Her Abusive Husband Still Has the Kids; She Fights to See Them Again

Ruth Silbermayr-Song, the author of the blog China Elevator Stories, was separated from her children in 2019. In 2020, all contact to her children was cut off by her ex-husband, as detailed in an interview on this blog.

Ruth asked me to share an update about her situation:

A few days ago, the court in Austria has declined my request for receiving sole custody of my children and has declined my request to see my children in their summer holidays. I have been allowed a call with my children two days a week, which is much less than the daily calls I have requested. (I have appealed the decision on January 23rd).

My children are not being protected from abuse, and in my opinion, the court’s decision is in violation of basic human rights, such as parents being allowed to parent their own children and being allowed to see their children.

Ruth has created a Change.org petition in German, which calls on signers to back the following text:

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).

Ruth still needs your support. Please sign her petition here.

Pub’d on China Daily: Chinese Art Exhibition in US Bridges Hometowns and Hearts

China Daily recently published a column inspired by my trip back home to visit with family: Chinese art exhibition in US bridges hometowns and hearts. Here’s an excerpt:

The photograph that greeted me at the entrance to a special exhibition at the Cleveland Museum of Art had a startling familiarity.

The water bristled with the umbrella-like leaves of lotus plants, a grand gathering of bright green parasols under the summer sunlight. Behind them, the gentle slope of a long stone arch bridge balanced a white car and a handful of pedestrians. Willow trees bowed before the shoreline, while a mountain silhouette traced the horizon.

Excitement stirred within me as I realized I had gazed upon that lotus field, walked that bridge, wandered under those willows, and hiked those mountains. “Look, that’s the West Lake! That’s in Hangzhou, where I live!”

I lingered before the image, sharing my amazement with the family members who had accompanied me — my father, stepmother, uncles and aunt — and with a volunteer at the museum.

How did my hometown of Cleveland, Ohio, just happen to lead a special exhibition titled China’s Southern Paradise: Treasures from the Lower Yangtze River with a photograph from my adopted hometown in China?

Read the full piece online — and if you like it, share it!

After Four and a Half Years, I’m Finally Traveling Back to the US

Over four and a half years. That’s how long it’s been since I’ve been back to the US.

As I prepare to return to the US for a short visit, the staggering amount of time that has separated us looms before me. 

I never thought I would be away for so long. Years ago in the US, I often heard stories from Chinese students, of how their visas — and the potential to be denied re-entry to the US during their studies — snuffed out any plans of heading back to China. I remember being shocked to hear that they hadn’t seen their family and friends back home in three or four years. 

One year of absence, give or take a few months, was about all I could bear when I first came to China. And once, while working in Shanghai, the one and a half years I ended up waiting to see my family already tested me, and left me aching within. 

But since then, life has schooled me in the many ways that the best laid plans — such as regular, yearly international travel to see family and friends back home — can be dashed. Maybe circumstances have rendered the price tag for an international flight far beyond your tight budget. Or a pandemic dashes any further hopes of flying back home. 

Being grounded for four and a half years reminded me that international travel is a privilege, not a right.

Now that I will travel home to the US very soon, it feels more like an imaginary story, rather than reality. How do you make up for all that lost time in just a short couple of weeks? What can you say to someone you haven’t seen face-to-face in over four years?

I guess I’m about to find out. 😉

Photo Essay: Blossoming Summer Memories of the Lotus

The pure pink resilience of the lotus blooms dazzled us on our late summer walks this year in Hangzhou, including by the city’s renowned West Lake.

Generations of Chinese have admired the lotus as a symbol of purity, as it emerges from the mud underwater without stain. I admire the shades of pink — from light rose to a deep flamingo — in these delicate flowers, which shine even brighter under the intense late summer sunshine, and offer some aesthetic consolation for those brave enough to endure the heat and humidity to gaze upon their beauty.

As summer draws to a close, I’m sharing a few of my favorite photos from strolls beside Hangzhou’s West Lake.

This corner of the West Lake bristles with lotus plants and their blossoms, growing upright toward the brilliant sun beside a pavillion.
Up close, the lotus blossom appears as delicate as a porcelain tea cup.
I couldn’t believe how tall the lotus blossoms were — some almost rivaled my height!
Nature painted an almost flawless landscape that afternoon at the West Lake.
The lotus plants and blossoms blanketed entire corners of the lake, with such lovely scenes to savor for both Jun and myself.

What are your favorite flowers of the summer? Where do you go to enjoy them?

I Asked ChatGPT Why Couples of Chinese Men, Western Women Are Rare, and its Answer Underwhelmed Me

Why are couples of Chinese men and Western women so rare? This question, which I had first posed many years ago, fired up this blog, and fueled an interest that pushed me to do a deep dive to fully understand, through posts about everything from stereotypes to sex appeal.

So with the advent of ChatGPT, I wondered if the widely acclaimed AI chatbot could offer new insights and perspectives into this question. And I was largely underwhelmed by the answer:

There are several factors that may contribute to the relatively low number of couples consisting of Chinese men and Western women:

  1. Cultural Differences: Cultural differences between China and Western countries can make it difficult for couples from different backgrounds to understand each other’s values and ways of life. This can create communication barriers and make it challenging for the couple to form a strong connection.
  2. Stereotypes and Prejudice: Stereotypes and prejudices about each other’s cultures can also create barriers for couples from different backgrounds. For example, some Western women may have negative stereotypes about Chinese men, which can make them less likely to consider dating or marrying someone from China.
  3. Language Barriers: Language barriers can also be a factor in forming relationships between people from different countries. If one or both parties are not fluent in each other’s language, it can be difficult to communicate effectively and build a strong relationship.
  4. Social and Family Pressure: Social and family pressure can also play a role in relationships between people from different cultures. In some cultures, there may be social or familial expectations that individuals should marry within their own cultural group, which can make it difficult for couples from different backgrounds to form relationships.

It’s important to note that while there may be fewer couples consisting of Chinese men and Western women compared to other combinations, there are still many successful and happy relationships between people from different cultural backgrounds.

Of the three answers, only one made sense to me: stereotypes and prejudice. As I wrote before:

“Years of pernicious stereotypes have branded Asian men as emasculated, weak, asexual, and even too small in a certain department—essentially, editing them out of the most eligible bachelor pool.”

And Chinese harbor their own set of stereotypes about Western women — as the seductress or a casual lover, who could never accept a Chinese way of life. 

The other three reasons, however–cultural differences, language barriers, social and family pressure–felt a bit out of place, as if the chatbot had hastily pasted them in. After all, if these cultural differences, language barriers, and social and family pressure were truly a problem, why weren’t they hindering the number of Chinese women and Western men pairing up? I may concede that cultural differences and social/family pressure can differ between genders, but I doubt these were enough to sway the skewed coupling in reality.

And sure enough, when I asked ChatGPT why there were so many couples of Chinese women and Western men, the answer betrayed its shortcomings in understanding cross-cultural relationship dynamics:

There are several factors that may contribute to the relatively high number of couples consisting of Chinese women and Western men:

  1. Cultural Differences: While cultural differences can create barriers for some couples, they can also be a factor that draws other couples together. Some Western men are attracted to Chinese women because of their unique cultural background and traditions, which can be seen as exotic and alluring.
  2. Gender Imbalances: In China, there is a well-documented gender imbalance, with more men than women due to the one-child policy and cultural preference for male offspring. This can make it more difficult for Chinese men to find partners, while Western men may be seen as a more viable option for Chinese women.
  3. Economic Factors: Some Chinese women may be attracted to Western men because they are perceived to have more economic stability and opportunities compared to Chinese men.
  4. Language Ability: Western men who speak Chinese fluently may be more attractive to Chinese women because it can facilitate communication and understanding between the couple.

It’s important to note that while there may be many couples consisting of Chinese women and Western men, these factors do not apply to all couples and there are many successful and happy relationships between people from different cultural backgrounds.

Right, ChatGPT — so the “cultural differences” that tear some people apart will bring others together? This answer struck me as a veiled attempt to cite fetishization of Chinese women without actually using that term.

What do  “gender imbalances” have to do with this? ChatGPT, in case you haven’t noticed, a similar phenomenon exists around the world — lots of Asian women and Western men, compared to fewer Asian men and Western women. 

While I’m willing to concede the third reason (economic) might have some traction, the fourth, language ability, seemed laughable. How many times have I seen Western men, who could utter little else beyond “Ni Hao” and “Xie Xie”, with a Chinese woman at their side? Besides, plenty of Western women have mastered Chinese, which hasn’t necessarily translated into more couples.

ChatGPT offered little insight into the dynamics in Chinese/Western relationships, but it did teach me something: AI still apparently has much to learn about race, ethnicity and culture, and how it plays out in relationships and marriage. 

China Introduced Me to Int’l Workers Day, Which Has a Curious US Connection

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. 

Today, almost every industrialized nation observes Labor Day on May 1 — except the US. According to the Illinois Labor History Society:

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?

She Fights to Regain Contact with Kids After Abusive Husband Cut Her Off: Interview

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.

Now Ruth is fighting to regain contact with her children, and recently posted a Change.org petition in German, which calls on signers to back the following text:

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.

If you would like to support Ruth, please sign her Change.org petition right now. It’s easy and only takes a minute.

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.

Pictured are Ruth (far right), along with her husband, two children, and the kids’ grandparents.

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.

In one of your articles,  you write you have been through a lot of victim blaming. Could you share more about it?

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.

Please support Ruth’s petition to get her children back. Signing is easy and only takes a few seconds.

Help Melissa Fight her Abuser and Keep Her Kids Safe

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.

Visit the GoFundMe site to read the full story.

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.

China’s COVID Surge Stunned Me, But I Still Dodged the Virus

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.

Pub’d on China Daily: China Feels Truly Like Home With Chinese Green Card

China Daily recently published my column titled China Feels Truly Like Home With Chinese Green Card, where I shared my reflections after becoming a card holder. Here are some excerpts from the column, along with a video I made:

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.

Read the full piece here at China Daily.