Should You Cave to Pressure to Drink, Smoke at Chinese New Year?

Should you cave to family pressure at Chinese New Year to drink or smoke, even if you’ve never done either, out of politeness to your hosts?

For the author of an article published in Beijing Kids, detailing how she brought her Beijing-born husband to see relatives for one Chinese New Year, the answer was, shockingly, yes:

Now I don’t know whether you’re familiar with Dongbei (Northeastern) hospitality, but it’s intense. If I had to describe it in one word, it would be excess. According to one of my aunts, Dongbei people give their guests the best that they have to offer which, in my family, translated to the most expensive baijiu, extravagant meals breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and non-stop smoking even for my non-smoker husband. According to my husband, it’s impolite to turn down gestures of hospitality, so for a week, he became a smoking baijiu day-drinker.

I understand how sitting around a crowded table at Chinese New Year can function like the social equivalent of a pressure cooker, where people get passed cigarettes or poured baijiu even after multiple refusals. And yes, sadly, many Chinese feel bound by an unhealthy culture, especially in northeastern China, as chronicled by China Daily in the article Learning to Refuse Toasts in the Season of Ganbei, published Jan 26, 2012:

Li Li, 36, from Harbin, Northeast China’s Heilongjiang province, said she often feels pressured at business banquets to drink too much with friends and clients and the problem get worse during the holidays.

“Repeatedly, and I mean repeatedly, clients come to me proposing toasts, and they won’t stop until I’m drunk,” she complained. “Unfortunately, in our culture, you just don’t turn down a toast-people would feel humiliated and consider your rejection a put-down. But it seriously hurts my health.”

And among family, people you’ll end up seeing again and again over the years, drinking or smoking, even when you don’t want to, creates a potentially binding precedent that will haunt you every time you return. Everyone will point out how you raised your glass or lit up last time, and clamor for you to fall in line once again.

But who says you have to say yes?

My husband, who is Chinese, doesn’t smoke or drink, and won’t make an exception for holidays merely because of family pressure. Granted, he hails from Zhejiang province, which perhaps has a more tolerant attitude toward people who pass on the cigarettes or baijiu. But he has also found it helpful to trot out this brilliant excuse, which always works: “I have a foreign wife!”

In fact, pointing to a spouse who wouldn’t approve has actually become a bona fide reason for many Chinese to turn down alcohol, as chronicled among the tips mentioned in the China Daily piece Learning to Refuse Toasts in the Season of Ganbei:

Strategy 1: Drive to parties. Since drunken driving has been classified as a major criminal act, even the most enthusiastic drinker would not force a driver to break the law.

Strategy 2: Bring up your spouse, even if he/she is not present. Tell those urging you to drink that your significant other considers drinking too much absolutely unacceptable.

Strategy 3: For health reasons. If you were told for medical reasons to steer clear of alcohol, telling the group, in your doctor’s words, can get you out of forced drinking.

Strategy 4: Complain about your workload. You need not go into much detail, just tell your friends or clients that you have too much work to do after the dinner.

Most of these strategies could also help you say no to cigarettes too. (And you could even use the “health reason” strategy to craft your own “white lie” of a doctor’s excuse.)

Plus, anyone facing forced drinking might also bring up that time-honored Chinese saying – yĭ chá dài jiŭ (以茶代酒, substitute wine with tea) – which has allowed many a person in China to escape that dreaded baijiu.

And if you feel especially courageous, consider reminding your host of the expensive lessons that could ensue from coercive imbibing, such as the case chronicled in the China Daily article Don’t Force Others to Drink:

A court has ordered a 69-year-old woman in Kai county, Chongqing, to pay a fine of 330,000 yuan ($53,000) to her brother, who fell down and injured himself after being coaxed by her into drinking about 600-ml of homemade liquor at her birthday party. The fine should be a warning to people who are in the habit of forcing others to drink beyond their capacity, says an article in Legal Daily.

If you plan to spend Chinese New Year with your family or that of friends, don’t assume you must succumb to pressure to drink or smoke. You can say no, following one of the many strategies I’ve listed in this piece, and still remain in the good graces of your hosts, while leaving the vices to others.

