‘Touching Home in China’ Explores Nation, Lives of Girls in Insightful, Intimate Curriculum

China’s rise has continued to drive interest in learning about the country and its culture, as well as also a need for more insightful resources for the classroom. Touching Home in China, an open source multimedia curriculum created by Melissa Ludtke, Julie Mallozzi and Jocelyn Ford (which includes a textbook), offers a very compelling and intimate take on China by following Maya Ludtke and Jennie Lytel-Sternberg, two Chinese adoptees in America who journey back to their birthplaces in the country, two rural communities located in Jiangsu province.

Readers explore China vicariously though not only Maya and Jennie, who discover what their girlhoods might have been like in their birth villages, but also through the many rural girls they meet. Their own stories, along with photographs and videos (available online), become woven together with the academic, bringing to vivid life trends, statistics and scholarly insights.

For example, a section titled “Becoming a Wife”, which starts off with the idea that families in China typically expect girls to get married and have children, shows how Mengping always gets asked if she has a boyfriend every time she returns from Shanghai to visit family in her rural village. The same section concludes with a conversation between Maya, Mengping and another girl in the same village, where they discuss gender roles in marriage in China and the US.

The thread of self-discovery in Touching Home in China also extends to identity, something Maya and Jennie ponder while visiting these rural villages where they were born. For example, in one conversation the girls talk about feeling at times not entirely Chinese or American. It’s enlightening to read about how each of the girls grapples with their own evolving sense of self throughout the curriculum, helping readers to understand their perspectives and the experience of feeling tied to two different worlds, yet wondering where you belong.

Touching Home in China has such a fresh approach that it even captivated me, someone who has lived over a decade in the country and picked up countless books on the subject. When you read about these girls’ dreams, disappointments and hopes, you can’t help but care and root for them as you follow their paths through school to graduation and beyond. Not every story ends happily. Still, I found it heartening to observe the ways in which the girls in both countries gained something from these cross-cultural exchanges — from learning more about who they are to finding inspiration in new possibilities.

You can access Touching Home in China at its website or buy the companion textbook at Amazon, where your purchases help support this blog.

P.S.: To learn more about Touching Home in Chinaread my interview with Melissa Ludtke.

Chinese Bass Player, American Woman Start Lifelong ‘Duet’ in Guangzhou

Girl sees boy performing at a concert, longs to meet him, and somehow destiny helps kickstart a lifelong duet. That’s the heart of this story from a US woman living in Guangzhou.

Do you have a love story or other guest post you’d like to see published on Speaking of China? Have a look at the submit a post page, where you can learn more about writing for this blog.


September 3, 2017: The Day We Met

What a summer it had been. I had just decided to become a full-time Chinese language student at South China University of Technology, so I was finishing up the last few days at my full-time job, had just moved to an apartment near campus, and was feeling both stressed and clueless about how to get a student visa.

Besides those recent life changes, that summer had also had its ups and downs in regards to dating. I had gone on a few dates with different Chinese guys, but nothing was working out at all. While visiting my family in America, I re-centered my focus and realized my identity was not based on my relationship status. Although I was only 23 years old, I knew I had grown up since moving to Guangzhou the year before. Little did I know what would happen during my second year in the Middle Kingdom.

The morning of Sunday, September 3, started out a little more hectic than usual because after just moving in, my room was a mess with clothes and belongings scattered everywhere.

Guangzhou was hot and sticky that time of year, and lately I had only been wearing T-shirts and shorts, as digging through boxes to find cuter clothes felt like too much work. Fortunately, that morning I put in the effort of wearing a skirt and minimal makeup. It was my first time going to church from my new location, so I rushed through the unfamiliar metro route and luckily made it on time. To my surprise, my best friend Jasmine was waiting for me at the bus station. “Today is the concert! I’m so excited!” she said. Unknown to her, I had totally forgotten the promise I had made weeks ago to attend the symphony concert with her that afternoon.

Flash forward to a few hours later, and I’m with three friends, talking about my lack of success in the dating department. “Don’t worry! You can find another shuai ge (cute boy),” they assured me.

As it was time for the concert to begin, we found seats together in the left-hand section. We continued to giggle and chat as the band entered the stage. “Look! There’s a shuai ge!” my friend said.

I looked up, and low and behold, was an extremely handsome Chinese man, carrying a giant cello called a double bass. He was tall, well-built, and had a perfectly styled Cantonese haircut that I liked so much.

Later, there was an introduction for each member of the band, and as I heard more about him, I knew I had to meet him. But how?

At least I had the whole concert to think of a plan! I took photos and videos during the concert, focusing on him only. Towards the end of the performance, I rushed to the bathroom to apply lipstick and touch up my hair, thankful that I chose to wear a skirt that morning! Now that the concert had ended, I knew I had to act quickly. My friends gathered around me and pitched their ideas. We knew one other boy in the band; maybe we could ask him to introduce us?

Suddenly, Jasmine started running up to the stage! What on earth was she doing? In my anxiety I part of me wanted to tackle her and part of me wanted to run out the back door! We couldn’t just run up and talk to guys as cute as him! These things had to be planned! When I saw her talking to the shuai ge, my heart pounded and face burned.

However, in that moment, I knew I had a choice. The concert was over and this shuai ge would soon leave, and if I ran away without meeting him, I might not ever see him again.

I weighed the risk of staying and asking for his WeChat. Worst case scenario, he would not be interested and I would be a little embarrassed. Best case scenario, he would be interested, one thing could lead to another, and one day he could even end up becoming my husband. I knew that risk of losing my face was a small price to pay for taking a shot at the best case scenario. Chances are that nothing would come of it, but I would never know if I didn’t try.

