What I’ve Learned About Cross-Cultural Weddings 

So, ever since my own wedding last year, I have been so lucky to attend a constantly growing number of international weddings in China. It didn’t take long until I realized certain similarities and themes emerging at these events. So in case you are getting ready for your own cross-cultural wedding in China or with a Chinese groom/bride, here are a few things I’ve learned:

1. Be Prepared for A Culture Clash

I find that we tend to not take the effect of two cultures meeting seriously enough. After observing both myself and Mr Li when we are together, when we are with his family and friends and when we are with my family and friends, I have come to realize one thing. Both of us have very different personas depending on which people we are with and which cultural environment that creates. I behave a lot more brash around foreign friends and Mr Li worries much more about what people think as soon as he is around his Chinese entourage. For a cross-cultural wedding this means there is bound to be conflict as you not only struggle to communicate with and keep both sides entertained; you are also trying to be two people at the same time, while your partner might not be happy about you exhibiting certain behaviour in front of their own culture. It is a stressful time, and it is good to be aware of this fact, as it will creep up on you quite unexpectedly. 

In the case of China and a Western culture, I have found that there are two aspects in play that make it even more difficult: culture shock and communication style (peppered of course with a nice dose of jet lag).

No matter which country you are holding your wedding in, inevitably the “other side”, if they chose to come, will experience culture shock. A wedding, an event loaded with new people and full of local traditions, is just extra stress. So chances are some of those relatives and friends might get upset or grumpy at things they usually wouldn’t, and often they don’t even know why. It’s just the stress of being thrown into the deep end of the pool in a new country and a bunch of strangers who do things you might find offensive.

In relation to Western-Chinese weddings in particular, I find another challenge are different communication styles. The Western side will simply express their displeasure at certain things, and while it’s not necessarily pleasant to have to deal with complaints and grumpy-faced Westerners, it isn’t a big deal in itself. However, on the Chinese side, where it is common to swallow your complaints and hide you displeasure in front of strangers in particular, such displays of discontent are incredibly upsetting and serious. And so, I found at the wedding, when Mr Li went into China mode and I went into Western mode, there were all of a sudden plenty of things that he felt offended about where I couldn’t understand what the fuss was all about.

2. Try to be informed and keep informed

I have found in particular the Western side, but also the Chinese if they come to a Western wedding, really struggle with not knowing what’s going on. Very few of us are able to just “go with the flow”, especially the parents of the Western partner. Therefore, it’s a good idea to try and make the whole wedding process as clear to your Western family as possible by doing two things:

1. Get a good interpreter, not just for the wedding ceremony but also to take care of the “foreign” side throughout the day.

You should make sure that the person conducting the wedding (an MC in China and a priest or officiate in the West) has met the interpreter and maybe even practiced the ceremony with them. Since few officiates are used to bilingual ceremonies, they don’t know when to pause so the interpreter can catch up. We didn’t have an interpreter for either of our weddings, and luckily both of our families were fairly relaxed about it, but I do know that to some parents this is a very big deal and not being able to understand can drive them crazy.

2. Try to discuss in advance with your family what exactly is going to happen and when; in the case of Chinese weddings that is next to impossible, but still it is good to give them a run down of the day. In the morning, the groom will pick the bride up, there will be door blocking, and shouting and red envelopes and games, once she is taken to his house, her parents can rest until the ceremony and so on and so forth. Try and get as many details from the family members as possible and let your family know, as it can be really stressful and upsetting for them to not know what’s going on.

3. Accept that it will be chaos anyway

Despite all your best planning and efforts, the fact of the matter is weddings, and especially Chinese ones, are utter chaos. There isn’t one person who knows what’s going exactly but rather each family member knows one or two customs that need to be upheld and rather than telling you before hand you will often get a message on the day saying a group of Chinese people will show up in twenty minutes to hang stuff up in your room. So prepare your family members from abroad for the fact that it will inevitably descend into chaos and pray that they will be able to cope.

4. If you have two weddings, make them local

A small regret I have, though I loved my Chinese wedding, which was terribly grand, is that I kept it in a Western style. We recently visited a traditional Chinese wedding with some Western elements and I really, really enjoyed it and felt that this is a really good idea, especially if you have another wedding in your home country. This way you get to experience two very different ceremonies, so thumbs up!

5. If you have one, make it cross-cultural

If you are having one wedding, then make sure to incorporate elements of both cultures. For example, the same traditional Chinese wedding featured a Scottish dance class for the guests and the bride and groom drinking a mix of Baijiu and Scottish whisky from a Scottish chalice. It’s not only fun to be creative and innovative with your wedding it also ensures that you feel like its yours; and it certainly gives the guests something to talk about.

Most importantly, don’t forget to enjoy yourself on your exciting, tiring and crazy day of cross-cultural union!

What have your experiences been? Do you have any tips for future cross-cultural brides and grooms?

A New Generation of Constant Availability

This passing weekend a strange constellation of coincidences led me to a surprising insight into the lives of our millennial generation. 
Mr Li had taken a flight back to his hometown on Sunday after we had a big birthday celebration on Saturday evening. I spent Sunday afternoon with a friend and then got home around 4pm. While I did have it on my mind to send a message to Mr Li to ask how his flight was, the afternoon in the crazy hot Beijing sun had actually exhausted me. So I just sat down on the sofa, put on some random TV show and just let it wash over me. After a while I nodded off. Until at around 9pm, when someone rings the doorbell. Still half asleep I was a little wary since I hadn’t been expecting anyone and as Mr. Li and many other local acquaintances often point out, one has to be very careful about who comes a-knocking in China especially when at home alone. Even more so as a “vulnerable woman”, as much as I dislike this idea.

It turns out, it’s one of my friends who lives a metro stop away checking in to see that I was okay. Since I had not been in touch with Mr Li and his repeated phone calls had gone unanswered with my phone on silent in another room, he had gone into a panic and had convinced himself I had been run over by a car on my way home from brunch. He contacted every single one of our friends and of course no one could reach me. 

It was at this moment that I realised two things. Number one, I had always felt that Mr Li and his mother both tended to freak out very easily as soon as one wasn’t in constant contact with them. Once I came to Beijing while we were doing long distance and the same thing happened – for maybe 12 hours we just didn’t look at our phones and promptly a relative stood in front of our door to check if we were still alive. I do not know if this is my particular partner and family’s idiosyncrasy or a general tendency for Chinese to over worry, though I do feel it may be the latter. I could tell both him and his mother were genuinely worried; I myself was torn between appreciation for their care but also utter bemusement with a tinge of being overwhelmed. My mum and I might not message each other for a few days, and neither one of us has a meltdown about it (well, I do get the odd “Are you still alive?” if I don’t get in touch for over a week #daughteroftheyear).

