Category Archives: Chinese Wedding

Wedding Guests: China vs Europe

Right, so finally it’s time to get back on topic: WEDDINGS! That is after all what this blog is all about, isn’t it? The only excuse I have for not keeping up my writing until after both weddings have happened is that now I have both wedding experiences; the better to compare. This is what I intended all along! *wink wink*

So, this is the first in what I think will be many comparative posts on our two weddings: the wedding guests.

Now, if you’re not already aware, there is a difference between your average Chinese wedding and you average European one (and by average I mean non-celebrity, mere mortals like myself) in terms of the guest list. While in Western media there is an on-going joke about how everyone wants to be invited and how the guest list gets out of hand at a wedding, generally I have found that most weddings of my friends and family have fitted into the reasonable-sized category. Mostly around 40 to 70 guests, I’d say. At our German wedding we only even had 25 guests; and that nothing to do with us wanting to save every Yuan we could and all to do with the fact that we decided to keep it highly exclusive, VVIPs only, you know, like the highly exclusive people we are. (You think they bought it?…No? Damn.)

Now in China, even daring to consider having such a small number of people at your wedding is an irredeemable insult to your ancestors. And you ancestors’ ancestors. And you ancestors’ ancestors’ accountant. Again, it’s all about that face, ‘bout that face, no trouble. Hoping Meghan Trainor won’t throw a copyright lawsuit at me for borrowing her legendary lyrics for inspiration. Anywho, digressing again. At a Chinese wedding, lots of people equals face and so the more people attend the wedding the better. Not only that, there is actually a financial incentive to make it as bloody big as possible.

Let’s have a wedding to make some money!

What on earth, financial incentive?! Yes, indeed. While in the West, we are busy losing hair about whether or not to invite Great Aunt Beryl, because that will mean another 60 or so Euros each to pay for her, and her husband and her two brat kids, in China you’ll be sure as heck hoping that Great Aunt Beryl brings her cousin twice removed and their whole clan. Because of the Chinese tradition of giving red envelopes filled to the brim with cash, rather than another embroidered gold toaster to “start married life together”, a Chinese wedding is seen by many here as a) an opportunity to make rather than spend money and b) earn back the money that they’ve spent on other people’s weddings – as you did with Great Aunt Beryl’s two brats. I have to say, they’re really onto something there and thankfully my mother decided to “go Chinese” in terms of wedding presents in Germany and our 25 exclusive guests generously followed suit. Thank you for that!

Intimate Affair vs. Catwalk Spectacle

Now, if you are more of the type of person who prefers an intimate affair for a wedding with just your closest friends to give it all more weight and meaning, the Chinese way certainly isn’t for you. In China, the parents-in-law will literally invite anyone and their dog (as long as the dog brings its own Hongbao of course), with the big company bosses being particular favourites since they rake in the most money. It means that on average 200 people will show up at your wedding, 90% of which you’ve never met before in your life. Especially from our Western perspective, we can quickly feel like this makes the wedding incredibly impersonal and just doesn’t feel right. Indeed, Mr Li was completely won over by the intimate ceremony idea. To this day he will tell anyone who is willing to listen how he much prefers the intimacy of Western weddings.

On the other hand, if, like me, you enjoy feeling like an A-List celebrity walking down a huge catwalk with 200 pairs of eyes on you, this will probably be one of the best days of your life. Especially considering that people even paid money to look at you, it’s almost like you’re Beyoncé…well, minus the voice of an angel and the sexy dance routine. One thing’s for sure, you’ll never get this much attention again!

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Feeling like Beyoncé – if only I could walk sexy in this dress..
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Engagement Photos from Nanjing to Inner Mongolia *FINALLY*

Hello my dears,

very sorry for my prolonged absence, which I cannot excuse. All I have to say for myself is that I have busy with a couple of other projects, but more on that in the next post. In the meantime, Jocelyn’s recent post on WWAM BAM!, which collected some amazing wedding and engagement photos inspired me to set up this long, long overdue post – a best of of the engagement pictures we took in May and August 2015. We basically had two photo sessions, one in Nanjing which had been extensively researched and which I have also written about at length, and a second spontaneous one in Hohhot, Inner Mongolia just three days before our Chinese wedding. So without much ado, here are the pictures, and some tidbits about the shoots, hope you enjoy them!

