Double Happiness: How One Chinese American Woman Married a Chinese National

Alex and Michelle Guo visiting San Diego, California, USA (photo courtesy of Michelle Guo)

Chinese American Michelle Guo — a fellow blogger and personal friend — shares her story of how she went to China and ended up marrying Alex, a man from Henan Province.

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Four years ago when I first came to Beijing, locals asked me what brought me back to China. The question always threw me off, since I was born in Portland, spent most of my life in California, and had never been to China before. I’m Chinese-American and was raised by my mom, who is anything BUT a traditional Chinese parent. My values, thinking, and culture are very Western, which is why I assumed that whoever I married, no matter what ethnicity, would also be American, or at the very least a Westerner.

Sometimes it’s really, really nice to make the wrong assumption. Continue reading “Double Happiness: How One Chinese American Woman Married a Chinese National”

My Hairstyling Nirvana in China

Scissors
Once upon a time, I feared China's foreign scissors -- until I discovered the delight of a haircut in the Middle Kingdom.

Just this past Tuesday, I visited my local US hair salon to tidy up my ‘do (an unruly mess of wavy, fickle brown hair). She snipped, she clipped and had me out the door within 10 minutes. It looked fine, but it was like the hairdressing equivalent of “wham, bam, thank you ma’am.” And the experience left me yearning for those hair salons I used to know in China.

Of course, when I first moved to China, as an English teacher, I yearned for the hair salons back in the US. Like every woman, I’d done the “dating around” with many a hair salon, until I discovered the perfect stylist, a woman who absolutely “got it” about my hair. I didn’t even need to give her directions, beyond “just make me look good.” And she did, every time.

When you have this almost spiritual connection with a stylist, you just don’t want to let go, and suddenly risk the unthinkable — a bad haircut, something powerful enough to spiral your day into a horrible abyss, and even make you think twice about stepping outside (for several days, even). Continue reading “My Hairstyling Nirvana in China”

Travel China with the Yangxifu: Longmen Grottoes, Luoyang, Henan Province

The 10,000 Buddha cave
Longmen Grottoes, Luoyang, Henan Province
The Longmen Grottoes are Buddhist art on a grand scale

When we think of China’s great statuesque artwork, the Terracotta Warriors come to mind. They’ve become the awe-inducing, must-see of China, second only to the Forbidden City.

Yet, just East of Xi’an, four hours up the railway line to Beijing, is another grand cache of art that stands in the Warriors’ shadows, but delivers almost as many “wow” moments. I’m talking Luoyang’s Longmen Grottoes — a string of over 100,000 Buddhist images and statues carved into a hillside during China’s Wei and Tang Dynasties.

Luoyang’s Longmen Grottoes are one of several sites in China for viewing ancient Buddhist cave art — besides the Mogao Caves in Dunhuang, the Yungang Grottoes near Datong, and Bingling Si near Lanzhou. Mogao and Yungang are more famous (and, arguably, colorful), and Bingling Si, with its sheer cliffs by the reservoir and a huge 27-meter-high Buddha, more breathtaking. But Luoyang is just four hours from Xi’an, right on that train line from Beijing, so you can easily take in a little ancient cave art before heading to that more famous tourist attraction.

And, believe me, even if they’re not number one, the Longmen Grottoes are worth the visit. Continue reading “Travel China with the Yangxifu: Longmen Grottoes, Luoyang, Henan Province”

Travel China with the Yangxifu: Shang Dynasty Wall Ruins, Zhengzhou, China

Walking next to the mounds that mark the Shang Dynasty Wall Ruins
Men sitting on the Shang Dynasty
It's not just a mound -- it marks the spot where the walls of an ancient Shang Dynasty town once stood...in a place that doubles as a park and, for the men featured, a place to squat and talk.

It’s one thing to see China’s history in a museum, and another to walk on it.

