For years, I’ve celebrated International Workers Day, May 1, here in China, an annual public holiday. But it was only recently that I learned the curious US connection — that in fact, the US labor movement prompted this holiday.
If you’re an American like me, accustomed to having Labor Day fall in September, this might come as a surprise to you too. Growing up, nobody educated me about the US history associated with the origin of International Workers Day.
Those of you who have studied the US labor movement probably recognize the 1886 Haymarket Affair, when a bomb exploded just as the police were breaking up a labor protest rally ignited by a nationwide push, which began May 1, for the eight-hour workday. Years later, at an international labor conference in Paris, an American delegate proposed setting aside May 1 as a day to remember this injustice.
For years, half of the American Labor movement observed May 1 as Labor Day, while the other half observed the first Monday in September. After the Russian Revolution the May 1 date was mistakenly associated with communism, and in a protest against Soviet policy, May 1 was first proclaimed Law Day in the 1960’s.
It wasn’t until I came to China that I discovered “May Day” and “International Workers Day”. It remains among the most important holidays of the year, and many here use the opportunity to travel, gather with friends and enjoy the spring weather by going outdoors.
What do you think about this? Are you surprised by the US connection to International Workers Day? Do you think Americans are missing out by celebrating Labor Day in September, instead of May, like here in China?
Blogging has introduced me to a host of original and compelling voices, including Ruth Silbermayr-Song, the Austrian creator behind China Elevator Stories.
Ruth built a following by distilling casual encounters and conversations in her daily life in China into fascinating blog posts, which also offered glimpses into her courtship with and eventual marriage to a local Chinese man. Over the years, readers like me followed the adventures of her seemingly perfect cross-cultural family with two lovely kids.
I never imagined that behind the scenes, a darker story was unfolding — of devastating domestic abuse and deceit by her husband, who eventually cut Ruth off from their two children. She hasn’t seen her kids in person since July 2019, and lost all contact with them in July 2020.
I support Ms. Ruth Silbermayr-Song, BA, in obtaining sole custody of her children, Emil and Nino Silbermayr-Song. I speak out against the protection of fathers who abuse their (ex-) wives and children mentally, emotionally, and in other ways, and endanger their children’s well-being. I support the victims (the mother and the children), not the perpetrator (the father).
I’m honored that Ruth offered to do an interview with me, to share her harrowing story. Read on to learn more about her plight.
Your blog, China Elevator Stories went offline in 2017. Can you tell us a little about what happened?
My ex took my blog China Elevator Stories from the web in 2017 without prior notice. I put it online again in 2022 after my sister sent me a link to the archived articles. My blog only recently got hacked—I believe by my ex-husband—since he was the one who took it offline in 2017 and I apologize if my blog doesn’t work properly at the moment. I’m currently working on resolving this issue.
Many of your readers may remember you were happily married to your husband. Could you talk a little about the end of your marriage and what happened in regard to your children?
I didn’t write about the downsides of my marriage on my blog – which were plenty. My marriage was filled with horrific abuse. By the time I had become pregnant with my first son in Shenzhen in 2013, I had heard, not only once, from my Chinese husband, that he’d have me killed if I ever left him, or if he ever found me with another man. In 2018, we agreed we’d move to Austria by the following year. I originally believed him when he said he wanted us to move to Austria so our children could grow up in Austria, which was something I insisted on, considering how bad air pollution is for a child’s health, how much pressure children are under who go through the Chinese public school system, how little play they get, and the fact that health care in China is much worse than it is in Austria.
You then moved to Europe to prepare for his residence permit in the summer of 2019, having to leave your children behind with your husband because he didn’t allow you to take your children with you, is that correct?
