I’m in Awe of How My Husband Eats Fish With Bones, Unshelled Sunflower Seeds & More

(Photo by Alpha via https://www.flickr.com/photos/avlxyz/3225213462)

Whenever my husband and I happen to be back at the family home in rural Hangzhou, China, you can almost guarantee there’s fish for dinner, prepared just how my husband likes it. His mom stews the whole fish with ginger, garlic, soy sauce, hot chili peppers and Shaoxing wine, and finishes it with a sprinkle of fragrant green onion.

And if there’s fish on the table, you’ll also find something else next to my husband’s rice bowl – a neat little pile of fish bones. No, he didn’t pull the bones out first and then eat the fish. He sorted the meat from the bones with his mouth, something that amazes me to no end.

Of course, it’s not just fish with bones. I have a similar sense of awe for the way he deftly devours unshelled sunflower seeds. By the time I’ve clumsily cracked open one of them and spilled out the seed, he has easily consumed three or four of them.

I’ve also witnessed his mouth do other extraordinary things at the table, including removing the rough skin from Chinese jujube dates after chewing on them and separating the rough fibers from celery. Every time he does something like this, I’m filled with wonder, thinking, “How does he do it?”

But then again, I feel the same way about the rest of his family, whose dinner table socialization included a how-to on managing some challenging comestibles.

In the America I grew up in, the kind of fish my husband’s family serves up – from head to tail – was never on the menu. I wanted my fish batter fried and served with a heaping side of French fries and hush puppies, just like those greasy fast seafood dinners. No muss, no fuss and no bones. I was so picky on this point that I even shunned my dad’s favorite fish snack – kipper snacks – because of the bones.

This ethos – that food should be as convenient as possible – applied to much of what I ate. It wasn’t just bones I didn’t care for (which turned me off chicken wings and ribs). Unshelled seeds and nuts were a no-go as well. I even got fussy about fruit when it had seeds inside; I would rather pick the watermelon seeds out of my slice first, rather than burden my mouth with the task of spitting them out.

Looking back, though, I now wonder if I missed out on something critical. Would I have enjoyed food much more if someone had schooled me in the many ingenious ways for eating challenging things? Would I have been more adventurous as a child and more willing to try new things?

As an adult, I’ve been playing catch up on that score. I now happily devour watermelon and oranges with seeds. I’ve learned it’s not so hard to eat unshelled nuts and seeds with a little practice (and, sometimes, patience).

But as for bones, I’ll never have the chance to exercise my mouth in that regard. I’m a vegan after all. And as much as I’ll always admire my husband’s ability to process those bones in his mouth, a part of me is relieved I’m exempt. What can I say? I’m still a little picky at heart – and still don’t like bones. 😉

Guest Post: Gaining a “Chinese Family” While Teaching English in China

Sometimes the family you discover in China isn’t the family you married into. It’s the family you create through meaningful connections. That’s the story Josh and Liz of Career China have to share in this guest post.

Do you have a story about your Chinese family or other guest post you’d like to share on Speaking of China? Visit the submit a post page to learn how to have your words featured here.

Swirling my chopsticks around in the giant pot of boiling oil and spices, I make a feeble attempt to snag a piece of thinly sliced beef floating about. Finally I catch one, but that’s the easy part. Now I must have confidence in my shaky chopstick skills to get it out of the pot and into my bowl of sauce, then into my mouth without dropping it on the table…or my shirt. After my success in this seemingly minor act, my husband and our Chinese hosts, CJ and Gigi, cheer and hold up their glasses of wine for a toast. “To good friends from around the world, China and the USA!” our new friend CJ proclaims. But for us, the relationship is more than just friends, it feels more like we have a Chinese family.

How Did We End Up In China?

My husband and I arrived in Guangzhou, China back in 2014. The previous year we had decided that we weren’t satisfied with our old lives in the United States, even though we had good jobs and a comfortable middle-class lifestyle. The two of us always had a passion for exploring the world, not just traveling and seeing the sights, but interacting with the local people and learning about the culture.