But the other realisation I had was just how connected we are nowadays and how expectations of being connected and availability have changed. Part of me was just totally “socialised out” after the weekend and so I was happy to just lounge about all by my lonesome on the sofa. I actually really enjoy a little time out from the phone and chatting every now and then. But my not being available for just a few hours caused my husband and MIL to be convinced I was lying in a ditch somewhere and it shocked me how constant availability is just a given nowadays. It’s no surprise so many people suffer burn out when you have to constantly be “switched on” that way.

On top of that I feel like professional and private life have, especially through the emergence of smart phones and chatting apps, become entirely inseparable. It is not uncommon for work mails to arrive on people’s phones in the middle of the night, and who can resist the ding of the phone? No one, that’s who. Yet, we hardly resist it when at work either. Message from husband, MIL, best friend; we immediately have to respond. It’s not a very healthy way of living, I find.

I believe that it is very important for my sanity to every now and then just chuck the phone in a corner and say “screw the world, I’m N/A right now.” Though maybe next time I shall warn my immediate family members in advance. 

Ugly or Beautiful: The Mysterious Case of the Pageant Winner

Lately, there has been a bit of a viral reaction back here in China to the winner of the Miss Michigan beauty pageant, an American woman with Chinese ancestry. The decision was met with utmost confusion and sometimes the most vile demeanour. To put it bluntly, many a Chinese netizen seems to feel that the winner of this beauty contest is uncontestably ugly. So what happened here?

After looking at some pictures of Arianna Quan, I couldn’t help but feel not in the least surprised at this reaction. I have long since made the experience that when it comes to beauty standards, the Chinese public (often including my husband) and I do not see eye to eye. For example, my salivating over Jay Chou has been met with incomprehensive head-shaking from Chinese friends countless times, while whenever Mr Li will point out a “pretty girl” in his books, I would find myself wondering whether I needed glasses.

Utter heartthrob Jay Chou

After years of the both of us studying the types of Chinese women foreign men (and myself) generally seem to find attractive and comparing it with the local beauty standard, we have definitely come to the conclusion that in many cases (naturally not all of them), someone considered the height of beauty in one of our cultures is regularly seen as less than desirable in the other. But why does this happen?
Arianna Quan, I think, is a rather good example of culturally defined tastes and how exactly they differ between China and “the West” (in the most liberal sense of the word).

Below are traits I find attractive about her:

-Her dark skin

-Her tall statue and great figure (I mean look at those ladies!)

-Her very mature and adult sex appeal (enhanced of course by the dramatic make-up)

-Her eyes

Many Chinese netizens compare Quan to Mulan

Dark Skin, Light Skin

I don’t think it’s a secret anymore that in China “light is right”. The whiter a woman’s skin the better. Some say this is because peasants have dark tanned skin from working under the sun all day, and so being white is associated with being rich and high class. Others just see it as another form of racism, the idea that “white skin” is desirable because Chinese society tends to treat Caucasian foreigners preferentially.

The obsession with white skin is so ingrained that active measures are taken to stop the sun from even getting anywhere near one’s skin, such as sun umbrellas and full body condoms. The face swimming masks that were a hit two summers ago and made everyone look like mass murderers are another classic. More concerning though are the countless whitening products containing bleach, from face wash to creams to make-up.

Swimsuit Serial Killer?

In my native countries and I believe in the US also, on the other hand, we strive for exactly the opposite. We love that tanned healthy glow and will risk skin cancer just to look like we live at the beach full time. Hence, Arianna Quan with her effortlessly dark skin is already ahead of us in that respect.

Great or Overweight?

Next up is dear Arianna’s body. Her height and her weight in my books are an unattainable ideal. She is slender but has curves. Marvelous.

Yet by Chinese beauty standards, as shocking as this might sound, she would probably be considered way too large. A general rule of thumb in China is that if you pass 100 jin, so 50 kg, you are fat (and this goes for women who are 1m50 to those who are 1m85). Fan Bingbing, at 60kg and a more than average height, is considered “China’s fattest super star”.

In addition, if your legs are anything more than matchsticks, you should be worried, and if your waist is larger than an A4 paper held vertically, it’s off to fat camp. This is evidenced by many social media trends including the aforementioned A4 paper as well as holding an iPhone to your knee caps, or trying to reach around your own body with one arm.

A4 Paper Waist and iPhone Knee Challenge

In general, being fit, trained or muscly is an idea that is only just emerging. The majority in China still prefer women to be as frail and fairly-like as possible. This also includes not being tall. Naturally this only applies to women, while for men, there is no upward limit – you go scrape that sky, Yao Ming! Again Arianna fails to strike a chord with Chinese observers.

Mature or Old? Appealing to Different Tastes

For me personally, Ms Quan is a very sexy persona simply because she has something mature and demure about her. She is confident, a quality that I believe in the West is seen as very appealing. However, what is defined as “sexually desirable” in China, is something very different. Many a conversation with Mr Li has confirmed my impression that what we might see as sexy, is often much too brash and too full on in a Chinese context.

The standard concept of what is desirable here are women who try to look as young as possible, as there still is a strong concept of age devaluing women, and as child-like and “cute” as possible. Big doe eyes, a high-pitched voice and general dependency seem in many cases to be the way to a man’s heart, or rather his trousers, in China.

Pretty? Eye don’t think so

Arianna’s eyes are another point of contention. One reason why in the past my taste for Jay Chou was met with much disapproval is simply because he has small eyes. Now to me, this is actually something that makes him more attractive. I admit it might be down to my exoticising Asian features. In China, however, the larger the eyes the better. What I might think of as bulgy and frog-like, many Chinese I speak to would find incredibly attractive.

While I am generally not a fan of beauty contests, especially since beauty is in the eye of the beholder, I have generally found in many discussions with Chinese friends that we would disagree on exactly the above points. 

How about you? Have you found the same to be true?

Finally, I would like to leave you with a great read on this exact topic by Echo Tang.

Making Friends in First and Second Tier Chinese Cities (2) 

This post is part of a short series split into expats and locals. Find Part 1 here.

Local Friends – Struggling to Connect

One point that I always feel a little ashamed of is the fact that I have a Chinese husband, and it makes me feel as if I have an obligation to also have local friends. However, to me building meaningful relationships with locals has proved fairly tricky, maybe due to a number of cultural differences. 

