Celebrating 10 Years of Blogging With 10 Photos

Ten years of blogging. I can’t believe that, as of this Saturday, I will have been at this for a decade, ever since May 18, 2009.

To mark this special 10-year “blog-iversary” I’m running 10 photos of me and my husband from the past decade, along with a popular post from the end of each of these past 10 years.

Thank you so much to all the readers out there, no matter how long you’ve followed Speaking of China. You’ve continually inspired me and also helped make this a better blog. I’m also deeply grateful to have made so many wonderful friends in the process too. Know that I’m raising my glass to everyone in appreciation!



When Jun and I went to China for the summer of 2009, we indulged in a month-long trip across the country to take in all of the sights we never visited years before — from Xi’an and Chengdu to Changsha and Kaifeng.

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Jun and I welcomed the year of the tiger in 2010 as the emcees of a Chinese New Year celebration. What a night!

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Here we are in 2011 celebrating Jun’s birthday over Thai curries.

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To commemorate our wedding anniversary in 2012, we enjoyed a relaxing evening of classical music performed by the Cleveland Orchestra. But before heading out, we posed before the flower garden to remember the evening.

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For Chinese New Year in 2013, Jun and I whipped up a traditional Chinese feast for the family — from roast goose and ribs to ginger-garlic green beans and stir-fried matchstick potatoes. We’re smiling, but there’s exhaustion behind those eyes because we spent the entire morning in the kitchen! Still, it was worth the effort.

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There’s nothing like finally spending Chinese New Year at the family home in China for the first time in years. In 2014, Jun and I reunited with his family and the country we love.

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On my birthday in 2015, Jun and I visited the West Lake, snapping this photo by our beloved corner of the lake near Qu Yuan Feng He (曲院风荷).

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Jun and I felt fortunate to have the opportunity to visit Washington DC with family in the summer of 2016, where we had the chance to look upon all the iconic landmarks.

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Jun and I took this shot just after moving from Hangzhou to Beijing.

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As spring arrived in the park near our home in Beijing, Jun and I took the time to take a walk and appreciate the flowers.

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Thank you so much for reading!

Photo Essay: Hangzhou Video Shoot – From West Lake to Wondrous Food

I just returned from my trip to Hangzhou to shoot video footage for China Daily Website as well as the Asian Cuisine Festival set to take place in the city from May 15 to 22. While we followed a very demanding schedule that meant being out of our hotel around 12 hours a day for shoots, the experience was unforgettable and worth the effort.

As I’m still catching up on pretty much everything (please bear with me!), in lieu of a written post I thought I’d share some behind-the-scenes shots from the experience, giving you a look at where we went as well as what things looked like before the cameras.

On our first day, we arrived in the afternoon at Hangzhou and the headed to the West Lake, where the production team scoped out the area for shooting.

The following day, we went to Hangzhou’s legendary restaurant Lou Wai Lou on Baidi. Part of the shoot took us to the top floor, where I sat at an al fresco table with views of the West Lake. It probably ranks as the most breathtaking seating I’ve ever experienced in a restaurant — if only I could have enjoyed it with my husband!

And of course, as you can probably tell, most of the dishes aren’t even food that I could eat, as a vegan. We had to get really creative in the shooting process, so it appeared as if I was sampling everything. Am really grateful the production team was so accommodating on this.

But make no mistake, as beautiful as the setting looked, we had work to accomplish. And that kept me quite occupied!

But still had enough time to grab this selfie with one of the team members!

Still, we did manage to enjoy a delightful lunch at Lou Wai Lou — and our director gave the food a hearty thumbs-up.

In the afternoon, we went to Zhiweiguan, another time-honored restaurant in Hangzhou, to do a shoot. It was delightful to meet several of their chefs, including these very talented young women.

Zhiweiguan really impressed me with their snacks and desserts, including the dish at the very bottom of the photo — longjing wencha — where dough is fashioned to look like the leaves of Dragonwell tea, steamed, and then served in a clear broth with shrimp. If you didn’t pay close attention, you might think they were just cups of green tea!