Jasmine then came back to our group and told me that she had asked the shuai ge if I could take a picture withhim, and he had said, “yes.” My heart still pounding, my friends took me to the stage and I walked shyly towards him. I smiled brightly, while also trying to contain my excitement to avoid scaring him off.

“Hello! Can you speak English?” I asked him in Chinese.

“No, I can’t.”

“No problem, what’s your name?”

“I’m Timothy,” he said with no expression on his face. I knew that girls must approach him
all the time, as it seemed he didn’t care in the least.

“It’s so nice to meet you. Where are you from?”

“Shantou. Stand to the right.” He pointed for me to stand behind the double bass for the
photo that our friend, Jianwei, was taking with his professional camera. I smiled happily and nervously.

“Can you send me the picture?” Timothy asked Jianwei.

“You two should add each other on Wechat, and I’ll send the picture soon,” Jianwei replied smoothly.

Wow! Jianwei was a genius! Thanks to him, we added each other’s WeChats so naturally. Timothy then said he needed to put away his instrument and get going.

My friends and I exited the stage and the girls immediately grabbed my phone to start searching Timothy’s WeChat Moments. We saw there was a girl in many of his photos. My heart started to sink, and my friends scrolled even more frantically.

Finally, we found a caption saying the girl was his younger sister! “Mei Mei! Mei Mei!” My friends cheered as they jumped up and down! Since he appeared to be single, maybe, just maybe, I had a chance.

The rest of the day was extremely busy, but at some point that evening, Timothy messaged me. I waited a little while to reply, because I wanted to make sure I could really commit to the conversation. He said sorry for rushing off so quickly that afternoon, and thought Jasmine had told him that I wanted to learn music from him.

“Oh no,” I thought to my nonmusical self. “If I pretend to be interested in taking double-bass lessons, I don’t think this relationship will get very far.” I don’t remember how I responded, but probably something about how I was not looking for a teacher, but did really enjoy his performance.

We kept messaging back and forth until my mom called me. My mom and I talked on and on for a long time, covering everything there was to say about my recent life changes. Finally she asked me, “Well, is there anything else to tell me?” I thought for a moment, and then said, “Oh! Today I met a shuai ge!” I told her a little bit, but then said, “He probably won’t like me because my Chinese is not very good and he doesn’t speak English.” My mom was still excited to hear my “latest news” and told me to keep her updated.

Timothy and I kept messaging into the night; I had so many questions to ask and could not wait to know more about him! I had to translate his every message and think for a long time about how to reply back in Chinese. While I was typing one message, character by character, Timothy kept sending more and more messages. I worried that he would think I was uninterested since I was replying so slowly. It was almost midnight, and normally I would cut off conversations to go to bed, but this time I decided to stay up longer and keep messaging.

Finally, Timothy said it was time to say goodnight, but that he really enjoyed chatting with me. I knew that after this conversation ended, he may not message me again. However, if he did, it would definitely be a good sign that he is interested. Reluctantly, I said good night and drifted off to sleep.

When I woke up the next morning, there on my phone, was already a message from — you guessed it — the shuai ge!

Well, now it’s July of 2019, and a lot has happened since September 3, 2017. It turns out that despite my imperfect Mandarin, the shuai ge really did like me. We have been married for a little over a month now. Our wedding was held at our church in Guangzhou, the same place where we first met. We recreated that first photo, which brought us together. Thank you to my friends who made it happen!

2017 年 9 月 2 日:我们认识的一天 那时候真是一个很难忘的夏天。我刚决定我会去华南理工大学开始学习中文,所以我离

职我的全职岗位,搬到学校附近的房子,也还不知道怎么办我学生签证。那个夏天有一些开 心和不开心的事,比如我约了几个中国男人,但是关系一点儿都没成功。在美国探望我的家 人时,我发现我的身份不存在于男人身上,也不存在于其他人对我的看法中。虽然那时候我 只有 23 岁,我知道我从去年搬到广州后就已经长大了一些。我也完全不知道我第二年在中 国会发生什么样的事情。

9 月 3 日开始有点忙碌,因为我刚搬家了,房间里到处都是东西和衣服。那时候广州的 天气是炎热和潮湿。那时我就是穿运动裤和 T 恤因为翻箱倒柜找更漂亮的衣服太麻烦了。刚 好,那天早上我努力找到一条裙子,也化了一点儿妆。 这是我第一次从新的地方出发去教 会,所以我匆匆穿过陌生的地铁线路,幸运的是准时到达。我很开心看到我好朋友 Jasmine 等我在公交车站。她说了,“今天是那个音乐会!我好期待!”她不知道,我已经忘了我几个 星期前答应她,我会陪她去在聚会结束后的音乐会。

过几个小时后,我跟三个朋友们一边等音乐会一边讨论我最近单身的问题。“别担心,” 她们说了,“你可以再找其他的帅哥。” 音乐会快开始所以我们去找位置。乐团开始上台的 时候,我们还在聊一聊。“你看!台上就有个帅哥!” 我抬起头,看见一个非常英俊的中国 帅哥,抱着一个低音提琴。他个子高,身材魁梧,有一个完美的广东发型,我非常喜欢。后 来,乐队的每个成员都被介绍了。听完他的介绍,我知道我一定要认识他。但是,怎么样去 认识?刚好有整个音乐会可以想个办法。我在音乐会上拍照和录像,只关注他。快结束的时 候,我冲到洗手间涂口红,整理我的头发,很感恩那天早上我选择穿裙子!音乐会结束后, 我知道我必须迅速采取行动。我的朋友们聚在一起分享想法。我们在管弦乐队认识另外一个 男生,也许我们可以请他介绍一下我们!