Chinese Female Friends

When it comes to Chinese women, finding friends my age has been a struggle because they almost certainly will have a young baby of which to take care. In any culture, this is something that leaves little room for social contacts, especially those without children themselves because we might struggle to understand what being a parent is like. While previously you might have met up for a couple of drinks and a night on the town, this becomes quite difficult with young mothers, and understandably so. An added problem, though, is that still for many women in China after childbirth, the offspring becomes the sole focus of their lives, while career takes a back seat and having conversations about anything other than husband or junior just doesn’t seem to happen as much as it used to. 

Nvqiangren 女强人 – Strong Women

Luckily in Beijing, it is easier to encounter so-called “nvqiangren”, or “strong women” who focus on their career and refuse to marry just any guy because their parents pressure them. In second tier cities it is much more difficult to find single career-minded women in their late 20s since traditional ideas around marriage are much more enforced. However, I did meet many such women in Nanjing; the difference was they often dated or married foreigners. 

In conversation with some of these fabulous women I have found they face the same issue in relation to their married peers; most of their former friends now only meet up to show off their husband, their family or their house. 

“Nvqiangren” on the other hand can be an inspiring group of people with which to hang out, usually being quite independent and in my general experience with a host of diverse issues to talk about.The most interesting discussions about politics, culture and society I have had were with these independent women. 

Whether it is exciting hobbies or business ventures, they generally always seem to be on the go and highly active. What this can mean though is that it can prove a challenge to build a long-term relationship, since they already have a very flourishing private life and usually a strong circle of (often also single) female friends. 

Opposites Attract? Male Mates in China 

So what about hanging out with mates of the opposite sex? Well, due to comparatively traditional ideas about gender roles, especially in more conservative second tier cities, it is incredibly uncommon for members of the opposite sex to actually “hang”. Especially if either of them has a partner. It is rare to find a Chinese woman who would be cool with her boyfriend meeting up with another girl (in particular one of those loose laowai lasses), but it is probably even rarer to find a Chinese boy who would accept his mate chilling with a mate. Don’t ask me how I managed to find Mr Li – he is truly a progressive superstar when it comes to this. 

The gender segregation is so pervasive in China that even at university large groups of locals will usually end up being split down the middle with the boys sitting on one side and the girls on the other, as an international student I spoke to recently observed. So no male friends then.

Men are people too!

Foreigner Fandom

Of course there are locals who actively seek out foreign friendships. I admit that this was something I also did when I studied in Newcastle, where Chinese students are as plentiful as rain and cider. It can sometimes feel a little awkward, because one tends to wonder if this is positive racism, i.e. are they only trying to practice their English, or in some cases even, just find a foreign partner. At the end of the day, one should definitely try and be open minded, since their interest in foreign culture often means that you will have a lot to talk about, most typically American or British TV shows. 

Overseas Returnees

 From my experience over the last 5 or so years I have to admit I tend to get on best with locals who have spent time studying abroad just because their frame of reference matches mine most; they often have a grasp on international culture and references, understand my type of humour but also know local culture, are happy to go for hot pot or pizza, feel comfortable at a KTV as much as they do at a bar, and are just not quite that worried about what others tend to think of them. 

That is not to say locals who haven’t spent time abroad are not able to do this; that is simply not the case. But looking back at my closest and longest friendships, there has always been an international element. 

Different Ways of Socialising

If you do manage to find your local soulmate (with a capital M), you do need to be prepared for the fact that hanging out can work in very different ways from back home. Grabbing a pint at the pub is still a very uncommon thing for locals to do, unless they belong to the Beijing underground. Most of my local acquaintances would spend quality time with their friends playing card games at Korean coffee shops, especially in Nanjing, or if they were getting really rowdy by hanging out at KTV. 

Bars and clubs still have a certain reputation as being dangerous and full of gangsters and deadbeats. Admittedly, in my time clubbing in Beijing and Nanjing, I did tend to notice that many of those who do go to night clubs often do so multiple times a week and rarely have a very traditional career path. I do think that locals in larger cities are starting to distinguish between nightclubs and just a drink in a bar but it is still highly likely that if you invite your new local acquaintance to join you for a drink, they will decline. There are a few more other rules with regards to socializing, and who to invite when an how. You can find them here.

WWAMs – Stuck in the Middle with You

This is probably more for the expat section but then again, is it? 
Being in Beijing has also incredibly enriched my social life because most WWAMs (Western Women with Asian Men) congregate here. If you are a woman dating a local then this is a circle of people in which you might want to get involved. The women I have met who are dating or married to locals are an incredibly colorful bunch of stunning, strong and courageous women with the most fascinating stories to tell; and one thing is for sure – due to your shared experience of having Chinese in-laws you never run out of stuff to talk about. 

WWAM Power

What has your experience been with making friends in China? Especially in lower tier cities?

Making Friends in First and Second Tier Chinese Cities

Moving to China is a big adventure, the success of which as well as your personal happiness will depend on a number of factors. An essential aspect I have found to be decisive is one’s social circle. Depending on the type of Chinese city, in which you live, the makeup and size of that social circle can vary drastically; and so, in many cases, can your degree of happiness. 

Having lived for two years in Nanjing, a second (or arguably 1.5) tier city, I have found the experience very different from Beijing. 

This post is part of a two part series, broken up into expat and local friends for want of a better term and is based on my personal impressions.

Expat Friends – Finding the Right Bubble 

Second Tier Solitude

First off, assuming you are looking for an international circle of friends, the pickings in second tier cities are unsurprisingly much slimmer than they are in the capital, especially if you are looking for female friends. Therefore, finding people with the same interests as you isn’t quite as simple; after all, merely being “international” isn’t really enough to build up a strong friendship that goes beyond drinking and clubbing. 

Even more so, second tier cities more often than not seem to be the destination for students. Professionals with career aspirations more commonly end up in a first tier, even more so as most larger international firms still tend to be based in the Big Four (Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Shenzhen). Consequently, the average duration of their stay in China tends to be shorter for second tier expats. Especially where students are concerned, they will leave after six months to a year, a less than ideal time frame to build long-lasting connections. As a result, as a long-termer one can fall victim to a rather cynical approach. I would systematically take people off of the “potential friend list” once I found out their stay was to be just six months. And yes, I got that desperate I had a “potential friend check list” for every new acquaintance. Come to think of it, my problems with finding suitable mates might have been related to the creepy “please love me” puppy face I would make upon each new encounter. You know the one – shiny eyes and excited panting. I’m sure it wasn’t that bad though…I think.

Will you be my friend? Pretty pleaaaase?

Being in a long-distance relationship, my lifestyle was definitely more akin to a single person. So, for my childless self, expat families, who tended to live in a different part of the city anyway, were usually at a very different point in their lives; more Chardonnay than roadside chuar 串. Hardly suitable for anything more than superficial exchanges.

I distinctly remember, during my Nanjing time, quite a few single, successful expat women complaining at the slim pickings both for potential partners and besties; unsurprisingly many of them have returned to their home countries or moved on to another place. 

