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:

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?”

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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.

Guest Post: The “Dark Side” to Moving Across the World for Love

I’m excited to run this guest post from Grace Mineta of the fantastic blog Texan in Tokyo (if you haven’t discovered her insightful and entertaining blog yet, you’re missing out). Grace just successfully funded a kickstarter project for her book “My Japanese Husband Thinks I’m Crazy: The Comic Book” in only three days!

Today she reflects on something that many of us know all too well, but are often afraid to write about (myself included) — the dark side of moving across the world for someone you love. 

Have something to say (and share) on Speaking of China, just like Grace? Check out my submit a post page for details on how to get your guest post published here.

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Interracial relationships are complicated. So are intercultural relationships. I don’t think I fully understood the complexity until I entered my own – and it’s a bit difficult trying to explain to other American friends with absolutely no knowledge of Asian culture why no, we can’t just “put my husband’s parents in an old-folks home once they lose mobility.”

Or when my husband has to try to explain to his coworkers that “no, my wife probably will not quit her job when she gets pregnant. She loves working. I might transition to part-time work and be a stay-at-home dad instead.”

Grace and Ryosuke Mineta

You see, as wonderful, exciting, and educational an intercultural relationship is, there is also a deep, dark side to moving across the world, for the sake of love. It can be isolating. You have to compromise about subjects you didn’t even think were ‘on the table,’ so to speak. You will both make mistakes.

After reading Susan’s recent memoir “The Good Chinese Wife,” I decided I wanted to write a guest post for Speaking of China about the dark side to moving across the world for love.

And, of course, if you’re really interested in daily life in Japan as a foreigner, you should check out my book “My Japanese Husband Thinks I’m Crazy: The Comic Book.”

It is an autobiographical memoir about my life as a white, Texan freelancer married to a Japanese businessman, living in Tokyo. It covers intercultural and interracial relationships, in a funny, light-hearted way.

Texan in Tokyo comics

Enough of the good, let’s talk about bad.

Here are the top 6 elements that make up the “dark side” of moving across the world for love:

1. You can become almost pathetically dependent on your spouse

My husband and I have lived in both Japan and Texas, with a vast majority of our time spent in Tokyo. We spent two months in America together before the wedding, and another month and a half in Texas after the wedding.

We had a wonderful time, but we also had some problems. Ryosuke couldn’t drive a car in America. He was completely dependent on me and, on days when I had a freelance project due, he was left walking my sister’s dog, Bo, around the neighborhood for hours, since he had nowhere else to go.

Thankfully, in Tokyo I can get anywhere by train/bus. However, there are times, like when I’m trying to open a bank account, file a health insurance form, or figure out some obscure Japanese law when I am completely dependent on my husband.

I’m lucky that I have my own job and can speak Japanese pretty fluently… but even so, I still get frustrated.

2. Visas, bureaucracy, and a lot of red tape

I went to the immigration office seven times to get a visa. Seven times. My visa was rejected for all sorts of stupid and illogical reasons (Not enough time left on my tourist visa, one form was improperly dated, the visa I was applying for didn’t exist, “waiting to apply for a spouse visa” was not a valid reason to extend my current tourist visa… the list goes on).

One incredibly unhelpful lady at the Tachikawa immigration office told me “Go back to America, wait a couple of months, and apply for a visa there.” When I told her I couldn’t afford to just ‘go back to America,’ she suggested I go to Korea instead (since it’s “cheaper”) and then called up the next person in line.

Now I have a valid, working visa in Japan.

However, I know other women who are not able to work on their spousal visas in their husband’s countries… and it’s hard.

3. Finding a good career “in your field” is incredibly difficult

I love writing, but I never wanted to be a writer. I wanted to work for local government. Or at an NGO.

Unfortunately, it is incredibly difficult to find a job in my field in Japan. I either don’t have enough experience, can’t make the proper time commitment, can’t speak Japanese well enough, or can’t afford to commit to 40 hours of work (unpaid, no stipend for food/travel) for at least 16 months at my dream NGO.

Hence the reason I am a freelance writer, blogger, and English teacher.