突然 Jasmine 就跑到台上!她到底在干嘛?我是充满了紧张,一边生气她也一边想从后 门逃走了!我们不能随便跑过去和跟他那么帅的人说话!这样的事情必须有计划!我一看她 跟帅哥说话,我感到心跳动和脸燃烧。

然而,那一刻,我知道自己有个选择。因为音乐会已经结束了所以这位帅哥会很快离开, 如果我先跑走的话,我可能一直没有再次碰到他。如果我留下来问他的微信,最坏的情况是 他不会感兴趣,但最好的情况他可能也喜欢我。如果感情过的越来越好,有一天他可能成为 我的丈夫。我知道虽然有失去面子的风险,但也只是为有机会认识他付出的小小代价。很有 可能什么都不会发生,但我永远不知道我是否尝试过。我的心还在跳动,我的朋友们把我带 到舞台上,我害羞地朝他走去。我笑得很灿烂,同时也试图抑制自己的兴奋。

“你好!你会说英文吗?“

“不会。”

“哦,没关系,你叫什么名字?”

“我叫 Timothy。” 他说的这句,脸上没任何表情。因为他表现得这么无所谓,所以我认
为应该总是有很多女生这样追他。

“我很开心认识你,你是哪里人?”

“汕头。站在右边。” 他指着我站在低音提琴后面,我们的朋友 Jianwei 正准备用他的专业 相机拍摄照片。我高兴而紧张地笑了。

“我们怎么可以收到照片?“Timothy 问了 Jianwei. “你们两个加微信然后到时候我就发。“

哇!Jianwei 那么聪明!让我们那么自然地加微信。扫一扫之后,Timothy 说他要先去收 拾乐器。我和朋友们兴奋地下台,朋友马上抓我的手机快看 Timothy 的朋友圈儿。我们在他 的许多照片中看到一个女生„我的心开始下沉„我的朋友们疯狂地翻阅照片。终于有个评论 说她是他的妹妹!“妹妹!妹妹!” 我的朋友们跳上跳下时欢呼起来!因为看起来他应该是 单身,我可能有个小小机会。

在那天晚上的某个时候,Timothy 给我发了一个信息。 我一直等到我忙完了回答,因 为我想确保我能真正投入到谈话中去。他说了不好意思他那么快就要离开,也说 Jasmine 跟 她说我想和他学习低音提琴。 “哎呀,如果我装作对学音乐感兴趣,可能对我们的关系不 太好。”我忘记我怎么样回复他,大概的意思是我不是找老师,但是我真享受他下午的表演。 我们一直在聊天,直到我妈妈给我打个电话。我和妈妈煲了电话粥,说了所有要说的内容。 最后她问我:“嗯,还有什么要告诉我的吗?”我想了一会儿,然后说:“哦!今天我遇到一 个帅哥!“ 我告诉了她一点,但后来说他不会说英语, 所以他应该不会喜欢我,因为我的 中文也不太好。但我妈妈很兴奋,她告诉我一定要随时跟她汇报进展。

Timothy 和我一直在发信息到晚上, 我好开心跟他聊!因为那时候我的中文不太好, 我要翻译他的每一条信息,并思考了很长时间如何回复。当我慢慢地输入一条信息时, Timothy 会不断地发送越来越多的信息。我担心他会认为我对他不感兴趣,因为我回答得太 慢了。已经快到午夜了,通常我会停止谈话睡觉,但这次我决定继续交谈。最后,Timothy 说该说晚安了,但他真的很喜欢和我聊天。我知道在谈话结束后,他可能不会再次跟我微信 聊天儿。不过,如果他真的再次发信息,意思肯定是他对我有点感兴趣。我不情愿地说了声 晚安,然后就睡着了。

第二天早上我醒来的时候,我的手机上已经有一条信息从„„你猜对了„„那个帅 哥!!!

现在是 2019 年 7 月,从 2017 年 9 月 3 日,确实发生了很多事情。虽然那时候我的中文 比较一般,那位帅哥后来很喜欢我!我们已经结婚一个多月了。我们的婚礼举行了在我们广 州的教堂,就是我们第一次认识的同一个地方。在我们的婚礼上,我们照了一张新照片,和 我们第一张合照的姿势一样。感谢我的朋友们帮助我们认识!


Speaking of China is always on the lookout for outstanding guest posts! If you have something you’d like us to feature, visit the submit a post page for details — and then submit yours today.

Chinese Man Seeks Lost American Wife, Son Who Disappeared in Hangzhou

I first learned of this story on WeChat when people began sharing news of a lost mixed-race 2-year-old boy who went missing in Hangzhou. Later reports revealed the boy had actually disappeared with his mother, an American woman. I’ve translated a news story on the incident initially published in Chinese.
—–

“All-powerful circle of friends, please ask everyone if they have seen this child. He is lost. I already alerted the police, but still haven’t received any information about him. Yesterday this information was heavily reposted on social media, saying this 2-year-old boy went missing at Xin Qingnian Guangchang. His name is Chenchen, also known as Milan. Accompanying the information is a picture of the little boy. He has really big eyes, just like a foreign child.”

The person who sent this information is the boy’s father Xiao Xue, a 27-year-old fitness coach in Hangzhou. Yesterday, when someone was trying to get in touch with him, he was a little embarrassed to say, “The boy probably left with his mother.”

The boy’s mother is an American. Her Chinese name is Bai Xue, and she’s two years older than Xiao Xue.

The two of them got together in a romantic way on April 4, 2015, when they both met at the Drum Tower, where it was love at first sight.