Beijing Besties 

In Beijing, the picture that emerges is quite different. Hipsters, fashionistas, gamers; you name it, Beijing has it. I have in a very short amount of time managed to build up a circle of friends much larger than at any point in time in Nanjing with people who share my interests and overlap with myself in terms of where we are in life: passed out on the sofa after one too many Mostos. If you don’t get that reference, sorry, you can’t be my friend. It’s all about being selective now. 

Who needs friens when you have Mostos? *hicks*

While I do feel that less expats speak fluent Chinese in Beijing compared to Nanjing, and as a result I am in more of an expat bubble now than I was before, my social life has undergone an incredible transformation. Where I would spend most weekends on my own down South, now no weekend goes by without at least one social occasion. It has definitely made it a lot harder to lose weight, I’ll tell you that. 

Even more encouragingly, because there are more professionals in first tier cities, their duration of stay tends to be much longer. While most expats do seem to leave in the end, after maybe 4 to 5 years, that is still quite an improvement on Nanjing’s six month average.

What has your experience been between different tier cities? Maybe it has been entirely different for you? Let me know in the comments!

Has China Changed Me? Reflecting on Flexibility, Finance and Food

Recently watching Whisky Tango Foxtrott (great movie btw, Tina Fey, you are my hero) and all this talk of the “Kabubble” inspired me to take a close look at myself and how my behaviour has changed after three years in China and…what would you call it? The Bebble? The Beijubble? I’ll have to work on that. Anyway, without much ado, here are the main ways in which being in China and with a Chinese husband have changed both my thoughts and actions.

1. The Value of Family 

When I was 18 I couldn’t wait to get out of Germany and see the world. I was never a person to miss home easily when there were so many wonders to be discovered. Being in China has changed my outlook in this regard at least a little. I would now consider moving back to Germany, a country I had thought I had turned my back on forever, partly because it would mean being closer to my family. Maybe I’m just getting old and sentimental. But mostly it’s China. The importance of family here and the value placed on it has increased the value I place on my own family in my life. Tough to my husband’s dismay that doesn’t necessarily relate to a number of his more…shall we say interesting…relatives. And while we are being honest they are probably the main reason I appreciate how normal and drama free my own childhood was.

2. Opportunity for Pickiness 

Career-wise I think moving to China was both a blessing and a curse in disguise. Having had little practical experience in journalism, I would have never been able to find such work in the UK. China gave me a start into written journalism and then the opportunity to work for the country’s largest broadcaster. To be perfectly honest the main reason is my Caucasian descent, which in the past equaled unimaginable opportunities in China (as more talented people flood into the Land of the Dragon this trend is starting to shift). Being able to speak the local language also helps of course. The problem, if you want to call it that, is that now I have tasted blood and want to stay in this line of work – and I feel I am entitled to pursue this career dream – something I would never even have dared consider back in Europe. It won’t make life easier, that’s for sure. But if it works out, it will be a whole lot more fun. 

3. Diverging from the Discourse 

Being in China, a communist-run country, has definitely changed my views on the world. It has enabled me step out of the fairly limited discourse that exists in the West, including such broad statements that communist leadership is straight out of hell or Chinese people have no freedom of expression whatsoever and see that the truth is a little bit more nuanced than that. I do know that even so much as suggesting that there are some things the leadership in China aren’t bad at is probably as disturbing to most Western ears as the comments I get from countless Chinese who hear I’m German: “Oh yeah, Hitler. Great guy!” But it just takes a simple look at Chinese high speed railway infrastructure, which I maintain is among the best in the world, to realise they must be doing something right. 
Ironically, although I wouldn’t call myself the biggest fan of certain political realities, my more favourable opinion of at least some aspects of China’s policies often means I automatically get pushed into the “Defender of China” role. Hello, I am DOC, the latest super hero on the block. JK. Or am I? It is quite frustrating to see how just mentioning the idea that maybe there are also positive sides to something that is seen as Satan’s spawn in democratic and individualist cultures always ends up with me sounding like a propaganda machine. 

4. Lazy Eater? No more!

Growing up in the West I was such a lazy eater. What I hated most was dealing with any food that needed to be “handled” in the slightest way before stuffing it in my mouth. Peeling prawns to me was some kind of cruel joke. What? I’m meant to work for my food? Preposterous!!
In China, unless you want to miss out on some of the best dishes, you can’t afford to be such a choosy chewer. Peeling the hull (is it a hull? Or skin? Or armour? Who knows!) off a scampi with my bare teeth and chopsticks is now the least of my problems as I enthusiastically munch away on splintered chicken bones and suck meat out of little crayfish legs I have sardonically ripped off the poor creature.
No more mashed potatoes and creamed soups. Three years in China mean I get down and dirty when it comes to dinner time. Right down to the bone. My mum must be so proud of me.

5. Flexibility or Chaos?

There was once a time when I could hardly imagine that planning a holiday two days in advance and deciding what to do on a weekend on that actual weekend would ever occur to me. In traditional German fashion I was on track to become the Organisator. Hasta la vista, baby; but at 3:30pm exactly please, and no minute later. 

In China life just isn’t like that. I can’t help but chuckle with amusement when my mum (an honorary German of almost 40 years) is non-plussed at the fact that our plans change more often than our underwear. As you can imagine this makes planning a Sino-German wedding akin to walking over a patch of glass shards. If you are not a yogi master, you are going to get hurt. My mum calls it chaos, we prefer to think of it as flexibility. It’s the only way to stay sane. I plan to write more on cross-cultural wedding escapades soon. Let’s see how long that lasts. Oh, time to change my underwear. 

6. Money Talk

It wasn’t till I was out at dinner with some “old outsiders” (Get it? Get it? If not, look up Laowai) that I noticed how drastically my small talk has changed. When a colleague mentioned they recently purchased a new item, my first question was not what colour, what model or any technical specs but rather “How much?”. “You’re so Chinese, Laura” was the exasperated answer and with a flash of surprise I realized they were right. 

I do not feel ashamed to ask people for their salaries anymore – probably something I need reign in when back in Europe. Does this automatically mean I am money obsessed or that the pink papers with Mr Mao’s glorious features are the only thing that matters to me? I wouldn’t say so; but I do appreciate Chinese realism concerning finance. I mean, call me cynical, but what’s the point of having your dream career if at the end of the day you can’t even pay the rent for a fridge-sized flat. We tend to like to pretend back in Europe that money doesn’t matter. It does folks. Deal with it. 

