Every Grain of Rice Reflects Virtue of Hard Labor Along Life’s Path – Pub’d on China Daily

Earlier this week, China Daily published my latest column, Every grain of rice reflects virtue of hard labor along life’s path. Here’s an excerpt:

One evening in May, while spending a summer break at my in-laws’ home in their village in Zhejiang province, I returned from a walk to discover a dusty brown water ox tied to a tree just outside the gate of the house.

It stood perfectly parallel to the road, much like a parked vehicle, apart from grazing on the grass at its hooves, and eyeing me with a stony gaze that suggested I best keep my distance.

The ox signaled to me, long before I entered the house, that we would be having dinner that evening with a distant relative long appointed as my husband’s godfather, a man I simply referred to as “uncle”.

A tiger in the Chinese zodiac, this uncle had often joked of how much he embodied the sign, calling himself “fierce”.

You could believe it, given his thunderous voice, which even the ox minded, his ability to move beehives and the fact that he made a living slaughtering livestock. Some dubbed him the finest butcher in town.

Upon settling onto my stool at the table, I soon learned why the uncle had brought along his bovine companion. He had spent the afternoon leading the ox, pulling a plow, through my in-laws’ square plot of land in the terraced fields, to prepare for growing rice.

This uncle never shied away from grueling tasks, such as working the rice fields, and his face bore witness to this “fierce” side of him, weathered and tanned from years of labor outdoors in all sorts of conditions.

Watching him and the ox trundle through the sunny fields, as I did later on, proved fascinating.

Enjoy the full piece here — and if you like it, share it!

Photo Essay: Hangzhou Video Shoot – From West Lake to Wondrous Food

I just returned from my trip to Hangzhou to shoot video footage for China Daily Website as well as the Asian Cuisine Festival set to take place in the city from May 15 to 22. While we followed a very demanding schedule that meant being out of our hotel around 12 hours a day for shoots, the experience was unforgettable and worth the effort.

As I’m still catching up on pretty much everything (please bear with me!), in lieu of a written post I thought I’d share some behind-the-scenes shots from the experience, giving you a look at where we went as well as what things looked like before the cameras.

On our first day, we arrived in the afternoon at Hangzhou and the headed to the West Lake, where the production team scoped out the area for shooting.

The following day, we went to Hangzhou’s legendary restaurant Lou Wai Lou on Baidi. Part of the shoot took us to the top floor, where I sat at an al fresco table with views of the West Lake. It probably ranks as the most breathtaking seating I’ve ever experienced in a restaurant — if only I could have enjoyed it with my husband!

And of course, as you can probably tell, most of the dishes aren’t even food that I could eat, as a vegan. We had to get really creative in the shooting process, so it appeared as if I was sampling everything. Am really grateful the production team was so accommodating on this.

But make no mistake, as beautiful as the setting looked, we had work to accomplish. And that kept me quite occupied!

But still had enough time to grab this selfie with one of the team members!

Still, we did manage to enjoy a delightful lunch at Lou Wai Lou — and our director gave the food a hearty thumbs-up.

In the afternoon, we went to Zhiweiguan, another time-honored restaurant in Hangzhou, to do a shoot. It was delightful to meet several of their chefs, including these very talented young women.

Zhiweiguan really impressed me with their snacks and desserts, including the dish at the very bottom of the photo — longjing wencha — where dough is fashioned to look like the leaves of Dragonwell tea, steamed, and then served in a clear broth with shrimp. If you didn’t pay close attention, you might think they were just cups of green tea!

On Thursday, we visited a food street and found ourselves in a restaurant overlooking a stream leading into the Grand Canal, which links Hangzhou and Beijing. It meant more food, and of course more shooting too.

Here’s another angle during a shot in the restaurant.

In the afternoon, we shot scenes by the West Lake in my favorite corner — Qu Yuan Feng He (曲院风荷) — as well as one critical shot on Su Causeway, with a view of Lou Wai Lou on Bai Causeway.

We returned that evening to the food street to revel in the evening atmosphere, perfect for the video, and dined at one of the restaurants on the strip. Yes, even during the meal we were working!

On Friday, we did shooting at Hangzhou Restaurant, which took us to its sixth floor, where we could dine beside stunning views of the West Lake while shooting video footage. Oh, how I wish I could have been there with my husband too!