I don’t love the work, but it pays the bills and gives me something to do. In my spare time, I get to blog, draw comics, and volunteer at a local orphanage.

I can’t count the number of women I know who moved abroad with their husband, expecting to find a career in their field in a couple of months… only to wind up frustrated, disappointed, and underemployed.

4. Insecurity is normal

On one of our larger fights a couple months ago, I asked my husband why he didn’t just marry a nice Japanese girl. “She would be able to talk to your family without any problems,” I told him, “and she would be better at housework (or, like, actually agree to do housework. I’ve met so many Japanese girls who love cleaning. I hate it. Ugh.)”

“I don’t want to marry a ‘Japanese girl!'” he shouted back. “Or an ‘American girl!’ I just want to be married to you!”

A lot of our friends are Japanese. When we have house parties or go on double dates, I often find myself toning out what the other people are saying. Speaking in Japanese all day makes my head hurt… and I start to feel out of depth.

Texan in Tokyo comic about the telephone

When nearly all of our friend’s wives quit their jobs after marriage, clean the house every day, wake up early in the morning to cook their husband breakfast, do laundry every day, and always keep the house presentable, clean, and well-stocked with food, it’s hard not to get insecure.

I still stand by everything I wrote in my last guest post on Speaking of China, “7 of the Best Things about Being Married to a Non-Native English Speaker.”

And thankfully, my husband doesn’t expect me to be a “Good Japanese Wife.” If he did… well, I would probably go crazy. And we would yell at each other more.

5. You might have to re-evaluate your priorities and compromise on some tough issues

This one is pretty self-explanatory.

Just remember that arguments are an essential part of any healthy relationship and they provide a great way to broaden your horizons and re-evaluate your priorities.

6. You will be isolated

When we first moved back to Tokyo, we spent the first couple months living with his parents in Ibaraki, an incredibly rural prefecture next to Tokyo.

In the first couple months I had no job (I was still battling the immigration office), no English speaking friends, and no connection to the ‘outside world.’

I fell into a deep, dark depression that lasted for several months. I cried a lot. I started losing weight (not in the good way). I watched my friends from college go off and get amazing jobs… and just felt worse about myself.

Then we moved out. We saved enough to get out own place, in central Tokyo. I got a visa and picked up a couple part-time jobs. I made a bunch of new friends.

Texan in Tokyo comic about the beach

I still had cultural problems from time-to-time, but instead of being a sad reminder of how “foreign” I was, they started being kind of funny.

I wrote a comic book, “My Japanese Husband Thinks I’m Crazy,” that ended up being wildly successful.

I have a ‘sort of’ career now.

Of course, I still feel isolated from time-to-time. But I’m learning how to deal with it. 

Grace Mineta

Author Bio:

Grace Buchele Mineta is a native Texan, founder of the blog “Texan in Tokyo,” and author of the autobiographical comic book, “My Japanese Husband Thinks I’m Crazy.” She lives in Tokyo with her husband, Ryosuke, where she blogs and draws comics about their daily life.

My Japanese Husband Thinks I’m Crazy: The Comic Book” is the autobiographical misadventures of a native Texan freelancer and her Japanese “salaryman” husband – in comic book form. From earthquakes and crowded trains, to hilarious cultural faux pas, this comic explores the joys of living and working abroad, intercultural marriages, and trying to make a decent pot roast on Thanksgiving.

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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.

How to have an incredibly imperfect 10th wedding anniversary in Hangzhou (just like us)

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When you’re getting ready to remember 10 years together with the person you love most in the world, you want it all to be as perfect as that diamond wedding ring. After all, isn’t 10 years of marriage called the “diamond anniversary”?

But the reality doesn’t always sparkle like that most coveted of all jewels, just as John and I discovered this past Saturday when we set out to celebrate our 10th anniversary together. Here’s how our day ended up losing some of its luster:

1. Celebrate it right smack in the middle of the hottest days of summer.

Notice the sweat gleaming on my face and neck? Welcome to Hangzhou in the summer!
Notice the sweat gleaming on my face and neck? Welcome to Hangzhou in the summer!