7. Hot Water, Holy Water

I know, I know. It’s the obvious one but still I think it deserves mention. No matter whether it’s 40 or -40 degrees outside, every Chinese restaurant will serve you free HOT water, always. In the office and at every single “water cooler” in the country you have the options of either tastebud-scorcher or “cold”, and by cold I mean room temperature. It’s to do with traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) and the idea that hot water cools you down. 

During my recent trip to Germany I found myself bordering on a breakdown at the fact that getting at plain hot water was about as easy as trying to climb Mount Everest in high heels. It just ain’t gonna happen. Now, it might have been the placebo effect but I genuinely felt miserable for the first few days and I put it down to mostly a lack of hot water. Certainly not jet lag or airplane induced cold. 

8. Accepting the Unacceptable

Especially being in an intercultural relationship forces you to be more accepting of behaviour that doesn’t conform with your own culture. If it doesn’t, I’m guessing the relationship won’t be lasting very long. 
It is easy in such a relationship for both sides to overlook how accepting your opposite has actually become of your cultural quirks, because to you they are totally normal. 

Point in case: I think the moment of revelation of just how much my accept-o-meter has risen occurred when I returned from a trip to Germany to find that my MIL had gone through the entire flat and rearranged everything. Including my underwear. Now I have discovered through much discussion that this a) is not necessarily exclusively a Chinese MIL phenomenon, there are other cultures and households where this might happen, and b) the male species finds the idea of mummy in law folding their undies and rearranging their entire closet not that unappealing. 

Maybe I’m just a territorial German b***h but I can assure you that I think I deserve an award for biting my tongue so hard it almost ended up being my dinner. I am convinced that 90% of my European friends would have gone batshit crazy at what can and would be considered a gross invasion of privacy in many a European country. Ironically it’s not the first time this has happened. But that’s a story for another time. 

In the meantime, keep calm and rearrange the closet. But only once MIL is gone. 

Well, this is all I can think of for now. How about you? How as your accept-o-meter changed since you have been in China? And how many crayfish can you take apart in one minute? Would love to hear your stories! 

Welcome to Germany?

Selective memory is a dangerous thing, isn’t it? Having left my native country Germany nine years ago, and not having had spent a longer amount of time there in almost three years, I had myself convinced that it would be a great idea to move back “home” in the near future.

I had read many reports about problems with both right wing radicals and supposed migrants and soaked in the fear mongering, always telling myself it’s the media, no point in taking it seriously.

But take it seriously I probably should have. That is the conclusion I have drawn from my latest visit to the Land of Pretzels, Cars and Kebabs. The day of my arrival, fresh off the airplane, resembled a bucket of ice water being tipped over my head; and not in a “I’m helping raise awareness” kind of way.

In just a short trip that took me through three cities to my final destination, I witnessed fights, altercations or a feeling of being under threat – sometimes all three at once.

Public Fighting

First off a shouting match between what from their appearance can only be described as probable PEGIDA marchers and the poor conductor, who had pointed out that smoking was not allowed on the platform. In response, a veritable thunderstorm of foul language was unleashed with the conclusion that these specimens announced they could do “whatever the heck they want” to put it mildly. This, so I have been told by a number of old friends during my stay, has become Germany’s new normal. Returning from China in the past usually meant a relaxing and pleasurable experience, with people being rather polite and considerate of others in the public space. It seems incidents such as the above are now not uncommon as the behaviour towards other people appears to have changed for the worse.

Cologne New Years’ Aftermath

Next stop Cologne. One hardly has to repeat the events of New Years that have made the city’s main station infamous. The after effects though are as tangible as they could ever be. There was police everywhere on the premises; you could have cut the tension with a knife. After I asked one lovely policeman for directions to my following destination, he immediately warned me to be on my guard since “there are a lot of thieves especially in the station, and a bag such as yours is particularly easy to grab.”

So I found myself skulking up and down Cologne train station feeling doubly exposed not only due to the easy-to-steal handbag but with a massive and glowing red suitcase that screamed tourist at anyone within a 100m radius. The dark one then, next time.

Junkies, Beggars, Alcoholics 

Upon arrival in Bonn, I was about to attempt to purchase an underground ticket, an unnecessarily complex process in the former capital, when something moved at my right elbow. Not registering what was about to happen, I turned to the young man with snake tattoos on his arm and a shaved head with a quizzical look on my face about to ask for help. Now, I cannot say for sure whether this was actually a junky, though he definitely would have fit the description. What surprised me about myself is that such people begging for money was completely normal even when I was growing up in Germany. This is also why train station toilets have blue lights, so said junkies can’t find their veins and shoot up in there; a fact of which I was painfully reminded when I set foot in the local “blue loo”.

At the sight of this stranger however, I was totally thrown. He did very kindly help me out, but within seconds station security walked up to tell him to stop “harassing” me. He did ask for some money to buy a slice of pizza, even suggesting I can come with him to check he is truly buying food not alcohol. I gave him some change and sent him on his way. He did earn it after all. And he made me contemplate how easily our minds jump to conclusions and stereotypes. If that isn’t worth 70p, nothing is.

The grand finale to the disconcerting welcome to Germany though was the last trip of the day on the underground, where a man in his fifties was barely able to remain slouched upon the platform seating with once again six police men and women gathered around him. Clearly drunk out of his mind, upon being told to get up and leave the station, the man stumbled around so violently he almost ended up on the tracks. After putting on a pair of gloves, one of the police men gingerly tried to lift and steer him, an attempt that desperately failed.

Alcoholism in China and Germany

Again, this is not in itself a terribly uncommon sight; especially at German cities’ main stations. But for some reason, it is rare to see a run down alcoholic on his own in such a state in China. The inebriated might violently stumble around but there will always be friends to support them and get them home – since drinking is such a sociable activity. Generally speaking, I would argue it is rare to see an alcoholic homeless man out in the open. Beggars, yes. But these people are often part of an intricate network, trying to make money, in many cases playing emotional music as they drag themselves through underground carriages trying to look as desperate as possible (which to be fair they truly are). Alcoholics often hide in their own homes and are socially sanctioned through a traditional drinking culture.

In the end, this was not at all the welcome back I had expected. And it was just the beginning of a row of discussions and revelations in relation to safety, society and employment in Germany, that have given me a lot to think and – more importantly – write about.

Bookworm ’16: “Minority Matters: Focus on Ethnicity in Chinese Culture”

The ethnic minorities talk was probably the dark horse of the festival; at least for me. I was curious how it was going to be packaged, since there are 55 ethnic minorities in the country and one hour is hardly enough to touch on even a quarter of that.

As it were, the focus was on Tibetans, or rather Tibetan women, and Manchurians. This, I think, was a marvelous contrast, since the former is still very much an established culture within China, while the language and customs of the latter are in grave danger of dying out. 