We realized that we weren’t fulfilling this passion with only a few weeks of vacation each year, so we made a plan to save up some money and then sell everything to hit the road for a while. Setting off in August 2014, we spent time in South East Asia as well as New Zealand before ending up back in Thailand for TEFL training (teaching English as a foreign language). Our plan was to be able to stay longer in a country by working as English teachers, that way we could really experience the culture more closely and for a longer period of time.

Shortly after finishing our month-long program, we began searching for teaching opportunities. Knowing that China has such a massive market for English learning, and such an interesting ancient culture, we set our sights on finding a job in China. And we were surprised how quickly it all happened — within a matter of weeks, we were flying to China!

Our “Chinese Family”

When we decided to move to China, we had absolutely no idea what to expect. And now as we look back on our time here, we can’t imagine not having our “Chinese family” in our lives. We were really fortunate to make good friends during our time in China, including Gigi and CJ, who are a Chinese couple that run an English school and have a little daughter. We also became great friends with another expat, Stephen, who is from England and had been living and working in China for many years; he has a Chinese wife, Wendy.

One of our fears about living in China was that we would feel isolated or lonely without close friends and family. But we’ve discovered that it has been the opposite. Our social calendars seem to always be full. And while we also had some other expat friends who were teaching in China also, we spent a significant part of our time with CJ, Gigi, Stephen and Wendy.

But it wasn’t only for fun. Our “Chinese Family” was there for us when we needed them. Whether it was helping to solve problems with our bank account, getting our internet upgraded in our apartment, or talking to the landlord to fix a wall. They would help translate and take us through the process. If we were sick, they brought us medicine and even food. And when I broke my foot, they were there to take me to the hospital for check-ups. They have been like family to us in just about every way!

Alike, But So Different…

Whenever we travel and meet people from around the world, it’s interesting to note the similarities and differences. In many ways, our “Chinese family” was just like us. Young couples who talked a lot about their futures and their dreams. They discussed their apartments and what they loved about them, and what they wished they could remodel. We all spoke fondly of our childhood and families, but also vented about frustrations with our parents.

But at the same time, we also came from very different backgrounds and had quite different family situations. With my husband and I both being from the States, we discovered just how fortunate we were to have fun-loving childhoods with minimal pressure. We also began to appreciate how we were able to choose on our own who we wanted to marry, without much input from our parents. But in Chinese culture, the parents are quite involved in match-making. And for our Chinese friends growing up, there was a lot more pressure on the children to do well in school and get good jobs.

Another area that we discovered a difference was in our desire to travel freely and not worry about having children. In fact, whenever people in China found out I was married, they would immediately ask about children. Not that they were intending to be rude, they were just curious how I could travel if I had kids. And when they found out I didn’t, they wanted to know why.

In China, children are expected almost immediately after marriage — and in the States, many people are happy to enjoy themselves with their new spouse for some time before they consider having kids. It’s also perfectly acceptable if people choose not to have children in the States, while that’s not really the case in China. If a couple is married for some time and don’t have kids, people will start to think something is wrong.

It was definitely eye-opening to chat with our Chinese friends about the subject of family structure and children. We could see that they wanted to make their parents happy, and that there were expectations of them when it came to having kids. While we didn’t feel like they were unhappy with these expectations, we could feel that there was maybe some pressure on them. Gigi and CJ were happy to have their daughter, but they were also planning to have a second child — and Gigi kept saying how she really was praying for a son, so she could make her husband happy. Personally, we know CJ would be happy with either a son or a daughter – he is a great father. But but deep down, we knew that there was a cultural aspect to this pressure to have a son too.

Oh the Memories!

Because of our “Chinese family” we were able to experience so many things that many other expats may not have been able to experience. For example, during Chinese holidays we felt like we got an inside scoop about the holiday from our friends, and were even be able to participate in special family activities. In fact, one of our best memories of our time China was during the Spring Festival holiday (Chinese New Year). We were invited over to Gigi & CJ’s apartment to cook homemade dumplings, which is an important tradition during the festival.

We made everything from scratch together, even mincing the meat with big cleavers! While the men chopped the meat with lighting speed, Gigi, Wendy and I were out on the large patio rolling the dough and chopping vegetables. Then we all handmade what seemed like hundreds of pork stuffed dumplings!