So when it comes to “cheers”, I hope your Chinese New Year is filled with those of happiness!

What do you think?

Photo credit:

‘Touching Home in China’ Explores Nation, Lives of Girls in Insightful, Intimate Curriculum

China’s rise has continued to drive interest in learning about the country and its culture, as well as also a need for more insightful resources for the classroom. Touching Home in China, an open source multimedia curriculum created by Melissa Ludtke, Julie Mallozzi and Jocelyn Ford (which includes a textbook), offers a very compelling and intimate take on China by following Maya Ludtke and Jennie Lytel-Sternberg, two Chinese adoptees in America who journey back to their birthplaces in the country, two rural communities located in Jiangsu province.

Readers explore China vicariously though not only Maya and Jennie, who discover what their girlhoods might have been like in their birth villages, but also through the many rural girls they meet. Their own stories, along with photographs and videos (available online), become woven together with the academic, bringing to vivid life trends, statistics and scholarly insights.

For example, a section titled “Becoming a Wife”, which starts off with the idea that families in China typically expect girls to get married and have children, shows how Mengping always gets asked if she has a boyfriend every time she returns from Shanghai to visit family in her rural village. The same section concludes with a conversation between Maya, Mengping and another girl in the same village, where they discuss gender roles in marriage in China and the US.

The thread of self-discovery in Touching Home in China also extends to identity, something Maya and Jennie ponder while visiting these rural villages where they were born. For example, in one conversation the girls talk about feeling at times not entirely Chinese or American. It’s enlightening to read about how each of the girls grapples with their own evolving sense of self throughout the curriculum, helping readers to understand their perspectives and the experience of feeling tied to two different worlds, yet wondering where you belong.

Touching Home in China has such a fresh approach that it even captivated me, someone who has lived over a decade in the country and picked up countless books on the subject. When you read about these girls’ dreams, disappointments and hopes, you can’t help but care and root for them as you follow their paths through school to graduation and beyond. Not every story ends happily. Still, I found it heartening to observe the ways in which the girls in both countries gained something from these cross-cultural exchanges — from learning more about who they are to finding inspiration in new possibilities.

You can access Touching Home in China at its website or buy the companion textbook at Amazon, where your purchases help support this blog.

P.S.: To learn more about Touching Home in Chinaread my interview with Melissa Ludtke.

Are Highly Sensitive People More Accepted in Chinese Culture? One Study Says Yes

One of the fascinating things I learned from my husband when we began dating many years ago is this – that, as a more quiet and sensitive kind of guy who excelled at his studies, he was popular in school growing up in China.

This was the complete opposite of my own experience growing up in America. Being quiet and sensitive didn’t exactly help me rise in popularity among my peers, particularly in junior high and high school. Add to that the fact that I was a straight-A student near the top of the class, which led a number of kids to just write me off as another geek.

Over the years, I’ve found myself more at ease in China, and I would often attribute it to a number of things, including this sense that I felt my personality was more accepted in the culture. Imagine my surprise to read Elaine Aron’s The Highly Sensitive Person and discover a study that actually revealed that Chinese culture appears more welcoming to sensitive individuals:

If you remember only one thing from this book, it should be the following research study. Xinyin Chen and Kenneth Rubin of the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada, and Yuerong Sun of Shanghai Teachers University compared 480 schoolchildren in Shanghai to 296 in Canada to see what traits made children most popular. In China “shy” and “sensitive” children were among those most chosen by others to be friends or playmates. (In Mandarin, the word for shy or quiet means good or well-behaved; sensitive can be translated as “having understanding,” a term of praise.) In Canada, shy and sensitive children were among the least chosen. Chances are, this is the kind of attitude you faced growing up.

Think about the impact on you of not being the ideal for your culture. It has to affect you — not only how others have treated you but how you have come to treat yourself.

Reading this was like a revelation, an ah-ha moment that confirmed something I had understood for years – that my personality felt like a better fit in China compared to the US.

How about you? Are you a highly sensitive person who has lived in the East and the West? Have you also felt more at ease in a culture in the East, such as Chinese?

