Photo Essay: Video Shoots in Suzhou and Shandong Province – Behind the Scenes

Last week I returned from a 10-day trip for video shoots for China Daily, which took me to the cities of Suzhou in Jiangsu province, and Qufu, Rongcheng and Weihai in Shandong province. The videos will publish sometime in the next few months. But in the meantime, I’d like to share a few of my favorite images from the trip in this photo essay.

On my first day of shooting in Suzhou, we came to Canglang Pavilion, one of the city’s classical gardens which also happens to host a Kunqu Opera troupe. I spent over two hours getting a “makeover” to look like an opera performer. While I could never match the professional moves of the veteran actors, the whole experience proved unforgettable (right down to removing the makeup, which required multiple washes!).

IMG_20190811_104538We did some shooting on our second day in Suzhou at the Suzhou Culture and Arts Centre, in its spacious lobby.

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That afternoon in Suzhou, we shot at a community center — which also happened to lie in the very neighborhood that Marta of Marta Lives in China calls home. What serendipity that we had the opportunity to meet each other and even spend some time together!

Here’s a shot of me introducing the community center in Suzhou while on camera.

Later that same day, I did another introduction for the camera, this time in Suzhou Industrial Park.

IMG_20190812_112240On our third day in Suzhou, we returned to the Suzhou Culture and Arts Centre, where I had the opportunity to meet the founders of the Suzhou Ballet Theatre.

IMG_20190812_103539I also got to watch the ballet company rehearse backstage — what a joy to see them practicing their graceful and athletic moves!

IMG_20190812_145216In the afternoon, we traveled to the Humble Administrator’s Garden, the largest classical garden in Suzhou, for a shoot.

In the evening, I joined audiences at the Suzhou Culture and Arts Centre for some evening performances from young singers.

IMG_20190813_110831Our fourth day in Suzhou led us to the studios of an exceptional young artist engaged in Suzhou embroidery.

In the afternoon, we took a ride on a bus where you can dine and do sightseeing at the same time in Suzhou.

IMG_20190815_150112My next shooting assignment sent me to Qufu in Shandong province, where we visited a theme park, providing an immersive experience in the world of Confucius, right down to clothing and even desks.

The whole theme park aimed to transport you back over 2,000 years, and it had an enormous staff dressed in the garb of the era, which made for a lot of fun photo opportunities!

IMG_20190815_154946We also shot at a temple built near the birthplace of Confucius.

IMG_20190816_221840We traveled on high-speed train the following day to Rongcheng, a city at the easternmost point of Shandong province.

IMG_20190817_071018In Rongcheng, the hotel breakfast area offered the most stunning views of any other on the trip, with a gleaming blue lake just outside the windows.

First stop in Rongcheng — the easternmost tip of Shandong province and its picturesque ocean views.

IMG_20190817_144721We visited a sustainable aquaculture center in Rongcheng, where I had the chance to ride a boat out onto the gorgeous ocean waters.

IMG_20190817_155258At a tuna fish processing plant in Rongcheng, I couldn’t believe the size of these frozen tuna fish!

Late in the afternoon, I had the opportunity to enjoy a barefoot walk along the beach, letting the cool ocean waters lap at my feet.

IMG_20190818_124623Our final day of shooting landed us in Weihai, where my heart leaped upon checking into my room and discovering this lovely ocean view from its balcony.

We finished shooting in Weihai at the beach, where we snapped this shot of the full video production team. It felt like an enchanting — and ideal — place to call it a wrap.

IMG_20190819_135939The following day, I caught the high-speed train home to Beijing, and traveled part of the way with the video production team. Here’s a shot of all of our luggage together — the video production required some major equipment that the guys had to lug along to every location!

Stay tuned, as I will share with you the videos once they go live online — and then you can get a closer look at all the places I visited on this trip.

What do you think?

Shooting Videos in Suzhou, Shandong Province for China Daily Website

China Daily Website has sent me on assignment to Suzhou (and later Shandong province) on a 10-day video shoot for a series that will commemorate the upcoming 70th anniversary of China’s founding (this October). The shoot will take me to a variety of locations, many with a link to Chinese culture (one of my favorite things!).

Because of the intense schedule for this trip, I’m taking a break from blogging for the rest of this week and up until Friday August 23. I will let you know when the videos finally get published on China Daily. And in the meantime, hope you enjoy your August!

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 Amazon.com:

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.
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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.
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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.