Our marriage anniversary is July 26, only three days after July 23 (also known as by the Chinese as dàshǔ or 大署, the “Greater Heat”). At this time of the year, the entire city feels like one huge sultry public sauna that you can never leave (unless you duck into an air-conditioned store or home).

As soon as John and I left our apartment, the heat and humidity enveloped us like a huge wet rag — and it wasn’t long before my brand-new fuchsia T-shirt was dotted with beads of sweat. Not an auspicious start to our celebration!

2. Arrive at the West Lake just as a huge thunderstorm descends upon the city.

Taking shelter from the storm
Taking shelter from the storm

After indulging in a little pampering at a local hair salon (a up-do) and a makeup shop (where a pro did my makeup for the day) John whisked me off to the most romantic locale in all of Hangzhou: the West Lake. Our goal? To visit the very bench on Su Causeway where we had our first kiss on July 26 in 2002.

But not long after we reached the scenic shores of the lake, fringed with the rich green patches of lotus plants studded with pale pink flowers, an ominous gray cloud darkened the sky. Thunder soon rumbled right in, followed lightning and a monumental downpour. When I say “monumental downpour”, I mean 90 mm worth of rain (that’s a little over 3.5 inches) in one hour!

We sought shelter just in time in a public teahouse beside the lake, and were trapped there for almost an hour, witnessing nature’s own version of fireworks boom across the lake (I screamed when the lightning hit a nearby tree) as the landscape around us became soaked in rain.

Then, because we needed to hustle to make our 6pm dinner reservation at a hotel, we splashed our way down Beishan Road through the runoff water that burst up from the drains beside the road and cascaded over the sidewalk right into the West Lake. It reminded me of all those times when I was a kid and insisted on going creek-walking — except you don’t usually go creek-walking with your hair and makeup done, all dolled up in your new shirt and long black skirt.

Even worse — the rain revealed leaks in my own umbrella, scattering droplets of rain all over me (including more than a few that conspired to ruin my nice up-do and makeup…thank goodness they didn’t!).

You might wonder, “Why didn’t they just flag down a taxi or take the bus?” Well, as anyone who has ever lived in Hangzhou knows, it’s almost impossible to flag down a taxi on rainy days. Plus, the traffic on Beishan Road was locked in gridlock and plodded along so slow we actually walked faster than the buses themselves!

3. Due to a downpour of seemingly Biblical proportions, walk into the five-star hotel where you’re going to have dinner with at least half of your outfit completely soaked

I know I'm smiling here, but believe me, most of my skirt and all of my shoes are soaking wet!
I know I’m smiling here, but believe me, most of my skirt and all of my shoes are soaking wet!

There’s nothing that says class quite like strolling into the glittering lobby of a five-star hotel looking as if you crawled out of one of the drainage pipes beside the West Lake. The Assistant Manager on duty — a willowy blonde dressed in a perfectly-pressed suit jacket and pencil skirt — stared at us as we hurried across the lobby and up the stairs, and I couldn’t tell whether it was because we were that rare AMWF couple in China or because our shoes left little puddles behind us wherever we walked.

4. Due to same downpour, spend over an hour awaiting the rest of your friends to arrive.

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Four of our guests — more than half of our table — took over an hour to make it to the hotel because the downpour brought Hangzhou’s traffic to a screeching halt. This photo (with me putting on a smile while my friend Caroline plays with her mobile phone) pretty much sums up how we spent that hour at a very empty table for seven.

5. Realize it’s the most imperfect anniversary celebration you’ve ever had — and enjoy yourselves regardless.

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Between the sweltering heat and all of the mayhem caused by a sudden downpour, we had one tumultuous afternoon. No carefree strolling beside the lake, no stolen kisses at our old bench on Su Causeway, no confident entrance into the hotel. Our shoes were still totally wet and squishy. The rain even drenched a classic photo of us that John carried in his wallet.