On Thursday, we visited a food street and found ourselves in a restaurant overlooking a stream leading into the Grand Canal, which links Hangzhou and Beijing. It meant more food, and of course more shooting too.

Here’s another angle during a shot in the restaurant.

In the afternoon, we shot scenes by the West Lake in my favorite corner — Qu Yuan Feng He (曲院风荷) — as well as one critical shot on Su Causeway, with a view of Lou Wai Lou on Bai Causeway.

We returned that evening to the food street to revel in the evening atmosphere, perfect for the video, and dined at one of the restaurants on the strip. Yes, even during the meal we were working!

On Friday, we did shooting at Hangzhou Restaurant, which took us to its sixth floor, where we could dine beside stunning views of the West Lake while shooting video footage. Oh, how I wish I could have been there with my husband too!

On the sixth floor of Hangzhou Restaurant, the windows are like screens — and pulled back they reveal a glorious scene of the West Lake. (Sorry, it was a bit rainy and cloudy, but during clear weather it would certainly look enchanting.)

In the afternoon, we arrived at our last location — Charen Cun, nestled in the most prized tea fields in the city, where Lion’s Peak Dragonwell tea grows. This restaurant had the most dazzling traditional decor, hands down!

Immediately, the restaurant served up a hot cup of fine Dragonwell tea. As this is the one and only tea I drink to start my day, it was a welcome sight on the table.

Upstairs, I changed into my qipao to interview the restaurant owner about Dragonwell tea as well as the story behind his restaurant, Charen Cun. It was my favorite interview of all because of how much I adore Dragonwell tea.

Then the owner took me into the tea fields to show me how to pick Dragonwell tea. What a delight and honor! I wished I could have stayed much longer…too bad the weather turned cold, otherwise I could have kept my qipao on! 😉

That evening, we dined with the owner and it proved the finest meal of our trip, with a delicious sampling of dishes that emphasized freshness and rural, home-style flavor. Some even reminded me of my mother-in-law’s cooking.

Again, how I wish I could have shared this dinner with my husband, who would have really appreciated the food and company. The owner was very warm and hospitable, inviting us all to return again in the future.

But even the finest meals come to an end. I had a plane to catch later that evening, so we all headed home to the hotel, where I packed my things and then got a taxi to the airport.

I smiled upon finding my seat on the plane, knowing I would be reunited soon with my husband, with tales of my fascinating experiences in Hangzhou, the city that first brought us together so many years ago.

Overall, I gained some valuable experience and at the same time discovered another side to Hangzhou and its culinary heritage. I’m looking forward to seeing how the videos turn out — and once they go live, I’ll definitely share them with all of you!

Heading to Hangzhou to Shoot Videos for China Daily Website

I’ve lived in Hangzhou for years, and it’s the home region of my husband. So what a thrill to have the opportunity to return there to shoot videos about one of the greatest attractions of the city — its distinctive cuisine.

We’ll be in Hangzhou through the rest of the week, and possibly into the weekend.

And we aim to sample more than just the flavors at the table, with plans to visit the West Lake as well.

Because of the intense schedule for this trip, I’m taking a break from blogging this week. I’ll be back next week — and will let you know when the videos finally get published on China Daily.

Chinese Man Seeks Lost American Wife, Son Who Disappeared in Hangzhou

I first learned of this story on WeChat when people began sharing news of a lost mixed-race 2-year-old boy who went missing in Hangzhou. Later reports revealed the boy had actually disappeared with his mother, an American woman. I’ve translated a news story on the incident initially published in Chinese.

“All-powerful circle of friends, please ask everyone if they have seen this child. He is lost. I already alerted the police, but still haven’t received any information about him. Yesterday this information was heavily reposted on social media, saying this 2-year-old boy went missing at Xin Qingnian Guangchang. His name is Chenchen, also known as Milan. Accompanying the information is a picture of the little boy. He has really big eyes, just like a foreign child.”

The person who sent this information is the boy’s father Xiao Xue, a 27-year-old fitness coach in Hangzhou. Yesterday, when someone was trying to get in touch with him, he was a little embarrassed to say, “The boy probably left with his mother.”