In Zhengzhou’s Eastern city outskirts, you’ll find a curious mound of earth that runs through a park — the kind of park in China filled with Tai Chi practitioners, grandparents tending children in crotchless pants, inflatable play areas, and neat tiled squares and walkways. But you shouldn’t let the surroundings fool you. This is not just another park, and that’s not just another grass-covered mound. That mound marks the the site of where walls around a Shang Dynasty city once stood. Continue reading “Travel China with the Yangxifu: Shang Dynasty Wall Ruins, Zhengzhou, China”

Travel China with the Yangxifu: Po Pagoda (繁塔), Kaifeng, China

Po Pagoda in Kaifeng, Henan Province
Po Pagoda, a Northern Song pagoda blanketed in tiles with Buddhist images, towers above the traditional courtyard homes and alleys that surround it.

Just outside of the center of Kaifeng, there’s an unusual neighborhood of old one-story, brick courtyard homes, trees and labyrinthine streets that just barely fit the taxi we rode in that afternoon. It’s a marvel, because most of these neighborhoods have been consumed by the high-rise reality of China’s real estate. Even my friend from Zhengzhou, the capital of Henan Province that sits just one hour East of Kaifeng, lamented the loss of his own boyhood courtyard home, surrounded by trees — just like the ones we pass by.

But we’re not here to visit traditional Chinese homes. This maze of architecture that once was is a visual preamble to our final destination — one even more unusual than the surrounding homes. Continue reading “Travel China with the Yangxifu: Po Pagoda (繁塔), Kaifeng, China”

Travel China with the Yangxifu: The Henan Museum, Zhengzhou, China

The Henan Museum
The Henan Museum offers extraordinary stories and relics, in one of China’s most overlooked cities — Zhengzhou. (photo courtesy of Wikipedia)

“The museum is under construction, so there are only two rooms open,” the woman behind the information desk told us in a droll voice in Mandarin. She probably had to say this same thing hundreds of times a day, every day.

But while this was just another day for her, this was the only day for John, my Chinese husband, and I to visit the the Henan Museum in Zhengzhou, Henan Province.

We just shrugged our shoulders in disappointment, and walked to the room to our right. It was painted in a forgettable beige — nearly the same color as the loess of the loess plains, where Zhengzhou is located — and seemed to hold, on first glance, an equally forgettable collection of artifacts that couldn’t match what we’d seen in Beijing, Shanghai and Changsha.

Yet, forgettable is hardly how we would describe our visit. That’s because the Henan Museum, opened to the public in 1998, is one of the few museums in China where you don’t feel as if you’ve seen this bronze or that porcelain 100 times before. Invest a little time, be curious, and you will be rewarded with extraordinary stories and unusual relics. Continue reading “Travel China with the Yangxifu: The Henan Museum, Zhengzhou, China”

Travel China with the Yangxifu: the Kaifeng Night Market

Travel China with the Yangxifu takes you to the Kaifeng Night Market. Here, I’m trying fried bean-starch, or chao liangpi.

Foreign women are not available at the Kaifeng Night Market — even if there’s a demand.

“Wow, you have a foreign girl — you’re really sharp!” The almond tea vendors, wearing white coats and kufi — the traditional Muslim caps for men — reveled in the fact that my Chinese husband, John, had a foreign wife. But their revelry was more than just a casual curiosity.

“I’d like a foreign wife,” one of the vendors declared in a rough Henan accent. “How do you get one?”

You don’t get one at the Kaifeng Night Market.

But you will find so much more, from fantastic xiaochi (小吃), which means

snacks), to quirky people (including the aforementioned foreign-babe obsessed vendors) and a uniquely boisterous atmosphere. The Kaifeng Night Market is a living relic, a reminder of the forte volume and flavorful delicacies of night markets that once blanketed the country, but are now disappearing because of city beautification or cleanup projects. (Interestingly, my friend Frank G, who works as a judge in Kaifeng, said that the city cannot shut the market down, because they’re afraid the sellers would protest.) But, most of all, it is relaxing, fun and leaves you with none of the touristy aftertaste associated with China’s major attractions.

Continue reading “Travel China with the Yangxifu: the Kaifeng Night Market”

China, the Renovation Nation

I wrote this piece about five years ago. It’s a dark piece, and came out of a dark time in my life — when I experienced a lot of renovation around the place I lived in Shanghai, and was grappling with what to do with my future. If you’re having some dark days (from weather, life, or even holiday blues), this is for you.