At the time, Xiao Xue had been in Hangzhou for about a year or so, while Bai Xue was a foreign student at Zhejiang University. “She was a very bright student and did well in her studies. She could speak many languages, at least eight,” Xiao Xue said, his voice showing pride as he spoke of his wife.

Bai Xue was beautiful, while Xiao Xue was handsome. The two young people had no language barrier to deal with, so they quickly moved from meeting each other to love, and, hand-in-hand, entered marriage together.

“Our relationship was very good, and there was no doubt she loved me,” Xiao Xue said. After they married, his wife Bai Xue’s living habits gave him a bit of a “breakdown”. “She loved to do as she wished, and she would leave things all over the house, and didn’t like to put them back in their place.”

Xiao Xue however prefers things to be neat and tidy, and he would remind Bai Xue about this many times. When Bai Xue became angry over his words, Xiao Xue would soothe her and the situation would pass.

After one year of marriage, their son was born – fair-skinned, chubby, and a mixed-race child. He was very cute. The young couple took care of him themselves and found an Ayi to help them out.

With the birth of their child, the differences in living habits between the two turned into a more acute conflict. During the day, Xiao Xue would work, and Bai Xue would take care of the child.

They were both young and had no experience caring for children. But Xiao Xue said, there were times when he would come home and see the child in the middle of winter with one bare foot, or wearing mismatched shoes, etc. He would say something to Bai Xue, but she felt Xiao Xue was nagging.

Later on, Bai Xue found a job at an early childhood education center, and she could take her son with her to work, so they got rid of their Ayi.

On May 20, also known as young people’s “520” online Valentine’s day holiday, Xiao Xue had to work that day. When he got off work and came home, he was very upset to see an entire box of children’s clothes lying on the ground. All of his desire to enjoy the holiday disappeared. He tidied up the clothing on the ground and then waited for Bai Xue and the boy to return.

After 9 pm that evening, Bai Xue and the child came back, and Xiao Xue asked Bai Xue to put away the clothes on the sofa. But Bai Xue said she wanted to go to sleep. On that day, Xiao Xue was in a bad mood, so he spoke in anger. “That day I was a bit harsh to her, I said the house is such a mess, you must put your clothes away!”

In anger, Bai Xue placed the child in bed, and organized the clothing. Xiao Xue grabbed his notebook to write a journal entry. It wasn’t until after 1 am that he returned to the room and found that Bai Xue and the boy were gone.

Xiao Xue ran outside the building to look, and couldn’t find a trace of the mother and son in the gardens there. Bai Xue’s usual electric scooter wasn’t there either.

Xiao Xue said, Bai Xue had stayed in Hangzhou for over 10 years, she had classmates and friends there. So he sought them out, but they didn’t know where she had gone.

Xiao Xue then reached out to his mother-in-law in the US. She said she didn’t know were Bai Xue was, but she received a Skype message from Bai Xue, asking her to send some living expenses.

In early June, Xiao Xue went to the police station to make a report, and the police searched for information. They discovered that, on the second day that Bai Xue had run away from home, she had gone to Xinchang, then two days later returned to Hangzhou, where she stayed at an inn near Zhejiang University. “I was too slow, she had checked out of the room.”

In early June, Xiao Xue heard friends say they had seen on social media that Bai Xue was carrying her son in Ledigang in Gongshu district.

Xiao Xue has been unable to contact Bai Xue. After she ran away from home, she canceled her WeChat account. Xiao Xue sent her emails but she hasn’t replied.

Bai Xue hails from a scholarly family. Her mother is a university professor, and her father is an expert in nuclear physics. She also has two younger sisters, and one of them is a Chinese girl born in Hubei who was adopted by her parents. “I saw that it said on her Skype that in early June she went to the place where her younger sister was born,” Xiao Xue said. He guessed that she had possibly gone to Hubei. “She is a very innocent person, and I fear that she has been conned by someone.”

When all is said and done, in fact these two young people just didn’t know how to get along after marriage.

“When we were first married,we often went out for fun in the evenings and enjoyed holidays together. After our child was born, there were fewer holidays,” Xiao Xue said, noting he may have neglected Bai Xue’s emotional needs.

Xiao Xue said that, concerning their marriage, while Bai Xue’s father supported his daughter, her mother had some dissatisfaction. At the end of last year, Bai Xue’s father passed away and she returned home. Xiao Xue, because he had to work and also perhaps feared seeing Bai Xue’s mother, didn’t go with her, staying at home to care for their son.

As for Xiao Xue, perhaps he harbored some macho ideas. He thought that he should go out to earn money, while his wife should take care of things at home. Now, Xiao Xue said he really regrets his behavior: “That day I shouldn’t have been so angry at her.” Xiao Xue said that, previously, because Bai Xue had made the home so untidy, he threatened to break up with her and such. “Those were angry words, but she probably thought I was being serious.”

What do you think?

“You Must Be Russian” – On Mistaken Identity in China and America

“She must be Russian…even her hat is Russian.” 😉

“Are you Russian?” someone asked me the other day here in Hangzhou.

It felt like a total a palm-in-face moment. After all, hadn’t he read my CV, which explicitly stated I was an American, in bold letters?

But the truth is, I had heard this same question – which more often came out as a statement (“She’s Russian”) – hundreds of times here in China. I can’t tell you the many times I’ve been standing on a metro or riding the bus, and all of a sudden I catch someone whispering in Chinese that I’m Russian, never knowing that I understood their every single word.

The thing is, I do understand where this comes from. Because I’ve heard many other white foreign women married to Chinese men share similar stories of being called citizens of China’s Northerly neighbor. Given Russia’s promixity, it’s not surprising.

