As we move to Hangzhou, we’re feeling the love (and support) from family in China


Sometimes, I think the love of a Chinese family is one of the best kept secrets in the world. And if ever there was an example of that, it’s our upcoming move to Hangzhou. As we trade the countryside for city life, I still can’t believe how my husband’s family has gone out of their way to help us make the transition.

Secretly buying our brand-new apartment essentials

Okay, I know rice cookers, pressure cookers, dishes, woks and bedding don’t appear out of thin air. But when my mother-in-law suddenly pulled out all of these brand-spanking-new things (and more!) from storage in our house, it felt like some magic trick. Or the wedding registry I never imagined I had signed up for.

Because, after all, we never asked them to buy any of these things. But they bought them anyway!

My mother-in-law has continued this apartment hocus-pocus almost every day leading up to the move, trotting out new things during lunch, and has even pulled a few extra-special surprises out of her own proverbial hat (including honey and even veggies from her garden).

Making it an auspicious move

“It’s not superstition. It’s the Book of Change, a Chinese tradition.” Whether or not you agree with my father-in-law, the fact remains that good luck matters to my in-laws in every important aspect of life — including moving house.

So naturally, once we announced the news on Saturday, my father-in-law whipped out that indispensable little red book in his library — the Chinese Farmer’s Almanac, based on China’s Book of Change. It lists every date in the year, recommending what you should and should not do on that date. According to his almanac, the best upcoming date for our move (and preparing our new bedroom) would be this coming Tuesday, May 27.

And believe me, this stuff counts to them. How much? Enough for my mother-in-law to make a second phone call to my husband’s oldest brother (who initially said he couldn’t move us on Tuesday), convincing him to do it earlier in the day!

Money? We didn’t ask for money!

Compared to so many Americans I know, Chinese families seen to operate on a completely different wavelength when it comes to money — and my husband’s family is no exception.

You don’t even need to ask them, “Could you lend us some money?” It’s a given they will, which I still haven’t quite gotten used to (yes, I am a bag of nerves whenever John has to borrow cash from his family — and John always thinks it’s so funny).

And more often than not, you don’t even need to bring up the topic of money with them — because they’ll do it first.

That’s exactly what my father-in-law did the other day when he sauntered over to John and me in the yard. John’s dad had this serious look on his face that made me all nervous inside, as if he was like my dad and about to lecture us on something we messed up in his house. But this “serious talk” turned out to be nothing more than him saying, “You’re going to need some money for your move. How much?” (A question that, of course, I felt too embarrassed to answer. I mean, here’s my father-in-law approaching me with a gesture that seems too generous to be real, and expecting me to give him a number?)

Days later, I discovered a thick stack of crisp, red bills lying in the corner of our room — an amount that turned out to be more than three times more what I expected!

Sometimes it’s not even a question, but an order. Like, yesterday John’s oldest brother phoned him out of the blue just to say “Open an account so I can send you some money” when John hadn’t even asked for it. After my husband recounted this to me, I was shocked (in a good way)…and then almost wanted to pinch myself.

Nope, it wasn’t a daydream.

In the end, it’s all about the love

My Chinese relatives will never hug or kiss us, or say how much they love us the way my American relatives do. But they’ll pony up brand-new apartment essentials and money without us asking them, and make certain we move on the luckiest possible day. It all comes down to one simple idea — this is how they show us their love.

Now if you excuse me, I’ve got a move to get ready for. Hangzhou, here we come!

In Hangzhou, the city where John and I fell in love — and love with all our hearts!

46 Replies to “As we move to Hangzhou, we’re feeling the love (and support) from family in China”

  1. May 27th? That’s tomorrow!! Congrats on the move! I guess the next time we hear from you, you will be writing us from your new place in the city!!!

    My husband’s family are the same way. They go out of their way to help each other. Borrowing money is never a problem, asking for something is never an issue and best of all, no timeline is given to return it and nothing is expected in return.

    And I am like you, I sometimes don’t know how to respond to their generosity. And for me, it is the little things that mean the most. Like my mother-in-law buying shaved ice for us on a hot day, bringing over barbeque corn when we are going to watch a movie at our place, or buying gifts upon gifts during her many travels!!

  2. My dad is coming to visit us, he is arriving on Wednesday and yesterday my boyfriend’s mum called to tell me that she had new beddings and pillows prepared, that I didn’t need to buy any for my dad’s stay. So cute, haha.
    Good luck with the move! But you don’t need it, as you will be moving on an officially approved auspicious day 😀

  3. Good luck to the move tomorrow!

    Like you, I usually feel embarrassed when the topic of money comes up. Before I visited Finland this January my in-laws gave me a thick envelope of RMB to buy gifts for my family. I returned the money to them as it was way too much, but then just a day or two of my flight from HK they came back with a thick envelope and now it was full of Hong Kong dollars. I didn’t know how to politely turn it away again so I accepted and that same envelope lasted me three trips to Hong Kong.

