Guest Post: Things I’ve Learned After Moving From China to America with My Chinese Husband

Every year, there’s always a new bunch of Western women married to Chinese men who announce their plans to move to her country. But what happens after the plane ride is over, the luggage unpacked, and the honeymoon excitement of the move a distant memory?

White American Marissa, the writer and blogger behind Xiananigans, (you might remember her from her Double Happiness story published last year on this blog, How An American Woman Fell In Love With Xi’an (And One Special Guy)) moved back to her country over a year ago with her husband in tow. Here’s what she’s learned since then.

Would you like to follow in Marissa’s footsteps and have your writing published here? Head on over to the submit a post page to learn more.
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“Why ever did you move home?” said a doctor I saw at a clinic last October. It is a question I am still grappling to answer.

I repatriated just over a year ago, saddling my husband into the whole affair.

Much has not changed since divulging our Double Happiness story. We live with my parents and youngest sister, both working in retail.

I also freelance write for an online hyperlocal, and do a particularly terrible job of keeping up on Xiananigans.

With the cons, come pros. Partaking in road trips, day trips to the beach, exploring New York City, Jersey City where a good friend lives, brunching, driving two hours for the sole purpose of purchasing ingredients for a home-cooked Chinese meal, pestering my father during his weekly grocery shopping trips, hiking and basking in summer’s glorious weather in local parks, a 散步 in the evenings, indulging in ice cream on a far too regular basis, getting outdoors by playing basketball, badminton, bike riding, going to the gym and building tolerance for intolerance.

So if you repatriated or plan to do so in the immediate future, I advise:

IMG_1173Starting your search before arriving, line up a job or consider industries outside your field. There are industries experiencing growth, particularly healthcare, education, and retail. There is a need for postsecondary teachers, office clerks, registered nurses, personal care aids, and customer service representatives, to name a few. I can say most, if not all, do not appeal to me, in the slightest, yet I am currently employed in one of the previously mentioned fields, freeing you to pursue other career interests, think moonlighting or freelance gigs, or perhaps work on your side hustle.

Living with your family, for the interim. If at all possible to reside with your parents, or extended family members, as my husband and I have done, then do so. Although not always ideal, we spend less, share evening meals, and cooking responsibilities, whether we put together Chinese or Western dinners, several times a week. Those who did not cook, help out by cleaning up. In hindsight, I suggest creating a written agreement of duties, including both parties’ expectations.

IMG_1085Staying connected to China, however you see fit. I read Chinese several times a week, picking up children’s books, written in Chinese, from the public library. The librarian bequeathed a stack of books to me, saying the library had no room or real need for them. Among them was Eric CarIe’s The Very Hungry Caterpillar, a children’s story I had a copy of and had my sister purchased for one of my nephews. I also read literature by Chinese authors, in translation of course, or books, fiction and nonfiction alike, interweaving China into their narratives. Keeping up with your spoken Chinese, even if, like me, you are merely conversational, proves as yet another way to stay connected. Talk to your in-laws, even if saying hello, how are you, and wishing them good health is all you can muster. Nag your husband to keep in touch with his family, friends, and acquaintances; it is easy and free to connect on WeChat. Watch Chinese films and TV shows together (we fawned over Jia Zhangke films and Hunan TV’s 爸爸去哪儿第三季…kudos to readers who uncover why 😉 ), partake in Chinese chess 象棋, mahjong 麻将, and Chinese card games. Find your area’s most authentic Chinese restaurant, frequent it, making sure to use the visit as a chance to practice Chinese with people other than your spouse.

IMG_1178Making new friends, but reconnecting with the “old.” Reach out to people you have not heard from in ages, believe me, they will be happy to hear from you. Finding new friends, particularly other repatriated individuals, helps build a stronger support system where you have those you can share your overseas experience with, and not nag the friends who do not wish to hear every minute detail recounted to them for the third time.

Be prepared to discuss politics, the weather, and make small talk. No one will ask you have you eaten “你吃了没有?/你吃了吗?” when you run into them, instead asking after your day, discussing the latest in political affairs, and complaining about today’s humidity, or lack thereof, peppers conversations here.

Ensure you can defend China, or deal with the inaccurate ramblings and representations smattered in the American media. China is a hot topic as of late in the American media (when is it not?), covering the explosion in Tianjin, the devaluing of the renminbi, the fluctuating stock markets in Shanghai, Shenzhen, and Hong Kong, and President Xi Jinping’s visit to the US slated for September. Inaccuracies, biases regarding China are too easy to find in print and online, leading even the most informed of Americans to rattle off their “informed” thoughts, telling you what China is like, even though they never lived, let alone visited there. When words like “backwards,” “Communist” accompany the phrases “I know, I read” there is no hope for that conversation to progress. Resort to jumping ship, neutralizing the topic, and return to domestic politics, where they can rant up a storm, and you can pretend to listen intently.

