Love (in China) in the Time of a Crisis

Barbed wire fence in the shape of a heart
(photo by sallydell)

Just this weekend, John and I weathered two crises.

One happened with this site — my host decided to turn off his server by the end of this month. I suddenly realized that I couldn’t move things like I expected, my old host wasn’t responsive, and I didn’t know where to find someone who could help me in time (thank you Sorella Design, for the extraordinary hosting and moving help, and BlogVault, which made it possible to get my databases and files off my former host).

The other happened with John — he didn’t get an internship, and now he’s scrambling to get applications together for the next round by Thursday, March 1. 

But it’s our love that keeps us moving forward. And that got me thinking about all the times on this site when I’ve written about love in China and crises. So, to give this writer a chance to catch her breath, I’m sharing a few classic crisis-related entries for anyone who could use a little more drama. (Yeah, right 😉 )

Love in the Time of Stomach Inflammation. What should have been a romantic night together for John and I turned into a night at the hospital.

On the Border, at the Public Security Bureau. When I had to face the Public Security Bureau in Hangzhou — and the consequences of my expired visa — John stayed by my side.

Negotiating For My Life in China. One thing I always admired about John — he’s a fighter. See how he helped me fight against my former boss in China.

Love in the Time of SARS.When SARS struck Shanghai, John and I were still a young couple in love, trying to hold onto that romance in the midst of this deadly viral outbreak.

How has love helped you through the hard times?

On Love in the Workplace in China

Confident business man in suit and tie reaching out.
(photo by Henk L)

Programming note: from May 2 until May 13, I’ll be in the process of flying to and then settling down in China for the summer. During this time, I’ll be digging up some classic content from the archives, and sharing it with you in the form of theme-related posts. And don’t worry — I’ll be back on May 16. Promise! 😉

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It’s the Labor Day holiday in China, and that makes me think of how labor and love work together in China. After all, I met my husband through work.

Today, I’m sharing a roundup of my favorite posts about love in the workplace in China — from breaking up during business hours to why you should never consider customers your lovers (yikes!):

My Heart is Shut Away, My Chinese Boyfriend is Gone. If you’re going to fall in love at work, be careful who you choose. I fell for a man who sat right next to me — and when we broke up, I had to face the pain every single day.

Negotiating For My Life in China. When I suddenly lost my job and visa, my Chinese boyfriend John stood by my side and even helped me negotiate with the Chinese CEO.

Customers Are Our Lovers. Customers and foreign copywriters in China write the darnedest things in the office. A personal favorite. 😉

What are your stories of love and work in China?

Why Would You Want To Go To China?

Shot of a globe in rainbow colors, focused on a yellow map of China
When someone asked me why I wanted to go back to China, I couldn’t help wondering if it was curiosity, or something else. (Photo by Ben Earwicker, www.garrisonphoto.org/sxc)

Why would you want to go to China?

I didn’t come to that pioneer museum in America’s West to lay my own future out before the public, like the covered wagons, shotguns and washboards on display. But all of a sudden, this elderly woman started talking to me, and couldn’t help notice that my Chinese husband didn’t look or speak likew an American. So then came the questions about where he was from — and, of course, where we would live after he finished his work in the US.

I said that China’s developing economy meant extraordinary opportunities for his career, as well as mine. I told her I had lived there before, and enjoyed it. But when she continued to give me a puzzled look, I couldn’t shake the feeling that her words were some kind of veiled suggestion — that going to China was a bad idea. When I left, how I wished I had shot the question back at her and her own home state. (Why would you want to live in Pennsylvania?)

I know my choice isn’t for everyone. Sometimes, it’s better to stay in your home country, or even your hometown. But the very mention of China made that simple conversation in the museum feel anything but simple to me.

But maybe that’s not because she disliked China, or was a curious busybody. Maybe, in fact, we had two different questions in mind all along. While she wanted to know why I would go to China, I thought of it more like this: why not go to China? 😉

Have people ever questioned you about going to China?

Ask the Yangxifu: London Woman Wonders About Chinese Man At Office

Businessman at work
A London woman wonders if a Chinese coworker in her Beijing office is interested in her. (photo by Celal Teber)

London Girl asks:

I’ve been in China for 2 months. I’m based in Beijing and work for Chinese company who like to employ a few foreigners.

On my first day I was introduced to a very pleasant Chinese guy. As soon as I met him he told me he has relatives in the UK, studied in US and has travelled in Europe. Since these past 8 weeks we talk nearly every day at work about our interests and whats in the news, etc. He also follows European sport and knows my team.

One day at work he spoke to me in German! Then he said somebody told him I also speak German. So now we converse in German. This makes me feel that he’s been talking about me?

From reading some of your advice it would appear that Chinese men are friendly although would not go out of their way to befriend someone if they weren’t interested.

He’s a little younger than me. I’m in my early thirties and he’s mid twenties. Although everyone thinks I look early twenties…so I know age might not be an issue…

However I’m a little scared about misinterpreting my feelings for him. And I’m not sure if he will actually suggest something outside of work. Im concerned about ruining my work values if I befriend this guy even more… Continue reading “Ask the Yangxifu: London Woman Wonders About Chinese Man At Office”

Chapter 74: [email protected] G0ne

During a reunion lunch with one of my favorite former Chinese coworkers, Jane, I discover she's gone over to [email protected] G0ng -- and hopes John and I will too.

