Interview & FREE Book Giveaway: “Parsley & Coriander” by Antonella Moretti

There’s not a month that goes by here in China without some remembrance of my first tentative steps into this country. How I stammered my way through even the simplest of conversations, and could hardly understand anything people said in return. My fears of venturing out to do commonplace things we usually take for granted – going to the post office, shopping at the supermarket, buying meds at the pharmacy, dining at a restaurant. The times when I would cry out of frustration of adapting to such a foreign culture, or simply because I was lonely and longed for the comforts of something familiar. The moment I fell in love with a local Chinese man.

Getting to know China that first year was such a formative time for me. I never realized that a chance decision to work here would eventually change my life and love forever. Despite all the challenges involved, I look back on that time with gratitude, knowing I wouldn’t be who I am today without it.

It’s a joy to remember this. But it’s also a joy when I happen to read a book that captures the spirit of finding your own path in China, especially as a woman. Parsley & Coriander is a delightful novel by Antonella Moretti that does just that, through the stories of Italian expat women in China.

In this compelling story of Luisella and her circle of friends and acquaintances, Moretti brings to life many of the foreigners I’ve met in China. Entrepreneurs and working girls. Foreign students smitten with Chinese men. Expat wives-turned-writers. Trailing spouses, uncertain what to make of their new home.

Despite the fact that this is a novel told through an expat lens, Moretti doesn’t shy away from the darker, more prejudicial sides of the China expat community – those content to criticize China about everything. While Parsley & Coriander is never preachy, the underlying message is clear – open yourself up to new perspectives, and give China a chance.

You’ve already had a taste of Parsley & Coriander through the guest post Antonella Moretti penned for the blog last month (On Being An Expat Wife in China). I’m excited to feature Parsley & Coriander and Antonella Moretti once again through this interview.

Here’s her bio from Goodreads:

Antonella Moretti is an Italian expat blogger and writer living in China since 2011. In her blog she likes to share her experience as an Italian mom and trailing spouse living in China, always trying to understand the differences and contradictions between the Chinese society and Western culture. She is a contributor for online magazines and writes about expat life. Her first novel “Parsley and Coriander” tells the story of three Italian women who left their life in Italy behind and followed their husbands in China: it is a story about love, friendship and the courage of making choices.

You can learn more about Antonella Moretti at her blog. Her new novel Parsley & Coriander is available at, where your purchases help support Speaking of China.

Would you like to win a FREE copy of Parsley & Coriander? If you have a mailing address in China, why not participate in a giveaway today! Scroll down for details.


Tell us about what inspired you to write this novel.

When I started my expat journey, living in China was new and exciting for me and I wanted to share everything about it. Moreover, I had the chance to know many different women and I was fascinated by their stories. Each of them had an interesting point of view and a different experience and I thought this was the right topic for a novel. In the book, all the characters live a different adventure, and yet they have a lot in common.

You’ve based much of your writing on the people you’ve met here in China, including your friends. How have they responded to the book?

Yes, I took a lot from daily life and many of my friends told me they really could relate to the emotions of the women in the book. But at the same time I mixed everything in order to create different stories and fictional characters, so nobody could really identify with a specific one! I confess I was a little afraid about how they could respond to the book, but they loved it! And I still have all of my friends!

How did you come up with Assunta’s, the Italian cafe featured in the novel run by a Chinese woman who has lived in Italy?

I liked the idea that the most popular hangout place for Italians in town was actually run by a Chinese woman. Italians are very proud of their food, their wine and coffee and I found it funny that Assunta chooses for herself a typical name from Southern Italy and claims to make the best Espresso in China.

Unfortunately, that is a completely imaginary place: in Suzhou we don’t have a cafe like that, where you can go and always find some Italians to chat with, drinking the perfect Espresso. And we really miss it!

Which character was your favorite to write and why?

My favorite character to write was Emma, because her adventure is the most tormented and romantic in the book. Writing her story, I really identified with her feelings: I got angry when she did, I cried when she was sad… I found her personality fascinating and I really loved her.

Your novel features a variety of relationships experienced by expat women in China, from trailing spouses to students to entrepreneurs. Without revealing any major spoilers, could you share with us some of your favorite relationship moments in the book?

I found interesting the relationship between Camilla, the young student in love with China, and Fulvia who, instead, hates everything of her Chinese experience and is very negative and sarcastic. Of course, in the story they have many occasions to fight! This also gave me the chance to talk about the different perceptions of China by foreigners.

What do you hope readers gain from reading your novel?