But yet…sometimes the conclusion isn’t flattering either. Not when some people think we’re Russian prostitutes.

Sadly, I’ve heard stories from white women in China who were stalked and even nearly raped because someone assumed they were “for hire”. My Chinese husband, who has seen how some men look at me (and not always in a good way), makes it his duty to “protect my butt” from wandering eyes.

But here’s the fascinating thing in my case – Americans have also mistaken me for being Russian. Yes, Americans.

In fact, when I was at university, I was stopped on two occasions and explicitly asked if I wasn’t from Russia.

I had to confess feeling a little strange. What was it about me that prompted them to think this? Then again, this is America, a country where news giant CNN actually ran a map showing Hong Kong as part of South America.

Come to think of it, now that’s a true palm-in-face moment.

Do you have any stories of mistaken identity?

4 Stinging 1890s Quotes on White Women Who Loved Chinese Men

By I. W. Taber - http://content.cdlib.org/ark:/13030/tf2779n8vr/?layout=metadata&brand=calisphere, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3364494
By I. W. Taber – http://content.cdlib.org/ark:/13030/tf2779n8vr/?layout=metadata&brand=calisphere, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3364494

The LA Herald published “Married to Chinamen – White Women Who Accept Mongolian Husbands” in 1892. But it’s hatred, not acceptance, that prevails in the piece.

Essentially, the article asks a simple racist question. What in the world is wrong with these white women, who would dare to love and marry Chinese men?

I’m amazed that there were white women in the 1890s courageous enough to overcome societal condemnation and love Chinese men regardless.

Think about it. This was only a decade after the US passed the Chinese Exclusion Act. In an era when the US wanted Chinese out of the country, these women welcomed them into their hearts and homes. They created families with them.

So, in an effort to remember the bitter early history of AMWF couples in America, I’m sharing 4 stinging quotes on white women who love Chinese men from this LA Herald piece:

#1: The average American cannot understand how any human being, however inured by custom, can live in an average Chinatown. That white women should live there by deliberate choice seems to him monstrous, horrible.

Racists crave dehumanizing language. So it’s not surprising that the paper describes these white women as if they were the brides of Frankenstein.

#2: She is but twenty-two years of age, remarkably beautiful and possessed of a voice that…would be a fortune. Yet three years ago, she met and loved a Chinaman.

If the 1890s ever ran a “public service announcement” against white women marrying Chinese men, it would probably start with something like this. (Oh my.)

#3: It is also well known that not one Chinaman in a hundred comes to these shores without leaving behind a wife in China; so by the laws of China, the white wife is not a wife…

And if that 1890s “public service announcement” continued, this is the climax, the heart of their argument. Don’t marry someone who can’t guarantee you a proper marriage! (Whoa.)

#4: They have had six children, of whom five are living – bright, intelligent half breeds. And Mrs. Watson (her husband took that name when baptized) is still handsome and pleasant spoken.

<sarcasm>Ah yes. Amazing that Mrs. Watson didn’t somehow become deformed or damaged after marrying a Chinese man. And her kids even appear normal. Incredible! </sarcasm>

You can read the full LA Herald article online. Prepare to cringe.

What do you think?

P.S.: Thanks to Tony of Frederickbee.com for linking to this article, which brought it to my attention.

I’m always on the lookout for more AMWF history. If you know of a couple or story you’d like me to spotlight, contact me today.

Guest Post: “Thank you, Mom. I’m proud to be biracial and Vietnamese.”

I’m excited to run this post by Mary, who runs the wonderful blog The Ruby Ronin. Her mother was a refugee of the Vietnam War and her father a white American veteran; she writes about her experience growing up biracial in a small town in America — and how she came to appreciate her mother after growing up (and especially after her trip to Vietnam). Thanks for sharing Mary!

If you have a story you’d like to share on Speaking of China, we’re always looking for great guest posts. Visit the submit a post page to learn how your words could be published here.
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Mary and her mother

I didn’t realize that I was “different” until I hit the second grade. That’s when the kids started calling me “Chinese.”

“Am I Chinese, mom?” I asked my mother one day after school.

She exploded in laughter and replied, “Why do you think you’re Chinese?”

“Because everyone at school calls me Chinese.”

Her smiling expression soon turned to concern, “No, Mary, you’re not Chinese.” She replied sternly, “You’re Vietnamese.”

I cocked my head in confusion.

“What’s a Vietnanese?”

My mother was a refugee from the Vietnam War, my American father a veteran of that war. After the war my mother and father relocated to rural, coal mining America where I was the only “Asian” (half, really) in my elementary school. For most of my childhood and adolescent life, I was labeled as “Chinese” and my social identity revolved around my Asian ethnicity.

Mary's mom, Mary and her father

“Why does your mom talk funny?” my friends once asked me in third grade after meeting my mother for the first time.

It wasn’t until that moment I realized that, indeed, my mother was different. She was unable to pronounce certain words correctly and her grammar was off. Every now and then I heard her ramble off on the phone in a language I didn’t know, and which I could only assume was this newly discovered “Vietnanese.”

My mom used to drive us two hours north for the sole purpose of going to one of the rare Asian markets in our state and stocking up on Vietnamese food for the long winter. I remember those market visits vividly, because every time I set foot into that store all of my senses went into overload. The sound of live fish flapping in the seafood isle, the overpowering stench of freshly cut durian, the colors of all the exotic fruits in the produce section (dragon fruit!)—it was like being in another world.

Although I knew that somehow this culture was associated with me, it all felt so strangely foreign.