The speakers of the event were an array of highly fascinating people; to my surprise, Xinran reappeared and shared her experiences of working with minorities. Again very insightful and this time even more substantial compared to her talk the day earlier. The other speakers included Dolma, a young Tibetan woman, who studied gender issues among Tibetan society for her PhD, and Li Dan, a Manchurian, who is involved in NGO work to save the Manchurian language, culture and customs, for example by launching a typing system for smart phones. The moderator of the event, Jocelyn Ford, journalist and documentary filmmaker who produced “Nowhere to Call Home”, a look into the hardships of Tibetan women. I said it was a fascinating group of people, didn’t I?

The Plight of Tibetan Women

Dolma began her talk by explaining the Tibetan view of women and men, rooted in their religious beliefs, which said that women are often seen as evil spirits or demons. This is why they often wear such elaborate head wear; it is said to contain the women’s evil spirit.

The academic then went on to explain the three different types of Tibetan women she had identified during her studies. Traditonal Tibetan women, who live very repressed and difficult lives, often being excluded in some form or other from public life but accepting their fate. The second, and most tragic type are women who are unhappy at being discriminated against, but are stuck in their current position due to low education and resources. Sadly, especially this group of women is at risk; one of Dolma’s friends who belonged to this group of women committed suicide only weeks earlier, because she simply couldn’t see a way out of her misery. The final group is the one Dolma herself belongs to – women who have learned Mandarin and received higher education, who have consequently left their Tibetan surroundings and undergone further education somewhere else in China. I didn’t get a chance to ask, whether she would consider marrying a Tibetan, though I have a faint feeling the answer might be no.

The moderator of the event Jovelyn Ford, was also able to contribute her own experiences, as a documentary filmmaker showing the lives of Tibetan women. She chose this topic because, as she points out very rightly, minority women are often neglected in the media narrative, especially when it comes to Tibet, where Western headlines tend to focus more on the Dalai Lama and the Chinese as aggressors, and less on the more unpleasant aspects of the culture such as shocking gender inequality and mistreatment of women, many of whome are purposefully kept illiterate and experience domestic violence.

The Pride of Manchuria

Li Dan, the proud Manchurian, went on to outline the evolution of the Manchurian consciousness. The reason that the language and customs have almost entirely died out is that for the longest time being Manchurian in China could almost have been considered a kind of shame. Since the puppet state of Manchukuo was installed under the Japanese, the Manchurians were seen as traitors. As a result, to blend in better, in the past century many Manchurians would change their surnames to Han surnames. However, more recently there has been a shift in perception around Manchurian heritage; as it is associated with royalty, it is now carried with much more pride than in previous decades. As it is “in” to be Manchu, the minority culture is receiving a much needed push to survive and Li Dan’s efforts are part of that – definitely a worthy cause. He has launched an input system for the Manchurians language for smart phones (incidentally this made me discover that the Manchurian and Mongolian writing systems are very similar). 

In terms of language preservation his talk revealed a curious difference between the areas with Manchurian residents and even Xinjiang with its Uighur minority, who retains a strong, separate identity from Han, and on the other hand Inner Mongolia. In Inner Mongolia, all signs in the public space, i.e. government buildings, road signs down to even the smallest restaurants, are all sign posted bilingually with both Mandarin simplified characters and Mongolian script. in fact, as I remember mentioning before, since the Mongolia, the country, discontinued use of traditional script in favour of the Russian cyrillic alphabet, China’s province of Inner Mongolia has become the only place in the world, where this form of writing can be found. 

Neither in Xinjiang, nor in Northeastern China, the Manchu stronghold, are these languages being used on road signs or with vendors; only official government buildings continue, according to Li Dan, the bilingual approach. I cannot say for certain what the reasons for this discrepancy are; though Mr Li pointed out that bilingual signage in Inner Mongolia is required by law, so it is possible the law differs across the provines; a faily common occurrence. 

Language and Culture Preservation

However, the presence of Mongolian characters does not actually mean the language is being preserved better than Manchu or Uyghur language; in fact probably the opposite is the case. Hardly any Mongolians Mr Li’s age can still speak fluent Mongolian, let alone read it, often leading us to bitterly joke that there is probably one person in Hohhot who can read the signs and they are the one making them for the entire city. Since there has been a fairly successful “assimilation” of a majority of Mongolians into Han culture, especially through inter-marriage, there are many mixed children in the area who weren’t taught about their heritage because it is not deemed “useful”. But even those “pure-blood” Mongolians whose parents belong to the minority and who speak the language in the home often do not develop the language enough to actively use it or pass it on; they might understand it but tend to reply in Mandarin. Often these young people are just as eager as the rest of us to leave their home towns and go and explore the world; mostly the Han-ethnicity, Mandarin-speaking, simplified-character using world, in which there is no space for their Mongolian heritage. It’s a sad reality and a real shame that, if nothing is done to stop this trend, probably this is the last century in which Inner Mongolia is home to “true descendants” of Ghengis Khan. 

In terms of choice of language and lifestyle, what does in fact tend to happen is a fractioning of the minorities into two opposing camps; the conservative conservationists, who will only speak in their native tongue, i.e. Tibetan, Uyghur or Mongolian, and strictly follow their own culture and only socialise with members of their minority, and on the other side the liberal hybrids, who speak Mandarin and go to educational instituitons run by Han Chinese and socialise with people from different backgrounds. It is very common for members of the former group to accuse the latter of being traitors to their own culture and pandering to the Chinese imperialists. However, being able to speak the lingua franca tends to be the only way that members of these communities can persevere and be professionally succesful.

Naturally, when talking about preserving culture, one major factor is tourism. When asked whether minorities were in danger of truly dying out, XInran said she didn’t believe so at all, mainly because Chinese people love their food. But aside from the culinary aspect tourism has given the country’s minority cultures a double-edged push. For example, in Dolma’s hometown an entire block of fairly modern skyscrapers was torn down only a few years after construction to be replaced by lower architecture in the traditional Tibetan style. More interestingly, as soon as the tourists came the local authorities insisted that locals put Tibetan translations on the forefront of their stores, restaurants and hotels, no matter whether they wanted to or not. And more poignantly, in many cases there are grave typos and mistranslations in the language. But none of this matters to the tourists, both Han and international, who really just pop by to take a picture in traditional dress in front of exotic looking architecture with weird writing on the wall. (And, yes, I am also one of those silly tourists, I won’t pretend otherwise.)