On the sixth floor of Hangzhou Restaurant, the windows are like screens — and pulled back they reveal a glorious scene of the West Lake. (Sorry, it was a bit rainy and cloudy, but during clear weather it would certainly look enchanting.)

In the afternoon, we arrived at our last location — Charen Cun, nestled in the most prized tea fields in the city, where Lion’s Peak Dragonwell tea grows. This restaurant had the most dazzling traditional decor, hands down!

Immediately, the restaurant served up a hot cup of fine Dragonwell tea. As this is the one and only tea I drink to start my day, it was a welcome sight on the table.

Upstairs, I changed into my qipao to interview the restaurant owner about Dragonwell tea as well as the story behind his restaurant, Charen Cun. It was my favorite interview of all because of how much I adore Dragonwell tea.

Then the owner took me into the tea fields to show me how to pick Dragonwell tea. What a delight and honor! I wished I could have stayed much longer…too bad the weather turned cold, otherwise I could have kept my qipao on! 😉

That evening, we dined with the owner and it proved the finest meal of our trip, with a delicious sampling of dishes that emphasized freshness and rural, home-style flavor. Some even reminded me of my mother-in-law’s cooking.

Again, how I wish I could have shared this dinner with my husband, who would have really appreciated the food and company. The owner was very warm and hospitable, inviting us all to return again in the future.

But even the finest meals come to an end. I had a plane to catch later that evening, so we all headed home to the hotel, where I packed my things and then got a taxi to the airport.

I smiled upon finding my seat on the plane, knowing I would be reunited soon with my husband, with tales of my fascinating experiences in Hangzhou, the city that first brought us together so many years ago.

Overall, I gained some valuable experience and at the same time discovered another side to Hangzhou and its culinary heritage. I’m looking forward to seeing how the videos turn out — and once they go live, I’ll definitely share them with all of you!

Heading to Hangzhou to Shoot Videos for China Daily Website

I’ve lived in Hangzhou for years, and it’s the home region of my husband. So what a thrill to have the opportunity to return there to shoot videos about one of the greatest attractions of the city — its distinctive cuisine.

We’ll be in Hangzhou through the rest of the week, and possibly into the weekend.

And we aim to sample more than just the flavors at the table, with plans to visit the West Lake as well.

Because of the intense schedule for this trip, I’m taking a break from blogging this week. I’ll be back next week — and will let you know when the videos finally get published on China Daily.

Now a Featured Contributor for ‘China Views’ on China Daily Website

I’m thrilled to share that China Daily’s website ecently added me as one of the featured contributors in their “China Views” section on the Opinion page. (See my photo in the lower right-hand corner, which I’ve circled in red.)

You’ll now also find my regular columns right there on the website (as well as the paper and, often, its official WeChat account).

As always, thank you so much for reading and following my work!

Conversations Reveal Power of People-to-People Exchanges – Pub’d on China Daily

China Daily just published my latest monthly column, titled Conversations reveal power of people-to-people exchanges. Here’s an excerpt from the piece:

“China must be a good place, because you love it so much.”

Those words from Donna, a close friend in the United States, amazed me during a recent phone conversation from a hotel room in Seattle, Washington.

Over the years we’ve known each other, I had never heard her gush with such affection for the country.

But there she was, speaking of China with such sweetness in her voice, because of what she had learned of it through talking to me and my husband Jun, who is from rural Zhejiang province.

In fact, during a recent trip back to the US, I found myself delighted again and again in conversations with family and friends there about China, the country I call home.

My friend Bill leaned in with rapt attention over a lunch of hummus and other Middle Eastern delights as I spoke of my positive experience working for China Daily. He told me that my report had given him a new perspective on media outlets in China.

Jun and I had just met Susan, a friend of my parents, at a party and she immediately wanted to know everything about our lives in China, as if she were an aunt I never knew I had, trying to make up for lost time. With each description of the world we inhabited in Beijing, I watched her nod her head thoughtfully and remark, with fondness, how China sounded like a wonderful place.

Elena, another family friend, beamed with excitement after Jun and I helped translate into Chinese the names of everyone in her family-from hers and her husband’s to their children’s-along with a description of the meaning of each character combination.

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

‘African Jasmine Flower’: Ruth Njeri Finds Success, Love on Chinese Stage

Among the many talented foreign women who happened to marry Chinese men, there’s Kenyan Ruth Njeri, who rose to fame – and found love – on the stage in China.