The boy’s mother is an American. Her Chinese name is Bai Xue, and she’s two years older than Xiao Xue.

The two of them got together in a romantic way on April 4, 2015, when they both met at the Drum Tower, where it was love at first sight.

At the time, Xiao Xue had been in Hangzhou for about a year or so, while Bai Xue was a foreign student at Zhejiang University. “She was a very bright student and did well in her studies. She could speak many languages, at least eight,” Xiao Xue said, his voice showing pride as he spoke of his wife.

Bai Xue was beautiful, while Xiao Xue was handsome. The two young people had no language barrier to deal with, so they quickly moved from meeting each other to love, and, hand-in-hand, entered marriage together.

“Our relationship was very good, and there was no doubt she loved me,” Xiao Xue said. After they married, his wife Bai Xue’s living habits gave him a bit of a “breakdown”. “She loved to do as she wished, and she would leave things all over the house, and didn’t like to put them back in their place.”

Xiao Xue however prefers things to be neat and tidy, and he would remind Bai Xue about this many times. When Bai Xue became angry over his words, Xiao Xue would soothe her and the situation would pass.

After one year of marriage, their son was born – fair-skinned, chubby, and a mixed-race child. He was very cute. The young couple took care of him themselves and found an Ayi to help them out.

With the birth of their child, the differences in living habits between the two turned into a more acute conflict. During the day, Xiao Xue would work, and Bai Xue would take care of the child.

They were both young and had no experience caring for children. But Xiao Xue said, there were times when he would come home and see the child in the middle of winter with one bare foot, or wearing mismatched shoes, etc. He would say something to Bai Xue, but she felt Xiao Xue was nagging.

Later on, Bai Xue found a job at an early childhood education center, and she could take her son with her to work, so they got rid of their Ayi.

On May 20, also known as young people’s “520” online Valentine’s day holiday, Xiao Xue had to work that day. When he got off work and came home, he was very upset to see an entire box of children’s clothes lying on the ground. All of his desire to enjoy the holiday disappeared. He tidied up the clothing on the ground and then waited for Bai Xue and the boy to return.

After 9 pm that evening, Bai Xue and the child came back, and Xiao Xue asked Bai Xue to put away the clothes on the sofa. But Bai Xue said she wanted to go to sleep. On that day, Xiao Xue was in a bad mood, so he spoke in anger. “That day I was a bit harsh to her, I said the house is such a mess, you must put your clothes away!”

In anger, Bai Xue placed the child in bed, and organized the clothing. Xiao Xue grabbed his notebook to write a journal entry. It wasn’t until after 1 am that he returned to the room and found that Bai Xue and the boy were gone.

Xiao Xue ran outside the building to look, and couldn’t find a trace of the mother and son in the gardens there. Bai Xue’s usual electric scooter wasn’t there either.

Xiao Xue said, Bai Xue had stayed in Hangzhou for over 10 years, she had classmates and friends there. So he sought them out, but they didn’t know where she had gone.

Xiao Xue then reached out to his mother-in-law in the US. She said she didn’t know were Bai Xue was, but she received a Skype message from Bai Xue, asking her to send some living expenses.

In early June, Xiao Xue went to the police station to make a report, and the police searched for information. They discovered that, on the second day that Bai Xue had run away from home, she had gone to Xinchang, then two days later returned to Hangzhou, where she stayed at an inn near Zhejiang University. “I was too slow, she had checked out of the room.”

In early June, Xiao Xue heard friends say they had seen on social media that Bai Xue was carrying her son in Ledigang in Gongshu district.

Xiao Xue has been unable to contact Bai Xue. After she ran away from home, she canceled her WeChat account. Xiao Xue sent her emails but she hasn’t replied.

Bai Xue hails from a scholarly family. Her mother is a university professor, and her father is an expert in nuclear physics. She also has two younger sisters, and one of them is a Chinese girl born in Hubei who was adopted by her parents. “I saw that it said on her Skype that in early June she went to the place where her younger sister was born,” Xiao Xue said. He guessed that she had possibly gone to Hubei. “She is a very innocent person, and I fear that she has been conned by someone.”

