveling as a journalist and author and that you travelled around far more then you should have? We’re you afraid while traveling? Stephan: on and off for sure always a basic lever of fear on the whole trip that I could get in trouble that I’m researching without having a journalists visa and couchsurfing in itself is only half legal also officially you have to register with the local police within 24 hours when you sleep in private homes and I did that a few times, but mostly not for practical reasons because it’s just inconvenient if you only stay one night so the whole trip was on the far corner of legal so one get’s a little nervous here and there Katrin: especially because you describe that china is a complete surveillance state and the risk of being detected is higher then for example while traveling Indonesia Stephan: sure. the good thing was that I didn’t publish anything while still in the country the book is being published months after my stay and that gives me the possibility to stay incognito but I had previously written about china a few articles for Spiegel online so you never know how eager they are with their surveillance Katrin: and how serious are you about not being able to go there anymore? Stephan: I won’t test it. I know that the next visa application I mean after that stunt telling about how I lied to the consulate IN Hamburg in the book I think I won’t try. Katrin: Would you say – because you’re also quite critical about China should we travel there and give them our money? Stephan: I think you should absolutely go there that little money that that makes them doesn’t make any difference in the grand scheme and the amount of tourists from Germany but I think it’s one of the most interesting travel destinations at the moment if you don’t expect a touristically beautiful travel experience Katrin: you could probably get that out of it Stephan: you could, but it’s more difficult I’d rather recommend twenty different countries for that. if you just want to relax on the beach China isn’t the place for you But to see what’s happening over there right now and to see with which speed things are changing which progress they are making what might happen to us in the future it’s totally worth it and you can only experience that first hand you can’t imagine it just reading about it in the papers at home Katrin: Yes, I thought that was very intriguing – especially that aspect – in your book Stephan: I can see that in my readers reactions that they are very surprised how modern that country is how far things have developed for example that almost nobody pays cash anymore in China everybody is paying via their mobile phones it’ll probably will be the same here in two or three years but we’re completely behing Katrin: luckily still / Stephan: yes luckily Stephan: there are reasons not to take part in every technical advance but in China they’re not very critical Katrin: it goes together with the surveillance state when you pay everything with your mobile and your mobile is being watched everyone knows what your buying Stephan: exactly People in China don’t thing too much about that They only see how practical it is and other then us they don’t think that critical about their government at least a lot of the people don’t They think – the economy is good things are improving for the last 10 years everyone is better off then before you can feel the economy is getting better and that’s why the masses aren’t protesting surely there are some Katrin: well in such a surveillance state protest is quite difficult Stephan: exactly protest get broken quickly and being hidden and they try to not give it attention in the media it’s working quite efficiently a lot of people the average people who don’t inform themselves and don’t read western media are quite content Katrin: astonishing although I feel that we are becoming that way more and more and we’re getting less interested all the time Stephan: just think about how we use facebook and google that’s two companies with the power of a very big state but as it’s handy and if it’s just for the birthday reminders we keep using it the benefit is too big compared to the concerns and that you get an ad because you considered booking a flight to Mallorca yesterday is what you accept it’s a little annoying but that’s it Katrin: if it were just the ads it’s much worse what’s happening with all the data Stephan: yes, that’s only the obvious but as long as you don’t feel the consequences immediately you don’t mind too much Katrin: and that’s a question you ask in the book about the good and evil about mass surveillance What’s the place you talk about that is completely surveilled and the crime rate is almost zero Stephan: Shenzhen is an example in the south, population 12 million almost nobody knows over here that has seen an incredible development over the last 40 years from 30.000 to 12 million Katrin: in how many years? Stephan: 40 years it was a village close to Hongkong and now it’s one of the most rising cities in the country wehre a lot is happening and being modernized every year Katrin: that was quite interesting you make those lists in your books where you list cities that have a way bigger population then anything we know in Europe cities we have never heard of and millions of people live there and we’ve never heard of them Stephan: I think there’s about a 100 cities with over a million people in China maybe it’s even more Katrin: dimensions that are hard to imagine Stephan: you only can imagine what it’s like when you have actually seen those cities the accumulation of skyscrapers and the construction sides for ten more of these 30 story buildings that’s quite crazy Katrin: you also say it’s quite sad – by the way the *cheese* – amzaing! I just wanted to mention it we hardly manage