Staying Single Not Easy: Women Bucking Tradition in China Stand Strong

As International Women’s Day is coming up on March 8, stories of women who stand strong, particularly when it comes to the headwinds of societal expectations on romance, have been on my mind. Not that long ago, China Daily published a story highlighting the challenges that Chinese women in their 30s and even late 20s face when they’re single — and the courage it takes for them to live their lives.

Titled Staying Single Can Be So Demanding, it highlights several singles, including 38-year-old Feng Xin, “the last single person in her group of friends”:

In China, where conformity and traditional family values have always been highly prized, her solo lifestyle is still considered unconventional. ….

…after dinner a few days ago with colleagues, most of whom are in their 20s and early 30s, Feng came across a phrase she had never heard before-mu tai solo. This combination of the Chinese words “mu tai” and the English word “solo” refers to people who have never been in a romantic relationship. “Unfortunately, I am one of them.

When I told my colleagues I had been mu tai solo for nearly 40 years, they looked shocked and sympathized with me,” Feng said. “It was very embarrassing. I just made fun of myself, saying that my new year wish is to find my first love and then experience my first heartbreak.

“There has always been a phrase for single women-sheng nyu, or ‘leftover women’. Now, there is this new one, mu tai solo, which is disparaging. It’s not my fault that I’m mu tai solo, because when love happens, it happens. You cannot force it.”

When she told her mother about this experience, her 67-year-old parent sighed and said, “See, this is why you need a boyfriend to help get you out of this situation.”

Feng said: “But I really don’t think so. I don’t need a relationship to prove that I am one of ‘them’. I don’t want to get married under any kind of pressure. Finding what makes you happy is the most important thing.”

While not single, I can relate to the pressure felt when bucking societal expectations (such as the fact that I have no children). Not everyone ends up living in a way that follows convention — but, as Feng points out astutely in the piece, you don’t have to prove yourself that way. You just have to seek your own happiness, and be content in that.

You can read the full story here. And to all the women out there who read this blog (and the people who love them) wishing you a happy International Women’s Day on March 8!

What do you think?

Despite Tough Year, Guesthouse Still in Business – Pub’d on China Daily

China Daily published a column of mine detailing the story of a guesthouse in Zhejiang province that managed to open and thrive in a tough year. Here’s an excerpt:

“In 2020, the most important thing is not what you’ve already lost, nor what you’ve yet to achieve, but rather what you have now. Let go of the past, and laugh for the rest of your life.”

Yu Jianping, who wrote these words in a post on his WeChat page, might just have been imagining his recent entrepreneurial venture. He and his wife, Huang Li, opened a guesthouse and restaurant in Tonglu county, Hangzhou, Zhejiang province, during the star-crossed year of 2020, but still survived and thrived.

You can read the full piece here — and if you like it, share it!

Holiday Purchases Boosting Income Is a Good Tradition – Pub’d on China Daily

China Daily published my article detailing how I started a new tradition of making holiday purchases that supported a good cause at the same time:  Holiday Purchases Boosting Income Is a Good Tradition. Here’s an excerpt:

“No need to give us jujube dates-we have plenty of them.”

This message from my in-laws, delivered by my husband Jun after he returned from a quick trip to his hometown in rural Zhejiang province, exploded my annual Chinese New Year tradition of sending all the family members packaged gift boxes of large Xinjiang jujube dates. After years of believing I had hit upon the perfect gift for the holidays, I was now left scrambling for an alternative.

And the options in my usual online supermarket didn’t look promising. As I ticked off the possibilities with my husband-Beijing-style haw cakes or ginseng or chocolates-he vetoed every one, saying the family could probably buy them or already had them. His mom had even tucked into his backpack a heaping plastic bag of assorted chocolates in flavors ranging from toffee to brandy, a reminder of the increasingly global goods available in the village of his childhood, making my search for something unique even more challenging.

After what felt like the 100th time of fruitlessly scrolling through Chinese New Year goods online, a picture of a gift box of goji berries, a specialty of Ningxia Hui autonomous region, suddenly drew my thoughts back to my 2020 reporting trip to the region for a video shoot. I went to Ningxia to explore how it was leveraging some of its most celebrated agricultural products-including those renowned goji berries-to alleviate poverty, mainly through online sales. And I’d made a number of friends along the way, who welcomed me to contact them anytime.

Surely, they must have some Chinese New Year goods, I thought.

Read the full piece here — and if you like it, share it! Wishing you a Happy (and bullish) Year of the Ox!

P.S.: Image above features me and the friend from Ningxia I mentioned in the article.

Videos: Watch Me in China’s Inner Mongolia for Poverty Relief Series

As many of you remember, last year I made a trip to Inner Mongolia to do a video shoot, where I learned more about how the province is doing poverty relief in healthcare, with the help of the internet.

The episodes on Inner Mongolia have recently gone live, so now you can see me in action — and get the chance to watch me learn more about tech and telemedicine at a local hospital and discover how medical coverage for all has helped the poor live better lives.

Episode 1: Tech brings good medicine to Inner Mongolia’s poor

Episode 2: Medical insurance serving all in Inner Mongolia

Videos: Watch Me in China’s Ningxia for Poverty Relief Series

As many of you remember, last year I made a weeklong trip to Ningxia to do a video shoot, where I learned more about how the province is doing poverty relief, with the help of the internet.

The episodes on Ningxia have recently gone live, so now you can see me in action — and get the chance to watch me do everything from herding sheep to trying my hand at livestreaming.

Episode 1: Ningxia sheep ranch rounds up new tech

Episode 2: Harvesting brighter future with Ningxia grains

Episode 3: Factory makes new dreams for Ningxia women

If you like them, share them!

Christmas Is Your Chinese New Year: Fascinating Similarities – Pub’d on China Daily

China Daily published my latest column Christmas is your Chinese New Year: Fascinating similarities. Here’s an excerpt:

“Christmas is your Chinese New Year.”

I’ve heard this phrase uttered to me countless times by people in China when the holidays roll around, whether Christmas or Chinese New Year.

I once thought the comparison a bit of a stretch, wondering how the holiday of Santa Claus of my childhood in the United States could possibly resemble a celebration involving fireworks and lion dances. But over the years I’ve recognized that Chinese New Year and Christmas share fascinating, and sometimes surprising, commonalities.

Here are some interesting ones I’ve observed:

Good fortune

Many Chinese New Year customs I’ve experienced at my in-laws’ home in Zhejiang province revolve around auspiciousness, such as the red couplets and firecrackers used to ensure a propitious start to the new year. But Christmas traditions I’ve grown up with are also said to represent good fortune, including the centerpiece of all decorations: the Christmas tree.

The color red

Red is a beloved shade for Christmas and a lucky one for Chinese New Year.

Marking beginnings

While Chinese New Year signals the start of the new lunar year, Christmas once fell on the exact date of the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere and a time traditionally marking the “rebirth” of the sun.

Lights

Both Chinese New Year and Christmas dazzle with plenty of lights in decorations and rituals. My father-in-law loves adorning the family home in Zhejiang with traditional red lanterns for Chinese New Year, just as my husband and I enjoy decking our Christmas tree and home with strings of colored lights. Growing up, my family would drive to Christmas light displays in town where we would gaze upon twinkling Santas, reindeer and stars. So naturally, I felt right at home attending my first Lantern Festival in China, surrounded by huge, glowing displays shaped like Chinese zodiac animals.

You can read the full column here. And if you like it, share it!

Lawyer’s Anti-racism Leadership Lights the Way for Action – Pub’d on China Daily

China Daily just ran my most recent column titled Lawyer’s Anti-racism Leadership Lights the Way for Action. Here’s an excerpt:

This year has witnessed an alarming spike in hate incidents against Asians around the world. The surge of openly racist and xenophobic attacks has only exacerbated the dark reality of a cruel pandemic overshadowing the globe.

But this tragic situation has also sparked hopeful activism, forging some new heroes in the battle against racism and discrimination — including Xiaojiu Zhu PhD, MBE, a distinguished lawyer at the Cruickshanks firm in London, UK.

In the face of rising reports of discrimination against the Chinese community in the UK, including stories of children being targeted at school, Zhu believed something needed to be done. And as a lawyer, she considered it her duty to help people in the Chinese community protect their interests and legal rights.

Zhu came up with the idea of having an online forum for Chinese communities on responding to racism during the pandemic. The May 27 event, organized by the UK Beijing Association, the UK Society of Chinese Lawyers, and the Roundtable of Southern California Chinese-American Organizations, featured keynote speakers — including Zhu — who encouraged people to take positive action against racism and discrimination, such as reporting incidents to authorities and taking legal recourse.

More than 8,000 people from over 10 countries attended the forum, and the online replay attracted some 10,000 views. This extraordinary reception was a testament to the significance of racism to Chinese around the world, and made Zhu realize the need for an international group to forward the cause.

Read the full column here — and if you like it, share it.

Wowed by Ningxia ‘Wonder Woman’ at Poverty Relief Plant – Pub’d on China Daily

Recently, China Daily published my most recent column titled Wowed by Ningxia ‘Wonder Woman’ at poverty relief plant. Here’s an excerpt:

Late into the evening during a recent trip to Ningxia Hui autonomous region, I couldn’t stop thinking of Hai Yan, a “Wonder Woman” I had met at a factory in Minning, operating in support of poverty relief efforts.

Her Cinderella-like transformation, which I had learned about in the course of a video shoot, left me feeling so inspired that I gushed about her to my husband in our usual nighttime video call, even though it was nearly 11 pm and I had to get up early the next morning.

As a child, Hai grew up in an arid, mountainous village deemed one of the most inhospitable places in the world for living. Photos of her at the age of 5 or 6, rosy-cheeked and dressed in a festive red down jacket, seemed to belie the hardships of her youth. She never finished primary school, dropping out to start working, along with her older sister, to support the family after their mother had become disabled and confined to a wheelchair.

Eventually she and the family migrated to Minning, moving into a Hui community with neat rows of one-story brick homes and willow trees, but even then her life trajectory diverged little from that of the typical local woman.

“Before I joined the plant, I was just a housewife and didn’t really have a lot of thoughts about my life,” she shared with me.

Initially, when Hai entered the factory as it first opened in Sept 2019, she was an average worker at the plant, sorting and packaging local specialty foods such as the region’s celebrated goji berries.

But when COVID-19 arrived in early 2020, a shift in strategy at the factory suddenly paved the way for her debut in the spotlight. The management decided to train the workers, of whom 99 percent are young women, to do livestreaming to promote products online.

You can read the full column here (and also listen to a recording of me reading it too). And if you like it, share it!

P.S.: You can see more photos of my trip to Ningxia in this photo essay.

A Helping of ‘Guoji Jiaoliu’ Over Tasty Noodles in Hangzhou – Pub’d in China Daily

China Daily just published my latest column, titled A helping of guoji jiaoliu over tasty noodles in Hangzhou. Here’s an excerpt:

Years ago in September when I first started working in the city of Hangzhou, I had an unexpected encounter at one of my favorite pulled noodle carts.

One night several Chinese soldiers with short buzz cuts and light-green buttoned shirts displaying their military ranks sat down at one of the plastic tables beside me, as I was enjoying my usual bowl of vegetarian pulled noodles.

They asked where I was from. After I told them, the tallest and most muscular man of the bunch said: “I don’t like America. Americans don’t respect China.”

His words unnerved me. I knew Americans weren’t universally beloved around the world, but it was the first time anyone had ever admitted it to my face in such blunt terms. On top of it, the admission came from a man trained to fight and defend his nation against other countries, such as my own.

I didn’t doubt this man’s resolve to safeguard China – there was a razor-sharp look in his dark and steady eyes. Yet he also smiled at me at the same time. This expression of friendliness, though at odds with his response, moved me to continue the conversation, even if my fledgling Mandarin Chinese was still on shaky ground.

So I attempted to suggest an alternative explanation. “Americans just don’t understand China. If they really knew China, they would like China.” It was a very simplified version of my own journey from an outsider wary of China to one who had gradually come to embrace and appreciate it. “We just need more international communication.”

Read the full piece here. And if you like it, share it!

Shaobing Stack Up as Perfect Treat Even in Sultry August – Pub’d on China Daily

China Daily recently published my column titled Shaobing stack up as perfect treat even in sultry August. Here’s an excerpt from that piece:

When I think of shaobing, the fried flatbread that has become a favorite treat of mine from my mother-in-law’s kitchen in rural Zhejiang province, I often recall a sultry August afternoon a few years back, when, amid the drone of late-summer cicadas, she invited me to sit at a wooden stool beside her well-worn cutting board to teach me how to prepare it from scratch.

Making her shaobing involves frying with oil at a high temperature, which might seem an unsuitable thing for the month of August, especially when the “autumn tiger” pounces across the country with its ferocious summer heat that lingers around.

But if you had ever sank your teeth into a piece of my mother-in-law’s shaobing just fresh from the pan-where the crispy, golden exterior gives way to a savory filling of onion mingled with salted bamboo shoot-you would understand that this irresistible delight inspires cravings that know no season or circumstances.

Besides, preparing her shaobing proved easier than expected-something welcome on those muggy days when you’d prefer to spend less time in the kitchen.

Read the full column right here! Additionally, here’s my my more detailed recipe for shaobing, first shared in a guest post for the Almost Indian Wife:

Easy Vegan Shaobing (Chinese-style Stuffed Flatbread)

Jocelyn Eikenburg
Shaobing, a fried flatbread stuffed with savory salted veggies and then pan-fried until crispy, is a treat enjoyed in China. This Zhejiang-style recipe is from my mother-in-law -- it's totally vegan, and wonderfully delicious!
Cuisine Chinese

Equipment

  • Cutting board
  • Rolling Pin
  • Pan or electric fryer

Ingredients
  

  • Flour
  • Water
  • Salt
  • Onions minced
  • Pickled or salted vegetable of choice (such as bamboo, mustard tubers or even olives)
  • Cold-pressed oil of choice (such as canola oil or olive oil)

Instructions
 

  • Mince the onions and your salted vegetable of choice. Then mix them together with a spoonful or two of oil. (They should not be too oily – just enough to bind them together.) If the mixture is not salty enough for you, add salt to taste. (Note: There should be a half-half mixture of the onions and the salted veggie.)
  • Pour flour into a bowl and add in just enough water to make dough that you can knead without having it stick to your hands. On a cutting board surface, knead the dough until it is elastic, shiny, smooth and without lumps.
  • Roll the dough into a roll with a diameter of about four inches. Then, at about two-inch intervals, cut the dough with a knife into rounds.
  • Cradle the rounds in the palm of your hand, and using your fingers create a bowl-like crater. (Note: don’t make this too thin – the edges should still be around a half-inch thick.) Stuff it with the vegetable mix, then pull the edges of the dough over the top to seal it inside.
  • Place the stuffed rounds on a floured surface. Using your hand, press down first in the center of the dough, then out to the edges. Keep flipping it over and repeating this process, making sure to shape it into a circle, until it’s thin enough to roll out.
  • Using a rolling pin, roll the dough from the center to the edges applying medium pressure. Flip it over and repeat. Keep flipping and rolling out the round until the edges are very thin. (Note: the vegetable filling may occasionally poke holes through the round; this is expected with this type of flatbread and doesn’t affect the final product.)
  • Heat a spoonful of oil in a non-stick pan or wok over medium heat, or on electric fryer. Add the flatbread, cooking it until it no longer sticks to the pan and is crispy and slightly browned (about 1 and a half to two minutes.) Flip and repeat for other side.Once done, cut the flatbread into four pieces and serve immediately.