As we move to Hangzhou, we’re feeling the love (and support) from family in China


Sometimes, I think the love of a Chinese family is one of the best kept secrets in the world. And if ever there was an example of that, it’s our upcoming move to Hangzhou. As we trade the countryside for city life, I still can’t believe how my husband’s family has gone out of their way to help us make the transition.

Secretly buying our brand-new apartment essentials

Okay, I know rice cookers, pressure cookers, dishes, woks and bedding don’t appear out of thin air. But when my mother-in-law suddenly pulled out all of these brand-spanking-new things (and more!) from storage in our house, it felt like some magic trick. Or the wedding registry I never imagined I had signed up for.

Because, after all, we never asked them to buy any of these things. But they bought them anyway!

My mother-in-law has continued this apartment hocus-pocus almost every day leading up to the move, trotting out new things during lunch, and has even pulled a few extra-special surprises out of her own proverbial hat (including honey and even veggies from her garden).

Making it an auspicious move

“It’s not superstition. It’s the Book of Change, a Chinese tradition.” Whether or not you agree with my father-in-law, the fact remains that good luck matters to my in-laws in every important aspect of life — including moving house.

So naturally, once we announced the news on Saturday, my father-in-law whipped out that indispensable little red book in his library — the Chinese Farmer’s Almanac, based on China’s Book of Change. It lists every date in the year, recommending what you should and should not do on that date. According to his almanac, the best upcoming date for our move (and preparing our new bedroom) would be this coming Tuesday, May 27.

And believe me, this stuff counts to them. How much? Enough for my mother-in-law to make a second phone call to my husband’s oldest brother (who initially said he couldn’t move us on Tuesday), convincing him to do it earlier in the day!

Money? We didn’t ask for money!

Compared to so many Americans I know, Chinese families seen to operate on a completely different wavelength when it comes to money — and my husband’s family is no exception.

You don’t even need to ask them, “Could you lend us some money?” It’s a given they will, which I still haven’t quite gotten used to (yes, I am a bag of nerves whenever John has to borrow cash from his family — and John always thinks it’s so funny).

And more often than not, you don’t even need to bring up the topic of money with them — because they’ll do it first.

That’s exactly what my father-in-law did the other day when he sauntered over to John and me in the yard. John’s dad had this serious look on his face that made me all nervous inside, as if he was like my dad and about to lecture us on something we messed up in his house. But this “serious talk” turned out to be nothing more than him saying, “You’re going to need some money for your move. How much?” (A question that, of course, I felt too embarrassed to answer. I mean, here’s my father-in-law approaching me with a gesture that seems too generous to be real, and expecting me to give him a number?)

Days later, I discovered a thick stack of crisp, red bills lying in the corner of our room — an amount that turned out to be more than three times more what I expected!

Sometimes it’s not even a question, but an order. Like, yesterday John’s oldest brother phoned him out of the blue just to say “Open an account so I can send you some money” when John hadn’t even asked for it. After my husband recounted this to me, I was shocked (in a good way)…and then almost wanted to pinch myself.

Nope, it wasn’t a daydream.

In the end, it’s all about the love

My Chinese relatives will never hug or kiss us, or say how much they love us the way my American relatives do. But they’ll pony up brand-new apartment essentials and money without us asking them, and make certain we move on the luckiest possible day. It all comes down to one simple idea — this is how they show us their love.

Now if you excuse me, I’ve got a move to get ready for. Hangzhou, here we come!

In Hangzhou, the city where John and I fell in love — and love with all our hearts!

Another Friend, Another Divorce in China

Divorce in China is on the rise, and John and I felt that increase among our friends, including Huizhong (photo source:

“The feelings between my wife and I were not so harmonious. So [this past summer] we officially divorced,” wrote Huizhong, one of my husband’s xiongdi — male friends so close to him that he refers to them with the Chinese word for “brothers.” Just like that, Huizhong became a new statistic in the rise of divorce rates in China. Continue reading “Another Friend, Another Divorce in China”

Ask the Yangxifu: On Married Men in China Seeking Extramarital Affairs With Western Women

A couple cheating in the background, with the words "Lies" written on the front
(photo by Akbar Simonse)


Now, I see a lot of positive things on Asian men here on this blog and I do appreciate that, but what about the not-so-positive ones? There is one thing in particular i’ve been thinking about for a while lately: the cheating and the tradition of having xiaosan [mistresses] here in China. I can’t even remember how many times I have been approached by married men or guys who have been with their gfs for 8 or 9 years! Not to mention the fact that dating someone is actually quite complicated because a good part of the guys in their late 20s are already married!!