Qixi Festival: Popular Gifts, Celebrations for the Chinese Valentine’s Day

As the sultry days of August are upon us, there’s another celebration ready to heat things up, especially among lovers and couples. The Qixi Festival, also known as Chinese Valentine’s Day or the Double-Sevens Festival (because it falls on the seventh day of the seventh month of the lunar calendar — Aug 7 in 2019), is a traditional Chinese holiday that has surged in popularity in recent years.

If you happen to have someone special in your life, how should you celebrate Qixi Festival? What are some popular gifts for Qixi Festival? Here are a few ideas I’ve culled together, whether you’re making purchases or plans or just curious about this Chinese Valentine’s Day.

Qixi Festival: Popular Gifts

If there’s anyone who knows what people usually buy for Qixi Festival, it’s China’s e-commerce giant Alibaba, and here’s what they found in an article in China Daily: “Alibaba claims that the number of people searching key words such as flowers, roses, and chocolates on online shopping websites increases dramatically around Qixi.”

In other words, your Valentine’s Day standards make for excellent gifts for Qixi Festival, if you’re buying for someone special, like a girlfriend or boyfriend, husband or wife.

But the same China Daily article gives additional visual cues through the photographs included in the story.

There’s a gorgeous cake frosted in pink with special Qixi Festival greetings written on the top, which could inspire you to give your loved one a sweet surprise – a cake or dessert — for the holiday as well.

Another photo shows a boyfriend presenting his girlfriend with a gold necklace for Qixi Festival. So add jewelry – another typical gift of Valentine’s Day – to your list of possibilities.

Qixi Festival: Popular Ways to Celebrate

Have a romantic candlelit meal together

As this China Daily article notes, “Chinese people embrace their own “Valentine’s Day” Tuesday, when lovers send each other gifts or have romantic candlelit meals together.” So yes, why not make reservations for two at that restaurant in town with the breathtaking views, cozy interiors and, perhaps, a history of people getting on one knee with a ring in their hands. It may sound utterly clichéd and unoriginal, but sometimes we all crave a little something corny (and delicious!) in our lives.

And if you’re not attached yet, just gather together your closest friends – who doesn’t love an excuse for a nice meal with good company?

Long-distance lovers make contact

Qixi Festival might just be the ultimate holiday honoring anyone “going the distance” in a relationship, and that’s because of the story behind it. As I wrote earlier in Gifts for the Qixi Festival (Chinese Valentine’s Day):

The story goes that once an oxherd, Niulang, and weaving girl, Zhinu, fell in love after he caught a glimpse of her bathing and stole her clothes. Instead of getting a good slap, Niulang got lucky (literally) and got married. The couple had two kids, lived happily ever after — that is, until the heavens (or, in some stories, her mother) realized their love went against natural laws: mortals and fairies cannot marry. She was banished up to the heavens forever, some say to go back to her real job of weaving the clouds. Still, Niulang loved her so much he couldn’t stay away. On the advice of an ox, he slaughtered it (let’s hope that ox got a real good deal in heaven), dressed in its hide, and then traveled up to the heavens to see her. But — aiya! — the heavens interfered by scratching a wide river in the heavens to separate the two lovers, forcing Niulang and Zhinu to stare longingly at each other from opposite banks. Then the magpies took pity on them and formed a bridge over the Milky Way on the seventh day of the seventh moon, bringing the stars together (this also happens in the Northern night sky, when the stars Altair and Vega, representing Niulang and Zhinu, get close). Thus, you have Qixi, the Chinese Valentine’s Day.

So if you’re separated from a loved one – whether a lover, spouse, relative or friend – why not follow in the footsteps of Niulang and Zhinu and reunite for the Qixi Festival? These Chinese couples did just that, flying across the country to be together. But even if you can’t manage the trip, do a virtual meeting with a video call and let them know how much you care.

Get matched or even married

As China Daily reported:

Wang Juan with the Department of Chinese Language and Literature at Peking University, said that Qixi was for young women and girls to get together, do embroidery and pray for good needlework skills which in turn would help them find a partner.

Though people today rarely do needlework, finding a mate is still an important part of the day. Traditional, commercial matchmaking events are held in parks.

So technically, you could give matchmaking a go, whether that’s attending a speed-dating event, giving online dating a try or even “swiping right” on someone in your dating apps.