I used to cuddle up with my mom and watch Vietnamese movies together as a child. I couldn’t understand a word, although I desperately wanted to. I asked my mother to teach me Vietnamese multiple times, but she always refused. She laughed and said that teaching me Vietnamese was too much work, but I think deep down she wanted to give me a life that had nothing to do with the harsh, war-torn country she had just left. While she was still very Vietnamese at heart, she wanted her daughter to be nothing but American.

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My mother and I could never communicate. I always wondered if it was culture, or language, or a little bit of both. When I told her I didn’t want fruit or another helping of food, she still cut up fresh apples or scooped an extra bowl of rice for me. When I tried to talk to her about my inner feelings and insecurities, she turned a deaf ear and seemed more concerned about the warmth of my coat or the food in my stomach. At times I felt like she didn’t care about who I was as a person, but it wasn’t until I moved to Asia later in life that I realized all of her so-called “minor” concerns was her way of showing love.

Growing up biracial, especially in a small town like we did, was extremely difficult. There were times I wanted nothing more than to be fully Asian so that I could finally blend in with my Asian relatives, and there were other times I longed to be completely American so that I could fit in with the kids at school.

It wasn’t until I moved to Asia later in life that I realized it wasn’t me that struggled the most—it was my mother and the hardships she endured living in America. Like many of us that move abroad, my mother coped with challenges such as living in a new language and trying to fit into a foreign society—but unlike most modern travelers today, she didn’t have the option that many of us have: to go home. Her country was torn by war and her Vietnamese passport revoked—even to this day, she has never returned to Vietnam.

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My mother was completely isolated as the only Vietnamese person in our town, her only connection to home being interspersed phone calls with distant family and the Vietnamese movies I used to watch with her as a child.

I screamed at my mother a lot, because I didn’t understand. I wondered why she had to be so strange, why she couldn’t understand me, why our family had to be so different — yet she never yelled back. She only smiled.

Years later, I traveled to Vietnam alone to learn about a very important part of me—the history of my mother. I went to her old neighborhood in Saigon and to the markets she used to frequent as a child. Although my mother raised me to be the best American girl I could be, deep down I was still Vietnamese.

On the bus ride from Saigon to Hanoi, a song played on the radio. I recognized it as the famous melody from the movies my mother and I used to watch together, and I was helpless in holding back the tears.

Thank you, mom, for making me who I am today. I’m proud to be biracial, and I’m proud to say that yes—I am Vietnamese.

Mary writes about life in China and Japan, dating in Asia, world travel and everyday inspirations at The Ruby Ronin.

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Speaking of China is always on the lookout for outstanding guest posts! If you have something you’d like us to feature, visit the submit a post page for details — and then submit yours today.

Guest Post: My daughter said, “I’m American, I’m Jewish and I’m Chinese.”

When you’re raising biracial and bicultural kids, you’re bound to have some interesting conversations with them about identity. That’s the case for Susan Chan, author of The Reluctant Brides of Lily Court Lane, who recalls an incident with her daughter, after the little girl told another child about her background. Her daughter said, “Well, I told him, ‘I’m American, I’m Jewish and I’m Chinese. But he kept saying you can’t be three things.”

Read on to find out what happened – and thanks so much to Susan for sharing!

Do you have a fascinating story that you’d like to share here on Speaking of China? We welcome a variety of guest posts – including love stories, posts about having/raising biracial kids, biracial identity stories, and anything else that falls within the realm of this blog. Check out the submit a post page to learn how to get your writing published here!

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(Photo by Phalinn Ooi via Flickr.com)
(Photo by Phalinn Ooi via Flickr.com)

April is an iffy day in New York City-blustery one day and spring-like the next. The morning of April 29, 1989 dawned clear and bright for the Chan family. We were all dressed hours before we needed to be, each of us sporting a touch of red-a lucky Chinese color. Leah had gotten up early every morning for months to practice her speech and now she was prepared and eager to start.

Arriving early at the Temple for Leah’s Bat Mitzvah, we greeted each person as they arrived. It was a serious moment and as her mom, I held my breath, waiting for her to begin.  Seated next to her Chinese father, and her younger brother, I held back my tears of pride.  We watched her carry out her part in the religious ceremony and then it came time for her personal speech.

I watched my child, now blossoming into a young lady, speak seriously of becoming an adult, as she gave recognition to her cultural and religious background. The years melted away and I recalled an incident that had happened when Leah was a child, probably four or five. She was approached by a little boy in the playground. I had to hide my smile later when she told me their conversation.

She’d said in a very serious tone, “Mommy, he’s so stupid.”

“Leah, you know we don’t use that word.”

“Well, he was.”

“Maybe he just doesn’t know any better,” I said, wondering if I’d need to have a talk with his mother. What had he said to make my child angry?

“He asked me, ‘What are you?’”

“And what did you say?”

“I didn’t know what he meant.”

“Uh huh,” I answered in an encouraging tone.

“He asked me again, and he said, ‘I’m Italian-American and you can be two things.’”

“Oh, so he thinks people can only be two things because that’s what he is.” I realized he was referring to the idea popular then of a hyphenated American.

“Well, I told him, ‘I’m American, I’m Jewish and I’m Chinese. But he kept saying you can’t be three things.”

I knew that Leah wouldn’t let him get away with that.

“Oh, yes, I can,” Leah told me she’d said to him. “I go to American school during the week, Chinese school on Saturday, and Hebrew school on Sunday. Mommy, then he ran away. If I can’t call him stupid, what can I call him?”

That little girl grew up to be a lawyer.

Susan Chan, a romance author and former guidance counselor, lives in San Diego, CA, and is co-author of the Lily Court Lane book series. You can follow Lily Court Lane books on Facebook.

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Speaking of China is always on the lookout for outstanding guest posts! If you have something you’d like us to feature, visit the submit a post page for details — and then submit yours today.

Guest Post: “Korean-American. Or Amerasian. Or a hapa. Why so many labels?”

Ms. A writes, “My mother is Korean and my father is a mix of many things himself, mostly white. I suppose that would make me Korean-American. Or Amerasian. Or a hapa. Why so many labels?” Her essay captures the frustration of dealing with labels, and what it feels like when you don’t quite “fit in.” 

Do you have something to say about being biracial and Asian, or raising biracial Asian kids? Or do you have a good love story or other guest post idea that fits the scope of this blog? Check out the submit a post page to learn how to have your writing published here.

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(Photo by Meg Wills via Flickr.com)
(Photo by Meg Wills via Flickr.com)

“What are you?”

For some reason, that question has always bothered me. Sarcastically, I’d once responded “I’m human. What are YOU?” Of course I knew they meant to ask my background or ethnicity. Being bi-racial, mixed, or “hapa”, this was a common question. I suppose what bothered me was that the question had a deeper meaning to me. What ‘am I?

My mother is Korean and my father is a mix of many things himself, mostly white. I suppose that would make me Korean-American. Or Amerasian. Or a hapa. Why so many labels?

Growing up, I never had an issue about being mixed. But somewhere down the line I ended up having an identity crisis. To non-Asians I suddenly became “the Asian one”. When I was with full-Asians, I was “the American one”. I grew a dislike to referring to myself as “half” Korean and “half” American. It felt like being partially part of something, yet never being fully part of it. Just half.

Perhaps this had to do with the community and if you live in a community that is familiar with diversity.

Of course, the feeling of not belonging in either “worlds” also had a lot to do with my upbringing. Sometimes I would have an American mindset of things, other times I would view things the Korean way. We spoke English, ate Korean, confusingly having conservative Korean values yet simultaneously liberal in other aspects. In Korea there is a Chinese-Korean dish call jjambbong that was a spicy noodle soup that didn’t have just one type of seafood and vegetables but a large variety mixed together. That’s what I was. Or maybe like a New Orleans gumbo.

As I got older, I realized that culture is a part of you, but not your entirety. It’s a blessing to have more than one culture a part of you. And yet because of that reason, it’s why you don’t have to choose to be solely part of one completely. It’s only natural values may clash and you may physically/visually not belong to a single race. Embrace who you are as an individual first. It’s okay to be different. It’s okay to not always fit in. Its. Okay.

Ultimately what defines you is who you are as an individual. People should remember you for who you are in the inside and the qualities you display as a human.

Ms. A is a woman who believes your imperfections are your perfections and that self-discovery is a never ending path.

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Speaking of China is always on the lookout for outstanding guest posts! If you have something you’d like us to feature, visit the submit a post page for details — and then submit yours today.

Following Her Heart To Asia At 45+: Interview With Janet Brown

Tone Deaf in Bangkok by Janet BrownIt’s never too late to follow your heart to Asia. Just ask American writer Janet Brown, who went to Bangkok at age 45 to teach English and ended up falling in love with her newfound home (and, for a brief time, a Thai local). She captured this experience in her memoir Tone Deaf in Bangkok, which reads like a valentine to the city and Thailand itself, the country where she feels most at home.

Then Janet returns to Bangkok at 60 and wonders: could she still remain closely connected to her two sons in Seattle and live happily in Thailand at the same time? That’s the question at the heart of her second memoir titled Almost Home, a book where she also explores the possibility of putting down roots in three other Asian locales — Beijing, Hong Kong and Penang.

Not surprisingly, while Janet currently calls Seattle, Washington home, she has just returned to Asia this year for some traveling and hopes to continue her love affair with the continent.

I’m delighted to introduce you to Janet Brown and her writing through this interview. Besides Tone Deaf in Bangkok and Almost Home, Janet is also the author of the forthcoming book Light and Silence: Growing Up in My Mother’s Alaska, which will be out September 1, 2014. You can follow her writer’s notebook at Tone Deaf in Thailand.

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You’re currently in Hong Kong and have plans to return to Thailand. It must be exciting to return to two places that feel like second homes to you and reunite with close friends there. What does it feel like to be back?

Coming back to this part of Asia is always like leaving one life to step into another. It’s exhilarating and joyful and a tiny bit exhausting at first, because to enter one life you have to be prepared to completely leave the other, if only for a little while. I think we call this jetlag, but it’s really the effects of time travel.

As you chronicled in Tone Deaf in Bangkok, you fell in love with your Thai language tutor, who was much younger than you. Did your attraction to him surprise you and if so, how?

When I first met the man I fell in love with in Bangkok, I didn’t even think we’d be friends. He was so conservative and quiet, but that turned out to be a professional mask that covered the face of a rebel. I fought the attraction as it grew, telling myself it was one-sided and absurd, concentrating on the work of learning Thai and getting to know the person who was teaching me to speak it. Because of the age difference between us, I was hesitant right up until the moment that he first kissed me.

Almost Home by Janet BrownWhat did you learn from this brief romance? And what did it feel like to see him years later, as you recalled in your book Almost Home?

I learned that love takes many forms and can be expressed in ways that don’t depend upon a sexual relationship. After our physical intimacy ended, we continued a close and loving friendship up until his death. We met each time I came to Thailand on vacation and stayed in touch through email and photographs. I urged him to marry the woman who became his wife and celebrated the birth of their daughter. Even so, when he first brought his family to see me after I moved back to Bangkok and they came on vacation from Italy, it was much more difficult than I had expected. Although we had become friends, the underpinning of that relationship was still the memory of bodies in a dark room, laughing.