When all is said and done, in fact these two young people just didn’t know how to get along after marriage.

“When we were first married,we often went out for fun in the evenings and enjoyed holidays together. After our child was born, there were fewer holidays,” Xiao Xue said, noting he may have neglected Bai Xue’s emotional needs.

Xiao Xue said that, concerning their marriage, while Bai Xue’s father supported his daughter, her mother had some dissatisfaction. At the end of last year, Bai Xue’s father passed away and she returned home. Xiao Xue, because he had to work and also perhaps feared seeing Bai Xue’s mother, didn’t go with her, staying at home to care for their son.

As for Xiao Xue, perhaps he harbored some macho ideas. He thought that he should go out to earn money, while his wife should take care of things at home. Now, Xiao Xue said he really regrets his behavior: “That day I shouldn’t have been so angry at her.” Xiao Xue said that, previously, because Bai Xue had made the home so untidy, he threatened to break up with her and such. “Those were angry words, but she probably thought I was being serious.”

What do you think?

On Winter Dress Strategy in North China Vs. South China

This sweater served me well during the winter months in Hangzhou — but in Beijing, it’s another story.

The temperature that morning in Beijing had dipped below zero degrees Celsius. Yet there I was sitting in a restaurant that afternoon, feeling sweat moisten my brow. I seriously contemplated taking off my heavy blue-and-gold knit sweater — once indispensible for surviving the winter in Hangzhou — which I had layered over an equally warm long-sleeved thermal shirt. I even wondered if it was overkill to have on long underwear beneath my jeans.

Clearly, I had forgotten about the indoor heating in Beijing, and how it might mean rethinking how I dress for the winter. That I might actually need to wear lighter, more layered clothing under my jacket than in Hangzhou, despite the huge difference in latitude.

This is one of the ironies of the North China versus South China divide.

Down in Hangzhou, it’s not uncommon to see people completely bundled up indoors with their coats on. In South China, you wear your coat so much in the winter that it’s almost more important than your sweater. My mother-in-law once urged me to buy more jackets, concerned that people kept seeing me wearing the same one every day. (After all, they’re less likely to get a glimpse of those nice sweaters I bought, given how cold the indoors can be at times.)

You would think the same winter dress strategy would apply up in more northerly Beijing, with people donning even warmer, heavier layers to survive those bitter winds from Siberia and the Arctic. And while I’m sure this would be true for anyone forced to spend much of the winter toiling outdoors for work, it’s not for your average person who spends most of the day indoors.

I commute between my apartment and the office buildings, each a snug oasis of warmth thanks to the plentiful heating provided here in Beijing. Of course would I never need to keep my parka on indoors in either place. But sometimes, even your average sweater feels like a little too much – just like in that restaurant. This is a world where you might need to peel off that sweater every now and then, or hug it a little closer if a cold breeze happens to sneak through that window or door.

The problem is, I’ve spent years building up a wardrobe to survive winters in more southern Hangzhou. I jettisoned many of my light cardigans in favor of more substantial sweaters I’d wear over thermal underwear. Before we moved to Beijing, I remember feeling grateful I had these sweaters to see me through the season. But that was before I realized Beijing’s heating can be so abundant that, occasionally, the word “sauna” comes to mind.

Oh, how I wish I hadn’t tossed those cardigans. Especially since it is so darned difficult to find things in my size in China. (But that’s another story…)

Eventually, I’ll adapt my clothing to Beijing winters, heating and all. I’m already halfway there with an extra-warm parka to protect me from the frigid winds.

Still, I can’t help but recall another irony of the situation — that I, a woman who grew up in northerly Cleveland, Ohio, a city with a reputation for blustery winters, am having to re-learn how to dress for winter in the North.

What’s your winter dress strategy? Have you noticed a difference between dressing for winter in North China versus South China?