And yes, if you’re already engaged (or about to be), you could follow in the footsteps of these couples in China, who participated in a mass wedding dressed in traditional Chinese garb.

Or you could take the holiday as a chance to reminisce: “Chen Yi, in his fifties, from Changsha, capital of central China’s Hunan province, said he does not envy young people celebrating the festival, but is reminded of the good old days when he and his wife enjoyed a simple, romantic relationship.”

Do a little stargazing

Since Qixi Festival has its own celestial symbols – with the stars Altair and Vega, representing Niulang and Zhinu – you could look up at the night sky on a clear evening on or near Qixi Festival and observe the two heavenly bodies as they make their annual reunion.

And you wouldn’t be the first one, as China Daily reported:

Guo Houchi, a college student from Changsha, remembers his mother telling him stories about Qixi.

“She told me that when she was young she would go out on the night of Qixi to see the stars in the sky and try to find Niu Lang and Zhi Nu. It sounded like such a romantic way to celebrate.”

How will you celebrate Qixi Festival, the Chinese Valentine’s Day?

3 Ways NOT to Impress Family During Chinese New Year

Chinese New Year is coming! If this is your first time spending the holidays with a Chinese family, here are 3 things that will definitely NOT impress:

head-in-her-hands#1: Be totally antisocial

Chinese New Year is all about reuniting with family and friends to celebrate. You’re meant to get out there, attend those dinners, and knock on those doors with red gifts in hand.

Which means the worst thing you could do is be utterly antisocial.

Now, let’s get clear about what antisocial really means in this context. Sitting quietly at the dinner table or among guests, not speaking much, doesn’t necessarily apply. You don’t have to be chatty to win their hearts over. Just being present, butt in seat and chopsticks in hand, will suffice.

But if you spend the whole holiday locked up in your room, only consuming crappy ramen noodles (I actually witnessed someone in my husband’s village who did this), you’re definitely going to piss off more than a few people.

Photo by Garrett Charles
Photo by Garrett Charles

#2: Don’t prepare any gifts

Years ago, when I was getting ready to experience Chinese New Year for the first time ever, a friend clued me in on my obligation to my hosts. “You need to buy them some gifts,” she said, even taking me shopping in the supermarket next door to pick out the perfect one for them.

Chinese New Year gifts are such a big deal that every supermarket creates huge red-and-gold displays filled with all the usual suspects to lure shoppers – from fine alcohol and spirits, to dried fruits and nuts, to even traditional Chinese remedies like ginseng and Dong quai. These are all neatly packaged, often with their own attractive red-and-gold gift boxes or bags. All you have to do is show up at the house, goods in hand.

But if you show up empty handed, you won’t win any favors. Especially if you’re a foreigner. Most Chinese think foreigners have a lot of money, despite your current financial circumstances. They’re probably expecting you to bring some of the best gifts at the table – or at the very least, something as good as everyone else.

With nothing in hand, you’ll be branded as either rude or stingy. And quite possibly might be the talk of the family…but not for the reasons you’d hope.

shoe-682215_960_720#3: Dress in shabby or old clothing

I’m pretty sure my mother-in-law was privately shocked when, one Chinese New Year, I didn’t have a single new sweater or jacket to wear.

It didn’t matter that my down jacket was a gorgeous ruby red that glimmered in the sun, and nicer than most of the jackets I could have bought in the stores in Hangzhou. Or that my sweater was less than a year old and still in fine condition. Or even that my Calvin Klein jeans looked as good as new.

I had broken one of the cardinal rules of Chinese New Year. I was wearing something old, which is totally inauspicious and against the usual custom.

My mother-in-law has often reminded me about the importance of wearing nice clothes. Clothing is like your public face, and how everyone dresses reflects on the whole family.

Now, it’s one thing to wear old clothing…but if you really don’t want to impress the family, show up in something old and shabby. Dress like you’re about to renovate an apartment in the middle of China’s winter, or beg on the streets for a few extra kuai.

(Chances are, your family would be so embarrassed they’d probably give you something decent to wear. And force you to wear it.)

P.S.: Want to know how to impress family during Chinese New Year? Read all about how to impress your boyfriend or girlfriend’s family in China during Chinese New Year, or how you can prepare to meet the family in China.