But we had five of our friends with us, as we dined on some of the most sumptuous Thai dishes I’ve ever sampled in my life in one of the most glamorous restaurants in town. Maybe we didn’t get the perfect day we hoped for — but as I helped myself to another creamy mouthful of green curry vegetables and admired the mahogany-toned wooden accents in the space, I couldn’t help but think that, for the moment, it was just perfect enough.

(P.S.: For those of you curious as to where we had our anniversary dinner, it was at the lovely  Sawasdee Thai Restaurant in Hangzhou — one of my favorite dining spots in the city.)

Have you ever experienced a less-than-perfect celebration?

Photo Essay: Celebrating 10 years of marriage to my husband!

Ten years ago on July 26, my husband and I stood before a government representative in Shanghai, promising to spend the rest of our lives together. It’s hard to believe that 10 years have passed since that moment, yet I love John just as much as the first time I stood before him and said, “Wo yuanyi!” (“I do” in Chinese — and yes, like most of us in China, I did it more than once for reasons explained in this post).

To commemorate those 10 incredible years I’ve enjoyed with the love of my life, a guy who still makes me swoon after all this time together, I’m sharing one of our marriage registration photos from 2004 plus 10 photos of us together (one from each year of our marriage)!

2004

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This photo was taken just moments after we took our vows in a civil ceremony in Shanghai and signed our official little red marriage books. Can’t you just see that newly-registered glow in our faces? (Or maybe it’s the red we both wore that day!) 😉

2005

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As part of our Huangshan Honeymoon in 2005 (which I wrote about in an essay for the new anthology How Does One Dress to Buy Dragonfruit) we visited a couple of traditional Huizhou-style villages in the foothills of Huangshan. Here we pose before a reflecting pool in Hongcun.

2006

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We visited friends in Chicago in February 2006 and ended up strolling beside Lake Michigan, despite the freezing winter temperatures. Who needs to worry about cold weather when you have the love of your life beside you to keep you warm? 😉

2007

Jocelyn and Jun in the park near Fenshui River.

The summer of 2007, we returned to John’s hometown to make our marriage official (in the eyes of his family and friends) with a big Chinese wedding ceremony.

2008

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Late in the summer of 2008, John and I took off for one last camping trip deep in the Rocky Mountains. What views!

2009

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When John and I went to China for the summer of 2009, we indulged in a month-long trip across the country to take in all of the sights we never visited years before — from Xi’an and Chengdu to Changsha and Kaifeng.

2010

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John and I welcomed the year of the tiger in 2010 as the emcees of a Chinese New Year celebration. What a night!

2011

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Here we are in 2011 celebrating John’s birthday over Thai curries. John never used to think much of his birthday until I came along — but if the smile on his face is any measure, he loves the change!

2012

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To commemorate our wedding anniversary in 2012, we enjoyed a relaxing evening of classical music performed by the Cleveland Orchestra. But before heading out, we posed before the flower garden to remember the evening.

2013

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For Chinese New Year in 2013, John and I whipped up a traditional Chinese feast for the family — from roast goose and ribs to ginger-garlic green beans and stir-fried matchstick potatoes. We’re smiling, but there’s exhaustion behind those eyes because we spent the entire morning in the kitchen! Still, it was worth the effort.

2014

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There’s nothing like finally spending Chinese New Year at the family home in China for the first time in years. In 2014, John and I reunited with his family and the country we love.

Here’s to hoping for 10 more incredible years with my incredible man. Thanks for everything, John.

Double Happiness: Xi’an native introduces Kiwi fiancee to his hometown

Jo and Kane in Xi'an.
Jo and Kane in Xi’an.

A few weeks ago, Kane Gu graciously regaled us with the story of how one “foreign student-turned-party boy” found the love of his life in New Zealand. It’s a beautiful love story and worth a read.

But what happens when Kane finally introduces his fiancee to China and his hometown of Xi’an for the first time? A fiancee that has never stepped foot in the Middle Kingdom and doesn’t speak of word of Chinese? It’s one big cross-cultural adventure that the two of them will never forget. 

If you want to be like Kane and have your words published on Speaking of China, check out my submit a post page for details.