IMG_1142Patience, patience, and more patience. Embracing the mantra “Good things come to those who wait” will serve you well. Similarly, remaining optimistic in your search for a career and supporting each other, in all your endeavors, helps envisioning the light at the end of that proverbial tunnel. Do not forget to exude patience with your partner, as acculturating is far harder for them. In my case, ZJ proves thick skinned and unphased by intolerance. Stick up for your partner, regardless if the hate comes from relatives or strangers. And, slightly unrelated, be patient with your spouse’s language acquisition. I lucked out, as ZJ has very few language-related barriers, flaunting a unique blend of dry humor laced with sarcasm, snide (yet always polite!) commentary in the face of rude, intolerant, or unsavory proclamations. He does pick up some rather intriguing phrases from coworkers, “Oh my ‘lanta” replacing “OMG” until, thankfully, he retired it! 😉

And apologies for sounding too positive…let me return to my good old chastising self in the final piece of advice.

IMG_1165If you managed to internalize the friendly, complimentary offerings Chinese friends, students, and maybe even strangers bequeathed on you, perhaps commenting on your impeccable Chinese langauge skills, appearance, personality or competencies, then brace yourself to be labeled as “too sensitive.” Simply put, you may have received compliments, flattery of some kind, or even the opposite. Chinese people told you exactly how it is, as was the case with students who did not shy away from telling me I was a little fat, but not as fat as most Americans! I disliked this approach at first but eventually learned to appreciate this type of honesty. Americans tend to speak ill of an individual behind their back, and provide empty means of flattery when facing the person. Although well aware the compliments and flattery I received in China may have been as equally fake, the honesty I received from students, friends and acquaintances helped me project and blame others less, giving me a thick skin, but one thick enough for dealing with the Chinese way of bluntness. This so-called “thick skin” is thin here, where relatives perceived me as such. Moving back to America means readjusting the way you internalize the comments others make, so reinvest in learning to not care what people think. Easier said than done, but you can do it (is better said in Chinese 加油!)!

Marissa Kluger married her Chinese husband ZJ almost two years ago. They live in New Jersey. She occasionally reminisces about Xi’an and muses about life in the US at Xiananigans
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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.

Q & A with Speaking of China on Xiananigans

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Marissa Kluger of Xiananigans recently published her interview with me! She asks some excellent questions — from how I came to China to what my days look like and what I’m working on.

Here’s a snippet of the interview:

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).

To read the full interview, visit Xiananigans right now. And if you like it, share it!

Double Happiness: How An American Woman Fell In Love With Xi’an (And One Special Guy)

Marissa and ZJ
Marissa and ZJ

“I’d never dated or been attracted to Chinese men before,” writes Marissa Kluger — not until she met ZJ in Xi’an, a city that stole her heart away.

Marissa’s blog Xiananigans has been a pleasure to follow over the years (right down to her “explosive” Chinese wedding, where she dons the most gorgeous red wedding gown I’ve ever seen). Here’s the story behind it all, from how she discovered Xi’an and ZJ to how they eventually moved it to her hometown in New Jersey.

Have an “explosive” story you’d like to share with us? To learn more about getting your stuff published on Speaking of China, check out the submit a post page for details.

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My first trip to China, in 2007, happened to be a three week intensive course abroad, a general education requirement instituted by Goucher College, my alma mater. Xi’an ended up being one of our destinations. Besides inspecting the soldiers at the Terracotta Warriors, bicycling around the Xi’an City Wall, and navigating the alleys of the Muslim Quarter, we met with an alumnus teaching at Xi’an International Studies University.

The city of Xi’an compelled me to return four years later to teach at Xi’an International Studies University. I’m a fairly indecisive person but I had made up my mind after listening to the alumnus’ anecdotes about his job, travels, and experiences. Meeting his students further cemented my longing to come back; they were inquisitive, interested in cultural exchange, American politics and exposing me to as much Chinese culture as several hours would allow.

Snapped at Delhi Darbar, our local Indian haunt, Summer 2013
Snapped at Delhi Darbar, our local Indian haunt, Summer 2013

Although I knew they would show us around their dorms, the campus, and give us small gifts, I was overwhelmed by their warmth, affection, and extroverted personalities. In many ways, they toppled every notion, or better yet, stereotype I read about Chinese students. We met students from universities in other cities during our travels, but XISU students left the deepest indent.