Round 1: Western Glam and Old Shanghai in Nanjing

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After weeks of research, I decided to book the engagement picture shoot in Nanjing, rather than Beijing, since we would get double the value for half the price. We started at 8am and finished around 6pm, had 7 different sets of clothes and 14 locations – 2 per each costume – 300 pictures taken, half of those retouched, 3 print-out photo albums and more framed pictures and nicknacks than we knew what do with; and all of this for merely 3200 RMB from Bazaar Photography.

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It’s not so obvious in this pic, but my makeup artist/hairdresser was an absolute genius with a brush and comb, she is the only person who has ever managed this elegant hairdo, and I have tried to get it replicated twice – no one else can do it.

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We had two Chinese-style costumes and five Western ones, which was a bit of a shame, because the Hanfu set and the Old Shanghai ones are definitely the highlight of the Nanjing bunch. The picture used in Jocelyn’s group post is probably my favourite out of all of them.

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The indoor pictures were taken at the company’s photography villa – a massive two story mansion that has around 20 to 30 different indoor sets, all of which have varied themes. Street cafe, library, church – you name it, they’ve replicated it in small scale in this human-sized dollhouse.

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This is the masterpiece and the reason I chose to stick with Nanjing rather than the Northern capital. I love old Shanghai style and had seen some stunningly beautiful pictures online of brides-to-be in their Qipaos, with 1930s themed locations that just oozed elegance, history and a mix of Chinese and Western culture – so us, no? Looking at some of the wedding photography in Beijing, I did get the feeling that my Chinese friends’ repeated warning that Northerners can’t do a “Southern style” like Old Shanghai seemed to have at least an ounce of truth to it, as they struggled to make it look as glamorous. This hairdo was another one that no one has been able to replicate in that fashion.

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Our outdoor shots were taken in Lvbo Yuan, the botanical gardens in Nanjing right next to the Yangtze river. It’s definitely a fave for engagement shoots, as I spotted ten to twenty couples just in our immediate vicinity.

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This beauty is the only dress I brought that belonged to me – bring your own also an option in case you’re wondering – and it’s a German dirndl, a nod to my Germanic heritage. Part of this set of pictures was taken in front of the Dutch windmill in Lvbo Yuan, the one sponsored by Eindhoven, so it has a really fun feel to it. But this is probably one of the very few photos that we freestyled – a lot of the shoot was posing very gracefully and glamorously, which was fun but also not really us. So in this final shoot we decided to mess about a bit instead.

Round 2 – Inner Mongolian Grasslands…well, kinda…

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After we showed our engagement pictures to my MIL, she then said we should have done some Mongolian style ones. She didn’t have to tell me that twice! For this shoot, we rented the outfits from a genuine Mongolian dress shop and so they were much more high quality than the slightly tatty ones in Nanjing. Big thanks to my MIL, whose wedding treat this was.

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Absolutely adored the colour of this dress and the pearls used as head decoration, still one of my favourite outfits to this day.

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And then we got a horse…as you do. Feeling so Mongolian princess 😉

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In the background is the Mongolian yurt in which I got to change my outfits while repeatedly banging my head on the beams. It was a new sensation, I’m 1.55m tall, I don’t hit beams often.  This is finally the matching dress to fit Mr Li’s outfit, the poor man didn’t get to change his clothes once (for which he is probably grateful at heart). Oh and btw, we weren’t actually out in the grasslands but rather a patch of grass that belonged to the photo studio.

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And now for the final reveal – my parents joined the fun and so did my MIL. We had such a good time together, it was the best day! I think all of us make fabulous Mongolians, don’t you? Especially my dad. Watch out Genghis Khan, you have competition!

Where did you take your engagement pics? Did you dress up in local costumes?

What’s in a Name? – Name Change in International Marriages

So, you’ve decided to get married to Mr Li, Zhang or Wang. Congratulations! But, what are you going to do be called from then on?

It’s a big question, and one that can have unexpected repercussions on your life.