Guest Post: When Tradition Gets in the Way of Intercultural Dating

How many of you have ever had tradition or cultural differences get between you and your intercultural relationship? I’ll never forget the handsome guy from Nanjing who couldn’t even date me because his family expected him to marry a Chinese girl. Or the Northern guy who was my boyfriend for less than a month, until he discovered his parents could never accept a foreign girl.

Well, Lena (who blogs and vlogs at Lena Around) had all but given up on finding a mainland Chinese fellow because of all the trouble involved. But then she falls for a  fellow she meets in Beijing…and soon discovers that tradition could potentially turn them into two star-crossed lovers.

Do you have a story you’re itching to share here on the blog? Check out the submit a post page to learn more about how to have your words published here.

I’m not new to this. I’ve been ‘in a relationship’ with China for five years. We have been through good and bad times. We have loved and hated each other but I always come back. I learned something every time. During those years with China I have dated both Mainland Chinese guys, kissed a Taiwanese one, saw an Australian Chinese, made out with a British Chinese and fell hard for a Danish Vietnamese. I’ve been around indeed. Every time I bumped into a guy, I would learn something. I learned that even though they have a handsome Asian face, they don’t act like an Asian guy if they grew up abroad. I wanted Asian culture to be a part of our relationship but it wasn’t. But on the other hand, I also very fast learned that if they had grown up in China, they would be thousands of kilometers away from me when it came to culture and the way we act and think.

After years in China, I’d given up on finding a mainland Chinese guy. There were still cuties around but I knew that the cultural aspect was mafan (trouble) and I was quite sure that our personalities also just wouldn’t suit each other. I’m outgoing, curious and independent and I always saw the Chinese girls as being the opposite so I had settled with the thought of only ‘dating’ China but not the people.

But when I had just settled with that then it happened. He came. I literally bumped into him. I was at this silly speed-dating event because my friend had a crush on the host. I just wanted to make a video and thought, hell yeah, why not? So we went. I sat down at one of the tables and each table had a staff member who told us how to introduce ourselves and play the games. Then he came. The staff member at my table talked to him for a second and then she got up and he sat down besides me. I turned around and played the ‘I’m-just-a-stupid-foreigner-who-doesn’t-understand-anything-card’ and asked about the rules of the game that the other girl had just explained to us a moment earlier. He was patient and told me again. Then I asked about his name because I couldn’t read his characters (that was for real) and I got his Wechat from the girl after he had left the table (yes, sneaky me).

We met up one week later and talked all evening. The same happened the day afterwards and the day after again. I walked around with a big smile on my face all day because of this.

But then the problem came.

After we had said goodnight one evening, he send me a text on Wechat. He said he had something serious to talk to me about. I asked him if he was married. He thought I was joking. I wasn’t because it wasn’t the first time that had happened to me.

He told me then that he was from a very traditional family and he was the only child. His father is very strict and he knew that he had to go home for Chinese New Year to ask his father to accept that he was seeing a foreign girl. I wasn’t sure what to say and it was all just one big mess in my head. He apologized and told me that he was scared too but he also knew that he had to do this.

Because I’m not new to China, I had heard about this situation before so even though my foreign friends laughed at the whole situation (I did a bit too in between the down-moments), I wasn’t really that surprised, just sad because I had a feeling that the father wouldn’t accept this and now I’d finally found somebody who I connected with. Somebody who was fun, chatty, good-looking and smart. He also had a big interest in Chinese history and culture just like me and we could talk for hours about different society issues and historical matter. I didn’t want to let go of this now. It was only the beginning of a beautiful thing, I thought.

Now one month later, I’m still telling myself to not think about it but of course I do because I am an over-thinker and that is what we do. Nobody around me here has tried this before so I can only talk to my guy about it. I call him my boyfriend for now but I know that it might not be for long. He is going back in January so please wish me all the best of luck. I think I need it very much.

Editor’s note: Unfortunately, things did not work out for Lena — his family could not accept her.