Yes, it is. I moved to Europe in July 2019. I had agreed with my husband to reunite with our children within a time frame of 4 months. He never planned to join me in Austria with our children, though, and deceived me into separating from my children forever, only I did not know it at that time. By the time he told me he’d send our children to a Chinese public school and would not come to Austria with them, it was already too late for me to fly back to China. Soon after, COVID started, and foreigners were not allowed to enter the country. By July 2, 2020, he broke off all contact between me and my children and I have not seen them since. I do not know their whereabouts, what school they go to, which documents they are on, how their health is, or how they are doing.
What were some of the problems you ran into trying to re-establish contact?
I have been fighting to re-establish contact with and see my children for almost 3 years now. In these past years, I had to realize that discrimination against women and mothers is just as extreme in Austria as I have experienced it in China. Austria has been regressing in this regard in recent years. It took me years of having to deal with authorities and courts on a regular basis to realize how bad the actual state of discrimination against women in Austria currently is.
I never knew how bad victim blaming could get until I found myself in an abusive marriage and having to deal with one of the worst things that can happen to a mother – having her kids taken from her by deceit, without having done anything wrong and with very little chance of ever seeing them again. The last time really bad victim blaming took place was when I had contact with child protective services in Austria which should have supported me in my fight for sole custody of my children but discriminated against me instead. I have been shocked when I found out that child protective services often act in favor of the abusive, unsafe parent.
Another occurrence was when a public ombudsman I was having contact with sent me various excuses about why they would not help me, including that the Chinese dad now seems to have obtained sole custody, which was not the case, even when it was clear my children were being abused by their Chinese father and that Austrian child protective services were discriminating against me, punishing me for what my children’s dad and his family had done to me and my children. The secondary victimization I have experienced at the hands of authorities, child protective services, and the court has been severe, to say the least.
I find myself having to argue over basic human concepts I consider should be common sense and easy to grasp, simply because people I meet are favoring men and seniority or seek dominance over women. It almost forces you to become a feminist, even if you are not into politics, simply because you were born female.
Have you encountered similar issues in the past in Austria?
Not in the way I do encounter them now. I remember having these problems in China, and in my marriage, but have not encountered them in Austria to such a large extent in the past. Whenever I do speak my mind these days, I usually find myself being punished for it. I find it hard to deal with a society like this and don’t particularly enjoy living in the restrictive country Austria has turned into, within a society that self-censors and oppresses opinions that diverge from the majority opinion that has been indoctrinated into people these past few years.
A woman needs help to fight against her abuser and bring her two Chinese-American children (a 7-year-old and 13-year-old) back to safety, as posted on GoFundMe:
Melissa was trapped in a physically, emotionally, financially, and legally abusive marriage with the children’s father for 13 years in Shanghai, China. She was unable to divorce or separate from her abuser safely, under constant threat of parental abduction, and fearing for the safety of herself and her children in a country with no laws offering any sort of protection. In August 2022, she managed to escape with Oscar and Cora to a safe place in Toronto, close to friends. Even though Melissa and her children are US citizens, they were estranged from any family living in the US because of the restrictive coercion and control the children’s father had over them.
On Saturday, February 11, 2023, a court order was enforced by the Peel Regional Police to remove Oscar and Cora from their safe and happy home with their mother, and placed them in the full custody of their abusive father (under the condition that neither party may remove the children from Peel Region or the Greater Toronto Area), with Melissa’s parenting rights suspended, until a court hearing set for February 22nd, 2023. The motion was filed ex parte on February 9th, which explicitly did not allow Melissa to be present, or be represented, during this initial hearing for the father’s petition to gain custody. No due diligence was done by the court to understand the danger to the children by granting full parental rights to their abusive father.
They’re raising money to fight this through the courts — all donated funds will help cover legal fees. (According to the latest update, Melissa has found a team of lawyers requiring a flat fee of $20,000 in Canadian dollars.)
You can help by donating or sharing the fundraiser in your social networks.
COVID used to be more of a stranger in China. The virus wasn’t generally lurking next door. We didn’t worry about getting infected when we dined out or ran errands at the bank or visited a tourist spot.
But in early December, China eased restrictions to open up, and soon the virus ripped through my workplace, faster than I ever imagined.