Chinese Traditionally Don’t Change Their Surname

It gets all the more confused when the traditions in your native country differ from the ones of your husband. In China for example, it isn’t a thing for the woman to change her surname to her husband’s name at all. Rather, she keeps her own family name, since the most important aspect of getting married in China is it gives you the green light to have a baby, and secure the continuation of the family bloodline. His family bloodline.

That is why usually the child will be named after the father. Only if the father has married into a more powerful/richer family, could there be an insistence from her family to choose their surname. However, this amounts to a serious loss of face, it’s a practical emasculation for said man. In many cases, if a couple gets divorced and the child stays with the mother, it is also not uncommon for her to change the child’s surname to her own. So, in China, while there’s at least no discussion about whose surname to take, there still can be a lot of politics surrounding the child’s name.

I am not a fan of not changing your name at all for a number of reasons. From my Western perspective the keeping of the wife’s surname felt very at odds with the general idea in China that the woman becomes part of her husband’s family upon marriage. It felt to me like a way of making sure the woman knows she has to serve her “new family” while at the same time not even granting her the right to fully become part of the family; even by name. But that might just be my cynical interpretation.

Name Change in Europe – So Many Different Options

In Germany and England, my countries of origin, there is an array of different options of what to do with your name once you get married. Traditionally, of course the woman would take on the man’s name, as she joined his family. However, following the feminist movement and increasing independence of women, some have equated this to a submissive act from the woman’s side, and so it’s now quite common to hyphenate both surnames. In few cases, the man might even take his wife’s name – although I’ve never met anyone who did this – and then there’s of course the option of going “Chinese” and no one changing any of their names at all, in which case you wouldn’t know they were married in the first place. This is becoming more common as people can’t be bothered to deal with the ridiculous paperwork associated with changing one’s name. However, I still prefer the idea of Mr Li and I somehow indicating our not-so-holy union.

My History with a Boringly Common Surname 

In my case, since we got married in China, there was never really any question about whether or not I wanted to change my name. Ironically, I did. Having grown up with both the most common first AND last names you could imagine in Germany, I have always been keen to swap my last name for something more “fancy”. For the longest time, I wanted to take on my mum’s maiden name – Nutchey – which I’m told is connected to our family’s Spanish heritage. That’s way better than being known as the German equivalent of Smith – and therefore instantly identifiable as German as well, I thought.

Anyway, 18 came and went, and I kind of put that wish to the side, thinking that you never know who I’d end up marrying. They might have a seriously cool name, after all!

What Does Taking on an Asian Surname Mean

Enter Mr Li. And with him the question of what to do with our names once we were married. I had a discussion with some fellow WWAM (AMWF) friends about this topic and it brought quite a few interesting and some disturbing truths to light.

If you were, say, to take on just your husband’s name, this could affect you in the workplace and sometimes in a negative way. If a recruiter reads a very Chinese sounding surname on your CV, they might assume that you are Chinese and in some cases, the sad truth is, that might lead them to think you are no native speaker and not up to the job. We like to think that people are wiser than to assume such things, but the sad truth is that this isn’t always the case.

The same goes for Mr Li taking on my surname and then appearing at interviews. I remember the painful story of a friend with African heritage who passed a phone interview stage for a job in a European country, and when she came in for the interview, the surprise of the interviewers that she was able to speak the local language was evident – she had grown up in said country. People are quick to make assumptions, it’s a bitter truth.

Mr Li and his Relationship with his Chinese Surname

In our case, there is actually another layer to the whole name debate. Like me, Mr Li has also been considering whether or not to change his surname irrespective of getting married, since he is the child of a broken home. However, his mother decided not to change his surname to hers, and so he is still named after his father, with whom he has always had a rocky relationship and in the end broke off contact.

His surname is therefore the only reminder of the ties to his paternal family. He even came to a point when he told his grandmother on his father’s side he planned to take on his mum’s surname Feng. She broke out in tears. He hasn’t changed his name yet, mostly I believe due to his attachment to that grandmother, who looked after him until the age of 6.