to eat what did I want to say? that they are destroying a lot of the old buildings Do you think there’s a chance to stop that or do you think that ship has sailed Stephan: well not everything is destroyed yet but there’s a tendency or a mindset that the old is regarded as poor and everything modern is being hailed with a flat in an old building you wouldn’t impress anyone in China everybody want’s the newest apartment and pays accordingly more money it’s a completely different mindset Katrin: although we had such a phase too in which we destroyed the most beautiful Art nouveau buildings and build the most horrific houses Stephan: apparently every country goes through that and then it takes sometime until you realize how precious and esthetic old wood houses in the country are in China with the most artistic rooftops spectacular beautiful architecture Katrin: what you typically expect from your China holiday picture Stephan: that still exists but often if it’s renewed for tourists it’s mostly completely done over So it looks a before but it basically completely new Katrin: in a way that you would say you hardly see the difference? Stephan: it’s done nicely but you can feel the difference for example parts of the Great Wall of China that are as new Katrin: seriously? Stephan: yes. No trip hazards you can climb it in high heels Stephan: completely renovated and when Chinese come over here and see the Acropolis or the Coliseum in Rome the think: what’s this? Everything’s in ruin. It’s a totally different mentality. The the imperfect old isn’t quite right. Stephan: and your experience is I think you said that not too many Chinese leave the country looking for the experience? Stephan: No. There are a lot of people traveling now there’s a big middle class with the money to travel to Europe that’s a trend Katrin: then I remembered that wrong Stephan: but it’s not really the exploring kind fo travel where you try to get in contact with the people it’s the typical travel group thing most of the times, you can never speak for all but mostly it’s quite constricted and time table fixated visiting 10 sites a day managing 7 countries in two weeks you see a lot and can take a lot of pictures but you don’t really learn anything about the region Katrin: and you took language lessons before traveling Stephan: sadly not for Iran Katrin: I just wanted to ask if you still know some. Does anything stick? Russian? Stephan: Iran – I don’t speak Farsi that’s still there and with Russian the Cyrillic alphabet stuck and when I hear some I still understand some But It’s always just crash courses so I can order food and buy my train ticket and in China it’s especially difficult with the language you don’t get as far as you’d like Katrin: but it’s important for you because you travel parts that are not touristically developed And then you have to manage somehow- Whats the status with english? Stephan: it worked quite well with the couchsrfing hosts they all could speak quite well and sometimes helped out as translates that worked surprisingly well in rural parts you have to work with hand and foot and translation apps on the mobile they partly work really well that you can for example translate via voice input that it comes out spoken in Chinese that’s quite advanced and you can manage a lot by improvising Katrin: Crazy funny enough we talked about this the last time too In the last interview you mentioned that you can hardly write at home and that you go somewhere else for three months to write the book. Was it the same this time? Stephan: yes, this time I was in the Lombardy in the alps Katrin: well… Stephan: doable Katrin: I would like that too how do they say: we call it work? Stephan: yes, we call it work although Katrin: it actually is work Stephan: it actually is such a giant project that’s in front of me 250 pages that have to be written somehow from the material I have to collect the best stuff I have a deadline and know when it has to be finished So there’s a basic level of stress that I’m not spending every day on the balcony enjoying the view and go on hikes Katrin: but you do that here and there Stephan: yes, especially getting out of the hosue jogging in the mountains was very important for the creative process Katrin: Do you do that on the road? Do you have a sports program for traveling? Stephan: sadly not enough I’d like to do more but it always falls by the wayside Katrin: so we just ran our of memory we just said that sports come up short on the road Stephan: absolutely, it’s very difficult to keep that up hiking is fairly doable but jogging I manage rarely while traveling Katrin: but you have the gear on you? Stephan: No, nothing for jogging I’m traveling very light I think this time it was 12kg for the checked in backpack for the three months I try to keep it very, very light Katrin: do you feel you’re getting more and more efficient from trip to trip for what to pack? Stephan: yes, 500g less from travel to travel I’m learning more and more and get more efficient this time for example I didn’t bring a laptop just a bluetooth keyboard weighing 70g that I can use with my mobile Katrin: seriously, no pad or anything? Stephan: no pad, I just typed my notes into the mobile Katrin: that means your mobile has unlimited memory? Stephan: well the text doesn’t take that much memory Katrin: that’s true Stephan, you can do that unending Katrin: so we have arrived at our last course CAKE Valeska: fitting to the sports topic we brought you our finest cakes you have our Imperial Chocolate Cake with 5 layers of chocolate and our Mango Snoot with sour cherries on top and we hope you like it Katrin: it’s chocolate! Stephan: Imperial sounds very Chinese Valeska: totally Katrin: you chose that especially for today Valeska: you will see for sure why it’s