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In August 2012, almost 2 years after Jo and I first met, we became engaged to be married on a cool Autumn night by the beach at Maraetai. There, Jo whispered in my ear, “I will.” We both knew we were in for an adventure of a lifetime together.

My adventure first began when I crossed the Pacific and found Jo. Then one day, we decided to trace my steps back to visit my hometown of Xi’an, China. This is my place of origin, the land that nourished me as a child, the great Northwest and the Loess Plateau dotted with cave dwellings, the voice of Qin and of a people born tough but pure of heart.

Southern comfort, Northern discomfort

We arrived in late August, expecting the weather to cool down as Autumn approached. I had been away from home so long that I had forgotten just how vicious the sun was during the Xi’an summers. While I was born and bred in Xi’an, I had suggested that we should bring warm clothing, only to be assaulted by scorching temperatures above 38C upon our arrival. There we were, each carrying a thick coat as we stepped off the plane while quickly realising how big of a mistake we had made. Needless to say, suddenly I felt even more foreign than the white guy we saw at the airport dressed in a t-shirt and shorts.

Since we arrived at lunchtime, my parents decided we should grab a quick bite to eat before we get to their apartment. My heart yearned for some roujiamo and cold noodles — typical Xi’an street food — from a typical Xi’an roadside restaurant. As we walked in, I was reunited with all the familiar and delicious aromas of pickled garlic, slow cooked pork for the roujiamos, vinegar and chilli oil. With the noisy atmosphere and the scattered tables full of people, all these memories suddenly came pouring out and I felt home again.

I couldn’t say the same for Jo, however. She was the only white person in the entire restaurant. The moment she walked into the room, all the chattering and clinking of utensils ceased abruptly with her presence as 50 heads turned her way — some amused, some bewildered, and some just amazed. As we searched around and found a table to sit down, everyone gradually returned to their own business and the noise resumed. Our dishes arrived quickly to the table one by one and so did some curious gazes. Jo quietly said to me she felt uncomfortable with the amount of staring and attention she was receiving, which didn’t surprise me. Even I felt a little uneasy about it. But I had to reassure her that people are simply curious about why a foreigner would visit a humble local eatery, and what she was doing with a Chinese family. To many, an East-West relationship is still a novelty and when the man happens to be a local, he gets to become the “translator” and the “tour guide”, as I had been referred to on multiple occasions.

Lost in translation

Even with a translator on standby 24/7 (me), life still became difficult for my non-Mandarin-speaking fiancee.

A lack of English signage made outings impossible without me accompanying her. She had limited abilities to converse with anyone else but me and translations were not always easy with cultural and social contexts were thrown in. Once a minor mistake caused a major misunderstanding between Jo and my mother. Ever since Jo had some dental work done on her teeth, she was advised to avoid foods that are “hard to eat”. In English it would generally be intepreted as items that are hard or chewy, but in Chinese, if directly translated it becomes “nanchi”, which means “unpalatable”. This, unfortunately, was how I translated Jo’s English when she was discussing a particular dish with my mom — and you can imagine my mom wasn’t happy about her dish being regarded as “nan chi”. I finally explained to her that it was indeed an error on my behalf rather than because of her cooking.

Of course, while we were out exploring the countless heritage sites Xi’an and its surrounding areas had to offer, we were solicited by one hawker after another, attempting to offer us their goods and services at vastly inflated prices. A refusal from me in the local dialect however would normally suffice in stopping the harassment, even against the very persistent ones.

Jo in Xi'an.
Jo in Xi’an.

Shopping woes

While globalisation draw nations closer to each other than ever, you would think people around the world now would have more in common. But when it comes to fashion, this isn’t always the case.

What Jo, a young Kiwi woman, would consider as fashionable and attractive was almost never the same as her Chinese counterparts and vice versa. And on the rare occasions when she actually liked something, it was never in a size or style that would actually fit her. Jo had trouble shopping for almost everything in Xi’an. The biggest shoes we could find were always half a size too small. Not much luck with clothing either, as she is considered a big girl in China while her size is quite normal in New Zealand.