Coming Together To Create Something New

In light of all these feelings, we had many discussions about what to do about our surnames. Laura Li? I liked the ring to it, (Mr Li thinks it’s sounds like a porn name, harr harr), but for both CV and father-in-law I put that one to rest fairly early. Mr Li played with the idea of taking on my name but that would also mean giving up his Chinese heritage in a way, and I didn’t like that (aside from still wanting to flush a certain common surname down the drain).

The next idea was to return to the Nutchey option. I wasn’t entirely happy though with the idea of just my culture being represented in our surnames. So, a combination was in order. In light of the initial idea of Mr Li to take on his mum’s name, and with Nutchey being my mum’s maiden name, the surname Nutchey-Feng came into existence. Also, when he mentioned to his mother the idea of taking on my mum’s maiden name, she wasn’t what you’d call pleased.

In the end, this is the surname that represents both our origins and very fittingly makes you think of nutter and fengzi (which means crazy in Chinese). Couldn’t think of a more appropriate choice, could you?

So there we have it, Nutchey-Feng, the surname we would like to one day legally take on; and the very lengthy explanation as to how it came about. You know me, words…there’s just so many of them. And they’re fun to use.

Now the only hurdle is to get the authorities in one of my home countries to agree to this name change…yeah, that’ll be easy, I’m sure of it…

What did you do with your surname? Let me know in the comments!

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?

Cultural Customs (1) – Marriage and Babies

Being around the whole big Chinese family over New Years would be a challenge to any sane person; but it just so happens that I grew up most of my life with just my parents and paternal grandparents around. Christmas was the five of us on the night of the 24th and the rest of the holiday was just chillin’ with my peeps – three musketeer style. While I do have a large family in the UK, whom I love visiting, I would only see them on average every two years. The result, I have discovered, is that despite my generally extrovert nature, I actually really struggle with big family reunions. It was the case with my previous boyfriends and unsurprisingly my noisy, passionate and meddling in-laws in Hohhot are just a step up on the torture ladder compared to my past experience with distant and mostly adequately loud German potential in-laws.

Now Chinese New Year is the time of the year when you are forced *cough cough* I meant honoured to sit through at least three or four days of family lunches and dinners in which each and every aunt and uncle will enquire either about if you have a boy/girlfriend, when the two of you are getting married or when you will pop out babies. The pressure is so bad that an entire industry around renting fake boy/girlfriends for CNY has emerged.

If you are a indeed a new couple or a newly-wed couple, you have completed level 1 and 2 respectively in the game that is World of Chinacraft. As you level up, it will rain hongbaos as a reward (sorry, geeking out a little). Hongbaos or red envelopes full of money are traditionally given instead of gifts to children and in the above mentioned two scenarios. Technically, you are meant to go to each relative’s home – and in China’s “Mao generation” there are a lot of aunties and uncles – to pay a new year’s visit and as a sign of respect you need to bring gifts. In our case these were cakes from Beijing’s most famous bakery, for which we stood in line for close to two hours and almost got in a fight with a “dama” 大妈, one of the most fierce and dangerous species to be encountered in China. I am lucky in so far that my Mother in Law arranged for us to go to her mother’s home just when all the aunts and the uncle were there, so we didn’t have to go round to their home anymore. Cheeky, right? But to my family-phobic self a total lifesaver.

While I didn’t get too much heat in the past from my Chinese family in terms of when we are getting married, it seems the wedding night has somehow flipped the baby-craze switch. I knew this would be the case as it’s what I’ve read about on pretty much any Chinese-Western dating blog and heard from every single of my friends in Chinese marriages. And yet, when faced with it I found it quite a challenge. Every single female relative seemed to only wait the five minutes of polite small talk before pouncing on us like baby ninjas asking about our reproductive plans.

Now I was quite content with the coping strategy that we came up with, which included myself simply sitting there in silence staring at the floor, while poor Mr Li was left trying to explain to horrified looking aunties that we plan to wait until our thirties to have children. “No, no, you can’t do that, that’s too late” was the conclusion most of them probably drew in their minds; but of course one of them had to announce this to us with absolute conviction. Again, dealing mechanism of just sitting there keeping my mouth shut went into action – though I couldn’t help but think they should try telling that to my mum who had me, her first and only child, at 36. The fact of the matter is that a considerable number of people in China are genuinely convinced that having a child in your thirties will cause birth defects. I would like to think I am living proof that that’s not the case; though I couldn’t attest to my mental health…I did after all move from one of the most gender equal cultures in to one of the least.