3 Delicious Fall Treasures in Hangzhou, China

If Hangzhou truly is one of the heavens in China, it might just be because of these three delicious treasures you can enjoy there in the fall. While visiting with this family this fall in rural Hangzhou, I rediscovered these treasures – and want to share them with you:

#1: Pomegranates

As much as I’ve loved pomegranate juice, I didn’t have the same affection for the fruit. It’s a bunch of pulpy little seeds. How could anyone love eating that?

My anti-pomegranate bias was challenged, however, when my mother-in-law gifted us with a heaping bag of the fruit, freshly harvested from the tree in her yard. Not long after that, my husband broke one open and started sharing the seeds with me. So I popped a handful in mouth – and was stunned. They were bursting with that same rich, sweet-tart flavor I’ve come to love about pomegranate juice. But better! These weren’t a bunch of pulpy seeds – these were ambrosial fruit jewels.

Just like that, I became a pomegranate fan.

Here’s the best part – the pomegranates also healed me. I’ve faced a lot of exhaustion and stress recently from moving around, which usually leaves me with an uncomfortable, nervous stomach. Well, pomegranate is actually good for your digestion and pretty soon I found I no longer needed my usual peppermint tea after dinner. Now that’s a superfood!

#2: Roast Chestnuts

As a kid, I used to sing the praises of roast chestnuts every holiday season in the form of Christmas carols. But I never once tried a roast chestnut until I came to the Hangzhou region – and especially, until I stayed with my husband’s family in the countryside.

Here the hillsides become a land of plenty as the chestnut trees shower their delicious fruit everywhere. People like my mother-in-law scour the natural areas for chestnuts, and then take them home to roast. There’s nothing quite like the aroma of roasted chestnuts, especially on a chilly fall evening. I also love the subtle flavor reminiscent of sweet potatoes, and the fact that they can be a terrific after-dinner snack. Open fire optional. 😉

#3: Osmanthus Flowers

In China, people call October the “golden month.” But I believe the real gold of the season is when the air is redolent with the intoxicating aroma of sweet osmanthus flowers.

Osmanthus trees produce some of the smallest blooms. But if heaven was a fragrance, it would probably smell something like this. Even better, these flowers are a delightful addition to a number of fall treats, including roast chestnuts and mooncakes. You can even make a tea out of the flowers.

But the best way to enjoy them is to take a fall stroll in a garden filled with blooming osmanthus trees, inhaling a scent so luscious it must have been reserved for the gods. This experience should be on everyone’s bucket list.

What are your favorite fall “treasures”?

Photo Essay: Celebrating Our Anniversary By Hangzhou’s West Lake

So August has turned out to be one of the busiest months of this year for me. Who’d have thought the traditional “vacation month” could be so hectic?

While I’m catching up on things, I thought I would share a few pictures from our anniversary celebration by Hangzhou’s West Lake a few weeks ago. Sure, Hangzhou summers can be ferociously hot. But take a stroll by the West Lake when the lotus flowers are in full bloom, and you could almost forgive the weather.

Almost. 😉

Anyhow, here are the photos — enjoy!

Photo Essay: Chinese New Year 2017 in Rural Hangzhou, China

It’s the year of the golden rooster. Happy Chinese New Year! While I’m taking a little time off to recharge a little during the holidays, I thought I’d share some photos from our Chinese New Year celebration in rural Hangzhou, China.

The biggest dinner of the year — Chinese New Year’s Eve dinner!

As always, every Chinese New Year’s Eve includes passing out the hongbao (红包,red envelopes) stuffed with lucky money for the new year.

As always, Jun and I brought some Chinese New Year gifts (nianhuo, 年货) to share with the family. On the left I’m carrying a gift box filled with an assortment of fancy nuts (complete with a “golden egg” design visible on the box); on the right, a gift box of large Xinjiang jujube dates.

On the first day of the new year, it’s time to wear your new clothes! Jun and I are both wearing new sweaters.

With such beautiful weather on the first day of the new year, we couldn’t resist stealing away to the countryside to enjoy the gorgeous scenery. Here we discover a waterfall cascading down the cliffs.

