The Short Version: Nearly a decade ago, blogger Jocelyn Eikenburg noticed the lack of online stories about Western women in relationships with Asian men. But she had a unique perspective on the situation after falling in love with an Asian man while teaching in China. So Jocelyn started Speaking of China, a blog detailing her life journey, and she quickly realized she wasn’t alone. Over the years, the blog has transformed into an advice column and community of readers who discuss a broad spectrum of interracial and intercultural relationship issues. It has become a resource for people who struggle against cultural norms to keep their love strong.
As a Caucasian woman married to a Chinese man, Jocelyn realized that there weren’t many online resources that described what it’s like to date — or marry someone — across those two particular cultures. Her blog, Speaking of China, is a personal look at her life, written so that readers can relate, no matter what kind of relationship they’re in.
“I write from the heart, and I believe that’s the kind of passion and warmth you’ll find in the posts on Speaking of China,” Jocelyn said. “Some have lauded my work for showing empathy and for giving readers a place to feel heard and understood.”
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.
Initially, not knowing Chinese at all created some stressful and even embarrassing situations for me when I first arrived in China. I hated going out to run even the simplest errands, like mailing a letter, because I’d have to spend an hour trying to memorize a few phrases and then still end up understanding almost nothing they would say to me. Or I’d have these moments in small stores where I would turn as red as the little Chinese dictionary in my hands, paging through it in an often futile effort to express myself. I’m confident I entertained quite a few shopkeepers during my first few months in China.
X: You’ve created an inspiring and expansive AMWF network, been published in other publications including How Does One Dress to Buy Dragonfruit and run The Wu Way. What does your day look like? How do you manage it all?
J: When I read this question, I had to chuckle…if only she could see the utter disarray in my “home office” (and I put it in quotation marks because we have such a small apartment that I actually do all of my writing, as well as this blog, from my bedroom).
The answer to “what does your day look like” really depends on what’s on my plate. For example, this summer I had two consecutive paying projects that basically consumed practically all of my time and energies up until about mid-August. If you had looked at my “typical day” then, it’s nothing like my days right now, where I’m in-between projects and actually have time to catch up on revisions on my manuscript (I’m working on a memoir), draft up more blog posts and even work on articles for publication in other venues. I think that’s the reality for freelancers like me – you have to be flexible about organizing your time and be able to adjust depending on the paying opportunities you have at the moment.
That said, I write something almost every single day, because it’s such an important thing in my life. Whether it’s revising my manuscript or working on blog posts or articles, I try to make time for this. Another thing I do every day is walk. We live right next to a huge park in Hangzhou and it’s so invigorating (and therapeutic) to get outside and get some fresh air for an hour or so. It’s one of the best parts of my day! I also love to read and often am curled up in the evenings with a nice e-book (you might be surprised to know this but I devour a lot of YA fiction – including dystopian novels — besides the sort of books I feature on my site).
Food is such an integral part of Chinese culture that it’s really hard to fit into a Chinese family if one isn’t adept at the cuisine. I suppose this is true to some extent with any country, but the Chinese are probably on par with the French and Italians when it comes to the importance of dining well.
This is probably doubly important when a yangxifu doesn’t speak Chinese fluently but still hopes to be accepted. Have your readers talked much about this? I truly feel that the old saw about the way to a man’s stomach etc is gospel for us yangxifu.
Carolyn should know — she’s a yangxifu who devoted her adult life to mastering the art of Chinese cooking. She blogs about food at Out to Lunch and tweets about it as @MadameHuang. She’s also working on two forthcoming books on the subject — “Simple Pleasures from a Chinese Kitchen: Authentic Seasonal Recipes from Every Region of China” and “Culinary Goddesses: The Women Who Changed Our Dining Landscape… Recipes Included.” — and is a regular contributor writing about Chinese food for Zester Daily. In addition, she’s even fluent enough in Mandarin to do court interpreting.
In any event, Carolyn has discovered a thing or two about what it takes to woo a Chinese family that truly loves to eat through food. So I sat down with her — from one yangxifu to another — to talk about all things related to food and Chinese family. As Chinese New Year approaches, it’s a topic that will come in handy for lots of readers.
“Are Jewish women more likely to marry Chinese men? How my anti-Japanese Chinese husband changed his mind about Japan …”
These are among the topics from Jocelyn Eikenburg’s blog Speaking of China, a personal account of how an American woman found love in the Chinese countryside – and the things that happened next in the cross-cultural relationship.
She writes about how she met her husband, a Chinese man from rural Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province with the English name John, in 2002 at an online company in Hangzhou when working.
They met through a mutual friend’s arrangement. Eikenburg fell in love during the summer of that year after John took her out for her birthday.
In case you missed it (or, like me, you spent the weekend away — in my case, a wedding in Hangzhou — and are just catching up), the China Daily just published an article titled Western Women, Chinese Men — about the growing trend of marriages between Western women and Chinese men. It features me, as well as fellow bloggers Jo Gan of Life Behind the Wall and Melanie Parsons Gao from The Downtown Diner. Here’s an excerpt from the article with some quotes from me and my husband:
Jocelyn Eikenburg, a 33-year-old American who blogs on speakingofchina.com, had a similar experience [of having the relationship get serious fast] when she first began dating her husband, Jun Yu. “Immediately after we first started dating, he was calling me laopo.” That is Chinese for “wife”.
She was surprised by how quickly the relationship had gone from friend to potential spouse. Her blog focuses on cross-cultural relationships between Chinese men and Western women.
Family can also be another hurdle for many foreign women in relationships with Chinese men.
When Jun told his family about his relationship with Eikenburg, his father did not approve. “He cautioned me about dating a foreign girl and did not want me to get hurt,” Jun says.
His family’s attitude toward their son dating a foreign woman quickly changed when Eikenburg went home with Jun for Chinese New Year. When she showed his father pictures of her family at home, “it really opened him up”, she says. As filial piety is important to Chinese families, Eikenburg says that experience helped break down barriers….
As a Western woman with a shorter Chinese husband, she has turned a lot of heads, but Jocelyn Eikenburg is determined to question and challenge stereotypes about Chinese men and Western women in love.
The 33-year-old American keeps a blog called “Speaking of China,” where she shares her understanding of Chinese culture and offers advice to those in family and dating dilemmas. She was named one of the “101 Inspiring Women Bloggers to Watch for 2010” by WE Magazine, a women’s online publication based in Florida. Continue reading “A Love Affair With China: Article about me in Global Times”
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