  4. Yeah, the boundary between Chinese parents and their adult children is either unclear or non-existent. The result of this for Westerners who are married to a Chinese is that they may get a lot of intrusions into their “private” affairs. The flip side, however, is that the Westerners may also receive a lot of generous assistance, as Jocelyn demonstrates here.

    Hope everything goes smoothly with your move, Jocelyn.

  5. Oh how Jo and I dread moving, now with a young bub we can’t even begin to imagine the horror 🙂 but we do hope everything goes according to plans for you and John. Hangzhou is a beautiful city and you will certainly enjoy it.

    Now D-Maybe has touched on the subject of Chinese parents in law, I would like to throw in my 2 cents on this as a Chinese son with a Western fiancee.
    The intrusive and authoritative Chinese mother in law figure has scorched such an inprint in the back of the mind of many a “xifu”, that reputation now far precedes them as it landed on foreign shores across the seven seas, how true is it? I cannot tell you from any personal experiences, but I do not for one second doubt that MILs as such certainly exist, in China, the rest of East Asia and to a smaller extend, other parts of the world.
    Now let’s talk about the relationship between me and my mother, she has possibly, the most bubbly personality I’ve ever known in a person, in contrast, Jo, my wonderful fiancee, is some what more reserved, I’m not saying that she won’t open up herself but not without some time has been invested in getting to know someone. Yet the two women got on famously the first day they’d met, despite the language and culture barriers, my mother would cook, accommodate, offer to treat and do the washings for a girl her son has just brough home from somewhere far away, because she’d already knew that Jo wasn’t just “a girl”, she respected my choice without any doubt, she and Jo would share a mutual respect that would put them on equal footing right from the beginning. We would decide on a days activities as a family, Jo was included right from the start, and her inputs would outweigh mine, she was consultated on meals, shopping, attractions to visit, in whole, their acceptance of Jo into this family has been a smooth and enjoyable transition for all parties involved.

    So to the girls out there who are considering marrying your Chinese man, don’t be put off by what you hear or perceive of your potential Chinese MILs, there is a lot of Chinese families out there that are just as dynamic and loving as any other country you care to name, experience a little, quite often the rewards are totally worth it.

    1. Thanks Kane! It is true that in-laws aren’t all the same across China. In my family, there is no strict “Tiger Mom” (or “Tiger Dad”) like people would stereotypically assume. My inlaws are just easygoing sweethearts who really want the best for their kids and aren’t demanding at all.

  6. How exciting! Hangzhou is beautiful! 🙂

    I can relate, my husband’s family is the same. It’s pretty refreshing as somebody who spend a lot of her childhood in foster homes.

  7. Precious! I can relate to everything you have said.
    This is one of the reasons I will be moving down to rural China with my husband next month. His family will be just half an hour away. And their love and support just give me so much strength, something I would never get back in Germany. I love my mom in Germany, but it’s just different. For the next few years we will need more support. I am excited and also afraid about the new step I am about to take.
    I wish you all the best for your new life in Hangzhou!

  8. Glad to hear that your Chinese part of the family are so loving. We would do the same too for family and not think much about helping each other without hesitation when there is a need or even think of a “deadline’ for the return of any “favour” because we just know that help is there for all in need. That’s just part of being family. Right, we may not be too much into hugging or verbally expressing our love for each other but we show it just the same in other ways, much like what you have described. Having moving!

  9. I totally understand this post. When I’m in China my friends and I are always commanding each other to accept insane amounts of cash from each other. This never happens in the US.

  10. Congratulations on your upcoming move (actually I think it is the 27th there by now so it really isn’t upcoming anymore); I hope it leads to more new and exciting blog entries!

  11. It’s a delight to read about such a generous family–equally good to read about your appreciation of them. I hope you’ll enjoy your walks in Hangzhou as much as you’ve enjoyed them in the countryside.

  12. @ J.E.

    Wow! I know all about money. My parents and family gave me those red envelopes also when I and my Brazilian wife were getting married.

    I cannot believe that you are leaving the village life to go to the big city. I wish you and your husband nothing but the very best. I hope that you two will flourish and prosper.

    Plesae don’t forget that we all expect you to be pregnant soon and give the ultimate gift (child) to yourselves and your in-laws.