Njeri is also known in China as “非洲茉莉花“ (fēizhōu mòlìhuā, the “African jasmine flower”), a nickname she received from the country’s former president Hu Jintao after meeting him and singing together with him the Chinese folk song “茉莉花” (Jasmine Flower) in Nairobi, Kenya, in 2006, which landed her in the national TV news in China. As China Daily reported in an April 7, 2013, story titled Chinese Tones:

Njeri’s patience and persistence in learning Mandarin paid off in April 2006 when Hu Jintao, then China’s president, visited Kenya. Because of her progress in Chinese, she was selected from the Confucius Institute to meet him.

“I was quite nervous meeting him, and I heard my voice trembling while talking to him. He is actually a nice person who is very approachable and likes to chat with young people.”

Njeri completed her studies at Nairobi’s Confucius Institute in June that year and moved to China to pursue a degree in language and literature at Tianjin Normal University a month later.

She also received a scholarship for her studies, thanks to winning the Chinese Bridge Competition in Kenya.

In the next several years, she went on to appear numerous times in TV shows on networks all across China, including the country’s prominent China Central Television, or CCTV, which named her one of the most influential foreigners of 2007.

But her greatest moment – the one that changed her life and love forever – came with her high-profile singing performance in the 2011 Spring Festival Gala, or Chunwan, China’s annual Chinese New Year’s Eve show broadcast across the country on CCTV on the most important night of the year. That year, she shared the stage with Ya Xing, a Chinese man she first met in a Shanghai:

Ya, 40, hails from Luoyang, an industrial city in Central China’s Henan province. He met Njeri, 34, from Nairobi, Kenya in a restaurant in Shanghai while she was studying on a Chinese government scholarship. At the time, they were both participating in the World Expo and met again a month later in Shanghai just before sharing a stage during the CCTV Spring Festival Gala in Beijing in 2011.

“It was fate, Yuánfèn“, Ya said.

The two of them would go on to perform together on TV many times.

Njeri also sang for the 2013 Spring Festival Gala as well (a year that saw Celine Dion perform for the event).

And as for Njeri and Ya:

Three years ago, Ya Xing married Ruth Njeri before his friends and family in China. He is considered brave among his peers for starting a new life in Kenya but the ebullient entrepreneur, once a TV host, does not think so.

“I am in love,” he said. “It might look complicated to marry into a new culture, but I think people think too much of it.”

Read the full story — and see a photo of the delightful couple — at China Daily.

Bilibili has a more recent video about Ruth Njeri’s life in Kenya, including highlights from her performances.

For people in China, here are links to Ruth Njeri’s performances on CCTV, including this CCTV performance of Ruth and Xing, and this other CCTV performance by the couple

You can learn more about Ruth Njeri at Baidu Baike (written in Chinese).

What do you think of Ruth Njeri?

Rapeseed Blooms Bring Beauty and Lessons of Resilience – Pub’d on China Daily

China Daily published my latest column titled Rapeseed blooms bring beauty and lessons of resilience. Here’s an excerpt:

After Spring Festival holidays, there’s one thing I look forward to most in March-the golden fields of rapeseed flowers that bloom across the terraced hills in my husband’s hometown in rural Zhejiang province. It’s a stunning display that ushers in the coming of spring, one full of beauty and resilience.

I say resilience, because rapeseed must survive some of the coldest days of the year before they flower, something I discovered one January while hiking among the snow-dusted terraced fields in the village. I was surprised to encounter neat rows of tiny green plants at that time of year, thriving in spite of the white flakes that covered their leaves and the soil around them. How could anything flourish in such frigid weather, with temperatures that hovered around and even just below zero? But, as my husband explained to me, the rapeseed must take root in winter to blossom at just the right time, which happens to fall in March in the village.

Those tiny plants eventually shoot up into sturdy rows of rapeseed around half my height. Then one day, as if by the wave of a conductor’s wand, their petals gradually unfurl, painting every hillside in an exuberant shade of yellow that shines with a brilliance second only to the sun. It serves as a visual overture to the warmer spring days set to arrive, promising everyone who gazes upon these fields of gold that better times are coming.

The whole sight uplifts not only the landscape, but also the spirit within. I recall one day when, after receiving some bad news, I went on to counter it with a long walk in the hills, among these glorious rapeseed flowers. I’m certain they had something to do with the fact that I returned home with a lighter gait and a little more hope in my heart.

Read the rest of the column here. And if you like it, share it!