However, having a Chinese MIL shop with you could be a huge advantage. First, she knows where to go. Second, you end up saving hundreds as a result of her expertise in bargaining. And third, if she likes her daughter-in-law enough she might even offer to foot the bill as a gift. The drawbacks? Besides the aforementioned difference in taste, you will get taken to some very “Chinese” shopping complexes. Forget the modern, glitzy and smoke-free malls with all the creature comforts you can afford. Some hidden jewels and good bargains can be found in those sweaty, overcrowded, and sometimes gritty looking suburban shopping centers (if you knew how to find them in the first place).

For the love of food

To many expats out there, nothing reminds them more of home than the food they grew up on. It could be something simple like a burger or pizza, or in my case, cold noodles, roujiamo, and street snacks like barbecued lamb on skewers. Coming home brought me back to food paradise, but for Jo, it was a shock to the system, literally. All these new delicacies and spices just didn’t agree with her stomach.

When my mom suggested that we should go to Pizza Hut one day for lunch, I could almost hear the excitement in Jo’s voice as she said, “Please, that sounds great!” Just like back home? Perhaps it tasted even better than the Pizza Hut we remembered from back home, or perhaps I had cravings as well. So in the following days, we had sampled all the Western foods in the area — first KFC, followed by McDonald’s and Papa John’s pizza. It was like festival time for Jo and her poor shell-shocked Western stomach.

It all ended when Jo discovered Haidilao, that extremely popular hotpot chain across the country. Despite the unspeakable aftermath of each hotpot session, we kept coming back for more. Maybe Jo had found the perfect comfort food in China? It might not have reminded her of home, but it made her feel at home: a family sitting around a table, cooking and eating at the same time while laughing and chatting away. You’d never find this kind of family atmosphere in New Zealand!

Conclusion

That trip to China was a homecoming for me, and it was an eye-opening experience for Jo. She felt frightened at first, but then I witnessed her transformation as the days progressed. She established a mutual friendship with my parents as they readily accepted her into our family with open arms. She faithfully accompanied me halfway around the globe into a world of unknowns just to experience my homeland with me. What more could I ask for in a woman? My parents loved her as well. They already consider her a xifu or daughter-in-law despite the fact that we weren’t married yet.

Eventually, that inevitable day came when we had to say goodbye. As my parents watched us walk through the departure gate, that familiar feeling erupted in my chest again just as it did 10 years before when I left home for the first time. I tried to hold back my emotions and turned around to glance at Jo. But the moment I gazed upon her, she turned away. In the corner of her eye, I saw something flickering and eventually running down her cheek. Maybe I wasn’t the only one that had come home after all.

Kane Gu found his true love in Aotearoa, the land of the long white cloud.

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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.

The “Good Chinese Wife” Interview with Susan Blumberg-Kason

(Note: I’m excited to be giving away one FREE copy of Good Chinese Wife! Want to enter the giveaway? Scroll down to the end of this post for details!)

Susan Blumberg-Kason’s new memoir Good Chinese Wife comes with a revealing subtitle: A Love Affair With China Gone Wrong. Before you even open the book, you already know what kind of love this is – a marriage between a white American woman and a Chinese man that doesn’t end well.

But as I’ve learned over time, there’s tremendous value in sharing the stories of couples that didn’t work out. That’s why I sent out a submission call for stories of love lost and unrequited love. And that’s why Good Chinese Wife should be on the reading list of everyone who follows this blog.

I’m calling it the AMWF memoir of 2014 and you shouldn’t miss it.

Good Chinese Wife: A Love Affair with China Gone Wrong

This book has it all. A Chinese love interest with movie-star looks. A romance set in glitzy Hong Kong. A huge red wedding in Wuhan. A fascinating journey across China in the mid-1990s. And a transformative tale of how one shy young woman eventually finds the courage to make a dramatic escape.

But most importantly, Good Chinese Wife is just an incredibly entertaining memoir. It’s the kind of book that you’ll open, thinking you’re only going to read for a little while, and before you know it you’ve devoured the whole story in one sitting.

Susan Blumberg-Kason

As someone who has known Susan for several years, I’ve had the privilege to witness the inspiring metamorphosis of Good Chinese Wife from manuscript to published memoir. It is an extraordinary honor to introduce you to Good Chinese Wife and Susan through this interview.