I discovered quickly that making dumplings is not as easy as it looks…in fact, mine were downright ugly! Our friends also told us how we needed to put little “surprises” in some of the dumplings for good luck, such as a big garlic clove or a pepper. Then if a person bites into it, they should have good luck in the next year!

It sounds like a fun little game, until later when you are eating them and somehow manage to be the only person not to find a “surprise” until you’ve eating about 15 dumplings and your stomach is about to explode! “Come on Lizzie,” Gigi told me “you have to eat another until you find one so you can have good luck next year!”

In addition to spending time with our friends over other holidays like the Dragon Boat Festival or Mid-Autumn festival, we also enjoyed having fun with them at sporting events. CJ was a huge football (soccer in the States) fan, and the local professional team, the Guangzhou Dragons, was actually one of the best in the country. So they purchased us tickets to go to a couple local games, where we all wore our jerseys and cheered loudly for the local team. We also enjoyed sporting our jerseys and playing football together in the park on pleasant evenings, or going to a local bar to watch the team play while having a few drinks.

Being a huge sports fan, my husband was really excited to have a local friend here in China who enjoyed sports just as much as him. And he was really excited to learn more about football and have a team to cheer for. Growing up in the US, he was more into American football, so he has definitely developed a new appreciation for the international football game that is so popular everywhere else in the world.

Bringing the World Together, With Open Hearts

We really couldn’t imagine our experience in China without our lovely local friends. From sharing their special holidays with us and letting us experience it with them, to making us feel at home, and even taking care of us when we needed them. It has been the ultimate cultural exchange, and something we never could have experienced if we didn’t take a risk to move to China to live for a while.

China has been great to us, and it’s not just our “Chinese family” — we’ve made so many other friends and met many other people who have touched our hearts. Never again will we see this country the same way. And that’s the point. To bring the world together by opening our hearts to each other and learning about one another.

Liz and her husband Josh have been living and traveling around Asia since 2014. Currently they split their time between the USA and China, working on their travel blog and assisting those who are interested in living and working in China through their project Career China.

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.

Is The Family Pressure in China Too Much?

This past Chinese New Year, we noticed a glaring absence from the family gatherings – one of Jun’s relatives, a fellow close to his own age.

At first I figured it was just bad timing. Maybe we missed him because I had woken up a bit late? Or maybe he was dining with other relatives?

But as we visited more family over the holiday – with no sign of this guy — another theory came to mind.

Maybe he was too ashamed to face the family during Chinese New Year after what had happened last year.

In early 2016, he opened a specialty restaurant in the closest city. It was a gutsy move, given that he had zero experience in the restaurant or hospitality business. He had taken out loans to cover the rent (paid years in advance) as well as the costs of renovation and professional kitchen equipment.

After less than six months, just like that, he closed down the place.

It was so sudden. I’m not sure if he failed spectacularly, or if he just lost confidence in himself. Either way, he went back to his old industry and got himself a job again. Except now he was saddled with the burden of his debts and the failure of his business.

If my suspicion was right – that he hadn’t returned for the holidays – it’s easy to understand why. He would be forced to contend with other relatives his age, people awash with more money and all the trappings of success by China standards. You know, cousins who drive BMWs and Audis, giving out those extra-generous hongbao (red envelopes stuffed with money). People in the family might openly compare his situation with theirs – perhaps even wondering aloud why he had bothered to even open that restaurant.

It’s a painful proposition, even for those accustomed to managing criticism.

From time to time, I hear stories about people like this – people who refuse to return home for the holidays, sometimes for years. People who just cannot face the family, because their lives don’t look like what others would consider “success” or “normal”. Sometimes it’s because they’re down on their luck in business or employment, like the guy I mentioned. Sometimes it’s because they’re not married yet.

Whatever the case, they have enough stress in their lives – and could do without the additional stress from their families during the holidays. They don’t want to be compared to so-and-so, who just bought a new BMW or apartment in Shanghai. They don’t want to be told that, say, they’re getting too old for marriage or kids.

While it’s normal for parents to worry about their kids, sometimes I wonder, is the pressure here too much? Is there too much of an expectation for people to conform to a narrow societal norm? Is there too much pressure for people to be “successful”?

Is that why my husband’s relative didn’t come back?