I hope readers will identify with the emotions of the characters, and discover they are not alone when they must cope with the difficulties of expat life in China. And also realize that living here can be a great opportunity when you are flexible and able to adapt. For those used to China, it can represent a memory of their experience while living in the country. And I also hope it can be useful for those who plan to move here: it gives a glimpse of what you could expect once arrived in the Middle Kingdom.


A big thanks to Antonella Moretti for this interview on Parsley & Coriander!

Would you like to win a FREE copy of Parsley & Coriander? If you have a mailing address in China, why not enter the FREE book giveaway going on right now on WeChat?

(For those of you not based in mainland China, but with friends or family over in China who could receive it for you, you can enter too!)

Here’s how to enter:

1. To be eligible to win, you must use WeChat on your mobile phone and have a mailing address in mainland China. (Note – if you haven’t installed WeChat, it’s easy to download. You can find it in most major app stores by searching for WeChat or微信, or get it directly from their website here).

2. Follow my official WeChat account. If you’re not already a follower, just scan the QR Code below using your WeChat app (here are directions on how to scan QR codes in WeChat):Or, you can search for my official WeChat account under the words “speakingchina”.

3. Finally, just send a message to my official WeChat account with the phrase “pc” and you’re entered.

It’s THAT simple.

Remember, entries must be received by 11:59pm tonight (May 18) Beijing time. Only one entry per person. Tomorrow, on May 19, I will randomly choose a winner from all the entries and notify them via my WeChat official account.

Good luck to everyone!

By the way, if you’re in Suzhou, China on Saturday May 20 and would fancy an evening of fine wine and books, you can meet Antonella Moretti in person:

Guest Post: On Being an Expat Wife in China

I’m thrilled to publish this guest post from Antonella Moretti, author of the novel Parsley & Coriander: Life in China with Italian Flavor. Here’s the description from

How would you feel if you are told that you have to give up your whole life and move to China? This is what happens to the three Italian women in the story, who decide to follow their husbands abroad.

Challenges, thrills, ups and downs and the struggle of having to deal with a very different culture.

Antonella Moretti portrays a group of trailing spouses: some of them adapt to the new reality and reinvent themselves, others simply can’t bear the cultural shock and give up.

Stay tuned, as I’ll be featuring an interview with Antonella about her novel later on the blog.

Do you have a guest post you’d like to see featured here on Speaking of China? Visit the submit a post page to learn how to get published on the blog.

My name is Antonella and I moved to China from Italy in 2012. It was our family’s first experience abroad and I didn’t know what to expect from this new adventure.

So, what happens when your husband receives a job offer in China and you decide to follow him?

You’ll probably become a taitai. 

Taitai in Chinese means married woman. But for us, the wives of foreigners who work in China, it also means to be a lady who sacrifices a part of her life and goes toward the unknown. A woman who will probably become a privileged housewife, with an ayi hired to clean the house, kids all day long at some international school, maybe a driver to take her around. And a lot of free time.

Sounds great, isn’t it? But sometimes, if you were used to being a busy woman, you struggle to fill that time.

Taitais meet in foreign coffee shops, trying to deal with the diversity of Chinese culture. Some of them like their new life. Others are overwhelmed by cultural shock and only desire to go back to their motherland. Many of them become addicted to shopping and fill their wardrobe with fake bags and clothes. Others are obsessed with their body and spend their days at the gym. Some try to work, but for spouses it is not easy to find a job in the same field you were employed in, especially in China.

When I decided to follow my man, like many others I quit my job. I was an accountant and never really loved that job, So no tears from me when I told my boss I was going to resign.

Becoming a taitai myself, I had to deal with all the unusual spare time. To find myself without anything to do was really weird! I feared I had no purpose anymore. Shopping sprees and neverending chitchats were not meaningful activities to me. I wanted something more! So I had to reinvent myself. And what was better than rediscovering my old passion for writing? I started a blog and after a while, I wrote and published a novel.

What is this novel about? About expat women, of course! The topic I know best. I didn’t have to do much research to write about it. Even if the book isn’t a memoir, I poured into the pages all the experiences, the stories, and the feelings of my first years in China.

I wrote a novel because I wanted to describe the most expats I could — from the ones who adapt easily to the ones who never fit in. And fiction helped me to mix everything and create a captivating plot.

The women in the book try to get the best out of their “taitai life”. They challenge themselves, doing new things that sometimes frighten them. Like Astrid, who becomes a stronger person:

“Every choice she made, trembling with fear, she did wondering if it was the right one. It was anything but a smooth process and left her worn out, tired and nervous. But now she understood that dealing with it all, taking all those risks, had made her able to do things she, knowing herself, would have considered totally impossible until a few months earlier.