In late August 2003, John and I returned to Hangzhou to reunite with our friends — including my former Chinese coworker Jane.

This was the same “almost vegetarian,” sprightly young twentysomething with a zen chime ringtone, and a grin that could breath even a little humor and grace into the ultra-serious “technical room,” where the two of us used to work. Jane even worked her own hours, and wore edgy outfits, defying the usual “good-girl” pastels most Chinese women wore. Jane reminded me that, even in China, there are girls who just want to have fun — their way. My inner feminist adored her.

If only this were the same Jane I’d known. That day, she served up Hangzhou-style, stir-fried veggies — and a surprise helping of [email protected] G0ng. Continue reading “Chapter 74: [email protected] G0ne”

Chapter 69: The Bad Luck Kittens

Newborn kitten in someone's hands
Someone in Shanghai dumped newborn kittens into a garbage can near my office -- all over superstition. I wonder when luck was more important than life.

Black kittens with soft white paws don’t belong in the garbage can. But that’s where they were, carelessly tossed into a dumpster near my office in Shanghai. Only days old, these tiny, partially blind bundles of fur were saved by what nature gave them — plaintive mewing that drew the attention of a cleaning attendant. Somehow, the cleaning attendants must have known that a couple of the trade show girls in our company had a soft spot for animals — because there they were, in front of the womens bathroom on my floor, trying to nurse them back to health with eye-dropper filled with milk.

I’ve raised kittens all my life, and this miniature feline nativity drew me in instantly — but not without drama. Continue reading “Chapter 69: The Bad Luck Kittens”

Chapter 64: Living in the Face of SARS

Doctor in a surgical mask
As a friend goes into quarantine, and the virus closes in on John's hometown in the countryside, I had to learn how to live with the threat of SARS, everyday.

I could have been quarantined.

One of the employees at Alibaba — the Internet company I interviewed at in Hangzhou — contracted SARS while attending the Canton Fair. On her second visit to the hospital, she discovered her illness was no typical flu. And just like that, everyone who worked in Alibaba — and other companies sharing the office building — was put under quarantine in early May, 2003, including John’s high school classmate, Douglas.

I wanted so much to stay in Hangzhou only months before, and work for Alibaba. Weeks after I moved to Shanghai and began work for the global media company, Alibaba even called to offer me the job — which of course I turned down. I came so close to this company. I could have been another casualty of SARS.

As SARS continued to spread, before long it began to touch the people you know and care about. Continue reading “Chapter 64: Living in the Face of SARS”

Chapter 62: The Quietest May Day Ever

Rapid transit in Beijing during SARS
The SARS epidemic turned China's May holiday into the quietest one I had ever seen, with abandoned streets, shopping centers, and even public transit. (image by zh-wp, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

Never had a country of over 1.2 billion people seen such a quiet holiday.

Historically, May 1 began one of China’s “golden weeks” — seven days of unadulterated travel, shopping or even just relaxing with family and friends. Of course, with everyone on break at the same time, travel was either too expensive, too crowded, or too hard to get tickets — and shopping meant you had to elbow your way in with the masses to get a good deal. The holiday, arguably, was a perfect example of the Chinese concept of 热闹 [rènÉ‘o] — the lively, bustling, crowded, fire-breathing nature that is China, home to the descendants of the dragon.

There was no renao on this May 1, in 2003, since the Chinese government had canceled the holiday because of SARS. That cut the usual seven days down to five for most of us — except for John. Continue reading “Chapter 62: The Quietest May Day Ever”

Chapter 61: Unmasking SARS Panic

Surgical masks
When surgical masks appeared on the faces of coworkers, I knew the SARS panic had infected our office. (image by Blossoma, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

You know there’s something wrong when the entire Sales Department starts wearing surgical masks.

That’s what I saw one afternoon on April 22, 2003, after returning to the office from my lunch break. Only Sales hid their faces behind sterilized gauze, turning our office into a corporate version of an ER triage department. And like triage, those of us sitting at our desks were no better than the families awaiting their loved ones in surgery — hiding worries behind a calm countenance.

As we approached the National Day Holiday — a week long national holiday in China from May 1 to May 7 — I had my own concerns. According to the Chinese government, we only technically had five, not seven, days off — even though they gave us a weekend in there somewhere. So that meant we had to sacrifice a weekend before or after the break to “pay” for this. In my case, I’d have to work through the coming weekend, facing a tiring ten-day work week.

“Are you ready for our ten-day work marathon?” I joked to my coworker and trainer, Steve, April 21 — Monday morning — when I came into the office.

Steve’s face looked as grim as a doctor bearing bad news. “It’s been canceled.” Continue reading “Chapter 61: Unmasking SARS Panic”

Chapter 60: Love in the time of SARS

Hong Kong people wearing masks during SARS
Just as SARS began, and panic slowly began to mask the public, it felt odd to be so in love, in China. (Image from www.wired.com)

I’d been working for barely a month in Shanghai, when news of SARS began to spread like the virus itself.

Masks quietly spread around the bus I rode into downtown Shanghai.

The women’s bathroom became our morning decontamination station, as everyone washed their hands more obsessively than Lady MacBeth — over conversations about whether or not to buy face masks.

E-mails about Hong Kong infected my inbox, with seemingly fictional photographs of people muzzled with face masks, and health workers dressed in outfits straight out of the Andromeda Strain.

Even the office showed symptoms of the SARS scare. Continue reading “Chapter 60: Love in the time of SARS”