A freelance writer in Chicago, Susan has written for the Chicago Sun Times, the Journal of the American Dietetic Association, and Chicago Parent magazine. Her essay “Ninety Minutes in Tsim Sha Tsui” is included in the fabulous new anthology How Does One Dress to Buy Dragonfruit. She also wrote All the Tea in Chicago, the ultimate guidebook to the city for tea enthusiasts.

I talked to Susan to learn more about her memoir – from what inspired her to write it, to her experiences as a yangxifu (the foreign wife of a Chinese man) in the mid-1990s, to what she hopes readers will come away with from her story.

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When did you first realize you wanted to turn your story into a memoir? What ultimately inspired you to write it?

I first thought about writing this memoir after my divorce attorney in California asked me to write out everything that went wrong in that marriage. She needed all the details in case we went to trial. It was 14 years ago and I was living with my parents. They didn’t have a laptop connected to a printer and I wasn’t in the mood to camp out in front of the basement desktop—after having felt so isolated for the past five and a half years—so I hand-wrote it over the span of a week in the company of my family. This document was sixty-seven pages! When I proofread it before sending it off to my lawyer, I thought, “Wow! This would make a great book.”

A week later I saw the movie “Not Without My Daughter” for the first time. It was about a woman who almost lost her daughter when her family traveled to Iran to visit her husband’s family. The husband had lived in the US for 20 years, but when he returned to his motherland, he suddenly wanted to stay there and keep his daughter there. I cried because the same thing could have happened to me. I wanted to share my story with others and hoped it would give parents in cross-cultural relationships something to think about if they’re in similar situations.

Susan at the Tsim Sha Tsui metro stop in Hong Kong.
Susan at the Tsim Sha Tsui metro stop in Hong Kong.

Your love affair with Cai, a man from Wuhan, China, takes place in Hong Kong in the mid-1990s, at a time when you were mainly a graduate student. What are some of your most interesting memories about dating in Hong Kong back then?

Hong Kong was magical back then! I was so happy to be back (I’d lived there for a year in 1990-91) and open to new opportunities, including dating. Maybe it was the thrill of being back and the comfort I felt around Hong Kong people, but I definitely took more chances there than I had back in the US. There was a new confidence in the air as people who had left Hong Kong in the 1980s were returning. One was a friend of a friend who confided some pretty heavy personal history to me on our one and only date. At one point he became violent as he grabbed my arms and squeezed them as if in a vice. I was scared about leaving that bar—we were out in the middle of the New Territories—but in the end he paid for my taxi ride home, which was two hours away. I also went out with a television anchorman who promised a weekend away in Macau, but canceled at the last minute. And then there were the two guys I wrote about in the book, the two I went out with before I met Cai.

Hidden River, China - Cai's hometown
Hidden River, China – Cai’s hometown in Hubei Province

How did people react to yangxifu back in the mid-1990s?

It was a novelty for Chinese men to have a foreign wife. In Hidden River, Cai’s hometown in Hubei province, his parents had a friend whose son had married a Japanese woman. She was a legend in that danwei—whether or not people had met her—because she was a foreigner. So my inlaws were very accepting of me and liked to brag about me with their friends. When I walked around Hidden River, people were all very polite, even when they stared and pointed at my curly hair and western nose.

14583639023_393094e530_oYour wedding in 1995 was special compared to the average wedding banquet in Wuhan. Could you share with us some of the things that made your celebration different?

Well, back then children of Communist Party members had to have modest wedding celebrations. For instance, they could only use a couple of cars in their motorcades and could only have ten tables at their banquets. But because I was a foreigner, those rules didn’t apply to my wedding even though my father-in-law was a Party member. We had twenty tables at our wedding and five or six cars. Traditions were still low key in China then, so weddings were simple and quick. There weren’t tea ceremonies and the like. And women in Hubei didn’t wear red qipaos. It was all big poufy white wedding dresses. I had a difficult time finding a red qipao in Suzhou!