Xinjiang; Ethnic Minority and Profiling

Moving on to the topic of Xinjiang, a hot topic if ever there was one, Li Dan shared an interesting “anecdote” for want of a better word, that was suprisingly and uncomfortably familiar. A French female friend of his got on a tour bus (possible destination Xinjiang, though I don’t remember) and initially felt that her fellow passengers, all Han Chinese, were treating her with distance and unease. It was not until one of them started engaging the young woman in conversation and she mentioned she was from France, that the entire bus gave a collective sigh of relief; they thought she was a Uyghur from Xinjiang. Probably a bit of background information is in order here. The Uyghur minority is descended from Turkic ancestors; hence they don’t acutally look Chinese at all but much closer to Europeans, especially from the Mediterranean. They are of muslim faith and are so ethnically different because the territory lies on the border of such countries as Kazakhstan, Kyrgizstan and Tajikistan.

Xinjiang literally means “New Frontier”, indicating that the territory has been a contested one for quite some time. The region was a vassal state in the distant past, but it was not until the 1830s that Han Chinese began to settle there. In the 1930’s a short lived Republic of East Turkestan was proclaimed but since the Chinese regained control, it has belonged to the PRC. Still the settling and intermingling that happened in Inner Mongolia did not occur in this region, and so the two ethnicities are still largely separate, there have been many violent clashes, and mostly there have been attacks by Uyghurs in other provinces of China, most notably a car driven into a crowd in Tian’anmen square a few years ago, that has given the ethnicity the classification of being terrorists. So, very similar to the experience of identifiably Muslims back in Europe being treated with fear and blanket suspicion, the same tends to happen in China. 

Ironically, the minute the passengers on the bus discovered the young woman was French, their worries turned into excitement and passionate exclamations of welcome. This double standard, as Li Dan quite rightly pointed out, is very frustrating. Especially in the case of the Beijing attacks it has worrying ramifications, because when people thought the attacker was Han Chinese, reports Li Dan, there was an attempt to understand the reasons for their actions; had they been mistreated by institutions or faced personal tragedy? Yet, the minute media released information that the attackers were from Xinjiang province, so Li Dan, all these questions just stopped. The person became a one-dimensional terrorist, again revealing the different approach towards people of the mainstream Han versus especially the Uyghur minority.

The French girl’s episode resonated with me also, because I myself have often been mistaken for a Xinjianger, even by members of the ethnic minority themself. The most intense case so far was when I boarded a plane from Nanjing to Hohhot wearing a black scarf around my neck, a passenger went into a panic and kept asking the cabin crew if they had “checked my documents”. He was convinced I was going to blow up the plane. Sadly, he was behind me so I couldn’t see his face, or I might have shadily walked past him a couple of times. What it has taught me is that life is hard for Uyghurs, that’s for sure, in a country they don’t necessarily belong to, where they are treated as outsiders.

Bookworm Event Review

Puh, this turned into a rather long post; but there is just so much to say about minorities in China, although we have only touched upon four here. There are over 50 more out there, all with their own languages, traditions and struggles to create an identity that fits in both with tradition and modernity. It don’t think there is much to say about the talk in itself at all, it actually turned out to be one of my favourites of the entire festival. 

I award this talk 5 out of 5 Aubergines. 

Reads and Documentaries for this talk: Xinran’s “Sky Burial” and Jocelyn Ford’s “Nowhere to Call Home”

Bookworm ’16: “Buy Me the Sky: The Remarkable Truth of China’s One-Child Generations” 

This post is part of my review of the Bookworm Literary Festival 2016.

So, Xinran’s track record is pretty impressive. Not least because she started out as a reporter in Nanjing, just like myself, I felt instantly drawn to her. I have to admit that only after my colleague was in awe when we discussed she was going to give a Bookworm talk, I picked up my first Xinran book, and now I will have to read them all.

Her stories give a voice to the marginalized in Chinese society and she manages to unlock secrets most of us journalists only ever imagine they could find; stories of the hardships of Tibetan women and those mothers who had to give up their baby girls or worse; and her latest book, a look at the one child generation, or the Little Emperors, as they are often half mockingly, half critically referred to.

The event was eye-opening and inspiring in many ways. Xinran’s outlook on life, or the one she presents to the public in any event, is incredibly positive and derived, according to her, from a Tibetan woman’s anecdote on how to view the world.

The story she tells is that the Tibetan woman explained in their culture if a young boy stubs his toe on a rock, rather than saying “poor boy”, the mother would tell him he should be honoured that the rock chose to cross his path; based on the practice of Buddhism.

I do think this sunny disposition and her incredible charm is how this charismatic woman has managed to dig up some of the most secret and tragic stories of China’s past, of abuse, neglect and even murder.

During her talk she touched upon a point that honestly brought me to tears. “Those German soldiers who murdered in the name of Hitler. They weren’t all believers. Some of them just needed to feed their families.” As a German with a heap of Nazi guilt hearing someone express this simple truth just really got to me. I cannot say that I face a lot of heat for being German nowadays at all; I really don’t. But somehow the way in which we talk about the Reich in Germany is very simplistic in that anything remotely related is bad, bad, bad. To have someone from the outside offer such a multifaceted and sympathetic view was incredibly unexpected.

Mr Li got to learn a little bit about himself as well. Both of us never really understood why he is, quite frankly, terrible at reading out loud. He is incredibly intelligent and speaks English fluently, but no matter in which language he will switch out entire verbs while reading. It was not until Xinran explained that his generation were never allowed to read out loud in class that he had an utter “aha” moment. He told me afterwards that when he was at home also, his mother would tell him to not read out loud because she couldn’t hear the TV if he did. I will bite my tongue about parenting at this point; she didn’t know any better.

But this is the power of Xinran, she manages to touch the people she speaks to in these profound ways. With a few simple words. She has a clarity paired with a compassion I have rarely seen in people.

She is not much about the figures but all about the heart. Personal stories of real people. And there is a place for that. It makes for an incredibly powerful narrative.

As much as she is an inspiring person; this review should really be about the event. Since “Buy me the Sky -The Remarkable Truth of China’s One-Child Generations” was the name of the event, I did expect the focus to be on her latest book and on the one-child topic; instead it was more of a tour of Xinran’s entire bibliography. This was interesting, yes, but I still would have preferred to learn more about the one-child generation; partly for very selfish reasons – I want to gain an insight into my husband.

The other slight criticism I had was regarding the following panel discussion. While I do agree with many of the narratives Xinran presents, her main argument is that the Chinese people have spiritually not yet caught up with their economic development. And for some reason, this seemed to be her answer to every single question paused by the audience, including whether the two-child policy will reverse the gains Chinese women have made in education under the one child policy as they didn’t lose out against male siblings, and a question by an actual Chinese orphan adopted by Americans about whether there is a place for her in China. Every answer seemed to be almost the same; probably in part a move of caution.