I know a lot of foreign girls who do get in troubles eventually for starting relationships with men who are already taken and it just becomes a mess…

What do you think about this? Why is it that so many seem to prefer cheating than leave their ‘safety net’ (aka gf)? Why does it seem that foreign girls are their preferred choice when they look for xiaosan? Continue reading “Ask the Yangxifu: On Married Men in China Seeking Extramarital Affairs With Western Women”

Ask the Yangxifu: Texting to Ask a Chinese Guy Out?

Picture of the textpad and screen on a smartphone
A woman is interested in a Chinese guy, but they work in a romance-unfriendly government organization. Should she text him to ask him out? (photo by John Lee)

N asks:

I’m interested in this Chinese guy. When there is a group of us at work he doesn’t speak to me as much as when the two of us pass each other in the office when nobody else is there. This makes me think that he doesn’t want the other colleagues to see us become friends. Our company is part of a government organisation. He has shown interest by smiling, eye contact and staring. He’s asked me questions about when I’m going away and how long I plan to stay in China.

I’ve been thinking of asking him out via text. Do you think this will be seen as too keen or a bit sloppy? Continue reading “Ask the Yangxifu: Texting to Ask a Chinese Guy Out?”

Ask the Yangxifu: Holiday Gift Roundup for Chinese Friends & Loved Ones

To make your holiday to-do list a little easier, I’m rounding up all of my gift-giving advice in one easy post. Includes ideas for your Chinese friends and family, as well as hosts and even business associates. (photo by Christy Thompson)

(UPDATED February 3, 2018)

“What gift should I give?” It’s the number one question in my mailbag — and chances are, with the holidays coming, the number one thing on the minds of many readers.

To make your holiday to-do list a little easier, I’m rounding up all of my gift-giving advice in one easy post.

7 Great Chinese New Year Gifts Sure to Impress Friends, Family and Coworkers. While the focus is Chinese New Year, this latest post is an excellent guide for great gifts you could give all year long.

Giving Gifts to Your Chinese Family – A Modest Guide remains one of the top 10 posts for this site. It’s not exactly my favorite post of the bunch — which I guess is bound to happen when it’s your first stab on the subject.

Still, I feel this one does help on several counts. It’s not bad as an overview, and it offers great ideas for anyone doing their holiday gift shopping in China. So there you go. Read it, but remember it’s not my last word on gifts.

4 Tips for Giving Gift Baskets in ChinaWhat should I give to my loved ones/family in China? I’ve received hundreds of e-mails from people around the world, asking me for advice on this. Over the years I’ve discovered there can be a very simple answer to this question – the fruit basket, or even a well-chosen gift-basket.

Gifts to Buy Abroad for Chinese Family and Relatives. This post isn’t just for people with Chinese spouses/significant others and/or extended family on their list. It could be helpful for almost anyone doing their holiday shopping outside of China. When in doubt, stick with the more general suggestions such as chocolate or coffee (or see my final advice below).

Birthday Gifts for Chinese Men. What? Birthdays? Okay, the title sticks out — but the content fits right in. We could even rename this post “Christmas/Holiday gifts for Chinese boyfriends, husbands and other special men in your life.” In addition, some of the suggestions — such as the business card cases, briefcases/messenger bags, and unique electronic devices — could be great gifts for Chinese men and women who happen to be your China business associates.

P.S.: If you’re shopping this holiday season on, you can actually support Speaking of China — at no additional cost to you — by making a purchase through one of my affiliate links. Thanks!


Do you have a question about life, dating, marriage and family in China/Chinese culture (or Western culture)? Every Friday, I answer questions on my blog. Send me your question today.

Double Happiness: The Date In China That Changed Her Future

A hand holding a pair of chopsticks
When Jemma arrived in China in 2008, she expected to stay two years and then move on to another place. But that was before she met her Chinese boyfriend. (photo by Penny Mathews)

As Jemma’s story reminded me, I’m not the only one that never expected to find love — and more — in China. I’m also not the only one who had a few friends intervene on my behalf to find a better man. 😉 
When I arrived in China in 2008, I figured I would stay two years and then move on to another place. But that was before I met my Chinese boyfriend.

I dated a few men, all Chinese, and had some horror stories and some that just didn’t work out. One night, I happened to share my latest bad date with friends. The date was a nice guy, but seemed only interested in me because I was a foreigner. After hearing this, one of the friends decided to give my e-mail address to a man he met at the gym, a guy who had jokingly asked him to set him up with a foreign woman.

At first, this man and I only spoke on the Internet, until he finally got the courage to ask me out for dinner. When we met that night, I liked him straight away — maybe not tall, but definitely handsome. He was a perfect gentleman in the corny, traditional sort of way. He opened doors for me, pulled my chair out, always checked to see if I wanted more food or drink, and refused to let me pay even though he was still a student. After dinner, we went for a walk in the local park and talked for hours, until he finally walked me home and said good night.