Do you feel the baby heat as well? And what are your coping strategies?

Goodbye 2015, Welcome 2016

I know it is slightly cheesy to do the “last year roundup” post and sort of the obvious choice, but still at this time of the year reflecting on the past 360 odd days is just what you do, right? So here goes my exiting 2015, a crazy year of traveling, moving and marrying.

January – March

The first quarter of the year was definitely travel-heavy. After spending New Year’s Eve in Vienna, we traveled to Shenzhen, Hong Kong and Macao for Chinese New Year, but only after finally tying the knot in Hohhot on Feburary 9th. It was the grand finale of half a year of bureaucratic battle between China and Germany; but we both won in the end. World, welcome Mr. and Mr. Li (well, haven’t really changed our names yet, but just for show, let’s pretend, ey?).

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April – June

The second quarter of the year took Mr Li to Shenzhen and me with him part-time, as my employer in Nanjing generously allowed me to work remotely for a number of stretches. I really enjoyed Shenzhen, it’s a multicultural city that offers everything that’s great about Hong Kong but at mainland prices. Good food, seaside and fresh air; Shenzhen has since become one of my favourite Chinese cities and I do hope to spend more time there one day. This part of the year also got fairly busy in terms of wedding as Mr. Li and I took our engagement pictures, one of my Top 3 moments of 2015, and I went on a little excursion to Suzhou going crazy on Wedding Dress Street and ending up with not one, not two, but THREE wedding dresses. And just over my 1000RMB budget; you’ve got to love Suzhou.

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July – September

Definitely the busiest and craziest quarter of the year. After landing a job in Beijing, where Mr. Li had returned to after a few months in Shenzhen, I was sad to say goodbye to Nanjing and my job as Executive Editor for Sinoconnexion. The two years I spent in the Southern capital were an amazing ride and there are many things I still miss about my NJ life.

But I had little time to mourn what was gone as August rolled around and so did the crazy wedding. My friends and parents came from all corners of the world, and I cannot tell you how glad I am that they did. The wedding was bombastic and stunning, the wedding planners I had so painstakingly picked out did a fabulous job and while the whole day kind of went by in a haze of nervousness, hunger and Baijiu-incurred drunkenness, it was crazy fun.

But no time to rest yet as two of my best friends stayed on after the wedding and we climbed the unrestored section of the Great Wall, rushed to Nanjing for a dose of Southern Imperialism and spent a day in Shanghai gallivanting on the Bund. Still waiting for my visa transfer, I then embarked on a two week-long trek to Yunnan, Qinghai and Gansu provinces with my mother-in-law, a bonding session that taught me a lot about my husband and myself. I still plan on writing more about this experience in this blog.

October – December

And just like that I had become a Beijinger. We found a ridiculously expensive flat in a fairly central location. It is terribly grand; the decoration reminds me of what Chinese people think the UK looks like, visions of Downton Abbey and high tea. I haven’t felt more at home in years.

I also started my new job and struggled with adapting to my new life and my return to “full-time couple” after two years of long distance. It’s been a rocky first three months in Beijing as I’m still trying to find my place and as the infamous pollution has reached new and pretty intolerable levels.

December was busy with more traveling; a short trip to Shanghai for work and a busy Christmas in Hong Kong, where finally after over 20 years of waiting, I visited Disneyland. It was every bit as fun and incredible as I hoped it would be.

Welcome to 2016 – What does the future hold?

I can honestly say that I have absolutely no clue. I remember spending my New Year in Vienna last year thinking “Wherever will I celebrate next year?” Now more than ever I have nit the faintest idea. Beijing, another Chinese city or back in Europe? It is all possible. The only one thing I know for sure is that in July 2016 I will be in Germany, and visa be well so will Mr.Li, for our German wedding. New year’s resolutions? I don’t have any. Life in China is so changeable, there isn’t really any point. Any resolution you make could be overthrown at any second. But I’ll say this for our China life. It never gets boring.