Of the 10 people in my office, I’m one of three who didn’t get COVID. It’s a miracle, as the virus infected every person in the cubicles next to me. Some estimated 80% of the employees at work caught the COVID virus; the same may hold true for the overall population of Hangzhou.
Witnessing the rapid pace of transmission in the office stunned me. It began with a manager, whose mother-in-law was running a high fever. Then others retreated home — many as close contacts who soon came down with the virus. And then the two colleagues who sat directly beside me reported sudden fevers, which sparked fears that I was next. On that day I rushed to get free medicine and antigen tests from my employer, who was rationing Ibuprofen (only two pills per person). Outside the workplace things were worse, from hucksters hawking meds at a premium, to a shortage of antigen tests at pharmacies.
Thankfully, I dodged COVID then, but would still brace for the threat of more cases in the office, including two other people beside me who were infected. By then I was wearing N95 masks, and altering my work routines, such as having breakfast and lunch at home instead of in the office.
Our community grocery group buying outlet soon shuttered — the neighbor in charge caught COVID. I flipped open the apps for other outlets, and couldn’t get groceries on any of the major platforms. One said delivery slots would open at 6 am, which would mean rolling out of bed at dawn to battle with hordes of desperate netizens — and no guarantees of any deliveries. Oranges, lemons and pomelos were going for two or three times the usual prices, inflated after an onslaught of panic purchasing. Jun and I took stock of our pantry and produce, including the veggies and fruits from a recent visit to his parents’ rural home, and determined we could survive for a while without buying much. For the garlic, ginger and onions I needed, we bought online from a lackluster rural supermarket, which charged more than usual and slipped us a partially rotten piece of produce. We cooked a lot of fried rice, a lot of garlic and olive oil noodles, and, thanks to an enormous pumpkin from my mother-in-law, a few pumpkin curries.
Soon the emptied streets and cubicles lent an eerie post-apocalyptic vibe to the world around. I stopped bothering with the GPS to check on traffic because there were almost no cars on the road and no more rush hours. One day, I was the only person working in the office for a morning; outside the windows, I rarely glimpsed anyone wandering the grounds. The absence of people, of vehicles, brought to mind a new twist on the title of that Simon & Garfunkel classic — that I was nearly “the only living girl in Hangzhou”.
The worst week, ironically, led up to Christmas. It was hard to embrace seasonal cheer while wearing an N95 mask that pinched my ears and getting tested daily to confirm I wasn’t positive. When I streamed holiday music, I preferred the bitter cold and austere landscapes of “In the Bleak Midwinter” to the discordant warmth and exuberance of “Wonderful Christmastime”.
Following Christmas, my workplace scrapped its free PCR testing services, in the abrupt way that real Christmas trees get tossed to the curb just after the holiday. A colleague sick with COVID hurt his back that week, but couldn’t get an ambulance to take him to the hospital due to a shortage of beds. I doubled down on my protective measures, which meant continued use of N95 masks, a lot of hand washing, and little contact with people.
In the weeks to come, I started seeing more masked people on the streets, more cars on the road, and a growing number of colleagues reappearing at work. Soon groceries could be bought on major online platforms throughout the day, without an early rise. A local community center promised Ibuprofen to residents free of charge — too late for most, in all likelihood. And my employer urged anyone still negative to get vaccinated as soon as possible.
So, I received a booster shot, together with Jun, in a community vaccination site with a skeleton crew and nobody else waiting. The staff at the entrance reminded us that you can’t get a shot if you’ve just had COVID. “You’ll have to wait six months.” The COVID surge had, among other things, cleared the queue for vaccination.
Now, as the two of us still remain negative in China, we’re the strangers in this post-pandemic world — the few who haven’t gotten COVID.
According to stories in the media, we’ve passed the peak of infections here, though we may have to brace for more waves ahead, including during and after Chinese New Year. But if this pandemic has taught us anything in the past few years, nothing is certain with COVID. So we will continue to keep calm, carry on and wear N95 masks, while hoping for better times.