I also saw it as a one-year opportunity to do something outside-of-the-box before starting a career, although at that time I had little idea about what I’d be doing; I hadn’t even declared a major, still opting for that looming “Undecided” title. My parents thought I’d give up on the idea as I still had three years of schooling. They were supportive of the decision, also seeing it as a good opportunity, hoping I’d pick up the language and gain other valuable experiences that could propel whatever career path I chose forward.

In 2009-10, my final year at Goucher, I applied for a position at the university. Three months went by without a word, so I began applying for jobs in my chosen field in the Greater New York City area. A ray of sunshine appeared just a week before commencement…I had received an email from the university offering me a teaching position for the next academic year! When my college girlfriends offered their congratulatory sentiments, they also foreshadowed that 缘分, or fate would lead me to at least date, perhaps even settle down in China. I dismissed this as I didn’t really put much stock in fate.

Bicycling to the 798-like art district in Xi’an, Summer 2013
Bicycling to the 798-like art district in Xi’an, Summer 2013

I arrived in Xi’an in late August 2010, and luckily I had the first month of September free, as I had been assigned freshman. Freshman have mandatory military training, and four years ago, this lasted an entire month. I took this chance to meet up with a very good friend of my former private drum instructor and his Chinese wife. Lu Min Lu, I called her Daphney, helped me settle in and introduced me to the nightlife Xi’an offered. She took me to Park Qin, a bar frequented by Xi’an expats. ZJ worked at Park Qin.

The first time ZJ and I met, I insisted on getting his phone number on behalf of a British girl. I initially cut in for several reasons: I was looking for Chinese acquaintances who might become friends, most of my college friends were guys, he was easy to talk to and charming. I, of course, did all of this not knowing anything about Chinese dating culture, or that ZJ considered himself “traditional.”

After getting his phone number and exchanging texts, we agreed to meet up on his next day off. Shortly after that first meeting, I went back to Park Qin and spent hours talking to ZJ about movies, music, college, culture and more. We had a lot in common, he spoke directly, didn’t seem shy or introverted, much like the students I met in 2007, but I didn’t see this going in a romantic direction. The American girlfriends I emailed back home were elated: “I told you.”

ZJ and I in Xi’an, Chinese New Year 2013
ZJ and I in Xi’an, Chinese New Year 2013

It was about a month later that ZJ and I began dating. In the early stages of our relationship, we looked more like friends. We weren’t affectionate in public and our relationship remained a secret. In February 2011, I met ZJ’s parents during our Chinese New Year visit to his hometown. He prepared me very well for that first visit, explaining that to his parents, bringing a girl home, let alone a foreign one, meant to them we were serious.

I met his best friend from high school as well as extended family from both his mother’s and father’s side; I felt more comfortable than I initially thought in an environment so different from Xi’an and New Jersey. ZJ cared, translated and interpreted for me; his way to show affection manifested itself unlike any previous relationships. I liked the nuances, subtlety of it all, and more importantly, started to fall for him, and so upon returning to Xi’an, ZJ moved in with me.

After moving in together, we spent Western Valentine’s Day on the City Wall, visited the Shaanxi Botancial Gardensattended a professional soccer game at the sports stadium, and he attended Thanksgiving dinner I hosted with a friend. I went back to the US for the summer in 2011. Although we lived together, I worked during the day while ZJ slept after bartending into the wee hours of the morning. After 2012’s Chinese New Year, he decided to take a sabbatical from work.

We visited Baoji after the Chinese New Year to meet 大哥, ZJ’s eldest brother. The spring months of 2012, free from working in the evenings, we visited another campus infamous for their cherry blossomsday-tripped to Hanzhong with friendsspent July in Xi’an and backpacked through Thailand and Laos that summer. This trip tested our relationship, and looking back, foreshadowed some of the difficulties we now face.

The flowers ZJ procured by riding on a motorbike taxi in the pouring rain, at our engagement on June 8, 2013
The flowers ZJ procured by riding on a motorbike taxi in the pouring rain, at our engagement on June 8, 2013

When the holiday season approached, ZJ fostered my homesickness by taking me out for Peking duck on Christmas, a tradition commonly observed by Jewish-Americans. I went home for three weeks in January 2013; I wished he could have traveled with me, to meet my family and friends. I missed him when I went home for two months in 2011, staying in touch via Skype, however, those three weeks felt utterly painful. I enjoyed my time at home, but a sense of relief washed over me when I touched down in Xi’an a week or so before heading to his 老家 for Chinese New Year.