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Across the street from my gym, there is a clothing store for infants and toddlers. I know it well because I always park my generic, cement-gray bicycle right next to its display window, lit up with the tender image of some darling baobei sporting the latest in baby fashion – an odd foil to my ugly wheels.

I began to notice how the windows became plastered by screaming yellow signs promising deep bargains. Fifty, 60, 70, 80 percent off! Like lichen covering a rock, they even obscured the front showroom and finally that trusty display window. Inside the store, free-for-all bins sloppily loaded with clothes had replaced the racks and models.

There they were – all of the telltale signs of store renovation.

And sure enough, for weeks afterwards I parked right next to a work-in-progress. I saw the team of workers, night after night, navigate the noxious fumes and the symphony of drills, saws and chains in what I feared might foretell the end of retailing of infant and toddler clothes on Danshui Road as I knew it.

One night, I saw those workers in the middle of the half-finished store. The décor captured that feeling of newborn innocence. Whitewashed walls, floors and shelves; a pastel painting of imaginary elephants with a poem about the joys of being a child. The men stood there smoking cigarettes, as though they were in a bar, and sullied the floor with ashes and spit. Well, I suppose if babies are born with original sin, then stores for babies are no different.

I never really saw renovation like this, in all of its glory, mystery and (in some cases) malevolence, until I came to China. Continue reading “China, the Renovation Nation”

“Do you believe in God?”: How religion surprised me in Zhengzhou, China

This post is a remembrance of my experiences with religion during my first year in China — 1999 — when I taught English in Zhengzhou.

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It was an early week in September, just as China’s Autumn Tiger — the fierce summer heat that claws its way into September — was in full force when a college-age Chinese girl with a ponytail approached me on the streets of Zhengzhou. I had been looking for the Indian restaurant in town with my friends, and had fallen behind when this girl stepped out of a group of young people and spoke English to me.

“Hello! Are you a Christian?” the girl blurted out as naturally as if she was asking how my day was.

She had hit me with the 64,000 yuan question — religion. Continue reading ““Do you believe in God?”: How religion surprised me in Zhengzhou, China”

It’s Henan College of Education, but not as we know it — looking back on 10 years of China

I first came to China in 1999, so 2009 is a big year for me, just as the Chinese government is gearing up to celebrate its 60th anniversary. So here’s one of my articles looking back on those 10 years, and considering how things have changed, and impacted my life. Enjoy!

Henan College of Education — located in Zhengzhou, Henan Province, China — has a certain nostalgic pull for me. It was the place where I began learning Chinese, thanks to Wang Bin. It was where I first kissed Christian, my first Chinese boyfriend, and, from my perspective, first real love. It was where China schooled me in its rhythms and ways — always something new, always a learning experience. Even long after I left Zhengzhou, my mind often returned to Henan College of Education, and I even felt a certain allegiance to the people of Henan Province (some of whom would even call me a townsman, or  老乡).

But all of that is changing because, at the end of this year, Henan College of Education will not be the same. Oh, the institution will still survive, but it won’t be the Henan College of Education that we knew.

I discovered the shocking news when I casually wandered onto the campus in early July. It was 5pm and I had agreed to meet with Shelly and Lisa, two of the Foreign Affairs Office employees who remembered me when I was an English teacher there 10 years ago.

Shelly and Lisa had hardly changed. Shelly, the senior of the two who was planning on retiring at the end of the year, still had the same stout face, short permed hair, dyed black with an almost carefree flyaway pinned down with a bobby pin, and air of correctitude right down to her perfectly folded hands. Lisa, the younger and more warm of the two, had the same cap of short straight hair around her head, a smart gray belted dress that reached to her knees, and the same friendly sparkle in her eyes behind her glasses.

“You came just in time,” said Shelly as she sat behind her mahogany desk, a reminder of the authority she had accumulated over the years. “Henan College of Education will be closed for good at the end of this year — and moved to the new campus.”

Indeed I came just in time. Over all of these years, I had lost contact with these people, never knowing that the school in its present form would no longer exist at the end of 2009.

But why? It all comes down to two Chinese characters: 改制, which essentially stands for “change form.” Continue reading “It’s Henan College of Education, but not as we know it — looking back on 10 years of China”