The new card in my hands glinted with promise, even under the muted fluorescent lighting of the entry-exit administration in Hangzhou. Printed with my name and, on the back, the words “People’s Republic of China Foreign Permanent Resident ID Card”, it was more than just extra identification. This little piece of plastic was the manifestation of a big dream.
China has always been close to my heart, especially since my husband Jun joined hands with me in the marriage registration office years ago in Shanghai. But it was only later, after the two of us had spent years in the United States, that we made a new vow: to live the rest of our lives in China.
My journey as a Chinese green card holder has just begun, and I still have more to learn to fully tap into the benefits. But for the moment, the thrill of the card has yet to fade. China always felt like home to me; now, with this new identity, it’s truly official.
It’s Christmas and I’m so behind on everything amid the sudden COVID-19 surge here in China, which has impacted our lives in many unexpected ways. Fortunately, Jun and I still have not caught COVID, and remain safe and healthy.
But I wanted to share with you this Christmas letter I started writing a few weeks ago. Even amid the surge, it still rings true.
Wishing you a safe, healthy and happy holiday, wherever you are.
A parade of Instagrammable Christmas decor lit up one of my online groups in the past week, with photos of artificial trees so perfect they could have starred in a Balsam Hill commercial.
One glance at the offerings from my virtual neighbors, who were even touting snaps of DIY Christmas ornaments straight out of Etsy, told me they probably wouldn’t deem our tree “camera ready”.
The tree in our living room, standing 5 feet (1.5 meters) high, was around half the size of those in the photos. Only the visually impaired would mistake it for a real one. The wires in the barebone branches were visible from across the room. This faux foliage couldn’t conceal the aggregate of wires forming its trunk, which looked more like a branch propped up by three plastic wedges. The decorations–from the golden star and words “Merry Christmas” to the assortment of Santa, bell, drum, gift and pinecone ornaments–looked like something on sale at the local dollar store. Indeed, years ago we bought the entire tree, including those ornaments, green and blue tinsel, and a janky string of colored lights, for the Chinese equivalent of $3.
It was nothing to envy.
Would anyone want to see a photo of it? They might laugh, just as Charlie Brown’s friends did when he took home the most pitiful tree on the lot for Christmas.
You may wonder why we’ve clung to a tree like this, when we could easily afford something the online Joneses would approve of.
But we don’t want another one. This is the Christmas tree equivalent of a war veteran. It has accompanied us through some of the darkest years of our lives, and remains a living testament to how far we’ve come, despite the challenges. Its humble appearance eschews the usual showy perfectionism of the season, instead urging us to hold fast to the things in life that matter far more than money.
I’m reminded of the wisdom the late Viktor Frankl shared in his seminal work “Man’s Search for Meaning”:
“…today’s society is characterized by achievement orientation, and consequently it adores people who are successful and happy and, in particular, it adores the young. It virtually ignores the value of all those who are otherwise, and in so doing blurs the decisive difference between being valuable in the sense of dignity and being valuable in the sense of usefulness.”
I see our tree as an embodiment of that dignity Frankl writes about. There is value in simply having survived the vicissitudes of life, and coming out on the other side.
It took me a long, tearful time — involving a lot of processing — to realize the presence of this spiritual wealth in my own life. But now that I have, I want to embrace it in all its incarnations, including one unassuming $3 Christmas tree in my living room.
I want to dedicate this end-of-year message to anyone who has had a difficult year. I know what it’s like to be buffeted by the hardships of life, and so does that Christmas tree. We will continue to shine a light for all of you, hoping for brighter days in this holiday season and beyond.
It didn’t seem real. The brand-new Chinese green card, embossed with my name and photo, felt more like a figment of my imagination. I had dreamed of getting a card for years, and now was holding one in my hands.