  13. I’ve been telling you guys for years that Chinese families are very close and supportive but nobody listened to me. Now, you understand where I’m coming from.


  14. First of all I want to say that Hangzhou is one of my favorite cities in China; It’s the first city I know in China that cars will wait for pedestrians to pass first.

    From your blog I see a similar me, except that we are in swapped position. I grow up in Chinese culture and somehow grew a rebelling attitude towards it. While I am in the States, I see how everything is distinctively different from my home country, and I feel somehow liberated from the chains that used to bundle me. Literally I told my parents to stop giving me money! Because “American parents never do that unless their kids ask”. Haha, sounds familiar (But they keep giving anyway)?

    Now I am less judgmental about cultures. But one thing I did benefit from experiencing American culture, is that I get the chance to see Chinese culture from a very different angle. Reading your blog is also part of this process. I am not saying that I become appreciative of Chinese people’s insane drinking manner — I still don’t; But seeing how you react to the same things that I also encountered (Buying things for you unexpectedly; Picking up lucky days; Giving money without you asking) with totally different attitude do somehow stop my auto-pilot mode. It forcibly reveals my hidden assumptions about my own culture; A small “A-Ha!” moment.

    Anyway, it’s always good to be with the things you like. Just like the recent popular slogan narrated by Han Han, “和你喜欢的一切在一起”. Haha. Hangzhou is awesome, so have fun and best of luck!

  15. My in-laws were extremely generous hosts when we visited them and insisted on paying for us even though their means are extremely limited. They always ask if we need money when my wife calls them. They’re also fairly progressive in their views (my father-in-law is extremely anti “feudal superstition” such as fengshui, TCM, or yijing, and they neither expect nor want to live with us eventually). On the other hand, I didn’t have to grow up with them as parents and there are reasons why my wife is quite happy to have an ocean between us and them.

  16. the good ole chinese culture is incredible. i am glad you got some help to make the transition easier for john and you. ican’t wait to see your blogs from the city.

  17. What a great story! I can feel all the warmth and your surprise and happiness.
    Happy settling in your new home!

    PS if you are Italian, you get the material support AND the cuddles! 😉

  18. Moving is always exciting, I hope everything went well. I am not looking forward to our move from Finland as we have to sell alot of furniture to make the whole process cheaper…

  19. Jocelyn, I am also preparing for an epic move: relocating to Europe after many years in China and move in with my boyfriend.

    We’ve got a rice cooker and kitchen equipment… now.. could you pass on the details of that little book, the Farmer’s Almanac? I don’t generally think of myself as ‘superstitious’ (maybe nobody does?!), but when taking a 8000km step, it is nice to think that we’ll have The Universe on our side 😉

      1. Thanks, Jocelyn.
        I am actually looking for the Chinese version. I am curious about the whole concept and would like to see how the information is organised on paper, how it is conveyed etc. If you can tell me what such almanac is called, I am sure I can find it.
        Happy settling into your new home!

          1. 太好了!
            Perfect, and they sell them also on!
            Thank you D-Maybe

          2. Ok, more on this in case anybody else is curious!

            These books do sometimes go under the name 農曆 (农历). At first I found this a little surprising as that just means ‘lunar calendar’ and these are not exactly calendars. As it turns out they are also called 曆書 (历书)- Almanac.

            I also realised that a type of calendar that is really common here in Chengdu also conveys the most essential information that an Almanac does. Each day is marked according to both the Gregorian and Lunar calendars (which is easy to notice). On both sides of the date there are two lists in small print: on the left, a red one for 宜 (actions that you can auspiciously take) and on the right a black one for 忌 (actions that are ‘forbidden’ – not auspicious on that day).
            I been around those calendars for years and I had never noticed!

            This is one of the great things about living in China, daily learning, daily surprises and daily discoveries…

  20. @Paola,

    Thanks for the information. I actually wasn’t sure what to call the almanac in Chinese to direct you to the right place. In the end, I went with 農曆 because I figured that you couldn’t go wrong with it.

    The calendar I’ve got at home right now is exactly like the one you describe: it has the dates indicated for both the Gregorian and the Lunar calendars. My mom gets these calendars for free at her local Chinese grocery store, and she gets angry/frustrated if she misses out on them. 🙂

  21. Jocelyn your Chinese family seems great! What a luck to be married to a man with such a caring and nice attitude towards you. Oh you know it is not always like that! I am sure you are just as lovely with them, I can feel it from the way talk about these people.

    PS: I mentioned you on my newborn blog as an inspirational blog to follow, I hope you are okay with it!

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