As we wandered beside the river, we were bathed in the golden sunshine. It was one of the most relaxing afternoons I’ve enjoyed in a long time.

The evening of the first day of the new year, I also helped my mother-in-law make migu, a special turnover we enjoy during the holidays. The dough is made from rice flour, and the filling is usually tofu and pickled vegetables and/or bamboo.

We visited Jun’s godfather during the holidays, presenting him with a hongbao and some baijiu liquor. He prepared us some sugar cane to snack on. Above, there he is, peeling off the rough exterior of the cane as I watch in the background.

As usual, we dined on some of the most delicious food of the year. One of our most memorable meals was at Jun’s Aunt and Uncle’s home next door to us. She even prepared a special hotpot of savory tofu and napa cabbage, plus her mouthwatering homemade kimchi. Yum!

Wishing everyone a prosperous and auspicious Chinese New Year!

To the Girl Whose Boyfriend’s ¥8,000/Mo Salary “Wasn’t Enough”

(Photo by Thomas Hawk via https://www.flickr.com/photos/thomashawk/130659141/)

My husband and I were having dinner the other night at a vegetarian restaurant in Hangzhou. It just so happens that you were dining only a few feet across from us with your girlfriend.

When we first sat down, I saw the both of you enjoying a bowl of the sour and spicy vegetarian “fish” soup with pickled vegetables. I remembered how delicious that dish was, and how I hadn’t ordered it in a long time. I thought to myself, those girls have good taste.

But that was before my husband and I overheard your conversation.

You told your friend about how dissatisfied you were with your boyfriend. You said his salary of “only” 8,000 RMB a month wasn’t good enough. You flicked your expensively dyed long hair aside with great disdain as you said, “He can’t possibly support me.”

Your girlfriend, wearing black faux-leather leggings and stiletto-heeled boots just like you, nodded in agreement.

The two of you went on to belittle this young man, who you fell in love with in college, for another reason. His hometown was somewhere outside of Hangzhou. It was yet another black mark against him. Yet more proof he would never be “rich enough” for you.

I’ve heard this sort of thing before.

Years ago I learned that, for many people in China, marriage is all about having a home, car and money. I understand that women often evaluate men based on these marriage must-haves. I’m aware that there was even a girl on TV who once famously said she’d rather be crying in the back of a BMW than smiling on the back of a bicycle.

There’s a woman in China who once told me, “The purpose of life and marriage is to make money.” On the surface, she has it all. She and her husband own at least five apartments, drive a brand new BMW, have a son, and earn lots of money through the family business.

But privately, she is the saddest woman I have ever met.

She is bitter and constantly complains. Despite her huge bank accounts, she is stingy to the core. Her husband has cheated on her; she fights with him all the time. Her son is on the way to becoming a juvenile delinquent. For a time, things were so bad that she actually threatened to commit suicide.

I would not be surprised if she had cried in the backseat of her shiny new BMW.

Never would I wish to change places with this woman, even though she has so much money. I’ve realized I’m actually happier than she ever will be. There are far more important things in life her money can never buy. A peaceful, happy marriage. Love. Friendship. Kindness. Generosity. The ability to see hope in the darkest hours.

You can’t measure these things in dollars or yuan. I don’t care what that woman once told me – money isn’t everything. It never was.

So if you decide to break up with this guy just because he makes ¥8,000 a month and isn’t from Hangzhou, there’s nothing I can do to stop you.

If you end up marrying a wealthier man, maybe you’ll get lucky. Maybe he’ll be a nice guy who just happens to be rich.

But if he isn’t so nice after all, then maybe you’ll discover what it’s really like to have tears in your eyes in the back of your luxury car.

And if that happens, believe me when I say this: I won’t be crying for you.

6 Surprising Experiences My Husband and I Had in a Chinese Hospital

IMG_20160616_143841“It’s appendicitis. You need surgery.”

The words echoed through my mind like a bad nightmare. No, this isn’t happening. No, the emergency room doctor surely couldn’t have told me that. It’s impossible. I don’t even feel that bad. I can walk. He can’t be right. How could I need my appendix out?