For someone this is just too much, and they lock themselves at home, frightened and shocked. There’s the young Livia, who says:

“Not everyone is like you, Luisella! Not everyone can keep smiling through difficult times. I know you don’t appreciate those who honestly admit not being happy in China, but we are not all the same, you know? Some of us need a long time to adapt, some will never fit in, but they should not be judged for it!”

In my case, I didn’t have that much of a cultural shock. Maybe because I’m flexible, maybe because I’m curious. Or maybe because, when I was young, I was a girl scout and certain things don’t shock me! But, joking aside, I understand that this is not true for everybody. This is the reason why many expats live in the “expat bubble”. They rent an apartment in a very nice compound and spend their time inside it, hanging out almost exclusively with fellow countrymen.

On the contrary, there are also expats like the young student Camilla, a truly China-lover, who arrives in the Middle Kingdom full of expectations, declaring she wants to find a local boyfriend.

“Astrid looked at the picture on her smartphone screen: only Camilla could find the courage to photograph a bank employee, not at all ashamed to be seen!

– He’s actually really handsome!

– He is tall, has dark, almond-shaped, irresistible eyes, a prominent jawline, a straight and long neck, broad shoulders…

Astrid laughed:

– Did you X-ray him? Okay, but now what’s the next move? Are you going to ask him out?”

But dreams and reality do not always match, and she will clash with difficulties she didn’t expect.

Because of her declared love for Asia, she will become the favorite target of Fulvia’s mockery. Fulvia is one of the so-called “three witches”, a group of ladies who don’t miss a chance to speak ill about their life in China, giving voice to the ones who think they are right just because they are Westerners.

“The Three Witches (…) never missed a chance to rant about China and the Chinese people, and didn’t make the slightest effort to learn more about the country and the people that were hosting them. Indeed, their mouths were filled with mostly racist platitudes.”

Emma, instead, arrives China without expectations or prejudices. She comes to save her broken marriage and end up finding a new, complicated love: she falls for a calm, strong Chinese man. But their love will be destroyed by doubts, prejudices and guilt. Eventually, she understands that all she wants is to save their romance…but is it too late? Will she win his heart again?

“She felt as if she were floating on the clouds. The meetings with Shen had become a regular thing, and although nothing had happened between them, Emma felt satisfied and complete. She knew little or nothing about him, and yet she seemed to have known him for a lifetime.(…)

Sometimes, as they sat gazing at the river, their shoulders touched. Emma felt a strong urge to take his arm and put it around her shoulders, but at the same time she didn’t dare. She was savoring the tension that grew stronger every time but didn’t force his hand in any way.”

This was the only part of the story that required some research. Neither I nor any friend of mine have ever been involved in a cross-cultural relationship and I wanted to make it sound realistic. In this, Jocelyn and other women who share their AMWF experiences in their blogs helped me a lot. I discovered for instance that Chinese men show their love differently. They don’t use many words, they show their appreciation in a subtle way. Yet Shen is a very romantic character, and my readers loved him!

Living day by day in this country, you’ll learn to appreciate things you wouldn’t think you could. Like coriander, the herb which gives the title to the novel. At the beginning I really couldn’t stand its smell. I found it nearly disgusting. Then, little by little, I learned to enjoy it. And now I really love it!

Italian writer Antonella Moretti, who resides in Suzhou, China, is the author of Parsley & Coriander: Life in China with Italian Flavor.

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.

Interviewed and Featured on

%e5%b1%8f%e5%b9%95%e5%bf%ab%e7%85%a7-2016-11-03-%e4%b8%8b%e5%8d%8810-30-53The website just featured my blog, along with an interview with me posted this week. Here’s an excerpt:

What do you like about life where you are?

It’s so delightful to reside in a city built around a historic lake fringed by some of the most celebrated gardens in China, along with verdant mountains and hidden mountain trails as well as a sizable wetland park. Sometimes it’s hard to believe that one of the most popular cities in China boasts so much green space and so many opportunities for enjoying the outdoors.

What do you dislike about your expat life?

I dislike having to contend with secondhand smoke in restaurants and public places, even though there’s a smoking ban; my coping strategy has been to be selective about where I dine out and only patronize restaurants that offer a smoke-free and clean environment. Traffic can be stressful here too because you’re contending with a variety of different vehicles (from cars and trucks to motorbikes, bicycles and three-wheeled carts jammed with cargo) and a driving style that tends to be more aggressive.

What is the biggest cultural difference you have experienced between your new country and life back home?