Pub’d in the HuffPost: The Top 6 Gifts Sure To Please Your Chinese Family

The Top 6 Gifts Sure To Please Your Chinese Family

The Top 6 Gifts Sure To Please Your Chinese FamilyThe Huffington Post just published The Top 6 Gifts Sure To Please Your Chinese Family, an article inspired by my classic post Giving Gifts to Your Chinese Family – A Modest Guide. Here’s an excerpt:

Buying gifts for someone else never ranked as one of my top 10 most fun things to do. Not even back in America, where I grew up.

But after moving to China and marrying a Chinese local, it became even more of a headache. After all, China is a country that takes gift giving seriously, complete with its own gift-giving customs and etiquette. Now I would have to navigate all of these cultural rules to buy for my family in China, the people I’d be seeing every single year.

Cue the panic attack.

Fortunately, after years of experience in buying gifts for my Chinese family, I’ve learned it’s actually a lot easier than I thought. And sometimes, it can even be fun – if you know what to buy.

Head on over to the Huffington Post to read the full piece and discover my top gift picks. And if you like it, share it!

Guest Post: A Chinese Family Refused To Hire Me Because I’m Black

Linda Ogutu

Linda Ogutu, a Kenyan living in Scotland, shares what happened to her when she applied to be an au pair with a family in China. She writes, “I think I ‘knew’ that discrimination does take place, but now I KNOW based on experience.”

Do you have a story you’d like to share here on this blog? Check out the submit a post page and then contact me today with your ideas.


Linda Ogutu
Linda Ogutu

I applied for a job. A cultural exchange job as an au pair in China. I enjoy traveling and desire to explore and experience cultures which are different from my own. Going to China would have been one way to begin traveling around Asia as I had always wanted to do that.

I applied for the job being hopeful, but also reminding myself that nothing may come of it.

I received a response much sooner than I had expected. Oh how I was giddy with excitement!

We arranged a time to video-chat. We exchanged pleasantries and then we were off to official business. I was asked where I was from and following my response, the interviewer apologized profusely and said I unfortunately did not fit what they were looking for.

“Oh! I am so sorry but unfortunately we will not be able to take you. My partner does not like black people. I was going to try and convince them if you were from the West, but since you are not, they will not accept it at all. I am so sorry, really.”

Of course I understood and wished them all the best in their search.

I was disappointed the family did not want to take me as the husband of the lady that interviewed me probably had ingrained in his mind all the negative stereotypes of black people. I wasn’t angry at her as she knew I was black (we have to provide a profile photo on the au pair website). I also surprisingly wasn’t angry at her husband because I knew he just had the wrong idea of what black people are like.

I thought about their response and honestly was not surprised by it.

I have been prepared for experiences like these as my father always told my siblings and me that a day would come when we would unfortunately have to experience discrimination based on either our gender, the colour of our skin, or our religious beliefs. He had experienced his fair share whilst studying in the West when he was younger. He always reminded us that when people discriminate it is because they don’t know.

I think I ‘knew’ that discrimination does take place, but now I KNOW based on experience. Granted it wasn’t extreme as in most other cases. I suppose now it has made me more aware, but I don’t want to ever get to a point where I lash back or hate those that discriminate against me. I’d honestly rather fight hatred with love; MLK and Gandhi-style (haha).

I would still apply for another au pair job in China. I know not all Chinese still view black people in a negative light. Also, I could probably au pair for a foreign family living in China as well.

As for the Chinese family who interviewed me, I wonder if the husband’s mind will ever be opened. Someday. Perhaps.

Linda Ogutu is a Kenyan living in Scotland. She blogs about her experiences at http://comeseewhatiknow.tumblr.com.

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: https://www.flickr.com/photos/prerak77/3344428542/)
(Photo by Prerak Patel via Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/prerak77/3344428542/)

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?

3 Fun Things About Learning Your Partner’s Obscure Language or Dialect

A couple of years ago, I wrote a post about deciding whether or not to learn the dialect when your family doesn’t speak Mandarin Chinese.

Well, I chose to learn my husband’s local dialect, and now I can proudly say I’m proficient in many of the common conversational phrases. It’s amazing to finally connect with my husband’s family and friends in the local dialect.

But more than that, learning your partner’s obscure language or dialect can also be a LOT of fun, as I’ve discovered.