Why do foreigners like me long for a Chinese green card (also known as the Chinese Foreign Permanent Residence ID card)? It replaces your visa and lasts for 10 years, liberating you from the annual bureaucratic hassle of visa renewals. It grants you the right to live and work freely in China, without depending on an employer for a visa and residence permit. You can enjoy the same rights as Chinese citizens in housing, education, investment and many more areas. And it clears the way for easier international travel, including when you enter and exit China.
If you’re married to a Chinese citizen, like me, you’re eligible to apply through the “Family” route, if you’ve been married and residing in China for at least five years (not leaving China more than 90 days per year during that period).
Taylor Swift fans have grown restless this fall as they await the October release of her forthcoming album “Midnight”. That makes this a perfect time to put Swift in the spotlight, through a music video of hers that cast a spell around the world (and here at WWAM BAM): “Willow”.
The video, dressed largely in a “prairie chic” reminiscent of a Laura Ingalls Wilder novel, follows Swift on an ethereal journey through a rabbit hole, enchanted forests, a carnival fair, a witch gathering, and cozy log cabins, as she traces a magical golden thread leading her straight to “the one”. The soft and subdued lighting — whether from candles, fireplaces, strings of lights, mystical orbs, or the golden thread itself — lends an intimate, crepuscular atmosphere to the video that fits the acoustic folk-infused sound of the love ballad. If only our dreams could be this beautiful.
But at WWAM BAM, we are also enchanted by Swift’s handsome co-star in the video: Taeok Lee, a Korean American man who, in fact, has history with the singer.
I listened to the dialogue, in Chinese, between my husband Jun and the hairdresser trimming my chestnut brown tresses. But even though I was fluent in Mandarin and could easily have responded to every question, I remained silent, resting in my chair while wearing a shy smile.
It was easy to appear abashed because I genuinely felt that way, wondering, What if they all really knew the truth? And every now and then Jun and I swapped knowing grins, in recognition of the success of our “performance” that very evening.
Once again, we played “foreigner and translator” for a captive audience — and nailed it.
“Foreigner and translator” are the roles my husband and I adopt for certain public situations in China, where I pretend to be just another outsider who can’t speak Chinese, and my husband the local providing language assistance.
While it might seem strange to engage in this subterfuge in a public place, like a hair salon, it has its benefits.
First of all, if people know we’re a couple, it immediately piques their curiosity, because they probably never saw a Western woman married to a Chinese man before. The surprise triggers a cascade of questions, including some that get intrusive — and which we’d rather avoid. “Foreigner and translator” helps us to sidestep a lot of awkwardness.
Plus, sometimes I just want to unwind — to savor the scalp massage and stylist’s work — instead of getting grilled about my life. So with Jun as “translator” I can just relax and be the “foreigner” enjoying the moment.
In the end, the haircut turned out perfect — one of the best I’ve had in years.
Before we walked out the door of the salon, I couldn’t help saying “Xie xie” — thank you — in Chinese, which once again sparked awe from our small audience, remarking how “good” my Chinese was.
Ah, if only you knew, I thought. If only you knew.
“I attended multiple going away parties in one week,” confessed a foreign coworker of mine not long ago.
After living in China for years, he had become accustomed to the annual wave of departures that invariably rippled across every expat social circle. But what was once a steady drip had now become a deluge.
It was sweeping up a lot of my friends too. Among them were people I’d pegged as China “lifers”–including a fellow foreign woman with a Chinese husband who had always seemed so happy about life in Shenzhen. But the death of a close family member, whose funeral she couldn’t attend, prompted a dramatic reshuffle of her priorities, leading her to pack up her life and say goodbye to China.
Privacy & Cookies Policy
Necessary cookies are absolutely essential for the website to function properly. This category only includes cookies that ensures basic functionalities and security features of the website. These cookies do not store any personal information.
Any cookies that may not be particularly necessary for the website to function and is used specifically to collect user personal data via analytics, ads, other embedded contents are termed as non-necessary cookies. It is mandatory to procure user consent prior to running these cookies on your website.