What were your highlights of 2015? And what are you looking forward to in 2016? Let me know!

A Strange Coincidence; One Year of OCW and Some Big Life Changes

“Congratulations, it is your blog’s birthday today. You have been blogging for exactly one year now.”

This was the message I received this morning when I opened my page. Any other day I would have just given it a quick smile and moved on but today of all days the message flashing across the screen is so much more important. It seemed to sum up everything that had lead me down the path of this last year culminating in today. It was my last day at work.

One topic I can always go off on an endless string of anecdotes about is Chinese superstition. Yet, I have to admit that I am prone to my own superstitions and beliefs. Most importantly, I believe in coincidences. What a strange fact indeed that today exactly one year ago I started this blog. It seems like yesterday and yet over 365 days later and my life has been completely turned upside down.

I came to Nanjing almost two years ago and I have loved almost every minute of it. The job, the city, the people (most of them anyway); it has been a truly exciting and inspiring experience. But a few months ago something changed.

Telling people that I am planning on moving on to Beijing after the wedding has been an interesting experience to say the least, since it has put me face to face with my worst fear; that of becoming “the wife”. When people ask me what it is I struggle with the most in China, my answer often surprises them. It’s not the pollution, it’s not the food safety and it isn’t the political climate either. It’s women’s equality. Coming to China in many ways is like stepping into a time machine. In some cases this can be a romantic notion; going back to the countryside where people own one electronic device per household, usually a TV from the ’70s, has such a melancholic simplicity about it. But in other cases, women in particular, the expectations put on the female population nowadays are completely unsustainable. They are still expected to be the dutiful wife who takes care of a majority of the household and care-taking responsibilities. Yet, through Mao’s gender equal approach they have also joined the workforce. Nowadays, juggling full-time job responsibilities with incredibly high expectations to take on most familial duties, local women are under so much pressure, I simply don’t know how they do it.

So, when I announce to anyone these days that I am moving to Beijing after the wedding, the immediate response by my conversational partners will almost exclusively be: “Naturally. Once you are married, you cannot be in a long distance relationship. A wife needs to be with her husband.”

It frustrates me to no end, when I hear these notions of a wife’s duty thrown at me time and time again. Am I going to Beijing to be with my husband? Yes and no. As usual the answer is much more complex than that.

It might be that I am part of what they are now calling the “Peter Pan Generation”, the group of ’80s and ’90s kids who just can’t settle down – in terms of marriage, mortgage and location. Yet, here I am under 30 and getting married. Still, I lived in the same flat in the same street in the same town for the first 20 years of my life and ever since I set foot outside of Germany, I have joined the digital nomads, always on the lookout for my next fix. Three years in Vienna, 7 months Beijing, another half a year in Vienna, one year in Newcastle, one in London and now two in Nanjing. When I arrived here I really thought this was it. This is where I am staying the next five years or so. Then recently, that unrest reared its head again. Time to move on to something new. Well, something familiarly new, actually.

It might also be a career move, going up north to the media centre of the country.

It might be because I am tired of saying good-bye to my expat friends every single year, having to go out and fine new ones, and that I am looking for more “long-term foreigners”, most of which are in the capital.

And yes, it might just be because I want to be with my husband.

Since my days at the University of Vienna, where I was listening to lectures about gendering in languages and the idea that how we speak will inevitably influence the way we view women and gender, a seed was planted within me that has been steadily growing throughout the years. It got stronger in the UK when I got a first taste of the “men’s club” of the upper echelons of business and the under-representation of female leadership. And it has bloomed into something serious in China, where attitudes towards women are still comparable to the Europe in the 1950s, while the pressures and pace of life are of the 21st century. What Western ideas of feminism have done to my mind is create this idea that I am not allowed to compromise myself for a man. That saying I would give up a job I love to be with a man I love is a shameful thing.

Yet, here in China, rather than explaining the complex nature of my decision to leave and bore my opposite to death for the sake of seeming more independent and true to my feminist principles, it is just so much easier to go with the simple and acknowledged truth: “A wife should be with her husband.” And in the end, is that really something to be ashamed of?