But the bigger shock, more than the diagnosis, was the prospect of going under the knife in China.

I’ve lived in China for a total of 8 years (including the five and a half years I lived in China in the 2000s) and I’ve seen a lot of hospitals here.

Some reminded me of the hospitals back in the US – bright, clean and with high standards of care.

But others, like this emergency room where I’d just received the diagnosis, were the kind of crowded, sagging, institutional hospitals that made me anxious about surgery.

But if not there, where? We had to find a hospital fast. I knew enough about appendicitis to realize that if you appendix ruptures, it’s much more serious. With every minute I felt a fever coming on, a troubling reminder that I was indeed ill and desperately needing treatment.

Suddenly, my husband remembered his classmate had just transferred to a new Zhejiang University-affiliated international hospital, where she heading the nursing department. We decided to give it a go.

When my husband and I stumbled into the hospital emergency room at sometime after 4am that morning, the two of us never expected that I was about to have more than just a successful appendectomy. That we would have some surprising experiences — including positive experiences that would forever change the way I think about hospitals.

Here are 6 surprising experiences I had while in a Chinese hospital:

(Photo by Wendy via Flickr.com)
(Photo by Wendy via Flickr.com)

#1: Cutting up the hospital pants so I could wear them

We all know the hospital drill – once you’re admitted, you’re asked to strip off all your clothes and put on the hospital clothes. Thankfully, the hospital used hospital shirts and pants (instead of the mortifying hospital gown common across America with that infamous no-privacy slit in the back).

Now imagine my shock when the nurse hands over a pair of pants with a waistband that’s a little too small to fit for comfort. Especially with that wicked tight elastic, guaranteed to torture my already stressed-out stomach.


In retrospect, I should have totally expected this. While I’m an average and popular size in the US, I’ve struggled to fit into things like underwear and even pants in China. And when I do buy, it’s usually online and usually some crazy XXXL or XXXXL size. I know!

But it’s another thing entirely when you’re presented with a pair of pants you have to wear — with the most sadistically small elastic band you’ve ever seen. All because the hospital doesn’t run larger sizes for women.

So there I am, sitting on the toilet in the bathroom, hanging my head half in discomfort from the appendicitis and half because I can’t see how I’ll ever fit into the pants without feeling like my innards are caught in a vice.

Then the nurse says, “Try cutting them,” and hands Jun a pair of scissors. Sure enough, my husband eventually hacks off half of the waistband – and voila! They fit!

Fortunately, after that first day the hospital let me wear my own soft, roomy drawstring pajama pants from home. I don’t know if it was out of sympathy or because it’s too ridiculous to have to chop up hospital pants just to make them wearable. But I’ll take it. Sure beats a hospital gown!

(Photo by SonnyandSandy via Flickr.com)
(Photo by SonnyandSandy via Flickr.com)

#2: Waking up to my appendix in a plastic bag

Disoriented, post-operative me got quite the awakening after coming out of surgery. First the doctor told me how successful the surgery was, leading me to shed tears of relief. And then, as proof of his work, he dangled my appendix above me in a plastic bag.

Did I mention that I gag at the sight of blood and guts?

Someone explained later on that this is common in hospitals in China. They always show patients what they removed from your body, if they removed something. It’s like a visual confirmation that the surgery was completed.

Fortunately I wasn’t wearing any glasses or contacts, so the blurry appendix appeared more like a slimy brown salamander. Thank goodness I didn’t throw up in the recovery room.

Nope, I saved the throwing up for later that evening, when the smell of my husband’s dinner caused me to vomit all over my clothing. Fun times, huh?

My husband looked even more serious -- and pale -- than this photo!
My husband looked even more serious — and pale — than this photo!

#3: That time when a specialist asked my husband to go outside to talk about me…and I thought I was a goner

“I need to speak with your husband outside.”

These have to be the eight deadliest words a doctor could have said to me in the hospital. Back in America, this would be code for, “You’re dead.”