Here are 3 reasons why:

IMG_190448#1: Being able to talk privately when you travel with your partner

My husband’s entire home county has a population of only 400,000 people. Most folks there are also homebodies, preferring to stay close to family.

So when we travel outside the county, the chances of actually running into someone from there – especially if we go abroad – are practically nil.

That makes speaking my husband’s local dialect our go-to language to express anything we’d rather keep private. You know, like the fact that I find my husband’s butt very sexy… 😉

IMG_2151#2: Making the family laugh, because they never expected to hear you say THAT in their language

There’s nothing quite like watching my mother-in-law giggle when she hears me say “I’m going to wash clothes” or “I can’t eat this” in the local dialect.

Yes, plain, everyday phrases like that suddenly become hilarious whenever I speak them in front of family (even my husband). And it’s all because it’s so odd to see me – a white American woman – using the local dialect.

(I have to admit, sometimes even I have to laugh when I speak in it. Never in a million years did I imagine myself learning this language, one that had once seemed impossible and completely unintelligible to me!)

IMG_20160207_164829#3: Finally being able to follow conversations around the family dinner table

One of the reasons I used to dread visiting my husband’s family was the fact that I got really, really bored sitting around the table at dinner. After all, everyone would fall into the local dialect – the preferred language – and I couldn’t understand a single word.

Not so anymore.

Nowadays, I understand more than 60 percent of the conversations in local dialect – and whatever I don’t understand, I can usually figure out by the context. (I still can’t believe how much I’ve learned!)

Although, this can sometimes qualify as “not so fun after all” when the conversations happen to involve something intensely personal (like, say, how the family is wondering aloud when you’re finally going to have kids – which happens more than you might think!).

Ah well. Better to hear it firsthand than filtered through someone else, right?

What do you think?

4 Things I’m Embarrassed to Share About Living with My Chinese In-Laws

The other night, while staying over at my in-laws’ place in the countryside, my husband and I were just about to get ready for bed when it hit us.

Oh crap, we’d left the laundry in the washing machine all afternoon. We’d forgotten to hang it out to dry.

We bounded downstairs to the laundry room with flashlight in hand, and fully expected to spend 10 to 15 minutes doing what we should have done more than six hours ago.

Except, when I ran over to the washing machine, it was empty. Totally empty. And when I turned my head, sure enough, there was our laundry, neatly hung on clothes hangers on a bamboo rack.

As much as I felt relieved that I’d been saved the trouble of doing that laundry this evening, a slight sense of guilt pricked me.

Once again, my mother-in-law had done housework for me. Housework I could have easily done for myself…and should have done, given it was my laundry.

It’s embarrassing to admit that I’m in my thirties and still enjoy laundry assistance from my mother-in-law whenever we stay at her home in the countryside of Zhejiang Province. But it’s true. This sort of thing happens ALL the time.

So in the spirit of being honest, I’m sharing 4 embarrassing things that I’ve experienced with my Chinese in-laws. Here they are:

IMG_2407#1: My mother-in-law will still do laundry for us

Yes, it’s true. My mother-in-law has been known to hang up my clothing left in the washing machine…and she’s even done entire loads of laundry for us.

To be sure, though, I generally don’t ask her to do it. Even I know it’s embarrassing to be in your 30s and have your parents or in-laws do your laundry. (I mean, come on, anyone who has seen Legally Blonde would remember how Elle and Brooke howled over the fact that Warner still took his laundry home to get it cleaned.)

Here’s what usually happens. Either I put the clothing in the washing machine, but stupidly forget to hang it up on time (like I mentioned in the introduction). Or, my mother-in-law grabs my dirty clothing without telling me, and does the entire load for me (this happened ALL THE TIME when I stayed with my in-laws during the summer of 2011).

Sometimes, though, I do ask for her help. The other day, we were in a hurry to leave their house and I had just thrown a load of laundry into the washing machine. So I asked her if she could hang it and she said, “No problem” with a smile.

So now you know one of my biggest dirty secrets.

版本 2#2: My mother-in-law cooks all our meals

When we stay with my in-laws at their home, there’s one thing we can count on – three square meals, all home-cooked by my mother-in-law. Always.