Thanks to everyone who has been following my ramblings for this past year, I hope I could make you laugh a little and give you some insight into the crazy life of a Western feminist in a Chinese household. There will still be many more stories to share as the wedding comes up, so here is to another year of OCW!

Bridesmaid Drama Continued…Five’s a Party and the Return of the Superstitions

As I mentioned in my previous post, one of my bridesmaids had to cancel attending the wedding, which put us in a rather awkward position as in my mind it meant we had to de-throne one of the best men; in Chinese culture the number of bridesmaids and best men has to match up as they walk in before the ceremony all paired up. But wait, I had, as usual, made the rookie mistake of not taking into account the Endless Rule Book of Chinese Weddings and Superstitions, of which there should really be a print version (though it is probably better this way, as it would be so thick as to cause the deforestation of an entire Chinese province if published)

“It is impossible for you to have four bridesmaids” an ever vigilant Mr.Li informed me. Four is an unlucky number, as many of you who know China might remember. Once again, fiery bridezilla reared her head. It was not like I was having enough problems with Austrian customs, unfitting dresses and unreliable bridesmaids, now I had to procure an extra bridesmaid out of thin air. I was almost tempted to look on Taobao for a Bake Your Own Bridesmaid Set. “We will just ask one of my female relatives”, my ever sentimental groom announced. Once again, when it comes to interpersonal relationships, Chinese have a pragmatism that defies all logic, considering when it comes to organisation they will literally book a hotel room for the night  as they walk up to said hotel EVERY SINGLE TIME. I am still waiting for the day we will have to sleep on the street because there are no rooms. 

I mean, these are my bridesmaids, these are my closest friends; how can I ask a total stranger to be my bridesmaid, it makes no sense at all! While Mr.Li suggested I take a time out before I climbed through the computer screen and throttled him at the suggestion, I was frantically thinking about what to do. I certainly did not want some random female bridesmaid in my consort. So I started going through all my female friends in my head but after crossing off the ones who could not make it to the wedding at all and the ones who were already married and the ones who knew about the flight of the bridesmaid fiasco as it henceforth shall be known and might feel offended at being back-up bridesmaid, pickings became fairly slim, and by that I mean none what-so-bloody ever. 

This was when I decided a change of tactic was needed. What female friends did Mr.Li have that I got along with? You could almost hear the sound of the switch being flipped, as only one person came to mind. A common friend of ours who had also studied in Newcastle, came from Hohhot, was currently back in her hometown and has even offered during my struggles with wedding planners to help me do the decoration on my own. Perfect pick! 

Now the next fun question is what to do about her bridesmaid dress. Luckily she is stick thin, but on the other hand for a Chinese girl rather tall. Why do I feel like I am going round in circles? 

It’s here – The Chinese-German Marriage Process Infographic!

It’s finally here – get married as a German to a Chinese in China  in 10 not so simple steps!

It took us six months, two attempts and much scouring through disheartening forum threads to figure out how to get legally married in China; me a German national, my husband a Chinese.

I figured it was time for a step-by-step infographic. German and Chinese versions are in the works. I hope this helps you from making the same mistakes we did. Best of luck!

get married china germany deutschland  ehe

If you want to read in more detail the hair-pulling frustrations of dealing with wedding-related red tape, check out some of these posts:

Bureaucracy Part 1

Towel Brain, Legalese & Endurance

Jet-Set Wedding

Translator by Name, Not by Profession

Part-Time Bureaucrats & the King of Pandas

Bridesmaid Drama Continued…Honesty and Grey Lies

Now, just when I thought I had salvaged the situation I found myself facing the next problem. I had already heard through the grapevine that one of the Chinese bridesmaids was not sure she could come to the wedding. As she told some common friends, she had for one used up her annual leave already and secondly wanted to ask for a raise at work, which wouldn’t go down to well if she asked for holiday she had no more right to at the same time. This was the situation and I knew it; however the story she ended up telling me was a rather different one. She sent me a message saying she could not make it to the wedding because she was broke and could not afford to come.