We had already started discussing getting engaged and this discussion was met with approval by 老爸, 老妈, 大哥和二哥. ZJ proposed to me on June 8, 2013. The timing of the ceremony, the set-up, and the ring were all a surprise to me. He told me we were celebrating his birthday; I saw this as slightly suspicious, but didn’t give it a second thought when he shot me down over WeChat when I asked if he planned to propose.

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A collage put together by one of our foreign guests at the Chinese wedding ceremony, Feb. 5, 2014

We had a friend take engagement photos, stayed at the Sheraton North as a quasi-engagement honeymoon, biked to Xi’an’s new art district, and went to Beijing. We talked about when we would get married that summer: would we stay in China or move to the US?

We registered our marriage a year ago. In October, we took our wedding photos for the Chinese wedding ceremony. Because many of ZJ’s coworkers and friends wouldn’t be able to make the two and a half hour trip to his 老家, we hosted a wedding luncheon in Xi’an, receiving the customary red envelopes. A month or so after, we began researching the DCF process so that we could move to the US in the summer, setting the wedding for February 5.

We made it up Cangshan, Dali Feb. 2014
We made it up Cangshan, Dali Feb. 2014

I wore an ankle-length red gown, one of three dresses purchased on Taobao for the ceremony held in the countryside. I opted for a red princess-poofy gown, complete with fur-like trim, flowers, taffeta-like mesh, all in red. I changed into a red lace qipao in order to toast the guests, wearing it with a qipao-style top as a jacket in hopes of keeping out the cold. I even wore all red undergarments. My youngest sister made the trip from the US, served as pseudo-maid of honor, taking on my hair and makeupWe also had a few foreign colleagues from the university attend. 爸爸和妈妈 Zhang, my brothers and sisters-in-law ensured the shindig, a once-in-a-lifetime affair, could be watched over and over again (there’s a video!). We had a honeymoon of sorts, to Lijiang and Dali, and I say of sorts, because my sister and friends of ours tagged along.

We had traveled to Guangzhou for the petition in January and a couple of months after all the wedding excitement died down, we traveled back again for the medical and interview portions. ZJ didn’t pass on the spot, as we had to send additional documents. A week or two later, we had ZJ’s passport with the appropriate visa in hand. I couldn’t believe how relatively quickly and pain-free the process had been! More foreshadowing…

ZJ and I in Hanzhong, 2012
ZJ and I in Hanzhong, 2012

We’ve now been in the US for two and a half months. We live with my parents in the house I grew up in. I work part-time for Starbucks while I pursue other avenues. This is the first encounter ZJ’s had with my parents and friends, with the exception of my youngest sister, who also lives at home. He just received his social security number last week. When we went to the department of motor vehicles earlier in the week, they weren’t able to verify his status, meaning we have to wait before he can obtain his driver’s license. In other words, the ease we experienced during the DCF process meant more obstacles after landing stateside.

It’s not all bad news, though. I never imagined I’d be a 26 year-old “we”, returning from four years in Xi’an, and struggling to figure out what comes next. I would never take it back, or trade it in for an “easier life.” Much like the processes we’ve gone through in the last year: getting our red books, preparing for our Chinese ceremony, navigating the DCF process, prepared us for the ups and downs of a new life. I underestimated the adjustment moving to the US would be, but my husband never did.

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Ringwood State Park in New Jersey, July 2014

This is why I love him. When I’m losing it, he remains calm, rational, and thoughtful. When I’m overly emotional, which is pretty much all of the time, he’s calculated and prepared to counteract my moodiness by jokes, sarcasm, or a story. He knows exactly when I need solitude, a hug or a kiss, encourages me to not only pursue my dreams, but to do so independently.

His sense of humor is infectious, and he’s grown into a more talkative, outwardly affectionate individual. He supports me in all my endeavors. Our marriage and relationship may not be conventional in the eyes of some, and we may be opposites, but I always foresaw, if I did marry, ending up with my “other half.” You see, I didn’t think I would marry, especially in my mid-20s, not because I don’t believe in the institution of marriage, but after a failed serious relationship in college, preferred to bask in dating solitude.

DSC_0024It’s laughable that there are Western women in China who write off Chinese men. I’d never dated or been attracted to Chinese men before, but I’m very attracted to my husband: appearance, intelligence, and personality-wise. If I had written them off, the handsome, caring man sitting to my right reading the local paper wouldn’t be in my life.

Marissa Kluger married her Chinese husband ZJ a year ago. They live in New Jersey. She reminisces about Xi’an and muses about life in the US at Xiananigans.

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Speaking of China is always on the lookout for outstanding guest posts and love stories! If you have something you’d like us to feature, visit the submit a post page for details — and then submit yours today.