imperial Stephan: thank you Katrin: I’ll taste it now for real doing my cake face in front of the camera Stephan: I’ll taste the other one Stephan: delicious Katrin: delicious So, let’s bring this back to bed Because last time we talked about – last time ->video – so good, but only with you those advertisement events usually I never do that did we mention by the way – this wonderful book what’s really sad by the way when we talked last time we were at Summer’s Tale Festival and also had Nele Pollatschek over for an interview and did a super fun book tag video with you and Nele I rewatched that yesterday that is such an underrated video it’s so funny that too watch it, seriously I can recommend it from the bottom of my heart this young man says quite funny things too Stephan: I can’t remember anything what we talked about last time is that it would be a great idea – because my last question always is *Which monster sleeps under your bed?* If you would take pictures from under the beds Stephan: yes, I didn’t do it again although sometimes it’s mattresses with no underneath or you would have to lift them that could be a shocking moment too but no – it’s difficult with the lightening too it’s dark, I don’t have a flashlight with me Katrin: your mobile has a flashlight they don’t have to be master pictures next time! Stephan: Next time. Katrin: do you already have an idea? Do you tell? Stephan: No. I really don’t know yet I know it’s not going to be Tuscany or Mallorca I’ts not decided yet Katrin: do you have a secret list with unpopular countries? Stephan: Well, yes. Katrin: that you want to work through in time? Stephan: Exactly. You just have to watch the news for three days and the countries that are mentioned the most might already be a candidate Katrin: do you have a personal favorite? Stephan: I actually would love to go beack to Iran that was such an incredible trip and so emotional and special with the people I’d love to go there again in a few years Katrin: and then there’ll be part two? Stephan: I can imagine doing that Katrin: so I really have to read the first one now Stephan: that it still such a special travel goal for the heart Katrin: no I’m even more intrigued Stephan: because of the hospitality of the people and because of the conflicts they have and what society they live in what horror regimen they’re under and how they find their freedoms in secret that is very fascinating Katrin: now I’m very, very, very much looking forward to reading it Ah, see, the last question: speaking about emotions although the answer is already on the table now Because the question is if you sometimes thought about us Because of the beds and In Bed with Because I told to regularly think about us and to take the pictures but obviously Stephan: under the beds, I didn’t think about that but next time Katrin: you are all witnesses Stephan: I’ll make a special bed collecton just for you the ten most beautiful beds from the next travel destination Katrin: please Stephan: I promise Katrin: directly on instagram because it’s interesting for the others what the beds look like but a few – are there beds in here? Stephan: at least a couch is in there that I’m sitting on Beds? Well on the cover is this bright red couch right there and a few are described this one time I shared a 18qm room with the 24 year old host in the same bed too there he is in the picture in the left upright corner from your view He didn’t have that much space so we were in this 1,80 x 2m bed it was endurable but you never now what you get beforehand you can’t expect anything, it’s for free so sometimes it can be really interesting Katrin: do you talk to the people what motivates them to offer their homes for couchsurfing? It’s from to you sometimes had really with people that don’t well, mostly the motivation to register with couchsurfing is that when you want to travel yourself you’d love to crash somewhere for free and get to know the people and therefore you offer it yourself, for most of the people? Stephan: for some that’s the reason but a lot of them want – if they don’t travel a lot themselves, to fell like they’re traveling have the world visit them and in China I experienced that people especially young couples with children offer it and say that the guest should speak English for an hour with their son Katrin: Crazy Stephan: that’s the deal and in exchange you get a nice bed is not the original idea of couchsurfing but I think it’s legit Katrin: me too Stephan: it’s a good deal for both sides getting a private English teacher for an hour is great for the family Katrin: it’s totally a great deal You also tell that you were used as an English teacher wherever schools were close by Stephan: yes, there were several situations and it’s a great experience to be put in front of a very young class to tell something in English and the kids ask a lot of questions and are super interested and when it happens in a small village you’re a very exotic sight you feel like a rockstar it’s crazy Katrin: then I’ll now say thanks so much for coming over again Stephan: thank you Katrin: thanks so much for the food we’ll do a short video with Valeska too where we’ll talk about why they have such wonderful food you should please watch that too of course and for the two of us it now means bye out there and thank’s for watching Stephan: thanks, bye. Katrin Moin, I’m Katrin and today I’m in Bed with Stephan Orth Stephan: HI we’re at Summer’s Tale Festival where you read form your brand new book Couchsurfing in Russia yesterday Stephan: exactly

One thought on “Breakfast In Bed with: Stephan Orth *Couchsurfing in China*”

  1. Katrin, how come you looked gorgeous with long hair and equally so short? Loving like this though – keep it short!

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