One of the biggest cultural differences I’ve noticed is how families and friends seem to be much more close-knit here in China, compared to what I was used to growing up in a white family in Ohio. I’ve witnessed how friends and family will go out of their way to help and support their loved ones, whether that’s lending you money for hospital bills, giving you a place to stay in town any time you need it (no questions asked), or finding you a tailor when you have a dress emergency and need it done in 24 hours (true story!). While it does mean more responsibility for everyone, including yourself, it’s also a great relief knowing that the people you care about really are there for you.

Read the whole interview on ExpatFocus. And if you like it, share it!

5 Unhappy Things I’ve Struggled with as an Expat Married to a Foreigner

The Wall Street Journal Expat Blog just published an article titled Strategies for Coping as an Unhappy Expat. While I loved the suggestions provided by the author, the thing that struck me most about it was the focus. The idea of the unhappy expat.

Unhappy moments are not the sexy sort of thing we’d like to plaster all over our blogs and social media accounts.

Even I’m guilty of it. I’d rather you see these beautiful pics of Chinese New Year with my Chinese family than talk about how exhausting and frustrating the holiday was. I don’t want you to know about all of the hours I had spent crying in my bed, consumed with sadness.

It’s even harder when you’re married to someone from another country and living there. As I once wrote in this article for Matador:

Before I met Jun, I imagined international love to be as sexy as a James Bond movie, where lovers went from Monte Carlo to the Casbah as easily as ordering a martini. But then I went to China, and I was shaken and stirred by the reality there…

I think we’re all a little shaken a stirred – and not always in a positive way – when we chose to make another country home, with a spouse from that country. There are inevitable sacrifices and challenges that people don’t always talk about, but probably should. It would be a great leap forward to helping us all overcome the shame of feeling sad when we’re supposed to have these “fabulously sexy” expat lives.

Here are 5 unhappy things I’ve struggled with as a longtime expat in China married to a foreigner:

IMG_0045 (1)#1: Missing friends and family from your home country

I chose to live in China, half a world away from my friends and family back home. But, goodness, not a day goes by when I don’t think about them – and wish I could see them again.

Right now, for personal reasons, it’s just not feasible for me to return to the US. In fact, I haven’t returned ever since I moved here to China at the end of 2013, making it more than two years since I’ve been away.

This is probably a huge surprise to a lot of people, who might think expats always make those trips home at least once a year. But it’s not uncommon among the yangxifu (foreign wives of Chinese men) that I know. There’s one woman who actually lived six years straight in China before hopping on a plane to return to her home country. (Her reason was having kids in China – it was just too difficult for her to make the trip.)

12222324205_7aaa3fc67b_z#2: Feeling isolated

I live in Hangzhou, China. While it’s not a Beijing or Shanghai, it’s definitely right up there with the major cities in China. But there’s one thing Hangzhou doesn’t have – a vibrant, more permanent expat community.

The majority of expats in the city are pretty transient – overwhelmingly students at the universities – and don’t stick around too long. The rest of the working expats are scattered all over town. I almost never run into folks in the city, and there aren’t tons of venues to meet up with them either.

Add to that the fact that I also divide my time between the city and the countryside, and you’ve got a recipe ripe for isolation.

I have friends in China on my WeChat account, and we do chats every now and then. But honestly, just straight online chatting doesn’t really do it for me. Video chats are much better, though slow Internet can make it difficult too.

I’m learning the importance of reaching out to people when I’m struggling. Even then, I know that isolation will sometimes be a part of my life and I need to learn to find good coping strategies for it.

IMG_1838#3: Feeling misunderstood by your foreign family

I recently wrote, “It’s hard not to care about the happiness of my mother-in-law when, frankly, she spends so much of her time caring about ours.” and it’s a testament to how much I love her and the family I have here in China.

But the thing is, no matter how much I love them, there are things about my life that they don’t always understand. Especially things that have happened to me and my husband in America or places far removed from their rural Hangzhou life.

I can handle being misunderstood in small doses. But let me tell you, during Chinese New Year this month I was getting pummeled with it almost every single day from family members. And even though I know that words can’t really hurt you, I couldn’t help but feel down from it all.

Sometimes the best antidote to this is my husband, who tells me that I’m not alone in feeling like I do. With his experience living abroad and traveling, his family doesn’t always understand him or his decisions either. He’s a reminder that it’s OK.