Overall it was a great event with some very interesting insights and truly touching.


I award this talk 4 out of 5 Aubergines.

Reads for this talk: Xinran’s entire body of work, mainly “Buy Me The Sky”, “Messages from an Unknown Chinese Mother”, “Sky Burial”.

Bookworm Literary Festival 2016 Review

Anyone who has spent a longer time in Beijing will probably have heard of the Bookworm Literary Festival. It has been running now for over a decade, providing insightful talks by authors and free thinkers in the English language. Thumbs up to the administration for allowing that such a talk take place especially considering the often sensitive issues that were touched upon spanning everything from Hong Kong to the One-Child Policy to LGBT rights. There was no shying away here as the panelists freely shared views both positive and negative of current Chinese and global issues. 

Now that the festival is over I would like to spend the next couple of days taking stock. I did go to eight events in total; big thanks at this point to Mr Li for one of my top two Valentine’s gifts ever! (It’s a tie between this and last year’s trip to Yangzhou).

It was a lot of talking on some very serious and important topics. Of course any review would be incomplete without a review system and so I have decided to give out aubergines instead of stars, simply because I can. And also because not having an Aubergine Award is a massive oversight of humanity. Each talk can get a maximum of five aubergines – that’s a lot of 地三鲜 (I’ll let you figure this one out for yourself).

Screen Shot 2016-03-28 at 9.48.08 PM

The Future of Hong Kong

I adore Hong Kong. My first trip took me to the glimmering, multi-cultural metropolis in 2010 and I have been back many times since. Even with my parents; and just like me, they thought it is one of the most stunning cities they have ever seen. That being said, the problems that are bubbling less and less under the surface and more and more like a volcano about to explode into angry fountains of lava are no secret.

Since the British handed the country to China almost 20 years ago, the situation has been progressively deteriorating as Cantonese-speaking locals feel their cultural identity and liberties are being threatened and curtailed. Countless incidents of people being identified as mainlanders behaving in a crude manner in public, often related to public urinating and defecating, have gone viral online as a method for some Hong Kongers to demonstrate how “uncivilized the mainlanders” are. The rift is only getting worse when mainland media have a field day with the bad, bad Hong Kongers who protest against and look down upon their “brothers and sisters” from across the border.

The situation is so bad, I literally had to drag Mr. Li to Hong Kong the first time around since he was convinced an army of angry Hong Kongers was going to lynch him and his mother and hang them out to roast like a Yong Kee goose. To his surprise and my utter relief, the trip was entirely uneventful and when I took him back to Hong Kong the second time round (for my long-awaited Disney trip), he had calmed down considerably.

That being said, recent events such as the Umbrella protests and the disappearing booksellers plus the revelation that the ¨free elections¨ promised to residents by 2017 are in fact not free at all give cause for worry. The talk on the future of HK, one of the first events during the Bookworm Literary Festival, did little to dispel those worries. It was however an absolutely fascinating talk.

I won´t quote the guest speakers, since it was made abundantly clear that they considered this a private event, but the overall atmosphere was rather of a doomsday nature, leaving one to conclude that the Matrix is a holiday at the beach compared to the possible future of the area. Especially the shock and realisation in light of the booksellers’ removal to the mainland (though there have been reports some of them have since returned home) that certain freedoms promised in the treaty of 97 were not being respected was a chilling wind amongst democratic thinkers in the city.

One interesting issue pointed out by an audience member was the increasing ¨politisation¨ of the academic environment. According to what they saw upon returning to Hg, the entire academia of the island has been swallowed up in the debate. They didn´t necessarily think this was a good thing but were shot down by the panelist at whom the question was directed. What I do find interesting though is the underlying question: if someone did not want to be involved in all these politics, they might find the academic environment taken over by political discourse to be a frustrating thing. Much like I remember a few acquaintances actually complaining about the Umbrella Movement on social media, deploring Joshua Wang to just stop bringing unrest to their society. It is a valid point I think in that the society has been divided – into those who fear the loss of human rights and democracy, those who support the Chinese government and those who just want to get the frick on with their lives and not be caught up in ¨politics¨. If you want no part of any anti-mainland movement, what do you do, if its everywhere you go? Especially when, if you ever dare voice any disagreement, you are so utterly shot down by both sides of the conflict.


I award this talk five out of five Aubergines.

Read for this event: Umbrellas in Bloom by Jasong Ng

Knocked-Up Abroad

The ¨Knocked-Up Abroad” talk was held as part of the Bookworm Literary Festival 2016 and came with an array of four fascinating panelists; three of which where married to locals just like myself. I actually dragged Mr. Li to the talk, making him one of a very few guys along a sea of women interesting in the experiences of reproducing and going through the Chinese medical system.

The women shared fascinating tales of cultural differences; the multi-talented author Ember Swift sharing excerpts from a new book to which she contributed and which was the namesake of the event, plus three more bloggers who have all been through bringing children into this world either in China or in their home countries.

There were at times entertaining, at times harrowing tales of cultural differences, of MILs tweaking nipples, of Chinese medical staff finding it difficult to deal with sorrow and, naturally, of split pants.

For me personally it was very inspiring to hear these women talk, a majority of which have similar cross-cultural relationships, in a way that it can prepare you – or maybe also scare you off entirely – for what it means to bring a child into a Chinese family.

I absolutely admire these women, even more so because two of them actually live in very remote Chinese locations, compared to which Hohhot would seem the height of internationalisation. I was saved from a grilling by Mr Li about why they can live in those places but I won’t agree to spend my life in glamorous Hohhot by the admission of one panelist that living in such a removed area did caused her to go into depression. That’s why, Mr. Li.

The final panelist presented a shocking story, which by now should have been posted online, about how she had to give birth to her dead twins in a Chinese hospital and the traumatic experience this was for her not only due to the tragic event but also due to the way medical professionals dealt with the situation.

I received some feedback from another audience member who was incidentally pregnant that she would have liked to be made aware of this content, as rather unsurprisingly, these are not the kind of stories an expecting mother really wants to hear, even less so if it is just sprung on her without prior warning. So, I guess a little feedback there for the Bookworm organizers to maybe check and make available any content that could be emotionally disturbing to listeners.

Overall though it was a very powerful event, that did exactly what it should in that it helped people gain an understanding of this most important of issues, carrying a child in a country that is not your own and how this affects the experience.


Knocked-Up Abroad gets 4 out of 5 Aubergines.

Read for this event: Knocked Up Abroad: Stories of Pregnancy, Birth, and Raising a Family in a Foreign Country

Beautiful aubergines courtesy of all-free-download.com.

Or The Inofficial Fiancé; A German Girl and a Chinese Guy get married

%d bloggers like this: