Two-Year Engagement: Italian Woman Saves Up Money Before Meeting Indonesian Fiancee

An Italian woman and Indonesian man meet, fall in love and agree to marry. 

Sounds straightforward enough? But not if you include that the two met online, and that it took two years of hard work and saving money for the young lovers to finally see each other in person.

This pre-pandemic love story, published in the Jakarta Post, still had the power to tug at my heartstrings, with details like this:

Ilaria said she conveyed her plan to marry Dzulfikar to her parents in Italy and that they gave her consent to do so. “For two years, I saved money I got from working in a restaurant in Italy just to come to Indonesia,” said Ilaria.

The full story, which you can read online, includes photos of the two.

Wherever Ilaria and Dzulfikar are, here’s wishing the two of them the happily ever after they deserve!

What do you think of this story?

‘Love Nang’ a Souvenir of Affection from Heart – Pub’d on China Daily

China Daily this month published my column about the “love nang” I carried back from my trip this summer. Here’s an excerpt, which captures the moment when I just boarded my return plane bound for Beijing:

…I was still clutching to my chest a rather unusual package, wondering if it would even fit in the overhead compartment.

It was circular and flat, wider than the car tires on your average sedan, and more than 2 kilograms in weight-too heavy for the plastic bags around it, leaving one set of handles in tatters. Through the layers of plastic bags and the pink brocade covering, I could feel how a few small pieces had already broken off inside. This led me to grip it even tighter, worried it might not survive under the weight of someone’s carry-on suitcase.

After all, this was not your typical souvenir, but rather-as my colleagues had dubbed it-a stack of “love nang“.

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

My Story Made Front Page of China Daily!

I’m excited to share that my story recently made front page of the China Daily paper! The feature, based on reporting from my recent trip, profiles a number of up-and-coming women I encountered. Here’s an excerpt:

A photograph of 34-year-old Maryam Mamatali is positioned on a wall at a factory run by Nanda New Agriculture Group….

Her smile exudes the quiet confidence of a woman who has risen from working on a milk production line to become manager of an entire workshop.

“Since childhood, I have always been very hardworking. When I joined the company, I was really interested in learning and was a fast learner,” said Maryam, a member of the Uygur ethnic group. “The bosses noticed my progress, so they really believed in me. They felt that I could do this work and shoulder more responsibility, so eventually they made me a manager.”

Maryam, who has been with Nanda for 11 years, said many people admire her for joining one of the largest and most reputable companies in Kashgar.

The job also changed her life in a more personal way-she found love.

“When I joined the company, my husband’s father worked there as a guard. He saw me and introduced me to his son,” Maryam said.

The couple, who dated for just two months before getting married at a ceremony attended by company bosses, now has three children-a son and younger twin daughters.

“This job has been especially good,” said Maryam, whose salary has greatly helped the family. “We have renovated our home into a villa with a small fruit garden. When I have to buy something for my kids, I no longer worry about it, and before winter sets in this year, I’m planning to buy a new car.”

You can read the full story here, along with my reporter’s log from the trip. And if you like them, share them!

The Odd ‘Twilight Zone’ of Not Knowing When I’ll Visit the US Again – Pub’d on WWAM BAM

The group blog WWAM BAM just published my latest piece titled The Odd ‘Twilight Zone’ of Not Knowing When I’ll Visit the US Again. Here’s a snippet:

I have no idea when I’ll return to the US to visit my family.

Writing these words out feels strange enough, let alone allowing the reality to settle into my post-pandemic mind. But it’s the truth. I really don’t know when it might happen.

There are a lot of reasons why it just isn’t feasible, particularly the fact that for foreigners from the US, getting back to China isn’t a sure thing.

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

‘Blue Bayou’ Movie: Korean Adoptee Faces Deportation from US, with Interracial Family at Stake

Imagine being adopted by US parents, only to learn as an adult you never got US citizenship after all. And now, a criminal record puts you at risk for deportation from the only country you’ve ever known.

This is not a story, but a real nightmare faced by many, including Korean adoptees like Phillip Clay, who took his life after being deported.

Justin Chon highlights this immigration injustice in his latest directorial work Blue Bayou, a heartwrenching drama in which he plays a Korean adoptee with a sketchy past fighting to stay with his family, including his pregnant white wife (portrayed by Alicia Vikander) and her daughter from another marriage.

The movie, which debuted at the Cannes Film Festival and is set to open in theaters in September 2021, has already landed on Vogue’s Best Fall Movies of 2021 list, with the magazine saying: “the film features some breathtakingly beautiful scenes and colors and one set piece that’s a clear homage to Wong Kar Wai.”

Critics, while hard on the film for its heavy-handed approach, have still praised Chon for raising awareness through the production, with the Hollywood Reporter noting: “…there’s a lot here that’s good, starting with the honorable intention to tell a story about the travesty of immigration law enforcement that tears apart American families.” The film holds a 64% fresh rating at Rotten Tomatoes.

You can watch the trailer at Rotten Tomatoes, or on Youtube.

US-China Couple Weds in Beijing with a Little Help from Strangers

I’ve often heard that life is what happens when you’re making plans. Never have we had a more salient reminder of that reality than the COVID-19 pandemic, which has ravaged not only our lives but also our best of plans.

For American Apryl Reagan, a singer and actress in Beijing, and Ma Yinliang, that meant facing a wedding in Beijing where, due to the pandemic, Apryl’s family could not attend in person. So she decided to add a little American flair to the special day by inviting some Americans she didn’t know to join in the ceremony, according to a recent report on the Beijinger:

When asked about her decision to invite strangers, Reagan says that the choice was simple.

“Of course, a wedding is a great place to celebrate our love, but it’s also just a great place to celebrate! And judging by the amount of energy these Americans brought to our group chat, they were guaranteed to make it a party,” explains Reagan. “I also really wanted to give my new Chinese family this opportunity to see how Americans party! But even more than that, sometimes I am afraid they see me as ‘America.’ Since they have never met another American, I worry that anything I do will be seen as what ‘all Americans do.’ So, I also wanted them to be able to have a chance to be around Americans other than me, meanwhile experiencing first-hand some of the cultural differences between an American wedding and a Chinese wedding.”

Americans filled two tables at the Beijing venue — the Palace International Hotel — with many of them meeting the newlyweds for the first time as they went around to personally thank all of the attendees. 

The couple’s romance amid the pandemic actually lifted the hearts of others, as the Beijinger article noted:

Despite the year’s Covid fears and border closures, however, Ma and Reagan kept their hearts open to love. At the ceremony, the maid of honor noted in her remarks that their whirlwind romance inspired many friends present who hoped to one day build a partnership on the same foundation of care and respect. 

You can read the full piece and peruse the lively photos from the evening — which included dancing to the Macarena! — at the Beijinger.

Traveling to Kashgar, Kuqa and Urumchi in Xinjiang for 10 Days

I’m on a 10-day work trip to Xinjiang that includes travel to Kashgar, Kuqa and Urumchi. This marks my first time to visit the far western province of China, so I’m looking forward to experiencing places I’ve read about for years in guides on China. As I’ll be very busy during and after this trip, I’ll be on break from the blog for most of this month.

Wishing you a jubilant July, filled with adventures of your own.

Learning To Celebrate Cultural Differences in Birthdays – Pub’d on China Daily

China Daily just published my latest column titled Learning to celebrate cultural differences in birthdays. Here’s an excerpt:

With the arrival of July, the month I was born, conversations at my home have invariably shifted to discussing potential “birthday programs”, as my husband Jun likes to say. ….

This year, he has already begun sketching out details for a birthday trip to the Chengde Mountain Resort, where we can walk together hand in hand in the splendor of the former imperial summer palace and grounds, and hopefully take in some of the picturesque mountain views I’ve glimpsed in photographs online.

But while Jun has approached my birthday like a production, he has often seen his own birthday as just an afterthought.

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

Photo Essay: My Guiyang, Nanning Trip in SW China

At the end of April I made a brief trip to Southwest China’s Guiyang (capital of Guizhou province) and Nanning (a major inland city in Guangxi province). I wanted to take the chance to share are some of my favorite photos from that week:

We visited an ancient town in Guiyang, with hundreds of years of history and minority traditions in its rambling stone alleyways. Here I am having a conversation there while sampling some local green tea.

Guiyang is also a city on the move, with many emerging industries, from big data to even electric vehicles and buses. This factory we visited there produces electric buses. I also had my first ride on a self-driving bus, which took us for a short drive on the factory grounds.

I was surprised to discover a legal aid clinic nestled within a community center in Guiyang, and had the chance to meet and interview the head lawyer, Liu Yuanhe, who inspired my most recent column.

At the same community center in Guiyang, I tried my hand at Chinese calligraphy, with the help of a very patient volunteer instructor!

Nothing quite like tasting the “fruits” of agricultural labor firsthand — especially at this agricultural demonstration base in Nanning. The cherry tomatoes I sampled were organic and delicious!

In Nanning, we also visited a Zhuang minority brocade base, where the staff schooled me in the intricate art of weaving silk brocade into stunning designs.

I also had the opportunity there to try on some ethnic minority clothing, including this colorful outfit from the Miao ethnic group.

We visited a dragonfruit agricultural base as well, where we had the chance to visit the fields during the day…

And night as well. The lamps aren’t for show, but are actually used to stimulate the dragonfruit plants to stay in “production mode” 24 hours a day, boosting the productivity of the fields.

What an “enlightening” weeklong journey (sorry, couldn’t resist with the pun).

Have you ever been to Guiyang or Nanning in Southwest China?

Zongzi More Than Just a Summer Holiday Treat – Pub’d on China Daily

This month China Daily published my latest column with a Dragon Boat Festival theme — Zongzi more than just a summer holiday treat. Here’s an excerpt:

How to hold a reed leaf was just one of the things I learned one evening in my mother-in-law’s kitchen in rural Zhejiang province, as she schooled me and my husband Jun in a delicious family tradition.

“Like this,” she said, cupping the leaf like a cone, a gesture we tried to imitate by subtly adjusting our own hands.

Next, we learned how much glutinous rice to add, watching her scoop a measuring cup of the grains into her reed leaf before we did the same. Then came the honey dates-only two, she said, placed right in the center and covered by more rice, before wrapping it up with the leaf followed by lengths of string.

Our new creations landed in my mother-in-law’s bamboo steamer, transforming them within minutes into that distinctive holiday snack known as zongzi, or rice dumplings.

Except, these zongzi weren’t made for that summer holiday in June.

Instead, we had bundled up in down jackets and layers of clothing, warming our hands in turns over the wok as we prepared the treats in the chilly night air, to welcome the arrival of Chinese New Year.

It might seem strange for zongzi, the quintessential Dragon Boat Festival snack, to appear in this winter holiday more associated with jiaozi dumplings. But for some reason, zongzi has transcended these traditional Dragon Boat Festival roots, to become a beloved food at nearly every important gathering in my husband’s family in Zhejiang.

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