Cai’s parents also play a major role in your story. Give us one of your favorite scenes from the book featuring your inlaws.

I think my favorite scene in the book was when they were leaving San Francisco to return to China. They had lived with us for ten months and after many clashes about childcare, I realized too late, of course, how much I had appreciated their presence at home. Every night we watched Chinese soap operas and news from Beijing while Cai went out. And they were often my only adult interaction at home. As we said goodbye at the airport, I also thought about how difficult it must be for them to leave Jake, their beloved grandson. So this scene is full of contrasts and difficult emotions.

Susan and Jake in San Francisco in 1999.
Susan and Jake in San Francisco in 1999.

Your book includes many memorable characters, but none more so than “Japanese father” — a rather unconventional father-figure to Cai. Without giving everything away, could you tell us something about this fascinating character?

Japanese Father was a music professor who visited China one summer and met Cai in Wuhan. The two became pen pals and wrote long letters to each other almost every week. The Japanese economy was so far ahead of China’s at the time—it wasn’t even comparable—so the opportunities that Japanese Father could offer Cai, and later his friend Rui, were very attractive to young teachers who had no other way of making more than US$75 a month. Japanese Father had a lot of time to spend on his Chinese protégées because he was estranged from his wife and son. His daughter still spoke to him, though.

Susan at the Miramar in Hong Kong.
Susan at the Miramar in Hong Kong.

As the subtitle explains, your story is “a love affair with China gone wrong.” Some people may see your book as yet another story that casts Asian men in a negative light, as well as AMWF relationships and even China itself. How would you respond to those concerns?

The subtitle refers to my initial attraction to China and how that all changed. It wasn’t necessarily a bad thing; it just didn’t go according to plan. As for a negative portrayal of Asian men, I can only see two Asian men who don’t come out looking great. Some reviewers think that Cai is sympathetic, and I can see that, too. But the others—Baba, Cai’s friend Rui, my former brothers-in-law, and even the guys I dated in Hong Kong—are portrayed just as men in any other countries. They have a variety of positive traits and aren’t lumped into one general category. And as one friend pointed out, at the end I go to lengths to protect the Chinese male who matters most to me—my son Jake. As for AMWF relationships, I clearly do everything I can to make mine work. In writing my story, I hope that people will see how not to conduct an AMWF relationship! And as for China, I felt aligned with many young Chinese at that time. Every time Cai and I returned to China, he was heartbroken that it was changing so quickly and wasn’t like the China of his childhood. I echoed his feelings and could see how things were different even from my first trip to China in 1988. To me, that’s not being anti-China, but rather wishing for a smoother transition, for China to have eased into the twentieth century instead of leaping into the twenty-first in one blink!

In Hidden River, Cai’s hometown near Wuhan.

Could you share some of the lessons you’ve learned from your courtship and marriage to Cai, and what you hope readers take away from your book?

From the courtship, people will probably conclude that I married Cai too quickly. But I think it’s more than that. He told me from the get-go that he had certain conditions for our marriage. Those are things I ignored or thought I could eventually get him to change. That should have been my red flag, not the time in which we became engaged and married. And from the marriage, I hope people can see that it’s not a good idea to justify bad behavior in the name of cultural differences, whatever those may be. (Unless we come from the exact background as our partner, we will have cultural differences. My new husband and I are from different religious backgrounds.) If something doesn’t sit well, it doesn’t sit well and shouldn’t be tolerated. It doesn’t matter if the person is from Asia or the US or wherever. One more thing: just be yourself and you’ll be fine!

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Thanks so much to Susan Blumberg-Kason for enlightening us about Good Chinese Wife!

Want to win a FREE copy of Good Chinese Wife? I’m giving one away on Twitter to anyone based in the US or Canada. And it’s simple to enter! Just tweet the following:

[Tweet “@jossailin is giving away the new memoir #GoodChineseWife and I want to win!”]

Entries must be received by 12 midnight Pacific Time on July 16, 2014! I’ll then notify the winner via messaging on Twitter. Good luck!

UPDATE: Congratulations to @JohnWGuise for winning the giveaway!