China Daily Videos: Watch Me Discuss Family Small Talk, Delivery for Chinese New Year

Recently, I served as a guest for two Chinese New Year-themed videos for China Daily, where we discussed online delivery of Chinese New Year goods and also how to navigate family small talk during the holidays. For anyone who has ever wondered, “What does Jocelyn sound like?” here’s your chance to hear and see me in action!

My favorite is Holidays with family: Small talk strategies:

In this video, the staff at China Daily website shares their experiences during family gatherings and summarizes a list of “safe” topics to help you navigate holiday conversations.

The other video is Spring Festival: Tracking the changes in online shopping:

For Chinese New Year, many people shop for a wide range of holiday goods, known as nianhuo in Chinese, and the staff at China Daily website are no exception. In this video, they talk about their nianhuo shopping experiences, and their concerns of the possible dark side of the shopping spree, while also delivering their best holiday wishes to you.

Have a look and let me know what you think! And if you like them, share them.

Wishing everyone a Happy Chinese New Year!

Delivering a Little Love and Care for Chinese New Year – Pub’d in China Daily

China Daily just published my latest monthly column Delivering a little love and care for Chinese New Year.

Here’s an excerpt from the piece:

Less than 24 hours after I had placed an online order on Alibaba’s Tmall Supermarket, my father-in-law’s jubilant voice on the other end of the phone conversation confirmed that everything had been delivered straight to his home in rural Zhejiang province.

Yes, he had received the six bottles of French red wine, the three red-and-gold boxes of assorted Xinjiang dates and walnuts, and the two tins of ginseng — our Chinese New Year presents for the family.

Just as he felt such excitement over receiving the bounty of gifts we had chosen, I was thrilled by the remarkable convenience and ease of the whole online transaction.

Years before, not a single express delivery company guaranteed next-day shipping straight to someone’s door in my in-laws’ mountainous rural village, located over 20 kilometers away from the more urban county seat. Most orders used to take at least two to three days and usually required a trip by the recipient to the local express delivery station for pickup.

But now, I didn’t have to worry about whether my father-in-law could possibly lug all those bottles of wine and boxes of dates and walnuts back home from the station by himself, thanks to Tmall Supermarket and their attentive service.

I’m certain my husband Jun’s family never imagined that one day, they would receive Chinese New Year goods, known as nianhuo, through home delivery. Traditionally, you would present them in person during the holidays. But we wouldn’t be able to reunite with the family this year. And Tmall Supermarket’s promise to deliver right to their house, the following day, made it the next best way to send them something special for the season.

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

Marriage Reform Empowers People to Follow Their Hearts – Pub’d on China Daily

China Daily just published my latest column, a version of the speech I delivered a few weeks ago, titled Marriage reform empowers people to follow their hearts. Here’s an excerpt from that piece:

On a summer day in 2004, a young Chinese man and a young woman from the United States walked up to a stage draped in burgundy velvet curtains, before the red national flag and the red-and-gold national seal of China at an office in Shanghai. They stood to the side as a government representative-a 30-something woman with a floppy ponytail-asked them to remain faithful and respectful to one another, to care for their parents, to support each other, and to maintain harmony in the family. Then they signed two small red books on the podium, and held those books up beside their smiling faces, as photographers snapped away and the young government representative beamed. By the powers granted her by the People’s Republic of China, the couple became legally married.

That was the day my husband Jun and I registered our marriage, a moment we had envisioned ever since January of that same year, when he had proposed to me over the phone. But none of this-the proposal, and the subsequent marriage registration-would have happened in 2004 without a very significant change that took place in China on Oct 1, 2003.

On that date, a reform of China’s Marriage Law took effect, abolishing a previous requirement: approval by your employer or work unit to register your marriage. In Shanghai, this change applied to students too, like Jun, who was in a graduate program at the time. The prior regulation had barred us from even considering marriage for a simple reason-universities would not permit it.

Thanks to this reform of the Marriage Law, we could move forward to register our marriage without concern over any impact on Jun’s graduate studies.

The only approval that mattered in the process was our own.

We weren’t the only ones that year who took advantage of the change. According to data from the National Bureau of Statistics, 2004 stood out as a boom year for marriage registrations across the country, with 8.67 million couples tying the knot, a rise of nearly 7 percent over 2003. At the time, it represented the largest year-on-year increase in marriage registrations in China since 1986.

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

P.S.: Yes, that photo above was taken the day my husband and I registered our marriage!