There I was, just after getting my “nether region” checked by a different specialist (I’d rather not say why – embarrassing personal stuff), and the guy asks MY husband to step outside with him. I was already totally unnerved by having a doctor examine me down there, and now he thinks I’m a goner?

Even my husband freaked out. Jun is usually the easygoing side of our duo – the one who’s always laughing and optimistic, who never takes things too seriously. But those eight little words from the specialist drained the all color from his face.

The 30 seconds that elapsed – when the specialist was with Jun in the hallway – had to be one of the scariest moments in my hospital stay. I was laying there on my side, thinking the worst as I clutched the hospital bed in total fear.

Turns out, though, it was nothing serious at all.

It was a totally common, benign problem and they just prescribed some medicine for me. (I was so incredibly relieved when my husband reported this that I began sobbing so loudly two nurses ran into my room to ask what was wrong.)

Later, a nurse told me that it’s typical in Chinese hospitals to speak to the family members, rather than patients, about their care. Even when it’s something totally common and easily treatable, like my case. (But the hospital said they’re hoping to change this and instead communicate more directly with their patients.)

Still, after it all passed, my husband and I actually had a good laugh over it. I swear the image of my husband’s ashen face before going out into the hallway will be forever ingrained in my memory!

IMG_20160620_103926#4: Some of the nicest, most caring nurses I’ve ever met

My experiences with nurses in America and even China have been a mixed bag. Some have been friendly – and others so bored you almost wonder if they’re going to miss your vein for that blood sample. Smiles aren’t a given. Sometimes, you feel more like a commodity than a patient.

Not at this hospital. The nurses who cared for me always walked into my room with huge smiles and an extraordinary willingness to help me in any way they could.

One nurse piled my hair into a neat little bun everyday to make me look nice – and even brought me special breakfasts a couple of times. Others helped me brush my teeth (just after the surgery), wash my hair, and bring me more comfortable pillows. They always looked for the biggest, most comfortable shirts for me wear (remembering that I was that extra-large size compared to the average woman who stayed in the hospital).

The nurses there really made me feel like they cared about me as a person. It was a powerful experience. I fully believe that their warmth and positive energy was just as critical to my recovery as the medical care I received.

IMG_20160619_080033#5: Really good food (including dumplings) from a hospital!

We’ve all heard the jokes about hospital food. And we all know dining in a hospital room usually comes with even lower expectations than airplane grub. So the last thing I ever expected was to come out of the hospital raving about the food.

That’s right – I actually liked the hospital food.

When the hospital found out I was a vegetarian, they sent down the head of their nutrition department, who worked up a special menu of stomach-friendly stir-fried veggies (served with rice porridge). That first evening, they sent me a dinner of pumpkin and winter melon. During the whole meal, I couldn’t stop saying “mmmmm” with every bite. Even my husband, who cleaned up my leftovers, had to agree the dishes were exceptionally tasty.

As my stomach became accustomed to more food, they even prepared me vegetarian dumplings from scratch filled with tofu and greens, served in a broth reminiscent of won-ton soup. Delish!

IMG_20160620_115142#6: Changing the way I see hospitals for the good

I’ve always had a certain dislike of hospitals and health care, and I trace it back to a traumatic experience I had in the hospital as a toddler. They had to forcibly strap me down to stitch up a gash in my forehead. It was so upsetting that it’s still a part of my subconscious, forever linking nurses, doctors and hospitals in my mind with really negative experiences.

But this hospital in China completely changed my perceptions.

The doctors in the hospital weren’t just skilled medical professionals (who left me with almost no visible scars from the surgery). They were also friendly, easygoing people who put me at ease and even had me smiling. One of the doctors was always laughing when he came to my room, and his laughter was a welcome sight in the hospital.

Add to that the incredible nursing care as well as the food, and it’s no wonder I feel grateful to have landed in such an excellent hospital. I never imagined that, in my emergency situation, I’d end up with great care.

Thank you, Zhejiang University International Hospital, for showing me what a hospital really should be.

Have you ever been in the hospital in China or abroad? What experiences did you have?