But the next week, I heard nothing from him. I was devastated. I thought, maybe my loud Western ways scared him away. Continue reading “Double Happiness: The Date In China That Changed Her Future”

The Sanshi’erli Scare: Over Thirty and Still A Student?

A desk with a textbook open with a pen and ruler on it.
"Won't you graduate already?" That's the pressure my Chinese husband felt from family and friends, wondering why he was over thirty, with no career or children. (photo by shno)

My Chinese husband John shot me his weary, it’s-way-too-late-on-Sunday look. I expected him to vent about his PhD studies the way he always did when he appeared tired — the homework, the papers, the feeling that you’re always, despite your best efforts, just a little behind. Behind it all, though, I always felt his passion, his love for the path he’d chosen — to become a clinical psychologist.

But not tonight. “I’m tired of being a student,” he sighed.

I dashed into the living room, as if his words signaled some emergency, that his lifelong passion needed life support. “What do you mean?” I asked, staring into his eyes for signs of something, anything, that could tell me what was wrong.

He hid himself behind a generic smile, the kind that doesn’t really mean he’s happy. “My cousin is my age. He is settled down and has a family.”

“So? Your cousin also will never be able to do what you can do after graduating.”

He grinned, and with just one glance I had a feeling this problem went far beyond his cousin. “I’m too old,” he said. Continue reading “The Sanshi’erli Scare: Over Thirty and Still A Student?”

Finding Friends With Married Chinese Women

A Chinese girl sitting next to a Western girl
A birthday dinner in August reminded me of the value of friendships with Chinese women. (photo by ophelia cherry)

In early August, my Chinese husband and I invited five of our closest Chinese friends to celebrate my birthday a week late. We met at a Thai restaurant in Hangzhou. And while I longed for the piquant curries, I never realized I longed for something else even more until that evening.We happened to discuss the wedding between Min and Lao Da, who just married at the end of May. I really wanted to know about what they did to plan their ceremony. I had asked Lao Da about this almost two months earlier, but he dismissed the subject by saying his wife handled most of this.

When I approached Min about the process, she started dressing down Lao Da before she even got to the topic of dresses.“He did almost nothing to help!” she moaned, her eyebrows furrowed behind her geek-chic black frames. “I kept on trying to get him involved, but he didn’t. He always told me not to worry, that it wasn’t a problem. But we had all of these details to take care of and it was hard not to worry!” Continue reading “Finding Friends With Married Chinese Women”

Ask the Yangxifu: Opposite-Sex Friendships in China

An American woman wonders, can people of the opposite sex still be friends in China? (photo by Edwin Pijpe)

Eleanor asks:

I’ve recently befriended a Chinese student here in the US. I lived in China for 2 years and speak Chinese more or less fluently, but my grasp of Chinese friendship/dating culture is still pretty basic. He and I have talked about exploring the possibility of being more than friends, but both of us agreed to take more time to get to know each other just as friends for now and not to rush anything. I think there’s an obvious undercurrent of attraction between us, and I’m worried that if we decided we were unsuitable romantically that he would back off friendship-wise as well. In China, I didn’t see many opposite-sex friendships (besides with high school aged kids), and I worry if we don’t end up dating that I would lose him as a friend too. I like and respect this guy a lot, so I hope you can reassure me that our friendship can continue even if one of us finds someone else. Continue reading “Ask the Yangxifu: Opposite-Sex Friendships in China”

Ask the Yangxifu: Why Does My Chinese Family Refuse My Gifts?

Gift box wrapped in silver paper with purple, blue and green stripes and a magenta bow
An American woman wonders why her Chinese in-laws seem upset every time she gives them a gift. Why do they always refuse what she buys for them? (photo by Irum Shahid)

Sam asks:

Recently, while I was at the grocery store, I saw a lovely bouquet of lilies. I thought they would look lovely in the kitchen, and decided to by them for my Chinese mother-in-law. I brought them home and put them in a vase. But when she came home and I told her they were for her, it seemed to stress her. She first tried to get me to say that they were just for myself, and then insisted that they were for the men in the house since Father’s Day had been the week before. We finally agreed that they were for everyone.

I can’t help but wonder if I did something wrong. My husband didn’t think so, but he’s been in the states for over 20 years now and isn’t always in the loop.

I had a similar experience when I came back from a trip. I had bought her a purse that I found on super-sale and thought she would like it. She kept on insisting that I would need it more than she would and that I should keep it for myself. It wasn’t until I told her I had bought myself something similar that she settled down and accepted it.

It is not uncommon for me to see something that I think a friend will like and buy it for them. Several times I’ve seen clothes that I know would fit my mother in law that would look good on her, but I am afraid I’ll terrify her or something. Do you have any insight? Continue reading “Ask the Yangxifu: Why Does My Chinese Family Refuse My Gifts?”