Lena is a 20-something Danish girl who is currently working on a master’s degree in Beijing and writing about her travels, China (her favorite place) and love. You can follow her at

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

Guest Post: Nothing Can Prepare You for Living with Chinese Relatives

Becky writes, “there is nothing within a traditional British upbringing that can prepare you for living with Chinese relatives.” If you’ve ever lived with Chinese family, this post is for you.

Do you have a story about Chinese family or something else you’d like to share on Speaking of China? Check out the submit a post page to learn more about how to have your writing published here.

slothloveWhen Disney taught me about happily ever after, they forgot to add in some additional clauses about cross-cultural relationships. In particular the challenges that accompany a AMWF (Asian Man, White Female relationship). Thus when I fell in love last summer to the sweetest, gentlest man I’d ever met, I never realised that the happy ever after I’d always longed for had inadvertently sent me on a cultural collision course. In fact, despite being in my mid-20’s, I assumed, as my good friends Cinderella and Pocahontas had once taught me, that love could, and would, solve everything.

As I’m rudely awoken on the other side of the planet a year or so later by my boyfriend’s mobile, I can’t help thinking I may have been a little naive. I pretend to be asleep despite knowing exactly what will happen next. Sure enough, within minutes the doorbell, which his mum has erected in his room, starts ringing. From this point I know that my cuddle time is very shortly to expire. As if on cue, I hear shouting in Mandarin coming progressively closer and, before I have time to move, his mum barges into the room and begins tidying around us.

It’s hours before I’d planned to get up. It’s Saturday. I want to cry.

I’d never planned to be in this position, but after my partner’s student visa had expired and following eight-months struggling with the many nuances of long-distance relationships, we’d decided that enough was enough and so, despite protests from my friends that I was crazy, I packed my bags and headed to live with my boyfriend, and his Chinese parents.

A month into the experience and I can say categorically that there is nothing within a traditional British upbringing that can prepare you for living with Chinese relatives.

In the UK, we are taught to strive for independence, in China children are taught to be deferent to their elders. In the UK we value personal space, in China the concept doesn’t really exist. In the UK we are reminded that it’s the taking part that counts, in China people are reminded that success (which is largely measured by the size of your bank balance) is what matters.

None of these things are right or wrong but the gulf between the two can, at times, seem unbridgeable.

Perhaps the hardest thing for a westerner trying to make AMWF’s work is that you have to completely redefine your concept of space. The fact that you are a grown adult and have been making your own life decisions for many years ultimately means very little. For example, you will be asked many times a day about your food; what you’ve had, when you had it and would you like anymore?

This is nothing more than an expression of love, and to be treated with such hospitality is something you’d be unlikely to find back at home. Nonetheless, when the first question you’re asked each morning is what are you having for breakfast, it can get a little grinding.

For all the times I want to scream (and there are many), there’s the time I get to spend with my best friend. The truth is that however hard it gets, being without the person you love would be far worse.

For those considering moving to the East to be with their loved one, you must be aware that the step you are trying to make is a huge one. You will feel nagged, claustrophobic and completely alien. If that sounds daunting, then it’s meant to. But if your partner is prepared to make you part of his family, and you’re prepared to sacrifice so much in moving to be with him, then it sounds like your awkwardly packaged happy ending might be something worth fighting for.

penanghillBecky is a self-confessed golf addict blogging about the world’s best, quirkiest and most obscure golf courses at The Nomadic Golfer.

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

Guest Post: The Traditional Chinese Wedding That Changed Me & My Dating Preferences

Have you ever attended a wedding that changed the way you thought about yourself — and who you want to date? That’s what happened to Joanna Scarpuzzi, who writes, “Even though I thought I had grown up under much Chinese culture and influence, nothing had prepared me for the experience that this wedding was.”

Do you have a story about a life-changing wedding — or another guest post you’d like to see featured here? Visit the submit a post page to learn more about how to have your writing published on this blog.

Joanna Scarpuzzi
Joanna Scarpuzzi

Growing up in a mixed family (my dad is White-American, and my mom is Asian-American), I was excited to see who my siblings and I would date and eventually marry. All of us kids were homeschooled until were in 9th grade so our circle of friends was pretty small. I remember my sisters and I having crushes on White boys and Asian boys alike. My brother, also, dated a Chinese girl, a mixed girl, and a White girl, in that order.

It wasn’t until we were college age that our preferences became more evident. My sisters felt that Asian culture was too traditional and exclusive dated White boys. I, on the other hand, moved to China in 2010 to teach at an international school in an attempt to learn more about my Asian roots. During my six years abroad, if someone were to ask me if I could see myself married to a Chinese man, I would have told them, without a doubt, yes! I loved everything about Chinese culture: the food, the language, the community aspects, the filial piety.

Then, I attended a traditional Chinese countryside wedding. A group of us foreigners spent a weekend at a hotel awaiting the wedding festivities for our friend and coworker. The whole time we were there, we were not allowed to do anything remotely relating to helping with preparations. We were treated like honored guests.

The morning of the wedding, we joined the friends and family in the courtyard of the house. Cousins climbed up on the roof to bang pots and pans and set off firecrackers to welcome the wedding party.

After a short traditional ceremony in the courtyard, the bride and groom were ushered into their wedding chambers where they sat on a red-blanketed bed with posters of naked babies on the wall behind them. On that bed, they played some teasing games while the groom’s friends and relatives tossed nuts and dried fruit at them.

It was during this time that I realized how very different I really was. Even though I thought I had grown up under much Chinese culture and influence, nothing had prepared me for the experience that this wedding was. It was so different from my expectations for weddings, and made me realize I would not want a wedding like this, which made me wonder if it was really just the wedding or if it was something more.

It was this experience that caused me to ponder on the fact that perhaps I wasn’t being honest with myself when I told people I could see myself ending up with a Chinese man. Maybe I’m more independent than I thought or maybe my version of being raised the Asian way was a mixture of East and West. Maybe I wasn’t willing to give up being “comfortable” in America to truly connect with my roots. Whatever the reason, someday I hope to find a man who embraces my world, a perfect blend of Chinese and American culture.

After living in China for the past six years, Joanna Scarpuzzi is now back in the US and writes about teaching and her experiences with culture, specifically Asian culture.

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

How China (and My Chinese Husband) Helped Me Love Grapes & Other Fresh Fruit

(Photo by Prerak Patel via Flickr:
(Photo by Prerak Patel via Flickr:

It was day five of my hospital stay and I was just beginning to overcome the biggest hurdle of having my appendix removed – eating food again.

The previous day, I had struggled through the bowls of rice porridge delivered to my room. Not even adding a pinch of salt made me excited about them (though, really, rice porridge isn’t exactly the sexiest food to begin with).

Most of the bowls ended up sitting half-eaten (or hardly touched) on my hospital tray, making the nurses worry about whether I was getting enough nutrition.

Honestly, I was just worried about whether I could get anything down my throat.

But on day five, my husband changed the whole game with one question – how about some grapes?

Now let’s talk grapes for a minute. Personally, they’ve never rated in my mind as a luscious, sexy kind of fruit. In fact, they were downright boring to me. Growing up in America, I quickly tired of grape juice as a child and the ubiquitous grape jelly in peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. While I did eventually warm up a bit to green seedless grapes, I wanted nothing to do with their red and especially dark purple counterparts. Dark purple reminded me of tasteless grape juice and bland grape jelly…basically, the worst stuff about grapes.

So when my husband mentioned grapes and held up that dark purple cluster, I almost rolled my eyes. He has to be kidding? I’m struggling to spoon up plain rice porridge and he wants me to nibble on one of my least favorite fruits?

But he insisted. “Try one, they’re good.”

My husband got me there. How could I argue with the most basic rule about eating? That you have to give everything a shot at least once – even those dodgy dark purple grapes.

So I picked one up and prepared myself for total fruit mediocrity — and the likelihood that I’d never eat any more grapes in China.

Oh, how wrong I was.

These were not grapes, folks. These were the dictionary definition of ambrosial, the true manna from the heavens that the gods themselves would feast upon. Each grape was bursting with a delightful tart sweetness that in America could probably only be found in the best artisanal grape juice. A flavor so thrilling I couldn’t help saying “mmmmmm” and “ahhhhhhhh” with each bite.

Now this was sexy fruit.

“Oh my god, how have I missed this about grapes my whole life? These are amazing!”

A smile played across my husband’s lips – more out of surprise towards me than the fruit. “These taste a lot like most of the grapes I’ve had.”

Suddenly, I was so shocked I almost dropped the grape in my hand. How was this possible? How had my husband had the “in” on amazing grapes his whole life, while I had been given the sorriest excuses for grapes in America?

While these grapes had been the most dramatic example, the truth is I’ve found a LOT of fruit in season tastes better here in China than the US. Apples. Bananas. Mandarin oranges. Peaches. Pineapples. Mangos. Even kiwi fruit, which grows wild in the mountains in my husband’s hometown and tastes a thousand times better than anything I ever bought in a US supermarket.

And I’m not alone in realizing China’s fruit is so delicious, as Huan Hsu noted in his memoir The Porcelain Thief:

Fruit is China’s apple pie. Dessert in China most commonly takes the form of a plate of fresh-cut fruit. The phrase for “consequently” or “result” in Chinese is jieguo, or “bear fruit.” Even the humblest fruit shack in china offers dragonfruits with flaming petals and pink or bloodied flesh, like a sweeter, milder kiwi; strands of purple grapes, plump as roe and bursting with intense, bubblegum flavor; or crispy, refreshing starfruit. The native kiwis, known as Chinese gooseberries before New Zealand farmers rebranded them, are sweeter and more pungent than their exported counterparts. Bowling-ball-sized pomelos, like meaty fragrant grapefruits, whose rinds my grandmother used to fashion into hats for her children. Mangos of all kinds, from the small champagne varietals to the leathery giants named “elephant horns.” Lychees, grown in southern China and quick to spoil, but the taste so ethereal that one emperor supposedly uprooted an entire tree and had it shuttled back to Beijing in horse carts. Sacks of tiny sha tang ju, aptly named “sugar mandarins,” that I peeled and ate whole, a dozen at a time.

It’s funny that it took moving to another country and marrying into another family to discover just how blissful a good bunch of grapes could be. To make me realize that when grapes are at their freshest and sweetest, they could even be one of my favorite fruits.

Have you rediscovered fruit or other food after moving abroad?

Photo Essay: I Survived! Making it Through Chinese New Year 2016 with the Family

Every year, I swear this Chinese New Year is not going to kick my butt. And somehow, every year, I’m totally wrong on this.

Yes, Chinese New Year 2016 — welcoming the year of the monkey — has been an exhausting parade of lunches, dinners, toasts, and meetings.

By the last day I had rings under my eyes (the “panda” look that my husband kids me about) and a desperation about me that said, “Please, Chinese New Year, let me have a little peace and quiet.”

And so it came. Finally! I survived!

While I’m recovering from all the hustle and bustle of the holidays, I thought I’d share some of the pics from Chinese New Year 2016.

IMG_20160208_160634_BURST3New year, new picture of John and me in front of the family house. We may be smiling, but we’re beat. With all the fireworks set off all night, I got maybe four or five hours of decent sleep.

IMG_20160208_164147This is our first dinner of the new year at an uncle’s house. There’s lots of toasting, and lots of fantastic food. My husband’s aunt is an extraordinary cook and she happened to dish up a serving of Chinese-style kimchi more delicious than anything I’ve ever had (Must corner her and get the recipe!)

IMG_20160210_112440_BURST1Yeah, I know, eating again. Seriously, that’s the heart of this holiday. Lots and lots of lunches and dinners. As always, we ate…

IMG_20160210_165223…and ate…

IMG_20160213_113430…and ate!

IMG_20160213_112247Even when you’re not having lunch or dinner, people usually offer you lots of food to snack on. Notice the trays of assorted nuts, fruit and candies arranged on the tables before us.

IMG_20160213_142542Here I am at an aunt and uncle’s home, attempting (unsuccessfully) to snack on raw sugar cane. Sweet, but a little too pulpy for my taste. This was day 6. Do you see the fatigue on my face yet?

IMG_20160213_170645This is John and me at the end of the holiday. I’m looking haggard (see the “panda” eyes?) — and longing for a little peace. Fortunately, when we returned from this walk, the village was quiet. Finally, I could rest.

Wishing everyone a wonderful year of the monkey (with hopefully more sleep than I got during the first days of the new year)! 😉