This put us in quite an awkward position. We could offer to cover some of her costs; especially as it is quite common for Chinese people to pay for the hotel for their guests, who in return bring red envelopes. However, none of the other bridesmaids and best men were currently receiving free hotel stays, they were all paying out of their own pocket. Which in my eyes made it unfair to them if she received extra financial support. Now, if it was a case of her having a really low salary and being generally not wasteful with her finances, then I would have agreed no questions asked; but knowing as I did that this was a party girl who worked in Shanghai on an ok salary, I did feel that since she had known about this wedding for almost a year it should have been possible to scrape together the less than 3000 RMB the flight and hotel would cost and be sure to put aside two days of leave.

More importantly, knowing as I did that this was likely just an excuse, I did not feel particularly generous. I wasn’t angry really, a little disappointed I guess, but not really surprised, since reliability was never this friend’s strong suit. Still, I had thought that she would manage to attend a wedding to which she had been asked as a bridesmaid 11 months ago.

Grey Lies – The Truth is Subjective

Well, the damage was done and once again this story showed me one of the sides of China I feel rather uncomfortable with; the grey lie. Calling the excuses that are commonly given in Chinese society white lies would be, in my opinion, understating their prevalence and severity.

Back in Europe, or especially in Germany, we have a very straightforward and sometimes naive way of approaching things. If my friend invites me to go out and I cannot be bothered, I will simply say so. If I feel I do not have enough money to do something, i will tell my friends what is up. In China however telling the truth in both scenarios would cause a loss of face; the former one to the friend, as you do not deem them important enough to overcome your lack of motivation and in the latter case your own, as admitting that you do not have enough money is about as embarrassing as it gets for most Chinese people; suggesting again that this was a mere excuse on the friend’s part.

As a result, Chinese people will, shall we say, edit many small truths in life as a way of being considerate of the other person’s face or feelings (or their own). If they do not want to go out, they are “sick”, if they do not want to drink alcohol, they are “allergic”, if they do not want to work with you on a business venture they are “just too busy right now but will talk later”. In Europe, we tend to place a lot of value on the truth and so initially I really struggled to accept this side of local culture; that your so-called friends might frequently lie to your face, even if comes from a good place, made me feel like they were not a real friend and I could trust no one.

Almost two years later, and my attitude has relaxed considerably. I no more feel “betrayed” or “disappointed” if I find out my Chinese friend said they were going to their parents this weekend and couldn’t join in the fun, when really they just wanted to sit at home shopping on Taobao or playing computer games. I even catch myself slipping into the “grey lie” pattern more and more frequently.

Aside from the face issue, I also think many grey lies are told because there is little understanding in China for people who deviate from the norm. For example, I have heard many local people express shock and concern at the idea that after the wedding my husband and I would still be in different places. So instead of looking at their disapproving or worried faces and listening to the same lecture over and over like broken record that husband and wife need to be in the same city, since anything else is unthinkable, it is easier just to lie and say “yes, of course I am moving to the same city as him.” Ironically, in the end that is what probably will happen; but that is another story for a later time.

When it comes to grey lies, while I might be taking on this characteristic, I am nowhere near the pro skills of Mr.Li. I remember when he returned to the UK from his visit home to China just after we started going out. He told me how he had met all of the students from his elementary school class at a reunion. When people started discussing their lives and career, someone mentioned that Mr.Li had been awarded a first class BA from a UK university. His reaction was to tell them that he had bought the certificate and it was fake, which was of course utter nonsense. He loves academia and worked incredibly hard to get all his distinctions, which he truly deserved. When I heard this story I thought I must have been one drugs. Who on earth would tell such a lie about their own achievements?

I see now that there are many possible reasons why he would have said such a thing, the main one being that he was the only one from elementary school who got an overseas certificate. This made him stand out of the crowd, and probably subject to no little jealousy. As in China the focus is always to fit in, he immediately downplayed his achievements so people would see him as their equal and feel more comfortable around him.

It is only now, as I remember this story and how entirely baffled I was at the time that I start to notice how much I have changed and how much I have learned about Chinese culture; though writing this means I am not acting accordingly, as I am not being modest as one should be. I often joke about how during the first two years of dating Mr.Li, I had absolutely no clue what I was doing. Well, in every joke there is a grain of truth and in this one possibly two.