Interview with Leza Lowitz on Her Memoir “Here Comes the Sun: A Journey to Adoption in 8 Chakras”

Here Comes the Sun by Leza Lowitz

China taught me how to love.

This might sound like a crazy thing to write, but it’s true on many levels. It was here in China that I first experienced what it was really like to love another person, to depend on them and know that they would be there for you. It was also in China that I learned to gradually love myself and, by extension, learned to open my heart to the possibility of writing incredibly personal stuff about my life. So yes, when I get right down to it, my journey here in this country has been about love.

That’s why I found Here Comes the Sun: A Journey to Adoption in 8 Chakras, a new memoir by Leza Lowitz, so touching.

Here Comes the Sun by Leza Lowitz

Leza arrived in Japan years ago in search of adventure, never expecting the country would teach her how to open her heart and soul up to new possibilities. Like marriage and yoga, most of all, motherhood itself. For Leza, who grew up watching her mother’s unhappy marriage collapse before her, it was hard to imagine any happiness from saying “I do” to someone or even having children. Yet living in Japan gradually helps her break through the barriers within herself to heal from the past and courageously move into a new future (a future that includes opening her own successful yoga studio in Tokyo). Leza invites you along for this emotional ride, sharing her story with honesty and lots of heart – a story that follows her marriage to a Japanese man named Shogo and, later, her quest to become a mother in Japan.

For anyone who has ever struggled or felt “stuck” in life, Here Comes the Sun stands as a reminder that you’re not alone – and that sometimes, miracles really can happen in the most delightfully unexpected ways.

I’m honored to introduce you to Leza Lowitz and Here Comes the Sun: A Journey to Adoption in 8 Chakras through this interview.

Leza Lowitz
Leza Lowitz

Here’s Leza Lowitz’s official bio from Stone Bridge Press:

Leza Lowitz lives in Tokyo with her husband, the writer Shogo Oketani, and their ten-year-old son. She has edited and published over seventeen books, many on Japan, and has run her own yoga studio in Tokyo for a decade. She travels throughout Japan and Asia to teach yoga and write. Her debut YA novel, Jet Black and the Ninja Wind, won the 2013–2014 Asian/Pacific American Award in Young Adult Literature.

You can learn more about Leza at her author website and read an excerpt from her memoir at Stone Bridge Press.

I asked Leza about everything from the book’s fascinating subtitle to her husband’s take on the story and also her thoughts on marriage and family.

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What inspired you to write this memoir?

Joan Didion, one of my favorite writers (whom I mention in the memoir), famously said, “We tell ourselves stories in order to live.” I wrote this book to write my way out of the struggle, to put things in perspective, and to let it go.

It’s been a long process. I’ve always kept a journal; writing has been my lifesaver. During my infertility struggles, I journaled. With the advent of the Internet and the explosion of blogs, I soon found many other women in the same boat. Their stories helped me find hope and gave me a community, which was also a lifesaver.

After we adopted our son, I published an excerpt from this memoir-in-progress in Shambhala Sun in 2010. The response was so positive that I decided to try to write a book. This was not as easy as it might sound–I was a big “starter,” and not a big “finisher.” Subsequent excerpts appeared in Best Buddhist Writing 2011, Yoga Journal, the New York Times Motherlode blog, and the popular blog Manifest-Station, which kept me on track. Women wrote to thank me for sharing my story, and to share their stories with me, and this gave me the courage to keep going.

Your book is subtitled “A Journey to Adoption in 8 Chakras.” Could you talk about why you chose this unique structure for your memoir?

I was introduced to meditation as a teenager, as I explain in this memoir, and mindfulness helped me deal with the violence around me. Yoga came into my life a decade later, and it has been a huge factor in helping me overcome many of the things that held me back in life. I became a yoga teacher in 2000, and opened my own yoga studio in Tokyo in 2004. I continued writing, marrying my spiritual quest with my literary one. I also moved abroad and married a Japanese man. My life was complicated, as I am sure the reader will understand.

I found that since outer life was so chaotic, I was drawn to poetic forms and structures like haiku and sonnets, which I felt could somehow help to “contain” the chaos. Content-wise, all of my books deal with notions of finding home. As an Expat, this issue was particularly important to me. We all long to belong somewhere.

So, chaos and structure=balance.

One of my first books, Yoga Poems: Lines to Unfold By deals with finding a home in one’s body and takes the Eight Limbs of Yoga as its structure. Yoga Heart: Lines on the Six Perfections, uses the Buddha’s six-tiered blueprint for happiness to chart the path to finding a home in the spirit. In Here Comes the Sun, I’ve taken the chakra system as a metaphor and roadmap for personal growth and transformation, charting the movement from “me” to “we.”

In the yogic system, there are seven major wheels of energy–or chakras–in the human body. The eighth chakra is believed to be our auric field. Each chakra has a particular function. Put simply, when we practice yoga, we awaken energy at the base of the spine, which rises up the central channel and unblocks the chakras along the way. Ultimately, female and male energy meet, and we become awakened, unified, whole.

Some chapters of the memoir deal directly with a particular chakra and the yogic practices that helped to balance it. In others, the work is more symbolic.

Throughout the process of becoming a mother, I had to ask myself questions many mothers never consider, like why did I want to be a mother?  This question led me on a pilgrimage from the U.S. to Japan and to India. It led me to yoga, to Buddhism, and back to my birth religion of Judaism. Across inner and outer oceans, the chakras helped me stitch the crazy quilt of life into a pattern that made sense. They helped me to find myself, and ultimately, to find my family.

You explore many painful experiences in your story — from witnessing the breakdown of your parents’ marriage as a child to struggling with infertility. How did it feel to revisit these painful memories in writing the book?

Life is full of pain, and it’s full of joy, and the two often inform each other. If we don’t write authentically from our own deepest experience, the writing won’t have power. So, while it was painful to revist some of those past experiences, writing helped me to overcome them and let them go. Of all the books I’ve written, Here Comes The Sun was definitely the most difficult to write, being so personal. But going through the pain was necessary to be able to come out to joy on the other side. Here Comes The Sun is ultimately about forgiveness, about finding a home in each other and in the world, making choices and owning them. It’s about loving our deeply flawed selves, and loving the lives we have–and make.

Your husband Shogo is one of the most important characters in your memoir. How does he feel about your memoir and his role in helping to open up your heart?

If you read the memoir, you can see that Shogo is very much a person who doesn’t waste energy on things that aren’t worth it. I’ve learned a lot from him. He has always been completely supportive of my experiences, and was totally supportive of me writing this memoir. In fact I think he wanted me to write it, to let the past go and move on! He’s the reason I am who I am today, because he just quietly gets the work done from behind the scenes. He’s incredibly wise, disciplined, and patient. I want to be like him in my next life.

You detail your experience with international adoption in your memoir, something that turns out to be challenging for you and your husband. What would you say to readers out there considering international adoption?

Since we live abroad, we had no choice but to pursue an international adoption. Actually, since we adopted in Japan and live in Japan, it was not really an “international adoption.” But, to anyone considering adoption, I would say do your research, talk to others who have done it, and make sure you are 100% in it for the long haul. Family is family.

So, if you are contemplating adoption, consider what the psychic Dietmar says in my book: “Think of so many women who give birth but have no real heart connection to their children. You see, it’s not always about giving birth from your body.”

Then he says, ”…this child is not going to come from your womb. But it will come from your heart. Which is more important?”   The answer is clear. Keep cracking open your heart.

The idea of marriage and family — and whether it can wait — is one of the themes in your memoir. After everything that you’ve experienced, how do you feel about it now?

I think everyone has their own path, their own journey. This has been mine. All the struggles have made the triumphs all the more sweet, and to be honest, I wouldn’t change a thing about it. As the saying goes, “Smooth seas don’t make skillful sailors.” I feel very blessed to have learned the lessons I needed to learn, and to have the beautiful family I now have.

What do you hope readers take away from your story?

If you have a dream, listen to it. The dream is yours for a reason. Do whatever it takes to make it happen. Start now. Stop at nothing to make it come true. And then help others make their dreams come true in whatever way you can.

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Thanks so much to Leza Lowitz for doing this interview about Here Comes the Sun: A Journey to Adoption in 8 Chakras. You can learn more about Leza at her author website and read an excerpt from her memoir at Stone Bridge Press. Here Comes the Sun: A Journey to Adoption in 8 Chakras is available on Amazon.com, where your purchase helps support this blog.

Guest Post: Everything Happens For A Reason (Even Finding Love + A New Life in Taiwan)

Sometimes, when I think about how I grew up in a very average, very white, very Midwestern suburb in the US, never dreaming that I would eventually find my future husband and a totally new life in China, it blows my mind that here I am in Hangzhou. And yet, at the same time I firmly believe (like many of my husband’s friends) that destiny had a role — that somehow, this was all meant to be.

That’s why I love this guest post from Constance, who blogs at Foreign Sanctuary and writes today about how her unlikely journey to Taiwan (where she met her Taiwanese husband) was anything but an accident. (Enjoy the striking photos as well, a delightful sampling of Constance’s own photography.)

Do you have a story you’d love to see featured here on Speaking of China? To learn how, visit the submit a post page for details.
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If someone had to tell me twenty years ago that I would be living in Taiwan and married to a Taiwanese man, I would have laughed in their face and then, well, I would have probably grabbed my atlas, turned to Asia, and then tried to find the location of where most of my childhood toys were made. Yes, that was probably the extent of my knowledge of Taiwan when I was little – a far away place where people hammered and sewed and assembled the toys that I played with and then stamped ‘Made in Taiwan’ somewhere on the box or toy.

A Selfie with the Chinese New Year Decor
A Selfie with the Chinese New Year Decor

Fast forward to now and I am a firm believer that everything happens for a reason. If it wasn’t for that casual conversation with friends over a glass (or two) of wine one cold night in January of 1999, I would have never considered teaching in Asia.The thought never, ever crossed my mind until that point in time.

One of my favorite pictures of us - Paris, France
One of my favorite pictures of us – Paris, France

My fortitude and tenacity was tested to the max when it took me nearly an entire week to get to Taiwan, a nightmare that I recently relived while writing my book. I thought about giving up on my dream to move to Asia so many times that week and if it wasn’t for my recruiter, who gave me the extra reassurance that everything was going to be OK, I probably would be in living and working somewhere in Canada right now.

Hiking in Canada
Hiking in Canada

My thirst for adventure and for experiencing new things led me to sign a third contract at the school where I worked at, which extended my time in Taiwan for one more year. And if it wasn’t for that, I wouldn’t have been out celebrating with a group of friends the night my husband literally danced into my life. However, if it wasn’t for his quick thinking and cleverness, he would have not gotten my number that night and we would not be together right now.

2014 Taiwan Lantern Festival
2014 Taiwan Lantern Festival

Four years later, my husband and I decided to get married. I always knew he was one (nearly) right from the beginning. We shared the same interests such as travel, we had so much fun together, and he always gave me ‘that feeling’ which never dwindled with time. When the newness of the relationship wore off, the feeling of ‘puppy love’ was still there. I was and still am a better person because of him. He is an optimist who dares me to take chances and to dream bigger. I am a realist who keeps him grounded (with regards to certain things). We complement each other. We are better people because of our relationship and each other. We may have grown up on different sides of the world but that makes life interesting.

Sun Setting over Alishan, Taiwan
Sun Setting over Alishan, Taiwan

On June 10, 2005, four years to the exact date that we met, we got married at the court.According to the lunar calendar, it was a perfect day. Probably too perfect! It was definitely a wedding to remember, all for the wrong reasons. Luckily, we had our Canadian church wedding and reception a few months later which was perfect – well, except for me putting the ring on the wrong finger. Plus, we had our reception in Taiwan where we celebrated with our closest friends.

The Beautiful Beach on Jibei [one of the many islands that comprise Penghu off the coast of Taiwan]
The Beautiful Beach on Jibei [one of the many islands that comprise Penghu off the coast of Taiwan]
Then, we come to the house which we actually purchased three months prior to completion. If it wasn’t for a series of events, this house that we bought over five year ago wouldn’t have been ours. It was the first house we looked at. My husband knew it was the one but I wanted to look at more. It was actually purchased by our neighbor who opted to buy another one. And if it wasn’t been for the poor state of the economy at the time, it would have been sold immediately at a higher price. The house was meant to be ours.

Constance
Constance

Which brings me to now! If it wasn’t for that heartbreaking news that shook me to the core and tested my hope and strength two years ago this month, but had a happy ending, I wouldn’t be the person I am today. That incident reminds me each and every day of all the good in my life and to appreciate the now, the present!

That is why I am a firm believer that everything happens for a reason.

Constance is a Canadian expat who currently calls Taiwan home. She blogs about her travel experiences as well as her personal reflections about expat and married life on her blog, Foreign Sanctuary. Photography is one of her passions and she shares photos from her [Photographing 2015] project daily on her Facebook page. She is also an aspiring writer with a memoir in the works.
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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: “I don’t look at my daughter as Indian or Canadian. I look at her soul.”

Alexandra, the white Canadian blogger behind Madh Mama, thought all of the ignorant comments about her marriage to a South Indian man would end once they had a child. But they didn’t, and it has been one of the biggest challenges for her — especially as hearing things about her daughter hurts her deeply.  

Have you heard something about your interracial relationship or biracial children that you’d like to write about for Speaking of China? We welcome all kinds of guest posts (including love stories) — check out the submit a post page for details.

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I often forget that my husband and I are from different cultures. We have so much in common, so many shared interests. We are going on our 9th year together, and I could trace every freckle and scar on his body with my eyes closed. The kind of familiarity that you have with someone you know inside and out.

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In reality, we are from vastly different cultures. I was born and brought up in Vancouver, Canada, by a small tight-knit family with European ancestors. My husband is from Hyderabad, India, and descends from the most conservative and devout Indian clans – the Tamil Iyengars.

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I always dreamed of having a child with him, in a romantic way. I wanted to expand our family and raise kids together in a way that combined our similar values. I wanted to grow myself by becoming a mother, and I wanted our bond to deepen even further by becoming parents together.

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Being a rare mix, we have had a hefty share of ignorant comments. At first, it was people saying things like we “just want to try out a different race“, then it was “he’s only with her for a green card” (I’m not an American, so I don’t even have a green card), then it was “she’s corrupting him with her Western values“, then it was “they’ll never make it to the altar“, then after we got married it was “how can they function with all these cultural differences?” Supporters and believers in our relationship were few and far between. We became desensitized by these kind of comments and learned to expect them. For a long time we didn’t even know that other couples like us even existed, so any negative experience just brought us closer together, since we were the only two people who understood what we were going through.

I thought all of that would end once we started a family together – that by having a child, people would realize that we are committed for life. Especially to other Indians, who assumed that by me having white skin, it automatically meant I was not cut out for motherhood, have no family values, or that I would divorce him.

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When we had our daughter, it was the happiest moment of my life. It was incredible. She looked like every single person in our families – combined. Watching her grow up and see how her personality has developed has been astonishing. She is nurturing like me, quick like her dad, a great dancer, and eats any cuisine. She is the most global child I have ever come across. She is classically beautiful and looks like she could pass for any ethnicity. She is adventurous and loves to travel and do new things.

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I think the comments started when she was about 6 months old. One of our Indian relatives asked me if we intended to raise her “Indian or American” – as if we had to choose. Then, I got a few comments from white Canadians about how tanned my daughter is, with a weird side-eye glance to prompt me to tell them her ethnicity. When we were visiting Italy last year, everyone thought she was Italian. So much that one old Italian lady pointed to my husband and asked “Is he the father?” when he was standing right in front of her. We have stepped inside an Indian restaurant where every table looked at us with disgust, so much that it scared my daughter. The latest comment we got from an elderly Indian relative was when my daughter was feeling shy. She said, “Maybe she doesn’t like Indians“. Appalling, since she certainly adores her father and many other Indian family members. It stung a lot.

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The thing is – I expect comments about myself, but when it is directed towards my child, it hurts me deeply. And it surprises me, because I forget that we are an intercultural family, raising a biracial child. We live in such a multicultural world. We celebrate all festivals and holidays, even ones that don’t belong to our respective cultures – like Chinese New Year and Greek Easter. We have lots of intercultural friends. It’s only when we get ignorant comments that it occurs to me that the multicultural world we live in – is one that we have constructed for ourselves. That the majority of people out there do not mix, that they tend to stick to their own culture, and either out of fear or ignorance – and they do not step outside it. That global families, such as ours, are a minority. However, I hope that my children and grandchildren’s generations see love before color. Because that’s what the world needs – more love…a love that transcends borders and limitations.

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My daughter is only 2.5 years old now. I haven’t really figured out how to tell her that sometimes people might question our family – more than others – because we are different. I know I will tell her that doing things differently doesn’t mean we’re wrong, but just that a lot of people won’t understand us. I want her to be confident in who she is. I want her to not be scared of this diverse world we live in, to see the beauty in being different and blaze the trail from there.

I don’t look at my daughter as Indian or Canadian. I look at her soul. I look at her as my child. The child that God sent me to raise. She is both cultures; but at the same time – she is everything. She is anything she wants to be.

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Alexandra Madhavan fell in love and married her soulmate. Then she inherited a big, fat South Indian family. She shares her unfiltered view of what it’s really like to be a Firangi Bahu at Madh Mama.
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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: “He Feels Horrible About Me Being The Breadwinner”

A few years back when I co-wrote an article titled Western Wives, Chinese Husbands (exploring what it’s like to date and marry Chinese men), we touched on the subject of money — specifically, that sometimes Western women end up being the breadwinner in the family.

I was reminded of that when I first read this post from Judith (who blogs in Dutch at Judith In China). She’s from the Netherlands and currently dating a Beijing local (who she considers her perfect match).  But, “Even though I don’t earn much at all, own a house or car, or have savings worth mentioning, I am much more economically stable than he will probably ever be.”

Do you have a love or relationship story or other guest post you’d like to see on Speaking of China? Check out the submit a post page to find out how to get your writing published here.

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Judith, the author, and her boyfriend.
Judith and her boyfriend.

I grew up in a middle-class family in a small town in the Netherlands. My two siblings and I basically had everything we could wish for. We went on modest holidays within the country once a year, got nice birthday gifts and our parents supported us throughout our studies. My boyfriend was born a one-child-policy son and grew up in Beijing’s hutongs. His parents are real lǎobǎixìng; his mother used to sell bus tickets and his father worked as the repair man for a large hotel. Although his parents cared for him much, they lived in one room without private sanitation. Some days all his father could afford for lunch was to share a pancake with his son.

Although our backgrounds couldn’t have been more different, we really are a perfect match.

I have been interested in Chinese language and culture since I was a little girl, and he has been crazy about Western music and culture since he first encountered it in Beijing’s early nineties. I have never had a preference for Asian men or an interest in the AMWF community, on the contrary: if you would have told me a few years ago that I would end up with a real Beijing boy I probably wouldn’t have believed you. When we met, my Chinese wasn’t that great and he didn’t speak much English, but we have been in a loving relationship for over five years now. He is very caring, makes me laugh, and makes me feel like the most beautiful girl on the planet despite being so much whiter, taller and larger than those cute Chinese girls. Most of all, he makes me feel safe.

There is one thing that keeps coming up in our relationship though. I wouldn’t call it a problem, but it is definitely something coming from our different backgrounds that will probably always linger right below the surface. Even though I don’t earn much at all, own a house or car, or have savings worth mentioning, I am much more economically stable than he will probably ever be. His attraction to Western music made him choose to become a professional musician. And although I really believe he is one of the most talented musicians in China and truly has the talent to make a stable income from his profession, it’s not easy in this industry and especially not in China.

When we met, my boyfriend was the member of a rather famous band, but he quit shortly after we became a couple. Since then he has been working on various projects on and off, some of which are more profitable than others. This means that his income was quite OK for the last two years. Although he didn’t earn millions he had frequent gigs, and combined with my stable salary I felt we were quite well off. This year however, there have been some changes in the projects he has been working on and he has barely made any money. At the same time we are looking to get married, but the only thing holding us back is not wanting to spend all my savings on an (even simple) wedding.

In some ways my boyfriend can be very traditional. As the man in the family, he feels horrible about me being the main breadwinner, and this year even supporting him to a certain extent. He doesn’t want to speak about it too much and doesn’t want to let me know how he feels, but I sense it more and more. I don’t mind sharing my income with him. We’re a team and should he one day become world famous I’m sure he would share his wealth with me just the same. But if I offer to buy him new clothes as a present, nicer lunches for him when we don’t eat together or suggest to go on a weekend trip, he says he doesn’t need it. He prefers to wear the same old shoes, eat a 10 kuai bowl of noodles for lunch and not travel much.

I feel this also has to do with a Western approach to finding a good balance between saving and enjoying your money, while he feels that we should not spend much until we’re in a better financial position. And then things such as marriage and buying a house would come first. Whereas I feel that although we shouldn’t spend all our money on an expensive holiday abroad, we can allow ourselves to enjoy an occasional weekend away within China, for example. He doesn’t want me to spend that kind of money for the both of us if he can’t contribute much or anything at all. Which means that I visit friends in other cities and he doesn’t join me, or that I go to a café to work while enjoying a latté and a sandwich while he just eats his bowl of noodles for lunch. He simply does not want to join me, even if I explicitly say I want him to.

I feel bad for him feeling this way, because I don’t see his financial situation as a problem. I fell in love with him because of the man he is, not because I thought that one day cash would come flowing in because of his profession and I wouldn’t have to worry about money anymore. I guess this is a very different perspective compared to many Chinese girls, as they often think in practical terms first when it comes to relationships (such as Ted highlighted in his excellent guest post on this blog titled “What I’ve Learned from 15 Blind Dates in China”).

I hope my boyfriend will someday get used to how I feel and that he can find a way to accept that his girlfriend’s income will probably always be more stable than his.

Judith lives and works in China and blogs about her daily life and the special things she encounters at judithinchina.com (in Dutch).

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

Fenshou: “Playing With Fire” In An Office Tryst

I, MarcusObal [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)], via Wikimedia Commons
I, MarcusObal [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)], via Wikimedia Commons
An anonymous Chinese Singaporean man writes, “We became an office tryst. Nobody knew what was going on between us. I liked the fact that secrecy added fire to our sex.” This story takes you into the world of a hidden love affair between two coworkers that didn’t last, but left lasting memories for the writer.

Do you have a hidden love affair or other guest post you’re burning to share on Speaking of China? Head on over to the submit a post page to learn how you can have your words featured here.
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A vivid memory of your skin under the sunlight,

With your blonde hair,

Matching the sun’s glare, 

I appreciate the way you gently disappeared out of my sight.

After all, I “thank you” for having met you in my life.”

You know how the story ends and yet you read it to the end. You know what happens in the movie and still you wanted to watch it once more to experience the energy, feelings, empathy and joy all over again – all the things you hold so dear in your life. This is the story of a relationship that ended, one that I still hold dear in my own life. It is a story that I cannot stop reading in my own mind.

Part I

It all started on the day when the weather was perfect. The work ambience was quiet. I walked into my office as usual, with the feeling that it was going be the same old work environment. I still couldn’t forget the vivid beauty of that scene, with the bright sunlight coming through our transparent glass window, grazing her face while she was intently looking at the computer screen.

I instantly thought, “She’s new here.” She took a quiet glance as I was walking. I couldn’t believe what I saw. If I could have just asked her, “Would you hold that for a second?” my phone camera would have definitely snapped the moment. But I didn’t ask and she didn’t hold. We proceeded towards our chores.

The whole day I couldn’t get her out of my head, I kept thinking about where she’s from, what she’s doing here, or if she has a boyfriend. As crazy as it sounded, I chided myself, “It’s just a glance, what’s the big deal?”  I tried to stop thinking about her. Never did I ever ask myself,  “Dude, you’re crazy.” instead I kept asking, “What makes her attracted to me?” The thought replayed in my mind multiple times until I was satisfied with my answer. At the end of the day, I felt pretty confident that it was this: “It’s her manners. It’s the way she carries herself.” On the one hand, I told myself, “You’re crazy.” On the other hand, I thought, “Well, it’s free for fantasizing, you don’t have to pay.”

The next day we both bumped into each other at the corridor. She is about 5’8’’ tall. I could still remember she was holding her winter jacket in her arms, with her neatly combed hair. I wanted to smile at her. But I didn’t. We both just stared at each other and I said to myself, “You’re an idiot.”

As the days, weeks and months passed by, I found myself struggling with my emotions. We both just stared at each other, but didn’t even smile. I didn’t know what was holding me back. I guess she also didn’t know what was holding her back then. I then thought, “If it’s meant to be, it’s meant to be.”

Part II

It just so happened on that day. She caught a cold and I couldn’t hold myself back any longer. In an effort to be a good co-worker, I asked if she needed any help with the meds. She said fine and we talked for a while. We exchanged numbers. Needless to say, the night of that same day, I asked for her address by text, drove to her apartment and we chatted for a moment after I dropped off the cold meds.

She was new in our office for a year on training from Europe, which is where her home country is. I’m a Chinese Singaporean here in the US. She sometimes learned Mandarin from me.

We became an office tryst. Nobody knew what was going on between us. I liked the fact that secrecy added fire to our sex. One time we were in the elevator standing close. We’re staring at each other for minutes. Then the coworker came in, and we just automatically looked away from each other. We stifled our laughs. She also seemed to like that we were enjoying ourselves instead of going public in the work environment.  We joked, we laughed. We shared our moments. Ups and downs meant a lot to both of us. Downs were usually when both of us were trying to figure out our mutual sentiments. Ups were usually when we both enjoyed each other’s presence.

Every time after I finished my workout, she greeted me by text. Every time before she left the office, I texted her to if she wanted to have something to eat with me. Sometimes we went out of town for dinners together. Usually the meals she ordered ended up being in my plate and the meals I ordered ended up in her plates. I still remember the time when I asked if she wanted to have some drinks. She said, “I only eat water during my meals.” I laughed. She asked why. I took up a glass full of water, and guzzled it down my throat. She still didn’t get it. I told her, “That’s how you eat water.” She was mad. I laughed. We both went back to our apartment and enjoyed our lust.

Part III

I knew that she’d be leaving any time soon. A part of me wanted to figure out a way to work this out. A part of me also knew that those would just be the moments that lasted in our memories. One day I took her to a nearby waterfall at night. She asked me why. We kissed, sitting in our car, listening to the sounds of the water from the falls, I told her I liked her. If things worked out, I had planned to pop the question later. She blushed. She smiled. What she said to me was something I couldn’t deny. “Thank you.”

I was speechless. I was frustrated. I sank in my emotional devastation. I couldn’t believe my ears that I heard her say “thank you”? She smiled at me again and told me, “Yes because you said you like me.” I drove back. Silence reigned in our car. We stopped talking for several weeks. We intentionally avoided each other at work. My brain kept telling me, “You’re an idiot.” My consciousness kept replying to me “Thank you” for weeks. Those were the days I thought my whole world was upside down. I was not into anything, anything at all. I knew that I was playing with fire — the fire that was burning the brightest before it was going to fizzle.

Part IV

The day before she left for Europe, she asked me if I could spend the night in her apartment. I told myself, “You’re an idiot, you’re being used. YOU ARE BEING USED!!!” I told her that I would rather stay alone, knowing that she was leaving for good. She told me that she was going to “eat water” if I wasn’t coming. It was a joke that only the two of us understood, a joke about sex. I drove down to her apartment and helped her pack. After the packing, she whispered in my ears the sweetest words I was longing to hear: “Silly, you know that I love you too.”

I knew that the things that you want and things that you must have in life are different. We knew from the beginning that we would have ended up apart. But the temptation was so strong. It could have been more wrong if she had said, “I love you too.” We would be so obsessed with our fantasy instead of being yanked back to our reality. Now that I think about it, I am really thankful for what she did.

Part V

That was two years ago, while I was 27, and she was 25. She took all of my feelings away; childhood fantasy, adulthood reality, and such. I’m not sure I can ever find another woman to love.
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Speaking of China is always on the lookout for outstanding guest posts and love stories! 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 Very Own Mr. Darcy, Except Talkative And Half Chinese

It’s an honor to share with you this guest post from Shannon Young, who edited How Does One Dress to Buy Dragonfruit? True Stories of Expat Women in Asia (Signal 8 Press), an anthology featuring my essay “Huangshan Honeymoon“.

In her post, Shannon writes about her own marriage to a half Chinese (from Hong Kong) and half British man she first met while studying abroad in London. She also shares an excerpt about how they first fell in love from her new memoir Year of Fire Dragons: An American Woman’s Story of Coming of Age in Hong Kong (Blacksmith Books), which details that life-changing year she lived in Hong Kong while managing a long-distance relationship with him. It’s a beautifully written story about how far people will go for love — and the unexpected joys life can bring us when things don’t work out as planned.

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You can purchase Year of Fire Dragons: An American Woman’s Story of Coming of Age in Hong Kong in Hong Kong bookstores or directly through Blacksmith Books (who provides free shipping to anyone in Asia).

On a personal note, I’m thrilled that Shannon featured my blurb for Year of Fire Dragons on promotional postcards for the book:

Year of Fire Dragons postcard_nice scan

Want to meet Shannon Young and get a signed copy of Year of Fire Dragons? She’s appearing at the Hong Kong International Literary Festival on Sunday, November 9 at 10am at Room 202, Duke of Windsor Building. Tickets are $90 to attend. You can purchase your tickets and learn more about the event at the Hong Kong International Literary Festival website.

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My husband is half Chinese (from Hong Kong) and half British, and I am an American. Sometimes this means we connect easily, thanks to his Western side. He’s a native English speaker, and we share a common cultural language: American movies, Harry Potter, an independent streak, an appreciation for British humor.

He looks more like his English father, so he can easily pass for a Westerner — until he starts speaking Cantonese. We live in Hong Kong, and it’s always fun when my husband speaks Cantonese to shopkeepers, taxi drivers and acquaintances for the first time. We’ve had countless variations on the scene:

The man at the goldfish market explains something to us in tentative English.
My husband asks a clarifying question in Cantonese.
The goldfish seller stares at my husband’s Western features for a moment, then laughs and unleashes a string of compliments about his fluency.
My husband explains that, yes, he is half English and half Chinese (I understand this part).
The goldfish seller and my husband chat for a few minutes in Cantonese (I don’t understand this part).

Because he seems so Western at first, both culturally and in appearance, my husband’s Chinese side can come as a surprise. He has a strong sense of filial responsibility. He was raised in a Hong Kong family where the only acceptable career choices were doctor, banker or lawyer. He followed the common Hong Kong practice of living with his parents until our marriage (not counting the ten years he spent on his own in the UK). He has an all-consuming passion for good food: he cooks; he talks about restaurants a lot; he has strong opinions about frying pans and the right way to prepare instant noodles. This can be hard to match for an American girl who grew up on Kraft mac’n’cheese and weekly backyard barbecues.

Seb and Shannon Wedding 100
Shannon on her wedding day.

On the other hand, I care more about saving face than he does. He worries that I’m too concerned about being embarrassed. He’s very good at having frank discussions and urging me to talk through problems until they’re resolved. It’s a quality that’s all his own.

Living at the intersection of two cultures has made him the perfect candidate for our multicultural relationship. He is good at compromise — a nonnegotiable part of mixed marriages — and at seeing things from different points of view. I’ve learned a lot from him.

As we settle into our second year of marriage, I wonder which parts of myself I’ll compromise. Will I become a bit more Hong Kong in my thinking? Will he become a bit more American? I suspect it’s both. All couples, whether we’re blending two or three distinct cultures or two families from different parts of town, have to learn how to hold on to the best parts of ourselves as we work to form new families.

More importantly, we have to learn how to speak each other’s languages. People are more than the sum of their cultures. We each have our own special brand of communication. Marriage is all about learning how to speak your partner’s language, no matter where you’re from.

***

In my new memoir published in Hong Kong this month, I share the story of how I followed my long distance boyfriend to Hong Kong and his company immediately sent him away to London. Over the course of one year I got to know the city on my own terms, which allowed me to better understand his culture — and myself.

Jocelyn has allowed me to share the first chapter of my book below. It is the beginning of our love story, the story that brought me to Hong Kong.

***

YEAR OF FIRE DRAGONS

Shannon in Hong Kong, her husband's hometown.
Shannon in Hong Kong, her husband’s hometown.

The fire dragon trundled toward me through the crowded street. Smoke curled from the incense protruding from its long, thin body like thousands of spines on some mystical porcupine. Sweat poured down the faces and backs of every spectator. The fire dragon wound back and forth through the streets, faster and faster, dancing to the beat of drums. A wave of cheers rippled through the crowd each time it came near. The drums rattled the high-rises, the dragon danced, and the pavement shuddered under our feet.

This was the Mid-Autumn Festival in Hong Kong, a time to celebrate the moon goddess and her flight across the sky.

My flight wasn’t like that of Chang’e, the moon goddess who escaped her lover in a blaze of luminescence. I was flying toward mine. His gravitational field had pulled me across the sea, drawn me to a distant isle of fire dragons and skyscrapers. I’d follow him anywhere—even to Hong Kong. We hadn’t lived in the same country since we’d met, but this was our chance to be together, to build a life in the city where he grew up.

But one month ago, his company sent him to London.

I first met Ben in London, at a fencing club. I was a bookish American student on a semester abroad. He was an opportunity for a real live English romance, my very own Mr. Darcy, except that unlike Darcy, Ben was talkative—and half Chinese.

I’d taken up fencing several years before, attracted by the romance of sword fighting and the fact that it was something unique, historic, literary even. I wasn’t bad, and the sport brought me unexpected confidence. It seemed like a great way for an introvert like me to connect with people at the university in London.

When I pushed open the door to the club, the familiar buzz of the scoring machine and the squeak of athletic shoes on the floor reached my ears. I rocked on the sides of my feet, unsure how to join in. Ben came over immediately, introduced himself, and invited me to fence him. I was relieved at being included and already curious about this open-faced young man whose accent I couldn’t place. He won our first bout by one point; he always said I wouldn’t have dated him if I had been able to beat him.

We fenced a few more bouts, and then sat cross-legged in our matching gear, masks forgotten on the floor. He prodded at my shy shell; he asked me questions, joked about fencing, told me he was from Hong Kong. He had an eloquent vocabulary mixed with an offbeat sense of humor. He didn’t seem to mind when people didn’t get his jokes. He put me at ease, and I found myself stealing glances at him as I adjusted my equipment and met the other fencers. By the time I changed my shoes and left the gym, I was already lecturing myself about reading too much into his attention. I didn’t want to get swept away, blinded by the novelty of an international fling. But it was too late.

For two months, we wandered the streets of London together, kissed on street corners, and took spontaneous trips to Oxford and the coast. He took the time to get to know me, using our shared love of fencing to get me talking. He surprised me with his insight, his persistence. He seemed to understand why I, analytical and introverted, never quite fit into any group. As someone who had grown up shuttling between Hong Kong and London, not quite Chinese and not quite British, he knew what it was like to be an outsider. Ben had a gift for coaxing people to confide in him and trust him. Before long, he got even the most reserved, responsible American girl to give him handfuls of her heart.

When the semester ended, we said goodbye at Heathrow in a flurry of kisses and long-distance promises: “It will just be for a year, maybe two.”

“I can visit you in America.”

“I’ll get a job wherever you live after graduation.” Our confidence in each other was reckless and optimistic, but staying together felt like the only sensible thing to do.

In 2010, thoroughly in love, I moved to Hong Kong to be with him.

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It lasted for one glorious month.

Ben left me in Hong Kong on the eve of the Mid-Autumn Moon Festival. Instead of exploring the city with him, I was at the airport saying my goodbyes while the children of Hong Kong flooded the streets and parks with lanterns. Instead of walking beneath the Mid-Autumn moon together, we shared a fierce hug and made a hundred tiny promises. The next day, still reeling from the sheer solitude, I found my way to Tai Hang—to the incense and the drums. The fire dragon loomed, full of possibilities.

It had already grown dark, or as dark as it ever gets in the city, when I emerged from the subway into a night that felt nothing like the end of September. The humidity surrounded me like steam pouring out of a broken dumpling. I made my way along the street. An arch announced the festival in gold foil and tissue paper fringe. I found a spot beside a Chinese family of three or four generations. A group of Mainland girls chattered in shrill Mandarin in front of me. The balconies of a hundred apartments teetered over our heads.

I hadn’t had a chance to ask Ben what the fire dragon would be like before the airport security line swallowed him and carried him away. The fire dragon in my mind looked like a dancing, tuft-eared Pekinese dog, with people standing under a big sheet to form the body, holding up the head. Of course, that’s an image from a lion dance, not a dragon dance, I would soon learn. I was just starting to discover that Hong Kong was full of surprises—and I was ill prepared. I jumped up on my toes and looked for the Pekinese head.

The drums began. “Want me to hoist you up?” An American man stepped close behind me. He was tall, and the scent of stale alcohol mixed with the incense.

“No, thanks,” I said.

“You sure? You want a good view when they bring out the dragon,” he reached for my arms.

“I can see just fine.” I maneuvered away from the man, finding refuge on the other side of the Chinese family. My fingers curled tighter around my purse. Suddenly, I was aware just how alone I was in the crowd, and in the country.

“Why didn’t you just go to London instead of Hong Kong when you found out Ben would be leaving?” my friends had asked me. “You’re already moving across the world for him.” I wondered the same thing myself—now. But this was 2010. I wasn’t in a position to jet around the world after men lightly. I’d graduated from Colgate University with nearly $80,000 in student debt, debt I had taken on before the economy crumbled. Moving without a job was not an option. Employment would be hard to find in London for an English major with limited work experience and no visa. I didn’t have a chance.

Jobs were not easy to come by anywhere in the Western world. My generation faced the worst job market in living memory. My college-educated friends competed tooth-and-nail for part-time barista work, borrowed more money for graduate school, and moved in with their parents. There was a mounting sense of desperation among those of us who had taken out big student loans only to discover there was no work for us in our own country when we graduated.

Asia was another story.

IMG_9441

There were rumors going around that this was where the jobs were to be found. Ben had found work in Hong Kong, his hometown. My own sister had recently begun teaching English in South Korea. So, I spent nearly a year applying and interviewing for a job in Hong Kong (and yes, living with my parents while I did it). When a local school emailed and asked me to be their new English teacher, it seemed the long distance part of our international romance, which had lasted two and half years by now, was finally done. I showed up with a work visa and a salary advance, ready to take on the city and the next stage in our relationship. Yet here I was, alone in a crowd as the fire dragon approached.

I couldn’t afford to give up my new job when Ben’s circumstances changed. With a one-way ticket and a monthly student loan payment of $935, I stayed in Hong Kong.

The drums pounded. A row of children appeared, carrying lanterns that bobbed above the crowds. Their glow mixed with the lights from the apartment buildings looming over our heads. My arms brushed an elbow on one side, a woman’s handbag on the other.

Ben had been lucky, really, to be sent to London. It was a one-year placement at a law firm with the prospect of a permanent contract afterwards. All I had to do was spend this year in Hong Kong looking for an opportunity in London where we could be reunited once again. “It’ll be for one more year, and then we’ll be together,” we promised each other as we set up our web cams. “We already know we can handle the whole long distance thing.” We plotted our reunion in a whirl of emails and long distance calls. “It’ll just be this year,” we said, “and then that’s it. No more long distance.”

Of course, the other thing people asked was, “What if you don’t get along when you finally do live in the same country?” That was a question I couldn’t answer.

As I stood in the Mid-Autumn crowd, little did I know that my move to Hong Kong would bring about our longest separation ever, a separation that would bring me face to face with the reality of the risk I had taken.

The pounding of the drums intensified. The people around me drew closer together, choking what little breeze there was. Finally, the fire dragon appeared, followed by more children carrying lanterns. I was surprised when I saw what it was really like. It had an elaborate head, made from branches twisted into impossible shapes and filled with a thicket of incense. The thin body was over 200 feet long and muscular bearers danced beneath its undulating shape. The people around me cheered as the dragon’s head passed us and then turned back on itself, leaving behind a million tiny trails of smoke. I felt a growing sense of excitement as the fire dragon whirled and darted through the streets. Its wiry, crackling body defied my expectations. It was fast. It was wild. I pushed forward so I could see better. I was a part of the crowd. I didn’t feel like a foreign girl, alone, in an interrupted romance. This was an adventure! I could do this; I could live in Hong Kong, alone. Ben and I would be together soon enough.

As the dragon twirled in front of me, I didn’t know that in nine months I’d be sitting on the floor of my single apartment, cell phone pressed to my ear, feeling the foreign ground shift beneath me, feeling a panic I’d been too confident to anticipate. I pulled my hair away from my neck, trying to find relief from the suffocating heat, too stubborn to guess at the coldness that was coming.

This was not what I had planned. Nothing happened the way I expected. This was Hong Kong.

As the rumble of the drums reached a crescendo, the men carrying the dragon pulled off the sticks of incense and passed them to the crowd. Within seconds, the fire dragon dispersed into a thousand tiny sparks in the night.

***

Shannon-Young-Writer
Shannon Young

You can connect with Shannon on Twitter @ShannonYoungHK or follow her blog, A Kindle in Hong Kong. For more information about her books, including Year of Fire Dragons, please visit ShannonYoungWriter.com.

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Thanks so much to Shannon for this post and lovely excerpt! Don’t forget, if you’re in the Hong Kong area this weekend and would love to have your very own signed copy of her excellent memoir, Shannon will be appearing at the Hong Kong International Literary Festival on Sunday, November 9 at 10am at Room 202, Duke of Windsor Building. Tickets are $90 to attend (purchase yours here).

Guest Post: “Am I in the ‘Wrong’ AMWF Relationship?” How a Woman Who Loved China Fell for a Korean man

Linda and Jeongsu in Korea.
Jeongsu and Linda

What happens when the man you love isn’t from the country and culture that first captured your heart? 

That’s the conundrum Linda Dunsmore of Linda Living in China — a self-professed “China fan” — faced when she fell for a man from Korea. She writes, “I was worried because he was Korean, while I was passionate about China…. I kept asking myself, ‘Why do I have to fall in love with a Korean man?'”

Do you have a fascinating AMWF relationship story or other guest post you’d love to see on Speaking of China? Check out the submit a post page to learn how you can submit your story today.

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Linda in China

I am a total China fan.

I started studying Chinese in 2010, went to China in 2012 for an internship, and also dated a Chinese man (the relationship failed but that is another story). In 2013, I had to return to America to finish my Bachelor’s degree in San Diego, California. Every day, I was still reminiscing about my life in China. I cooked Chinese food, started writing my own blog about China and made almost exclusively Chinese/Taiwanese friends. I was sure to return to China after I graduated.

However, one day, I met someone who changed my life completely.

Linda and Jeongsu with heart

I remember it like it was yesterday. I was helping a friend to find an apartment in Pacific Beach (San Diego’s party area). She wanted to move in together with two other students from our university. We were going to meet him in front of the apartment and he was also going to bring a few friends to help him. We arrived at the scene and a few minutes later they arrived — our classmate from Turkey plus three Asian guys (including one particularly handsome fellow). I had hoped they would either be Taiwanese or Chinese or even from Hong Kong, and I was super excited. But then I discovered they weren’t from any of these places – they were Korean.

There was something incredibly special about this one handsome Korean guy. He was extremely charming; he even asked me about my heart-shaped sunglasses and mentioned that they were really cute. He had something about him that literally drew me to him. I also noticed how he was also suddenly really interested in me. We started talking every day on Facebook or text messaging. Then, before I knew it we met for our “first date”, which was one of the best nights of my life.

Linda and Jeongsu on a date

I started to like him more and more, which should have made me feel amazing. Except, I actually felt incredibly worried. I was worried about what would happen if things worked out. I was worried because he was Korean, while I was passionate about China.

I was worried that I was in the “wrong” AMWF relationship.

I know that sounds ridiculous, but not for someone who invested so much of herself and her life into China. I already lived in China before, loved the country, and had finally mastered conversational Chinese. Meanwhile, I knew nothing about Korea and couldn’t speak a word of Korean. I didn’t know what to do and felt horribly confused! I kept asking myself, “Why do I have to fall in love with a Korean man?”

Jeongsu_Linda_Victorysign

Of course, all of this was my head talking. But the thing is, you don’t love with your head, you love with your heart.

When I searched the depths of my heart, I realized that I fell in love with Jeongsu because of who he is — not because of his race or nationality. In the end, isn’t this what the AMWF community is really all about? We all fall in love with someone because of who he is not because he is Chinese, or Korean or Japanese. These men just happen to be Asian. It doesn’t mean we are completely obsessed with Asian men and strictly ignore all men of other races. It just means we found the right love for us.

Now I work for a Chinese-German company in Hunan, China as I maintain a long-distance relationship with my boyfriend Jeongsu, who is living in Korea. I’ve learned to balance these two parts of my life. While my heart still remains filled with China in so many ways, I’ve started studying Korean, trying Korean foods and reading up about his culture as much as I can. I’m coming to embrace Korean culture just as much as I’ve embraced Chinese culture. I’ve already visited him in Korea twice, including my most recent visit earlier this month. I consider it my second home now and his family my second family — my Korean family.

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In the end, life cannot be planned. It always comes out differently than how you thought.

Linda Living in ChinaI never expected that my China-obsessed self would fall so hard for a Korean man. But as long as you’re following your heart, there’s no such thing as a “wrong” relationship.

Linda writes about life in China and Korea, her AMWF relationship with a Korean man, traveling around Asia and studying Asian languages at www.lindalivinginchina.com . She is also very active on social media, especially Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

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

Fenshou: “He made me alive and dead” in Hong Kong

(photo by Steve Webel via Flickr.com)
(photo by Steve Webel via Flickr.com)

An anonymous woman writes of the Chinese man she once dated, “He made me alive and dead. He once left me sobbing on a hotel chaise lounge, naked and overlooking the Hong Kong skyline, and I remember thinking this was what it was like for an artist’s muse to become an artist’s mistress.”

It’s a powerful story of an all-consuming, passionate love between one Western woman and one Chinese man that ultimately burned out — but will never be forgotten.

Do you have a gripping story of passion or a guest post you’re dying to share on Speaking of China? Learn how at the submit a post page.

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I found myself falling in love with a man who amazed me. I’ll call him Richard. From his view on the world, to how he would take care of me, and how he invited me to China after only really being together for two months. It. Was. Amazing. He was intelligent, hilarious, and dressed impeccably, He had ambition that matched mine and was damn sexy. Tall, dark, beautiful. Strong, but elegant and delicate. Before this whole experience, I had never dated a Chinese man, let alone, someone who hailed from another country. I was two years older than him (26 and 24), and I was okay with it because of his deep maturity and knowledge and love for the world. All I wanted was to know more about him. Though I have been in love before, I had never felt the pure need I had for Richard. It was real and scary and intoxicating.

We met at a work party — Richard, a citizen of China, and I, a Midwestern girl. It was a whirlwind. Our first week together was spent in three different cities, jumping from hotel to hotel as we traveled with our work. His English wasn’t very good, and I speak no Mandarin. I almost liked how he struggled with the language, and how I had to simplify things just a bit. Instead of the usual nonsense I have to go through with native English speakers, he and I had to cut through all the crap and just say what we really meant.

It was refreshing.

Luckily, we found ourselves in the same city for the next month. Unluckily, our jobs considered dating a no-no, so we had to figure out ways for none of our coworkers to find out about the beautiful thing we had discovered. This entailed sneaking into each other’s rooms at night, only having midnight meals and gifts mysteriously being left in my room. One day, I had found a bottle of perfume hidden under my pillow. My good friend and co-worker, who I spent most of my free-time with, questioned where I got the scent. I struggled for an answer and internally swooned.

All of this sneaking was almost romantic, and added a sense of urgency and danger to all of our rendezvous’. It was entirely worth the rushed meal, just to be able to look into his beautiful eyes and feel the power he had over me. I still get chills thinking of our first kiss, outside of a sushi restaurant at two o’clock in the morning, no one else on the street. Our conversations were sparkling and we had this power over one another that was so electrically charged. My emotions ran so high for him, and his for me.

But still, most of our communication was via WeChat, where he was my only contact, and consisted of nearly 70% of my phone’s activity.

Just as soon as it all happened, Richard was on his way back to China. Now, being too many miles apart, things really got interesting.

The instant he landed in Hong Kong, he made it very clear what he wanted. Me. To not hang out with too many guys (but most of my friends are guys!) and not drink too much (but my hometown is KNOWN for beer!) and to text him from the moment I woke up, to the moment I went to sleep.

And I did. And he did. And we both became obsessed.

We texted from my morning, to way way into his night. I think each of us were only getting about four hours of sleep. Of course, we were still keeping things secret from our friends and common co-workers, so we had no time to Skype and could barely talk on the phone. Strictly WeChat. Our conversations were normal. Flirty, romantic, sexy. Up until a week before I was scheduled to leave.

A week before, his contact suddenly became slack. Not texting when he woke up, barely giving me details of his day. So I pulled back (with lots of struggle, of course). I was hurt and confused and couldn’t figure out where the change came from. All I knew is that I wanted to see him again so I could touch him, and kiss him, and have the bright conversations we were enjoying only a month ago.

I got angry. He got angry. And anger does not translate well on WeChat. Three days before leaving, I found myself awake at four in the morning, sobbing because he wasn’t responding to me. Richard assured me everything was alright, that he was busy preparing for my arrival. I understood.

When I landed for my three week trip, things got even weirder. I wasn’t greeted with a kiss. I wasn’t greeted with a hug, or even a ‘hello’.

“Wow that is a big suitcase.”

My first night in Hong Kong was spent kissing, then fighting, then making love, and fighting again. I felt like I was in a music video. The trip was off to a bad start and working things out was difficult. He was acting strangely. I was acting strangely, our whole vibe was different than it was before.

After a good talk and couple days of me wandering this foreign city by myself, we were better. But looking back, maybe we were faking our happiness. The controlling side of him took over, and my people-pleasing side was brought to surface. Our personalities clashed. Without the secrets, and sneaking, our ‘love’ was different than before. I thought he was urgent before to keep us from getting caught. But as he rushed me through a fantastic dinner, I saw a side of his personality that I didn’t like. And when I protested, he would call me selfish. I would fall to my knees and give in, abandoning half of my food.

We had our ups and downs, and told each other we loved one another. We fought passionately, made love passionately, and I felt pain in my gut when I made him mad. It was a dangerous relationship.

After three weeks of traveling, it was time to part. I think we both knew it was our end. When I landed, he messaged me making sure I made it home okay. I
told him I had.

And that was it.

Though the specifics in my tale are lacking, the feelings stirred up just by writing this assure me the experience ever even happened. It makes me want to message him. But I know I can’t. I know we are both better off. This whole ordeal is two months old, and I still feel like my life is lacking a certain something, something toxic.

Maybe it was the lust, the passion. The way he would hold me at night, like I was a life-raft. He made me alive and dead. He once left me sobbing on a hotel chaise lounge, naked and overlooking the Hong Kong skyline, and I remember thinking this was what it was like for an artist’s muse to become an artist’s mistress. I wanted to think I had the power, but if I really thought that I was a fool. He didn’t have it. I didn’t have it. The power was in us, together.

And I think letting go of that power is the worst thing I have ever done.

Though preferring to remain anonymous, the author is a young professional with bad luck in love.

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

Double Happiness: From a UK Half-Marathon to a Romantic Dalian Proposal

SoC running 2
Sarah and her husband.

You never know where love’s going to find you — and where it might take you. Sarah (a native of Birmingham, England and the woman behind Diaries of a Yangxifu) had just finished the Half-Marathon in Birmingham, all sweaty and exhausted, when lo and behold, she discovered an incredibly handsome Chinese man right beside her. A man who would propose to her less than a year later in his hometown of Dalian, China. 

Have an unusual love story or thrilling guest post you’d love to see published on Speaking of China? Learn how you can do it (just Sarah did) at the submit a post page.

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I never felt quite the same after that year of teaching English in Nanjing in 2010. When I returned to the UK, I found I had a little thing for Chinese men, who reminded me of my year in China and shared my love of 饮茶 (drinking tea) and 烤鱼 (roasted fish). However after about two years, I had got back in to the swing of things back home and was really enjoying living in a multicultural city with a big Chinatown and occasional trips to KTV.

I had been training for the Half Marathon for over four months, including a three-week holiday in China where I managed to sneak in a few runs on the banks of the Pearl River in Guangzhou and along Victoria Harbour in HK. I was feeling incredibly proud of myself when I had completed the 13.1 mile run and felt on top of the world as I walked from the finish line to my home 10 minutes away. Still, I was a bit achey and was trying to decide whether to take a little rest or just get home and have a nice shower. I saw a free bit of wall in the square and decided to take a little rest.

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I soon noticed the handsome Chinese man sitting on the wall next to me and was deciding how to make conversation, a habit of mine since returning from China. Then he turned to me and congratulated me on finishing the run. (Let’s hope it was the medal round my neck rather than the bright red face and disgusting hair that gave me away!)

We got to chatting for a while, exchanged snacks (they put some strange things in race finish bags) and chatted about sport. I had not met such a sporty Chinese person before, or one with freckles. Some time into the conversation I asked whether he was Chinese, and he replied, “Yes, but don’t be scared.” (I’m not sure what kind of experience he’d had of British people!). I answered (in Chinese) that I wasn’t afraid and actually I could speak a little Chinese myself, much to his surprise!

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We spent the rest of that day together, and I think it was the best day of my life. I had not only met not only the most handsome man I’ve ever known. I also met the man who 10 months later proposed to me “movie-style” at the top of Dalian’s sightseeing tower observation deck, right in his hometown where we had moved a couple of months before. I feel so lucky to have met a man with such integrity and intelligence, someone who always strives to be better — just like me.

That day, sitting on a wall in the Birmingham city centre, marks the start of my greatest adventure: of marriage, of a new family, of living a taste of real Chinese life.

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Sarah is currently studying Mandarin Chinese in Guilin, China, where she lives with her husband, and documents the challenges and the joys of her adventure at Diaries of a Yangxifu.

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

 

Double Happiness: How An American Woman Fell In Love With Xi’an (And One Special Guy)

Marissa and ZJ
Marissa and ZJ

“I’d never dated or been attracted to Chinese men before,” writes Marissa Kluger — not until she met ZJ in Xi’an, a city that stole her heart away.

Marissa’s blog Xiananigans has been a pleasure to follow over the years (right down to her “explosive” Chinese wedding, where she dons the most gorgeous red wedding gown I’ve ever seen). Here’s the story behind it all, from how she discovered Xi’an and ZJ to how they eventually moved it to her hometown in New Jersey.

Have an “explosive” story you’d like to share with us? To learn more about getting your stuff published on Speaking of China, check out the submit a post page for details.

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My first trip to China, in 2007, happened to be a three week intensive course abroad, a general education requirement instituted by Goucher College, my alma mater. Xi’an ended up being one of our destinations. Besides inspecting the soldiers at the Terracotta Warriors, bicycling around the Xi’an City Wall, and navigating the alleys of the Muslim Quarter, we met with an alumnus teaching at Xi’an International Studies University.

The city of Xi’an compelled me to return four years later to teach at Xi’an International Studies University. I’m a fairly indecisive person but I had made up my mind after listening to the alumnus’ anecdotes about his job, travels, and experiences. Meeting his students further cemented my longing to come back; they were inquisitive, interested in cultural exchange, American politics and exposing me to as much Chinese culture as several hours would allow.

Snapped at Delhi Darbar, our local Indian haunt, Summer 2013
Snapped at Delhi Darbar, our local Indian haunt, Summer 2013

Although I knew they would show us around their dorms, the campus, and give us small gifts, I was overwhelmed by their warmth, affection, and extroverted personalities. In many ways, they toppled every notion, or better yet, stereotype I read about Chinese students. We met students from universities in other cities during our travels, but XISU students left the deepest indent.

I also saw it as a one-year opportunity to do something outside-of-the-box before starting a career, although at that time I had little idea about what I’d be doing; I hadn’t even declared a major, still opting for that looming “Undecided” title. My parents thought I’d give up on the idea as I still had three years of schooling. They were supportive of the decision, also seeing it as a good opportunity, hoping I’d pick up the language and gain other valuable experiences that could propel whatever career path I chose forward.

In 2009-10, my final year at Goucher, I applied for a position at the university. Three months went by without a word, so I began applying for jobs in my chosen field in the Greater New York City area. A ray of sunshine appeared just a week before commencement…I had received an email from the university offering me a teaching position for the next academic year! When my college girlfriends offered their congratulatory sentiments, they also foreshadowed that 缘分, or fate would lead me to at least date, perhaps even settle down in China. I dismissed this as I didn’t really put much stock in fate.

Bicycling to the 798-like art district in Xi’an, Summer 2013
Bicycling to the 798-like art district in Xi’an, Summer 2013

I arrived in Xi’an in late August 2010, and luckily I had the first month of September free, as I had been assigned freshman. Freshman have mandatory military training, and four years ago, this lasted an entire month. I took this chance to meet up with a very good friend of my former private drum instructor and his Chinese wife. Lu Min Lu, I called her Daphney, helped me settle in and introduced me to the nightlife Xi’an offered. She took me to Park Qin, a bar frequented by Xi’an expats. ZJ worked at Park Qin.

The first time ZJ and I met, I insisted on getting his phone number on behalf of a British girl. I initially cut in for several reasons: I was looking for Chinese acquaintances who might become friends, most of my college friends were guys, he was easy to talk to and charming. I, of course, did all of this not knowing anything about Chinese dating culture, or that ZJ considered himself “traditional.”

After getting his phone number and exchanging texts, we agreed to meet up on his next day off. Shortly after that first meeting, I went back to Park Qin and spent hours talking to ZJ about movies, music, college, culture and more. We had a lot in common, he spoke directly, didn’t seem shy or introverted, much like the students I met in 2007, but I didn’t see this going in a romantic direction. The American girlfriends I emailed back home were elated: “I told you.”

ZJ and I in Xi’an, Chinese New Year 2013
ZJ and I in Xi’an, Chinese New Year 2013

It was about a month later that ZJ and I began dating. In the early stages of our relationship, we looked more like friends. We weren’t affectionate in public and our relationship remained a secret. In February 2011, I met ZJ’s parents during our Chinese New Year visit to his hometown. He prepared me very well for that first visit, explaining that to his parents, bringing a girl home, let alone a foreign one, meant to them we were serious.

I met his best friend from high school as well as extended family from both his mother’s and father’s side; I felt more comfortable than I initially thought in an environment so different from Xi’an and New Jersey. ZJ cared, translated and interpreted for me; his way to show affection manifested itself unlike any previous relationships. I liked the nuances, subtlety of it all, and more importantly, started to fall for him, and so upon returning to Xi’an, ZJ moved in with me.

After moving in together, we spent Western Valentine’s Day on the City Wall, visited the Shaanxi Botancial Gardensattended a professional soccer game at the sports stadium, and he attended Thanksgiving dinner I hosted with a friend. I went back to the US for the summer in 2011. Although we lived together, I worked during the day while ZJ slept after bartending into the wee hours of the morning. After 2012’s Chinese New Year, he decided to take a sabbatical from work.

We visited Baoji after the Chinese New Year to meet 大哥, ZJ’s eldest brother. The spring months of 2012, free from working in the evenings, we visited another campus infamous for their cherry blossomsday-tripped to Hanzhong with friendsspent July in Xi’an and backpacked through Thailand and Laos that summer. This trip tested our relationship, and looking back, foreshadowed some of the difficulties we now face.

The flowers ZJ procured by riding on a motorbike taxi in the pouring rain, at our engagement on June 8, 2013
The flowers ZJ procured by riding on a motorbike taxi in the pouring rain, at our engagement on June 8, 2013

When the holiday season approached, ZJ fostered my homesickness by taking me out for Peking duck on Christmas, a tradition commonly observed by Jewish-Americans. I went home for three weeks in January 2013; I wished he could have traveled with me, to meet my family and friends. I missed him when I went home for two months in 2011, staying in touch via Skype, however, those three weeks felt utterly painful. I enjoyed my time at home, but a sense of relief washed over me when I touched down in Xi’an a week or so before heading to his 老家 for Chinese New Year.

We had already started discussing getting engaged and this discussion was met with approval by 老爸, 老妈, 大哥和二哥. ZJ proposed to me on June 8, 2013. The timing of the ceremony, the set-up, and the ring were all a surprise to me. He told me we were celebrating his birthday; I saw this as slightly suspicious, but didn’t give it a second thought when he shot me down over WeChat when I asked if he planned to propose.

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A collage put together by one of our foreign guests at the Chinese wedding ceremony, Feb. 5, 2014

We had a friend take engagement photos, stayed at the Sheraton North as a quasi-engagement honeymoon, biked to Xi’an’s new art district, and went to Beijing. We talked about when we would get married that summer: would we stay in China or move to the US?

We registered our marriage a year ago. In October, we took our wedding photos for the Chinese wedding ceremony. Because many of ZJ’s coworkers and friends wouldn’t be able to make the two and a half hour trip to his 老家, we hosted a wedding luncheon in Xi’an, receiving the customary red envelopes. A month or so after, we began researching the DCF process so that we could move to the US in the summer, setting the wedding for February 5.

We made it up Cangshan, Dali Feb. 2014
We made it up Cangshan, Dali Feb. 2014

I wore an ankle-length red gown, one of three dresses purchased on Taobao for the ceremony held in the countryside. I opted for a red princess-poofy gown, complete with fur-like trim, flowers, taffeta-like mesh, all in red. I changed into a red lace qipao in order to toast the guests, wearing it with a qipao-style top as a jacket in hopes of keeping out the cold. I even wore all red undergarments. My youngest sister made the trip from the US, served as pseudo-maid of honor, taking on my hair and makeupWe also had a few foreign colleagues from the university attend. 爸爸和妈妈 Zhang, my brothers and sisters-in-law ensured the shindig, a once-in-a-lifetime affair, could be watched over and over again (there’s a video!). We had a honeymoon of sorts, to Lijiang and Dali, and I say of sorts, because my sister and friends of ours tagged along.

We had traveled to Guangzhou for the petition in January and a couple of months after all the wedding excitement died down, we traveled back again for the medical and interview portions. ZJ didn’t pass on the spot, as we had to send additional documents. A week or two later, we had ZJ’s passport with the appropriate visa in hand. I couldn’t believe how relatively quickly and pain-free the process had been! More foreshadowing…

ZJ and I in Hanzhong, 2012
ZJ and I in Hanzhong, 2012

We’ve now been in the US for two and a half months. We live with my parents in the house I grew up in. I work part-time for Starbucks while I pursue other avenues. This is the first encounter ZJ’s had with my parents and friends, with the exception of my youngest sister, who also lives at home. He just received his social security number last week. When we went to the department of motor vehicles earlier in the week, they weren’t able to verify his status, meaning we have to wait before he can obtain his driver’s license. In other words, the ease we experienced during the DCF process meant more obstacles after landing stateside.

It’s not all bad news, though. I never imagined I’d be a 26 year-old “we”, returning from four years in Xi’an, and struggling to figure out what comes next. I would never take it back, or trade it in for an “easier life.” Much like the processes we’ve gone through in the last year: getting our red books, preparing for our Chinese ceremony, navigating the DCF process, prepared us for the ups and downs of a new life. I underestimated the adjustment moving to the US would be, but my husband never did.

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Ringwood State Park in New Jersey, July 2014

This is why I love him. When I’m losing it, he remains calm, rational, and thoughtful. When I’m overly emotional, which is pretty much all of the time, he’s calculated and prepared to counteract my moodiness by jokes, sarcasm, or a story. He knows exactly when I need solitude, a hug or a kiss, encourages me to not only pursue my dreams, but to do so independently.

His sense of humor is infectious, and he’s grown into a more talkative, outwardly affectionate individual. He supports me in all my endeavors. Our marriage and relationship may not be conventional in the eyes of some, and we may be opposites, but I always foresaw, if I did marry, ending up with my “other half.” You see, I didn’t think I would marry, especially in my mid-20s, not because I don’t believe in the institution of marriage, but after a failed serious relationship in college, preferred to bask in dating solitude.

DSC_0024It’s laughable that there are Western women in China who write off Chinese men. I’d never dated or been attracted to Chinese men before, but I’m very attracted to my husband: appearance, intelligence, and personality-wise. If I had written them off, the handsome, caring man sitting to my right reading the local paper wouldn’t be in my life.

Marissa Kluger married her Chinese husband ZJ a year ago. They live in New Jersey. She reminisces about Xi’an and muses about life in the US at Xiananigans.

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