This is the complete opposite of how things work at my parents’ home back in the US. There, the assumption is we’re on our own and have to make our own meals (or buy them). Unless, of course, my dad or mom specifically asks us to join them for a meal (or invites us out).

The difference totally blew my husband’s mind.

Anyhow, here at my in-laws’ home in China there’s never any concern about cooking. Everyone knows that when it’s lunch and dinner, my mother-in-law’s voice will echo through the corridors – time to eat! – and we’ll all come bounding down the stairs.

It’s a strange place for me. I spent so many years handling all my cooking (and enjoying much of it). Now, when I’m staying with my in-laws, I just show up to eat at the table.

I have spent some time with my mother-in-law in the kitchen, learning how to cook from her. (She taught me how to make vegan Chinese-style flatbread, for example.) But in many ways, I feel foreign in her kitchen, a feeling that has nothing to do with my nationality, actually. After all, she uses a fire-powered wok to do the majority of her cooking, and I honestly have no idea how to manage the fire. Given how clumsy I am, I might just burn down the kitchen if I tried!

Now that I think about it, maybe it is better to leave the cooking to a woman who won’t cause a conflagration in the kitchen.

Money#3: My in-laws give us money more often than you think

When a friend of mine — also a Western woman with a Chinese husband – posted in a private chat about how guilty she felt because her mother-in-law gave her some cash to buy a new laptop (her old one crashed), oh, how I could sympathize.

I thought about the many Chinese New Years that had passed since John and I returned to China in late 2013, and how his parents always gave us heaping hongbao filled with more money than adults in the family should have.

I remembered how my mother-in-law handed over an additional stack of bills last year because my husband was starting his business (and she wanted him to have some “lucky money”).

I even thought of the numerous times when my mother-in-law spent money on us that she totally shouldn’t have spent. Like buying those new coats for John for Chinese New Year (which prompted me to buy new clothes to make her happy). Or the comforter she bought for me to stay warm during the winter. Or even the way she purchased all of the basic necessities for our apartment in 2014.

Embarrassing? Absolutely.

IMG_3338#4: We’ve lived with my in-laws. A lot.

In America, the ultimate badge of adulthood is having your own place, separate from mom and dad.

Well, the most embarrassing thing I could mention on this list is the fact that we’ve lived in the same house as my in-laws – for long periods of time.

Even now, we divide our time between an apartment in Hangzhou and their home. Heck, they added an entire suite to the house just for my husband and me, which proves how welcoming they are.

It’s worlds away from America. I can guarantee you that if I asked my American friends and classmates, none of them would say that their parents or in-laws renovated their homes so they could live together. It’s just not done there.

As embarrassing as it is to admit this, I have to confess I’m also grateful. This suite they’ve provided us is symbolic of the incredible support they’ve given me and my husband.


Life isn’t always easy for John and me. But knowing that we have a couple of incredibly loving parents behind us – willing to do things that I’m a little embarrassed to talk about – makes the hard times a little more bearable.

If you’re all grown up, is there anything you’re embarrassed that your parents or in-laws still do for you?

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)! 😉

Photo Essay: 2016 Chinese New Year’s Eve at the Family Home

We’re busy celebrating Chinese New Year, the biggest holiday of the year here in China, at John’s family home in rural Hangzhou. I thought I’d share a few photos from Chinese New Year’s Eve.


It was a lovely day to celebrate Chinese New Year’s Eve, with some of the most gorgeous blue skies of the winter.


My brother-in-law took his daughter to pay her respects to the spirits in an old camphor tree beside the river, as he does every year on this day.


On Chinese New Year’s Eve, ancestors come first. Here we pay our respects to the ancestors at their table, filled with dishes fresh from my mother-in-law’s kitchen.


Let’s eat! It’s the most wonderful dinner of all the year, the table loaded with delicious dishes made by my amazing mother-in-law. (I consider her kitchen one of my favorite “restaurants” in China… 😉 )


As usual, John is one of the last to leave the table — he loves to eat, and takes his time. Here he’s enjoying some free-range chicken raised by my mother-in-law (his favorite dish of the evening).

Wishing you all a very auspicious and prosperous year of the monkey! Happy Chinese New Year!