IMG_2514.JPG – 版本 2#4: Visa woes

When you’re living in another country – and married to a foreigner – visas can become central to your existence. And in the worst case scenarios (a la the 2011 movie Like Crazy) visas can even get in the way of your relationship. I wrote about my own brushes with visa woes back in 2011 for Matador:

To me, Jun was the guy who first kissed me to the tune of cicadas, next to Hangzhou’s West Lake. The man who loved to pick me up from the metro station late at night, and ferry me home on the back of his bicycle. But to the visa officer at the US Consulate in Shanghai, Jun was just another immigration risk from China with no apartment or car, let alone a wife or children. “You’re too young,” the officer declared in Mandarin, stamping a denial in permanent red ink into the passport….

I shouldn’t have pushed Jun to apply for that US tourist visa — except I longed for him to meet my parents. I had met his months before, but he’d only known mine through the occasional long-distance phone call. But instead of getting the third degree from my dad, Jun had to get it first from a US visa officer, a guy who wasn’t kidding about “no.”

But it can go both ways. In online chat groups with foreigners, I often hear about the seemingly interminable troubles that they’re facing with applying work visas. Things like having to make the expensive journey back to their home country just to submit an application, figuring out how to get an acceptable criminal background check completed, and more. Sigh.

IMG_20160213_170645#5: When people laugh at your foreign accent

The Chinese are known for their excitement whenever Westerners say even a simple “Ni Hao” or “Xie Xie” – but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible for people here to laugh at your accent.

It has actually happened to me, particularly when I’m around kids (and often in a classroom setting). When I speak my accented Chinese to them, they think it’s funny and then don’t respect me so much. Or make jokes about me behind my back.

Granted, it’s nothing compared to what Chinese might experience in America. Many Americans are such racists sticklers that they consider certain accents – including Asian accents – as proof that you can’t speak proper English. (Or worse, that you should “go back home”….)

But the experiences I’ve had here have made me even more sympathetic to foreigners in America. And they’ve given me a taste of the unhappy experiences you can have when you don’t speak exactly like a native.


Don’t get me wrong – I’m happy most of the time. I love my husband, I love China, and couldn’t imagine living anywhere else in the world. But sometimes, it’s good to share the flip side of it all. For all the ups we experience as expats, there will also be plenty of downs as well.

So next time you’re feeling a little unhappy in your supposedly “amazing” expat life, just remember one very important thing – you’re not alone.

What do you think? What unhappy experiences have you had as an expat and/or as someone married to a foreigner?

Pub’d on The Wall Street Journal: “Mom, If Only You Could Have Known the Expat I’ve Become”

WSJ_JEikenburg_MomThe Wall Street Journal just published my article titled “Mom, If Only You Could Have Known the Expat I’ve Become” (which was inspired by a blog post I ran earlier this year to coincide with Mother’s Day) on their Expat Blog.

Here’s an excerpt from the piece:

My heart aches as I stare down at my old Dr. Seuss Cat-in-the-Hat doll, now covered in splotches of mold. I chastise myself for burying it in the closet: How had I forgotten about the ferocious humidity of Hangzhou, the Chinese city I once called my home and whose climate ultimately claimed this most precious of childhood relics from my late mother. She never imagined this doll would follow me to China.

I was only 17 years old when she died of cancer. At the time, there was nothing to suggest I would end up in China, though China would eventually become a part of me, giving me a home, a career, and a husband.

Read the full article at The Wall Street Journal. And as always, if you love it, share it!

Pub’d in The Wall Street Journal: “Married Without Children in China: Dealing with the Pressure in a Baby-Centric Country”

WSJ_JEikenburg_Married without kids in China

I can’t believe I’m writing this — my article was just published in The Wall Street Journal!

It’s titled “Married Without Children in China: Dealing With the Pressure in a Baby-Centric Country” and is featured in the WSJ Expat blog. Here’s an excerpt:

When I stepped into our muggy kitchen the other night to start dinner, I never guessed my husband, Jun, a native of the Hangzhou, China, region where we live, would turn up the unbearable summer heat with one simple statement.

“The other day, my aunt asked me when we’re going to have a baby.”

Suddenly, I felt my blood pressure rising like steam from the sizzling wok before me. “Why are you telling me this?” I snapped back.

“I just want to prepare you, so you’ll have a thicker skin. My relatives are all waiting for us to have a child.”

I let out an exasperated sigh. “As if I needed another reminder.”

In China, “Are you married?” and “Do you have children?” can be the equivalent of asking, “How are you?” An American who met my husband while working at an Internet company in China, I never cared what his family said about us when we lived in the U.S. – oceans and time zones away. But since we moved back to China in 2013, I have gradually collected all these “reminders” until they accumulated painfully in my mind.

Read the full piece at The Wall Street Journal. And as always, if you love it, share it!