Perhaps the greatest gift he gave me was coming to see me without his family the very last time I saw him, ten months before he died. The bond between us was very strong and very tangible; I feel a deep and inerasable loneliness now that he is no longer in the world.

Where will you spend Chinese New Year? What are your plans?

I’ll be in Bangkok this Chinese New Year, as I was three years ago, on Yaowarat Road in Chinatown as the Lunar New Year celebrations began. It was wildly crowded and I left after an hour of walking and staring. I’d left my phone at home and when I entered my apartment, it rang. “I saw you in Chinatown a couple of hours ago. Why didn’t you answer your phone?” The voice at the other end of the line didn’t surprise me. We always found each other in unlikely circumstances, from the moment we first met. Now I find him in unexpected places, with memories that are so strong that they blot out the world for a minute and once again I’m in another life.

As someone who found a new life, love and adventure in Asia over the age of 45, you’re truly an inspiration. What advice do you have for women over 45 who want to follow in your footsteps, including dating men in Asia?

Janet Brown
Janet Brown

I think women in their forties now are much more open to adventure than their counterparts were twenty years ago. But to those who think they have to settle into a lackluster middle age, I urge them to take a risk and explore different ways of living—and loving. Skydive, damn it.

Author of Tone Deaf in Bangkok and Almost Home, Janet has a third book, Light and Silence, coming out in 2014. She keeps a writer’s notebook at tonedeafinthailand.blogspot.com.

Double Happiness: “Enter Zhao Ming…China’s Answer to Arnold Schwarzenegger”

Ming and Rosalie at their wedding in 2007 (Photo courtesy of Rosalie Zhao)

I love stories that challenge stereotypes about Chinese men. Well, you can’t get much better than this love story, where a white American woman goes to China and ends up falling for a guy she considers the Chinese version of Arnold Schwarzenegger. Thanks to Rosalie Zhao for sharing her amazing story, which just might inspire more Western women out there to give Chinese men a chance.

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Thanks to a relative’s cute Chinese neighbor, I went through a brief phase of yellow fever in high school. It came and went in the same fashion as most things (Josh Hartnett, Doc Martens) I pined after during my teenage years. I didn’t think my attraction to Asians would resurface, even as I packed my bags for my post-college teach in China stint. Just a week before I left, in February 2005, my cousin Nicky called it, “You’re gonna fall in love in China.” I couldn’t help but laugh.

Fast-forward a couple months later and you’d find me in China, sweating it out at the local gym. I’d never been much of a gym rat, but with a 12 hour per week teaching schedule, virtually no English-language television, and no home internet (remember—this was 2005 and I was in a small Chinese city) all that was left to do was hop on a treadmill.

Me exercising is no picture of grace and beauty, nor is it a time during which I enjoy critique or idle chit-chat. Enter Zhao Ming, seemingly China’s answer to Arnold Schwarzenegger. As I made my feeble attempts to use five pound free weights, Ming took it upon himself to criticize my form. While I understand now that Chinese people often offer unsolicited advice as a gesture of kindness, at the time I was thoroughly annoyed. Who did this meathead think he was? And he could hardly speak English!

Ming and Rosalie in June 2005 (Photo courtesy of Rosalie Zhao)

Though awkward, I was relieved by our failure to communicate. It meant Mr. Muscles would leave me alone. It wasn’t but a few days later, while I was on the treadmill jogging, thoroughly red-faced, that he made his second approach. I tried to politely ignore him, but as anyone living in China knows, you cannot politely ignore a Chinese person who really wants something. This guy was on a mission. In a tone that sounded a bit rehearsed, he asked, “Can I with you walk home?”

I decided it was best to stick with honesty. “Oh, sorry. I have to go home and take a shower,” I replied. His face was thrown into a state of utter confusion. He really didn’t understand English. Continuing my jog, I began to pantomime while yelling, “US, NO WALK. ME, GO HOME. SHOWER.” His face lit up; he understood. But a second later his expression collapsed, realizing I wasn’t willing to walk with him.

Over the course of the next two weeks we repeated the same song and dance—him asking to walk me home and me gesturing my refusals. It wasn’t until one night that he cornered me at the gym exit that I finally decided to give him a chance. What was the harm in letting him walk with me?

So we walked, with few words, just his bicycle and our foolish grins between us. He stopped and bought us each a yogurt, then carefully unwrapped the straw and stuck it in the drink, smiling at me widely. I felt my insides melt. When we reached my apartment I decided to run upstairs quickly to grab my Lonely Planet phrasebook. Somehow we fuddled through an hour’s worth of “conversation” before it started to rain lightly. We quickly ran into the building’s stairwell, laughing. Then he kissed me. In that moment I somehow knew that I could, in fact, find love in China. And here we are, eight years later, five years married, and still very much in love.

Rosalie with Ming and his family in December 2011 (Photo courtesy of Rosalie Zhao)

Ming later revealed to me that his approach at the gym exit was going to be his final attempt to ask me out. I’m so glad I didn’t turn him down. Looking back, I’m not sure why I found the thought of finding love in China so humorous and inconceivable. In a country of 1.3 billion people, the majority of them male, why did finding a boyfriend seem so implausible? My closed-mindedness and arrogance nearly cost me the love of my life. A cautionary tale? Maybe. But more importantly, just a reminder—anything is possible, even love for the single foreign female in China!

Rosalie Zhao resides with her husband in Hebei, China, where she writes a blog in Chinese and English called An American Woman in China.

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We’re looking for a few good stories from Chinese men and Western women in love — or out of love — to share on Fridays. Submit your original story or a published blog post today.